Archives for category: ICC TASTING

On Thursday 16th November the ICC / WING group met for the second tasting of the 2017-18 Season. The theme for the evening was ‘Bordeaux Blends Abroad’. Concentrating solely on red blends, we tasted wines from six different countries, varying terroirs and a range of price points.

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Here are my notes:

CHILE: Primus the Blend 2014  –   14%   –   Wine Society – £11.95
From the Colchagua Valley in Chile, this was the only wine of the evening to feature Carmenere in the blend. Its presence came through in some spicy notes on the finish, but the wine was primarily fruit-driven and dominated by baked black fruit flavours. Quite drinkable with its soft tannins and hint of spice on the finish, but a little one-dimensional. It wasn’t anyone’s favourite wine of the night, but 6 members voted for it as demonstrating best value for money.
Ratings:        Quality:  13/20   Value:  14./20

SOUTH AFRICA: Rustenberg John X Merriman 2014  –   14.5%   –   Waitrose Cellar – £14.99
More restrained with slightly more complex flavours than the Chilean. Hints of cigar box complement the core of dark fruit. Still quite young and would benefit from further bottle ageing to soften the tannins and develop more flavour complexity.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20 

LEBANON: Chateau Ksara 2012  –   13.5%   –   The Wine Society – £16
Tannins dominated a little for me to begin with; would definitely be better with food (rare steak or beef) or in a few years’ time once the tannins have softened. Quite a powerful wine with good length and some more complex flavour combinations coming through on the finish – some spice and herbal notes to complement the rich red and black fruit.
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  14/20

AUSTRALIA: Moss Wood Amy’s 2015  –   14.5%   –   Waitrose Cellar – £16.49
This wine seemed in better balance than the previous three, with more flavour complexity. The only wine of the evening to feature a significant amount of Malbec in the blend. Made to be approachable in its youth, tannins were not overpowering, but well balanced with the wine’s acidity and alcohol. Fresh black fruit flavours with white pepper, cedar and some floral notes in support made this a very enjoyable wine.
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  17/20

USA: Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvee Arlette 2013  –   14.6%   –   The Wine Society – £21
A ‘Right Bank’ blend from Washington state, with significantly more Merlot than the evening’s other wines, which was reflected in its softness. Very smooth, featuring flavours of vanilla and sweet spice along with the dark fruit. I found it to be well balanced and very drinkable, and it was the favourite wine of 7 members, but some found the oak influence to lack subtlety.
Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  14/20

ITALY: Fattoria di Magliano Poggio Bestiale 2012  –   14%   –   Lea and Sandeman – £27.50
This Super Tuscan was my favourite wine of the evening. A well-structured wine with aromatic black fruit and hints of liquorice on the nose. The fruit flavours and hints of spice developed on the palate which also showed a lovely slightly smoky mineral character.
Ratings:        Quality:  18/20   Value:  15/20

Overall, an interesting range of wines, showing the diversity of the red Bordeaux blend in its different manifestations around the world. The flavour complexity and balance of the Italian wine made it my favourite as well as that of the group. The Washington ‘Right Bank’ blend was the second most popular amongst the group, though, like the Lebanese wine, it did seem to split opinion. In terms of ‘value for money’ the Moss Wood Amy’s Blend from Margaret River came out on top.

Bye for now,
Brigitte

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‘Bordeaux blend’ is a phrase sometimes used by winemakers and consumers to refer to certain wines, but what is its official definition? On hearing the term, most people probably imagine a red wine. That’s likely to be because nine out of ten bottles of Bordeaux wine are red and so too are the majority of non-French wines that copy or pay homage to the wines of this most prestigious region.

There is, however, such a thing as a white Bordeaux blend. Just over 10% of Bordeaux wine is white with just under one quarter of that being sweet, such as the world famous sweet wines of the Sauternes appellation. Whether sweet or dry, a white Bordeaux blend would consist primarily of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

However, when it comes to ‘Bordeaux Blends Abroad’, the number of red Bordeaux copies far outweigh the whites and are produced in a far wider range of the world’s wine producing regions. For this reason, I’ve chosen to concentrate solely on red blends for this tasting.

