Bristol’s Local Vineyard

Standard

Grapes picked, wine made and bottled. For a vineyard owner, all that remains of a year’s journey is to hear what customers think of the latest vintage. So, a release party is always an exciting and nervous time, particularly when it’s just your 3rd commercial vintage and you’ve won International Wine Challenge awards for your first two.

But Ingrid Bates from Bristol’s local vineyard, Dunleavy, need not have worried. Her delightful, crisp but delicate Pinot Noir Rosé is, if anything, better than ever. Lovely pale strawberry colour, nose of crushed red fruits and a juicy, fresh palate – this is the perfect wine to serve lightly chilled on a warm summer evening in the garden.

DunleavyIngrid planted her vineyard in the Wrington Vale, just a stone’s throw from Bristol, in 2008 and made her first wine (just 100 bottles!) 4 years later. 2013 saw the wine’s commercial release and I’ve keenly followed its progress ever since. The 2015 has a smart new label featuring a design by a local artist and, more significantly, a screw cap replaces the previous cork closure – a sensible decision for a wine made to be drunk young and fresh.

At present, this rosé is the only wine Dunleavy produces although Ingrid has plans for a sparkling at some time in the future; one step at a time! The wine is available direct from the vineyard (email hello@dunleavyvineyards.co.uk) or (along with a tempting selection of other English wines) from local independent wine merchant Grape and Grind in Gloucester Road where the launch party was held. I’m sure it will also continue to be on the lists at a number of restaurants in and around the city.

Regular Bristol Wine Blog readers will know that I’m a great supporter of English wines and this Dunleavy Rosé just confirms that view. English Wine Week runs from 28th May to 5th June; make sure you have a bottle of something local handy to celebrate!

“The Judgement of Paris”

Standard

40 years ago this week, a tasting organised in Paris by a young Englishman, Steven Spurrier, stunned the wine world. He invited a group of renowned French judges – restauranteurs, producers and wine writers – to compare (blind) a selection of top Californian wines – Chardonnays and Cabernets – with leading Burgundies and Bordeaux. Of course, the French wines were certain to come out on top; it was really only a question of how close the best of the Californian wines could score.

Only it didn’t work out like that at all! From the 10 Chardonnays, the winner was Chateau Montelena from vineyards in Napa and Calistoga with 2 further Californian bottles – from Chalone Vineyards and Spring Mountain – 3rd and 4th. Just Domaine Roulot’s Meursault Premier Cru in 2nd place prevented a clean sweep in this category.

Surely the French would do better with their reds with star names Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion among their representatives? Actually, no! Those 2 managed 2nd and 3rd places but the winner, yet again, was from California: Stag’s Leap’s Cabernet from Napa Valley.

Judgement of Paris montage

(picture: thanks to Wikipedia)

Amazingly, the only journalist present (Spurrier was, at the time, a wine shop and wine school owner – his illustrious writing career came later) was George Taber from Time Magazine. He submitted a lengthy article only to see it edited down to just 4 paragraphs. But that was enough, especially as it appeared under the eye-catching title “The Judgement of Paris”. As soon as the magazine hit the newsstands, demand for Montelena and Stag’s Leap went crazy while some of the defeated French producers accused Spurrier of rigging the results (he hadn’t).

But the tasting didn’t just benefit the winning producers; Robert Mondavi commented later that ‘it put California on the world map of great wine-producing regions’. And I’d suggest that also it gave credibility to quality-minded producers in other parts of the world who, up to that time, hadn’t been taken seriously by wine lovers who were, by and large, traditionally Francophile.

I’ve tried France v the Rest of the World tastings on a number of occasions, generally with similar unpredictable results to The Judgement of Paris. It’s always great fun. Why not try it yourself with some friends?

 

Merlot: Still Knocked Sideways?

Standard

It’s more than 10 years since the film ‘Sideways’ hit our cinemas but it seems the reputation of the grape variety Merlot still hasn’t fully recovered from the verbal assault it received. For those unfamiliar with the film, it follows 2 men in their forties travelling around California in search of great wine (and other pleasures!) One, Miles, who claims to know his wine, adores Pinot Noir but hates all Merlot and takes every opportunity to let us know. And he must have been really convincing because, within a year of the film’s release, sales of Pinot Noir had climbed 16% while those of Merlot slumped.

