Archives for category: Wine

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


On Monday 9th July Janine showed the WING Tutored Tasting Group wines from DOMAINE GAUBY.

This is a biodynamic Domaine of around 45 hectares of vines near Calce in Roussillon. They are mostly between 150 and 200 meters of altitude in wild, arid, steep and hilly terrain, with some influence from the sea – less than 20km to the East. The geology is composed of limestone, marl and shale – with limestone more in the North and primary schists further south, they are sometimes intimately mixed, arranged in vertical strata, which allows a deep rooting of the vine. The wines are hand picked, low yielding and only use indigenous yeasts.

Janine showed us 3 whites and 3 reds.

Here are my notes:

This IGP Côtes Catalanes is made, with low yields, from Muscat 50% (15-50 yo); Macabeu 20% (30-50 yo); – Chardonnay 30% (20 yo) grown on limestone soil. It has 8 months in vat before bottling.
The nose is slightly spirit with floral and citric hints, quite clean and linear. The palate has a chalky feel underneath some lighter touches – acidity and stone fruit. Fresh and with developing interest

This has a much deeper nose with citrus and an oily perfumed nut element. Both higher acidity and more richness on the palate, more interesting than the 2015 and showing both subtlety and secondary characteristics. Good

This is made principally from Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc but there are eight varieties in total, grown at even higher altitude on poor more granite soils.
This shows oak and a slightly oxidised note reminiscent of old Burgundy. Palate is creamy with a spicy melon hint and some sherry-ish notes and goes over a little into white Rioja territory. Long and interesting but rather too many secondary-flavours for great versatility.

This is a Côtes du Roussillon Villages made from 10-20 yo: Syrah (50%); Mourvèdre (25%);  Grenache (15%) & Carignan (10%) grown on Limestone, clay-chalk and shale soils aged 10 months in barrels (20%) or vat (80%).
This has rather a Syrah nose with blackberry slightly hot fruit. Palate is quite simple with a tannic undertow and spicy woody elements too much to the fore IMO. Rather like a Syrah-heavy Southern Rhone from (say) Cairanne?

This has a more perfumed nose with oak showing through, but not as prominently as the younger wine. The palate is better integrated with some cinnamon hints. More supple than the 2015 but a little less acidity.

This is made from 125 yo Carignan (35%); 55 yo Grenache (25%); 25 yo Mourvèdre (10%) and 20 yo Syrah (30%) grown on sedimentary limestone and shale. Aged in barriques for 24 months.
Nose is mature with slightly sour plum with some sous-bois notes. Palate is well structured with a long acidic and slightly jammy plummy fruit, some start of leather and non-fruit hints. Rather nice but again seemed rather like a good Southern Rhone – Gigondas for example at almost Chateauneuf price.

An interesting tasting – these are well made wines with some poise, but the whites speak of the area more eloquently than the reds, and were – in general, much more interesting. The reds although enjoyable, especially the last, seem more generic Southern France: Rhone; Languedoc… rather than anything specifically Roussillon.
My favourite was the 2011 Calcinaires Blanc.

Thanks so much Janine

À Bientôt

The next Wine Dinner (the fourth – or was it fifth?) of our indulgent week in France took place in Bourgueil. One of a series of 12 through the summer in Bourgueil where a Wine Maker and a Chef collaborate to offer a 4 course meal at one of 5 participating hostelries.

On Tuesday 3rd July this took place at the Hôtel l’Ecu de France with wine presented by François Duvernay of Domaine de la Lande. This property is in the North of the Bourgueil commune, less than 2 km North of the town centre. The winery is based on the Coteaux, the ridge running east-west right along the top of the appellation, with a more tuffeau  in the soil and a South facing aspect. The Domaine is Biologique (organic) certified by Ecocert and Argriculture Biologique. All their Bourgueil are 100% Cabernet Franc, hand-harvested and sorted.

We started by sampling their Bourgueil Rosé on the terrace with a variety of meat and vegetable amuses bouches. The wine is made from young (<20yo) vines grown on clay-limestone soil. It showed pretty red fruit with a slight herb hint, very refreshing on a very hot early evening.

