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On Thursday 15th February the WING group met at the ICC for a Tasting of wines from Rioja. This theme came out top in the Group’s voting for what to cover this season. I wonder if this is – at least partly – down to the knowledge I was holidaying there last summer, and would personally source the wines. This of course renders a set of wines averaging over £20 at UK prices much more affordable. The prices, and value for money scores, are for the UK (if possible).

Here are my notes:


VIÑA GRAVONIA CRIANZA BLANCO 2006 (R López de Heredia)    –   12½%   –   UK £21 Oldbridge wines
This is from the height of the Alta near Haro, and is 100% Viura aged for 4 years in oak and 6 in bottle. A very sherry like nose, showing stewed apple, nutty and some pungent vegetal elements, a slight honeyed tinge… Palate has all this with sherry salty dryness and an undertow of passion fruit (aged Chenin?) honeyed richness. This has a sharp acidity contracting the palate at the end, a little more than the 2004 tasted in March 2015 (see below). A small sample remained which I tried as an aperitif the next day, before a good Soave. The acidity had slackened a little and the palate more rounded – so it may be a little young? The more interesting observation is that ignoring the sherry overlay, how similar the structure was to the Soave – with acidity and peachy fruit common to both! A very unusual style which radically divided opinions. But for me a great example of a nearly-lost style.
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

OLARRA CERRO AÑON MAZUELO 2105        –    14%   –   n/a UK, about £16
This is from Mazuelo (Carignan) grapes from near the Alta/Baja border, and I suspect the fruit comes from both. It has 6 months in American oak, it has the redcurrant aroma common to low-cropped Carignan, with some oak in an identifiable Rioja weight. The palate has some acidity and is round, pliant but a bit simple.
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  14.5/20

OLARRA CERRO AÑON GRACIANO 2014   –   13½%   –   n/a UK, about £16
This fruit for this is from Alta and Alava and has 14 months in French and American oak. This has a more complex nose – floral elements, some woody acidity and a spice hint. Powerful palate, with warm tannin but with lighter cherry fruit and a long line of flavour. The wine suggest a little of Mourvedre to me, power but subtlety and light aromatics… good!
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

MAYOR DE ONDARRE RESERVA 2013   –   13½%    –    £24 Hallgarten
This (92 point rated) Reserva is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Mazuelo. It has 20 months in American and French oak and then 18 months in bottle before release. Bright sharp fruit nose – cherry? – with a woody but not vanilla hint, Palate has sweet and sour plum fruit with a mocha grainy creaminess, a lifting acid frame leading to long slightly spicy finish– quite lip-smacking and food friendly.
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  15/20

CAMPO VIEJO DOMINIO 2015   –   13½%   –    £23 Ricard
This is 90% Tempranillo with 5% each of Graciano and Mazuelo. It comes from 5 or 6 Alta plots – vinified separately with 11 months in all French (Troncais and Bertranges) oak. This is a lovely wine, with a subtle but complex nose – suggestions of  non-fruit and savoury notes – leather came to my mind but others thought of liquorice. There is dark fruit, maybe blackberry and well-contolled oak. The palate echoes the nose but with great refreshment, structure and length. A lovely wine with a Bordeaux-ish inflection to Rioja flavours. Very good – but is it a bit International?
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

COTO DE IMAZ GRAN RESERVA 2011   –   14%   –    £22 Liberty
This is 90% Tempranillo (mostly from Alta with 10% from Alava) and 10% Alava Graciano from near the winery in Oyon, on Agrilo-Calcaire soil. Voluptuous open nose with herbs, floral notes and blackberries. The palate is very recognisable GR Rioja showing everything from the nose with warmth and a chocolate-grainy body, very sensual – in contrast to the more cerebral Dominio. Lovely!
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

A tasting showing good range of styles, grapes and oak use in Rioja. The Gravonia is very much an acquired taste I think, but I had it pretty close for top wine with the Dominio and the Coto de Imaz. If I had to pick one – I would find it difficult. I am tempted by the white for its sheer unorthodoxy, but in the end that counted against it – it is a great wine but only useful in a narrow set of  situations. The Dominio was the most popular for the group, is beautifully crafted and will be better in 2 or 3 years I think – but does it express Rioja specifically? So in the end my wine-of-the-night is the Gran Reserva.

