Summer tasting of Decanter Award winners

The summer season has finally arrived in England, and so here are a few reflections on recently tasted  Decanter award winners. Christelle Guibert from Decanter gave  the Oxford Wine Club an overview of a selection of this year’s award winners as well as insight into her own entry into  the world of wine making.

vin santo

My current favourite chilled drink has to be  the Greek, Argyros Vin Santo 20 year barrel aged wine from  Santorini.  The  grapes which grow in rounded bushy  baskets on the ground owing to the high winds are hand  picked early in the morning and have  no irrigation to help them develop. They are then dried in the  sun for a couple of weeks. After 17 years in  French oak casks and 3 in bottle, it is nectar in a bottle. Some spice, delicious figginess and a touch of coffee on the nose. At  approx £54 a bottle it is not a cheap Vin Santo, but it is utterly delicious.

At the opposite end of the scale as an interesting but not successful experiment  is the Gusbourne 2014 Pinot Noir, from Boot Hill Vineyard here in England. Gusbourne is quite well known for its Blanc de Blanc  but this foray into Pinot needs some further work I think.  Despite the  South facing slope, the stainless steel and  then 10 months in old oak, this was rather insipid and lacked sufficient interest on the palate. Even by Pinot standards it was very pale in colour, barely darker than the label shown below.

guisbourne pinot

The club was also delighted to try  the  2014 Muscadet Guibert made by  Christelle, from a tiny 1 hectare parcel of land with 65yr old vines from which she has produced 2000 bottles of old style excellent muscadet. This new venture is hand produced, biodynamic, using natural yeast and a large concrete egg. The wine has a floral character, is at the fuller end of muscadet  and has a lovely clean finish.  I do hope that at some point it will become commercially available. Although this was not entered into the Decanter awards, for obvious reasons, in yearsr to come it should be!

 

Christmas wine wish list

Recent tastings  have lead to the creation of my Christmas wine wish list.  In case you are looking for wine for Christmas here goes.

Owing to an influx of visitors and just because it’s dark and gloomy outside I have taken refuge in several bottles of Cuvee Royale Brut Cremant de Limoux NV (£11.99) – available at Waitrose and  a recent Decanter award winner. Very easily drinkable, reasonable mousse, light on the tongue but with good balance and a world away from the frequently terrible but more popular, now  produced on a truly industrial scale, prosecco.

For a fresh, jammy  and blackcurranty shiraz look no further than The Back Craft Shiraz, Barossa valley, Australia, 2014 (approx £15). This lacked the overwhelming punch of many Australian wines and was all the better for that. This shiraz would work well with game. This is distributed through Boutinot wines.

wine tasting glasses with pen

For laying down I have bought Charmes de Grand Corbin, St.Emilion Grand Cru, 2010 (approx £20). Rather closed at the moment but  has good tannins, length and  a roundness in the mouth. This will, I think, be something to look forward to in another 5 or so years.

Also the Oxford Wine Fair I ordered some delicious orange blossom infused Sauternes, The Reserve Dulong, France 2012  (approx £12) from the Oxford Wine Company which can  be drunk by itself or with Christmas cake or even some decent blue cheese. Incredibly good value sauternes  and I am now doubting that I bought enough!

On a different note all together  at  an Italian restaurant, Micatto’s, in Warwick I drank an excellent Sardinian wine – the simple Cannonau di Sardegna 2013. Cannonau is actually the grenache grape and widely planted across Sardinia. This wine was earthy  with cherry and packed with fruit. Winesearcher.com tells me you can find it  via slurp.co.uk for about  £9 a bottle.

wine joke

Drinking Bordeaux in September

Having an old friend and former colleague for dinner was a wonderful excuse to raid the cellar for a couple of  bottles of  similar but ohh so different Saint-Emilions and enjoy drinking Bordeaux on a September evening.

We enjoyed a glass of light  Crement de Limoux as a pleasurable alternative to the endless Prosecco  – much of which is overrated, gassy and unpleasant. We ate our slow cooked  Lebanese lamb with, first  Chateau Faizeau, 2005  and then  Chateau Faugeres, 2004.

So the Faizeau, is a St. Emilion  satellite within  Montagne St Emiliion area, and is made from 100% Merlot from 50 year old vines and aged in 50% new oak- according to the definitive Clive Coates MW.

