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Two sets of Notes for the price of one this month – A Tutored Tasting and an ICC Tasting I led on New Zealand…

A group of 11 W1NG members met at the Brigitte Bordeaux Wine Emporium on Bank holiday Monday, 6th May, for a Southern Rhone 2011,
Châteauneuf du Pape v Gigondas tasting. This was a wine society case purchased en primeur in September 2015.


1-Domaine du Cayron  Gigondas 14%  £18
78% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 6% Cinsault and 2% Mourvèdre
This had a powerful nose with nice volatile acidity. The palate was light with some liquorice notes. There was sour cherry and soft tannins. One of the group said this was their favourite and four would buy it.

2- The Society Châteauneuf du Pape £17.50 (Vignobles Mayard)
65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre
Nice acidity, more serious nose than last one, richer, non fruit flavours of liquorice and garrigue, thyme and rosemary.

3- Domaine Raspil-Ay Gigondas 15% £19
80% Grenache, 15% Syrah 5% Mourvèdre
This was very soft but with good acidity. Plummy fruit. Some port qualities.

4- Chateau Mont Redon Châteauneuf du Pape 15%  £20
60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre and others
Sweet orange peel, light fruit and a little spicy, vegetal, quite simple. The group’s least favourite overall.

5- Domaine La Bouissiere   Gigondas  15%  £19
70% Grenache 25% Syrah 5% Mourvedre
A little medicinal on the nose, mineral, tarragon, liquorice, not mainstream, more complex. Good. Two of the group’s favourite.

6- Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 14.5%  £36
65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre 5% Cinsault
Restrained style, good balance and good acidity. lighter than expected. Quite a closed nose, lots of red fruit flavours and very long. 8 of the group said this was their favourite but were not all convinced it was worth the extra money.

An  interesting tasting. Overall the Gigondas were maybe a little more rustic, less powerful  and simpler than the Chateauneuf du Pape’s but they stood up very well and in some instances were better. Thanks to Matt and Kathryn for opening Brigitte Bordeaux for us.

Plus Corkmaster’s thanks to John and Ann for sourcing the wines, conducting the Tasting and the above notes.

 

Ten days later, after my excursion to Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda (see two posts ago…) it was my turn to lead a tasting of
New Zealand Wine: North Island v South Island. A tasting that had been near the top of the poll for Themes this year.
I decided to show three pairs of wines, all sourced from The New Zealand House of Wine. The wines were served blind and I tried to encourage expression of  simple preference before trying to guess which was which.

Here are my notes:

The first pair were a Marlborough and a Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc, each about £12.

WINE A had a nettle nose with some exotic fruit, later a hint of something in the Asparagus direction (I think of this as a fault). The palate had gooseberry and hgh acidity, grapefruit and a little green.
Ratings:    Voting: 10 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  14/20   Value:  15/20       

WINE B was darker but with slightly more restrained nose, the acidity was warmer giving a richer impression but more pliant and citric. Some chalky minerality at the end. Although a slightly bigger package it seemed more balanced and complex and therefore less boring.
Ratings:        Voting: 16 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  15/20   Value:  16/20

 

It turns out Wine A was from the South Island – 

KIM CRAWFORD 2017 (Marlborough)       

Wine B was from the North Island –

TRINITY HILL WHITE LABEL 2016 (Hawkes Bay)

 

 

We then moved on to two Pinot Noir  each for about £17 – one each from Otago and Martinborough

Wine C had some farmyard and a herbal hint, with soft, even mashed red fruit. The palate had a slightly bitter “squeezed pip” quality and the whole package seemed soft and a bit grainy to me.
Ratings:    Voting: 10 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  14/20   Value:  14/20       

Wine D had more fragrant fruit, slightly sweet but less over-ripe. The palate had a crunchier sharper fruit and some clean tannic structure, darker fruit and a herbacious tinged tannic finish. Again a cleaner, better balanced more effortless package.
Ratings:    Voting: 18 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20       

 

It turns out Wine C was from the South Island – 

CARRICK UNRAVELLED 2017 (Otago)

Wine D was from the North Island –

PALLISER ESTATE 2016  (Martinborough)

 

 

 

The final pair were two £19 Syrah, again from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay:

