Archive for Wine

Wine blogging news

Exciting news on two fronts.

My first article has been published on the Majestic Wine blog: Kebab Shops Are Bad To Enter.

Secondly I have signed up to attend the 2009 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon at the end of October. The programme of discussions, tastings and visits looks very exciting and it’ll be my first visit to Lisbon since I was 15 months old.

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To celebrate my birthday we met up with Christopher and Matthew and had dinner at The Skylon Restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall. It’s a lovely setting combining a modern take on 50’s retro with fab views over the river.

The food, service and wines were all excellent. My baby squid starter with squid ink risotto and a parmesan velouté was a highlight.

Since we had mostly chosen fish dishes, I decided on a bottle of Terras Gauda O Rosal Albariño from Rias Baixas (Galicia), which was delicious and a lovely match.

In place of dessert I tried the Dessert Wine Tasting Menu, comprising:

  • Saracco, Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy, 2008
  • Anton Bauer, Eiswein, Gruner Veltliner, Donauland, Austria
  • Disznoko, Tokaji, Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Hungary

The Moscato d’Asti was lovely, light and floral and petillant. The Eiswein had a gorgeous nose but I was a little disappointed that it didn’t deliver on the palate. Fortunately the Tokaji more than made up for this.

A wonderful evening!

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The Knowledge

My first product knowledge course was on Tuesday at head office. Adrian and Tom put together an excellent selection of sixteen wines for us, some of which are quite scarce. Highlights:

  • Pol Roger Rich Non-Vintage Demi-Sec champagne
  • Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 2006, Bader-Mimeur
  • Walter Hansel Russian River Chardonnay 2005
  • Chinon ‘Les Cinq Climats’ 2007 Charles Joguet
  • Savigny-les-Beaune La Bataillere aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2001, Domaine Albert Morot
  • Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja 1985

The Tondonia was the star, with some of the others not far behind.

Our morning blind tasting was a bit tricky. We mostly chose the wine correctly as a French Viognier, but all failed on the price, mostly going for £5 – £10. It turned out to be Condrieu at £19.99.

By the afternoon my tastebuds were getting tired and I was a little disappointed to mistake a Shiraz for a Malbec but apparently the Malbec option was a deliberate red-herring based on some of the characteristics shown by this particular Shiraz.

I think most of us came away with a new interest in decent Burgundies! Bodes badly for the wallet, though…

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Wine picks

One of the benefits of my new job is trying lots of different wines. A small handful of recent favourites:

Interesting that two of the three are Vins de Pays from southern France rather than traditional Appellation Controlee wines.

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Australia tasting

Another great tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants last Wednesday, in their new basement tasting room at 42 Mill Road. The intention was to show that it’s possible to move away from the fruit- and alcohol-driven mass market and discover Australian wines which attempt a little more finesse and terroir.

There wasn’t a duff wine amongst the eight. The four I ended up buying were:

  • Harewood Estate Denmark Riesling 2006 – A lovely petrol nose undercut with citrus. Elderflower and under-ripe green pepper (tasty in a wine!) It lacked the minerality of a German Riesling but was excellent, and much more to my taste than the big tropical fruit style found elsewhere in Australia.
  • Woodlands Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2006 – A full nose of dark cherries with herbal undertones. Full flavour of soft spice, mulled plums and damsons. Soft tannins but an underlying tautness reminiscent of a decent claret. Probably my favourite.
  • Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein 2006 – The most unusual of the eight. Deep blackberry nose with a slight hint of farmyard. Full of blackcurrant and spice, tasty tannins and cedar. The Dolcetto grape is the mainstay of the Piedmont region of Italy, whilst the Lagrein is from Alto Adige.
  • Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2006 – A spicy cherry nose with a slight gaminess. Fruit and light cherries on the palate, redcurrants, refreshing acid and a nice complexity. I bought this for Graham to try to see if it meets his requirements for exciting Pinot Noirs.

I almost got a bottle of the Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Semillon 2006 too.