I had high expectations of the Faizeau, but there was very little on the nose, although a reassuring deep dark red colour. On the palate  plums and cherries with a tiny bit of spice, a nice balance of tannins. A very smooth feel in the mouth, highly competent but not a lasting memory. This wine generally gets somewhere between 86-90 points depending on the reviewer. This was my last bottle, perhaps I should have waited another year  but actually  perhaps not.

On to the Faugeres 2004.  Chateaus Faugeres is one of the St. Emilion’s  grand cru, lying at the Eastern edge of the  appellation. The wine is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose, a sweetness  with some blackberries. On the palate a delicious full mouth of sweet forest fruits with a little smoke, very well rounded, almost plump feel, balanced and a delight to drink. A fair amount of sediment so worth decanting if you are particular about such matters. Interestingly Jancis Robinson only gives this 13/20 for reasons I do not understand. if you come across this wine I suggest you buy it and enjoy it.

faugeres 2004

Having thought this was my only bottle I have discovered 4 more – how lucky I am!

Pol Roger champagne tasting, is vintage worth the price?

‘The blending and maturation is critical in producing good champagne and not the quality of the grapes’  – this was more or less the opening statement from a recent Pol Roger tasting I attended in Oxford last week. A fascinating evening with a mixture of champagne geeky facts such as;  the price of grapes is set each year in Champagne – last year it was 5.60 Euros a kilo, it takes 1.5 kilos to make one bottle of champagne and a bottle of champagne  releases 5 litres of carbon dioxide when opened.

Pol Roger is one of the older, smaller and still fiercely independent champagne houses, having been founded in 1849. It owns 91 hectares of arguably some of the most valuable land on the planet and requires another 91 hectares  to produce approx 1.6 million bottles a year. All production now takes place in stainless steel tanks.

During the evening we tasted the 2002, 2004 and 2006.

pol roger 2004 magnum

The 2002 was produced from a perfect growing year – steady temperatures which produced a richer quality of grape – in the glass there were very fine bubbles, in the mouth,  greater density and a fuller ‘feel’, generally there was a density and structure to the champagne which made it outstanding.

The 2004 was fairly pale in the glass, initially very light on the nose but opened up when in the glass and had a lovely biscuity taste. This was tasted from magnums and had had 8-9 years on lees.

The 2006 was a rose – almost a blush colouring coming from adding still pinot noir to the mix. Once again fine bubbles, less noticeable biscuit but a beautiful celebratory drink.

Overall the added  depth and complexity of the vintage champagnes were noticeable. Dom Perignon is reported to have said upon tasting his early champagne that he was ‘tasting the stars’ – an evocative and apt description of champagne.  My star award last week  went to the 2002 Pol Roger, I hope I drink much more of it in the future.  In my humble opinion vintage champagne is worth paying extra for, but be careful about how it has been stored before it reaches you.

Ancient Chinese wine vessels – a rare find

A slightly gloomy August Sunday took the Quinton tribe off to Compton Verney in Warwickshire – a fascinating, predominantly Georgian country house with parkland landscaped by Capability Brown and which now houses an eclectic collection of art and decorative arts.

In an impressive Chinese gallery were a selection of ‘Hu’ – what  you may ask are Hu? Hu are wine vessels  used for storage which became popular after 850BC and could be made of jade, or porcelain or fashioned from bronze as seen here. I was particularly  drawn to the patterning and shape  of this one below.

In addition to  Hu there were also several  fine ‘Jia’ vessels on display. These were used for warming and serving wine at important functions to kinsmen and to appease various ancestral spirits. The upright posts on the rim were used as carrying handles to lift them  the fire. The wine was usually made from millet and rice rather than grapes and thus would have tasted more like  shaoxing or sake  than wine we would recognise today. This Jia below looks almost as though it has a face or mask decoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So in the heart of England, there lies a wonderful collection of ancient Chinese wine vessels,  very much worth a visit.

Reply to Jamie Goode’s wine marketing blog post

For those of you who are more ‘digital marketing’ than wine  focused Jamie Goode is a highly influential wine blogger and writer,  who has recently dipped his toe into commenting of the marketing of wine. His post (read it here) was interesting but  a little misguided in places as  the comments he received on the post pointed out!

