Friday, 14 December 2012

Even in the hectic run-up to Christmas...

I just had a peek at the forum on Tom Cannavan's and the first post is entitled "Big Red Wine Company - Great Service"! He liked the wine too.

As a merchant, feedback is always appreciated, especially when it is positive like this.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Two weekends, two tastings

It's that time of year: wine tastings for a thirsty crowd. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy showing off new discoveries and some of the wines that have started to come round at last. The preparation is the trickiest part - you never know who will be coming or how many people will show up so it's hard to gauge which wines to put in (or which to leave out). Experience has taught me to avoid too much in the over £10 bracket but, still, I could not resist showing a Barbaresco and a Chateauneuf this weekend.

At the Norwich tasting last week, there was a consensus that Italian wines are generally overpriced. I would counter that they need food, without which they are easily misunderstood. A little salami and cheese, perhaps, wasn't enough to convince them of this. The whites went down well with the Manzone "Rosserto" proving especially popular.

Filippo Gallino's Barbera always goes down well - juicy fruit and not overly complex (although the totally contrasting Ruge from Crissante Alessandria was the most popular wine at the Dulwich tasting). It's a lovely food wine with that slightly sour quality that is so essential in these wines. Also from Piedmont, I was surprised that the Nada Giuseppe 2009 Barbaresco was so much more popular this weekend than last. I put it down to travel sickness - the wines had only arrived in the UK a week before the Norwich tasting - although this is not something I have much experience of with such young wines. The fragility of Nebbiolo, perhaps. That said, at the post-tasting supper this weekend, a magnum of Grasso Fratelli's 2000 Barbaresco "Sori Valgrande" was magnificent.

The French seem capable of producing more wines that are actually good in the sub-£10 bracket than the northern Italians. Fair enough that Nebbiolo, like Pinot Noir, is a tricky grape and can never come cheap (there are some decent Nebbiolo d'Alba wines under £15 but that's about all) but there really should be more Barbera and Dolcetto around £8-£10. Still, the Gallino, Manzone and Nada wines cover this perfectly well for me.

In France, one of the best QPR whites remains the Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc: it has plenty of fruit but good minerality too and acidity that cuts in nicely just where it's needed. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the "house" Sauvignon from Moulin de Gassac though. Understated, zingy and fresh with quite citrusy/gooseberry fruit - neither blousy like some New World examples nor paintstripper as all too many other Languedoc wines can be. This one gets it - refreshingly - right.

Also from the Languedoc, Domaine Treloar's One Block showed exceptionally well: richly fruited, almost like a savoury Christmas cake, this will be fine with Christmas dinner. That said, Raymond Usseglio's 2005 Chateauneuf exudes class. If only we didn't live in the plastic age, I would be able to flip a coin!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Congratulations to Fabrizio Battaglino

Fabrizio Battaglino has just won best QPR white for his Roero Arnies 2011 in Gambero Rosso 2013

Well done Fabrizio! A well-deserved award.

Fabrizio's full entry in the guide reads as follows: 

"Fabrizio Battglino's small winery seems to have returned for good among the top producers of Roero. The vineyards are at Vezza d'Alba, on the steep sloping hills of Colla and Mombello, where soils are sandy and face south at an altitude of 350 metres above sea level. The classic variieties of Roero are grown, Arneis, Nebbiolo and Barbera, and tradition is interpreted to craft a series of technically flawless wines full of delicious fruit, carefully designed for delightful drinkability."

New entries for this year include:

2010 Roero Sergentin - Due Bicchieri (entered in the finals)
2011 Roero Arneis - Due Bicchieri (especially good value)

Monday, 26 November 2012

Autumn wines in Norwich

Every year we hold an informal tasting in my childhood home town of Norwich with, usually, between 20 and 30 guests. This year we held it on Saturday, immediately after seeing Matthew Bourne's superb Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal. The wines were almost evenly divided between French and Italian with the Rhone dominating the French selection.

I had been tempted to include some Joblot wines - after all, if I don't put them into tastings, how will people know just how good they are? However, I decided against this on purely practical grounds: most of the attendees prefer to keep their spending under £10 per bottle so there seemed little point in including wines the wrong side of £20! This was borne out by the comments - and sales - of Italian wines, the only one of which that sold well was Filippo Gallino's juicy, fruity Barbera d'Alba. A few other Italian reds did sell but only a bottle here, a couple of bottles there. The whites did well though with the surprise (for me) hit of the evening the rare Giovanni Manzone "Rosserto" just pipping the rich and rounded Nada Giuseppe "Armonia" in terms of sales at least.

From France, Domaine des Anges' Ventoux Blanc is always a success - excellent VFM and, more important, a wine with all the elements perfectly in place (in particular, fruit and acidity) but both Chateau de Jurque's Jurancon Sec and Chateau de l'Abbaye's Pouilly Fume were well received, both quite pungent wines, perhaps that is the key to their success. The surprise was that Domaine Treloar's "Terre Promis" just didn't fit into this line-up. Too subtle, perhaps, and still too young to be at its most expressive.

The red successes included Treloar's "One Block" (lovely mouthfeel and rich fruit), Charite's complex "Bastien" and Cristia's pure Vieilles Vignes - all under £10 - with only Chateau de Cedre's 2008 Cahors and, especially, Muro's 2004 Rioja Reserva performing well (if sales are a reliable indication) over the £10 mark.

I thought Bressy-Masson's Rasteau "Paul-Emile" the star of the Rhone selection but at least some CDR was thought to be such a good price that a couple of tasters asked for some even though it wasn't on show!

A good selection and an indication of where the market currently is, perhaps. Now to decide what to show this Saturday in Barton Mills!

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Italians have arrived!

At last! Now, what should I open tonight? Tempted by Fabrizio Battaglino's Roero 2010 Sergentin but also by Nada Giuseppe's 2009 Barbaresco. Or, perhaps, keep it simple with the Gallino 2010 Barbera d'Alba.

Probably none of the above for two reasons: I have just made a curry for dinner and tomorrow night is our annual Autumn Tasting in Norwich so most of these will take part in that.

On the other hand, I do like to challenge the spice with a fruity but tannic red so Fabrizio is looking promising. Too many choices... I will post later when I have succumbed.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Piedmont wines in Dulwich tonight

Note: updated after the tasting!

The Dulwich Wine Society has a new meeting venue since I last visited, more conducive to the enjoyment of fine wines. I was there last night to present, for the first time in the context of a wine club, a selection of wines from Piedmont. Here's the running order...

White wines
1.    Fabrizio Battaglino, Roero 2010 Arneis
2.    Giovanni Manzone, Langhe Bianco 2010 Rosserto
3.    Nada Giuseppe, Langhe Bianco 2009 "Armonia"

All the whites were very well received: the Arneis surprised most tasters who had little or no experience of the grape for its slightly austere nose but fuller palate. The Rossesse was showing well and was also well received as a new wine to everyone in the room. As always, Enrico's wine wowed tasters with its assortment of varieties each bringing something different to the well integrated whole.

Red wines
4.    Nada Giuseppe, Dolcetto d'Alba 2010 Casot
5.    Serradenari, Langhe Rosso 2007 "Renoir"
6.    Crissante Alessandria, Barbera d'Asti 2007 "Rugé"

Enrico's Dolcetto pleased everyone who, like me, seemed a little disdainful of the light, Beaujolais-style Dolcetto that is so common in the region. The grip of this wine was more to our liking. The Renoir showed more Pinot character than usual - tasters asked me to convey to the producers that they appreciated the blend and hoped it would continue to be made, now that the Pinot vines are deemed mature enough to produce a mono-varietal wine. No surprises that Alberto's rich and ready "Ruge" was a big hit, of course.

7.    Fabrizio Battaglino, Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010 Colla
8.    Nada Giuseppe, Barbaresco 2009 Casot
9.     Giovanni Manzone, Barolo 2007 Gramolere
10.  Giulia Negri, Barolo 2007 "La Tartufaia"

After a short break for cheese and biscuits, the Nebbiolo stretch was encountered with Fabrizio's youthful but vibrant "Colla" leading the way. A very different wine, Enrico's 2009 Normale was rather more traditional in style (albeit in a modern way) and very drinkable, as always. The Gramolere needed quite a lot of aeration to get past the oak and tannins but pass it we did and it revealed a magnificent future. A discussion about the ethereal quality of Nebbiolo was checked by the Negri Barolo which is a more powerful wine but one which was also enjoyed by tasters.