So, what is a red ‘Bordeaux blend’? To be correctly labelled thus, the wine would need to consist of two or more of the following grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and possibly Malbec and Carménère. ‘Bordeaux blend’ is not a legal or technical term and solely refers to the grapes used so there are no rules on the percentages, yields, planting regulations or winemaking practices.

In the USA, ‘meritage’ is a more official term that was coined in the 1980s for American wines made exclusively from two or more of the Bordeaux grape varieties. This trade-marked name is legally available only for use by winemakers who have joined the Meritage Alliance but it is a term used less commonly in its home of California now than it used to be.

So, why are almost all Bordeaux reds made from a blend of grape varieties and why is this style copied the world over?

The moderate maritime climate of Bordeaux with its variable weather and risk of high rainfall mean that to rely on one grape variety would be very risky. With the different varieties flowering and ripening at different times, there is less likelihood of an entire crop being ruined by adverse weather.

In addition, the soils of the Bordeaux region are also very varied and their different drainage and heat retaining properties determine which grape varieties can be successfully grown. The damper, cooler soils of the region’s ‘Right Bank’ (north of the Dordogne River) are suited to Merlot, whereas the ‘Left Bank’, with its gravelly, heat-retaining soil is the only area of Bordeaux where Cabernet Sauvignon can reliably ripen. Hence, ‘Right Bank’ blends tend to be dominated by Merlot (with Cabernet Franc in a supporting role) and ‘Left Bank’ blends have a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bordeaux-BlendsBut it is not solely through necessity that almost all ‘claret’ is produced from a blend of grape varieties. Blending is a great skill which is of the utmost importance in producing premium Bordeaux reds. The percentage of each grape variety that ends up in the final blend will depend not only on the vintage but will also be the result of much deliberation, tasting, scrutiny and careful consideration of what each component will add to the blend. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon can be said to give tannin and a core of blackcurrant fruit; Merlot adds softness, richness and body; Cabernet Franc can contribute marked fragrance and Petit Verdot can add tannin, colour and exotic spice.

The ‘Bordeaux blend’ can create a very fine, structured wine that is built to last, so it’s no wonder that this style has been copied the world over, from the Super-Tuscans of the Bolgheri coast to the famed Bordeaux style blends of Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. But of course, it’s not just the blend of grapes that makes the wine, and with greatly varying climates, terroirs and vineyard and winemaking techniques throughout the world’s different wine producing regions, ‘Bordeaux Blends Abroad’ should all have something unique to offer, making them more than simply ‘Bordeaux copies’.

Hopefully the wines we taste on Thursday evening will offer interesting comparisons in terms of the components of the blend, but will also demonstrate a sense of place and offer a range of different characteristics and some interesting contrasts.

See you on Thursday,

Brigitte Bordeaux

On Thursday 19th October the ICC / WING group met for the first tasting of the 2017-18 Season. The new season will (roughly) have alternate presenters: yours truly, Corkmaster and – new to this blog – the extremely talented brigittebordeaux.  So I kicked off with the 4th most popular Theme: Italian White wine.

I decided, following the discussion in the previous post to further trim the candidates for the Tasting by omitting Fiano and Pecorino – as being too well-known or too obscure, respectively. This left me with two wines of rare quality in denominations known for plonk: Soave and Orvieto; two Piedmont specialties: Gavi and Roero Arneis; and two Campanian whites…

Here are my notes:


SOAVE CLASSICO CALVARINO (Pieropan) 2015   –   12½%   –   Wine Society – £18
Quiet nose – with blossom hints: acacia and elderflower, some herby hints and a start of fruit. The palate has very long citric acidity with a chalky mineral finish, later some peach hints develop on both nose and palate. This is a couple of years too young, but very classy, balanced and elegant.
Ratings: Quality:  15.5/20   Value:  15/20

