Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Autumn wine tastings

A bit late in the day to update this but they are as follows:

26th November - Barton Mills
3rd December - Norwich

Please get in touch if you want to come along and I will let you know times and locations!

Friday, 11 November 2011

More from Piedmont

I gave in to the pressure from Piedmont (actually the pressure all came from me: I couldn't hold out any longer!) and have wines from Crissante Alessandria and Filippo Gallino en route (what's the Italian for "en route"?)

Alberto Alessandria's family makes some superb Baroli. I was particularly struck by the 2007 Galina which seems quite modern in style but I think that has more to do with the vintage. Also, I was intrigued by his 2006 Roggeri, a typically tannic example but with some superb fruit. It needs time. However, in some ways, the star of the tasting was his 2007 Barbera  "Ruge", an astonishingly complete wine (I have never tasted Barbera like this before, hence it being the star wine for me) with superb ripeness and low (for Barbera) acidity.

Filippo Gallino is head of a family based in Roero, just across the Tanaro River from Barbaresco, and the third main region for Nebbiolo based wines. However, it was their 2009 Barbera which came across as a superb bargain: silky and refined ripe fruit with lovely acidity and not too much weight (a real contrast to the Crissante Alessandria Barbera). I also couldn't resist the sweet wines: "Chinche", a late harvest Arneis to contrast with Fabrizio Battaglino's "Bric Bastia" and an intriguing sparkling red called "Birbet", made from Brachetto. With only 5.5% alcohol, the closest comparison I can make to the uninitiated (which included me until a couple of weeks ago) is Moscato d'Asti but, actually, I preferred this.

To wrap things up, I also yielded to the temptation of Serradenari's flagship label, Giulia Negri. The wines come from a tiny vineyard next to their truffle forest - hence they are called "La Tartufaia" - and are produced from low yielding Nebbiolo and Chardonnay vines, the latter from cuttings from a well-respected Meursault vineyard.


Oh, and Mauro Manzone (of Giovanni Manzone) is being very persuasive too.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Piedmont dinner at the Lido

We arrived at the Lido at around 7pm ostensibly to help get things ready but everything was under control. It was good to finally meet Birger who was there with the winemakers, Enrico Nada and Fabrizio Battaglino who were accompanied by Alberto Alessandria. This was very welcome as Alberto had sent me a box of his wines to try when the shipment arrived for tomorrow's dinner (I admitted to Enrico and Fabrizio that I thought Alberto's Barbera even better than theirs - but, then, it retails for over £20 so it should be!).

There were ten on our table so it was always going to be lively. Enrico and Fabrizio introduced the wines, bringing a touch of live theatre to the evening. Two whites to start, quite different but both very good. Which went better with the wild mushrooms on sourdough toast? Probably the Roero tonight but if they had been creamier, then I think the Langhe Bianco would have taken the prize. With the main course of osso buco with mashed potato and spinach, I was pleased to see Fabrizio's all too young Roero open up well and Enrico's Barbera gained in richness and complexity with the food too, in true Italian style. The cheese (Denhay Dorset Drum and Docellate Mountain Picante) was accompanied by Enrico's 2007 Barbaresco and, just before the almond zabbaglione with vanilla pears were served, Fabrizio's late-harvest Arneis came along to show that it also goes well with blue cheese.

All together, a good evening. My only gripe was that there were too few bottles to take home with me so I had to make do with an oddly perfumed (but quite interesting) Australian fortified Shiraz for a nightcap.

Last night at the IOD

I have never been tempted by offers of membership of the IOD (Institute of Directors) in the past (although, as a sole trader, this wouldn't apply to BRW) but on arrival there yesterday afternoon, I understood why some find it hard to resist. I saw only the restaurant area but it is a luxurious setting with paintings bigger than most houses' walls. We had been allocated a generous space for tasting wines and enjoying them with dinner afterwards. I don't think any of us realised, though, that 30 wines in an hour with a bit of socialising was never going to happen.

I started with good intentions. I began with the whites: first Fabrizio Battaglino's Roero Arneis then the equivalent wine from Filippo Gallino followed by Nada Giuseppe's Langhe Bianco. The first two were quite similar in style (as was to be expected): very precise and well-defined whereas the Nada has another layer thanks to the blend with Sauvignon and Favorita. Not necessarily any better but different. Enrico Nada had the only rosado so that came next. I have never been a great fan of pink wines (with the odd notable exception) but this was perfectly acceptable (you see, it didn't rock my boat).

I wanted to re-taste a couple of Fabrizio's reds - the straight Nebbiolo d'Alba and the "Colla" (which is entitled to Roero status but which Fabrizio bottles as Nebbiolo d'Alba). I still found the latter wine a little hard (it's a 2008, maybe that's why) but the more simple wine has lovely fruit. Give it another year or two though.

I had, also, to taste a couple of wines from Crissante Alessandria (an estate I have recently become familiar with): in particular the "Ruge" Barbera (stunning) and Barolo Galina (exquisite), both from the forward 2007 vintage. The 2006s are much more tannic so I had every intention of coming back to them before the dinner (optimism blinded me to the fact it was less than half an hour to dinner).

The rest of the tasting session was spent at the Filippo Gallino table (I was going to be sitting with Enrico so would have another opportunity to taste all his wines at dinner). I was immediately struck by the freshness of the fruit-driven Barbera. I worked through all the Barbera wines from this producer (and went back to taste Fabrizio's as well) and in some ways preferred this to the richer, necessarily more complete wines further on. I was rather taken by the 2007 Superiore, however, due its almost Port-like richness. Not sure I could drink much of it though.

The real interest, for me, on this table lay in the two sweet wines. The other dry reds were good, certainly, but not stylistically different from some others. The "Chinche", however, is a late harvest Arneis (like Fabrizio's "Bric Bastia") with some entriguing characters (I need to taste this again!) and the "Birbet" is a highly unusual (to me) low alcohol lightly sparkling red made from Brachetto (I think). Necessarily sweet but, rather than the sickly mess I had envisaged, I found myself liking it very much.

A superb meal followed with superb wines from the Nada Giuseppe stable. I am familiar with all of these, of course, except that Enrico had sent over a sample of his 2007 Barbaresco Riserva. Quite simply, the star of the night.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Wine Deal

The Deal Wine Tasting Society is less than ten years old but forty-odd members crowded into the Landmark Centre on Deal's High Street last night for a tasting of Rhone wines. Perhaps it was the sudden drop in temperature but, certainly, everyone was up for a bit of winter warming.

The evening got off to a start with club secretary John Howard introducing me and informing the group that BRW is ranked a five star merchant by wine-searcher (which is news to me, albeit good news, of course).

Two whites to start with: Domaine des Anges, Ventoux 2010 Blanc has a sweet attack but a crisp, dry finish, just what I want from a fruity Rhone white. I had to include at least one DDA wine because John's wife Barbara is the cousin of Janet Swan who, with her husband Malcolm, bought the estate in 1973 and still lives there now. Next was the fragrant Viognier-rich Domaine de Mourchon, CDR 2010 "La Source" with notes of tropical fruits, honey and peardrops. One to drink on its own, we all thought.