Dessert wines
11.  Fabrizio Battaglino, "Bric Bastia"
12.  Grasso Fratelli, Moscato d'Asti 2011

The final pair were the sweet wines. Fabrizio's Bric Bastia should have been chilled but still found favour with tasters who conjured up a myriad of flavours and nuances in this most delicious of wines. The Grasso Moscato provided some welcome relief at the end of the tasting to a group whose palates were not flagging (on the contrary, they seemed to be just warming up!) but who seemed to find its light, grapey, light fizzy manner charming.

The only estate missing from this list is the excellent Filippo Gallino whose wines are in transit as I write (I hope!) which is a great shame as their excellent and superb-value Barbera is always a crowd pleaser and their Roero wines simply stunning.

It's going to be a long but, I suspect, highly enjoyable night! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chabriles for a chilly night

Old college friends up from London for Halloween but too cold and damp for a bonfire so, after a hearty meal of meatballs (from an excellent recipe adapted from one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's), and after the children had taken off their Halloween make-up and gone to bed, we decided to go on a trip down memory lane and watch An American Werewolf In London. What a cheesy film!

Of course, wines are required for all of this and two from Laurent Brusset were very much enjoyed: the 2007 Cairanne-CDRV "Les Chabriles" and the 2007 Gigondas "Le Grand Montmirail". Both are classic Brusset wines: rounded, fruity, well-structured with plenty of deep, rich Grenache fruit. The Chabriles is 50% Syrah but this does not get too black here. This Gigondas is their standard cuvee. There is little between this and the Cairanne, qualitatively or stylistically, frankly. Obviously from 2007 it was to be expected they would both be very good. My only concern is that it was my last bottle of the 2007 Chabriles and business stocks are barely a dozen so I can't really justify any samples. At least my friend, who has been ploughing through some 2010s, reckons I don't need to wait for the next vintages. I think I may give 2009 a try first though.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What I take away with me

If, like me, you have amassed a collection of wine far in excess of the number of bottles you can realistically expect to consume in the life of the wines concerned, you will have picked up a few bottles you have changed your mind about since your original enthusiastic purchase and which you consistently snub whenever you are pulling a bottle from the rack.

I have developed a system for using these wines: take them to the in-laws. Not that I want to palm off the undesired on my in-laws, you understand; rather, that when I am there, some 250 miles from home, I am stuck with whatever wines I have brought with me. The local off-licence is unlikely to have anything smarter than Blossom Hill lookalikes so you will believe me that whatever I take with me is going to be preferable.

Having come back from a couple of days there, I can report that the visit was successful, wine-wise at least, with a couple of Bordeaux I had been dreading, a Burgundy which has never impressed and a Chateauneuf which previously seemed over the top all performing well. That said, when we needed an extra bottle to take with us on a visit to the brother-in-law just around the corner, a bottle of Bressy-Masson's 2009 Cotes du Rhone, relieved from a box taken up at my mother-in-law's request, a wine which cost considerably less than any of the stash I had taken for general consumption, was most impressive.

Of the wines I took, the Tour St Bonnet 2003 was less ripe than others from the heatwave year but good with some roast lamb; a bottle of Patrice Rion's 2005 Bons Batons, a vintage which for some reason has consistently failed to hit the spot, seemed richer and more together than ever before. On Monday, a 2000 Bordeaux (I can't even remember which!) which I expected to have fallen apart by now, was still very much alive but the Cuvee du Vatican Reserve Sixtine from 2007 is still in its infancy but coming together very nicely with cherry kirsch dominating.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Beaucastel 2011 allocations just received

The allocation for the 2011 wines, tasted recently in London (see here for my impressions), has just landed in my inbox and the offer is now available to view here. For the first time, we are pleased to offer Coudoulet Blanc as well as the rest of the range from Chateau de Beaucastel and Famille Perrin.

Does anyone notice a face lift?

Despite Google Analytics statistics, I am never entirely convinced that anyone reads this (except for the small number of people who call me to correct punctuation or grammar - you know who you are!) so was there really any point in the hours I put in to change the appearance of some of the pages on the website?

Given what I have written in the paragraph above, I can assume that few will have noticed the changes so I should begin with the information that the pages affected were those that list the estates we work with from the various regions. Out with the tedious alphabetical lists and in with pictures - logos, labels and photos - to make these dull pages more exciting and, if not exciting, more accessible.

For example:

French wines   -   Rhone wines   -   South-West France   -   Languedoc-Roussillon
Italian wines   -   Spanish wines

It should be fairly easy to post a response on the blog so let me know whether you think it an improvement - do the changes make things clearer or not? - or anything else that springs to mind.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Memory lane revisited

Domaine de Cristia produced its first vintage of its 80-year-old vine Grenache grown on the Cristia lieu dit next to Rayas, named appropriately enough "Vieilles Vignes" in 2004. It was an instant hit with critics and consumers alike and, when it was released in 2006, was good value at around £25 per bottle (you can double that today).

At eight years old, the wine has shed its primary character but it hasn't quite got round to the next phase yet. At first there is a hint of varnish on the nose (something that seems quite common for this style of wine at this stage of its evolution) but this blows off with a little breathing. As indicated, the fruit character is not giving its best just now but, having come across this before, I know it is just a matter of time before the secondary glow appears.

What does interest me now is the texture of this wine. In particular, the weight of the wine is excellent. The tannins are smooth and the alcohol is not overly apparent. This is a food wine that can be enjoyed on its own now (given an hour or two aeration) but I think I will keep my other couple of bottles back another five years at least.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Uplifiting Usseglio

OK, so Chateauneuf-du-Pape is not generally a Tuesday night wine but, having endured a vegetarian lunch (with some very good friends so I didn't mind too much!) we had a beef stew which cried out for something majestic. Raymond Usseglio's 2005 promised to hit the spot.

At just seven years old, this wine has now turned the corner to become a wine that could only be Chateauneuf, a real terroir wine. Raymond's (or, rather, Stef's) wines are never the most concentrated in their youth but they grow and grow until, when ready, their mouthfeel is perfectly balanced with the acidity and tannins and the fruit, at seven years old, is beginning to show signs of maturity with some secondary fruit poking its head round the corner.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Beautiful Beaucastel 2011

Yesterday saw the annual Beaucastel EP (en primeur) tasting, this year held at the Church House Conference Centre, a stone's throw away from the Houses of Parliament (it's OK, they weren't sitting: it's conference season, remember?).

The line up started, not altogether impressively, with the Vieille Ferme range which I found to have of-putting aromas. Nothing offensive, they just smell cheap (which, of course, they are). Probably OK in the supermarkets but of no interest to me.

The newly named Famille Perrin range, however, is increasingly interesting. The CDR Blanc is a correct wine with a decent enough nose and palate made in an easy drinking style. Pleasant enough. The red has a typical Grenache nose with a good helping of cherry fruit and some spice. It's a lively enough wine. The "Nature" was of particular interest as I used to import it before it was certified organic and before Waitrose muscled in. In those days it was quite animal; not so any more. It has slightly sweet fruit but good balance and nice depth of fruit and weight. There is also a CDR Villages (a new wine?) which was initially quite reserved on both the nose and palate but which showed much better around an hour later when I decided to give it a second chance. Quite youthful on the nose but good enough if the price is right.

Obviously the Crus are the main points of interest. The Perrins own some of these vineyards including those in Vinsobres where the blend is Grenache and Syrah (in more or less equal parts I gather). "Les Cornuds" is the standard bottling which has a deep and dark appearance and a slightly dusty (in a good way), black nose of black raspberry and cassis fruit. A little restrained just now but I think it will emerge with good minerality and there is some spice here, especially on the attractively tannic finish. I preferred it to the blockbuster "Les Hauts de Julien" which was a bit too much for me although given a few years... This has an intense Syrah nose with some of the animal/olive and liquorice character you sometimes get around here. Not too heavy on the palate which follows on accurately from the nose. Too much? For some, I suspect.