Wine E had a nose of slightly pithy olive and black fruit. The palate was grainy but supple and structured with a black fruit acidity and a tinge of salinity. Quite a persuasive Syrah
Ratings:    Voting: 16 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  15/20   Value:  14/20   

Wine F had a much quieter nose with a palate of sweeter fruit, hints of blueberry and some soft tannins. A passable wine, with the lack of Syrah character a double-edged thing IMHO. However a simpler, slightly overdone wine.
Ratings:    Voting: 9 preferred this wine.       My scores:    Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  13.5/20       

 

It turns out Wine E was from North Island –

TRINITY HILL GIMBLETT GRAVELS 2015 (Hawkes Bay)

and Wine F from the South Island –

SERESIN ESTATE 2016 (Marlborough)      

 

 

So an interesting result. The majority preferred the North Island Wine of each pair – with a combined score of 50 to 29! I concurred with those preferences, strongly, and surprisingly so in the case of the Pinot Noir, of which the Martinborough was my favourite of the night. I also noted that of the first two pairs – the North Island Wine had lower alcohol and wore it’s heat and richness more lightly. The final wine was less clear to me – I find Syrah a bit grainy at the best of times – but the South Island wines all seemed a bit muddy, maybe over-extracted and somehow trying-too-hard… Of course this is a small sample, easily explained by individual grower or terroir factors.. However a bit of a surprise – and something to think about with future NZ sampling.

À Bientôt

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New Zealand produces about 400m bottles a year – almost exactly 1% of the world’s wine, a figure that puts it 15th or 16th, depending on year. Just for reference that’s about a fifth of Australia (which is usually 6th), and 1/16th or 1/17th  of France or Italy which are  1st and 2nd . Or looking at it the other way: 750 times as much as the UK…

A quick look at any general wine map of New Zealand might make one think it was made up of two fairly balanced Islands.


However the whole picture is unbalanced by one dominant area – Marlborough. Marlborough makes about 77% of all New Zealand Wine.

The next area in terms of wine volume produced is Hawkes Bay with a little over 10%; then Gisborne (a bit over 3%) both in the North Island. Canterbury/Waipara and Central Otago/Waitaki (a bit under 3% each) and Nelson (2.2%) are on South Island. Only then do we return to the North where Wairarapa is a touch over 1% and all the Northern areas (Northland, Auckland… down to Bay of Plenty) only contributes ¼%!

About 80% of the vineyard area and 85% of wine produced is in the South Island.

To illustrate – if you bought (a generous, bonus) representative case of New Zealand with 14 bottles in it – 11 would be from Marlborough; 2 from the North Island and 1 from the somewhere else in the South Island!

Just to give you a breakdown of Grapes – although less relevant to the upcoming tasting – that picture is almost as unbalanced. Here the distorting factor is Sauvignon Blanc. In very round figures – about 60% of all New Zealand Wine is Sauvignon Blanc; the rest pretty evenly divided between other whites and all reds.

Taking these two factors together – just over half (53.4%) of all NZ wine is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc!

What concerns us most this month though is the differences between the Islands, and the grape growing and stylistic differences between them. Of course there are much subtler and more complex distinction to be made for specific grapes in specific locations – but there is one obvious general thing to note.

New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and accordingly the North Island is generally hotter. This is simple and not surprisingly the South Island concentrates on whites (and Pinot Noir) whereas there is more even spread of varieties and wider plantings of reds in the North.

Here is a table showing how the percentages of grape varieties’ grown vary between the 2 Islands:

All NZ South Island North Island
Sauvignon Blanc 61 68 18
Chardonnay 9 4 24
Aromatic Whites* 9 8 13
Pinot Noir 15 16 11
Syrah 1 <1 6
“Bordeaux” Reds** 4 <1 22
[*Aromatic Whites= Pinot Gris; Riesling; Gewurz.; Viognier…   –   **Bordeaux Reds = Merlot; Cab. Sauvignon; Cab. Franc; Malbec…]

 

So, if you want to compare similar wines from the two Islands there are two obvious choices: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A third comparison is quite tricky. Bordeaux blends are hard to come by from the South, and anyway two different blends may have very different components. Something similar is true of “Aromatic Whites”, the exact wine style will vary enormously from one region and sub region to another, the only viable candidate might be Pinot Gris, and I personally haven’t found NZ examples very successful…

Knowing the group’s love of reds I came down on the side of Syrah. An up and coming variety in some Southern areas, and reasonably established and successful in the North.