Domaine de Cristia's VDP 2010 Grenache (the organic one) is very accessible with its big, easy fruit whilst the more serious VDP 2009 Vieilles Vignes Grenache (in conversion) has sweet red fruit with some vanilla and liquorice. Any choice must be a matter of personal preference as the differences are stylistic only.

I decided to include an outsider: Domaine Treloar's 2008 "Three Peaks" from Roussillon shows the quality of this region when worked with passion. It also demonstrates that the rains that affected the Rhone in 2008 had no impact here. This is a very smooth, big, flavoursome wine with a good future. Then back to Domaine des Anges for the next wine: the 2007 Cotes du Ventoux "Archange" is a Syrah-rich wine with lashings of black fruit nicely supported by the oak (in contrast to Ciaran's first vintage when, perhaps, the balance between the fruit and the oak had not yet been perfected). One of my "at home" wines.

Domaine de Mourchon, again, this time the 2005 Grande Reserve which is, surely, the best that Seguret can offer (until, perhaps, 2007 is fully mature). This wine has been slow to develop but that is something to applaud when the result is this good. A rich, rounded, complex winter warmer of a wine. Very popular too although it was followed by the one dud of the evening: Xavier Vignon's "Debut" was not in a good place at first. However, with a few minutes aeration, it did begin to reveal its potential. I do wonder whether this wine is going through a transition at the moment.

To finish off, two fortified wines from Rasteau, each one quite different from the other. First, Domaine Bressy-Masson's Rasteau Rancio, a non-vintage, almost Madeira-like wine from some sort of solera system. Lovely aromatics (and flavours too). The the 2007 Rouge from Domaine des Coteaux des Travers which is developing extremely well into the southern Rhone's variation on the Port theme with raisin characters pushing through now. Having recently tried the Puig Parahy Rivesaltes Rancios, this is clearly good value for sharing.

After all this lot, I was very pleased that I was staying with an old college friend a mile and a half away, rather than going all the way back to Barton Mills!

Piedmont dinner at the Lido - the menu is revealed

I have been sent the menu for the dinner next Wednesday:


Starter: Wild Mushrooms on Sourdough Toast
Main: Osso Bucco with Mash Potato and Spinach (veg alternative - Homemade Leek and Denhay Cheddar Sausages)
Cheese: Cheese with Biscuits and Quince Jelly
Dessert: Almond Zabaglioni with Vanilla Pears

Now we just need to work out which wines to go with each course!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Time Out Food & Drink Awards for 2011

Winner in Time Out's Eat & Drinking Awards 2011
Congratulations to The Lido Cafe in London's Brockwell Park for scooping this award. A great ambience is well supported by superb food and, of course, a fabulous wine list.

I am looking forward to the Piedmont dinner there later this month with Enrico Nada (of Nada Giuseppe) and Fabrizio Battaglino and half a dozen of their excellent wines:

Fabrizio Battaglino, Roero Arneis 2010
Nada Giuseppe, Langhe Bianco 2010
Nada Giuseppe, Dolcetto 2010
Fabrizio Battaglino, Roero "Sergentin" 2009
Nada Giuseppe, Barbaresco 2007
Fabrizio Battaglino, "Bric Bastia"

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Fabrizio Battaglino's 2009 Roero

Having - at last - got round to ordering some of Fabrizio Battaglino's wines, I have done what I always do: opened a bottle to celebrate. Having opened the Roero Arneis and Bric Bastia for an Italian-themed meal with friends at the weekend, it is the turn of the (red) 2009 Roero "Sergentin".

This has really developed since I tasted it at the estate only a few weeks ago. Clearly in need of time to open up but some breathing should do the trick (I will report back later if I remember!). There is a hint of the barrel but overall the impression is one of really delicious fruit. I would be interested to taste this alongside the same vintage of a Barolo or Barbaresco as I think it would perform extremely well. That said, as a Roero, it really is a different expression of Nebbiolo.

Quite plummy fruit and the flavour of the barrel is more apparent than I have noticed before but not in an obtrusive way. This wine exudes class and, whilst it would be somewhat masochistic of me to attempt to drink much of this tonight, it is clear this wine is destined for greatness. I must confess that, whilst I thought the 2008 very good indeed, I am glad to be importing the more generous and instantly gratifying 2009. Can't wait to start showing it off.

Monday, 26 September 2011

An Italian themed meal

Some friends who spend a lot of time in Piedmont came over last night. Having forgotten it was International Grenache Day, I had planned an Italian-themed meal even going so far as to make pomodoro al forno (three hours in the oven) and a chocolate panforte. Oh, and some chocolate almonds (I had blanched around 200 almonds the previous evening: TV schedulers take note: you really need to put something interesting on!)


We started with two whites from Fabrizio Battaglino and Nada Giuseppe, both excellent. Fabrizio's 2010 Roero Arneis was more poised and clearly defined; Enrico's 2010 Langhe Bianco "Armonia" more exuberant. Both were quite distinctive and, for once, I couldn't say I enjoyed one more than the other. Fabrizio's wine was  used as an aperitif whilst Fabrizio's lasted until we sat down to eat so that may have had some bearing on it (would the pure and focused Arneis have worked so well with the flavoursome first course, I wonder?).

With the simple primi piatti of pasta puttanesca we also enjoyed the Pinot Noir-based "Renoir" from Tenuta Serradenari, high in the hills above La Morra, a very nice wine although it doesn't make me think Pinot at all, more Nebbiolo which makes up only 20% of the blend. Perhaps it really is a terroir thing: Pinot grown in Piedmont tastes of Nebbiolo?

We then moved on to the big guns for the main course of lamb cooked with anchovies. Nada Giuseppe's Barbaresco Riserva 2006 was all about classical elegance, a typical good Barbaresco; Serradenari's 2007 Barolo represented power, a very modern and accessible Barolo.

With the panforte Fabrizio's delicious "Bric Bastia" made from dried, late harvested Arneis topped things off brilliantly. There is sufficient sweetness to match the chocolate which was mixed with almonds (again), candied peel and cranberries (simple but delicious) and served with an Ameretto ice cream. The wine has more though but, frankly, it is enough to say it matched the food perfectly.

I just have to hope none of the Rhone producers read this and get cross that on today of all days I didn't drink Grenache!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bordeaux Dinner at By Appointment

I will be presenting a selection of Bordeaux (and other) wines at By Appointment in Norwich on 7th October.