The Cairanne "Peyre Blanche" was more appealing than in some previous vintages: plenty of sweet cherry fruit, a respectable feel in the mouth, some spice and a medium finish. A good villages wine. The Perrins' Rasteau "L'Andeol" has often hit the spot for me. This year's bottle was slightly tight and a whiff of wood hit me but it didn't get in the way of the fruit. I think this wine has extremely good potential. Tasted again an hour later, it had opened up rather well. The Vacqueyras "Les Christins" is another reliable wine with good fruit balance and well integrated. The lively tannins are well controlled and there is good length. Similar but bigger but with even better control is the Gigondas "La Gille" with fresh minerality and a more chewy finish but I am confident the tannins will cook in given time. Just as the prestige Vinsobres seemed too much, so did the Gigondas "Domaine du Clos des Tourelles" which seems to be made on steroids. Are these wines made for the Parker palate, I wonder? The nose is intense, the palate is intense with explosive fruit and spice and a hint of rubber. Superb tannins and length though so all is not lost. It probably will come very good in the end but where's the subtlety, the finesse?

Coudoulet Blanc was very welcome after all the above! The Marsanne sings out loudest on the fairly mineral nose although there is no denying the Viognier. It has a lovely fresh palate with fruit and acidity that cuts through all those reds well as any decent southern Rhone white should. Beaucastel Blanc is mineral and crisp on both the nose and palate. It has good Roussanne and Grenache character with a long finish accompanied by good acidity. This seems to be a good vintage for whites.

Coudoulet Rouge is very young but has a clean fruited palate. I couldn't really taste the Mourvedre at this stage although I know it is lurking there somewhere. Well made, as always, and one I would like to try again in 3-8 years.

Beaucastel Rouge is always tasted in component parts at these tastings. The Grenache has excellent ripeness giving a superb nose with sweet but not cloying, mineral but not dilute fruit. There is a hint of oak on the palate not evident on the nose. Excellent mouthfeel, again not cloying at all.The fruit profile is just right; the wine is not trying to show off (unlike a couple highlighted above). Lovely balance. The Mourvedre is more closed unsurprisingly but what is showing is rather good. The Syrah offers good black fruit, quite intense but not as OTT as the Vinsobres HdJ and less animal. Tannic but should blend well (about 10% of the final blend usually). There is a pre-assembled blend of these and other varieties which the Grenache dominates although the Mourvedre is apparent. It is very fruit forward - a  modern style of Beaucastel.

The tasting ended with some bottles brought out to say thank you to everyone who showed up - a 2003 Beaucastel was a pleasant surprise. More evolved than I had expected it to be, browning a little and a mature nose and palate. Whiffs of Bordeaux (in a good way). 1998 Beaucastel has a very evolved nose now with farmyard/animal hints and a hint of rancio on the finish. Lovely but I will be tackling a 2003 this weekend just to confirm today's tasting. I did ask Marc Perrin if he had cheated and opened the bottle yesterday - he said he had included the wine precisely because it is drinking so well now (of course).

Finally, a real treat: 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin explodes with youthful fruit on the nose. Quite pastille-like on the red/black-fruited palate with some cigar box lurking. Slightly disjointed at the moment but this is a real baby Hommage. Give it another 15 years then look again!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Red wines with curry

A local friend who hails from India by way of Kenya and Ealing has his ageing mother living with him now. She wanted to cook an authentic curry for his friends so last night we all piled round to enjoy something rather more subtle than the curries I make at home (or get from the local take-away). I asked what the curry was called to learn that it translated simply as "chicken curry" - no fancy names then.

I had been asked to provide some wines and, whilst there were a couple of whites on the table, I stuck with the reds, of course. A Domaine de la Charite Cotes du Rhone had good fruit and a sufficiently soft structure not to be bothered by the spice. However, I was more surprised that the Domaine de Mourchon Seguret from 2007 drank so well alongside the (admittedly fairly mildly) spicy food. Perhaps more understandably, the maturing 2009 Cotes du Rhone from Domaine Bressy-Masson with its softened tannins provided secondary fruit characters that blended well with the spice without any great conflict. The real star, though. was Xavier Vignon's Debut which has a wonderful maturity which shrugs off spice and, I suspect, anything else as if to say "I've been round the block enough times to know how to deal with you".

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Piedmont - at last I have narrowed it down

At last, after much deliberation (make that "tasting"), I have narrowed down the selection of wines from Nada Giuseppe (Barbaresco), Fabrizio Battaglino (Roero), Filippo Gallino (Roero), Grasso Fratelli (Barbaresco) and Crissante Alessandria (Barolo) to just three or four wines from each.

The range of wines is quite something: some unusual but beguiling whites, a gutsy Dolcetto, Barbera ranging from easy, everyday drinking to serious, dinner party wine, super ripe Nebbiolo to classic Barolo (not forgetting the Barbaresco and Roero incarnations, of course) and two low-alcohol, sweet wines, one red, one white. Not bad for fewer than 20 wines!

I really do think all these wines are stunningly good - normally I am no fan of Dolcetto but Enrico Nada turns out a beefy version that really works for me. However, the highlight of the range (for me) this year is the 2009 Barbaresco "Casot" which is so forward, I have already worked my way through several bottles. The 2007 Riserva is excellent too but, for my money, needs a little more time to compete with the 2009. Anyone who enjoyed the 2006 Riserva (and there were many such people) should look seriously at the 2009.

I must also mention Fabrizio Battaglino who had his birthday just yesterday and found out that he has Due Bicchieri in the 2013 Gambero Rosso guidebook - well done to him. His 2010s are surely the best wines he has yet produced: super ripe Nebbiolo from Colla and a classic, restrained Roero Sergentin heading the pack.

One of the things I really like about this selection - apart from the quality of the wines, of course - is how comparatively affordable these wines are. OK, there is one wine for £350 per magnum but, apart from that, the most expensive wine is only £28.50 (for a Barolo) with most of the Barbaresco and Roero wines well under £20 and several coming in around the £10 mark. For quality this high, those are low prices.

Please enjoy browsing the list which is in pdf form - here - or let me know if you would like me to send it to you another way.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Barbaresco: a (very) mini vertical

When I first tasted the 2007 Barbaresco from Nada Giuseppe it was alongside the 2008. The younger vintage was tighter and harder with more overt acidity - fair enough, it was the younger wine but this year I visited the family and tasted the 2008 against the 2009 which was ripe and forward.  Incredibly drinkable already, in fact.The 2008 remains more classic (I hope that's not just a euphemism) with a harder edge although this is a little more approachable than this time last year.

Last night provided an opportunity to taste the 2007 and 2009 to see how they stack up. The 2009 was true to recent form. The tannins are very soft and the fruit forward and rich. It's hard to see where this is going or, to be more precise, why you would want to take it on a long journey when it is so good now. I really can't fault it. The 2007 is still more approachable than the 2008 but has more obvious guts than the 2009 with some zingy acidity and dancing tannins. The fruit it quite similar - possibly there is a little more to the 2007 which seems to be in need of a few years to finish its evolution. By which time, of course, the 2009 will be long gone.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The evolution of a (Rhone) wine

Having been alerted to a new phase in the life of Raymond Usseglio's 2001 Cuvee Imperiale (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) I checked out my own stock to find I had enough of this to give it a try. Previous bottles have all shown good promise but they have all stopped short of actually delivering. Not so this one. The wine has put on a good deal weight since last time (when it seemed almost Beaujolais-like) and now has a rich but pure texture with full mouthfeel and tannins that wrap the wine perfectly. Now it is more Burgundian (and I am talking Grand Cru). The fruit has turned a corner or two too with richness and depth where there was once a question mark. This wine is now eleven years old and it has taken over ten of those years to get to this point. That's old school and, certainly, Stef Usseglio is making wines that show their promise much more obviously at an early stage so it is great to rediscover a classical wine - they don't make 'em like they used to!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Ventoux Viognier

Ciaran left Domaine des Anges last October after 13 years but not before he had vinified the 2011 vintage. Most of the wines are not ready for proper assessment yet (I did taste the white and rose back at Easter) but yesterday popped up to see his old boss, Gay McGuinness, and the new estate manager, Florent Chave, formerly of Domaine Brusset, to have a chat and taste any new wines. The one most interesting to me was the 2011 Viognier "Cherubin".

