A Turkish Delight!

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Turkish tastingIf history had turned out differently, Turkey might, by now, have been one of the great wine producing countries of the world.  Some of the oldest known relics of winemaking have been found near its border – in Georgia and Armenia – and, with the moderating influence of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas, a number of areas of the country have an ideal climate for grape growing.  Indeed, Turkey has the 5th largest vineyard area of any country in the world.  Unfortunately for wine lovers, its cultural and religious heritage means that most of its grapes are harvested to sell for eating or as raisins or sultanas; only 3% of the crop is made into wine – and barely 1 bottle in 10 of that is exported – a shame as many critics have noted that Turkey has some really interesting native grape varieties.

I was able to find out for myself recently as the Bristol Tasting Circle organised an evening dedicated to Turkish wines.  And, sure enough, alongside the familiar names – Cabernet, Syrah and Sauvignon – were wines made from Emir, Narince, Kalecik Karasi, Çalkarasi and Ökügözü.

The first 2 named, both local white varieties, were blended to produce one of my favourite wines of the night: Cankaya, an attractive, soft, peachy white made by one of Turkey’s largest producers, Kavaklidere (£8.99, available, as are the other wines mentioned in this blog, from www.tasteturkey.com).

Of the reds, Kayra Alpagut’s Ökügözü (£19.99) had the sort of tangy, herby flavours that reminded some at the table of a nice Loire Cabernet Franc but I preferred the mellowness of Vinkara’s subtle, red-fruit flavoured Kalecik Karasi Reserve (£18.45, although the Wine Society have the same producer’s non Reserve bottling of the same grape at £9.95.  Is the Reserve worth nearly twice the price?  I tried the other some time ago and, for me, the cheaper wine is the better buy).

Turkey is clearly producing some interesting, attractive wines but, because amounts exported are small, they will never be cheap and may be hard to find.  But, if you’re looking for something a little different, why not try a bottle – it may prove to be a Turkish Delight!

 

 

 

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It’s All in the Glass!

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Glasses

I visited a friend recently and, not surprisingly, before long he offered me some wine – but not one glass, he handed me two – and, of course, without giving me any hints as to what I might be tasting.  It was clear I was expected to comment; I present him with similar challenges on occasions. 

But why 2 glasses?  There must be some connection.  I tasted both and, sure enough, there was a lot in common between them, but one was clearly softer and richer, whereas the other was more linear and tannic.  I started thinking out loud as a way of ‘fishing’ for clues: “Both from the same region?” “Yes”.  “Bordeaux?”  “Yes”.  “Same Appellation?”  “Yes”.  I was doing well so far; if the 2 wines were from the same area, then they must either come from 2 different, but close by, estates or they were from the same estate but from different years.  I talked myself into the 2nd of the options – the softer, richer wine was obviously from a warmer, riper year while the more tannic was younger, needed time or was perhaps from a less good year.

My friend smiled and shook his head.  “Look at the glasses”.  Yes, the 2 wines were in slightly different shaped glasses, but I had assumed that was simply a way of distinguishing one from the other.  “It’s the same wine” said my friend producing the bottle: a nice Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc.  I was astonished.

My friend had been to a tasting organised by Riedel glassware some time previously and had been caught by the same ‘trick’.  I knew about their range of glasses – different shapes for different styles of wine, but had always thought it was simply a way to sell more glasses!  It seems not!  Each glass is designed to deliver the wine into your mouth in such a way as to trigger the best taste buds for the style; use the wrong glass and you miss the best sensations.

I tried a similar experiment at home – not using Riedel glasses, just 2 slightly different shapes – and got a similar result: the glass on the left in the picture (from Dartington Glass in Devon) gave my chosen wine a much fruiter, fresher taste than the other.

Try the same test yourself (any glasses will do so long as they are different shapes) and, next time you entertain a wine loving friend, why not test them too?

English Wine Week

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Last week was English Wine Week, the annual celebration of our home-grown product.  The Romans made wine in Britain, but for much of the time since, amounts produced were tiny. It was only in the 1950s that the first signs of a real revival began and continued in the 1980s and 90s. But in recent years the number of vineyards planted here has grown rapidly – there are now almost 500 operating commercially.  More than half of those represented at a South West Vineyards Association (SWVA) tasting I attended recently had released their first vintage within the last 10 years. 