À Bientôt

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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

On Friday 26th January the WING group met for a Sock Party at Ann and John’s. A lovely, and lively evening marked by usually WING bonhomie, great food and (too many?) good wines…

Here are (as usual, decreasingly focused) notes:

RIVA DI FRANCIACORTA BRUT nv          Welcome Wine
Slightly yeasty nose with a citric – quite warm – zing and later some herbal notes. The palate has a very light, but rather persistent mousse with a lemon zest acidity. 90% Chardonnay, in a good aperitif style.

NEW YORK WHITE 2016 (Brotherhood Winery)         Mike
Nutty nose, rather a rich Chardonnay dimension. Palate has a darker – slightly tropical – fruit body with a limey (Riesling?) finish. Very New World blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Seyval Blanc from – reputedly – the oldest US vineyard (1839)!

BACCHUS / SAUVIGNON 2013 (English Wine Project)          Mark  
A rather confectionery nose of pineapple and gooseberry, very NZ Sauvignon style. I found the palate too sweet, saved somewhat by a grainy texture and an acid lift…

MALAGOUZIA 2013 (Thymiopoulos)           Kim
Nose starts quietly then mounts in pungency – slightly washed-out early palate but has a peachy mid palate with a gingery warmth at the end… A little (a year or 2) past it’s best?


VERNACCIA DE SAN GIMIGNANO “RONDOLINO” 2016 (Teruzzi & Puthod)         Rachel
Slightly pear and soda hints on the nose. Palate has a quite rich, warm peach fruit – slightly oily texture but long in the mouth. A good example.

ALBORIÑO 2016 (Colinas de Uruguay)            Yvonne
Hints of caramel (malo-lactic?) on the nose, underneath some floral and citrus elements. Palate has a dashing acidity a warm rich body, rather heavier than a Galician example…

and so onto the reds….

JONGIEUX MONDEUSE (Barlet) 2011            Laurie 
Nose has a bojo character with a warm cherry fruit. Palate has herby, sour cherry fruit note then a plum-skin centre, a slightly herby acid line. Light but well balanced.

VIÑA FALERNIA, PINOT NOIR RESERVA 2015 (Valle de Elqui, Chile)     Anna  
Burnt nut pungency and an evolved colour, later some herby notes appear. The palate has an oaky first note, then red fruits with a slightly spicy vegetal twist. Vaguely Côte Chalonnaise balance.


AEMILIA  2013                 Ann
This wine is a blend of Shiraz, the local Vranec & Petit Verdot. We tasted this 2½ years ago [see June 2015] and thought “needs time – maybe 3 years and might open like a Right Bank Claret”. Well the nose has integrated and become more aromatic but still shows herbs and plum fruit. The palate has evolved too with and plums and spice – but still a little unresolved.

DOLCETTO D’ALBA 2015 (Sandrone)            Yuan
Slightly sweet red fruit nose: cherry and plum in an Italianate package, slight leather tones too. Palate has a strong acid line freshening the red fruit and herb palate. Quite long, fresh and well-balanced. A good Dolcetto

ROTHERGLEN DURIF 2015 (Cambell)          Kathryn    
Very sweet fruit nose with an orange-peel citric twist. Palate has a sweet, rich body with a grainy character that isn’t quite chocolate (yet).

BOURGUEIL VAUMOREAU 2009 (Druet)     John
A very interesting nose, which shows typical Franc notes of green-ness and raspberry but some floral elements – dried aromatic herbs – and a savoury touch. The palate echoes the nose with grainy but supple tannin, but has a lightness I don’t associate with this cuvée every year… Druet’s Grand Mont 2009 is rather bigger and shows that year’s heat… But this is just lovely – and as John, I and many others have followed Druet for over 20 years and 2010 was his last vintage this must be wine-of-the-night.