I have had an on-off relationship with this variety over the years, sometimes finding it exotic and frustrating at others. I used to abhor the oaked versions then find un-oaked wines too acidic. When Ciaran told me he was making Viognier starting with the 2010 vintage, I wondered how I would find the wine. That first vintage was aged 50% in third year barrels and 50% in stainless steel but I never got to taste it from the bottle as it sold out quickly (there wasn't a lot of it) so the 2011 is the first bottled Viognier from DDA I have tasted.

This vintage is aged 100% in old oak so much depends on whether you like the subtle flavour this imparts (it is subtle) and, more important, the texture it gives the wine. I do. The barrel means the acidity I have sometimes had a problem with is rounded out with a light creaminess but, because it is old oak, the lovely, exotic Viognier fruit is not overwhelmed. A decent drop indeed. That said, when I tasted it again later that day with Ciaran, he exclaimed he didn't like it at all. Oh well, there's no pleasing some people.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Filippo Gallino - last stop in Piemonte

Wednesday evening saw my last full estate visit - the rest of the time in Italy was more or less holiday (although a trip to Acqui Terme necessitated a visit to the Enoteca Regionale to familiarise myself better with the local Barbera di Monferrato wines amongst others). We got a bit lost in Canale - should you ever visit, look for signs to Valle Pozzo and you'll be OK.

When you arrive at Filippo Gallino, there is the feeling of the Deep South - a distressed row of houses with balconies overlooking a yard where the children amuse themselves by throwing up bottle tops and seeing where they land. It seems all the money is spent on the cantina and all the family must live here, several generations together.

Laura had driven off to look for us but returned just as we were trying out our Italian on her sister. Little English is spoken here except by Laura's husband Guglielmo who doesn't work for the family (except to help out with hapless English people like us). We went into the winery and looked around then into the tasting room.

The Roero Arneis is fresh and refreshing but it was the reds I had come for. The Barbera d'Alba had been a favourite in the 2009 vintage so I was keen to try the 2010: again, a good freshness in this wine which does not see any barrels. I preferred it to "Elaine" which is partially oaked and, I thought, a little baked. The fully oaked Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2009, however, was excellent: it had the rich Barbera fruit with its natural acidity well-checked by the barrels. Good now but with potential to develop. I had enjoyed the 2007 before (and had finished off my box of this just a few days before leaving for Italy) but the 2009 is better defined in comparison.

The Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 Licin, a cuvee created in 2007 in honour of Filippo's 70th birthday, was good (he got a better deal than cousin Elaine this year!) but I was looking forward to the Roero wines having limited experience of them before. The Roero 2009 is a big step up with good freshness and tannins which promise to melt away fairly soon to give up to the stylish fruit. However, new wine for 2008, the Roero Superiore 2008 Sorano is truly excellent, a new level of concentration and sophistication in my experience of this estate's wines. I only hope I will be able to afford to buy some when it is marketed!

We finished off with Birbet, a partially fermented, sparkling, not too sweet red wine made from Brachetto which has good acidity to cut through all the heavy reds tasted before. I commented that I had enjoyed a few glasses on Christmas Day before I was driving and that it had gone rather well with the turkey and trimmings. I said this had surprised me as I would ordinarily associate a wine like this with summer or the cheese board; they were not surprised!

Mario Giribaldi - another new estate for me

I had been bombarded with emails so eventually investigated and found there is an interesting selection of wines made here. But what about the quality? Having a confused SatNav meant I was late arriving but Katie Pattinson was relaxed as we talked about our attitudes to wine and the wine trade. The wines were al interesting but some stood out more than others for me.

Of the whites, I enjoyed the full and fairly complex Gavi with its minerality and white fruit characters (apples and pears). The simple Barbera 2010 Caj offers fruity, juicy, easy fruit and good acidity; a decent, straightforward Barbera. The Nebbiolo 2009 Accerto has good mouthfeel with fairly low acidity and soft tannins - tastes right, feels good.

I rather liked the Dame e Fuet 2007, a blend of 50% Nebbiolo and 50% Pinot Noir which has a great, plush nose which lets some Pinot Noir character through. Good mouthfeel.

The final two wines of the tasting were a Barbaresco 2007 Gaia Principe, a single vineyard wine from Neive with rounded, dancing tannins and lovely fruit. This was the star of the tasting for me, slightly better than the Barolo 2006 with its powerful nose, open and rounded. Forward for 2006 but still tannic.

Altogether, an enjoyable tasting with charming hosts and some wines here that we may see more of - watch this space!

Up the hill to Manzone

Not a great start, as I subsequently discovered: I had got the wrong day! Mauro was busy for the first half hour but we had a guided tour of the cellars from his sister who has recently joined the Giovanni Manzone family estate. It is a fascinating place with an underground spring keeping the area naturally humid.

We went through most of the wines: Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barolo. Frankly, not a bad wine among them. Some highlights though: the Dolcetto 2010 La Serra is more complex and structured than most with good acidity and more tannin so can age well (10 years?). Good "purple" fruit, long and fragrant. The Barbera 2010 offers juicy fruit and a simple structure to back up the slightly sour cherry fruit: a good all-rounder. I still prefer the more complex Barbera Superiore 2009 La Serra which sees 16 months in tonneaux. It is a fuller, rounder wine with lovely juiciness and good complexity. The Nebbiolo 2010 Il Crutin is quite evolved but a fairly simple, easy Nebbiolo for everyday enjoyment.

Onto the Barolos. First the Castelletto 2006 which I have not tasted before. This wine sees 35-40 days maceration which helps soften the tannins. The fruit is quite evolved but the wine is more tannic than the 2007 (inevitably: it is a 2006). The vines are fairly young so expect great things with more age.

From 2007, two wines I know: Gramolere 2007 is forward but still tannic, made in a flambuoyant style but with good restraint. Long finish. The 2008 has a lovely fragrant nose, classic structure but is more pointed, less rounded. Quite tannic but only bottled a month ago.

Bricat 2007 has more fruit on the nose and quite smooth tannins. This wine is plush and rich - why wait? The 2008 has great potential, lovely fruit, excellent structure.

We finished with the Riserva wines: the Gramolere Riserva 2004, aged 40 months in oak has a deliciously evolved nose, balanced and fragrant. Extremely smooth and stylish - it almost calls out for some rusticity! A superb, highly refined wine - my wine of the tasting. The 2005 has a slightly fuller nose and is also exceptionally well balanced but slightly chewier than the 2004. Excellent.

First taste of Barolo this trip - Crissante Alessandria

Alberto Alessandria was in a talkative mood when I arrived just after 9.30 on Wednesday morning (25th July). He showed me round the winery before going into the tasting room which has magnificent views over the valley below La Morra (he is based in the small hamlet of Santa Maria, a couple of miles outside La Morra).

We skipped the Dolcetto and went straight onto one of my favourite wines in 2007, the Barbera d'Asti "Ruge" 2006. Alberto explained that it had been too acidic before so they had held it back until they felt it is ready. It has quite an evolved nose now with a warming palate, rounded and together. The tannins are soft and dancing around the slightly baked fruit. The acidity is balanced and the wine has decent length - can be enjoyed now. The 2008 won't be released until October and is different inasmuch as the oak used to age it gives the wine a different flavour profile to the wine at first. I didn't taste it with Alberto but took a bottle away with me so experienced it more fully and by the end of the bottle, the oak character was completely integrated, making this very similar to earlier vintages. This suggests the wine needs a year or two (at least) for the fruit to shine through but will be every bit as good in the long run.

There are three Barolo wines, each from a different vineyard with different characteristics. I have never experienced the Capolot but took a bottle of the 2007 away with me so will find out more soon enough. The Galina 2008 has a meaty nose which is less oaky than the 2007. The tannins are very smooth and the fruit is good. Alberto told me this is a hot vineyard, good for tannin ripeness (good for sugar ripeness too - the wine is a well balanced 15%!) and, certainly, the tannins are lovely and sweet, making the wine very drinkable now. There is good grip and lovely fruit, very open for 2008, and a long finish.