We then sat at the table for the starter: Profiteroles with mushroom and escargot with tiny red peppers in a Burgundy sauce. With this we had the Domaine’s Bourgueil “Les Pins” 2015, made from 35 to 45 years old vines grown on a clay-chalk  soil.

This had a very typical Cabernet Franc nose. The palate had red fruit but mostly notable for its herby and lively, grippy shape, with a hint of the mineral I think of showing limestone in Cabernet Franc. This went well with the substance of the dish but the baby peppers had such sharpness and the reduced Burgundy sauce such pronounced richness that almost any wine would have difficulty with the range. IMO this wine did better with the sharpness – less well with the richness!

We moved on to the main dish – a stuffed chicken dish with great, very slightly gamey, depth of flavour. With this we received Bourgueil “Prestige” 2014, made from 60 to 85 years old grown on clay-limestone soil. This fermented in wooden vats and raised in foudre.

This was a great match, the wine had darker deeper, but still a very Cabernet Franc, nose – tending to more earthiness. The palate was rounder with more plum notes and a more tannic package, spice elements near the bigger finish help with the food.

The next course was a cheese course including a creamy goat cheese. With this we were served Bourgueil “Prestige” 1989! This was staggeringly good, the nose showed mushrooms and sous-bois, compost and earthy notes with some fruit and Cabernet underneath, with a perfume developing later. The palate was balanced between depth and lightness showing, amazingly, a fresh red fruit blooming at the finish. A great wine.

We concluded with a raspberry based dessert, rather a challenge for Bourgueil. We were served Bourgueil “Les Graviers” 2017, made from 35 to 50 years old vines from gravel-on-clay soil.

This is quite an interesting wine showing red fruit and herbs then a round palate with soft tannins, obviously young but with real raspberry fruit  – but, of course nothing sweet.

The matching was interesting and mainly successful,  I’d score the matching, by course including the amuses bouches:  17/20 ; 15/20 ; 17/20 ; 19/20 ; 12/20…  but overall a lovely evening with good wines and food… and Happy Birthday Kim!

As it was near her Birthday holiday week, Kim and I took ourselves off to a wine weekend (29th June – 2nd July) in Bordeaux organised by 3D wines [for more information on 3D wines see below].

The attractions of a wine tour are obvious: appointments already made; no driving; food and accommodation organised… However those advantages only apply if the itinerary is well organised, the food and accommodation good; the planning done by knowledgeable wine-enthusiasts; and – above all – the wine any good!

The 3D tour (you can see the Programme by clicking<) was definitely all those things, and our general impression of the whole tour was of having a great time.

Andrew Bennett gave a witty and informative commentary to the trips, enlightening us on the geography and geology; the classification systems; the architecture; the influence of critics (esp Parker); consultant wine makers, garagistes … in an entertaining well paced fashion. Another advantage is – from the vantage point of an air-conditioned coach (essential since it was mid 30s outside) it was much easier to get an idea of the geography and geology of the areas than ever possible when driving.

The whole schedule worked flawlessly thanks to the organisation of Debbie Bates, and – as normal with wine lovers – the group (about 30) was convivial and friendly. The accommodation was excellent and the meals very good, showing many of the copious amounts of wine to good effect.

In fact for someone who likes to keep track of the wines (at least for a while) and write notes, I confess I was swept up in the pleasure of the meals a little too much to do that properly. (*Note to 3D, a tasting sheet, or just a little list – even approximate – of the wines to be tasted at each visit or meal ––  as an aide memoire, would be a great help). As it was I think (roughly) we tasted (drank, usually) something like 23 wines plus some repeats (at the winery and then at a meal later, sometimes with different vintages). I only have written notes of a few, some general impressions of most and only a hazy recollection of the rest.

