Thursday, 31 October 2013

Absolutely Cracking Wines from France

The annual tasting of French wines selected by 50 UK wine critics - three wines each so 150 altogether - took place a few weeks ago in London and today has been written up in the Ham & High by Liz Sagues who points out that "unlike just about every other trade wine tasting in the UK, the bottles are there because people who know and love wine want to drink them, not because they’re the choice of a wine-promoting organisation of whatever kind."

Event founder, Andrew Jefford had already reviewed Domaine Joblot Givry 1er Cru 'Clos du Cellier aux Moines' 2010“Precise, fresh scents of mingled red and black cherries, with poised and vivacious fruit flavours which warm, fill and fatten on the palate.”

Liz Sagues agreed with the emphasis on this wine in her column; this was the one wine she highlighted from the tasting:

"For a single recommendation, rather than one of my own choices, here’s a memorable wine – a perfumed, elegant and warmly fruited red burgundy selected by Andrew Jefford, who was the inspiration for Absolutely Cracking, via his groundbreaking book The New France. It’s Domaine Joblot Givry Premier Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines 2010, £24 from www.bigredwine.co.uk."

Also in the line-up was Moulin de Gassac's Merlot: “This is what you wish sub-£10 Bordeaux Merlot was like, lots of fruit, but still with a touch of leafy freshness.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Barolo and Barbaresco at La Trompette

A couple of days after the fact but my memory is probably better today than yesterday (after the lunch I went to Uppingham to present a selection of Rhone wines).

Before the eagerly awaited lunch (I had enjoyed a similar starter at the Manzone meal in March), a tasting of 2010 Barbaresco and 2009 Barolo. Fortunately I was one of the first to arrive but within minutes there were 25 people, mostly male, crowding round a small table with a dozen or so wines to try before we sat down around 12.30. Not much time to savour the subtle nuances of a dozen young Nebbiolos. 

Indeed, one seasoned Nebbophile later commented that it was, perhaps, too much even for him - his actual comment was "I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed by the volume of wines - for all my love of Nebbiolo, in the end I felt myself craving for some variety, even though interestingly clear differences were visible. I think I'm a wimp!"

For some reason a Roero had been allowed to slip through, the incredibly young 2011 from Filippo Gallino. It smells of Roero rather than Barbaresco or Barolo but seemed to have some volatile acidity and should probably have been saved for another day. For now, the 2009 will do for me,

Otherwise, there were a couple of new names but I was pleased to find that the Nada Giuseppe 2010 'Casot' and Cascina Saria 2010 'Colle del Gelso' outshone all others, the former typically forward. The Grasso Fratelli 2010 showed good promise too but was a little sweet at present (but, given that we still have the 2001, this is clearly a baby).

The Barolo wines were, almost without exception, too closed to assess properly although I did find that, as I had to spit everything out and because of the crowd around the table, I was holding samples in my mouth for rather longer as the tasting session continued. This meant the wines were opening up inside, a rather odd sensation. Fenocchio's 2009 Barolo 'Bussia' was the one I enjoyed most here.

Onto the lunch itself and a first starter of raviolo of suckling pig with turnip, crisp secretto and roasting juices (fabulous although the similar raviolo we had in March had the edge) which was paired with Gallino's Roero Arneis, a white with a sweet fragrance that worked well with the pork.

The second starter was a delicious boudin of pheasant with pearl barley, chanterelles and chestnuts which, on our table was paired with a mature Langhe Nebbiolo (2006) from Nagiurna, new to me but one to investigate (where will it all end?) and a magnificent, if youthful Barbaresco "Pora" 2008 from the superb cooperative, Prodottori del Barbaresco.

A glazed short rib and croustillant of beef with marrow, scorched onions and field mushroom was served with my 2009 Barbaresco from Nada Giuseppe (I had meant to take the 2007 Riserva but in my haste to grab a bottle the night before, pulled out the wrong box) and a 2005 from Cascina Saria which was showing very well for a vintage which was less easy than any since then.

An Italian cheese course (Robiola, Taleggio and a Toma - can't remember which one) provided the best wine matching of all though when served with Barolo "Brunate" 2006 from Francesco Rinaldi and Barolo Riva 2007 from Claudio Alario.