The current line-up is:

Pre-dinner: Michel Rocourt, Champagne "Non dose"
Starter of mackerel wellington with a red pepper pesto: Pezat Blanc and Pezat Rose
Main course of lamb: Pezat Rouge 2005 and Chateau Teyssier 2006
Dessert of lemon curd tart with raspberry coulis and spiced mascarpone/cheese course: Domaine Berthoumieu's sweet Pacherenc wines (Charles de Batz and Symphonie d'Automne)

Post-script (Monday 10th October):

The Rocourt was extremely well received with even those who professed to disliking un-dosed Champagnes admitting they enjoyed this one, probably due to the extended ageing of this wine. It was enjoyed both on its own and with a turnip and vanilla veloute. With the mackerel, the white was well received but the rose was, on this occasion, too soft to cope with the fish (and, perhaps, it was subdued by the white). The two reds served with the lamb were both popular although diners were surprised that there was little between them. I explained that this was part of the reason why I showed these two wines together: in youth, Pezat and Teyssier do look remarkably similar; it is only as they age that the sheer class of Teyssier overtakes the Pezat red. On that basis, I asked diners if they would prefer to drink Pezat or the more expensive Teyssier with its more prestigious label. Most voted with the wallets which is a pleasing response. With the lemon curd tart, diners were evenly split between a preference for the younger, more acidic "Charles de Batz" and the rounder, sweeter "Symphonie d'Automne".

Friday, 16 September 2011

Chateauneuf 2009 in Decanter

I can't remember which upcoming edition of Decanter will feature the results of their Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009 tasting but it seems our friends have done rather well with seven high scoring wines between them. No reviews yet, only star ratings.

Raymond Usseglio picked up four stars for Stef's brilliant new cuvee, "La Part des Anges", a 70% Mourvedre wine which is as exotic as it is original. This is only the second vintage for this wine which was first made in 2007 (no 2008, obviously) and named after the portion of the barrel which evaporates (the angels' share). Stef has re-interpreted the expression and has given them the very best he has to offer in terms of both viticulture and vinification. A great wine that needs time.

Domaine de Cristia must have submitted all three cuvees as they all picked up some good scores. We enjoyed a bottle of the 2005 last night so I am looking forward to the even better 2009s being ready.

Christophe Coste's Chateau Capucine was on the medals table too for its debut vintage. My feeling is that this wine has barely begun to show its full potential so will score even higher in a couple more years or so.

Grand Veneur did well too with both the classic cuvee and Origines putting in a good show.

I can only assume that Beaucastel didn't submit its glorious 2009!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Treloar white: Terre Promise

Wow, Domaine Treloar's "Terre Promise" is serious stuff. I - stupidly - took the bottle from the fridge and poured but, like any really good white wine, this made it far too cold. After a few minutes and some appreciative swirls, the wine started to open up, slightly disjointed at first (hey, it's only been in the bottle a couple of months) but then really together, integrating the fruit from the different grapes with the subtle oak. There's something weird and exotic on the finish I can't quite place but it only serves to make me want to come back for more. It's one of those wines you just know is going to be even better in a few years time - or just tomorrow night.

Note: the next day, the nose reveals more liquorice character. It promises a good future development in the same way as Mas de Daumas Gassac's white or one of the top old-vine Roussanne Chateauneufs.

Bordeaux dinner at the Lido

The wines of Chateau Teyssier featured heavily at a Bordeaux-themed wine dinner which took place last night at the Lido Cafe in London's Brockwell Park sponsored by the CIVB (Bordeaux promo body).  There was a three course meal with appropriate wines as follows:

Seafood starter with Pezat Blanc and Rose
Lamb with Lacroix, Pezat Rouge and Chateau Teyssier
Cheese (to help mop up the reds)
Peach tart with Rieussec Sauternes

Note: Pezat is, in effect, the second label of wines from Teyssier, comprising a range of high quality generic Bordeaux wines (all three colours). Lacroix is the everyday winem from the same stable.
The actor and comedian Frog Stone presented the wines for us and, as always, she did a great job. The wines were on top form - Pezat Rose, Pezat Red and of course that amazing Sauternes proving the most popular.

Food pairings also worked really well - so, an all round success.
There will be another Bordeaux-themed dinner soon, this time at By Appointment in Norwich on 7th October and, on 26th October, the Lido will be hosting a Piedmont dinner with winemakers Enrico Nada and Fabrizio Battaglino. The wines for these meals are all subsidised so they are fabulously well priced and not to be missed if at all possible (worth the train fare to be there!).

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Domaine Treloar - here at last

Jon Hesford's wines arrived in London a few days ago and today I got my hands on them at last. TNs posted over the next few days:

One Block 2009 14% ABV. Composite cork.
Rich and sweet with a good mouthfeel and quite tannic. This has a good balance between sweet fruit and structure. Presumably quite old vines to achieve this level of concentration (or is this a Roussillon thing?). Almost over-ripe, reminiscent of a 90% Grenache Sablet I had around 10 years ago which, when left to age a couple more years was more Chateauneuf-like than many Chateauneufs! Texturally, there is a suggestion of old oak but no toast here, just pure, ripe fruit. Will be better in 6/12 months (note: over the following two nights it evolved but only very gradually) and will drink well until 2016.

Three Peaks 2008 13.5% ABV. Composite cork. Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Carignan.
Quite a meaty nose at first (the fruit appeared only after 24 hours!) but the palate is very fruity and quite oaky too (in harmony with the distinguished fruit). Not too heavy and a good finish. The following day, the nose is more evolved but there is more oak and it seems tighter than on day one but by day three it is singing. Drink to 2015.

Le Secret 2008 13.5% ABV. Natural cork. Syrah with 10% each Grenache and Mourvedre.
Very Syrah with a nice dollop of oak on the nose. Lots of black fruit. Quite distinctive, rounded and smooth. Day two: opening up gradually, still quite tannic. Day three: just getting into its stride. To 2016.

Motus 2009 14% ABV. Natural cork. Mourvedre with 10% each Grenache and Syrah.
Very dark in colour. The nose is not very expressive at first although there is clearly oak here alongside the fruit (must bear in mind this has only recently been bottled). The palate shows more immediate potential but really needs a couple of years at least. Day two: quite closed with little on the nose or palate. The fruit is lurking but this really needs time but, then, show me a great Mourvedre that doesn't! Drink to 2018+.

Tahi 2007 14% ABV. Natural cork. Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre.
Thick and dark (the cork end was inky!) and with a more evolved, quite meaty nose (salty bouillon?) and juicier palate. The oak comes through here. Needs a few minutes to open up but has good potential. By day two it is just about there (and doesn't survive the night!). To 2018.

Overall, this is a very pleasing range to be adding to the list (and gives me a good excuse to visit Roussillon!). The quality is high across the range; not once did I think that I would prefer not to be drinking any of the wine. Rather, the question was which one now? All the wines could benefit from further ageing but, having tasted them over a three day period, another thing that struck me is the incredibly slow evolution of all the wines. To be expected with Mourvedre and, to a lesser extent, Syrah but the One Block Grenache was still incredibly fresh after three days.

So, how long do these wines need and how long will they last? I have made my estimations based on my general experience and on Jon's reckoning but I really wouldn't be surprised to see them take longer to come round and to last a lot longer than these conservative estimates.

Domaine Joblot harvest news (in brief)

Not very happy as short crop, plenty of triage, and all finished tonight! Quality looking good though.

Cedre blog post by Harry J. Morris

Just found this: http://harryjmorris.wordpress.com/tag/the-big-red-wine-company/

Harry is a former restaurateur currently working as a wine educator who has some nice things to say about Chateau du Cedre wines (well, who wouldn't?).

