Monthly Archives: May 2016

Telmo Rodriguez – A Name to Follow

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Al MuvedreAl-Muvedre (Waitrose, £8.99) is a wine you could easily take a quick look at and put back on the supermarket shelf. The label shows it comes from Alicante – not a great start – a region best known for supplying cheap ‘plonk’ to undemanding tourists visiting the Spanish ‘Costas’. And many will not immediately recognise the local name of the grape variety, Monastrell, although its more common names, Mourvèdre (think of Bandol from the south of France) or Mataro, might make you take a little more interest. But the words on the label that attracted me are those of the brilliant and prolific winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez.

After studying in Bordeaux and serving his apprenticeship working with some of the top growers in the Rhône, Rodriguez returned to his native Spain to Remelluri, his family’s wine estate in Rioja. This was only to be a brief stop although, as a result of his work there, the property continues to enjoy a much improved reputation. But his real aim was to set up on his own and pursue his passion for rediscovering Spain’s forgotten wine regions and native grape varieties.

My first taste of one of his wines was several years ago when I bought a bottle of MR Mountain Wine, a wonderful sweet muscat from Malaga (still available from the Wine Society, £11.95) and I have followed his progress ever since through wines from Navarre, Rueda and Galicia, as well as Rioja, of course.

But back to the Al-Muvedre. Typical of a Rodriguez wine, he has concentrated on expressing the character of the local grapes and the local area. He has chosen old vines trained in the traditional way as small bushes, picked by hand and fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks. There’s no oak here so that the fruit can speak for itself and it shows with the delightful juicy plum and damson flavours coming through perfectly.

Telmo Rodriguez is undoubtedly a master of his craft and, unlike many famous names, his wines (or some of them) are readily available in supermarkets at everyday prices. His is definitely a name to look out for.

 

 

Bristol’s Local Vineyard

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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”

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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?

 

Keeping Leftover Wine

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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

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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?

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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?