Monthly Archives: January 2017

Down Mexico Way!

Standard

There has been so much in the papers recently about Mexico that, when I noticed a bottle of their wine on Marks & Spencer’s shelves, I decided to try it – especially as it had one of the most eye-catching labels I have seen for a long time featuring a stylised bird dating back to Aztec times.

2017-01-28-11-15-49

Mexico has been making wine for almost 500 years since the days of the earliest Spanish settlers, yet domestic consumption has always been patchy and so the wine industry has never really thrived there. This is a shame as much of the country has an ideal climate, similar to that found in parts of the Mediterranean.  Baja California, the long peninsula off America’s west coast that reaches out into the Pacific, is particularly well-suited.  Here, the cold currents and coastal fogs that make California’s Napa Valley such a premium wine region are also at work, moderating an area that would otherwise be far too hot to grow grapes for quality wine. 

The bottle I bought, Quetzal’s Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend (£6.75) comes from the northern part of this coastal strip – the Guadalupe Valley.  It’s a clean, fresh, quite aromatic white, ideal on its own as an aperitif or with seafood – the label suggests seared scallops and I wouldn’t disagree.  The wine has plenty of attractive tropical fruit flavours and the13% alcohol gives it some richness and body.  All in all, quite a bargain at less than £7 and a good example of the unusual and interesting bottles that are now regularly appearing on Marks & Spencer’s wine shelves.

I’m sorry that, if the much talked about wall gets built, my American readers may not be able to buy this, or, indeed, any other Mexican wine; on the evidence of this bottle, your loss is our gain!

Advertisements

Educating a Wine

Standard

There are many ways a label can tell customers that the wine in the bottle has been influenced by oak: the mention of barrel, barrique or cask, the French élevé en chêne (raised in oak) or simply the word oaked or some similar reference.   It can also be implied by the use of spicy or smoky, although neither of those is definitive.  But some words I saw on a red Bordeaux label recently gave a whole new meaning to oak ageing and its purpose: rather than using ‘élevé’, this producer said that his wine was ‘éduqué en fûts de chêne’ (literally, educated or brought up in oak barrels).

futs-de-chene

By doing this, he is comparing the ageing of his wine to the bringing up of his children.  Is that a reasonable comparison?  I’d say yes.  I often tell groups that wine is a living thing; good wines, especially, go through a distinct youthful stage, followed sometimes by difficult teenage years, then a comfortable middle age, when the wine is at its peak, before reaching old age and, if you keep it too long, extreme old age.

So, the upbringing analogy is a good one.  The producer has taken his newly made wine, full of bright young fruit and probably quite firm tannins, and put it into oak barrels.  What happens in those barrels is interesting: oak is slightly porous – not porous enough for the wine to leak out, but porous enough for tiny amounts of air to get in.  The air reacts with the wine, softening the tannins and making the wine more rounded and harmonious.  In addition, if the barrels are new (or reasonably new), they might also impart an oaky or smoky flavour to the wine, changing it further.

In this way, the raw young wine is transformed into a rounded, characterful bottle ready to take its place at table.  Just like turning a brash infant into a mature adult.  So, a wine, like a person can, indeed, be ‘éduqué’.

 

A Clear Chilean Winner

Standard

“Which are your favourites of the wines you’ve tasted today?” is a question I frequently ask at the end of a wine course or tasting that I’ve run.  The result is normally very close, often with 2 or 3 of the wines tying for the most popular.  That isn’t surprising; tastes vary enormously with everyone having their own particular preferences.  And those preferences will be reflected in how they vote, which is why it is rare for one wine to have a clear win.

So, on the few occasions when it does happen, the winner must be quite special and have wide appeal – not always the same thing.  Such a wine emerged from a recent day course on the Wines of the Americas that I ran at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre.  From a dozen wines from such diverse countries as the USA, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil, Tabali’s Encantado Reserva Viognier from Chile’s Limari Valley (Waitrose, £9.99) was not just a clear winner – it secured more than twice as many votes as any of the other wines we tasted. 

tabali-viognierAlthough I can’t remember such a decisive result before, I wasn’t surprised this wine was popular; I’ve opened it on a number of occasions previously.  It has really appealing floral and citrus aromas which carry through onto a rich, just off-dry palate balanced by good, clean acidity and with flavours of ginger and apricot.  A lovely wine: complex, fruity and characterful.