Monday, 22 August 2011

Domaine Joblot visit

Having stayed very near to Givry last night, I was able to slip in a quick visit to Clos Saloman before my 10.30 appointment with Jean-Marc Joblot. Here I tasted the 2009s from Montagny (white - very aromatic) and Givry (red, a Premier Cru with excellent fruit and good structure, almost as good as the 2005).

When I arranged the Domaine Joblot appointment, this really was the last day Jean-Marc was prepared to see me as the harvest will be started on Thursday! Incredibly early and still lots to do. Still, he was generous with his time and proved a good communicator. Of course, he knew nothing about me so we discussed my interests in wine and knowledge of the wines of Givry in particular (I have been following the wines of Domaine Joblot for over a decade so knew something of what today's tasting would have in store. Fortunately, Jean-Marc agreed that the other two Givry estates I know well, Clos Saloman and Michel Sarrazin are both excellent producers; the man who is the undisputed leader in his appellation can afford this generosity, of course).

We spent a good while getting to know each other before heading for the cave. I warmed to him immediately: his enthusiasm is infectious and he has a slightly mischievious glint in his eyes which betrayed a wicked sense of humour.

In the cave, we tasted only 2010s, the 2009s having all sold out. The 2010s were all in new barrels although there is another cave with wines maturing in older barrels too. The taste of the new oak has to be compensated for, of course, but before we tasted anything at all, Jean-Marc instructed me to put my nose deep into a barrel already in place for the fermentation and ageing of the 2011 white. There was little in the way of toast; rather, a sweet smell with notes of confection. When we later tasted the 2010 white, I was brought back to this point; the fruit is in no way overwhelmed by the oak. In fact, it took me back to my earlier tasting at Clos Saloman where the nose of the Montagny was more expressive than Jean-Marc's but the palate less complex. The barrel may well have had something to do with this.

Jean-Marc discussed the importance of barrels to him (coopers being part of the winemaking family along with the nursery and, of course, the vigneron). He has a longstanding relationship with the great Burgundian tonellerie at St Romain, Francois Freres, so they know exactly what he likes. With the nursery, again, they know the clones he likes to use; for Jean-Marc, it is not the age of the vine that matters but the quality of the wine it produces.

There were five reds, all remarkably different given the raw materials were virtually identical. From the (comparitively) soft Clos des Bois Chevaux to the powerful and structured Cellier aux Moines then the rounded Pied de Chaume and the complete Clos de la Servoisine and, finally, a blended cuvee (that is, a blend of wines matured in new and old oak; Jean-Marc doesn't like to blend the different lieux-dits) from Maroles, this was a superb lesson on terroir. Jean-Marc pointed out that the vines were the same, the vinification was the same, the barrels were the same... only the soil was different and yet the wines themselves are so very different already and, in time, they can only grow further apart. Truly fascinating. I have never properly understood Burgundian terroir before this.

And what of the oak? Yes, there was more in the samples I tasted than I would want to drink but these had not been blended with the old barrel-aged wines, much less aged in bottle for up to 15 years (Jean-Marc reckons their potential to be at least this long). From experience, two or three years in the bottle, then two or three hours in carafe should bring these wines close to perfection.

Jean-Marc was adamant that his job was easy; all he did was let the wine ferment and put it into the barrels where he left it untouched until it was time for bottling: C'est simple! Of course, his eyes were twinkling as he spoke. 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Piedmont dinner at the Lido - 26th October

Both Enrico and Fabrizio are going to be in London during half-term week for a posh dinner at the IOD but we have lined up another meal where they will be presenting some of their wines for only £40 for a three course meal including the wines.

The Lido Cafe in Brockwell Park is a hidden gem in south London (near to Dulwich). If you are interested, contact the Lido to reserve a place - info@thelidocafe.co.uk or call  020 7737 8183

The Lido Cafe
Dulwich Road
Brockwell Lido
London
SE24 0PA

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fabrizio Battaglino visit

Satellite Navigation will be the making of Fabrizio Battaglino. His family estate is tucked away from the rest of the world so you would need an incredibly detailed map to find him - he did offer to come to meet me and bring me back to the estate but I was determined to try on my own.

Obviously we made it there and, once installed, spent some time getting to know Fabrizio and his mother who was exceptionally hospitable (when the children eventually got bored of our conversation, they went to play outside; next thing we heard them playing in the house above our heads which was quite warming to hear on the grounds that our children have only a handful of words in Italian and Signora Battaglino seems not to know any English at all).

The tasting began with the white, Fabrizio's Roero Bianco 2010. Roero is a fairly young region next to the Barbaresco zone and its reds are based on Nebbiolo too but for the whites, the local Arneis variety is used. The fruit is not dissimilar to a southern Rhone white but with more pronounced acidity giving the wine greater ageing potential. Fabrizio agreed although he admitted not many bottles get the opportunity to see this through.

The reds began with his (young) 2010 Barbera which has a really wild animal nose. Fabrizio thought it would evolve well for drinking in another couple of months. I like its savageness now though but can see it would probably have wider appeal later in the year. The acidity is good and, when tasted with a slice of salami, it is easy to appreciate the need for many Italian wines to have food to show them at their best.

There are three reds: first a relatively straightforward Nebbiolo which spends most of its life (prior to bottling) in stainless steel tanks with just a short spell in barrel to soften it slightly. Fabrizio doesn't like to use too much new oak so he uses them for three or four years which gives the wines all the benefits of barrel ageing (aeration) without the flavour (another advantage of this approach is cost: new barrels cost over 500€).

There is only one red labelled as Roero for marketing reasons (long-standing customers know the top wine, Colla, as a Nebbiolo d'Alba even though it is entitled to Roero status). The Roero "Sergentin" 2009 has more weight - and more tannin - than the simple Nebbiolo and it is apparent that given some more bottle age, this will be rather good. The "Colla" was presented last and is stylistically quite different to the "Sergentin" although both betray a house style of pensive sophistication. Again, it needs to age to show at its best.

All these last three wines show another side of the Nebbiolo grape: more subtle than any of the wines tasted over the previous couple of days. Is it the winemaker (intelligent, sensitive and throughtful compared with Enrico's exuberant confidence, for example) or the terroir,  I wonder? Well, I have to go back to France now so I will have to return another time to explore the region in greater depth to discover the answer to this.

Post script. We didn't taste the wine at the estate but Fabrizio gave me a bottle of his Bric Bastia, a late harvest Arneis, to taste later. Following an attempt to make a proper Italian ragu for Sunday lunch, I opened it with a simple dessert (Amaretti di Mombaruzzo - delicious). When I tasted it before, I thought it reminiscent of tinned peaches but, actually, there is far more here including grapefruit. Actually, it reminds me of Domaine Rotier's Gaillac Doux "Renaissance" which is one of my very favourite sweet wines so I am going to be doing everything I can to extol the virtues of Fabrizio's range if only for this wine!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tenuta Serradenari visit

Gabriella Spallino billed Serradenari as the highest vineyard in Barolo and, certainly, our old camper van didn't seem to enjoy the journey up the hill as much as it might have done. We had lunch in La Morra before the visit so most of the work was done. It is a shame that just behind the vineyard are all the telephone masts of the region but Gabriella explained that, as the highest hill around, Serradenari had little alternative but to host these. Still, the estate looks the other way, across the valley (an ocean floor in prehistoric times) towards the Alps. A stunning view.