I agree with his critics on certain points  – Jamie states that wine is not manufactured but actually some wine is hugely manufactured. Those clever people over at Yellowtail manage to bottle 36,000 bottle an hour, distribute to 50 countries worldwide,and are Australia’s largest wine exporter, a far cry from their first vintage in 1971. Whatever you think of the quality of their wine, it is a hugely successful manufacturing business.

Wine is a highly fragmented market, with the vast majority of wine in the UK being bought at supermarkets based on price promotions. Yes it  is true that there are small pockets in urban locales and fashionable villages which  have independent wine stores comprising small scale wine producers and their labels, and these have a devote, niche,  following of wine enthusiasts who buy not based on price but on tastings and referrals.

Yes Jamie, the marketing of wine confuses the customer, but the wine product itself confuses the customer more so. The labelling – quite often in another language, the  understanding of the place versus the grape varietal, the knowledge about the owner versus the producer, and as for the complexities of vintages… – it is not surprising that would be customers resort to a basic set of heuristics.

  • Do I recognise it?
  • Have I heard/seen anything about it?
  • How much is it?
  • What occasion am I buying it for?

I read and enjoy and learn from Jamie Goode’s blog but he is not a marketer and may be wiser sticking to terroir conversations!

A small taste of heaven – Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley 2005

It isn’t often that I miss a wine tasting at Oxford Wine Club – but sadly I missed the June tasting given by  Christelle Guibert the Director of Tastings for the Decanter magazine. However,  as a regular, a friend kept back some of the key wines of the night for me to try and here, in my very humble opinion,  is the outstanding winner.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semiilon, Hunter Valley 2005 – a thing of joy and lean fecundity. Semillon grapes like the heat  and they get plenty of it at Pokolbin, north of Sydney where these grapes are grown on 106ha with some coastal cooling coming from the ocean. The soil is sandy loam with a touch of clay. Tyrrells is a famous Australian wine making family, now in the fifth generation and some of their wine is outstanding. The grapes for this wine are handpicked and then fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottle aged for up to  five years.

The appearance is pale, the nose  of the 2005 had remnants of lemon but was more toasty (the younger vintages will have stronger lemon I am informed), on the palate – oh goodness,  balanced acidity but  a mouthful of summer honey, a beautiful day, outdoor opera picnics, .. I could go on. Even better it is a low alcohol wine that does not drop in quality – ABV around 11%.

Anyway  the 2005 is no longer widely available  but if you can,  try to search out later vintages, the 2006 is available from the Wine Society via wine-searcher.com  at  Approx £23.00 a bottle.

If you don’t believe me then read Decanter magazine’s  August 2014, Wine Legends back page article devoted to… Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon of 1994. This wine is legendary  – seek it out and you will not be disappointed.

 

 

Jasper Morris and a re-enactment of the Judgement of Paris with Oxford Wine Club

A recent highlight of the wine tasting season and one that  provided much cheer after the endless rain and grey skies experienced here in Oxford was a visit by Jasper Morris MW to the Oxford Wine Club. Jasper had kindly agreed to re-enact the infamous Judgement of Paris tasting of 1996 and its 30th anniversary tasting of 2006 with a ‘Judgement of Oxford’ tasting. The details of the two tendacious tastings can be found here – however, in short, in 1996 and again in 2006 some of the best French wines were blind tasted against the best Californian wines and the French wines were found wanting. The Americans beat the French producers hands down in both white and red categories. Many articles have been written and opinions given on the scoring system, the make up of the panels etc and there are still wine lovers and growers who dispute the results.

Jasper Morris was a member of the tasting panel  for the 2006 historic event held at Berry Brothers and Rudd’s establishment in London and thought it would be interesting to revisit the comparisons with us in Oxford, using similar wines.

So the wines were tasted blind  with no visible clues courtesy of fine black drawstring bags around each bottle.  2 pairs of American  and French Pinots to start with, followed by one pair of Merlot and one pair of predominately Cabernet. We were asked to identify the country and vintage of each wine and score it out of 20 before Jasper would pronounce on each wine – it was much harder than anyone had anticipated!

