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.

Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec 2007, Loire, France

This biodynamically-produced Vouvray has been in the cellar for about 3 years. I'm trying to drink more good Loire Chenin - I really love the depth and coiled-up intensity of the good ones, and only wish I had enough to be a bit more patient! This displays a clean, sweet-fruited nose of spiced baked apple, apricot, crystallised pineapple, lime cordial, brazil nut, and honey, all tinted with something like the coolness of rain on a pebbly beach.  Ripe citrus peel acidity centres the palate, which is almost pithy with the grip of stone-fruit skins, finishing with a mellow sense of honeyed development which confirms that this wine is not a baby anymore. On the other hand it would have had a while to go. Lovely.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2009

Pale gold, sprightly in the glass with ripe golden delicious apples, a touch of spiced baked apple too and a gentle layer of ground almond sweetness, verging on vanillla and ginger biscuits from the bottle age. It's quite an interesting example of a bottle that has had a relatively short time on lees but has been cellared for 18 months - the beginnings of the richness and toastiness of bottle age accompanies quite a freshly-textured, youthful feel to the wine. It doesn't quite have the length on the palate of the very best best lees-aged sparklers from the UK, with a touch of bitterness edging in, but that's no surprise - Bloomsbury is a consistent wine at the more reasonable end of the price spectrum for English fizz, and whilst I've had some decent 'off the shelf' experiences with it, this bottle proves that stashing it away for 18 months will be well worth it.
Incidentally I did try the 2010 Knightsbridge recently, which is an absolute cracker if you can find it....