So our wines for comparison will be

Marlborough v Hawkes Bay for Sauvignon Blanc;
Central Otago v Martinborough (a sub-region of Wairarapa) for Pinot Noir;
and Marlborough v Hawkes Bay again for Syrah.

What might we expect?

The Sauvignon Blanc Pair:
Marlborough – Pungently aromatic, vividly pure fruit, herbaceous and exotically tropical, plus mineral depths…
Hawkes Bay – Rich, tree fruit-laden wines, underpinned by bright acidity, with complexity and body…

The Pinot Noir Pair:
Central Otago -Fragrant, lush fruit underpinned by taut structure, silky texture and true intensity. There are marked differences in sub-regional styles. Our example is from Bannockburn  one of the warmest, driest sites in the region. Harvest can be up to a month ahead of other sub-regions, and the wines produced are highly distinctive and complex.
Martinborough -The region’s flagship red; richly flavoured and warm with a savoury undercurrent whilst retaining perfumed varietal character, Wairarapa Pinots offer texture and depth. Our example is from Martinborough, the most southerly Wairarapa sub-region, which boasts free-draining soils and a cool, dry climate and soil profile similar to that of Burgundy.

The Syrah Pair:
Marlborough – A boutique quantity of Syrah here, almost at the experimental stage. This is from a hectare planted on relatively warm clay soil in the East side of Marlborough, where the wines have a reputation for fruit intensity.
Hawkes Bay – An exciting variety showing great distinction, gaining strength as sites and clones are refined. Wines are perfumed, elegant with ripe fruit, supple tannins and lingering spice.

We’ll see if these are fair assessments.

À Bientôt

“La Gitana” (the Gypsy woman) is actually the name of the most famous wine produced by the Hidalgo Company in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, about 15 miles West of Jerez. The Hildago family began the business in 1792, and it’s now run by the eighth generation. Making Solera-system Manzanilla fina from the 19th Century, it now constitues about 80% of their production and the cavernous, cathedral-like Solera-stores house over 4,000 barrels of Manzanilla.

Here’s a slide show of some of those barrels:

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The name La Gitana emerged in the the later 19th Century when an otherwise anonymous Gypsy women used to travel to Sanlucar from Malaga to source the Manzanilla most popular at her wine bar. It is thought most buyers came to refer to this wine as “el vino de la Gitana”, though perhaps the connection was amplified by a love affair between this woman and a member of the family. Either way a painting of her still adorns the wall in the old office among late 19th and early 20th Century ledgers.


The name and the image have adorned the bottles ever since.

Pale sherry, aged under a protective covering of flor (a yeast that seals out air from the fortified wine and allows biological rather than oxidative aging) is commonly called Fino in Jerez – but Manzanilla in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The differences most commonly identified are a gentler overall profile to manzanilla, but higher saline mineral components. These are usually attributed to sea influence, but are sometimes thought to be in the vineyard. However the wine makers claim this is not the case – many Palomino grapes for Manzanilla are grown nearer to Jerez. The sea influence is thought to happen in the winery where the very old solera barrels sit. They are on land that was once below the Estuary of the Guadalquivir river, and salt water is within a few metres of the barrels, cooled (relatively compared to Jerez} by Atlantic breezes and usually at about 70% humidity. This leads to thicker flor, softer development and salt tinges.

A La Gitana barrel with the flor clearly visible.

I’ve often wondered how barrels of Manzanilla (or Fino) are topped up without disrupting the flor, and Elena, the La Gitana guide, explained it to us. A finger-thick closed steel pipe is plunged through the flor to the middle of the barrel and wine added through small (shower-head type) holes in the last few centimeters of the pipe, now well below the flor. When the proper level is reached the pipe is withdrawn quickly and straight through the flor and the small rupture seals itself quite quickly…

There are apparently two stories how the name of Manzanilla originates. One is that the colour of the wine resembles Chamomile (Manzanilla in Spanish); the other is that local shortages of grapes used to result in buying them in from a town called Manzanilla, some miles west in Huelva.

The solera system for La Gitana, founded in the early 19th century, is made up of 14 tiers, with a high refreshment rate and an average bottling age of around 4 or 5 years.