I asked Alberto if he had thought of blending the various wines as an experiment but he was adamant he was going to keep them separate as each offered something different. The Roggeri 2007 is less tannic than the 2006 but still, in keeping with wines from this vineyard, is one of the more tannic Barolos I have encountered. Less alcoholic than the Galina at a mere 14.5%, it has a more ethereal nose but is, for now, a harder wine. Good potential here but, as expected, it needs time - 10 years at least for the tannins to round out allowing the fruit to realise its full potential. Check back in 2025!

Fabrizio's fabulous wines

Over to Roero on Monday evening, the other side of the Tanaro river so no longer in the Langhe. This is a region which has been overlooked by consumers hunting down the more famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco but here there are Nebbiolo wines not to be ignored. At a lunch in London back in February, I tasted through thirty or so wines from this area and was pleased to note that the one that stood out was one of Fabrizio's which I was due to re-taste - properly - with Fabrizio Battaglino at his family's house.

We started off with the white wine, a Roero Arneis 2011. Fabrizio does not want to have anything to do with non-native grapes which is the right choice for him although it may give him something of an uphill struggle when it comes to marketing such wines. Thirty years or so ago, there were few Arneis wines produced; rather, it was used to soften the Nebbiolo, much in the same way as Viognier is used in Cote Rotie. Now there are a good number of these wines around. To my palate, it has much in common with Marsanne (rather than Viognier, but Marsanne is still blended with Syrah at some Northern Rhone wineries) and, whilst it would never be mistaken for Hermitage, there are similarities. The 2011 seems a little sweeter than the 2010 but it still has good minerality and acidity. Good.

The Barbera d'Alba 2010 is more serious than most. You wouldn't know it had seen any oak, the fruit is so intense but, whereas the 2009 seemed to need a few years in the bottle, I could drink this now. This was true - more or less - with the three Nebbiolo wines. Fabrizio makes serious, ageworthy wines but the straight Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010 is a pretty-fruited wine with manageable tannins.

More serious is the Nebbiolo d'Alba 2010 Colla, the wine I tasted first back in February. This has quite amazing fruit, richer and fuller than any Nebbiolo I recall having tasted. Lots going on here and the fruit subdues the tannins well. The balance is excellent. As a footnote, we drank a bottle of this a few days later and found, as the bottle drained, the wine opened more and more splendidly. Next time I will open the bottle a couple of hours in advance. By way of contrast, Fabrizio had a bottle which had been opened for a couple of days but I found the fruit had faded a little whilst the tannins remained in place.

The last wine in the line-up is the Roero 2010 Sergentin which, whilst not as showy as the Colla at this stage, is perhaps, ultimately, a more sophisticated wine. It oozes elegance, even more so than the other wines, and hints of the multiple layers that will undoubtedly develop over time. I am going to enjoy watching this wine!

As ever, a fabulous set of wines which UK consumers will, in the main, overlook no doubt which is their great loss. Serious wine drinkers should be checking these out and supporting intelligent winemakers like Fabrizio whose total production of 25-30,000 bottles is never going to make him rich but, on the contrary, is so small as to ensure that every bottle has received the attention it needs to make it a truly great experience.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Back to Barbaresco

My second visit of the trip returns me to Treiso, just a few hundred yards away from Nada Giuseppe in the Val Grande, a beautiful oval-shaped valley carpeted in vines. The estate is that of the brothers Luigi and Alfredo Grasso, Grasso Fratelli. Neither of the brothers speaks any English so, with my limited Italian I am relieved their niece, Elisa, is on hand to show me round.

I have already tasted some of the wines back in England. What is immediately attractive is the fact that they can offer a selection of single-vineyard Barbaresco wines going back to 1999 so there is the possibility of trying something that is at least semi-mature, a rarity in this accountant-driven world.

Starting out with the non-Barbaresco wines was interesting although, I confess, non of them wowed me as much as the semi-mature Barbarescos I was treated to. There was a barrique-fermented Chardonnay and a Spumante Brut which was not too dry. A trio of Dolcetto wines included a very young 2011 with a very young, almost vegetal, nose, a wine which needs time to flesh out. The 2009 was more rounded but has some sourness. A 2003 was offered with its noticeably fuller nose and fleshier body. Still a Dolcetto though.

A couple of Barberas followed: a 2008 and an oaked one from 2009, both decent enough but eclipsed (for me) by the 2008 Nebbiola which was quite open with some chewy tannins. However, the big leap was yet to come.

Four ranges of Barbaresco are available: a Normale was tasted from 2005 back in England and found to be correct but not the most exciting wine in the range, inevitably. The three single-vineyard wines, however, include some rather special wines. The 2007 San Stunet shows some oak through the easy-drinking style. Good tannins. The Bricco Spessa range comes from the Giacosa vineyard. The oak used in the 2004 is almost indiscernible now but, then, only 25% barrique is used with 75% in botti. The wine has good mouthfeel and nice tannins. The 2001 is soft and drinking well but food will soften the tannins further. There is a long finish here.

The Sori Valgrande wines see around 45% barrique with the balance in botti. I liked the fresh 2009 which seemed quite superior with good fruit and length. Inevitably there are tannins to combat here: one to cellar. The 2001 still has some oak on the nose but it is well integrated with the sweet Nebbiolo fruit; very drinkable now. The 2000 is evolved, especially on the palate with secondary fruit starting to show. The 1999 follows the same path.

To cleanse my palate, a lovely Moscato d'Asti which was sweet, balanced with lovely fresh acidity. Just right.

Overall, an interesting estate and a real pleasure to taste the older vintages which are quite traditional in style with fruit taking centre stage. I will be working my way through the wines I took away with me with close interest!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Nada Giuseppe visit but no Enrico this year

With Enrico Nada on holiday in Sardinia, his parents and sister Barbara were perfect hosts during this year's visit to Nada Giuseppe. Whilst I have been trying to learn a little more Italian, I still have to rely on the better language skills of my hosts which is shameful; I must do better next time (although Enrico will probably be there and his English is extremely good so I am fighting a losing battle - but one I will continue to fight!). Still, even without Enrico the conversation flowed as well as the wine.

The wines, as expected, were extremely good, perhaps better than last year, especially the top wines. We started with Armonia 2011, the estate's only white wine. The nose is quite youthful and hints of the blend that it is (I assume it is the same as the 2010 which included Arneis, Favorita and Sauvignon) and a touch of oak. There is some interesting fruit here which comes through well on the palate which has good definition: rounded but good acidity to back this up and some attractive spiciness. It has a quite long, spicy finish with better acidity and more flowery notes than the previous vintage, I thought. As a footnote, Barbara gave me a bottle to take away which had the chance to open up as the bottle progressed (which shows the value of taking a bottle away!) and became more glorious as the bottle emptied. Funny, that!

Straight onto the Barbaresco 2009 next with a wonderfully rounded nose, full and rich with sweet but spicy fruit. A medium-full body accompanies this young but approachable wine which seems already more forward than either the 2007 or 2008. It has a superbly rounded mouthfeel and lovely, open Nebbiolo fruit. This is a very good wine with an enticingly perfumed finish with the spice lingering to the end. The tannins are soft and the acidity seems lower than in other vintages (or better integrated, perhaps); in any case, this wine has great balance and is going to be an excellent Barbareseco for drinking over the next 10-15 years.

Note: I re-tasted this wine a few days later. This confirmed my feeling that this is one of the very best wines I tasted during this trip. The balance between fruit and the structural elements is quite exceptional.

The Barbaresco 2008 followed. Possibly better in the long run, it still has a slight hardness that I noticed last year (which reminds me of some of the 2005 Rhone wines which took longer to open up than the 2004s or 2006s, for example). It is very similar otherwise and very much as remembered from last year. A more classic vintage? Barbara agreed. I felt it needs another 5-10 years but will last until 2025. I re-tasted the 2009 again after this which confirmed my preference for the younger wine for current drinking.