Here’s my – rather uneven – account of the weekend:

The trip started with an early evening visit to Château Monconseil-Gazin. This Blaye estate is run by  run by Jean-Michel  and Françoise Baudet and is situated well: the limestone escarpment of Blaye on the hill above the village of Plassac

Clay-limestone soils and stony subsoil give excellent drainage and allow the vines to develop deep root systems, protecting against dry summers and encouraging complexity. The estate,which is TERRA VITIS certified has 35 hectares planted with Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Malbec (10%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) and 2 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Welcome to Monconseil Gazin
After a short viewing of the vines we looked through the winery and had an aperitif tasting of the Estate’s Classic Sauvignon Blanc [fresh, not so in your face as NZ examples but with mellower fruit (apricot?) smoothing out the SB acidity – rather good] and dry Rosé.

We then repaired to a hall for dinner: a Lobster mousse with the estate’s Prestige Blanc. A SB / Semillon (80/ 20) blend, raised in oak (a third new) for 6 months. The wine and food interplay was brilliant and the increased depth of the wine showed some complexity, spice and exotic notes but integrated into the breadth of the palate.

I confess the rest of the evening is increasingly hazy as different reds of the estate’s and the 3D 2014 blend arrived at the table with the stuffed chicken and cheese courses. As was to become a feature of the weekend it seemed that one could easily consume a bottle at the table… I do remember thinking that the Estates own basic 2015 went brilliantly with the chicken and I since looked up it technical details [Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), Malbec (10%) on clay/limestone soils and stony subsoil; 12 months in French oak barrels (25% new)]. However the 2014 (3D blend) maybe due to age, helped with the creaminess and acidity in the cheese…


The Second day began with the short Ferry ride from Blaye on the Right Bank, to Lamarque on the Left Bank. Then a coach tour starting North through the famous Communes of the Medoc, St Julien and Pauillac and into St Estephe before circling back through Moulis to Margaux. Several things struck me, including how relatively flat and featureless the terrain is, compared to the Right Bank. In addition the size of the Estates is clearly large. In fact Andrew informed us that the average Estate size in this part of the world is around 70 hectares, roughly ten times the average on the Right Bank or in Burgundy! Finally how near all the famous names are to the Gironde. Château Leoville Las Cases is an example…

Glimpse of the Gironde over the vines of Leoville Las Cases

Our original sweep North took us past many famous Châteaux (Beycheville; the Ducrus; the Leovilles, Baron and Comtesse Pichon-Longueville; Latour; the Bages’ Chateaux; Mouton and Lafite and turning round near Cos…) we circled back passing Poujeaux to the Margaux Commune for a tasting at the 3D partner producer Château Mongravey, and then lunch with their wines. As the Mongravey tasting was in the morning I was able to make some (semi?) coherent notes, those are below…

After some time mellowing… we returned, taking in Château Margaux to complete a pretty full set of impressive-Châteaux-which-we-can’t-get-in – here are some pictured (Petrus was actually the following day).

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Château Mongravey
We were greeted at the winery by the owner Karin Bernaleau, who showed us round the vat room – where each parcel of grapes are vinified in stainless steel with exact temperature control.  Then into the cellar where they have 450 barriques from 10 different coopers and led us to the tasting room.

The Estate have holdings in 3 places:

13ha in the Margaux appellation, on gravel soil from which they they make 2 wines: the Cru Bourgeois Château Mongravey wine which is blended and aged in oak (60% new) for about 16 months; and a Cuvée Spéciale –  the best selections raised in 10 new oak barrels, 1 from each cooper, for 2 years.

7ha in the Haut Médoc also on gravel soil where they make 2 wines: Château de Braude which is blended and aged in oak (45% new) for about 18 months and a cuvée spéciale, “Fellonneau” –  made from the best parcels raised in new oak for 2 years.

1 hectare in the Moulis appellation, on gravel soil with some clay. Château Galland has more Merlot planted and raises the wine for 16 months in barriques – 45% new.

We tried 5 wines – the 2015 vintage of each

Château de Braude, Haut Medoc (75% CS, 25% M) had a floral nose but slightly dried fruit, the palate is rather tight atm, with a lot of acidity and a slightly rustic quality. Very young seeming

Château Galland, Moulis. Similar blend as the previous wine but Merlot seems more upfront on the slightly lighter nose, with a much softer palate with fruit more prominent, the tannins also show more against this background, by way of contrast.

