Saturday, 26 July 2014

Mullineux White Blend 2011, Swartland, South Africa

This really is one of the finds of the year for me. I snapped up the last one from Bottle Apostle's 'departure lounge' for less than £20 (to the obvious disappointment of one of the members of staff who I suspect had being coveting it). Mostly Chenin Blanc with some Clairette Blanche and Viognier.
The first thing that strikes you on the nose is a little yoghurt and a slight oatmealy sweetness, leading into dried apricot, honey, ripe pineapple, a touch of lime cordial and even petrol/kerosine. Curry powder spice and dried apple creep in too. The palate is full and textured with apricot sweetness, keenly balanced with fresh acidity, a slight yoghurty tang again, some white peppery grip and fragrant honey and vanilla on the finish. Character and elegance here; certainly one of the greatest South African whites I've tried to date and one of the sort of quality that would normally cost you big bucks.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Trip to Tuscany

Confession of an Italian wine nut - I'd never been to Tuscany before this trip. It's quite interesting to visit an area whose wines you're familiar with but whose towns and landscapes you're not - you start to fit the wines to the places and understand the factors behind the variations in flavour and style in a deeper way.

We started off in Lamole (above) - prime Chianti Classico territory. We had some lovely wines from Volpaia as well as some local vineyards. The main vinous focus was later on as we moved on to Montepulciano, via Montalcino.
We called in to Brunello producer Il Palazzone in Montalcino. I'd previously found their NV Rosso over here and blogged about it. Needless to say I was eager to taste the big brothers, so we wound our way right to the top of the hill in Montalcino to meet manager Laura Gray in a rather stunning spot on the western side of the town, with the vines facing northwest down the hill:

Il Palazzone holds three contrasting vineyard sites in different spots around the town, producing around 1000 cases a year. The estate has seen serious investment over the last decade, with  a whole new cellar being built and a lot of work being put into the vineyards. There is no Riserva here - just a Brunello and the NV. 2009 was a ripe and forward year in Montalcino, and Il Palazzone's Brunello is an immediately delicious wine, with plum skin, dried fig and clove spice upfront and touches of anise and mint adding fragrance. There's quite a friendly sense of fruit sweetness here but still plenty of grip and balancing acidity. We went on to try the 2008, which strikes immediately with a slightly more sultry character of ripe black cherry and prune fruit, walnut and black tea; the liquorice/clove element remains but the palate is more savoury and concentrated with the berry fruit complemented by touches of tobacco and tar and quite a mineral, slate-like focus to the structure. More fruit was taken from the lower vineyards here than in 2009 (I'm guessing that the freshness of the high altitude vines was very welcome in 2009). My notes sort of tail off on this one, which usually means I stopped thinking and started drinking - usually a good sign. 
We then headed off to Montepulciano. On the agenda were two vineyards near where we were staying. Firstly, Cantine Dei was quite a large operation in the midst of being modernised. They had quite a stunning barrel hall:

Here in Montepulciano, the Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), sometimes in combination with other common Chianti grapes, makes wines that sit somewhere in-between good Chianti Classico and Brunello. They tend to be a little easier-going than the most intense Brunellos, but at their best offer just as much interest and depth. 
A slight problem at Dei was that the tasting room is equipped with Enomatic machines. It would seem a sensible idea to prevent wastage, but, in practise, these machines aren't infallible and unfortunately I felt a couple of the wines weren't at their best. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the entry-level Rosso here - lively, grippy and fresh but still with a pleasing fruit intensity - and the very classic Vino Nobile, with which I came away with a few bottles. I'll write proper notes on these when I open them here.
A contrast from the size and imposing architecture of Dei was the family atmosphere of Tenuta Valdipiatta, a winery I'd come across through drinking a very fine 1999 Riserva a number of years ago bought from Theatre of Wine in Greenwich.

This is a medium-sized, family-run operation and the wines are full of integrity and character. The Rosso here is everything you could ask for - real aromatic interest and generosity of flavour for an 'entry-level' wine. A shame it's not available in the UK. The Vino Nobile is benchmark stuff of savoury finesse and quiet intensity. It's the two top-level wines that really shine - the fascinating 100% Sangiovese Vigna Alfiero 2004 is a single vineyard wine with real mineral elegance that belies intensity of flavour and age-worthy tannic structure. It was a very warm day but I could tell this was a top-notch wine and I'll write a good note on it when I open it here at some point soon....The 2004 Riserva (at least I think it was 2004 - didn't make a note) was also excellent; the essence of fine Sangiovese to me with its leather and spice-tinged ripe cherries, woodland aromas and almost tomatoey sweet-savoury balance of flavours. This is a top-notch estate; the wines show impressive harmony and a confident sense of identity. 
I filled my bag about as full of wine as Easyjet would permit on the way home, so expect some more detailed notes on some of these wines in months to follow.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Clarendon Hills Hickinbotham Syrah 2006, McClaren Vale, Australia