As usual, a great meal and good to catch up with some increasingly familiar faces.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Wine tasting in Rutland

Off to meet the good people of Uppingham on Wednesday evening. They have asked me to present a selection of wines from the Southern Rhone. Here is what I am proposing:

White wines
1.     Domaine Brusset, Cairanne-Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012 "Travers"
2.     Raymond Usseglio, Côtes du Rhône 2012 “Les Claux

Red wines
3.     Domaine de la Charité, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2010
4.     Domaine Grand Veneur, Lirac 2010
5.     Domaine Brusset, Gigondas 2009 “Le Grand Montmirail”
6.     Xavier Vignon, “Début”
7.     Raymond Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007
8.     Domaine de Cristia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004

Fortified wines
9a.   Domaine des Côteaux des Travers, Rasteau 2007
9b.   Domaine Bressy-Masson, Rasteau Rancio

I would have liked to include Charite's 100% Syrah for contrast but that would probably mean taking out one of the CDPs, the Usseglio I suppose as the estate is already represented. Hmmm. I will have to mull this over - over a glass of each, perhaps.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Top award for Nada Giuseppe

Italy has two leading wine guides: Gambero Rosso (which I know better as there is an English translation) and Veronelli. This latter publication has just published its list of 3 Star wines (the best) for 2014 and there in the Piedmont section is Nada Giuseppe's Barbaresco Riserva Casot 2008. Fantastic news for Enrico and the family. Well done!

I have been enjoying the 2007 - I am trying to hold back my last few bottles of the stunning 2006 - and have pulled a couple of corks from 2008s which looks to me more a re-run of 2008 so expect me to be reticent about letting you have any!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Domaine Brusset - Coup de Coeur twice in 2014!

Coup de Coeur is the highest accolade awarded by the French wine buyers bible, the Guide Hachette. This is an annual publication that lists the results by appellation of tastings from all over the country. An arduous task - everyone always thinks wine tasting is fun and easy. With some of the dross that gets entered into competitions, I would not willingly swap with most judges. The Guide Hachette is a little different though: whereas few seriously good wines are ever entered in the Decanter World Wine Awards et al, the grandest of the grand put their wines forward for the Guide - page 475 of the 2013 edition sees DRC winning a Coup de Coeur for its 2010 Grands Echezeaux, for instance.

Now, I am sure Laurent Brusset would be the first to distance his wines from anything coming out of DRC but, for Gigondas and Cairanne, they are consistently at the top of the game - and somewhat more affordable too.

Domaine Brusset's Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail is one of the oaked cuvees coming out of Gigondas but Laurent has been considerate of the use of oak which he has tempered somewhat, allowing the fruit to come out better in recent vintages. It is a GSM blend from high up in the Dentelles de Montmirail, a jagged rock formation abutting Mont Ventoux with spectacular views across the valley floor. And, as the GH write up says, the wine reaches the summit too, just eclipsing Le Grand Montmirail, the regular bottling.

In Cairanne, it is the 2011 Les Travers the scoops the highest award with the 2012 white, a personal favourite, just behind.

Well, now I know what I will be drinking tonight!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Matching wine with food

I was asked today to put together a mixed case with recommendations of what to eat with the wines. Food pairing is always difficult as this is even more complicated by personal preference. That said, here were my ideas - any alternative suggestions would be welcome!

Giulia Negri, Langhe Chardonnay 2008 Tartufaia
Lobster, with or without mayonnaise.

Raymond Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010 Rousanne Pur
Fish and seafood. Can take quite strong flavours but really at its very best on its own.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Herault 2008 Blanc
The producer recommends asparagus but, obviously, this is not in season so, perhaps, a light meat (veal or one of the more meaty fish such as swordfish or fresh tuna) or salad.

Giovanni Manzone, Langhe Bianco Rosserto 2010
I had this at La Trompette earlier in the year with a  risotto of squid ink with confit cod, mylor prawns, Tuscan oil and lemon - superb! Otherwise, fish, chicken etc.

Domaine Joblot, Givry 2010 En Veau Vieilles Vignes
Chicken - a light sauce should work well.

Chateau Lamartine, Cahors 2007 Expression
Duck or lamb are obviously choices for Cahors. This is vibrantly fruity and can take almost anything that is thrown at it so something quite peppery would work well.

Raymond Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005
Something with herbs and/or a little spice - sausage can work well although the wine seems too grand for a banger. Perhaps venison or wild boar then.

Grasso, Barbaresco 2001 Sori Valgrande
Game but not too strong - wild boar or game bird.

CrissanteAlessandria, Barolo 2007 Galina
The wine is quite big with a sweet note so something along the lines of lamb kidneys?