ORVIETO CLASSICO “TRAGUGNANO” 2015 (Sergio Mottura)   –   13½%   –   Vini Italiani – £17
Immediate nose of floral and pear notes. Soft fruit on the palate, with a softer acidity too. Some warmth in the later palate and increasingly herby (thyme?), but fades quite quickly too. Rather one dimensional.
Ratings:        Quality:  13.5/20   Value:  13/20

GAVI DI GAVI 2016 (Tenuta Olim Bauda)   –   12½%   –   Virgin Wines – £15
This has a fresh nose…lemon and a hint of pear. Clean palate with a lovely acidity growing in warmth and extending the finish. Quite good typicity and a very satisfying food wine…
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  14.5/20

ROERO ARNEIS “LE FAVILLE” (Brjnda) 2014   –   13½%   –    Vini Italiani – £15
Nose has some floral elements, and a hint of a darker – nutty? – flavour. The palate has saline and that darker note (fenugreek), some warm acidity and a thicker food-friendly finish but a bit short…
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  14/20

GRECO DI TUFO, LOGGIA DELLA SERRA 2016 (Terredora Di Paulo)   –   12½%   –   Tanners – £17
Lovely nose of white fruit, citrus and sweeter fruit notes. Palate is very well balanced with evolving acidity that energises fruit elements and some richness. A poised wine with great food capacity, and close to peak, and the groups’ favourite!
Ratings:        Quality:  15.5/20   Value:  15/20

FALANGHINA “PRETA” (Capolino Perlingieri) 2015   –   13½%   –   Vini Italiani – £17
Very pungent menthol / Eucalyptus first nose… Other herby notes mount but never overwhelm the mint dimension… Palate has grapefruit acidity and a sweeter fruit – doughnut peach (?) – gaining ground. Quite rich and unusual, and pretty good.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  14.5/20

Overall a tasting showing the range of white styles in Italy. With strong, food-friendly, acidity present in most – even from the warmer climes. All had some attractive elements and clean acidity…That freshness is most apparent in the Soave and the Greco, and although the Greco has persuasive charm, I liked the Soave as much and felt its restrained elegance would better reward cellaring. On the other hand, the Orvieto was slightly dull, and I have sometimes found the slightly sweet Amabile style shows more depth at lower price points…

À Bientôt

We all know the basic wine overview of the Loire… It’s divided into 4 big areas, each with their distinctive grapes and famous names. Going from West to East these are: Nantais (Muscadet from the Melon de Bourgogne grape); Anjou (Chenin Blanc); Touraine (more Chenin and Cabernet Franc); Centre (Sauvignon Blanc and some Pinot Noir). This gives a mental picture that can be represented a bit like this:


All well and good, and in fact a pretty accurate general picture. However, the four areas aren’t really of equal size. Just looking at West-East extension – Nantais is nearly 60 miles, Anjou only 45 miles, Torraine over 70 miles, and then a 20 mile gap to the 50 mile wide Centre. Production is uneven too: Nantais produces a bit over 10%; Anjou nearly 40%; although the geographically largest, Touraine only yields about 20%; and Centre nearly 30%.

Here’s a much more accurate topographically correct map:
All the above notwithstanding, the naive generalisation isn’t too far off. Only the small areas of the Vendée are not covered in the West. In Anjou you will find bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau, and Gamay here and there (Gamay actually appears across Touraine too). The East only real exception is the deceptive Pouilly-sur-Loire (not Fumé) area which makes wines from Chasselas!

The real variations to the general picture are within the Touraine area.