PRIMITIVO SALENTO IGT 2010 (Masserie di Ugento)     Paul  
Slightly spirity fruit nose – plums and figs. Palate has a big, sharp acidity circling the sweet fruit. Definitely an Italian food wine – lamb ideally?

VIÑA VALORIA RIOJA 1982 (!)          Rob
This has an even more spirit laden nose, almost a brandy with red fruit… Palate has red fruit again and a freshening, supple, pliant acidity, hints of woody tones and a slightly gamey hint. Very good, even if appreciation was emparied by the lateness of the hour…

Thanks to everyone for such a lovely evening, and to John and Ann for the hospitality and especially Ann for the great food…

À Bientôt

The idea of this Tasting, as so many good ideas, came to me while re-arranging the wines in my cellar! Specifically, the red Bordeaux section, which – after years of removal of bottles to drink and replacement with later vintages – had descended to uncategorised chaos. I reorganised into vintages – mainly 2000, 01, 04, 05, 06, 09 & 2010… However I had 15 bottles – all 1s or 2s – of 11 different wines remaining from the 1990s. So I thought a Tutored Tasting was in order.

While deciding what to show I spent some time looking at the ratings – at release and after 20 years – of the different vintages.

I ended up choosing to show 3 pairs: 1990, 1996 and 1998. But the variation in vintage ratings was note-worthy. Both Left bank and Right Bank ratings ranged from 1/10 to 9/10, and averaged 6.0 for the Left and 5.5 for the Right Bank. If one compares the 2000s: the range is from 6/10 to 10/10 on both banks (although individual vintages do differ, only by 1 point, between banks), and with an average of 7.6 for both!

I looked further into this, and spent some time thinking about the reasons. In fact the stellar, 9/10 or 10/10 , vintages are not much more common – about once every 5 years. What is different is that good vintages (7/10 or 8/10) are much more common (5 years out of 10 in the 2000s as opposed to only  3 LB and 1 RB in the 1990s) and “bad” vintages get 6 at worst not 1s or 3s or 5s as in the 1990s.

So it looks like there is more consistency now, and much greater ability to make good wines in challenging years. This was once considered the unique ability of only the very top wines – but now seems to have filtered down to quite small and unremarked Châteaux – even below Cru Bourgeois status and to less prestegous appellations…

The reasons for this are complex, partly due to real weather changes although that has posed new questions for winemakers, partly due to technological and scientific advances, but – IMO – mainly down to money.


1982 is often thought of as the start of the latest – globalised, free market fundamentalist – phase of capitalism. The removal of capital controls is the landmark, but there are lots of indicators*. This has led to a steep price rises in that most globalised wine commodity: Bordeaux; and with it an influx of investment; foreign and corporate acquisition and more money spent on production. Initially this made differences in viniculture and later in viticulture: Stephen Brook says “If the 1980s was the decade of innovative viniculture, then 1990s and 2000s were the decades of viticultural improvements” (The Complete Bordeaux – 3rd Edition 2017). The wines of the 1990s only caught the beginning of these changes, they were in full swing right down the wine-chain by the 2000s.

So 1990s marks – to varying extents – the diminishing of the importance of vintage; the chances of finding a quirky family Château making wines above its level; the chances of bargains…

So what of the wines? I chose 1990, 96 and 98. The best all round vintage, the second best LB and the equal best RB.

1990 was originally a 10/10 vintage on both banks, later downgraded to 9/10. The second hottest and second sunniest of the Century to that point, it followed a warm winter and was also the driest year since 1961. There was some fear that vines on well-drained soils would shut down, and this was partially relieved by a little rain in August and a slightly cooler September. Cooler soils, more often with Merlot: Northern Medoc, St. Estephe, Right Bank; had less likelihood of this but low acidity affected some wines. A big vintage too, 30% up from the previous year. Although quite approachable, small berries helped acidity and tannin level and hence long-life. Most wines though have been at “drink up” status since 2010-2012… was this pushing too far???

