Archives for category: Wine Theme

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

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The Alsace wine region is one of the smallest in France, making about 2% of all French Wine. It is a narrow strip running 90 miles North-South parallel to and between the Vosges mountains to the West and about 15km from the Rhine to the East. The Vosges mountains also shelter the vines and provide a rain-shadow over what is actually quite a cool continental-climate area. This leads to long warm dry autumns that give the area its ability to ripen grapes. These conditions combine to make vineyard site very influential in the wine.

It’s near to Germany so there is significant Germanic influence on the region, the architecture, the culture and the wine. It is, in general, a rather “comfortable” region, but one of the charms of Alsace wine is that it is rather more radical…

  • Alsace has a strong emphasis on varietals and unusually for France, the grape name appears on the label.
  • It has the highest proportion of bio-dynamic growers of any wine region in the world, including some big names [Humbrecht , Josmeyer, Marcel Deiss, Weinbach, Barmes Buecher, Bott Geyl, Albert Mann, Cave de Ribeauville…].
  • Most significantly the region’s (mainly) dry wines complement “world” and “fusion” cuisine so well. The aromatic qualities, the varying levels of acidity and the clarity and precision of good examples set off complex flavours in – especially oriental and even Indian – food very well.

The wine area starts near Strasbourg and reaches down towards Mulhouse, but the 40km central section near Colmar is where the great wines originate. Grapes are grown on the lower slopes of the Vosges up to about 400m altitude. So the strip is only a few miles wide and the general orientation is East facing. However the landscape is widely varied, twisting around to give slopes of all aspects and giving over 20 different soil compositions. If you visit the region it’s clear to see that the GC sites are often South facing, departing from the general East facing lie-of-the-land – and at altitudes near the middle of the range (i.e. about 100m-250m or so).

The wine is over 90% white (the rest is Pinot Noir based) and almost irrespective of grape the white wines has an aromatic, usually floral, quality. It often couples sweet notes with dry acidity which makes it go well with spicy food.

There are only 3 Appellations: Alsace; Crémant d’Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru – comprising (approximately) 72%; 24% and 4% of production, respectively. However it is the last that has the biggest influence on the way we think of Alsace. Alsace Grand Cru wines are only allowed from the 4 noble grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. These may grow side by side in the same vineyards, but each Grand Cru vineyard is designated for each of these grapes separately – for example a climat may be GC for Riesling but not for Gewürztraminer. In addition the sweet classifications (Vendange Tardive and Sélections De Grains Nobles) only permit these four noble grapes. Priority is also given to them in the top blended wines, labelled Gentil, which must have >50% of these noble varieties [other blends, often field blends, are called Edelzwicker].

Thus Alsace wine gives the impression of being about these 4 grapes – “the usual suspects” – even though they only make up 60% of Alsace plantings.

Other grapes include Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, most of these find their way into Crémant and blended wines – although some of the former is found in varietal wines. The other interesting grapes are Pinot Noir for reds and the whites less seen: Sylvaner; Auxerrois and Chasselas.

Other = Auxerrois, Chasselas; Chardonnay                        – From Wine Folly

We’ll concentrate the July Tasting on these (relative) rarities, and one other – although it is made from one of the usual suspect: Vendange Tardive. This is made from a Late Harvest of drying grapes  requiring a minimum must weight equivalent to producing 13.5% (Gewürztraminer & Pinot Gris) or 14% (Riesling and Muscat) if fermented to dryness. That makes it a bit richer than Auslese in Germany (a style with guaranteed botrytis called Sélections De Grains Nobles is equivalent to Beerenauslese). VT also has to have a physical check of the grapes before picking and be submitted to blind tasting 18 months after making. It will be rich but not necessarily that sweet, we will see.

So we will taste Crémant; Sylvaner; Pinot Blanc; Auxerrois; Pinot Noir and a VT Gewürztraminer. Notes should be with you in about 4 or 5 days…

À Bientôt

Rioja is perhaps the most famous wine region of Spain. It produces over 400 million bottles every year – but that’s only (!) about 8% of all Spanish wine. It is mostly red (88% in 2016, usually 1 or 2 % lower) with some Rosé (5%) and White (7%).