You can find all sorts of grapes here but there are three main departures, which form the basis of this month’s tasting:

  • In the North: the often neglected areas of Coteaux du Loir and (less significantly) Coteaux du Vendômois
  • In the North-East: the odd areas of Cour-Cheverny and Cheverny and the Solonge area in general
  • The increasing presence of Malbec – under its original name Côt – especially as you go East along the Cher River. Côt actually arrived here from its original home in Quercy at the time of the renaissance, before going to Cahors and thence to Argentina…

Firstly the relatively little known area lying along Le Loir river about 25 miles due North of Tours. [Le Loir actually flows West, pretty well parallel to La Loire, for another 50 miles from here before joining the Sarthe just North of Angers.]
This area (sometimes referred to as North Touraine) is actually composed of three wine areas: Coteaux du Loir (CdL), Jasnières and Coteaux du Vendômois. You can read more by scrolling down to the post of January 24 2017…
Jasnières is an enclave within the general CdL area, capable of rather good Chenin Blanc – fierce acidity with a rich counterpoint. However the area’s oddity is the Pineau d’Aunis grape, a spicy, herby grape which must form 60% of the reds. Sometimes it’s 100% – and we’ll see what that’s like…

The area in the extreme NE of Touraine is the second source of strange wines. The story goes back to the renaissance ascent of the Château at Chambord – as a hunting home for Francois I in the early 16th Century. Many grapes, from Bourgogne and elsewhere, were planted there, nearby in the Solonge area and at Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny. The unusual white grape Romarantin is the main grape in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny… While Cheverny white is mainly Sauvignon Blanc, and red is a Pinot Noir / Gamay blend (recalling Bourgogne Passetoutgrains). Many grapes find their way into the Rosé from here and the surrounding area including Pineau d’Aunis again.
However other varieties also made their way to Chambord and despite being lost to phylloxera in their home some have survived. A couple moved from there to be in the Solonge winery of Henri Marionnet, Domaine de la Charmoise (you can read more about this winery by scrolling down to the September 20 2016 post).
As well as un-grafted Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Gamay and Côt, they have direct line descendants of the Chambord plantings of Romarantin and the otherwise extinct, Teinturier (red flesh), grape: Gamay de Bouze.

Finally – the eastern Touraine has an increasing preponderance of Côt. We’ll try an example from the Cher area, together with a Pineau d’Aunis Rosé sourced from the same grower..

Until soon…

On Thursday 15th June Richard led the ICC Group in tasting wines from Domaine La Tour Vieille, comprising Apellation Collioure Controlée wines and a Bunyuls. My reports from this tasting were all excellent, both in regard to the quality of wine and about Richard’s presentation. I am very grateful to him for conducting the tasting, and for the notes below:


These are high quality wines and were all ready for drinking now although they will keep for many years. An underlying theme of all the wines was a reflection from their growth area; subtle undertones  of minerality, salinity and garrigue. The balance of fruit and acidity made the wines smooth, elegant and complex . This gave a voluminous quality in the mouth.

Les Canadells 2014    14.5%   (Yapp Bros £17.30   Grower €14.42)
70% grey and white Grenache, 10% Macabeu, 10% Verminto, 10% Rousanne.
Yeast, almonds, mineral, flinty and tropical. Good to drink on its own but will go well with food.

Rosé Des  Roches 2015     14%  (Grower €9.27)
50% black Grenache 50% Syrah
Salty, strawberry, candy floss, tropical, melon strawberry jam, redcurrant. Good on its own or with food.

La Pinede 2014     14.5%    (Grower €12.36   Yapp Bros £16.20)
75% black Grenache  and 25% Mourvedre and Carignan
Nose of leather, rubber, caramel. Taste of brambles (blackberry) cinnamon liquorice, aniseed, black cherry, spicy and tinned tomatoes. Again, good on its own or with typical food of the area.

Puig Oriol 2015      14%    (Grower €14.42   Yapp Bros £17.30)
70% Syrah and 30% black Grenache
Black cherry, spice box, seaweed, chalk, mineral, pencil, cloves, stewed plums, frankincense. Very smooth, rich and velvety without being overbearing.