1996 was an uneven weather year, hot initially then a cool and damp early July, a little rain in August and a cool, but on the left bank – dry, September. A better year for Medoc, especially in the North.

1998 was dull in July and hot in August with some vine stress. Rain in early September refreshed the vines and Merlot and Cab Franc ripened well, with small thick skinned berries. Cabernet Sauvignon struggled to ripen and this is undoubtedly a very good right bank year.

I had planned to show two Medoc (so quite Northerly) Cru Bourgeois for 1990, but the second example: Château Roquegrave was corked.

So – to to better illustrate the quality across the whole area I substituted A St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Château Grand Pontet (more than a substitute really!).

For 1996 I showed two Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois, and for 1998 two St. Émilion: A Grand Cru and a Grand Cru Classé.

Here are my notes:

Château Carcanieux 1990 Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 45% CS; 44% M; 11% CF.
Quite pale with a definite brown rim. Nose is quite typical with cedar, herbs, a mushroom hint and some plum fruit. The palate is similar with slight over-baked fruit note, still enjoyable but a little tell-tale tightening into astringency at the finish. It goes over after a while in the glass so perhaps a little past its best.

Château Grand Pontet 1990 Émilion Grand Cru Classé
This is 15% CS; 70% M; 15% CF.
This is deeper colour with a brick coloured rim. Nose has powdery perfume notes, almost floral darker fruit and a medicinal, something slightly minty, note. This is bigger and the fruit is longer in the palate, richer tannic frame and more to this but a slightly leafy (Cabernet Franc) tinge to the later tannins.

Château Coufran 1996 Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 15% CS; 85% M.
Medium colour with a transparent rim. This has a black fruit and herby nose, quite forward but simple. The tannins are a bit salty and there’s spice showing, so the palate too is simple and pleasing, but although quite succulent this fades quickly, so at the end of its drinking window, but more an instant pleasure wine anyway.

Château Cissac 1996 Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 70% CS; 22% M; 8% Petit Verdot.
This has a perfumed nose with black fruit and an almost text-book array of minor notes: cedar, forest floor. The palate of this notoriously slow-to-mature Château shows tannins still and some lifting acidity, fresh plums, forest floor again and a classic mid palate… Very enjoyable, still fresh, still asking for food – almost a reference Cru Bourgeois?!

Château La Grace Dieu, Les Minuts 1998 St Émilion Grand Cru
This is 5% CS; 65% M; 30% CF.
This had quite a quiet nose, some damson later and a chocolate grainy, going to liquorice, note. The palate shows the same with a heavier emphasis and some tannins which turn harder towards the finish, an unyielding firmness that’s been there since I first tasted it 15 years ago. It fades a little with time but otherwise isn’t looking its age, and certainly would work better with food.

Château Laniote 1998 St-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
This is 5% CS; 80% M; 15% CF.
This seems a little lighter and the nose has subtle hints of plummy fruit, perfume herby and creamy notes. The palate seems fresh and well balanced with plum fruit, some cranberry and integrated tannins and acidity. A pleasure that would sing with the right dish… My favourite!

All in all are these 20, 22, 28 year old wines holding up? The 1990 wines seemed to be just hanging on; the Cofran 96 too, the Cissac 96 now in-the-groove. The 1998 were very enjoyable and I feel the Grace Dieu’s hardness less to do with age than the wine’s (relative) austerity – the Laniote … I just enjoyed. If you have any wines from these times, I’m assuming they’re well cellared – they’ll be worth sampling now!

