Death of a Legend

Michael-Broadbent-credit-Christies(photo above thanks to Christie’s Wine Auctioneers)

In these strange and unsettling times when we have to think ‘Coronavirus’ before every action we take, I guess most of us are looking for some good news.   But that’s not what we had last week with the reports of the sad death of one of the most respected names in the wine industry, Michael Broadbent at the grand age of 92. One of the first 25 people in the world to pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine exams, Broadbent was an acclaimed taster, a widely published writer, a skilled wine educator and a long-term director and principal auctioneer of Christie’s Wine Department.

Although I never met him, I heard him often and, when I began to take a serious interest in wine, the first book I was recommended to buy was his ‘Pocket Guide to Wine Tasting’; that was in the mid-1990s and I still have it and refer to it. Like the man himself, the book is elegant and precise but also a wonderful source of useful knowledge combined with realistic common sense.

His wine career began in 1952 but he soon moved to work at Harveys of Bristol before leaving to join Christie’s a decade later. When I followed in his footsteps and joined Harveys more than 30 years after his departure, his influence and particularly his ethos that all staff members should receive good wine training was still in place and my success in the Wine Diploma exams is testimony to this.

He leaves an amazing store of information; early in his career, he was advised to make a note of every wine he tasted – he did so, in small red covered notebooks, about 150 of them, containing details of around 100,000 wines, some dating back well before his birth!

Perhaps tasting that many wines is the secret to long life!

Join me in raising a glass to a wine legend, Michael Broadbent.

Bringing Back Memories

The restrictions resulting from the current Coronavirus outbreak mean that everyone’s holiday and travel plans are on hold for the foreseeable future. But, a trip to our local fishmonger recently brought back happy memories of past visits to Portugal. For there, in his window, was some bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Often described as the national dish of Portugal with, apparently, 365 different ways of cooking it – one for every day of the year – it’s something we have always enjoyed on our visits there.

But we have never cooked it at home – until now. Mixed with ham, eggs, sweet potato and peppers – an authentic Portuguese recipe taken from a book brought back from one of our trips – it made a delicious meal and, of course, had to be paired with a wine from the country.

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Quinta de Gomariz’s Loureiro from the Vinho Verde region is an old favourite of ours (Grape and Grind or Clifton Cellars, £13.50) imported directly from Portugal by sailing boat – yes really! A delightfully clean and fresh white with lovely floral aromas and intense flavours of grapefruit. There’s an attractive savoury richness too that is surprising given that the wine is only 11.5% alcohol and excellent length. And, of course, an ideal partner with this style of food.

If these restrictions last for long, we may find ourselves bringing back memories of some of our other favourite holiday destinations without leaving home – so long as we can continue to find the local food and wine!

South Africa Emerges

It’s almost 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and South Africa began to emerge from the bleak days of apartheid. Many things have changed since then, not least their wine industry, which was in a sorry state. By contrast, today, that country is producing some really high quality bottles.

So, I was particularly pleased when the Bristol Tasting Circle invited Duncan Pilbeam, from the historic Babylonstoren Estate north of Stellenbosch, to talk to us and show us some of the estate’s wines.

We began with Sprankel (£31.99), a soft, fresh traditional-method sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grown at altitude. More than 4 years on its lees gave it a savoury, biscuity character.

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A quartet of whites followed – a Chenin Blanc, a Viognier and a ‘farm blend’, all well-made and pleasant easy drinking, but, for me, the standout white was the Chardonnay (£19.99). Almost Burgundian in nature with well-judged, subtle oak and lovely rounded tropical fruit flavours; this would be even better with food – something rich and creamy making a perfect partner.

I expected the reds to be better than the whites and so it proved. The Cabernet Sauvignon (£15.99) had a pure eucalyptus nose and rich black fruits on the palate while the Shiraz (£16.99) was a chunky mouthful with an attractive smoky edge. Both were food wines and both would improve for a further couple of years in bottle at least.

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The evening’s final wine, the Estate’s flagship, Nebukadnesar (£27.99), is a blend of the 5 main Bordeaux grapes, aged in new French oak barrels for 2 years. This is a big wine that, again, is still very young – even decanted 3 hours before tasting, the tannins were still really prominent. Like so much in South Africa, it’s a wine for the future, but you will need to be patient.

For more information about any of the wines mentioned or to buy, contact the Wine Shop at Winscombe (www.thewinetastingco.com)

A Winning Riesling

“The Wines of Germany, Austria and Hungary” – perhaps not the most popular choices for a wine course. But every place on a day course I ran recently at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre was booked. We tasted samples right across the spectrum: white, red, rosé, dry, off-dry and various degrees of sweetness. And, as usual, I asked the group to vote for their favourites at the end of the day.

Their top choices were as diverse as the wines. The narrow winner was Schloss Lieser’s classy, intense dry Riesling from the Mosel in Germany (Wine Society, £12.50).

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This showed the beautiful balance between fruit and acidity that all the best Rieslings have and was also beginning to develop interestingly in the glass – if only we could have lingered over it a little longer.

Just a single vote behind, there was a triple tie for 2nd place with one wine each from each of the 3 featured countries.

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From Germany, Johann Wolf’s Pinot Noir Rosé (Waitrose Cellar, £9.99) was deliciously clean and fresh with subtle strawberry fruit flavours. Above all, it was perfectly dry making it an ideal accompaniment to light food dishes.

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On the other hand, the group’s favourite red, A.Gere’s Kekfrankos from the volcanic Villany Hills region in southern Hungary (Wine Society, £11.25), needed to partner a really robust dish. Rich and with intense black fruits and a hint of spice, this is a bottle to leave under the stairs for a couple of years, as it will undoubtedly develop with time.