We spent an hour walking (hiking) around the tiny estate which includes vineyards planted to Nebbiolo (of course) and Barbera but also Pinot Noir (Gabriella clearly has a passion for this variety and hopes, one day, to produce a world class mono-varietal Pinot) and Chardonnay grafted from vines in Meursault which already makes a fabulous wine with an Italian twist (I enjoyed it sufficiently to buy some for my own use). There is a small vineyard of older vine Nebbiolo and Chardonnay planted on sandy soils which produces stunning wines under the Giulia Negri label (these will be included in our next import!), next to the truffle forest.

A thirsty hour or so later, we had consumed a bottle or more of water and now it was time to taste some new (to us) wines, principally the whites. At room temperature it would be reasonable to expect these to be far too warm but, actually, fridge cold would have been far too far the other way. We agreed with Gabriella's suggestion that they would be best enjoyed around 15 degrees to allow the fruit to give its all.

The basic Chardonnay was fleshy and fruity with good acidity. A couple of degrees lower and I would have enjoyed drinking it rather than just tasting it (it is very hot today!) and I did sneak a small sip, I must admit. Then came the Giulia Negri Chardonnay, more obviously oaked but not overly so, with incredible flavour nuances, many reminiscent of the earlier walk around the vineyard. Clearly not a cheap wine at all but when Gabriella told me the price, I calculated it to be around £25 in the UK and figured it is not possible to get a Burgundy as good as this for that sort of money.

Finally, the jewell in the crown: the Giulia Negri Barolo 2007. We had tasted the 2005 and 2006 before which both showed immense promise behind the brooding tannins but this 2007, like the regular Serradenari Barolo from 2007 (from the vineyard at the top of the hill with more clay in the soil), is remarkably approachable. Some oak is evident but the fruit dominates, together with a sublime texture. With a slice of 30-month-old Parmesan to accompany the wine, we felt extremely privileged to be sitting in Gabriella's house enjoying this incredible wine with views of the snow-capped Alps across the valley floor.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nada Giuseppe visit

Having arrived in Piemonte yesterday afternoon, we agreed it would be better to visit Enrico this morning when we had had a chance to freshen up from our journey (we had been travelling - slowly - for five days to get here from Cahors). Probably a good idea.

Enrico is quite young (the right side of 30) and confident. He speaks good English (which bodes well for the forthcoming tasting dinners in London) and clearly knows where he wants to take the family estate. Enrico has plans to capitalise on his father's successes (Giuseppe began bottling the wines back in the 1960s, just before Barbaresco received DOC status and built the estate from there).

One thing immediately struck us: the overwhelming friendliness of this family. Enrico sat us down at the family table and we chatted about ourselves, our businesses and our interest in wine. It was a good half an hour before we even thought about opening a bottle. By the time he was pouring the first wine, his white Arneis, called Armonia, his mother, Nella, had brought snacks to the table to accompany the wines and some specifically for the children who were patiently drawing and reading throughout all of this.

We didn't really taste anything new: the Dolcetto was from 2010 (and superb: usually I am not enamoured with this variety but in Enrico's hands it is much more than the Beaujolais of Piemonte) but otherwise we tasted his wines together for the first time: the Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco 2007 and 2008. These last two impressed most, not only because they should but also because of their development since Easter when we first tried them. Then they showed promise but were, at the same time, quite hard and I felt the difference between these and the Riserva quite marked. Now they are singing and I am regretting not buying more! Still, there is always next time.

One thing we learnt from this and subsequent visits: when in Piemonte, there is no such thing as a lightening visit. If you come here (and I strongly recommend you do), make appointments in advance and allow at least two hours per visit.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Chateau du Cedre visit

Pascal Verhaegue began by introducing us to another vistor, one of the writers from the Revue du Vin de France, then we all piled into his car for a quick tour of the vineyards to see the two distinct terroirs which make up the estate: chalky, sometimes sandy soils giving finesse to the wine and clay soils with galet stones providing the power. These are blended together in the final wines.

Back in the cellars, we tasted the component parts from the 2010 vintage, first for Chateau du Cedre, then for "Le Cedre" and finally for "GC". After each cuvee was tasted in components, Pascal put together an approximate blend of the finished wine which, in each case, was greater than the sum of its parts. The sandier soils did, indeed, offer refined characters and the clay more powerful ones which, at this stage, were more attractive (they stand up better to the oak). The difference between the wines is, essentially, vine age although the first cuvee does include a very small amount - around 5% each - of Merlot and Tannat. "GC" also has its primary fermentation in the same barrels it spends the rest of its elevage in, starting out in upturned, open-topped barrels which are then sealed and laid on their sides for the extended ageing.

As a vintage, 2010 is clearly extremely good and I am looking forward to finalising my en primeur order for these wines. However, they were eclipsed by the more complete 2009 wines, all of which had extra flesh, as you would expect from wines which have had longer to develop. I left there very pleased that I had personally bought quite a lot of both "Le Cedre" and "GC" which has the texture of a top Pomerol but, I think, more interesting fruit.

We finished off with a tasting of the current vintages in bottle, mostly 2008. Having tasted , and enjoyed, the 2007s last year, I agreed with Pascal's assessment then that whilst 2007 is better than 2006, 2008 is better still and 2009 and 2010 are probably going to be excellent vintages to round off the decade. I left with a case each of the Chateau du Cedre and "Le Cedre" in the boot for current drinking (proviso: current drinking in Cahors means in about 5-10 years time).

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Domaine des Anges' new wine: "Seraphin"

In stock at last, the new Chateauneuf lookalike from Ciaran Rooney. 95% old-vine, tank-aged Grenache (the label says 100% but who's counting?) with 5% Syrah from the cask. It's a wine that needs some bottle age to shine: just now the slightly shy nose has youthful qualities such as candy sweets which really need to take on some secondary characters. On the pallet, there is more to interest just now: a well-structure wine with lovely tannins and sweet, red berry, quite spicy fruit. The finish is good:  more of the same really but, as with the nose, I think there is more to come with a bit more age. This is really good news because, frankly, the wine is rather nice right now.

How will it evolve? Difficult to tell with any debut vintage since there is nothing direct to compare with it, only similar wines made by rival winemakers using slightly different techniques. My guess is that, whilst it is enjoyable now, it really needs an extra year or two to flesh out, develop that nose, lengthen the finish and gain some secondary fruit characteristics that will indicate whether this really is a wine to give Chateauneuf a run for its money.

Check in in two years time!

Friday, 24 June 2011

2009 Southern Rhone wines just arrived

For some reason it has taken much longer than usual to organise the various collections but, except for Domaines Grand Veneur and Coteaux des Travers, the 2009s are now in stock (and a handful of 2010s). The big question is what to crack open first! Tonight I am out to a barbecue so I will take a bottle or two from my own stocks to celebrate: perhaps Cristia's Cotes du Rhone "Garrigues" and Stef Usseglio's Cotes du Rhone.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Serradenari Barbera 2006

I have been wanting to try this again for a while but the bottle I had got out of stock was obscured underneath something else with a lot of wrapping so I had forgotten about it until last night when I needed something to go with spaghetti (a typical Monday evening meal in these parts).