À Bientôt

*  [My favourite indicator is the graph of % real income growth for the poorest, middle and richest deciles. Until 1982 the 3 lines had been very close, with generally steady growth, for 40 years (after favouring the poorest for the preceding 40 years). Then they began to diverge, climbing quickly for the richest, still growing but more slowly for the middle – and actually becoming negative for the poorest. This is true with minor variations right across all Western Capitalist Economies, but so far it’s only the UK that thinks (?) the correct response to this real social problem is to vote for a project led by free market extremists whose only criticism of globalisation is there’s not enough of it!]

Regular readers will have picked up that I rather enjoy Indian food, in fact the lack of such cuisine is one of the things on my (rather short) list of what I miss (other than people!) when in France. So I’m naturally interested in how to find wines that go with Spicy food.

Finding wines to go with spicy food.

There is a temptation, when eating spicy – especially Indian – food to be drawn to cool, neutral whites. The idea – I suppose – is to contrast cool with hot to wash the food down. That’s OK, but as a wine lover I want to taste the wine in harness with the food, and – for me – I would as soon drink water as a “neutral” wine.

As with all wine-matching there are a couple of general elements: contrast and complementation – either have the wine frame the food (eg: tannins with a roast meat…) or add another component to the dish (eg: another sweet flavour with dessert), although ideally one can do both. The key issue is that the depth of flavour of the wine should be at-the-same-level as the food.

This is tricky with Indian cuisine – the flavours are both intense and complex, and the heat side of the flavour palate clashes badly with some wine flavours.

The aim of matching depth of flavour leads to thinking of bigger flavoured wines – often red – to hold their own when matched with big flavoured, hot curries. However tannin or spicy elements in red wine usually clash with, rather than complement or contrast, the spice in the food. This leads one to more fruit driven, low tannin, red wines… and another set of problems…

My experience in all this has been sharpened over the last few years by assisting my friend, Amita Sawhney – the proprietor of MemSaab, my favourite Indian Restaurant – compile their wine list.

A new angle on Food/Wine Matching.
Corkmaster and Amita at MemSaab on New Year’s Eve.

We worked on the list originally in 2013 and to renew it in 2017. During this process I have personally tasted well over 200 wines in conjunction with MemSaab food, so it seems timely to discuss my thoughts on the process, and the new wines on the MemSaab list.

General Principles

Not all Indian food is curry (meaning dishes in a strong-flavoured sauce), of course – and MemSaab is far (very far indeed) from a standard curry-house. This Restaurant shows food which builds on the flavour traditions of Indian Cuisine towards a modern fine-dining ethos. In this context a wine list is a crucial factor. So it’s important to design the list around the food, and we have worked hard to choose the wines with the food in mind… (or indeed in mouth!)

There are some elements that help a wine match Indian Cuisine, ideally responding to a key feature of the dish. These are:

  • Crispness (meaning clean and long, but not very steely, acidity)
  • Aromatics (to compliment the food)
  • Creaminess (to counter-point sauce texture)
  • Sweetness (to offset salt, sourness, heat in the food)
  • Fruit (to balance the strength of flavour in the dish)

          +   Absence of strong tannin or spice

If a wine shows the last of these points together with, at least, a couple of the others – it stands a good chance.

My own favourites – applying these principles – are off-dry “old-fashioned” Riesling; not-fully-dry Gewürztraminer and other Alsace wines; similarly aromatic whites with some sweetness; Champagne; better quality Rosés; light fruity reds whose grip is from acidity rather than tannins; big New World “fruit-bombs” (of the sort I would never drink otherwise) with some fresh acidity to go with the out-and-out strongly-sauced curry!

However because of the challenge of the food – sometimes it is not enough to specify types of wine – one has to find specific products that fit the bill.

An example is Syrah. One might think that a spicy, big fruited Syrah/Shiraz would be just the thing for a hot lamb curry, but so many have a salty twist to the tannins that completely clash with chilli flavours…. So it is a matter of finding an individual version that shows the flavours without that element… This is what we have done with many of the wines, especially the reds, listed at MemSaab. Sometimes too, we think we have found the answer only for the supplier to de-list it after a year or so…

Of course the evolution of the wine list has to take into account many factors other than simple wine pleasure. There is the existing list to start from, as well as: customer favourites; saleability; reliability of supply; price…

So after some considerable time trying wines the new list is up and running. You can see it here…  New Wine List

Highlights.