The Red is made in four quality levels, from the highest: Gran Reserva; Reserva; Crianza; Generic. This [Wine Folly] graphic shows the rules, with the % of Red wine made at each level:

 

 

Gran Res’va 3

Reserva 19

Crianza 42

Generic 36

 

The Signature red grape is Tempranillo which accounts for about 80% of red plantings – followed by Garnacha (7%) and Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) about 2% each. White is almost as focused on one grape: Viura (which is 73%) with only one other white grape Tempranillo Blanco (10%) taking up more than 5%.

Rioja exports a lot of its wine – around 37%, a little more of the red and only 27% of the white. By far the biggest destination for that wine is the UK which takes in almost precisely a third of those exports – so nearly an eighth of all Rioja, twice as much as the next biggest importing country, Germany! So the British Rioja market should be a good sample of the styles, quality levels and innovations in Rioja.

The Rioja DO Wine region of Spain straddles the Ebro River for some 100 kms as it flows South East towards the Mediterranean. It is – mostly – in the central, Northern province of similar name: La Rioja. Not entirely though – roughly half – the Southern half – of La Rioja is mountainous and makes no wine at all, and some of the North bank areas are in Álava (which is Basque and accounts for about a quarter of all Rioja) or Navarra (about 5%).

Here’s a map:


You will see that Rioja is split into 3 sub-regions: Alta; Baja and Álavesa. The Álavesa sub region conforms to the administrative boundary  of Álava, and North of the river the Baja boundary conforms to Navarra’s. South of the River the Baja /Alta border follows the same general line just East of Logroño, with a few deviations to allow influential wineries (Marqués de Murrieta…) to be in Alta!

In general Baja is warmer, lower and better suited to Garnacha and maybe Mazuelo, as the Mediterranean influence moves up the Ebro. The Alta (and Álavesa) are higher (400-500m is typical), cooler and better suited to Tempranillo, Viura and Graciano. However the distinction seems pretty arbitrary near the actual borders and soil types and wine-making are much more important – here’s a soil map:

In the past the categories of red Rioja stood for clear stylistic divisions. Generic was plonk – Crianza was lightly oak-affected and showed strong tannin and acidity – Reserva was rounded, still woody but with a voluptuous fruit and Gran Reserva was getting towards an oxidative and secondary-, or tertiary-, flavoured style. Although Reservas had to have at least 1 year in oak, 2 or more was common – and GRs typically had 3 -5 years, and often the same again in bottle.

Now there is a trend to less oak, and fresher (modern!?) styles… The Wine Society categorises the wine styles thus:

Traditional: fragrant, silky and delicate wines from long ageing in cask (usually American oak) and bottle. These are mostly ready to drink on release.  Bodegas La Rioja Alta are an example of traditional style .
Modern-classical: younger, rounder wines that retain the delicious character of Rioja through cask ageing (often a mix of American and French oak) with the structure to develop in bottle. Bodegas Muga and CVNE,  fall into this category.
Modern: richer, velvety wines aged for less time in newer (usually) French oak, which are released earlier and mostly need keeping.

 

In fact I think the wine forms a wide spectrum and these three headings are but reference points. But it is true that there is a trend to more site-specific wines. Some growers are vinifying their better grapes from better sites in special Cuvées and using exclusively French (Tronçais or Allier…) oak for the time thought appropriate for the wine rather than the time set by the Gran Reserva (or even the Reserva) rules. The result is more elegant and more structured (and more Bordeaux-profiled) wine – a sort of super-Reserva!

Part of this is indeed soil (and more generally terroir), particularly the Agrilo-Calcaire found also in Bordeaux, Loire etc. This seems to be the soil in the most highly prized sites: for Tempranillo and Graciano; for carefully maintained older vines; vines used for single vineyard or restricted source wines (still a minority– though becoming more common in Rioja); and for more serious white plantings of Viura.