Puig Ambeille 2014   14.5%    (Grower €14.42)
80% Mourvedre  20% black Grenache
Tobacco nose. Blackberry fruits, herby, spice, rounded and smooth. Forest floor, black cherry and ripe berries. Well balanced.

Banyuls Reserva Vin  Doux Naturel     16.5%     (Yapp Bros. £20.90 Grower €16.48)
90% black Grenache and 10% Carignan.
Plum, prunes, coffee, fig, dried cherry, raisin, toffee, chocolate and sweet spice. Lighter than port but goes well with chocolate, chocolate dishes and with cheese. Lovely sweet taste with lots of flavours again without being too intense.

So – very many thanks to Richard for collecting and showing these wines, I really would have loved to attend. Other tasters have told me of the overall salinity (does that reflect the sea-side location), balance and poise in the wines. This confirms my impressions over time about wines of Roussillon – that the better end is cheaper, fresher and more complex than comparable Languedoc wines, despite (?) being further South. Perhaps the reason is more small artisan growers, or the easier affordability of the wines (meaning we can drink higher up the scale), or the sea… or the good offices of people like Richard who brought us these wines… At any event a great success – thanks again Richard…

À Bientôt…

This month, the ICC Tasting will be of wines from Collioure, in the very capable hands of Richard.

Collioure AC (AOP) is a small wine area in the very South-Eastern corner of Roussillon – and indeed France.  Centred upon the old fishing village of the same name, the area also produces  produces Vin Doux  within the identical geographical boundaries, which is always labelled Banyuls.  Collioure is the name reserved for normal strength, dry wines.

Collioure/Banyuls is a small area, producing about 4% of all wine in the Roussillon area. Similar amounts of each are made, depending on the harvest. Collioure is untypical in that 20% of the planting is white (the average over all Roussillon is 3%!) – so about a third of white Roussillon AOC (now AOP) is from Collioure. Which is interesting now since AOC white was only permitted in Collioure from 2003.


Collioure AOC red is always a blend which must contain at least a 60% of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre with no individual grape permitted to exceed 90% of the total blend. Cinsault and Carignan and allowed to up to a maximum of 30%. Today the AOC white blend must contain a minimum of 70% blend of Grenache blanc and Grenache gris with Macabeo, Malvoisie, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino (Rolle) permitted to round out the remaining portion of the blend – though each of those grape varieties can not individually exceed 15%.


Richard has chosen to show wines based on one of the top 5 producers – if not the best – Domaine La Tour Vieille. They produce 70,00 bottles a year of Banyuls and Collioure, by manual harvesting 10 ha of red and 2.5 ha of white. They practice Lutte Raisonnée viticulture. The grapes are all grown on schist soils and are composed of – Reds: (5%), (15%), (65%), (15%); Whites:  (10%), (10%), (50%), (20%), (10%). So a very typical mix from the area. The grapes range in age from 20 years old (some of the whites) to 70!

All grapes are harvested by hand and nothing is mechanized at all (no tractors) and all wines are fermented traditionally with wild yeasts. They make a white, a Rosé and several Banyuls and late harvest wines, as well as several prestigous Reds….

The white Collioure, “Les Canadells” is vinified in the following way:  the Grenache Gris is pressed immediately after harvest; Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, Vermentino, Roussanne undergo a short skin maceration; then percentage of the wine is fermented in oak barrels with a regular stirring of the lees and bottled 6 months after harvest.

All the Collioure reds undergo pump-overs and all punch-downs are by foot, the wine is bottled 10 to 18 months after fermentation.

A very attractive tasting, I think… I wish I was there but I am actually avoiding the 31°C sun in the Loire….  With Richard’s (and other attendees’) assistance the notes should be with you early next week (although I face a crashingly busy weekend before then)…..