I want to highlight some new additions that I think work really well.

The new Sauvignon Blanc (Founders Block) has enough crispness to frame the food and enough depth of fruit to complement it without tipping – as many SB do – out of balance to one side or the other.

The newly listed Grillo is a surprise. It has some floral aromatics, a level of fruit and freshness to go with the cuisine, a slight hint of sweetness and ginger that matches but doesn’t clash with the food.

Torrontés is a grape we have considered for a while and this example is very good. It offers aromatics, tropical fruit and a zingy acidity – a package that works with the food in the same way as Gewürztraminer – but with a lighter, fresher approach!

The big red find is the Nero d’Avola. This is supple and succulent with sweet fruit and a crisp cranberry lift that ticks all the boxes… I tried this with both Chicken Tikka and Lamb Saag – perfect.

Of course there are many other brilliant matching wines that continue from the previous list: the Pinot Gris (and a new White Rioja which does a similar job with different flavours); the Shiraz/Viognier; the Sparklers, Sweet Wines and Sherry; the Riojas and Pinot Noirs; and – IMO – the outstanding Provence Rosé…

I could go on – why not go and try for yourself?

 

À Bientôt

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Kim hosted the Festive end-of-year Sock Club gathering on Friday 29th December. A very lively and enjoyable evening marked by some rather nice wines…

Here are my (decreasingly coherent??) notes:


ROYAL CARLTON BRUT RIOJA CAVA      Welcome Wine
This has a toasty nose with rather nuts & seeds, slightly oily, notes. Palate is citric, with a frothy mousse and a grapefruit tinged finish. It comes from Haro in Rioja rather than the usual Catalonia, and features Viura and Malvesia grapes…

CHABLIS GRAND CRU LES PREUSES 2011 (La Chablisienne)     Laurie   
First nose is caramel with a slight coconut oil tinge and then mounting citrus takes over. The palate shows similar elements – butter caramel shot through with a warm citric acidity. Long and quite rich but with mounting mineral texture shaping the finish. A wine with many of the elements of very good GC Chablis not quite integrated – maybe another 3 years?

JASNIERES “ST JACQUES VIELLE VIGNES” 2011 (Gigou)          Anna
A surprising smoke, cinder tinged nose, then some creaminess and only later some honey and apple. The palate is cleaner with apple and honeyed fruit again and a warm but rather sharp acidity, a combination that is typical of this appellation. A food wine of great attraction…

MERSAULT “L’ORMEAU” 2011 (Coche-Bizouard)           John
Vanilla, caramel and a nutty line, with citrus wafting through the nose- complex and lovely! The palate shows a full bodied Burgundy but with a surprisingly steely citric line – long and warming. A well-structured Mersault that has great complexity and supporting acidity. Seemingly nearer peak than the Chablis!

ALBORIÑO RESERVE 2016 (Garzon – Uruguay)            Sue T
The nose shows immediate greengage fruit, and a strong lemon note. Sharp acidity with plump fruit and a slightly oily texture lifted by citrus acidity.

ALTO-ADIGE GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2016            Rachel
Nose of grapes, roses and tropical fruit. Palate has a ginger spice note, and a warm hint of bitterness to lift the slightly oily texture. A text-book Gewürz!

NETTIE VIOGNIER (McManis – Central Valley, California) 2016            Yvonne 
Pungent nose, with peach hints and some vegetal hints. The palate follows the nose, with a warm but long acid line that lift the slightly rich peachy fruit. A typically Californian take on this grape, which, IMO, needs a spiced dish to set it off….