The Solera system of making sherry may be familiar to most readers, and to explain is is worth a post on its own. So if you want to know more click on this link: Solera System Explained to the excellent Food and Wines of Spain website!

We tasted 6 wines:

La Gitana Manzanilla – Light, with floral, saline and  nutty notes a hint of apple and a clean mineral finish. Very clean and precise.

An En Rama (bottled when the flor is thickest and less filtered) version of the same wine – Cloudy but with more complexity and fruit

Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada – A single vineyard version with about double the age of La Gitana – More substance though no less salt, dried fruit – especially lemon, herbs and salted nuts, warm acidity at the finish. very good and nearly my favourite…

Napoleón Amontillado – 15 year old amontillado, with warm flavours of fruit, peel, nuts, floral hints and warm saltiness. Moreish, balanced and versatile with food, just a great wine – my favourite!

Alameda Cream – a cream sherry made with 30% PX in it. A reverse version of the English favourite derived from Drake’s sacking of Cadiz and taking 3,000 barrels of Oloroso to England, where it was found too dry and was “creamed” by adding caramel. Actually this is a bit creamy and has some caramel but the sweetness pitch makes it seem too simple and a bit one-dimensional.

Triana PX – This is a full Pedro Ximénez. Though, in company with all the house’s wines, less intense and a little more elegant than most examples. It isn’t really as much a wine as a syrup and I’d eat it as part of dessert rather than drink it with dessert. That said it drinks more easily than most…

A lovely tasting and tour. Thanks to Carrie for her company and to Elena of La Gitana for her information.

Hasta la vista…

While the UK Government could not decide if the whole nation was to shoot itself in the head – or merely the stomach, Corkmaster and Kimberley Kabinett took themselves off to a civilised country for the duration – although of course it might not be the duration.. or it might… or not…. FFS!

A group of 9 of the people remaining (no pun intended) attended a Sock Party graciously held by Ann and John. This was rather “off piste” with the white wines following the reds and by all accounts an enjoyable and rather rowdy party. Ann reports: “I for one found it refreshing to move on to whites after food including a palate cleansing lemon sorbet, though it wasn’t a great test as we only had 2 whites and then a bonus dessert wine. Can’t say the hangover was any less, though hopefully the reds got more thoughtful consideration than they usually do?!”

Ann also generously supplied the following notes, and photos from John:


ABEL CHARLOT BRUT NV CHAMPAGNE (Welcome Wine)
50% Chardonnay, 25% e@ Pinot.  There is some reserve wine blended in for extra richness. Found to be punching above its current price. A good mousse, light lemon flavour with  some butteriness and pleasing length which was satisfyingly dry.

VARVAGLIONE,  “12 e mezzo” ORGANIC PRIMITIVO , IGT PUGLIA 2015  (Mike)
Bramble fruit and violets on the nose, powerful but smooth.

PAMUKKALE SARAPEILIK , ANFORA TRIO, AEGEAN REGION, TURKEY 2016   (Yvonne)
Blend of indigenous Turkish grape 40% Kalecik Karasi with 40% Shiraz and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
Honey on the nose, dark cherry coffee low tannin unoaked.

CHÂTEAU LA POINTE, POMEROL, 2013, BORDEAUX, FRANCE  (John)
From wine society en primeur.  Plum and earthiness on the palate with a lovely complexity and length  Merlot 85% Cabernet Franc 15%

CONO SUR,  20 BARRELS LIMITED EDITION PINOT NOIR- 2016. FROM EL TRIANGULO ESTATE,  CASABLANCA VALLEY, CHILE.    (Sue Mc)
Not a typical pinot, had some of the cherry and strawberry but complexity with leather and tobacco. 20 best barrels from the harvest bottled on their own.

CHÂTEAU PRADEAUX BANDOL ROUGE, 2006   (Rob)
95%+ Mourvedre from old vines. Lovely dense  flavour of macerated plums and blackcurrants, ripe tannins.