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Vino Mendocino – 2

On Saturday I was collected at 08:15 by the guide, Consuela (Coti for short), and the driver, Oscar. We picked up the only two others on the tour, Matt & Melinda, a very sweet and very young Canadian couple, all of 18 years old, from near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island! They were very friendly but not really ideal for sharing the wine-tasting experience with. They were still just below the legal drinking age in British Columbia.

We drove 100km south through the pre-cordillera hills into the Valle de Uco, and to our first stop at Bodega Bombal set in the beautiful family estate Estancia Ancón which gives its name to their best wines. The family has a long history of wine production but until recently it was mass-market high-volume stuff. The current generation changed all that and has switched to boutique production. The estancia and the bodega are beautiful, and the ‘chateau’ is now a very expensive country hotel. Lovely wines, especially their top-flight blend, the Gran Reserva de la Familia 2001 which I’ll try to hunt down when back home. They make a super chardonnay which is only sold at the bodega, at an amazing AR$15, so I bought a bottle and later drank it in BsAs with Jeannette.

Next stop Bodega Andeluna with great views of the Andes. It’s a very new bodega but built in a successful traditional-modern fusion with local materials. We tasted three of their wines, including their top-flight Pasionado, and I persuaded our guide to let us try the very good Malbec too. All competent but very much in a this-is-what-the-market-wants and we’re-going-to-sell-them-to-rich-americans way.


Our third stop was the amazingly futuristic O. Fournier bodega. Is it a space-ship landing pad? Is it an airport? No, it’s a high-tech gravity-system bodega. The grapes go in at the top level, and travel down through fermentation and maceration into oak casks at the lowest cellar level. But that was the after-lunch tour. Lunch was amazing, where within ten minutes we were the only guests at a window table with wonderful views. Roughly speaking we had:

  • A trio of purees or soups – potato with truffle, courgette, and pumpkin with parsely sauce – with Uco Sauvignon Blanc 2004.
  • Escabiche of red pepper, green pepper and aubergine – with Uco Tempranillo 2004.
  • Humita (traditional sweetcorn stew, very thick) – with B Crux 2003.
  • An excellent steak with roasted vegetables – with A Crux 2002, an excellent wine.
  • Sorbet de melon.
  • Baked apple with very rich cream.
  • Coffee

All served and described with restrained but friendly correctness by our great waiter. We took about two hours. Lovely.


The tour was also excellent, and we got to see ‘pump-over’ in action. The macerating wine forms a cap of floating grape skins and to increase the contact and break up the cap, every four to six hours wine is pumped from the bottom of the tank to the top, and sometimes as here, a great big stainless steel poker is used from the top to help break up the cap. The cellar is a further work of art, set below the central plaza separating the bodega and restaurant. The only snag is that the wine prices reflect the investment levels!!

The drive back involved quite a bit of sleeping, it has to be said. An excellent day.

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Vino Mendocino – 1

Thursday. The bus to Mendoza wasn’t too bad, though not as luxurious as previous trips as it was only semi-cama: 2+2 seats across instead of 2+1, and a decent but far from fully-flat recline. Dinner was rather late and the movies were awful! More entertaining were the electrical storms raging in the distance, lighting up the night sky. Anyway, I slept enough to be in reasonable shape when we arrived.

A short taxi ride across the very green and pretty city centre took me to my lodgings in Quinta Rufina Hostel, a cross between a guest house and a hostel, where my spacious twin room with private bathroom was only AR$50 per night. The staff were all very friendly and helpful too. After a shower I walked into the centre to have lunch and find the tourist office. I also tracked down the offices of Ampora Wine Tours and booked a tour to the Valle de Uco region for Saturday.

(That’s a story in itself. Originally I contacted a company advertising in one of the gay maps of Buenos Aires, but they were at the very top end of the market and only did packages including 5* hotels. Very helpfully, though, they put me in touch with their local agents in Mendoza, who do wine tours, but only offer an individual service and for just me, would have charged about US$225 for a day. In their turn they were very helpful and pointed me at Ampora, still at the upper end but offering small group tours for around US$100 including lunch – see next blog entry!)

