Friday, 5 September 2014

Villa Giada Gamba di Pernice 'Calosso' 2007, Piedmont, Italy

Gamba di Pernice (meaning 'Partridge Leg) is an old Piedmontese grape that isn't currently part of the DOC system in Piedmont. I'd not come across it before this wine, and have Ben at the brilliant Bat and Bottle to thank for this find. Few things get my juices flowing faster than an obscure Italian grape! Especially when it's this good, and this wallet-friendly.
There's something very 'Piedmont' about this - the savour of the tar and pepper on the nose, mingling with a little Barbera-like sour plum perhaps. But there's a bit more of a feeling of generosity and richness here, as the fruit heads towards black cherry and prune,  lifted up with a little with balsamic sweetness and roasting nuts. It's wearing its age very gracefully on the palate, which is sweetly-mellowed but still showing that good plum-skin bite of acid and moreish tannin. If Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera were having a dinner party, Gamba di Pernice would be Barbera's long-lost schoolfriend who turns up a bit late (having had a few already), makes sparkling conversation and steals the show, only to disappear and never be heard from again....

Veuve Fourny & Fils 'R' Extra-Brut. Champagne, France

90%Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir. The base wine is fermented in small oak barrels. Quite an intriguing richness on the nose at first with butter and creme fraiche turning to bitter almond, dried apple and even a touch of curry powder-like spice. There's a keen, pithy acidity that keeps it all together on the palate, with quite a powerful, continuous delivery of fragrant stone fruit flavour on the finish too. Not short on flavour for the price, this.

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....