VENUS  LA UNIVERSAL, DIDO , MONSANT 2015   (Yuan)
Grenache as majority, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah Purchased from cellar door on a weekend in Catalunya, Thanks Yuan. Montsant surrounds Priorat “like a bangle on a wrist” Delicious fruitiness with length.
Per Decanter A blend of Garnatxa with Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot, organically grown on decomposed granites near Falset.  The appeal is less primary and less fleshy than for many of its Montsant peers: calm, fine-drawn plant and stony earth scents with an elegant, layered style, though open-textured and accessible.   91

MASTROBERANDINO, LACRYMA CHRISTI DEL VESUVIO ROSSO  2015    (Mark)

100% Piedirosso from Campania, on the slopes of Vesuvius the “tears of Christ on Vesuvius” Jesus’ tears dropping at the foot of Vesuvius  ultimately sparked the miraculous growth of the vines. Piedirosso is the second most planted red after Aglianico. Floral spicy and powerful.

FALERNIA ELKI, PEDRO XIMINEZ 2017, ELQUI VALLEY, CHILE  (Sue T)
2016 vintage given 90 points and Highly Recommended by Decanter  as festive buy.

ONDA NOVA VIOGNIER, 2014, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL    (Ann)
This was purchased following a tasting at this estate owned by Cliff Richard which happened  to be very near our villa. This was surprisingly rich with a taste of peach but sufficiently dry to not be cloying,

DOMAINE  HAAG, GEWURTZTRAMINER GRAND CRU ZINNKOEPFLE, VENDAGES TARDIVES 2008, ALSACE   (Bonus Dessert wine, John)
This was a medium sweet wine not cloying and went quite well with our lemon tart.
Fun story to this one- we were at Carcassonne airport and a slightly panicked man approached us with two bottles of this. He’d been gifted these by his landlady but only had luggage booked for his flight home. We offered to take them off his hands and managed to squash them into our case with 4 other bottles already packed in! We did look for him at East Midlands airport but couldn’t see him as we would have offered to return one!

Ann thanks everyone for coming along, “it was a great night” – and I thank her for providing these notes!

À Bientôt

A small but very discerning group made their way to darkest Burton Joyce to partake of Yvonne’s hospitality and sample wines, as is our custom.

Here are my notes:


CHAMPAGNE NICOLAS FEUILLATTE VINTAGE BRUT 2000  Welcome Wine
Nicolas Feuillatte is actually a co-op at Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs vineyards. This has a slightly oxidised note and slightly darkened hue, but underneath the sherry hints are some signs of ripe peach. The oxidation seems to have, more than anything else, taken out the acidity which is limited and warm feeling, but leaves a very sweet soft fruit and a short but creamy mousse.

“WHITE ON GREY” MOSHOFILERO 2017 (Mitravelas)          Yvonne   
Slightly peach-tinged citric nose, quite creamy too but with a brackish element. Palate is similar, with a creamy texture, a saline mineral prickle and a vaguely Alsacienne profile: richness and a slightly spicy, smokey hint… Good

SANTENAY BLANC “SAINT-JEAN” 2013 (MARK HAISMA)      Laurie
The wine has 12 months in old oak with fruit from a named parcel just above (north) of Le Haut Village in Santenay (see June 14th 2015 post for an earlier note). Quite an aromatic nose – richer than earlier with a ripe white peach note and some citrus. The palate has a warm minerality and long acidic – grapefruit? – backbone, but a substantial, rich, soft stone-fruit succulence that makes a satisfying, well balanced, and probably at-peak wine. Rather good!

VAU JAUMIER 2015, ST. NICOLAS DE BOURGUEIL (Domaine de la Cotelleraie)           Kim  
I’ve followed this wine for 3 or 4 vintages now, and it’s my favourite SNdB. Quite sharp when young, this now has a herby nose with a bay leaf element, and red fruit with an earthy under-note… very Cabernet Franc. Palate is rich with a lovely supple red-fruit acid, raspberry or redcurrant and a hint of spice at the finish. Still young but much more developed than a year ago and already deeper and more complex than the (pretty good) 2014. Excellent!

“ORFEO” 2010 (Prieure La Chaume – Vix, Vendée)          John  
This is from the Vendée, where the AOC/AOP is Fiefs Vendéens. The department is part of the Loire although the wine areas are 70 miles South or South-West of Muscadet and Anjou respectively. This is 60% Merlot (+35% Cab. Sauvignon & 5% Negrette) which I think is the reason it is an IGP. Nose has very ripe dark fruit – slightly pruney dried fruit character with a cherry spirit hint, all rather Italian-ish! The palate too is rich and earthy with a fruit acid line echoing the nose and some non-fruit leathery hints… I’d guess at Ripasso, certainly not a Loire Merlot!? … but a luscious wine nevertheless!