ULTIMA EDIZIONE NV QUATTRO UVE (Farnese) 2009     Mike
A prune nose, with spicy wood notes. The palate has light tannins and sweet black fruit and a liquorice twist. The Quattro Uve in question are Montepulciano, Primitivo, Sangeoves & Negromaro. Made in Abruzzo but with some Puglian grapes. Succulent!

PINARD “CLASSIQUE” – IGP Comté-Tolosan 2014                 Ann
A black fruit nose, converging onto blackberry. The palate has sweet black fruit too, focusing more at the finish. This is a near-Gaillac – made from Duras, Braucol (Fer Servadou), Syrah & Merlot.

CHATEAU GRAND TAYAC (Margaux) 2005            Paul   
Clear old-claret nose (perfume, forest-floor…) with a slight cardamom hint. Palate has a tannic backbone with a sweet fruit and an evolved complexity of non-fruit flavours. This isn’t a monster but balanced and showing some elegance…

RIOJA GRAN RESERVA 2009 (Marqués de Cáceres)          Rob
Oaky nose, with red fruit and a hint of spice. Palate has some spice too but soft red fruit and a woody hint. This is warm, voluptuous and long with the structural elements slightly peripheral… maybe 3 years more would improve this impressive wine?

ORAMA CABERNET/MERLOT (Dionysos – Peloponnese) 2013     Sue Mc
Damson fruit, a soda-ish tone, bay leaf notes and a higher-perfumed zephyr. Palate is sweet black fruit, but a herby line emerges and a sharp finish.

JILABA TRASOTOÑO BIANCO VENDIMIA TARDÍA 2015 (Cosado Araba, Rioja)     Kim
This 100% late harvest Viura, from very (very) old vines, shows quince and a spicy note. The palate has supple soft fruit acidity but with a lingering sweetness entwining it, rather than being at the fore. Lovely long flavours which cope well with mince pies….  I wonder what this wine would be in 10 years?

Thanks to everyone for such a convivial evening, and to Kim for her hospitality and food… I think I enjoyed this Sock gathering rather too much. But the run of 2011 whites at the start was a lovely set of wines to delight the most exacting oenophile!   Happy New Year!

 

As this is the end of the Festive season, I thought I’d just give you a glimpse of the vinous components of Xmas Chez Corkmaster:

“Bookend” halves – Wine Society, £11 ish
Full bottles, all from grower – from left: £9; £11; £15; £13; £19; £15; £15.

This wines all did their job really well with the food. The halves (Hugel Riesling and Pieropan Soave) to wash down light lunches. The Morgan and Gewürztraminer served with Turkey (curried for the latter). The La Fagotière Châteauneuf Blanc (2012) was gratifyingly, and surprisingly, balanced and great with Paté and the Givry 2009 (Ragot) just perfection. The La Fagotière Châteauneuf Rouge (2010) was wonderful with a cider glazed ham, but tasted alone seemed a little young, maybe 2 or 3 years. The same could be said of the St. Emilion GC 2010, Château Cardinal Villemaurine, but it was perfect with roast goose served with a gooseberry stuffing and sprouts flash fried with lardons and chestnuts.  I know some readers may have these wines so I thought I would share….

Coming soon, a post on matching wines and Indian cuisine…

À Bientôt

On December 14th the WING ICC Group held its Annual Xmas Blind Tasting Competition. Six Wines were served blind, and each accompanied by three explanations of what they were; one each from Kathryn, Kim and Carrie.

WELCOME TO 2017 CALL-MY-WINE-BLUFF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The explanations were of three real wines – all available in the UK – however two were Bluff, one was True. The rest of the group had to guess which was true. After 6 rounds the person with most correct guesses won a (Xmas compliant) bottle!

The first Round was Unusual European Sparklers.
The Wine showed quite a recessed nose, citrus hints emerge but no “yeasty” notes. Palate has a slightly “gluey” note, some sweeter fruit elements and an light apple-tinged mousse… But was it:

  • Austrian Sekt from Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling;
  • Blanquette de Limoux (100% Mauzac);
  • Fruili Brut from Collio – mostly (92%) Ribolla Gialla?