I picked this up from The Sampler in Islington - not the sort of thing I normally drink but it turned out to be outstanding. It's also a real pleasure to be able to purchase a wine like this with enough bottle age. The perfumed nose jumps out of the glass with ripe loganberry and blackcurrant fruit, behind which lurk layers of espresso, bay leaf and even creme brulee. There's a gentle treacle and liquorice sweetness which comes through on the plushly-textured palate, its deep seam of autumn hedgerow fruit balanced by hillside herbs of bay and pepper and a savoury touch of graphite. Lovely detailed, floral finish. Yes it's a big wine, but it's no brute - there's depth and character behind the immediate deliciousness.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Il Palazzone NV

It's quite unusual to see a non vintage blend from Tuscany on the shelves in the UK, but this, an entry-level wine from an excellent producer of Brunello, has become a real favourite. There are sweet, fragrant autumnal blackberry and damson fruits on the nose, with cinnamon and clove, toasted walnuts, rosemary and a touch of animal and molasses showing some maturity to the wines in the blend. Elegant, liquorice-tinged and intense autumnal fruit characterises the palate, with persistence of acidity, dried herbs and savoury grip on the finish. This is Tuscany for me - that mixture of fragrance and punch, sweetness and savour, prettiness and wilderness. Unbeatable for about £11 a bottle. 

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Christmas Drinking

Despite the fact that I try to avoid sitting round the fireplace furiously scribbling notes on what we're drinking at Christmas, I thought I'd write a quick post on what I've enjoyed whilst the memories are fresh.
Christmas day started with glasses of Ridgeview's Marksman 2009, a piercingly refreshing Chardonnay-based fizz specially made for M&S by one of the most reliable producers in the country. A touch of French oak adds an almost imperceptible sense of sweetness and spice to what is a otherwise a lively, citrus and green-apple driven refresher. I'd like to keep this for a few years. The Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2008 was a more immediate hit, with its ripe apple flesh and autolytic complexity a bit more evident and providing some substance. This is a classy wine that has plenty of improvement still to do.
The ritual gorging of lunchtime is never the best time to contemplate serious wines, but over the last couple of years we've enjoyed Rustenberg Chardonnay from Stellenbosch with the big event. You need enough zip to cut through the stuffing, with some spice and richness to match the buttery bird and crunchy potatoes, without spending the sort of money that makes you wish you could pay more attention. This always fits the bill. I like reds with my lunch, but it seems that I'm alone in my family in that respect.
The star of boxing day was Nyetimber's excellent 2009 Rose. This managed to be open enough to enjoy at this stage, even though it will undoubtedly gain a lot from some careful cellaring. That very English crabapple jelly and autumn hedgerow fruit was there, touched with a little rose petal fragrance and tangy redcurrants on the palate. The quality of the 2009 vintage is on show here in allowing such pleasure in youth - a real success.
Other things I enjoyed included the Paolo Leo Primitivo di Manduria 2010 from Waitrose, tempering the heat of southern Italy with an attractive fruit freshness, the fragrant, moreish Caorunn Gin from Scotland and a few drams of Lagavulin 16 here and there.  Just tonight to go and then it's back on the cranberry juice....

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Trip to the Wine Car Boot no.2 (and Sager and Wilde on the way home)

Last Saturday we took a leisurely (but quite lengthy) stroll from home in Victoria Park to an underground car park in Southwark for the second Wine Car Boot (see write-up of the first one here).
None of Grandma's porcelain figurines here; the event (tagline "Taste Your Way Out Of The Supermarket") is a chance for independent wine merchants to show that, for a few extra pounds, a trip through their doors can offer a lot more than a bemused wander down Sainsburys' wine aisle. My general impression was that the average RRP of the bottles on sale this time was a shade lower than last time, with an average price of just under £13, which seems about right.
Living close to Bottle Apostle and a couple of Borough Wine's outlets, we opted to taste some things from some more unfamiliar merchants. We found the big reds quite difficult at times as the wines were down at around 13-14C, so there are some wines that I think are better than they tasted at the time. To me, oak and sweet floral/confected aromas can seem over-obvious in reds at low temperatures as their true fruit quality doesn't really jump out until they're a bit warmer.
Here are notes on everything I tasted.

The hit here was actually the Adami Garbel Prosecco NV, at £16.50 from Planet of the Grapes (who pitched their wines at a slightly higher price-bracket, accordingly offering up three of our favourite wines). Full of sprightly red apple, delicate and sweet enough to be comforting without being floozy, I'd drink this over cheap champagne any day. That said, there were a couple of good grower champagnes on offer; we preferred the elegant texture, touch of pastry richness and spring-like pear and apple fruit of the Clos de La Chapelle 1er Cru, £23.50 from The Sampler to the quite primary citrus-driven Veuve Borodin Brut NV (£19.95 from Roberson). Both good value for the C-word, though I'd spend the £4 more on the first. There was also a quite wacky petillant Riesling from New Zealand - the Pyramid Valley 'The Body Electric' Sparkling Riesling at £15 from D Vine Cellars. A winemaking oddity from a very 'in' producer (and magicians with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), this was a bit out of kilter as a reasonable amount of the residual sugar left at bottling had fermented under the screwcaps. It needed a bit of that sugar back as the acidity was now pretty prominent, and it was reductive to the point of verging on rubberiness. The trouble with this kind of re-fermentation in bottle is that it is highly unpredictable, so there could be good bottles and bad bottles.