Château Mongravey, Margaux Cru Bourgeois (65% CS, 23%M, 2% CF) had a floral delicate nose with subtle fruit – cherry and damson. Palate is round with a spirit lift, good structure and long – very promising for 5-8 years time!

Château Braude Fellonneau (70% CS, 30% M – all new oak) Darker both in colour and fruit, heavier nose and flavour, palate is closed and the oak is showing – needs time

Mongravey Cuvée Spéciale (65% CS, 23%M, 2% CF) This is also quite closed atm sharper darker fruit hints. Palate also has high acidity with a brooding structure of power and body waiting to unfold. Right now – not as “Margaux” as the Cru Bourgeois but one for the future – 10 years?

We came away having bought the Cru Borgeois 2015, to approach in a few years time…

We then repaired for a lunch with Karin on a (hot) terrace of a nearby Country club, where we were served another 4 or 5 wines, a white that escapes me but went very well with Gravalax and older vintages (2011 I think) of the first 3 wines to accompany a brilliant lamb dish, which did indeed show off the wines very well. In particular the grip in the older Braude showed very well I thought…

This lunch was so indulgent I remember much less of the evening meal, a vague recollection of a white wine going well with a cod dish… and a refreshing thunderstorm about the time of dessert!


On Sunday we set out to St Emilion and a Tasting at Château Franc Mayne, a Saint Emillion Grand Cru Classé. Where we were given an interesting and polished tour of the whole facility.

We then tasted some wines in the Tasting room, a current vintage of the their Medoc holding, a Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois, Château Paloumey; and their second wine made from younger vines – Les Cedres de Franc Mayne. Finally we tasted the Grand Vin, (hand picked, vinified mostly in oak, raised in new barriques) in the 2007 version. Now I’ve tasted in this Château before, in 2000 or 2002 I think. On a little jaunt trying the 1998 (a fabulous year) along the plateau where the various Grace Dieu wineries, Laniote and Laroze are also located. I found Franc Mayne a little tight (not too bad a thing with the opulence of St Emilion) and a bit woody (less to my taste), and we ended up buying the Grace Dieu Les Minuts, and Laniote… Now the 2007 (90% M 10% CF) showed better balance with age, still some plum fruit and wood, a grainy tannin and liquorice hints but still had a slightly narrow impression, IMO… So as you’ll see later we picked a slightly bigger, less oak influenced year…

After time dodging the blistering sun in St Emilion, helpfully achieved by visiting the catacombs, we returned to the hotel to cool off before…

… A fabulous concluding dinner at the hotel. Showcasing the wines of the 3D Côtes de Bourg partner Château Rousselle. Before we got to that we reprised the very first pair of wines of the weekend – the Monconseil-Gazin white and Rosé. The latter wonderfully accompanying the pastry wrapped vegetable starter. Then a wonderful slow-cooked beef dish with the Rousselle wines… I think there were 3, but I found the basic wine a wonderful accompaniment with the beef. There were other vintages, other cuvées, wines in Magnum, wines with more – and more still – Malbec in the blend, some – I think – from Monconseil-Gazin again… and I remember finding one particular that went with the cheeses course, but – of course – not what it was!


A fabulous weekend when on several occasions the pleasures of wine and food, and general bonhomie overtook analytical interrogation of the wines – a very good thing. When my analytical faculties were still engaged, the wines showed very well – I can’t recall anything I disliked and several I thought very desirable – at all price points. The other factor was increased estimation of 3D. They are, in effect, in a curatorial role with these producers, and the wines they choose to offer. The examples we had showed a lovely balance between typicity and character, and Andrew’s taste seemed very trustworthy to me. Over 8 years of tasting the wines on offer I think I might be half a notch (on, say, a 20 point scale) more inclined to leaner, more delicate wines but that’s a tiny amount in the grand range of wines. I found the approach, very heartening and the weekend superbly enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone

Post Script –  While at Franc-Mayne Kim decided to buy a mature bottle to celebrate her upcoming Birthday. I remembered we had once conducted a 2000s Vertical Tasting of Château Moulin-Saint-Georges, a GC but definitely of GCC quality (it had in fact been excluded from promotion entirely on the grounds that they didn’t use their own equipment for making the wines – which are in fact made by Ch. Ausone as the same people own both Châteaux). That tasting had picked out the 2006 from the 6 we tried – so we made off with that…