Absolutely what I was expecting from this. Nice, deep, plummy fruit and almost searing (but not quite) acidity that sliced through the tomato better than any of the knives in our kitchen. Good depth to it, enough to match the rich sauce. I did import a different Barbera a couple of years ago which was quite oaky and very drinkable on its own but less so with food. I had forgotten how much the Serradenari one sells for; it's a good value wine.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Marco Maci "Duca d'Antene" 2001

A chap in Norwich bought some of this recently and seems to have enjoyed it - see here.

Apologies to anyone else who read my blog last October and has been waiting for me to report on this wine! I did taste it (and enjoy it) but completely forgot to post.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Last night in Lakenheath

The wine tasting group that meets at the Brewer's Tap in Lakenheath asked me to conduct an impromptu tasting last night so a quick round up of some of the less expensive Rhone wines seemed in order. The Domaine des Anges rose was appropriate for the warm summer evening but, for me, the wines of the night were Domaine de la Charite's 2009 Cotes du Rhone, fresh and sweet-fruited with an easy structure that offers much in the way of versatility. The other stand-out wine for me was Domaine Grand Veneur's 2007 CDR Villages "Champauvins" which, for the first time, really did come across as a mini-Chateauneuf rather than a top CDR with potential. Perhaps it was tasting it alongside the various other wines but I was very impressed with this one.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Funny goings on at Domaine des Anges

Some irreverent answers given by Domaine des Anges' owner, Gay McGuinness to questions asked by a South African  publication:

(A) Your full address ?
postal address: Domaine des Anges, 84570 Mormoiron, France; physical address: Domaine des Anges, Quartier ND des Anges, 84570 Mormoiron, France 
(B) History of the winery.
Domaine des Anges is a beautiful, small, hillside estate in the Ventoux in the Southern Rhone region of France. It looks out across a large valley towards Mont Ventoux – the Giant of Provence – with spectacular views on all sides.
The estate covers 40 hectares and is overlooked by the chapel of Notre Dame des Anges and a 12th century Moorish tower, living together happily in the sunshine of timeless, historic, rural France. The total area of the vineyard is 18 ha.
There have been vineyards here since Roman times. We do not know the name of the original owner, but it is believed that he was stabbed to death by a group of Roman politicians jealous of the quality of his Domaine des Anges wines and the beauty of his Egyptian girlfriend. All this was recorded by an English reporter named Shakespeare, so it must be true.
Since that time, Domaine des Anges has seen many owners. It is now in the care of Gay McGuinness from Kilkenny, Ireland who fell in love with the estate in 1989. However, he did not throw caution to the wind: he went to Rome to make sure that the original owner had not passed on the deeds of the land to Silvio Berlusconi, a man who knows all about love.
McGuinness and Dublin man Ciaran Rooney, a Stellenbosch trained winemaker, found each other and probably deserved each other. Together, or more often, separately, they began replanting and rebuilding the vineyard and its reputation, without much caring about their own, as they fought over terroir, labels, tannins, rugby matches and anything else that would encourage a thirst.
Despite all this, the vineyard staggered towards a type of prosperity and its wines have won an international reputation for quality. McGuinness claims that this is because fun and profit should mix. Rooney’s view is prosaic: he thinks winemakers are witch doctors who can work wonders when owners and Masters of Wine (MWs) leave them alone. Despite, or perhaps because of, the insults they hurl at each other, Domaine des Anges is now one of the top producers of quality red, white and rose wines in the Southern Rhone. Given the two involved this is, well, a miracle.
We fully realize how all this may seem to you, even if you are getting Beckett on the nose and Joyce on the palate. Like our fellow Irishmen, we don’t much care. We live for our art and hope you will pay for it. If you want to know more about Domaine des Anges you are going to have to buy the wine and/or visit the vineyard. Make sure it’s a day when both principals are at their charming best. Slainte.

(C) Current owner and information about reason for purchasing, family history...
The owner is a recluse, who only communicates with his winemaker in Urdu or something equally unintelligible, the replies are in Afrikaans with an Irish accent, which makes for interesting conversation. He didn’t purchase the vineyard, he got the deeds when he lost a tipsy poker game. He keeps it, because he can’t find a poker player worse than himself to lose it to.

He really doesn’t want to talk about his family, who spend a great deal of time not talking to him. He is afraid that if they get to know where he is they will kidnap him and force him to finish his treatment.

In person, since you asked the question, he is unkempt, opinionated and spends a great deal of time cataloguing South African ducks which, since they don’t lose very often, gives him time for his other great passion: hula-hoops. He is a graduate of the KGB Charm School and has a tendency to throw hula-hoops at visiting MWs with colourful instructions about what they can do with them.

The winemaker sniggers when McGuinness explains his love of wine and his investment to the odd visitor brave enough to climb the hill. Winemakers are like that: they know everything, run down Parker behind his back and could have done a better job than God in making the world, except for the fact that they are too busy making wine that the world often does not appreciate.

The facts are that McGuinness, being Irish, grasped the opportunity you offered to talk about himself and just couldn’t finish the book in time. It was left to us to provide you with a few carefully chosen words.

(D) Current winemaker, education, philosophy and style. Cellar, vinification...
The current winemaker, Ciaran Rooney, and we stress current, is a contrary, abrasive, vertically challenged individual who hates owners and Masters of Wine, not necessarily in that order.

Although Irish, he grew up in South Africa, but not much. Maybe it was because he was living in the shade of all the big people down there. He graduated from Stellenbosch and his current employer came across him at an auction of winemakers. He looked quite harmless – the leg irons were not immediately obvious. He makes great wine, but his language, he swears in Afrikaans, is appalling, we think. He has never got over being mistaken for the ball in a muddy rugby match in South Africa – it wasn’t pleasant in that scrum. And the put-in was crooked.

He doesn’t have a philosophy. He has attitude. His style is confrontational – the vines shed their leaves when he approaches. The reason he became a winemaker is because he could stand on top of large tanks talking down to big people, spouting nonsense about the importance of terroir, the need for balance, elegance, depth and bottom, whatever that is, in wine and castigating anyone foolish enough to disagree with him. It is a complete mystery to those who know him that he makes great wine that does not have even a hint of venom.

(E) General technical details : Terroir, Soil, Grape varities...
Do we have to get technical? It bores people. Terroir, that great vague French word which embraces atmosphere, weather, soil and munificent nature doesn’t quite capture a flat tractor tyre on a wet day, a back-breaking crawl through the vines or sunburn. But it does seem profound and philosophical. It’ll have to do. It is a lovely word. And it is us, because we were raised on Blarney.

Our soil is principally chalk (no, not “and cheese”). In some places, it’s less chalky with ferrous clays splashed with lots of rocks, which the winemaker and owner throw at each other. We are thinking of making a wine called “Wait Until I Get my Hands on You”.