À Bientôt…

On Thursday 18th May 2017 the ICC group tasted 3 Alto-Adige varietal wines (Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer) against “reference” equivalents from Alsace. The idea being to see if the “lighter, drier, cleaner” reputation for the former was justified – and/or if it implied a “less characterful” other side to that coin? I chose mature Alsace wines to emphasise this, and to ponder if the Alto-Adige wines would ever develop to a similar degree.

The wines were served in pairs, so the notes below will contain both-way comparative comments. However only the first pair were served blind as I thought the relative ages of the wines would make the other pairs too obvious anyway.


Here are my notes:

KAEFFERKOPF RIESLING 2008 (Schaetzel)      –   13%     –     Grower €17  (Approx £25 in UK)
Only showing a slight hint of diesel, despite its age – floral hints and an apple blossom note in a more aromatic wine. Palate is rounder and richer with a long warm acidic line supporting a fruit phase reminiscent of dried apricots. Rather satisfying and still quite young.
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  15/20

PACHERHOF RIESLING  2012 (Valle Iscaro)   –   13%     –     £15 Le Langhe
The nose has a light but more evolved diesel element, but is quite quiet overall with a hint of citrus. The palate is actually less dry than the Alsace wine, clean with warm acidity and a pear hint – but a mineral, slightly bitter, line grows through the wine, supporting the middle but somewhat unbalancing the finish.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

It seemed the older wine was on a much longer evolution, and had more depth and interest. However I felt the A-A was not shamed by comparison, and would work as well or better in some contexts.

BRAND GRAND CRU PINOT GRIS 2005 (Turckheim)         13½%    –      £19 Noel Young
Instantly recognizable Alsace PG, much darker than the Alto Adige but still fresh. Hints of flowers (roses?) and ginger with smoky notes. The palate only a little off-dry with an integrated fruit-acid line (passion fruit, quince, mango) held well together for a long time. Long and complex – a lovely wine…
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  17/20

ERSTE + NEUE PINOT GRIGIO 2015    –  14%   –      £15 Noel Young / Highbury Vintners
This has a some PG character but only about a third as intense as the Alsace. Similar profile to the AA Riesling: clean; warm acidity; fruit (peachy in this case); mineral at the end… not all that interesting and certainly nor compared to the Alsace PG.
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  14/20

This was even more telling a comparison than I imagined. With ten years between the wines, I wondered that the Alsace might be too old… Far from it – it positively shined with flavour and complexity and supported its slight sweetness well. The A-A certainly paled by comparison, although not a bad wine – I thought it had more interest than most Grigio, but here the least interesting of the A-A wines anyway…

HEIMBERGER “SOL GRANITIQUE” GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2007 (Beblenheim)     –    13%    –      Grower €12
No lychees on this nose but ginger and (surprisingly) pear. Palate is rich and viscous with some sweetness and a gingery spicy warmth and a “granitique” mineral line. Long warmth and a food-demanding grip.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15.5/20

ELENA WALCH GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2015   –   14%      –    £16 Bottle Apostle
Slightly nutty nose with a slightly bitter herb notes. Palate has citrus and peach, with a hot spice line giving structure and a chalky (tending to creamy) mouthfeel. As long but cleaner than the Alsace and equally food-demanding…
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

This seemed the closest comparison – both had clear Gewürztraminer characteristics – focusing on the ginger and floral more than the stereotype lychee. The A-A was a hotter wine, both in the foregrounding of its ginger flavours and its alcoholic weight. Also the mineral character was different: the A-A chalky, whereas the Alsace had drying salinity that held up the relatively low acidity.

Overall an interesting comparison in which the reputation of the Alto-Adige wines is justified: vibrant, leaner with a mineral frame. They are good wines with preference a matter of taste for most of the pairs we tasted. However the Alsace Pinot Gris was a long way ahead of the A-A Grigio (IMO) – maybe one needs to go up a notch to find a really characterful example… Also I can’t imagine any of the  Alto-Adige wines have as long a development time in them as the Alsace, so – personally – in most cases I’d rather buy Alsace and wait a while…

Until soon!

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