HERDADE DOS GROUS 2016           Ann
This wine, from Alentejo, is (apparently): Aragonez (35%); Alicante Bouschet (30%); Touriga Nacional (20%) and Syrah (15%) – fermented in lagares and aged in new French oak barriques. One can detect the oak on the nose as both a woody and a creamy hint underneath red and plum fruit. The palate has firmer oak frame and some spicy  tinges under a slightly earthy plum, prune tannic shape.

“MARQUES CASA CONCHA” SYRAH 2016 (Concha y Toro)         Rob
Quite classic Syrah notes: blackberry, salt and a hint of wood. The palate has a sweet fruit line – more blueberry than blackberry and the slightly spicy tannins close with the oak to form a drying, food-needing finish… which is exactly what we gave it!

A very enjoyable (and wonderfully well-paced with a smaller number) evening of company, wine and food. Thanks for your hospitality Yvonne.

Finally, although she’s much to modest to tell you herself, Kathryn, long time stalwart and now co-leader of the WING group, is featured in the latest Wine Merchant magazine – on the front page and on pp 20-21. If you’re Nottingham-based worth trying the shop / bar “Brigitte Bordeaux”.

À Bientôt

On Thursday 14th February the ICC group met for a Tasting of wines from Lebanon, backed up with other E. Med. offerings from Cyprus, Santorini and Israel. The question relating to this tasting is if we can discern anything specifically Eastern Mediterranean about the wines.

Here are my notes:


“PETRITIS” (KYPEROUNDA WINERY, CYPRUS) 2017   –   13½ %   –   TheDrinkShop £13
This wine, 100% Xynisteri, has and slightly oaked nose – with melon fruit and a vaguely Chardonnay weight. The palate has sweet fruit – Galia melon and the same structure as a richer Chardonnay too, some acidity but the sweetish balance offset more by a gravelly minerality and some spice… a little plump IMO.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

THALASSITIS (GAIA, SANTORINI) 2017   –   13 %   –   TheDrinkShop  £18
Citrus nose with a light salty impression. Palate is clean and refreshing and a line of grapefruit acidity and hints of a sour peach… rather food friendly with a saline minerality…
Ratings:        Quality:  15.5/20   Value:  15/20

MASSAYA BEKAA VALLEY ROSÉ 2017   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £16
This is the onion skin pink of a good Provencal Rosé, and it resembles it in many ways, being 100% Cinsault!  This has a genuine hint of strawberry fruit (rather than a suggested metaphor) and lovely fruit acidity and some mineral… very balanced and very enjoyable!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

MASSAYA “LE COLOMBIER” BEKAA VALLEY 2017   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £15
Hints of mint / eucalyptus / menthol on the nose and a warm dark fruit. Palate is rich with a chocolate texture, some spice and mineral supporting a plum – prune fruit… developing herby notes later in a rather Southern Rhone style (Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache make up 85% of the assemblage, together with Tempranillo!) and rather a good version!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

CLOS DE GAT HAR’EL JUDEAN HILLS SYRAH 2013   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £21
Big blackberry, salty, prune notes. Palate has a sweet fruit, some woody notes and alcohol burn in a rather Californian big Shiraz style. The fruit resolution is slightly sweet with salty counterpoint making the overall impression a bit cloying and “heavy” – that said the wine’s lack of development makes it seem somehow insubstantial.
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  13.5/20

CHÂTEAU MUSAR (HOCHAR, BEKAA VALLEY) 2010   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £29
This was a very hot dry year and Musar lost about half of its Cabernet to drying out. So the mix is about equally Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet with – especially the last – contributing dried berries. The result is amazing with hints of oily Amarone-style bitter cherry, some prune and some savoury notes in a sprity package. The palate is balanced by lovely supple acidity with some Italianate leather hints, very ripe plum fruit and some spice. One would probably guess at a, very good, Amarone – but this has a slightly wild complexity. Just fabulous and worth the money IMO…. I wish I’d bought more
Ratings:        Quality:  18/20   Value:  15.5/20

A very interesting tasting, with the Lebanese wines all out-shining the other examples – making them look a little simple or clumsy or both.