The tourist office sorted me out with ideas for the afternoon and for the Friday. In the afternoon I took a local bus into the suburb of Godoy Cruz to the bodega of Escorihuela Gascón. Graham and I had tried their excellent Malbec at La Choza with our anniversary dinner. Sadly they weren’t offering tours due to redevelopment work in the cellars, but I did get to taste two of their wines: a reasonable Viognier 2006 and a very good Syrah 2004. Because nobody can pronounce Escorihuela, their export label is Candela and I now have details of their UK importers. The bodega was close enough to the centre of the city to stroll back in about 20 minutes.

In the evening it rained. And rained and rained, torrentially, until about 3am. I dodged my way to the vines of mendoza, a very slick bar / wine club / tour operator outfit, and very friendly with it. They offer ‘flights’ of wines to taste, and for the price of a decent bottle of Malbec (AR$35) I tried five different wines, talked through them by the lovely Javier, my barman. Highlights were Taymente 2004 and Enrique Foster Reserva 2003.


Luckily for me the rain had stopped by Friday morning. Another suburban bus took me on a longer journey (about 35 minutes) to the heart of Maipú, one of two satellite towns which are the main central-Mendoza wine producers. I hired a bike and pedalled off along the relatively quiet roads, between vineyards, olive groves and orchards, with the sun beating down on my neck. I visited:

Bodega La Rural
A huge and very traditional bodega, with a long history and an interesting collection of winemaking equipment. Unfortunately it’s also one of the main stops for coach tours and my arrival coincided with that of a group from a conference of ‘Avon ladies’ or the local equivalent! So not the most intimate of tours, but winemaking was in full almost-industrial swing, so plenty to see and watch. The tasting was of a red and a white made specially for sale to visitors, neither very inspiring.
Historia y Sabores
A small-scale producer of conserves of all kinds using local ingredients. I bought a jar of strawberry jam with black pepper for Jeannette.
Almacén del Sur
A beautiful setting but the special set lunch for bikesandwines customers was slightly disappointing at the price. An over-salted brochette of lamb and vegetables, with nice fat home-made chips. Improved by the glass of Lurton Malbec / Bonarda I bought!
Bodega Carinae
A tiny boutique bodega with some very old wines. To improve the richness of their wines they harvest very late, so weren’t yet making wine. This is risky since hail can be a problem and could destroy the crop. I was given an informative private tour – in Spanish – followed by a tasting of three of their wines. The El Galgo Gran Reserva 2004 was excellent, but with a production of only 4500 bottles is likely to be hard to find! Like several of the best Malbecs I tasted, it was quite heavily oaked, and although drinking well already it would benefit from a few years of cellaring.
Tempus Alba
A modern, sexy, high-tech bodega. Another miss on the tour front: their guide was off sick. But there were good views of the winemaking in action and into the cellar, and a lovely tasting room where for a small fee I tasted their excellent wines including a very fruity Tempranillo. I suspect from the styling that they’re likely to be pricey, though.

Sadly I then only had time to cycle back to the bike hire shop before the 6pm deadline. It was a great way to visit the area!

Dinner was a slightly disappointing bife outside a rather nice parilla near the city centre – livened, as for lunch, by an excellent Malbec! 🙂

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Finca Las Moras

First wine report. I’ve had a couple of bottles of good cheap wine, but on Sunday I spent a little more (all of £4) on a bottle of Finca Las Moras Reserva 2004 Malbec. Well made, very deep red, quite well oaked but the weight of the wine supported the oak. Very fruity and nicely aromatic with fennel flavours and aromas. A lovely addition to Sunday and Monday’s pasta suppers.

Finca Las Moras

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England & Germany

Another interesting tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road.