RIBOLLA NOIR, SPUMANTE BRUT, (PRIMOSIC) (Vini Italiani £22)

I’ve no idea how one would guess this –  darker than one would expect from Mauzac or GV, but the apple notes could have come from all three…

My Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  14.5/20

 

The Second Round was Alpine Whites
A light fruity nose with some floral elements. A grainy, surprisingly full bodied palate, with a pepper hint that turns to a mineral finish … But was it:

  • Rousette de Savoie;
  • An Alto-Adige blend from Terlano;
  • Fendant from Valais in Switzerland?

FENDANT CLASSIQUE DOMAINE DES MUSES 2014 (Wine Soc. £20)

Again quite difficult, but I think the body and low acidity in the wine might have been the clue.

My Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  14/20

 

The Third Round was Alpine Reds
Light in colour, herby nose with cherry fruit. Herbs and red fruit on the palate too, quite short but some acidity and mineral giving some structure… But was it:

  • A Mondeuse from Savoie;
  • A Schiava from Alto-Adige near Bolzano;
  • A Garamet-Garanoir blend from Vaud, Switzerland?

SAN PIETRO SCHIAVA, VITICOLTORI ALTO ADIGE 2013 (Vini Italiani £13)

I think the hardest of all to guess, partly because all three are rare, and the structure is quite good. I would have guessed the Mondeuse, I think…

My Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15.5/20

 

The fourth Round was Italian Grapes on the Pacific Coast
Pungent nose at first, then spicy elements kick in. Palate has richness and drying tannins and a woody element. Quite a fresh fruit lift at the finish which is food demanding… But was it:

  • Zinfandel from Lodi, California;
  • Sangiovese from Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
  • Nebbiolo from Baja California, Mexico?

L A CETTO PRIVATE RESERVE NEBBIOLO, BAJA CALIFORNIA 2012 (Tanners £15)

This had the scale of a Zin, but heavier tannins – so that might direct one towards Nebbiolo?

My Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

 

The fifth round was Reds from South-West France
Slightly fruit-cake aromas, then fresher red fruit hints. The palate has even more (but slightly rounder) tannin than the previous wine, and later a supple red fruit comes through. There is a fresh herby acid line right to the end, and with food the tannins recede and supple red fruit emerges. My favourite red … But was it:

  • Gaillac – mainly Syrah and Braucol (Fer Servadou)
  • Irouléguy – a Basque wine made from Tannat and Cabernet Franc
  • Cahors – mainly Malbec?


IROULÉGUY: DOMAINE ILARRIA ROUGE 2014 (Yapp £19)

The tannin levels, though not harsh, point towards Tannat, I think, so perhaps the easiest to guess.

My Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

 

The final Round was Dessert Wine
Complex nose, with peach, honey, passion fruit and quince. Some lightness on the palate and the same set of flavours are not overwhelmed by Noble Rot. A lip-smacking acidity adds a fine quality to this luscious wine … But was it:

  • Hunter Valley partly botrytised Semillon;
  • Jurançon, late-harvested Petit Mansang;
  • Sweet Chenin Blanc from Savennières, Loire?

JURANÇON MOELLEUX: DOMAINE CASTERA ‘CUVÉE PRIVILIGE’  2008 (Grower – UK £22) 

This surely has too much complexity for even a good Australian, little botrytis and the passion fruit might suggest Loire but the lightness of touch and the quince hints surely suggest Jurançon!

My Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  15/20

Overall a tricky, certainly the most difficult so far, tasting. However the wines we actually tasted all showed quite well and the bluffs constituted an  interesting set of wines. The excellent prize was won outright by Catherine, with 4 correct! Congratulations and a bottle of 1986 Vintage PX DO Montilla-Moriles Gran Reserva (Alaba) to her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This will be the last post before Seasonal Festivities begin, so it only remains to wish très bonnes fêtes de fin d’année to all my readers!

À Bientôt

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