 

At the end of the evening a clear winner in terms of score and preference had emerged, the  Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains, 1996, made by Paul Draper which improved whilst in the glass. Not surprisingly the more earthy Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac 1996 was not that  far behind. Personally I also enjoyed the Vosne Romanee Quartiers de Nuits 2009, Roche de Bellene with a slight brambly nose, good balance and acidity.  This was an informative evening, full of wine history, tales of revenge and old world versus new world myths.

 

 

Wine segmentation based on the drinking occasion – Co-op attempts it!

An unexpected diversion took me into a refitted Co-op store in Oxford at the weekend. Re-fitted because it burnt down earlier in the year which was rather unlucky as it is located opposite  a local fire station! Anyway I was most surprised and amused to come across the following display.

The Co-op is trying hard to re-position itself as a wine retailer. Whilst there is the ubiquitous Tesco which is generally only useful for buying online by the case and occasionally has some excellent deals on bordeaux; Waitrose which has championed English wines, Greek wines and has some decent middle of the road stuff; Aldi and Lidl which have rare gems but as one offs with no option to rebuy; and I haven’t bought wine from Sainsburys for 15 years – enough said. Of the major retail specialists, Majestic  does well but has less unusual wines than 5-6 years ago – rationalisation of stock leading to a more efficient operation I believe. My local independent, the  Oxford Wine Company, has some interesting stock and has won various independent wine merchant awards several times but overall I am a Wine Society buyer plus I buy from various tastings.

Anyway back to the Co-op and trying to communicate wine to a supermarket shopper. A few years ago Threshers tried to label their shelves according to weight of wine, so there were ‘heavy full bodied red’ shelves  and ‘light airy whites’ – this did not last long. Now the  Co-op appear to be suggesting their ‘fine wines’  for occasions, so there are ‘wines to serve the in-laws’, ‘wines for when the boss comes to dinner’ and ‘wines for after a hard day’.

Segmentation according to perceived need state  as the marketing text books would term it. This might make the selection of wine in a supermarket less intimidating and less confusing. Whilst  important information on the wines such as  varietal and vintage are given  this appears to be of lesser importance than the event for which you will be drinking. This may work well as long as customers trust the wines choices made for them by the Co-op buyers. I was quite keen on the concept until I saw ‘wine with the girls after the gym’ which was a Gavi de Gavi – at least it wasn’t a Pinot Grigio- but patronising nonetheless.

 

Interesting game and wine matching dinner at Cherwell Boathouse

The long established Cherwell Boathouse with its award winning wine list, tucked away down a leafy lane in North Oxford, threw a Game Tasting Dinner last week for which I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets. The restaurant prides itself on high quality, seasonal menus with  lovingly collected and well cellared  wines, predominantly French but with smatterings of Italy and the new world. Brice Guibert runs the wine list at the restaurant, with a passion and enthusiasm for matching wine and food.

The complete meal with the paired wines are too numerous to detail but the menu is photographed here on the blog  for the keenies.

Of particular deliciousness was a most unusual wine from Cote Catalan region, La Maceration du Soula White L10. This extraordinary wine comprises of approx 75% verminto grape and uses 3% of the 2008 vintage, 7% of the 2009 vintage and 90% from the 2010 vintage. The L10, denotes the 2010 vintage on the label, I learnt. The beautiful orange colour comes from the oxidised 2008 vintage component.  On the nose it has banana and vanilla but on the palate it is bone dry with long legs and solid tanins. We tried this with a powerful game and fois gras terrine with some tiny pickled vegetables and the wine powered through both. This is the first commercial attempt from the producer  of something he has produced  for pleasure.

The Graves we tried with a loin of beautifully rare venison was also a highlight.  The Espirit de Chevalier, Graves, 2009, had the structure and leaness you would expect from the cabernet sauvignon grape and was a good balance for the bitter chocolate sauce the venison was served with.  Finally a non French wine proved to be a huge hit with the pudding course, a slightly disappointing baked Alaska.  Moscato d’Asti, Marcarini, 2012 – a sparkling moscato which was absolutely fabulous.  An elderflower spritz with a dry finish but a slight sweetness at the back of the throat was both refreshing and celebratory. I could drink this by itself in the summer.

On a blustery autumnal evening the Cherwell Boathouse was a great place to be. I am already looking forward to their seafood tasting dinner in February.