The Barbaresco Riserva 2007 does not bear the name of the Casot vineyard on the label - Enrico later informed me this was a bureaucratic oversight but the wine is still from Casot. It is slightly deeper in colour than the Normale and is less oaky than the 2006 was so the sweet Nebbiolo fruit comes through well. It has soft tannins and a medium-full body with fairly low acidity - it is very similar to the 2009 but with the added richness and complexity of a wine two years older that has been treated with even more respect. A couple of days later, I compared it with the 2006 which proved immensely popular. There is a greater difference between these two vintages than between the different vintages of Normale but I would struggle to say which I prefer. Both are irresistible!

We ended the tasting with the Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2009 which, being Barbera, is deeper in colour than any of the Nebbiolo wines. It is rounded if a little sharp but I don't need to remind myself that (a) I am tasting it after the wonderfully rounded Barbaresco wines and (b) this is Barbera which has naturally high acidity, making it a great wine for pizza or pasta. A bite of the cheese Signora Nada provided showed the necessity of appreciating many Italian wines with food as it brought out some of the wine's more subtle aspects.

A few days later I received an email from Enrico asking what I thought about the wines, including the Dolcetto - we had been too busy talking to remember to taste this. Aaargh!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I know I shouldn't but...

Last night I opened a 2007 Barolo "Bricat" by Giovanni Manzone. Everything was against this being successful: it is a very tannic wine which, on paper, needs another five to ten years and I was eating something that was never going to partner a wine like this even when it is mature. I just couldn't help myself.

To start with, the tannins were a little immature but there is enough sweet Nebbiolo fruit there to cope with them even when the bottle has just been opened. Over the course of an hour or so, the tannins softened. Not completely, of course, but enough to bring the fruit out even more.

Texturally, the wine is gorgeous with a velvetiness that makes you want to keep coming back but, at the same time, enough grip from the tannins to keep it pert.

But what about the fruit? Classic Nebbiolo - sweet cherry, quite piercing, reminiscent of a very fine Burgundy. Some tar, tobacco and spice too. What's not to love?

Friday, 27 April 2012

From the Southern Rhone to Canterbury

Last night was my annual jaunt to the south of Kent for a tasting with the group. Group chairman/secretary (I am never sure what the roles are), Keith Powis had been called away so there was quite a different dynamic than usual but he was missed. The tasting was very lively and the wines were well received - all showing rather well.

The wines I took along (one non-Rhone but who's counting?) were:

White wines
Mourchon, Côtes du Rhône 2010 “La Source”
DomaineTreloar, VDP Côtes Catalan 2010 “Terre Promis” (really lovely wine, coming together well)

Red wines
Domaine deCristia, VDP Mediterrannée 2010 (mini-Chateauneuf, excellent price)
Domaine de la Charité, Côtes du Rhône 2010 (very pure CDR)

Perrin, Vinsobres 2009 “Les Cornuds”
Raymond Usseglio, Côtes du Rhône 2009 (mini-Chateauneuf, a real contender)

Domaine Bressy-Masson, Rasteau 2009 “Paul-Emile” (just gorgeous)
Domaine des Côteaux des Travers, Rasteau-CDR Villages 2007 “Prestige” (masterful)

Domaine de Cristia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 (classic but modern)
Raymond Usseglio, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 “Impèriale” (majestic)

Dessert wine
Domaine des Côteaux desTravers, Rasteau 2007 (maturing nicely - some Rancio character emerging)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Herts Fine Wine Society

Just back from Easter in the Vaucluse (a working holiday, at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and straight into a wine tasting for a group I haven't met before but who received me generously on Monday evening and seemed to like the wines I presented.

First up was a pair of whites: Mourchon's Viognier "La Source", a wine for the summer and Coteaux des Travers' more serious and ageworthy (but not dissimilar) "Marine". Both wines have lots of Viognier and Roussanne so are highly aromatic. On the night, the Mourchon offered the easier drinking but the CDT is clearly the master here.

Easing into the reds, Cristia's 2009 CDP Grenache "Vieilles Vignes" is just about there now, the wood which was, perhaps, a little too evident is beginning to give way to some sweet, fragrant fruit with a Burgundian elegance. I defy any Grenache detractor not to enjoy this wine with a summer lunch.

Next, a pair of classic wines: Bressy-Masson's 2009 Rasteau "Paul-Emile" is remarkably forward and richly fruited (I will have to dig out my own case) and Brusset's 2007 Gigondas "Le Grand Montmirail", a typically modern-style wine with oodles of sweet cherry fruit.

The Chateauneufs were all quite serious - Herts wanted to try some of the best wines in the range - beginning with Christophe Coste's debut vintage of Chateau Capucine. This 2009 was showing well already with its pure Grenache fruit wonderfully soft and expressive. A seamless wine. Followed by two atypical CdPs from Cristia (again) and Raymond Usseglio. Cristia's 2009 "Renaissance" is a power house but not overwhelming, the gorgeous black fruit (from the 40% Mourvedre) integrated perfectly with the 100-year-old Grenache. Stef Usseglio's 2007 debut "La Parte des Anges" is a whopping 70% Mourvedre so I had double decanted it a few hours earlier. The subtle aromas of coffee added to the chocolate and black fruit characters. Delicious: it was a great shame that I had to spit out any of these wines but I was driving so had no choice.

The last red was another wine from Christophe Coste; his 2007 "Les Ombres". From such a ripe vintage, this has New World nuances but I do mean that in a good way - for all my ranting about Aussie wines, I do like a good cool climate Syrah (I just can't afford it). The oak used to age this wine has dissipated and what we are left with is a top drawer Southern Rhone Syrah, a refreshing antidote to all those big Chateauneufs.

Even more refreshing was the "Hommage" Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise from Domaine des Bernardins that wrapped up the tasting. Christmas in a glass is the best way to describe this exquisite wine - it works for me at Easter too.

World Malbec Day... yesterday

An Argentinian initiative but, frankly, when you get beyond the £6 or £7 wines they do well, I think you are better off looking at Cahors. OK, so I am spoilt for choice with my relationships with Cedre, Lamartine and Haut-Monplaisir but these estates all prove that it is possible to make wines that burst with fruit (in the same way as the Argentinian wines do) but don't leave a saccharine taste in the mouth; rather, they have superb structures to go with burly meats like duck (an obvious choice given they come from the South-West), lamb (think Agneau de Quercy) and a juicy, bloody steak. Sadly, I didn't have any input into last night's meal which was chicken wings so no Malbec for me. Tonight, however, lamb shanks - not the most obvious dish for Cahors but I have to make amends somehow.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Astonishing wine from 1978

Puig Parahy is not a name that is well known but it deserves to be. Georges Puig makes some very good wines at his family's estate in the Roussillon region of southern France but what the family has long excelled at is offering mature vintages of exquisite Rivesaltes Rancio wines.

When we visited the estate just before Easter 2011, we were fortunate to arrive a couple of hours after The Wine Advocate's reviewer for this region had left. That meant that not only were there bottles out for tasting meant for us but older vintages of both the table wines and the Rivesaltes. Indeed, this was the first time in my life I tasted a wine older than anyone I have ever - to the best of my knowledge - met.

The youngest wine was a 2009, nowhere near ready for bottling but showing good potential. The 2005 was already displaying some of the Rancio characteristics and, skipping the odd bottle here and there (not that I did during the tasting), I found that a jump of six years seemed to bring on new delights. Then came 1978 which was a real turning point between the younger wines and the more mature wines. Incredible Rancio character, all figs and raisins, chocolate and nuts with wonderful oxidation that combines all these ingredients so well. After nearly a year, the memory has faded very slightly so I am opening another bottle as I write...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Cor! Cahors!

I just took delivery of the 2009s from Cahors. Having tasted them twice from the barrel, I had every reason to be excited but was nonetheless a little anxious that they may not live up to expectations in the bottle. Nothing to worry about (of course). Certainly, they are all young and some of the oak from the barrel ageing needs to be shed but it is quite unobtrusive even now and will give way to the fruit (even more than it has already) in time. Put simply, this is a stunning set of wines.