A few days later the Birthday arrived and we opened the bottle with a leg-steak of lamb. Much more opulent than the 2007, the wine showed a spirity damson nose, with a slightly undergrowth element so typical of Right Bank Claret. There were mushroom/truffle hints too. The wine seemed soft on its own with a restrained grainy soft tannin and acidity entirely in the fruit, which reappeared at the finish with more loganberry hints. With the food though the wine took on more dimensions: the sweetness of the lamb showing both more acidity and more grip in the wine, as if the structure had been hiding under the opulence! We followed with a cheese course with the rest of the bottle and the reverse happened, the acidity in the cheese brought out the chocolate finish in the wine. Fantastic, and a wonderful rounding off of the Bordeaux experience.

3D Wines
3D Wines is basically a wine buying Club. It is run by Andrew Bennett from a base in Lincolnshire and covers wines from 30 producers: right across France with 3 in Tuscany and 2 in New Zealand.
When I joined in 2011 the idea was you notionally hired a row of vines for a year from one producer, this granted you the right to buy wines from that producer at as good or better than cellar door, often with a Members’-only Cuvée 3D.
Now the wine-makers are grouped, usually 3 together, in regional sets. One can buy wines to collect from the winery, at Calais (at a little more) or directly Imported. In addition if one selects one regional group one year and another the next one can still be offered the wine from the previous year’s area as well.
I have stayed a member since I joined, finding the wines of good quality and value (even when factoring the annual subscription), and visiting 3D-selected Vignerons an almost universally convivial and informative experience. For more info click here.
I recommend them with increased confidence following this trip.

We met at the ICC on Thursday 14th June to taste wines from six Mediterranean islands. We started with whites from Corsica, Crete and Santorini, then moved on to reds from Mallorca, Sicily and Sardinia.

Here are my notes:

Domaine d’Alzipratu Fiumeseccu Blanc 2016 – 13.5% – The Wine Society (£13.50)
This Corsican white from Corse-Calvi in the northwest of the island, is made from the Vermentino grape. Stone fruit and floral notes on the nose. Peach and some mango on the palate with a fresh minerality and good balance of fruit and acidity. This was the favourite white of just under half of the group and the favourite overall wine of about a quarter. Very enjoyable!
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 17/20

Domaine Douloufakis Dafnios 2016 – 13.5% – Maltby & Greek (£17.40)
From the Dafnes region of Crete and an altitude of 350m, this white is made from the local grape, Vidiano. Floral and stone fruit aromas on the nose. Honey and floral notes accompany apricot and a slight nuttiness on the palate. Slightly oily. The finish is a little shorter than the Corsican.
Quality: 15/20                    Value: 15/20

Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko 2016 – 13.5% – Maltby & Greek (£17.40)
This Santorini Assyrtiko comes from the island’s large co-operative, Santo Wines. Fresh and complex with distinct floral and citrus flavours complemented by hints of smoke and salinity. Full bodied with a long finish. A very good wine!
Quality: 17/20                    Value: 16/20

Mesquida Mora Sincronia 2016 – 13% – Great Western Wines (14.95)
This Mallorcan blend of local grapes and international grapes is biodynamically produced. Slight prickle or hint of a fizz on the palate at first. Forest fruits and some earthy notes but lacking the complexity or finesse of the other two reds.
Quality: 13/20                    Value: 13/20

Planeta Mamertino 2015 – 13% – Great Western Wines (£19.95)
This Sicilian blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Nocera has pronounced cherry and plum on the palate with herbal notes and a hint of tar. Very well balanced with defined tannins and acidity and a long finish. Very good!
Quality: 17/20                    Value: 15/20

Santadi Noras Cannonau Di Sardegna 2014 – 15% – Great Western Wines (16.50)
This Sardinian red is made from the Cannonau grape. Pronounced aromas of black fruit and herbs on the nose. Blackberry, herbs and some wood on the palate. Good acidity in balance with firm tannins and well-integrated alcohol. For me, it had a shorter finish than the Sicilian. Marginally came out on top as the best wine of the night when the group voted.
Quality: 16/20                    Value: 16/20

A really interesting range of wines. It was very close for the best wine of the night with roughly equal numbers voting for the Corsican Vermentino, the Santorini Assyrtiko, the Sicilian blend and the Sardinian Cannonau.