Another factor is grape variety. Red Rioja can contain Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Garnacha. We tend to think of Rioja as a Tempranillo wine with some minority blending partners – a bit like Chianti and Sangiovese… But that’s not accurate at all. There are no rules about how much of each grape can be in a Rioja. So it’s possible to have 100% Graciano, 100% Mazuelo or 100% Garnacha! Indeed these seem not too difficult to find as growers move more to site-based wines, and single vineyard Graciano is a style to watch for…

I confess I am interested to see the outcome of these stylistic changes, and hope they don’t end up entirely “Internationalising” a lovely distinctive wine style. There is room for development of course, but there are still many beautiful examples of  Reservas and Gran Reservas, and I for one still enjoy the depth and voluptuousness of well-made classic Rioja, retaining a warmth, richness and sense of place.

Meanwhile the picture is very varied and flexible, for a while yet it will be a bit like Burgundy: it’s quite hard to know what you’re going to get! – so find a producer (or 3 or 4…) you like and follow them…

Very old Álavesa Viura Vines

For this month’s tasting we’ll start with a very old fashioned white (a very rare style nowadays!) – aged for 4 years in barrel and 6 in bottle.

Then we’ll try a couple of varietals – Mazuelo and Graciano; and a more classic Reserva and Gran Reserva, sandwiching a “modern-classic” “super-Reserva” highly rated wine.

Graciano Vines at Coto de Imaz, Oyon, Álava

I hope the tasting illuminates some of the issues discussed here. Anyway, notes on the tasting will be posted in 6 or 7 days, a little later than usual.

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…

This month’s ICC Wine Tasting will show wines form Uruguay.

Uruguay is a small Wine Country, producing less than a third on one percent of the world’s wine. That still makes it’s production about 30 times that of the UK, about the same as Slovakia & Czech Republic combined, and a bit less than Switzerland.

Main Uruguayan Wine Areas

The country itself is small, the second smallest in South America, and has a mostly maritime climate. It’s soils are clay, loam and limestone – though there is considerable variety as you move away from the coast and up in altitude.

Mostly the wines we see in the UK are Tannat or Tannat blends from Canelones and Maldonado, but that is slowly changing. I even remember sampling a Gewurztraminer some – probably over 10 – years ago.

Wine making has been going on in Uruguay for well over 250 years, but it was the French-Basque immigrant, Don Pascual Harriague who brought Tannat vines to Uruguay in the late 1800’s from France. Tannat proved to be a perfect match for the primarily clay-loam soils and temperate maritime climate of Uruguay, and has been the country’s signature wine ever since.

Tannat is still the most widely grown grape (36%). Other common varieties are Merlot (10%), Chardonnay (7%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Sauvignon Blanc (6%), and Cabernet Franc (4%), but Syrah and Alboriño are new promising developments…

Other than these basic facts I no little of Uruguay wine, and I suspect most readers will be in the same boat. So it’s a pity that I cannot attend the tasting this week – it will be led by the very capable Janine. I look forward to reading – and posting – the notes in a few days.

Until then….

Tuscany is a wine area of Italy full of associations for an English wine drinker. A host of famous Denominazione, together with the coining (in the 80s) of the Super-Tuscan tag, have kept the wines in the public eye. In addition for a certain period it was a very fashionable part of the world to visit for trendy (though “establishment”) Brits – so Anglicised as to gain the term Chianti-shire!

For all that it is an important wine area. It has the third biggest production of the Italian Provincia, producing over 6% of Italian wine. Around 87% of it red, and about two thirds of the grapes are Sangiovese.

In fact very nearly 70% of all Tuscan wines have some Sangiovese in them – there are 8% or 9% each of Bordeaux-type wines or other red wines altogether (Pinot Nero, Syrah, local varieties…).

In addition 13% of Tuscan wines are white using Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia, the first two often in the white dried-grape style of sweet wine: Vin Santo.

Sangiovese itself has several other names – they aren’t quite synonyms as they refer to differing local clones. Brunello (in Montalcino), Prugnolo (in the area around the town of Montepulciano – which has nothing to do with the grape of the same name), Sangioveto (in the North)….

There are 11 Tuscan DOCG. [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – the top level of Italian wine classification]. 