Pascal  Vehaeghe is clearly pleased with his 2009s. On both of the last two occasions I visited him he was keen for me to taste these (see earlier blogs). Chateau du Cedre is regarded as, probably, the very best estate in Cahors, certainly of those in the modern style, and Pascal is at the forefront on experimentation to make his wines better without losing their typicity. Usually these are wines to age, particularly as Pascal used to use 100% new oak. However, he has cut this back with the 2009 vintage which was aged 22 months in a mixture of new and second year oak barrels including a large new foudre. The 100% Malbec flagship cuvee "Le Cedre" is a stunning wine: wonderfully ripe with complex fruit and floral characters and both concentrated and elegant (just the sort of wine we like) with a delicious, long finish. Refreshingly, not too alcoholic (13.5%) this means the fruit has a chance to come through without being dominated by alcohol. There is some oak on the palate but it isn't anything to be concerned about: there is plenty of fruit to compensate. Delicious.

Pascal's influence is quite apparent in the 2009 "Pur Plaisir" from Haut-Monplaisir. As is usual for H-M wines which are all 100% Malbec, it is deep garnet in colour but the fruit profile is somewhere between red and black with a good pinch of spice. A small amount of oak is evident although this will fade away in time and, frankly, it is already well masked by the incredibly ripe fruit. Full in the mouth with very good length and lots of potential. Rather powerful. Certainly the best vintage of this cuvee to date in my experience. 

As with the other wines, Pascal's ultra-luxurious "GC" is now in the bottle and in the UK. Anyone who reads my blog will know how important textures are to me and this wine is worth the premium for the incredibly smooth and rounded mouthfeel. Pascal describes this as a winemaker's dream and it's easy to understand why. Everything is in place: a nose that makes you want to dive in and hold back at the same time (this reminds me of the scene in Gregory's Girl where Gregory's sister is explaining her love of salt and vinegar crisps) and when you do give in, the wonderfully plummy flavours and mouthfeel are almost overwhelming. The wine lasts seemingly forever too. Words simply cannot do this stunning wine justice. 

Is this really just a Cotes du Rhone?

Now, I am fairly well versed in what a Cotes du Rhone should taste like and that can (and does) cover a huge range of styles - think of all the different grapes than can go into one of these bottles for a start. However, I have certain expectations: a lighter style of Chateauneuf when I open a bottle of Coudoulet de Beaucastel or Raymond Usseglio's CDR, perhaps, or something truly elegant from Grand Veneur or ultra-modern from Domaine de Cristia. Amongst the CDR producers themselves, I expect fruit and a medium body above all else: something easy and very pleasant to quaff but not something that is going to make me stand up and shout.

I have always known the Bressy-Masson 2009 CDR is cut from a rather different cloth (that's why I bought it, after all) but tasting it again last night reminded me just how different it is. Yields were very low in 2009 so Marie-France Masson decided to make only a little of the very top Rasteau cuvee, A la gloire de mon pere, and ensure there were good quantities of the cuvees lower down the scale. In particular, the CDR which is more Rasteau than generic.

What does that mean? Well, Rasteau is the second hottest village in the southern Rhone (after Chateauneuf-du-Pape) so Grenache, which is king here, ripens superbly, especially in a vintage such as 2009 which, I think, produced even better wines here than 2007 (which tended towards slightly overly alcoholic wines here). The fruit is very full but it is texturally that the wine wins for me. The mouthfeel is full with plenty of glycerin and the acidity is just enough to keep the wine perky. The fruit itself is deep and red but not in a light, strawberry way; rather it has all those things going on that some tasters would describe as underbrush and tar along with kirsch and black cherries etc etc. Whatever, this is a lot of wine for an incredibly modest price tag.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Why all the sulfites?

Several years ago, I imported wines from Domaine Gramenon in the Southern Rhone. Among these were a few cases of Philippe Laurent's last vintage of "Pascal", a very old-vine Grenache which Parker was fond of comparing with old-vine Zinfandel. On the side of the case was a sticker imploring buyers to store the wine between 5-14 degrees as it contained absolutely no sulfur whatsoever.

Last week, when I opened my last bottle of this wine, which has been in my possession for most of its 13 years (and it is only in the last few years that I have been entirely satisfied with my storage conditions at home), I inevitably had a bottle of something else in reserve. Not necessary at all. The wine was remarkably fresh and not remotely oxidised (and it was delicious but that is not really relevant to this post). So how much SO2 do we really need?

Monday, 5 March 2012


There is a clue in the name of one of Baglio del Cristo de Campobella's top cuvees, Lusira - it's Syrah! This 2008 is, as you would expect, a fairly concentrated effort with some Northern Rhone austerity but it is distinctly Italian nonetheless. None (or little) of the Rhone's olive groves here but lots of blackcurrant and mint. The attack is, perhaps, slightly vague but there is plenty going on here and it is on the ultra-smooth finish where this wine really comes together. The lift of the fruit is quite enticing.

When to drink it? Probably not one for the long haul, I would prefer to enjoy this over the next five years or so.

Friday, 2 March 2012

2009 Bordeaux re-rated

Robert Parker has just re-rated the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux and Jonathan Maltus has done rather well it seems.

Chateau Teyssier, St-Emilion Grand Cru - 92/100
The flagship property of Jonathan Maltus (his residence as well), this is the best Teyssier I have ever tasted. A tribute to his efforts, this blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc over-achieves even in a great vintage like "Opaque blue/purple, with notes of charcoal, blackberry, cassis and spring flowers as well as a hint of subtle background oak., the wine is opulent, sumptuously textured, dense, pure and multi-dimensional. It should drink well for at least a decade or more."

Pezat, Bordeaux Superieur - 89/100
"An impressive project of Jonathan Maltus, this blend of 85% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc is a sleeper of the vintage. Priced realistically, the wine displays an opaque ruby/purple colour and beautiful cassis fruit intermixed with kirsch, liquorice and a hint of underbrush. It is dense, medium to full-bodied, very silky textured, mouth-filling and enormously satisfying. This sleeper is best drunk over the next several years."

Nada Giuseppe debuts in Decanter

The April issue of Decanter landed on my doormat this morning, in it the results of the first Barbaresco tasting since 1999. Wines were 2008 Normale and 2006 Riserva. Although sold out of the 2006 Riserva (one of our wines of the year in 2011) and still on the superb 2007 Normale, Enrico Nada persuaded me to send in some samples and the results are very pleasing. Both wines were awarded three stars and they were some of the very best value wines  of the whole tasting.

Casot Riserva 2006: "Wood, mint, herb, pencil lead and raspberry bouquet. Supple, round and quite concentrated with ripe, dry tannins and a good whack of alcohol." From 2014

Casot 2008: "Liquorice, tar, farmyard, plum and sweet berry fruit bouquet. Moroccan leather on the palate to start. It shows some maturity and also some leanness." 2012-2015

Well done Enrico - looking forward to the follow-up vintages!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Giovanni Manzone, Barolo 2007 Castelletto

First taste from the bottle of this 2007 Barolo which appears to be a mid-weight ruby wine. The nose is a little shy but a few swirls reveal some attractive Nebbiolo fruit in the ethereal style I love so much. The fruit on the palate is more generous but there is no doubting the tannins here although they are less pronounced than with the Gramolere (which was glorious after three days!). This needs a little more time but it is refreshing to find a Barolo that doesn't weigh me down. A lovely wine - one day.

After an hour or so, the wine seems to close up structurally but the fruit has gained some weight and complexity.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Roero wines at La Trompette

Our friend from Denmark, Birger Vejrum, organised a wine tasting lunch at La Trompette sand, inevitably, I couldn't resist. On arrival at midday, there were 14 wines to taste, all from Roero producers, ranging from white wines made from the indigenous Arneis grape, through Barberas and Nebbiolos to Roero reds (also from Nebbiolo). Five producers were represented including Fabrizio Battaglino and Filippo Gallino.

There were just two whites, both with the Roero designation: a 2011 from Ca'Rossa had immediate appeal whereas Fabrizio's 2010 showed more mineral complexity and potential to age and develop over four or five years.

The Barbera grape was represented by Ca'Rossa whose 2009 "Mulassa" is very fruity with quite a rich nose but was quickly put in the shade by Gallino's 2007 Superiore with its structure and depth of fruit which had more complexity (undergrowth etc). Maybe this will have to be added to my next shopping list.