See you soon,

Brigitte. x

This theme was last explored by the ICC group back in February 2014. Before the tasting, Corkmaster asked whether the wines from these islands could be said to have anything in common, and afterwards concluded that one shared characteristic was ‘big’ flavours and the need for a prolonged line of acidity. Just over four years on and we’re revisiting the islands to try some different wines, and possibly see if much has changed.

Last time, the only two whites of the evening came out on top: an Assyrtiko from Santorini and a sweet Malvasia of Crete. The best red was a Nielluccio (Sangiovese clone) from Corsica.

We will be trying a different Santorini Assyrtiko on Thursday along with two other dry whites from Crete and Corsica. Our reds come from Sicily, Sardinia and Mallorca.


So let’s refresh our memories about winemaking on these six islands…

As the biggest island in the Mediterranean, we’ll start with Sicily. Sicilian wines have featured in other tastings over the years, but (partly for that reason) didn’t feature in our last look at Mediterranean islands. Sicily is an enormous wine region and one of the top producing regions in Italy in terms of volume. Historically, the majority of Sicily’s output has been in the form of bulk wine and its reputation for quality hasn’t been great, but this is slowly changing. White wine is still the major output, but it’s generally some of the island’s reds, particularly from the indigenous, Nero d’Avola grape that are more highly regarded.

Our other Italian island, lying 200km west of mainland Italy, is Sardinia. Nowhere near as significant in terms of wine production as Sicily, its main agricultural outputs are milk and meat. There’s less area under vine on the island than there used to be and this reflects a shift from quantity wine production to an improved focus on quality. Unlike Sicily, basic bulk wine only accounts for 15% of the Sardinian output, but DOC and IGT classification doesn’t always equate to high quality on an island where production zones can cover the whole island and maximum yields are set very high. The most popular grape varieties on the island are Vermentino and Cannonau (a clone of the Spanish Garnacha).

Directly north of Sardinia is the French island of Corsica. Like Sardinia, Corsica has seen a shift from quantity to higher quality wine production in recent years with vineyard area now about a fifth of what it was in the mid-1970s. It’s a mountainous island and vines are cultivated up to an elevation of 300m above sea level. Niellucciu, Sciacarellu and Vermentino are important Corsican varieties. Rosé wine accounted for just under a third of the island’s production in 2003, it’s now more like two-thirds. White wine production has also doubled from 10% in 2003 to 20% more recently. Reflecting this shift, it’s a Corsican white we’ll be trying this time from the Vermentino grape, as opposed to the Niellucciu we tasted in 2014.


Lying some 500km west of Sardinia and 200km off the Spanish mainland is the Balearic island of Mallorca. Mallorcan wine has been revived since the 1990s and wines are now being produced using both local grapes such as Manto Negro, Callet and Moll as well as international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. The wine we will taste on Thursday is a red blend of local and international grapes.

Moving on to Greece and arguably its two most important wine producing islands: Crete and Santorini. Crete is the biggest producer in terms of volume and Santorini is probably the island with the best reputation for quality.

Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and has Greece’s second largest wine district. Phylloxera came to Crete as late as the 1970s and the subsequent replanting tended to favour the international varieties demanded domestically and by tourists. That has changed more recently however, with the recognition that the island’s range of indigenous grape varieties have more to offer on the export market. Despite the island being very far south, vineyard altitudes of between 200 and 900m serve to moderate temperature and Crete produces more white wine than red (around 68%). According to wine writer, Andrew Jefford ‘The indigenous star among Cretan whites is a grape variety called Vidiano’. Let’s hope the one we taste on Thursday lives up to this praise.