Holly's Garden Pinot Gris, £12.50, from D Vine Cellars, was highly expressive wine from Victoria with very ripe apple and papaya coming to the fore, dustings of fennel and spice and a generous slug of vanilla and toast. The new oak element surprised me, but the wine can handle it. Recommended. Another good 'roast chicken' buy would be the Painted Wolf Cape Hunting White "Lekanyane' 2012, a Chenin/Viogner/Verdehlo blend that, at £11 from Last Drop, was full of refined grapefruit fruit, tropical pineapple touches and a very pleasing suave texture touched by subtle oaking. The wackiest find here was the L'Estranger-Virgile Joly Grenache Blanc "Bois Du Blanc Et Tais Toi", an unusual non-vintage Langeudoc white from that was definitely on the 'natural' spectrum but proved a rare example of a wine exhibiting a cidery character that I ended up really quite liking. Usually I find it a put-off, but here it seemed clean, playing off the pithiness of the bitter herbs and savoury touches on the palate. It's an intense wine, but it knows exactly what it is and goes and pulls it off. Drink your white and shut up indeed!

We didn't try as many reds as we might have liked - as I said it was all a bit chilly. The Villabelvedere Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 from Last Drop was a straightforward strawberry/red cherry and green peppercorn red that, on the crunchy/green side of the Valpolicella style, offered pretty decent value at £9. There were some good Pinots about too. I'd wholeheartedly recommend the Chauvenet-Chopin Cotes du Nuits Villages 2010,  £22 from Planet of the Grapes. I didn't write anything about this, but it was delicious; my accomplice simply scribbled "the nicest one!!" on my list so I'll leave it at that. My favourite (and the most expensive) wine of the day was not to be found on the list. The nice chap from Vinoteca had got his hands on a parcel of Bourgougne Rouge from Gevrey that he was selling for about £26 as I recall; all elegant autumn strawberry, liqourice and woodland aromas and really very delicious. I didn't make of a note of the producer but if you're into sub £30 Pinot I'd get in touch sharpish as it was the business.
The Juan Gill Silver Label Monastrell 2012, from Jumila and priced at £16 from The Good Wine Shop didn't enjoy being so cold; it seemed to offer slightly confected red cherry, ribena and toffee, with the sweetness evident on the palate too. I did like the Chateau Ferreau Bel Air Bordeaux 2009 at £11.20 from The Sampler - a juicy, finely-textured wine that is a rare example of a wholesome, enjoyable wine that tastes of Bordeaux at a great price. Also suffering from being a bit cold was the Malbec Vista Carmelita 2012 at £19 from Planet of the Grapes. However you could tell that this was a very good wine indeed - an inky blueberry and blackberry mashup, with a touch of treacle-y charr and clear concentration and length on the palate. Not cheap but it's not going to disappoint when you just want...well, you know, a Malbec with bit of class and some hair on its chest.

I'm sure there were lots of great things there that I didn't get to try. I had to save a little energy for a trip to Sager and Wilde on Hackney Road, you see. Now, this is a wine bar.  I like that. It's not a restaurant. There are things to eat, of course, but the atmosphere and design of the place is very much geared towards a civilised glass or two. It's great to have a place like this in Hackney; there are others, but not really anywhere where you won't be competing for a table with diners. Thankfully It's NOT shabby-chic like everywhere else, but done up like a real evening place with clever lighting, excellent glasses (take note certain other Hackney wine establishments!) and top-notch service. Reasonable markups too. We started with the piercingly delicious Sugrue-Pierre Brut 2010, a top-notch champagne blend from the South Downs made by ex-Nyetimber winemaker Dermot Sugrue. It flirts dangerously with being too direct in its youth but wins out with supreme delicacy and focus. Leave it for a little while if you can. Real quality though. I had a delicious gamey/wild strawberry red Arbois, and my accomplice a cleverly-sourced 1997 Rioja Crianza that was a real old leather armchair/fireside wine. Good value at £7 a glass too. I noticed that Vieux Telegraphie 2000 was available for £12.50 a glass, but by that time we had to make our way to dinner. First thing I ordered was a Campari, which went down very well indeed.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Quintas Milu 'Milu' 2012, Ribera del Duero, Spain

This 100% Tempranillo (the fruit-driven, lightly oaked wine in the producer's portfolio) pours a vivid, opaque purple. This sort of colour is a low pH colour - a wine with a healthy amount of acid. A good omen for me.
It's a bit like jumping in a vat full of ripe squished blackcurrants and blackberries, although the tarry depth that lurks beneath the fruit (and the touch of charred bell pepper) marries with a gentle clove, menthol and allspice wamth to lend a feeling of seriousness too. It has such a vivid intensity to the palate, too; that thick-textured sense of overripe blackberry juice is kept keen by fabulous acidity and nervy tannins. Full of life and quite invigorating to drink.