A few Nebbiolo d'Alba wines next. Not quite a level playing field, perhaps, as Fabrizio's 2010 Colla coulld bear a Roero label but he has always marketed it as Nebbiolo d'Alba. Quite simply, this was my wine of the tasting with a lovely rounded nose, fleshier than the previous vintage (2008 - the vineyard was devastated in 2009) and lovely depth of fruit. I passed on my compliments to Fabrizio after the tasting and he said he thought this the best wine he has ever made. I agree.

One of the other Nebbiolo wines is rather more expensive: Sandrone's 2009 is certainly very good and could be placed alongside many Barolo wines without looking at all out of place. It just didn't have the flesh of the Colla.

The Roero reds completed the tasting. These tannic Nebbiolo wines revealed some of their magic but clearly there is more to come. The most complete was a 2007 Riserva "Roche d'Amsej" from Matteo Correggia aged for two years each in barrel and bottle. The most evolved of all the wines, it had a lovely, rich, rounded palate but costs over £30, I discovered. Needless to say I was very happy when Birger made a present to me of the spare bottle although he did recommend I hold it for a few years. Hmmm.

Lunch was excellent (thanks La Trompette!) and several other wines were enjoyed with the food. Most interesting was a 1999 Roero Superiore "Mombeltramo" from Azienda Malvira, not necessarily the best wine on the table but the one which showed the potential of Roero at full maturity. Now I just need to wait another decade for my stocks of Fabrizio's wines to mature.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Joblot from the bottle

At last the 2010 wines from Domaine Joblot, the greatest estate in Givry have been assembled, bottled, shipped and cracked open, this last effort completed by me. What a treat!

Before getting on with the whites, we sneaked a peak at two of the reds: the non-Premier Cru "Pied au Chaume" and the Premier Cru "Clos Marole", the only wine that had been assembled last August when I visited the estate. At that time, this had been the wine which had given me the most trouble but that is not unusual for a recently blended wine (often at Beaucastel tastings, I find the recently blended whole is not greater than the sum of its parts but after a couple of years...). I will come back to these later.

So, the whites. It seemed logical to try the Vieilles Vignes "En Veau" first although, this being Burgundy, logic is not always the best measure, of course. This wine has lovely rounded Chardonnay fruit well wrapped in sweet oak, not too much of course but enough to enhance the wine's slightly fat appearance. Enough acidity there though (to be expected from 2010). The Premier Cru "Clos de la Servoisine" Blanc is more structured and mineral so, perhaps, would have shown even better after the En Veau. With a little time, its refinement came through though but, as with any Premier Cru, a little patience will be rewarded.

Back to the reds, the obvious place to start is Pied au Chaume, a pretty wine which will drink well in its youth I think but will grow into itself if given a bit of time. The Premier Cru "Clos Marole" offers some lovely blackcurrant fruit and quite a big structure. It shows much better on day two so, again, give it time. Actually, that is (inevitably) true of all of these. I would like to see how they have settled down after another year or so then, probably, leave them a decade or so to work themselves out in the bottle.

The other two wines are more structured now. Both Premier Cru wines, the "Clos des Bois Chevaux" and "Cellier aux Moines" are forces to be reckoned with. How often do you come across a Cote de Nuits wine with this much to offer at anything like these prices? Both are subtle but ethereal, structured but generous. The fruit is classic Burgundian Pinot and, frankly, I can't see any reason to trade up. Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, I negotiated a mixed case of semi-mature Burgundies which included some Ghislaine Barthod, Denis Mortet and others and I would be happy to stick with the Joblot wines and not just on financial grounds.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

PFV tasting

For some inexplicable reason, I was invited to a tasting put together by the Primum Familiae Vinum group of twelve of Europe's leading wine families which took place in one of the ballrooms at the Park Lane Hilton yesterday. I am not complaining!

This was a rare opportunity to taste wines from Joseph Drouhin, Egon Muller, Sassicaia, Vega Sicilia and Mouton Rothschild, amongst others. I did.

I began with a couple of Egon Muller wines: the Scharzhofberger Spatlese 2010 followed by the Auslese. Where the Spatlese had a delicious tropical grapefruit nose and full palate with sweet fruit and tangy acidity, the Auslese was more so. Astonishing really. I am a convert!

I confess to being a little underwhelmed by one or two of the wines I tasted from Tenuta San Guido until, that is, I got to Sassicaia itself. A 2008, this was inevitably too young: restrained and tight but with a promise of things to come.

Chateau de Beaucastel was next door so I jumped in with the 2009 Gigondas "La Gille" from Perrin et Fils which had a lovely Grenache nose, a little lighter on the palate than I had imagined it would be though. A very modern style wine: extremely good with a beautifully rounded texture but it didn't scream out "Gigondas" to me and I rather thought I would be able to enjoy it already (maybe give it a year or two but even this would be a young wine by Gigondas standards). I had tasted the Vinsobres and one or two other wines from this stable quite recently so moved straight on to Beaucastel 2009 with its gorgeous Mourvedre/Grenache nose (and I love the whiff of old-vine Counoise it offers). Surprisingly soft on the palate where some oak shows through - more than usual, I thought - so needs to integrate fully. A lovely wine by any standards.

I moved next to the Vega Sicilia table. Pintia 2007 has a good black-fruited nose but, for now, the oak dominates the palate. It will be good in time, of course although I didn't find it terribly long. Alion 2007 leans more towards Bordeaux with some pencil shaving character etc although there is no doubting its Spanish roots. Valbuena 2006 has an excellent structure, superb fruit and a nice tang: I could certainly drink this with pleasure (its not likely to happen though) but, of course, the star of the show (at this table, anyway) was Unico 2000 with a glorious nose and wonderful softness that made me feel very much (too much?) at home.  Quite exceptional.

As someone who is rarely as impressed with even the great wines of Bordeaux as others tell me I should be, the Mouton Rothschild range had an uphill task. It managed fairly well with the Armailhac 2000 offering a good, mature nose including cedar and some black fruit, everything subtly meshed together. The palate was lighter than the nose supposed but this would certainly be a pleasant wine over the next ten years if you want to enjoy a decent Bordeaux. The Clerc Milon 1998 offered more of the same with, perhaps, a little more concentration. At the end of the table was the 2004 Mouton itself which did offer rather more. Still very tight but lots of potential here. Worth the money? Not to me.

I just had time to taste the 2009 reds offered on the Joseph Drouhin table: no waiting around for the Savigny Premier Cru Clos des Godeaux; this is approachable already. Extremely good for Savigny whose wines rarely achieve this level of richness and are usually a little more rustic in my experience. The Chambolle Premier Cru was excellent with the texture and balance making me wish I wasn't driving. The Beaune Clos des Mouches is more animal and needs time to establish where it will be on the pecking order. If I was buying any of these to drink soon it would be the Chambolle but in ten years time I would probably want the Beaune.

Running out of time, I spied a couple of aged tawny ports on the Symington table: Graham's 20-year-old was classic, the 40-year-old fuller, spicier, extremely long and just glorious. Quite a kick too.

In conclusion, yes, I enjoyed myself.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Perrin Vinsobres 2009

I hadn't tasted this since the en primeur tastings back in 2010 so, the wine having arrived at last, I wanted to see how the 2009 Vinsobres "Les Cornuds" has turned out. Rather good, actually, although this was never really in doubt. Lovely black fruit (with a hint of red) and the inevitable tar/garrigue/herb characters too. Most important, you can drink this now although it will soften and round out over the next year or so and drink well for at least five years.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Manzone's 2006 Gramolere

Having finally finalised my order with Mauro Manzone (of Giovanni Manzone), I have done what I always do, albeit a couple of hours early: cracked open a bottle. This one is the 2006 Barolo Le Gramolere in Monforte d'Alba. This site tends to give medium-bodied but luscious wines and this is no exception. The reason for opening it so early is that I feared it would be a typical 2006, overloaded with tannins. Yes, the tannins are noticeable but they will soften in the couple of hours or so between now and my (wholly inappropriate) dinner and they don't get in the way of the sweet cherry/berry fruit and liquorice/tar characters. This wine has the ethereal quality that I want from a fine Nebbiolo. It doesn't disappoint.