The SWVA covers our most local producers and the tasting gave me the chance to meet up with some of them.  Three relative newcomers to the scene are just a stone’s throw away from each other a few miles south of Bristol: I’ve blogged about Dunleavy’s attractive Pinot-based rosés before and eagerly await their first sparkling release later this year.  Nearby Aldwick Court already produce a pair of sparklers but it was their still ‘Mary’s Rosé’ that particularly interested me – a crisp, fresh blend of Pinot Noir, Regent and a variety new to me: Solaris. 

Sutton RidgeTiny (2 acre) Sutton Ridge Vineyard is the 3rd of this group and their rosé, this time made with Regent and Phoenix, has just won a Gold at the WineGB awards.

Further south, near Dorchester, is another relative newcomer – the Langham Wine Estate.  Again focussing on sparkling wines, their delightful appley fresh Classic Cuvee is also an award winner – this time, a Sommelier Gold.  Some branches of Marks & Spencer are stocking it.

Of the longer established south-west vineyards I have a special affection for Oatley, near Bridgwater. I first met the owners almost 20 years ago when I interviewed them for a piece I wrote in the Somerset Magazine, my first published article. Sadly, all the others I talked to at the time have long since closed, but Oatley continues to thrive thanks to their loyal customers.  Smith EvansNearby, Smith & Evans vineyard may only date from 2008 but, in that short time, they have established themselves with some high quality sparkling wines made from the Champagne varieties – their 2011 vintage winning a Silver at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.

Over in Wiltshire, A’Beckett’s Vineyard released their first wines in 2003 but they don’t just sell wine – they have diversified into cider, apple juice and honey – and all from their own farm.  Finally, Astley Vineyard in Worcestershire is one of the oldest surviving English vineyards, beginning in 1971 and with some vines planted then still producing.  But, even here, things are changing with new owners taking over last year.  It will be interesting to see how they develop the estate.

English Wine is not just changing – it’s also improving all the time as the number of international medals and awards prove.  Do give it a try if you can – and not just during English Wine Week.

Finally, a word of clarification: I’ve seen English or Welsh wine incorrectly referred to recently as ‘British wine’. British wine is produced from imported grape juice or sometimes grape concentrate and is not recommended; English (or Welsh, if appropriate) Wine is a quality product made from freshly picked grapes and reflects the place where those grapes are grown.

 

Breaking the Rules

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When buying a bottle of French wine, the first thing many of us look for are the words ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ (AC) on the label.  And with good reason.  The AC tells us which part of France the wine comes from and, frequently, what sort of wine to expect when the bottle is opened.  However, contrary to the commonly held view, it doesn’t guarantee quality – only that the wine is typical of the AC claimed. 

But, perhaps surprisingly, less than half of all French wine falls into the AC category.  Another quarter is classified Indication Géographique Protegée (IGP), the new name for Vin de Pays (Country wines) – a source of many attractive, well-priced, easy-drinking bottles.  Of the rest, some is distilled into brandies (or industrial alcohol!) leaving just 10% in the category which used to be known as Vin de Table (Table wine), which, since 2010, has been renamed Vin de France.

Under the Vins de Table label, you used to find nothing but the cheapest, most basic wines and discerning wine lovers sensibly avoided them.   But, it seems, it’s not just the name that has changed with Vin de France.  Looking through the catalogue of the highly respected Bristol-based wine merchant, Vine Trail, you’ll find a number of Vins de France – and at some lofty prices.  So, what is going on? 

There’s a small band of dedicated independent-minded producers who don’t choose to play by the rules.  They are making high quality wines but prefer to experiment with styles that are rejected for the AC as they aren’t recognised as ‘typical’ by the vetting panel.  But, these people are confident in their own ability and are happy that their wines are sold as Vins de France instead.

We opened one recently:

Balmet 1Jerome Balmet has his vineyard in Beaujolais and grows Gamay, the Beaujolais grape.  But his wine is nothing like any Beaujolais I’ve ever tasted.  Initially full of vibrant bitter cherry flavours, it develops fig and prune flavours in the glass and, by the end of the evening, had taken on a savoury, meaty character.  Really distinctive and very enjoyable (Vine Trail, £16.36). 

And, although you still need to treat some bottles in the Vin de France category with caution, wines such as this are a great recommendation and a fascinating way to try something different.

Wine with Asparagus?

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Asparagus is often thought to be a difficult food to pair with wine, but it doesn’t need to be – especially if you look out for the more delicate English variety that is in its (sadly very brief) season at the moment.  Certainly, you need to choose your wine with some care but many crisp, dry whites work quite well: Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace Pinot Gris and Austrian Grüner Veltliner all spring to mind – or, how about an English wine, perhaps a Bacchus, to go with English asparagus?  On the other hand, I’ve yet to find a red that will pair happily – not even a Beaujolais or Valpolicella, two reds that often work where you’d normally consider a white.