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie 2004 Classique
I would opt for simple roast beef, rare.


Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Herault 2007
This is Cabernet dominated so beef is probably best, either on its own or a casserole (or steak and kidney pie, perhaps?)

A very affordable wine

Out to lunch yesterday with friends who are not averse to something pleasant to drink but don't really know where to look for it (here!!!) so I took a bottle of Grand Veneur's 2009 Cotes du Rhone. This is a slightly controversial wine as it is the "Champauvins" wine but bears a different label. Why? Because, rather naughtily, GV sold me a wine they have been selling me for several years but now have an exclusivity arrangement with another (larger) UK importer. So, to get around this, they put on a different label and add a back label "Selected by The Big Red Wine Company". Not really the right thing here but I know some people in the French trade don't understand the British obsession with labels - as Sebastien Jaume (of GV) asked me, shouldn't we "drink the wine not the label"?

Anyway, the wines are seriously good, whatever label they carry and, frankly, that is all I am interested in. As an online retailer essentially, I have been bemused on more than one occasion to discover a winemaker has decided to change the labels from something that would look attractive on any wine shop shelf to one that requires the wine to be decanted fast. And as for dubious practices, anyone who finds what GV has done here objectionable should dig rather deeper. I suspect there are thousands of similar (and worse) stories to be told, even at some of the wine world's most prestigious names, given my own limited experience.

Anyway, what about the wine? 2009 was a hot year and the wine has a hint of raisin and a lovely warm feel.It's rich and warming with thick cherry fruit and a mouthfeel to match. Looking back at my original notes and the Parker review, this wine has come together brilliantly. I never quite understood why the 2007, for example, was dubbed a mini-Chateauneuf but this one merits the badge. I wonder how many sub-£10 wines can really match this. All suggestions welcome.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Barolo in Decanter

... the magazine, that is.

Results of a tasting of 2009 Barolo features in this month's issue. I have a lot more time for these panel tastings now that they just employ three judges for each one (although the quality of the results is determined by who is tasting, of course) but still much depends on the actual submission of wines. As the catchphrase goes, you have to be in it to win it.

It was good to see Serradenari getting an outstanding rating with 95 points for its 2009 although, as I don't have any in stock yet, the listing is with another wine merchant. My only concern is that it is listed as costing £34.90 - we have the 2006 and 2007 both for well under £20 so something is stacking up! Having said that, the company's website doesn't even list the wine or the producer. Oh well, I'll just have to import it myself.

The real delight for me was to find, just below Serradenari, an estate I have just started working with, principally for their Freisa, a quirky wine I have been wanting to add to the list for a while. Of course, I have also bought some of the Barolo which gets the following write up:

Filippo Broccardo et Flli. Monforter d'Alba 17.75 (92/100)
"Spicy oak aromas of vanilla and liquorice. Fresh and rich on the palate at first, then smooth and balanced. Very pure red fruit and polished (though still chewy) tannins."

Well done! I can hardly wait for the new wines to arrive.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My last bottle of...

Domaine Brusset, Cairanne-CDR Villages 2007 "Les Chabriles"

An inky dark wine with a thick texture but, surprisingly not at all OTT. There is an intensity about this wine, certainly, and the fruit is dark and foreboding but the acidity keeps it light enough. Very well restrained. A pity I have no more... roll on 2009 (and 2010 and 2011...)

Beaucastel 2012 en primeur tasting

Yesterday saw a return to the Church House Conference Centre in Dean's Yard, next door to (and overlooking) Westminster Abbey. An impressive location with views across Dean's Yard to the Abbey, a picturesque oasis in the middle of the hustle of Parliament and its surrounds.

Several of the country's most respected critics were present with notebooks in hand or laptops nudged between bottles so it will, of course, be interesting to read their thoughts in due course but, for what they are worth, here are mine.

Overall, an extremely good vintage for the Perrin family with, generally, low acidity and good balance. Alcohol levels seem a little lower than usual (ABVs were not printed on the labels of these barrel samples) which is welcome these days. I checked with Marc Perrin who confirmed that blends are more or less the same as usual.

The tasting was organised in the order of Vieille Ferme followed by Famille Perrin CDRs and Crus then a pair of new wines (to me, at least) from Provence and only then the Coudoulet and Beaucastel wines until, finally, a small selection of older Beaucastel wines. Of course, I had to approach the tasting differently, tackling the whites first, eschewing the rose wines and then taking in the reds all together. That said, I will comment in the order the wines were presented (my tasting sheet follows this order so I am really just trying to make my life a little more straightforward).