To the original question – is there anything specifically E. Mediterranean-ish about the wines – the answer is an unsurprising No!
The Island wines were rather specific and might well work with very specific food. I, at least, can imagine drinking the Santorini well-chilled while eating grilled sardines on a beach… The Israeli wine was big and very… well… New World in style, whereas the Lebanese wines were decidedly old world: two French and the Musar (very memorably) rather Italian.
Musar is a phenomenon!  I have probably tasted 15 or so vintages over the last 20 years and they are always different: different blends; different styles but always good, a sign of a great winemaker. I have to say, though, that this 2010 was the most impressive of all – an early contender for wine-of-the-year. Mmmmmmm

À Bientôt

Actually, there is no recognised area, or group of countries, classified as the “Eastern Mediterranean” from a Wine perspective. So before planning this tasting I have had to make a decision as to which areas to include. As the tasting theme was actually entitled “Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean” I have had the central focus defined… but what else to include?

First I decided to limit how far West, and North, the term “Eastern Mediterranean” might extend – and as we had a tasting from the neighbouring Balkans earlier I decided on this map:


This basically draws the Western boundary as the Aegean Islands of Greece, but not the mainland or anywhere further West. In wine terms this probably limits us to: Lebanon; Israel; Turkey; Cyprus plus the Aegean Islands (and Crete) from Greece.

Until recently Turkey produced more wine than all the rest of these area put together – nearly 80 million bottles a year… However recent events have halved the amount produced and export has become less significant. I decided to leave aside Turkey and concentrate on Lebanon, backed up by Cyprus, Israel and Santorini.

The Lebanon has become a very fashionable country for wine in recent years. This growth in appreciation largely driven by the massive acclaim for the legendary Chateau Musar, made by the equally famous Gaston Hochar. When I started formally studying wine in the early 1990s there were only 7 wineries in the country, and Musar was the only Lebanese wine one encountered, gaining attention for it’s quality as well as its unique origin. I attended a vertical Musar tasting in 2000, the variation and interest was captivating, although the wines were then around the £10 mark… they are reaching close to £30 now!


Although the Lebanon is steeped in history (records show wine growing there in the Phoenician period and for 2,000 years before), production dwindled to nothing for over 1,200 years until modern wine-making was revived under French, English and Jesuit influence in the 19th Century. Modern Lebanon now has around 50 wineries and produces about 9m bottles. Over 80% is red and the main grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Syrah which alone count for 50% of all the wine, Most other grapes are also French with Carignan leading the also-rans. There are a few indigenous white varieties like Obaideh and Merwah: the ingredients of Chateau Musar’s white! Over half the wines are from grapes grown in the Bekaa Valley where altitude is over 1,000 metres – although the wineries are rather more widespread.

Israel has a similar history of newly revived wine production, and again most of the planting is what we might call French/International – with emphasis on Bordeaux grapes and Syrah. These account for about two thirds of Israeli wine which now amount to about 30m-40m bottles. There is a wider spread of grapes than in the Lebanon and more whites: as you might expect Chardonnay leads the way with Sauvignon Blanc prominent – although Viognier, Semillon and even Gewurztraminer can be found!


While both Israel and Lebanon look to altitude to temper the excessive heat of the general climate our other two sources use maritime influence in addition. While the mainland countries are reviving long dormant old viniculture with French grapes, Cyprus and Santorini are continuing old styles with indigenous grapes.

Cyprus produces about 17 m bottles – so in between Israel and Lebanon. There are many grapes planted, but only 5 take up more than 5% of vines: Xynisteri  (33.3%); Mavro (13.6%); Carignan (7.5%); Shiraz (6.6%) & Cabernet Sauvignon (5.1%). These first two indigenous grapes therefore make up half the planting and the white Xynisteri is the most typical grape to taste!

Santorini is tiny, although its over 4m bottles is a tad more than the whole UK. The island is most famously known for its indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Whites bearing the Island name must be 75% Assyrtiko, and unsurprisingly it accounts for about 80% of plantings. Only fair – therefore – we taste one of those wines…

So is there a distinctive Eastern Mediterranean style? – we shall see, although I’d be surprised. Distinctive Island wines based on old white grapes to suit a fish cuisine on one hand and International red grapes grown at altitude on the other. And are even the two mainland countries – with similar grapes – producing similar styles?

Notes should be with you within the week.

À Bientôt

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