Finally, Santorini, famous for its whitewashed holiday cottages carved into the picturesque coastline. But in addition to tourism, which is Santorini’s main economy, winemaking provides an alternative income for the island. Its volcanic soils make the island safe from phylloxera so vines are ungrafted; their extremely old roots dig very deep for nutrients in the ‘aspa’ soil of volcanic rock and pumice. Santorini’s vineyards are also known for their vines being trained into a low basket shape to protect the grapes from the island’s extreme winds. Assyrtiko is the main grape variety on Santorini, producing white wines with a good combination of minerality, acidity and alcohol.


It should be interesting to compare and contrast the six wines which mostly feature grape varieties indigenous to their respective islands. Will we find much in common between the wines? And will we discover anything different from the tasting four years ago?

Looking forward to it. See you on Thursday,

Brigitte. X

Naturally (!) – the May Sock Club occurred this year on 1st June. So the June Tutored Tasting followed only 72 hours later. So as to ensure that the information stays as the leading page I have united both sets of notes into one post. It should be top-post until the next Monthly Theme post (Mediterranean Islands) goes up on – about – 15th June.

Starting with Sock Club – the group met and Matt & Kathryn’s on Friday first of June for an evening of blind Tasting…

Here are my notes:

“CUVEE JEAN LOUIS” CHAMPAGNE BRUT (Bredon)         Welcome Wine
This has a citrus nose with a quite persistent but light sherbet mousse, palate has a grapefruit tinge. Rather light bodied and frothy with soft peach and lime hints. Very light for Champagne – definitely a party or aperitif style.

ALICANTE “LA TREMENDA” 2016 (Enrique Mendoza)          Sue T  
Nose is all soft fruit – apricot? Palate also shows apricot with a slightly chalky feel. Some Chardonnay signs: weight, apple acidity… but recessed under the soft Merseguera fruit.. It’s 50% each grape!

RIBEIRO “AILALÁ” TREIXADURA 2017         Kathryn   
Peach nose, this time, with a creamy impression… Palate the same with a ginger element and some saline, savoury hints – then peach again, and a citrus backbone… Quite interesting – showing some complexity!

CHENONCEAUX 2016 (Domaine de Vaux St. Georges)           Yvonne
This Touraine Sauvignon has initial quince fruit and then round Sauvignon Blanc profile on the nose. The acidity is rounder, warmer and less green than many SB, but has some green herbal hints, some mineral and a fuller body with more tropical complexity. Good!

POUILLY FUISSÉ “COLLECTION” 2015 (Sophie Cinier)          Kim
Citrus first, some toasty notes, a medium-weight palate shows citrus and soft fruit with a supple creamy texture, but no oak. There is a warm acid line and a lingering melon hint. Made from 60 year old vines with only old oak this has a clean but rich depth – very engaging!

DENARIO PINOT NOIR 2013 (Patagonia)           Matt
Very pale, translucent colour, slight vanilla and red fruit nose and palate has a lifting acidity with a bitter component… Clean and cool fruit with a slight herby element, very food friendly and good!

CORNAS 2004 (Alain Verset)      Laurie
This is the latest in the Cornas Verset story for me. I was fortunate enough to have bought the 1998 vintage of the great, late Noel Verset (see post of 26 Oct 2014 – below, I still have a couple left btw) and also had the good fortune once (in 1997 I think) to taste the 1991 Yvonne Verset (although allegedly made by Noel’s brother Louis). This 2004 completes the set with Alain (Louis and Yvonne’s son). More recent vintages are about £26, though this is now £45.
Without the ethereality of Yvonne’s, or the wonderful elegant completeness of Noel’s this is an amazing Cornas: slightly earthy nose with quite light fruit – blueberry and strawberry. Palate is supple, and for a Cornas rather subtle, with a lovely fruit acid line that builds for ages to a slightly drying crescendo and a spicy lift at the very end. Speaking as a Syrah-sceptic this was balanced, satisfying and not-at-all salty – lovely!

Nose shows fruit, some spice and a woody, forest-floor note. Palate starts with a black “fruit pastille” sweetness and backed by leathery hints and some warm prune, spice returns too… a clear warm climate wine with some succulence. This Puglian wine is from Nardò, between Salice Salentino and the SW Coast of the heel of Italy. Like Salice it is made with 80% Negroamaro & 20% Malvasia Nera.