Chapel Down NV Sparkling Wine
Very dry, sherbet and fruit with good acid. A fine alternative to the French equivalent, although somewhat pricy at £13.99.
Foundation Estate 2003 Riesling Kabinett, Trabener Würzgarten
The first bottle was faulty! It smelled of poor sherry and tasted oxidised, flat and yucky. I got Allison to try it, and she rejected it straight away. Our glasses got passed around to let everyone see the stark difference, as became apparent when a new bottle was opened. Very fresh, loads of acid, reasonable fruit. This was a QmP wine, so in theory of higher quality (and price – £7.99) than…
Carl Schmitt-Wagner 2004 Riesling Longuicher Maximer Herrenberg
A gorgeous young Riesling, with loads of fruit and acid balancing each other. Better than the previous wine even though only a QbA, and excellent value at £6.50. Graham bought us two bottles.
Burger Wendelstück Spätlese 1992 Weingut Berner Müller Pension
No botrytis on this one, but definite hints of petrol and raisin, and plenty of acid even after 14 years in the bottle. Maybe I should get a couple to keep for a year or two?
Burger Hahnenschrittchen 1973 Auslese Berner Müller
Apparently ‘Hahnenschrittchen’ means ‘chicken step’. An amazing 33 years old, and sadly starting to get a bit fragile. The first bottle had a very mouldy cork top, and a mushroomy nose. On the palate it was gorgeous but hard to enjoy with that whiff. The second bottle opened (apparently) with a sulferous nose, which cleared, but wasn’t quite as full and honeyed on the palate. This would have been a fantastic wine year or two ago, especially at under £20.
Carl Schmitt-Wagner 1996 Auslese
Brought in at the last minute as a replacement for the over-the-hill chicken step wine. Only (!) ten years old, a lovely honey and beeswax nose with good flavours in the mouth and plenty of fresh acid. Another potential keeper.
Chapel Down Pinot Blanc 2004
We moved back to the English wines for the second half. This Pinot Blanc was searingly acid, but I really enjoyed its hints of grapefruit, and I think it would go well with spicy food or rich pate. As with all the English wines, expensive at £10.99.
Chapel Down Schönburger 2004
Very interesting and very tasty. A peachy nose, and a fruity and spicy flavour with bitter peaches coming through in the mouth, good acid and quite a long finish. Apparently the Schönburger produces better wine in England than in Germany, where it can be flabby. This definitely wasn’t, so Graham got two at £8.99 each.
Chapel Down Pinot Noir 2004
Eek! £19.99 a bottle. A brave attempt at an English Burgundy, and the nose and structure were heading in the right direction, but just too austere and thin overall.
Foundation Estate Riesling Eiswein 2003 Waldracher Laurentiusberg
Mmm. Heaven in a glass. I could have sniffed the gorgeous nose all night. My notes got a bit carried away: “rich raisiny nose, hints of solvent. Rich but deliciously acid mouth, buttery and biscuity”. Being naughty, Graham got us two bottles. Yum.

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Vino de Iberia

A great tasting of Iberian wines at Cambridge Wine Merchants last night, led by Hal. Opened with a gorgeous Manzanilla to complement the warmed almonds, followed by a good Albariñho. The first Portugese wine was an oaked white which had all the feel of a good Californian Chardonnay, and I liked it so it must have been good.

A lively rose gave us the chance to compare 2004 against 2005. The younger was fresher and more vibrant as you might expect.

We moved on to some reds. A 2001 Rioja Crianza versus a 2001 Almansa Reserva was interesting, with the Rioja winning on style and the Almansa on shear interest. Next a 1995 Gran Reserva from the same Rioja house, which very nearly justified its £14 price tag.

The star of the evening was the Esporao Trincadeira, made in Alentejo by an Australian winemaker from the single eponymous Trincadeira varietal. Very very spicy and full of opulent black fruits.

The tasting closed wonderfully and fatally (19%) with a lush Oloroso sherry which had a Dundee cake nose and yummy complex flavours. In spite of having been to Majestic on Monday, we came away with 9 bottles. It must have been the wine! Next time we should spit – as if!

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