Each year we pray that our Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc will grow and prosper through divine intervention. It never happens. We have to work. We do that reluctantly, but we take great care, respecting nature and tradition, which seldom respects us, when we prune and later tie the vines, cover their feet in sheep droppings, using specially trained sheep, and strip them of cover when the sun is at its hottest. Revenge is sweet.

Bottom line? 80% of winemaking happens in the vineyards. If you don’t look after your vines, your bank manager will quickly disperse the seductive fog called terroir and cut straight to the chase. Of you.

The cellar is the preserve of the Contrary One, who reminds everyone that there is magic in his hands, which is a great relief, as nobody is sure about what’s in his head.

Peering through the veil of mystery and suspicion created by the genius (which we are encouraged to believe lurks behind the Contrary One’s grim exterior) is not easy. But we will try.

After sundry fowl have been offered in sacrifice, if an MW can’t be found, the fruit, hand-picked, luscious and panting for tender loving care, is rammed through a de-stemmer and, if it is the reds, brutally beaten to subjugation in the tank, by the Contrary One while he mutters incantations learned at Stellenbosch. It is horrifying on first sight, but it seems to work.

In the tanks, the grapes are never allowed a moment’s peace, with regular pump-overs to extract gently their luscious tannins and deep colour. But their torture is not over. Finally, they are squeezed, kicking and screaming, through the press before, at last, finding refuge in either tanks or French oak barrels where they can quietly lie, temperature controlled for 12 months, before bottling and, finally they are released to screams of approval from our hordes of supporters throughout the world.

The whites, the ladies, are treated as gently as the Contrary One can manage, going straight into the press before the blessed relief of clarification – more than you are getting here - and cold fermentation in stainless steel at 12 degrees, or in barrel. After fermentation they are left on the lees until filtration. Bottling takes place in spring and shortly afterwards the wine begins crossing the palates of our adoring fans: the winemaker’s father and mother.

(F) Where are you situated. Surroundings. Tourist attractions...
We are at the centre of our world! Provence and the south of France, which is itself one large tourist attraction, lies at our unstable feet. Domaine des Anges sits on the side of a hill with spectacular views in all directions. It is about an hour’s drive from Avignon, Gordes and the Abbaye de Senanque, and a universe away from reality. The road up to the vineyard is usually crowded with wine buyers.

No one is permitted to look at the views or leave the vineyards before they buy, we give them glasses made of bottle ends. We are currently holding two Americans, an irate Australian, a Tibetan monk with a llama, a Mongolian wrestler, who doesn’t want to leave and we aren’t going to force him, four very annoyed MWs and ten lost Munster rugby fans demanding Guinness. Come and join them.

(G) Size of the estate
We can’t really tell you that. If we go public, everyone will know we have 18 ha of vines and we will no longer be able to tell our clients that we only produce 15 cases of each variety and they can have two.

(H) Details of harvest
Each year, the Contrary One crushes 100 tonnes of grapes with relish, intoning the names of all those that ever played rugby against him, and with him for that matter, mainly huge South Africans. Fortunately, they are thousands of miles away. It is mayhem in there – we can’t believe there isn't a law against it. 

(I) Biodynamic/Organic ?
Biodynamic/organic? We have trouble with this question. We are dynamic but we do only the bio we think necessary maybe two tubs of yogurt a day. However, if we catch the wild boar that regularly eats our grapes we will bury him and his horns, with or without a full moon. 

Our big problem is that during full moons, one has to watch out for the owner, who turns into a Yeti, which is a considerable improvement. As for organic: we’ve only got a piano at the moment, but we play it as we move through the vineyard. We are green, but we are not pure. Sometime dear Lord, but not just yet, because we want to see just what purity gives and takes away from our competitors, may their grapes go square and rot at the corners. We didn’t mean that, ha, ha.

(J) Icon Wines and quantities
Archange and Seraphin. We wanted to call it Lucifer after the winemaker, but the owner, Gabriel, got stroppy about the competition. You could say it was a dispute made in heaven.
We produce 150 cases of glorious white: 90% Roussanne and 800 cases of oaked Syrah/Grenache under the Archange label. In exceptional years we make a great pure Grenache called Seraphin (“the N” is French – don’t argue). A seraphin is a better class of angel, because we were getting tired of all the regular archangels flying around us. Actually, these wines do fly out of the winery, which is what really counts.

(K) Best restaurant stocking your wine, worldwide ?
We never reveal this information for fear that it will stop its current two bottles a year. Actually, we don’t like to boast.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

More wines from Piemonte - Fabrizio Battaglino

I seem to be drinking (sorry, make that "tasting") a lot of Italian wines these days but it's not my fault. When the pallet arrived with Enrico Giuseppe's wines (a 2006 Barbaresco Riserva was quickly removed and consumed), an extra case was discovered from one of Enrico's friends, Fabrizio Battaglino.

Fabrizio is a winemaker in the Roero district, north of the Langhe region where Barolo and Barbaresco hail from. Nebbiolo is still the main grape here and Fabrizio concentrates on this for most of his reds. Last night, we treated ourselves to a tasting of the three reds he had sent.

First, a 2009 Nebbiolo d'Alba which is aged in stainless steel for 12 months. Young fruits dominate the nose – sweet, red, summer fruits (strawberry and cranberry) which follow through to the palate which has some spice, good concentration and mouthfeel (medium bodied) and  soft tannins which are slightly dry at present (it’s a young wine) and mute the wine a little at this stage. It will be better in another year or two and over the following four or five years but there’s plenty to enjoy now. 

Next up, the 2008 Nebbiolo d'Alba "Colla".  This wine is aged in 225 litre barrels for 12 months and is destined for the longer term. Quite restrained on the nose but wafts of purple fruits including raspberries and blackberries. A little closed at present but there is clearly much to look forward to: the palate is richer than the basic Nebbiolo and has deeper, darker fruit. More structure here so leave it for five (?) years when it will have begun to evolve into its secondary phase with more meat. For drinking 2015-2020+.

Finally, the 2008 Roero, also aged for 12 months in 225 litre barrels. More expressive than the Nebbiolo Colla 2008 with an enticing perfume of stewed red fruit which comes through on the rich palate alongside such bittersweet flavours as chocolate and coffee. Well wrapped and rounded and surprisingly accessible but I suspect it will close down to re-emerge in a few years as something quite spectacular. 2015-2020++.

Fabrizio also makes a white from the local Arneis grape, which we tried at the weekend. Quite citrusy - fresh - this is a sophisticated, balanced wine with a lovely long finish.

The other wine we tasted is the unusual, but exotic, late harvest Arneis (probably unique in that sense) which Fabrizio thinks of as his answer to Sauternes. I find it quite different, offering an uncanny reminder of the tinned peaches I loved as a child (OK, I don't like them so much now but this is grown up tinned peaches). Obviously there is a lot more going on here than just that though. 