BURGENLAND ZWEIGELT 2015 (Heinrich)     Mike
Quite light with a herby cherry/berry nose. The palate is similar – slightly drying sour cherry acidity and then the green herb quality appears again. Quite mouth-watering and fresh.

AMARONE 2011 (Cantina di Negrar)       Rob
Plum skins and prune notes on this nose, with a surprisingly sweet fruit attack on the palate. The palate then opens up a bit to show oily texture, a slight prune depth to the fruit, a hint of bitterness and a warm finish.

A great evening of wine and, though it may seem inappropriately self-serving, I was most moved by the Cornas! Thanks to Kathryn and Matt for their wonderful hospitality…


Only 3 days later the TT group assembled again for a Vertical Barolo Tasting led by Kim.

The Barolo in question was “TREBAVIO” BAROLO DOCG (TENUTA L’ILLUMINATA). The winery is in the La Morra, in fact on the North West edge of La Morra (and hence the whole Barolo appellation) in the Sant’Anna Menzione (cru). It appears the wine is a cru wine from Nebbiolo in that Menzione. La Morra is the largest of the Barolo Communi, and is said to produce the most supple, seductive, and “Pomerol-like” Barolos. Although comparisons with Burgundy are more common…

La Morra: L’Illuminata is in the Centre of the navy-blue (Sant’Anna) Cru – top left.

L’Illuminata is a moderate-modern wine maker. Not the most iconoclastic but applying some modern methods. For example the maceration and aging: Temperature-controlled steel, then a year in barriques (½ new), then a year in older Slovenian oak botti (10 x times the size of the barriques).

Kim showed the 6 vintages from 2005 – 2010.

Here are my notes:

2010 (Barolo General Vintage Rating 97, ABV 14.5%)
Nose is slightly Burgundian, with vegetal hints, some tar and a perfumed element opening out with time (…or a bigger glass!). High acidity on the palate with round tannins, fruit – plums coming to the fore later. Silky but with restrained power. Very promising and quite typical, but needs a couple of years…

2009 (90, 15%)
This is hotter altogether – the nose is quieter at first, with a slightly cheesy note and spirit hints. The palate is softer, the fruit stronger and the structure majors more on the tannins… slightly sweet impression. Not my favourite….

2008 (94, 15.5%)
Pungent dairy-(?)-farmyard nose with some plum fruit. A slight warm alcohol burn on the palate but there is acidity and grainy tannin all at equal (but not exactly “balanced”) levels. Very atypical – the fruit is sweet and the acidity almost citric. Later curry spice elements (Cumin? Fenugreek??) appear. Least liked by most – I actually preferred its weirdness to the over-heated 09 or the dilute 05….

2007 (95, 15.5%)
More perfumed with some fruit influence and a cherry spirit note. Palate is supple with integrated tannins and a very long fruit acid, the flavour is plum but the acidity reminds me more of raspberry. Good.

2006 (95, 14%)
A fruit and mocha nose making me think of cherry and raspberry again with a slight late herb note. The palate is powerful and gives the impression of more to be revealed, built around a long fruit-acid line the tannins brood beneath without distracting from the velvet mouthfeel… This will last, but right now it’s full, round and complete… a very satisfying wine!

2005 (91, 14%)
Nose is quite quiet with a little pretty fruit and some cheese hints again…The palate seems a little washed-out by comparison to all the previous wines, and the acidity rather green.

An amazing set of wines, which – despite their similarities – showed amazing variety. I think this, at these levels of maturity, has more to do with vintage than age – but who knows? I think one would pick Nebbiolo as the grape in them all, maybe some more quickly than other, and I would enjoy a bottle of any with an appropriate meal.

With most people 2010, 2007 & 2006 were the most favoured –  I concurred. To me it finally came down to a (large glass) taste-off between the ’07 & the ’06… and (then and there)… the 2006 shaded it for me – a wine I would pay the £35 for…

Thanks so much Kim for the Tasting and Ralph for the tip to source the wines…

À Bientôt

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