I might have guessed that the day’s final wine would have been the overall winner, but it, too, had to share 2nd place.

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Feiler-Artinger’s Traminer Beerenauslese from Rust in Austria (Waitrose Cellar, £12.49 per half bottle) is a wonderful, focussed sweet wine made by specially selecting the ripest grapes from the bunches. Yet, alongside the sweetness, there is a crisp balancing acidity meaning that the wine is not cloying at all, just really enjoyable either on its own or with a pudding or blue cheese.

So, although these 3 countries might not be among the most popular for all wine lovers, they certainly provided plenty of discussion and real drinking pleasure for our group.

Bristol in the News!

Greta(picture thanks to Getty Images)

It’s not often that Bristol is mentioned in the national news – even rarer that it’s the top story. But that was what happened recently when teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg visited the city to address an audience estimated to be around 20000 people followed by a march around the centre of town.

Her message that we need to look after our planet for the benefit of future generations is compelling but what can wine lovers and those in the wine industry do to support those aims? For the answer, we need to look at the role of the harmful gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the production and distribution process.

At the very beginning, there’s a positive effect. Vines, like all woody plants, absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use it in the photosynthesis process which drives the plant’s growth. Sadly, it’s mainly downhill from then on, particularly once the grapes are harvested and arrive in the winery.

There, fermentation converts the sugar in the ripe grapes into alcohol, but this chemical reaction produces CO2 as a by-product. Fine if you’re making sparkling wine – the CO2 is captured in the bottles to make the fizz; not so good if you want still wine as then the CO2 is simply released into the atmosphere. Anyone who has been in a winery while the winemaking is ongoing will, hopefully, have been warned of this as high levels of CO2 in a confined space can be fatal.

And the negatives don’t stop there: I’ve blogged before about my hatred of over-heavy wine bottles, but there’s no doubt that they need more power to move them to the customer – and what results? More CO2!

So, what can we do (apart from stopping drinking wine, of course, which isn’t really an option for me!)? Encourage producers to use lighter bottles or other packaging materials, perhaps, or even dispense with the insistence that Quality wines have to be bottled at source; shipping to the UK in bulk and bottling here has less impact. Or, most pleasurably of all, drink more of your local sparkling wine.

 

 

 

Round Italy in 10 Wines

How do you choose just 10 wines to represent Italy – a country that produces almost ⅕ of the world’s wine each year? That was the problem facing Graeme Ewins of Great Western Wine who hosted a recent meeting of the Bristol Tasting Circle. His solution? Avoid the obvious like Chianti and Barolo and focus on producers who are creating something interesting and distinctive.

That is certainly true of Roberto Anselmi from the Veneto region.

20200210_193121His deliciously rich, medium-sweet I Capitelli (£25 per half bottle) was a bold start to the tasting with its intense flavours of orange, peach and honey from the often bland Garganega grape (think Soave).

Next came Lambrusco, that (justifiably) much-maligned lightly sparkling red.

20200210_194005But Sassomoro (£14.95) is quite different with its refreshing bitter cherry and blackberry fruit, this would perfectly cut through any fattiness in a plate of dried or cured meats, which just happen to be a speciality of the region of its production.

My favourite wine of the evening was Antonio Caggiano’s Bechar,

20200210_200337a lovely crisp, fresh, slightly smoky Fiano di Avellino (£18.95) from the hills inland of Naples. Good to drink on its own but even better as a food wine – a creamy risotto springs easily to mind.

Among the reds was an incredible bargain:

20200210_202526Palladino’s Biferno Riserva from the east coast (£9.50) is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico giving a wonderfully quaffable wine full of smooth, jammy black fruits. Not greatly complex but oh so drinkable.

Rather more serious was the final red, Varvaglione’s Primitivo di Manduria (£22.50).

20200210_205217A big mouth-filling wine in every way (14.5% alcohol) but with the blackberry fruit and spicy, smoky oak all in complete harmony. A wine for full-flavoured robust winter dishes – a game casserole, perhaps?

So ended a fascinating trip round the wines of a country full of delicious surprises. Special thanks go to our guide, Graeme, for pointing us towards bottles that, before this evening, many of us would have ignored.

Still Misunderstood

When I was young, there was a hit song by the pop group, The Animals, called ‘Please don’t let me be misunderstood’. Its sentiments spoke to many young men at the time but, subsequently, I’ve thought how well the title could apply to German wine, especially in the UK. “It’s too sweet” and “the labels are too complicated” are just 2 of the more frequent complaints and, as a result most supermarkets and even many wine merchants simply don’t stock it, believing that it will just stick on their shelves.

But, search a little and you can prove many of the common views about German wine wrong – as well as finding some delicious bottles to enjoy.

Trollinger

Take Aldinger’s Fellbacher Alte Reben Trollinger, for example (Wine Society, £16). For a start it’s red! Many would be surprised to know that just over ⅓ of all German wine is red, mainly made with Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder as its known there), but also Dornfelder, Portugieser and, as in the wine we opened, Trollinger. The grape is a speciality of the Wϋrttemberg region of southern Germany and would make a good alternative to a Cru Beaujolais. It’s a thin-skinned variety so produces quite pale-coloured reds but that in no way reflects the flavour. Our bottle showed all the lovely intensity of a wine made from old vines (alte reben in German) yet is fairly light-bodied, but with attractive bitter cherry fruit and a pleasant spicy bite.

Nothing like the semi-sweet, thin examples that are widely thought of as ‘typical’ of the country’s wines and proof, if any were needed, of how much German wine is misunderstood.

For those local to Bristol who might like to explore further, there are still a few places available on my day course ‘the Wines of Germany, Austria and Hungary’ at the Stoke Lodge Centre on Saturday 7 March. For more details and to book, go to www.bristolcourses.com.