If you don’t believe me about the ongoing impact on Merlot’s reputation, ask one of your wine loving friends their favourite red grape. If it isn’t Cabernet Sauvignon, it will almost certainly be Pinot Noir, occasionally Syrah (Shiraz). But Merlot? Never! That’s a shame because, when well made, Merlot is just so drinkable and food-friendly. OK, we’ve all seen (and probably tasted) the bottles from the bottom shelf of the supermarket wine aisles, sold as this week’s special offer, high on alcohol and full of simple jammy fruits. But not all Merlot is like that.

St-Emilion turns out some delightful wines – the Merlot often blended here with some Cabernet Franc – as do many of Bordeaux’s other Right Bank Appellations (try Fronsac or Blaye, often far cheaper than St Emilion). New Zealand’s Merlots, too, are worth exploring, particularly those from the warmer areas around Hawkes Bay. And don’t ignore South Africa or Chile either – some lovely bottles from both of those.

Bonterra Merlot

But what about California? Were the guys in Sideways right in pursuing Pinot Noir there rather than Merlot? Not necessarily! Bonterra make a lovely Merlot on their organic estate in Mendocino County (Waitrose, £11.99) – full of ripe plummy fruits, soft spices and a little hint of chocolate. And they’re far from alone – just look around and, unlike Miles, never dismiss all examples of a grape variety.

 

 

 

Keeping Leftover Wine

Standard

You’ve opened a bottle of wine and you don’t want to drink it all. How long can you keep the leftovers and what’s the best way to make sure they stay in good condition?

The problem you are dealing with is that, once you’ve opened a bottle, air gets in and any wine left in the bottle will start to oxidise. It’s the same effect you see if you cut an apple; leave the cut side upwards and, in a few minutes, it will start to go brown. But turn the cut side downwards, you exclude the air and the flesh stays white.

So, as with apples, the key to keeping wine fresh is to exclude the air. There are a number of ways to do this: the simplest and cheapest, usually sold in the UK as a ‘Vacu-vin’ comprises a one-way seal you push into the neck of the bottle and a pump to remove the air creating a vacuum inside. VacuvinYou can buy one for around £10 and I’ve found it will keep delicate white wines fresh for a few days (especially if you put them in the fridge) and more robust whites and reds for at least a week. The seals are re-usable.

Equally effective are canisters of argon (or other inert gas). You spray the gas into the bottle and it sits on top of the wine forming a barrier to the air. Make sure the canister says ‘suitable for food use’ or some similar comment and, of course, you use some gas each time so you’ll need to keep buying new canisters.

At the other end of the scale, there’s a high tech solution called a Coravin which draws wine out via a hollow needle inserted through the cork and replaces the wine with inert gas. At about £250, this is for real devotees only although many restaurants and wine bars are now using them to offer a far wider range of wines by the glass than was ever possible.

Whichever you choose, a wine saver is one of those useful gadgets that no wine lover should be without.

 

Bristol’s Portuguese Heritage

Standard

Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally and there have been trading links between the two countries for centuries. And one of our most important imports from Portugal for much of that time has been Port. It used to be shipped in barrel direct from Oporto right into the centre of Bristol and bottled in cellars such as those owned by Harveys and Averys. Sadly, these days, large boats have to dock at Avonmouth, downstream from the city and all bottling is done in Portugal but port, and, nowadays Portuguese wine, too, is still arriving.

This heritage was marked some years ago by the ‘twinning’ of Oporto and my adopted home town of Bristol and a very active Twinning Association now exists organising regular exchange visits and other activities including, recently, a tasting of Portuguese wines. Of course, I was keen to attend, particularly as the wines were presented by Rachel of Corks of Cotham (and now of North Street, Bedminster, too), a local independent wine merchant who have won a number of awards for their Portuguese specialism.

BS Oporto tasting

Two contrasting whites began the evening: a crisp, refreshing Vinho Verde from reliable producer, Raza, (£8.99) and Casa Figueira’s Antonio (£19.99), a wine with real character and richness, part-fermented in old oak casks from a little-known grape variety, Vital.

Turning to the reds, Herdade Sao Miguel’s Ciconia (£8.99) from the Alentejo was a lovely easy-drinking, juicy mouthful concealing its 15% alcohol very well, while the others were all definitely ‘food wines’. Quinta dos Roques’ Maias (£9.99) from the Daõ region was inky black with an attractive black fruits nose and intense and succulent on the palate. From neighbouring Bairrada came Casa de Saima (£11.99), a blend of old vine Baga (the native grape of the region) with some Merlot and Touriga Nacional, all aged in old oak. This showed lovely red plum flavours but, as with so many Portuguese wines, would benefit from another year or two in bottle to give its best.