But my wife, Hilary, was thinking along a different track; looking at the meal we were cooking – a typical warm summer evening ‘special’ of Salmon Steaks with a herb crust and creamy mushroom sauce, Jersey Royal potatoes and the previously mentioned asparagus – she lifted a rosé off the wine rack: Château Sainte Anne from Bandol in the Provence region of the south of France (Vine Trail, £20).

Bandol rose

Bandol is best known for robust, long-lived reds made from a mix of grapes, typically Mourvedre with Grenache and Cinsault in support.  This rosé uses the same combination but the shorter skin contact needed for a rosé produced a fresher, lighter wine, ideally suited to this time of year, yet still sharing the herby, spicy flavours of the red.  My wife was right – it paired perfectly with the meal (including the asparagus), as well as making delicious drinking on its own later in the evening.

So, next time you’re faced with a supposedly ‘difficult’ ingredient, do experiment.  You may find a surprisingly good match where you least expect to.

Tasting Kosher Wines

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Kosher TastingAs a Wine Educator, I get asked to run tastings on a range of different topics.  Among the most interesting was one for a 10th Anniversary party, when the hosts wanted wines from places they had visited together as a way of bringing back happy memories.  But a subject recently was a first for me: Kosher Wines – and the tasting was in a room in the local synagogue, no less.

So, aren’t all wines Kosher?  Absolutely not!  For a wine to be Kosher (and therefore acceptable for Jewish wine lovers) it must only be handled by observant Jews during the winemaking process and anything used must also be Kosher.  This particularly restricts ingredients widely used for clarifying wine before bottling, many of which are derived from animal, dairy or fish products forbidden to Jews.  Acceptable options are egg whites (provided the eggs are from Kosher sources) or bentonite clay. 

Many Kosher wines also undergo flash pasteurisation – necessary to retain their status should the wine be opened or served by someone who is not an observant Jew.  Some experts have suggested that this damages the wine, destroying the fruit character and making it taste dull and lifeless.  On the evidence of the bottles I selected for the tasting, I disagree; all the wines were as I would have expected from similar, non-pasteurised examples.

Of the wines on the night, the one that stood out for me was the Barkan Classic Pinot Noir from Israel’s Negev region (available from kosherwines.co.uk, £10.99).  Pinot Noir is the fussiest of grapes – not liking conditions too hot or too cold.  So, how would it get on in a vineyard more than 800 metres (2500 feet) above sea level in the semi-desert of the Negev?  A sophisticated, computer controlled irrigation system ensures that the vines receive enough moisture, but, even so, it is quite an achievement to produce such an attractive Pinot Noir with delightfully clean raspberry and redcurrant fruit in such a site. 

But this was only 1 example from my selection from around the world – France, Spain and the US also featured, but I could easily have picked wines from Italy, Australia or South Africa instead.  Truly an international phenomenon.

50 Years On

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What were you doing in 1964?  I guess that many who are reading this weren’t even born then.  I was at school at the time and my main interest was the Beatles, then the most famous pop band in the world.  As for wine – I doubt that I’d ever tasted any by then and I certainly knew nothing about it.  But an Italian company, Masi, did; that was the year that they launched a new wine, Campofiorin – a wine that has subsequently become an iconic name and whose 2014 vintage, currently in the shops (Waitrose, £12.99) celebrates the brand’s 50th Anniversary with a specially designed ‘50’ label.

Campofiorin 50

Although sold as a Rosso Verona IGT (IGT is the Italian equivalent of the French term ‘Vin de Pays’), Campofiorin is effectively a high quality Valpolicella in disguise.  It’s made using the traditional grapes from that DOC – Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella – the main difference here is that the grapes are slightly dried before fermentation.  This concentrates the sugars in them and so produces a wine with more body and power than a normal Valpolicella – a technique borrowed from the prestigious Amarone wines from the same region.

Here, the method gives a lovely deep coloured wine with aromas of bitter cherry, prunes and spice. The same flavours, especially the spices, carry through to quite a rich and full palate with hints of chocolate, figs and vanilla on an attractive, long finish.

With good Amarones fetching £20 and more, this really is a bargain for those who like this chunky style – I admit it’s not to everyone’s taste – and no surprise that it is still on the shelves in its 50th vintage. 

Shame about all those wasted years listening to the Beatles and drinking something else!