Monthly Archives: November 2016

Beaujolais: Nouveau or Cru?

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I haven’t seen any Beaujolais Nouveau for sale this year.  It’s not that I’m a great fan of it, but there’s usually plenty around in the weeks after its official release date, the 3rd Thursday in November.  And, it’s a big seller – in supermarkets, especially – so they would normally be keen to put on an eye-catching display.  But this year, nothing!

So, what is Beaujolais Nouveau?  It’s a red wine made from Gamay grapes grown in France’s Beaujolais region, the southern-most part of Burgundy.  The grapes are harvested in late September or early October and then vinified very quickly before being bottled ready for sale just a few weeks later.

I said I’m not a great fan of it; a friend once described it as ‘alcoholic Ribena’ and I can’t better that as a way to explain the taste.  For me, the problem is that the whole process is rushed through to meet the key date and there is no time for the flavours to mature and develop.

But, not all Beaujolais is ‘Nouveau’; wines labelled just Beaujolais (without the Nouveau suffix) or, even better, Beaujolais-Villages are often very attractive and refreshing, especially when lightly chilled on a warm summer day.  But, to enjoy the best the region has to offer, look to wines labelled with the name of one of the 10 individual villages or ‘crus’ (see below).  Despite all being made from the same Gamay grape and from villages just a few miles from each other, each is subtly different from its neighbour and many make really excellent food wines.

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The Domaine Crêt des Garanches Brouilly (Grape and Grind, Bristol, £12.50) I opened recently was a good example – quite light and delicate in body but deliciously fresh and full of really intense blackberry flavours.  No rush to get this to market – it was from the 2014 harvest; the time it had been given to develop was definitely time well spent.

(The crus are: Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Chirouble, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour)

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Lebanon’s Bristol Connection

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lebanon-btcLebanon isn’t one of the world’s largest wine producing countries nor, for many consumers, one of the best-known, but it’s certainly one of the oldest with a history going back to ancient times.  During the Middle Ages, Lebanese wines were highly regarded and widely traded but, once the region was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, winemaking was restricted to that needed for religious purposes only.

Thanks to the Jesuits, things improved during the latter half of the 19th century and wine was again exported.  But it wasn’t until an event in Bristol – yes! Bristol – that Lebanese wine really hit the headlines internationally. 

The date was 1979 and, at Bristol’s Wine Fair that year, Serge Hochar took a stand to promote his wine, Chateau Musar.  At the time, no-one in England had heard of Musar, but influential writer Michael Broadbent tasted it and declared it the ‘discovery of the Fair’.  That opened the gates for Lebanese wine and they have been open ever since.

So, when the Bristol Tasting Circle announced that writer Michael Karam, surely one of Lebanon’s best wine ambassadors, was to host a tasting, I knew it was not to be missed.  And, just to prove that Lebanon is so much more than just Musar, he brought along wines from 6 other estates.

The whites were more aromatic than might be expected from the warm latitude in which they are grown but the Bekaa Valley stands at an altitude of over 1000m (3000ft) which clearly has a cooling effect.  Blends mainly involved well-known grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat, although local speciality Obeideh added spice and a certain exotic character where it was used.

The reds were generally based around southern French varieties – Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache – plus Cabernet Sauvignon and, while mainly quite chewy and robust in style, all showed good depth of fruit and an attractive lightness of touch.

It was difficult to pick a favourite from so many delicious wines but, perhaps Ksara’s Reserve du Couvent Red just edged it for me.  But, in truth, the real winner on the night was Michael Karam, himself, whose justifiable passion for his country and its wines shone through for all to see.

To Decant or Not?

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In a couple of recent Bristol Wine Blogs I’ve mentioned ‘decanting’ a wine.  It’s a subject that causes considerable debate in the wine world. So, what do I mean by decanting and when and why might I think about doing it?

Thelema redDecanting, simply, is pouring wine out of the bottle it’s sold in into a decanter (or, indeed, any jug large enough to hold the contents).   There are 2 main reasons why you might want to do this: to separate the liquid from any sediment that might be in the bottle or to aerate the wine.

Many wines (and Vintage Ports) are bottled without being filtered (or, at least, with very minimal filtration).  This means that some of the solid matter that results from the fermentation process ends up in the bottle.  This sediment is harmless but you really wouldn’t want to drink it as it’s often quite bitter or astringent.  So, if you expect that there might be sediment in the bottle, it’s best to stand it upright for a few hours or, even, overnight (assuming it’s been stored on its side) to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom.  Then, when you uncork it, pour the wine very slowly into your jug or decanter watching the neck of the bottle to see when the first of the sediment starts to appear.  At that point, stop pouring.  You’ll have a little wine left in the bottle, but the liquid in the decanter will be clear and can be poured into your glasses without worrying.

The other reason for decanting is rather more controversial: to aerate the wine, otherwise known as ‘letting the wine breathe’.  Some, including renowned experts, are firmly opposed to decanting for this purpose, saying that the wine’s aromas are lost in this way.  Others, equally expert, disagree, suggesting that wines, especially robust or tannic wines, can be softened and made more harmonious by decanting.  I’m generally in the latter camp but, as with so much in wine, there are no absolute right and wrong answers. 

My advice is to experiment; open the bottle and taste.  If you’re happy as it is, go on and pour straight away – but have a decanter handy, just in case.