7 are Sangiovese based:  Chianti Classico; Chianti (with the option to indicate one of 7 sub-regions or Chianti Superiore); Brunello di Montalcino; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; Carmignano; Morellino di Scansano; Montecucco.
Suvereto is based on Cabernet and Merlot with Sangiovese supporting; Val di Cornia also has Bordeaux grapes but 40% minimum Sangiovese.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a white wine from the East side of Siena province.
Elba Aleatico Passito is a dried red grape dessert wine from Elba.

The maps below give an indication of where the DOCG (and DOC) are located:

Central Tuscany

Central Tuscany

 

Outer Tuscany

Outer Tuscany

There are also 41 DOC [the next level Denominazione di Origine Controllata], these are similarly Sangiovese dominated and some are step-down versions of the DOCG (e.g.: Rosso di Montalcino rather than Brunello di Montalcino). There are also 6 wider IGP [Indicazione Geografica Protetta].

Chianti is the juggernaut of Tuscan wine. 3 of every 8 bottles bears the Chianti or Chianti Classico name. Yet frustration at the rather weird path of the Chianti rules gave rise to the Super-Tuscan boom and a wider diversity of styles in the 1980s and 90s.

Until 1996 Chianti had to be made to a formula which limited Sangiovese to a maximum proportion (70%) and required the use of other red and white grapes (Canaiolo and  Malvasia). The Sangiovese content was raised to a 75% minimum in 1996 (80% in Classico) and Canaiolo restricted to 10% maximum. Other “international” red grapes (Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet) were permitted up to 20% and the requirement for white grapes dropped. In 2006, in the Classico, white grapes were outlawed.

This meant that – until 1996 – wines with no white content, too much Sangiovese or some Cabernet (say) could not be called Chianti. Leading many producers to make wines that could only be labelled “Vino di Tavola”, despite sometimes costing 3 to 6 times as much as Chianti. These wines were called Super-Tuscan.The rules changes meant many – though by no means all – could use the Chianti name again – but many chose not to as their wines had become individually known by their Super-Tuscan name.

For me the issue now isn’t so much the name but the depth and style of wine. For wines that are 80%+ Sangiovese, the other 20% is more a matter of style than a change in type. The question is rather how age-able and serious is the wine.

There is a bit of a division among Sangiovese wines between relatively lighter, forward quite high-acidity wines that work with pizza and pasta – and deeper, age-worthy complex wines that work with richer dishes.

One can find very good examples of both… Most Sangiovese IGT, basic Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, some Classico… fall into the first group. Brunello, Chianti Classico Riserva, most Super-Tuscans… fall into the second (and are twice, three times the price…). In addition there are some impressive and pleasurable wines in between, including some Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile.

What interests me is the structural profile of Sangiovese itself. With some very great exceptions it seems that the grape has a more even profile than Cabernet Sauvignon, with attack and middle palate prominently featuring sour-cherry acidity then a plummy (and with age – dried fruit) middle… However by the very highest standard some examples can fade slightly at the finish… a gap that seems tailor made for filling out with a dash of Cabernet…

We’ll try examples to test that thesis…

Notes will be posted in 4 or 5 days.

Until then…

For reasons I won’t reveal until I post the notes of the wines in 3 or 4 days, this month is something of a celebration tasting. For that reason I’ve decided to cast my mind back over my wine-tasting history and select some of my favourite wines.

I’ve been involved in formal wine-tasting since 1992, and leading them myself since 1999.  Over that time, I think formal wine tastings and blind-tasting parties (“Sock Parties“) probably have put me in contact with over 6,000 wines. If you include also wines at other tastings (including suppliers’ tastings), in growers’ cellars, at restaurants and at home… the total is getting towards 10,000…

So many wines! How does one possibly choose one’s favourites? Of course – it’s impossible, so there has to be some way of narrowing the field. First of all it can’t be a matter of singling out the stunning vinous moments of particular wines in particular situations. That list is too long – and anyway the wine moments unrepeatable [the 1982 Chateau Montrose; the Musigny Blanc; the Jurancon sweet wine called (I think) Quat’centaire…]

So the first narrowing has to be to looking past individual bottles to types of wine… and then find examples of my favourite version of that type.