So, time to start saving up for yet more wines from Piemonte!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Nada Giuseppe wines now in the UK

A Danish importer who specialises in wines from Piemonte caused a whirlwind of interest in Enrico Nada's wines when he presented them at a dinner in London in March (I think). There was so much interest but no-one to bring them in so I offered to help. As soon as I did so, Enrico sent me some samples which were duly tasted.

First was the Langhe Bianco, a delightfully fresh wine, enjoyed with Ciaran Rooney from Domaine des Anges on a baking hot day in the Vaucluse shortly before Easter. We were impressed enough to move on to the 2006 Barbaresco Riserva. Quite simply, this is a stunning wine: the texture is so silky and the fruit has so much there. It is quite possibly one of the best Nebbiolo wines I have tasted. That rather clinched things for me: from that moment, Nada Giuseppe had a UK importer.

A couple of days later, other wines were tried: I liked the other (non-Riserva) Barbarescos but, for my palate, the Riserva was so superior for very little extra. I especially enjoyed the Dolcetto (unusual for me!) and found the Barbera Superiore, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo all very good too. No prizes for guessing which wines have found their way onto the list then.

Friday, 29 April 2011

More tales from Canterbury

The Wine Tasting Society that meets each month in Christchurch University will be celebrating its 30th anniversary later this year so congratulations to Keith and everyone for that. I have been going along every year for the last ten or so, so they must think I am doing something right. They are a great crowd: they always want Rhone wines which, of course, I am happy to give them and they are very knowledgeable about both wine and what they want from it. That all makes my job extremely easy.

Highlights included the mature 2002 white Chateauneuf from Domaine Grand Veneur: "La Fontaine" is 100% old-vine, barrel-aged Roussanne and it is quite stunning. The secondary characters have taken over now and the wine is very much enjoying its (relative) old-age.

The most popular reds were probably the 2009s: Bressy-Masson's Cotes du Rhone (more like a Rasteau Village wine), Cristia's Cotes du Rhone "Garrigues" (100% old-vine Grenache aged in small barrels) and Domaine de la Charite's Christophe Coste's new venture in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau Capucine (also 100% old-vine Grenache aged in small barrels but very different from the Cristia wine: more classic, less oaky).

Other wines were also well-received including Laurent Brusset's 2007 Cairanne "Chabriles" which is a rich, spicy blend of equal parts Grenache and Syrah, Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2007 and Charite's "Dame Noire", a pure Mourvedre cuvee. A brief mention of Christophe's ice wine from the south of France aroused curiosity too.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

In the Rhone again

The excuse was a couple of weeks to sort out my year end but, inevitably, I have done no paperwork whatsoever although the tax man cannot say I have not been working.

Arrived here on Sunday and on Monday went off to Gigondas where they are working on the Caveau with the walls being held up by big metal things (my technological vocabulary could be better!). Went off to Clos des Cazaux, an excellent estate which has holdings in both Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Unfortunately, they set the pattern for what seems to be the norm down here: tell everyone how great 2008 is and get shot of it quickly. The wines were not all bad though but it was the superb Grenat Noble (a later harvested, botrytised Grenache) and Prestige (largely Syrah), both from 2006 which impressed.

At the temporary Caveau, there were walls and walls of 2008s and a handful of other vintages. For old times' sake, I tasted the 2007 Notre Dame des Pallieres (nothing to do with the VT-owned vineyard) which had a delightful elegance to the fruit unlike one or two others which were a little jammy (Terme) or worryingly tannic (Redortier which, sadly, has never been the same since Etienne de Menthon handed over the winemaking reins to his daughter).

On Thursday, I picked up a friend from the airport in Nimes and popped into Chateau du Campuget - their 2007 Cuvee Sommeliere (pure Syrah, apart from the oak) was extremely good but their other label, Chateau l'Amarine "Cuvee des Bernis" was a steal at 7,50€. I bet it costs rather more in the UK!

Tomorrow I hope to go to the fair in Chateauneuf. I will report back later!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Budget 2011: Osborne's choice

With inflation at 4.4% but a stated desire to reduce the £150 billion deficit as quickly as possible, will duty on wine be increased today?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Wine Relief 2011

Rather late in the day, we decided to join in with the wine trade's efforts to do its bit for Comic Relief. An impromptu tasting was arranged for Friday evening and any local who looked like he or she had at least a fiver to spare was press-ganged into coming along. In the end, around 40 people turned up (it was a two hour tasting in our living room at home so there was a very friendly atmosphere) and tasted from 18 bottles I had opened.

I also put together a quiz which I thought was fairly easy and a blind tasting competition which was less so. In the end, no-one scored more than 11/20 in total so I guess my questions were trickier than I had thought (it was all multiple choice and wine-related although that did include a question about the wine the character Miles in Sideways drinks out of a paper bag - answer, Cheval Blanc).

The highlights, wine-wise, for me at least were the Baglio del Campo di Cristobello "CDC" from Sicily, a white based on Chardonnay and the indiginous Grillo and, in the reds, the Serradenari 2007 Barolo so I must have been in the mood for something Italian on Friday.

Anyway, we raised over £500 so thanks to everyone who came along and/or otherwise donated.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

What does it mean when the press starts quoting you?

Someone just emailed me to tell me I have been quoted by The Drinks Business, a very glossy UK trade publication which has been sent to me from time to time.  The full page on Live: Budget Watch can be seen here but since these are apparently my words, I can't see a problem with quoting them here.

At precisely 12.20pm, a full forty minutes before George Osborne stood up, this was posted:

A rise in VAT is widely expected in today's budget as is yet another increase in duty. What will this actually mean? James Bercovici, of Big Red Wine, writes: "Given that VAT is a percentage and duty a flat rate, this is actually quite simple to work out. VAT is expected to rise to 20% so it is only duty that is uncertain at the moment. But it is reasonable to assume that any [duty] rise will be a percentage increase on the current £20.25 per dozen (still wines). A 5% increase will mean a 2.593% increase in the price of any bottle; a 7% increase will amount to 2.7792%. In monetary terms, a £10 bottle of wine should increase by around 35 pence."

In fact, because duty didn't rise, the bottle retailing at £9.99 would have increased to £10.20 but not on the BRW website where prices were - and still are - maintained at pre-VAT rise levels. So why did I bother writing that stuff in the first place? Don't ask me; I don't even remember writing it!

Monday, 28 February 2011

Fusion Wines Inaugural Portfolio Tasting

I am involved in another business with a couple of colleagues. Imaginatively, we have called it Fusion Wines (well, it doesn't really matter what it's called and I couldn't be bothered to consider any number of suggestions, most of which would have been far worse) and its raison d'etre is to sell into the restaurant trade (so come and see me in the poor house soon!).

We had our first tasting on Monday 28th February 2011 and, apart from the low turnout (considering we had invited just about every restaurant in London), it was a great success. Probably the highlight of the tasting was the newly arrived, BRW-sourced, Tenuta Serradenari Barolo 2007, a deliciously oppulent and forward Barolo from ungrafted vines in La Morra, the highest planted anywhere in the denomination. I decided against showing its older sibling, the 2006, as far too reserved (ie. a tannic brute) to be of interest at a trade tasting. Both are astonishingly cheap, though, for Barolo (don't you just love that qualification?)