This latter comment certainly also applies to Niepoort’s Vertente (£18.99) which was a fitting close to a memorable evening of wines. From one of the Douro’s best-known port producers who are equally skilled with red wines, this had deep and rich black fruits and a distinct hint of smokiness from 20 months in French oak barrels.

All wines mentioned are available from Corks and, if anyone is interested in further events organised by the Bristol-Oporto Association, please leave me a message and I’ll happily pass your details on to the Secretary.

Wine from cows’ horns?

Standard

In my previous Bristol Wine Blog, I reviewed a marvellous trip to the vineyards of Burgundy organised by Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours and hosted by Steven Spurrier. I mentioned that all the properties we visited had something in common and I asked for suggestions about what it was. The picture I posted at the foot of the Blog teased you with a clue:

18 Ch de Monthelie manure extraction

It didn’t take long for a regular reader, ‘d d b’ of Wellington, New Zealand, to reply correctly: Biodynamics. Congratulations! And to anyone else who knew but didn’t reply.

Biodynamics is a specialist form of organic growing in which the farm (it’s not just vineyards that work biodynamically) should be self-sustaining, it should use only natural or plant-based preparations on the soil with a view to strengthening the crop’s own defences against disease or adverse weather and finally that planting, pruning, ploughing and harvesting should all be done with regard to the lunar cycle.

So, what was going in the picture? One of the preparations used involves filling cow horns with manure each autumn and burying them until the spring when they are dug up and the manure extracted ready for use. We just happened to turn up at Château de Monthelie just in time to witness this group of people knocking the manure out of the horns. It was then mixed with water and stirred ready to be sprayed onto the vineyard.

If you think all this sounds rather ‘wacky’, I’m not surprised! Yet, in many tastings over a number of years, I’ve found that the wines I’ve given top marks have often been produced in this way. For some reason, biodynamic wines seem to have more character – and in different ways, too; sometimes they are more intense or fruitier, at other times they have purer, cleaner flavours. Whatever the difference, it is remarkable how often they seem to stand out from other wines – even those grown organically but without the ‘extras’.

Whether this is due to the cow-horn manure or working with the phases of the moon – or whether it’s simply the grower working more with nature and getting to know their own vines better, I can’t say. It’s just that for me, the proof is in the glass. Why not try for yourself?

The Mosaic of Burgundy

Standard

9 Gevrey Chambertin

Burgundy’s vineyards are often described as a ‘mosaic’; look at the picture above and you’ll see why. Some strips of land ploughed and bare, others covered with grass. And it’s all due to French inheritance laws which dictate that land and property are divided between all of the children. So, the field may look like a single vineyard but it actually has many different owners, each farming a small part, each having their own ideas about the best way to farm. And, most importantly for wine lovers, each able to decide how the wines made from their particular strip of the vineyard should taste.

The result is that, when you’re buying Burgundy, you don’t only have to check which vineyard the wine comes from, but the grower, too; some are brilliant, others are good but might not make wine to your taste and then there’s a third group: those who know that anything with the name ‘Burgundy’ on the label will sell and don’t make too much effort.

So, if you’re visiting the region, as we did recently with Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours (www.winetours.co.uk), it’s good to have an expert to guide you. Ours, Steven Spurrier, has spent his whole working life in the wine industry and his knowledge of and contacts in Burgundy are unrivalled so the tastings arranged for us were truly exceptional. We visited famous names like Drouhin (the Beaune Clos des Mouches Blanc 2001 was a highlight of our first evening) and Bouchard Aîné (their Corton 2000 is just reaching its peak) as well as some of the best smaller producers – those with interesting and different ideas. Take Frédéric Magnien, for example; he matures some of his wines in clay amphorae – for him, oak barrels mask the fruit. His wines certainly showed great purity of flavour, while Jacques Prieur uses horses rather than tractors to work his vineyards to avoid compacting the soil and restricting the spread of the roots.

Wherever we went, we tasted some fantastic wines – many from old reserve stock no longer on sale – but all reflecting the marvellous diversity of the mosaic of vineyards we saw on the ground.

One final thought: despite their differences, all the producers we visited had one thing in common. If you can work out what’s happening in the picture below (suggestions welcome!), you may know what I’m referring to. If not, I’ll tell you in my next Bristol Wine Blog.

18 Ch de Monthelie manure extraction