That’s still a big task, a long list of 20 or so is quite easy – but then???

First of all I’ve decided to omit Sparklers (Mailly Grand Cru Rosé since you ask), Rosé in general (pink Sancerre, or Rioja Rosada), Fortified wine (quite a long list including Manzanilla, Tawny and Baul…). I’ve also – even more reluctantly – decided to omit full dessert wines (Eiswein, Jurancon and sweet Chenin…) not least because we sampled some only last November.

That leaves “table” wines, and still there is quite a long list: Riesling (both traditional German off-dry and dry from Alsace and elsewhere); other Alsace grapes; Chenin (both demi-sec and sec); Gruner Veltliner (!); some dry South Italian styles (Greco, Fiano, Falanghina); some Rhone whites; and White Burgundy and that’s just on the White side.

We tried a transcendentally good traditional off-dry German Auslese in November– I don’t think I can better that so we’ll “settle” on a dry Riesling.

Of the other whites, the two grapes I drink most are Chenin and Chardonnay, so I think they are the wines I’d try to show. As it’s so useful for hors d’oeuvres, I prefer to start with an off-dry Loire Chenin. The Chardonnay will just have to be White Burgundy!

Over on the red side it’s no simpler. Favourites are Pinot Noir; Claret (particularly right bank); Chateauneuf; Barbaresco; Chianti; Amarone; some Portuguese styles and – of course – Cabernet Franc.

We tried Nebbiolo only in February, so we can leave that out. My leading candidate for the Portuguese (Ventente), was sampled in December and some of us attended a Chateauneuf tasting as recently as April so let’s omit those wines too. I think Pinot Noir has to be in, and so too Chianti.

So the final choice comes down to: Cabernet Franc or Right Bank claret – both lovely and too similar to include both…I had second, third and fourth thoughts about which to include and only decided when trying to identify the actual example to show.

So the list of styles comes down to:

Demi-sec Chenin         Alsace Riesling          White Burgundy

Red Burgundy          RB Claret / Cab. Franc                  Chianti

So… now to the problem of choosing the particular wines. The Chenin has to be Vouvray or Montlouis, and although the best example might be a 10 year old Huet, I can’t get that – so we’ll have to make do (!) with a 10 year old Montlouis from Berger Freres.

The greatest Alsace Riesling I ever tasted was the “flavour symphony” that was the 1990 Lorentz Altenberg GC, and although that’s all gone I do have the 2007…

White Burgundy is composed of many styles I like, the experience of Chablis (then 10 year old 1990 Fourchaume) with a warm Chaource salad in Chablis is still with me… lovely wines from Chassagne and Pernand-Vergellesses and “lesser” wines from Santenay, Givry, Rully, St Veran and even Hautes Côtes still ring a bell… but in the end I went with the quite restrained style I prefer – Chablis.

Over on the red side of Burgundy the choice is as wide – though not as vaunted (for cost reasons), the best 1er cru wines I’ve had (Chambolles, from Vogüé, Barthod and Roumier; Volnay from Devevey, Buffet and others) approach (or in the case of Vogüé – far exceed) the 3 figure barrier. So we are more in lieu-dit territory from Beaune or a leaner style from Maranges, which I eventually plumped for.

The choice of Cab Franc or RB claret was resolved for me by similar considerations (Troplong-Mondot 2005 would be £150+) – but last year some of us tasted 13 Cabernet Franc blind and I happen to have two bottles of the winning wine (scoring 17.37/20): Château de La Grille 2001.

The driveway to Felsini

The driveway to Felsini

The Chianti is rather easier – my favourite Chianti is from a grower called Felsina, located in the South of the Classico, East of Sienna. My favourite (which some of the group shared at an organised WING meal at Broadway in 2007{?}) is the 2001 Rancia Riserva and I happen to have 2 bottles left – so I’ll conclude my “favourites” tasting with them!

Tasting Notes will be with you in 3 or 4 days…

Until then…

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