The Vieille Ferme Blanc seemed a really decent wine with a nose and palate typical of the region (it's actually a Luberon wine but the grapes are the same) but I found the red too much like the cheap bulk wines I consumed as a student. Slightly more appealing on the palate and I wonder whether it will grow into itself in time. Frankly, though, how many people are going to cellar an inexpensive Ventoux red? That is always the problem with these wines which can be very good value if they are consumed at the right time.

On to the Famille Perrin range and the CDR Blanc is first up: more subtle than the VF white but there is an extra layer of spice on the palate and the superior breeding shows through. The red seems to have more Syrah than most from this area, blacker fruited anyway. This would benefit from some bottle age but can be enjoyed now, I think. The "Nature" has a quite funky animal whiff and lacks something on the mid-palate. However, the last wine on this table, the CDR Villages - a new one, I think - was extremely good with a gorgeous nose of rich, rounded fruit and just a hint of oak. It is restrained but lands on the right side of austerity and is not too heavy at all. Very well judged.

Of the Crus I enjoyed the Vinsobres most this year. First, the Cairanne which is very modern and clean (none of the wet dog notes of yesteryear) with a touch of oak and firm tannins; it needs a couple of years. I slightly preferred the 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah that is the Vinsobres though. This is ripe with cherry notes mixed with the black fruit of the Syrah which also provides good tannic support. It seems the Syrah is particularly good this year judging by this and other wines.

Slightly disappointed with this year's offering from Rasteau which had a tartness that complimented the sweetness of the fruit but made me unsure. I also wondered about the Vacqueyras which I felt could tend towards oxidation. These criticisms are necessarily overstated; they are all good wines but some are undoubtedly better than others.

The Sinards Chateauneufs have improved. They used to be quite average, letting the range down. Not so this year. The only concern about the white is the apparent use of oak which will not be to everyone's taste. I liked it though. The red is quintessentially Chateauneuf with its warming nose and nicely rounded, not too heavy style. The fruit is slightly reminiscent of red fruit pastilles.

Table 3 began with the serious Crus. The La Gille Gigondas is a modern wine which, perhaps, lacks a little distinctiveness but the L'Argnee Vieilles Vignes from the same village was superb. More structure and fruit than its predecessor and a wine that needs some bottle age (5-10 years should do it), it has a lovely richness and length. When I find a wine I would really like to have at home, I put a star alongside my note: L'Argnee has a star, the next wine a bracketed one. Les Hauts de Julien from Vinsobres was more structured than expected and very tight. I think it will open up well in time though. It is less flamboyant at this stage than the 2011 but all the better for that! One last look at Gigondas: Domaine des Clos du Tourelles which is very rounded and fleshy, full-bodied with sweet red/black fruit. A very good, classic Rhone.

Slipped in before the big guns, two from Cotes du Provence bearing the name Mireval. Only the white was tasted: quite good if a little higher in acidity than I would personally like. The bottle shape rather put me off though.

Coudoulet Blanc is a wine I am warming to. Its texture and weight are just right. The 2012 needs to come out of itself a little to be truly great but no doubt it will achieve this. Already there are notes of honeysuckle and tropical fruits combined with good minerality,

The Coudoulet Rouge has a superb nose and follow through, more modern in style than a decade ago but a lovely wine either way. Quite meaty/savoury with the Syrah playing exceptionally well and the structural elements in good balance.

Beaucastel Blanc has excellent balance and mouthfeel with deliciously long fruit: a bigger, more complete version of the Coudoulet, perhaps. I preferred it to the old vine Roussanne which, perhaps, doesn't have quite enough acidity to help it age for long.

Beaucastel Rouge is quite restrained on the nose and palate but is clearly a very sophisticated wine with good body and mouthfeel. Clearly this is going to be a great Beaucastel one day. (I would have liked to go back to the days when we tasted individual varieties separately and then assembled our own blends but this was not to be this year.)

A final zip through 2008 (showing well), 2001 (maturing nicely but still youthful enough) and 2004 Hommage (surprisingly forward although the bottle was near its end) finished off this excellent tasting.

Marc was asked about 2013: too early to tell yet, of course, as the grapes have yet to be harvested but so far everything is looking good here, he assured us.