It is only in the last 20 years or so that the Limari Valley has started to concentrate on quality wines – previously much of the production there was distilled into pisco, the local brandy – and Viognier is hardly a mainstream grape for the area but Tabali’s site, just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling influences, is clearly well suited to this tricky but high quality variety.  Perhaps we’ll see wider plantings there in future.

And, looking to the future, a date for your diary: on Saturday 7th March my next course at Stoke Lodge will be on ‘The Hidden Corners of Spain’.  We’ll focus on wines from some of that country’s less well-known regions and grapes.  Places are still available but booking is essential: www.bristolcourses.com or 0117 903 8844.

A Loire Newcomer

Standard

chateau-chenonceau

Chenonceau – one of the most familiar and frequently photographed of the Châteaux of France’s Loire Valley.  But, apart from it being a wonderful sight, why is it heading my Bristol Wine Blog?  The reason: Chenonceau has joined the hundreds of other villages all over France entitled to claim Appellation Contrôlée (or Appellation Protégée as it is now officially known).

So, why does this matter?  Previously, wines from here were lumped under AC Touraine, which covers the whole of the wider area and includes some good and some not-so-good examples.  By breaking out of this general designation, the producers of Chenonceau (and there aren’t many!) hope to gain a real reputation for quality.

And, if the first example I’ve tasted from the new AC is anything to judge by, then Chenonceau will be a name to remember.  The Domaine de la Renne Chenonceau Sauvignon Blanc (£13.50) was the stand-out wine from a Bristol Tasting Circle evening of Loire wines hosted by a relatively new firm, Joie de Vin (Joiedevin.co.uk).   The owners, Tim and Jill North, specialise in sourcing good quality and good value wines from small producers in the Loire and the Languedoc-Roussillon.

chenonceaux

The Renne Chenonceau is beautifully balanced and with all the character of a good Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé but with, perhaps, a little more weight and richness resulting, in part, from 3 years maturation on the lees.  That may sound an extraordinary length of time – it does to me – yet the wine – from the 2013 vintage – still tastes young and fresh and, unlike many Sauvignons, looks to have several years of good drinking ahead of it.

 

Apart from this wine, the other tip I took away from this tasting was that Muscadet is back.  For so long, a source of dull, tart wines best avoided, I have begun to notice some improvements recently, a view confirmed by a couple of examples from Joie de Vin’s portfolio. 

So, 2 areas to look out for – and a supplier to watch, too!

Not just Soave: Classico

Standard

The Italian white wine, Soave, hasn’t got the best of reputations: thin, acidic, cheap and nasty would be common descriptions – and, for some examples I have tasted, I would say that description is entirely justified.  So, why would I choose to open a bottle to accompany a starter of pan-fried scallops in ginger and garlic on a special occasion recently?  The answer: the majority of Soave you see on supermarket shelves is in no way typical of the flavours and quality of true Soave.

To find the good – I might even say great – bottles of Soave, firstly, you need to look for the word ‘Classico’ on the label.  Let me explain.

Like many of Italy’s famous name wines, Soave has suffered from its fame.  Many years ago, producers outside the area originally designated as Soave started to use the name illegally.  Sadly, the authorities did nothing to stop them and the practice spread until, eventually, Soave had expanded to 3 or 4 times its original area onto flat land completely unsuited to producing quality wine.

Eventually, the producers in the original area decided they had had enough and protested.  Yet, with a true Italian compromise, the authorities simply confirmed the use of the name Soave in the wider area.  The one concession – and a very important one – was that those producers in the hills that formed the original area were allowed to add the word ‘Classico’ on their labels.  Which makes that word key to finding the best Soaves.  The same word is important for finding quality in a number of other Italian famous names – Chianti, perhaps, the best known of all.

soave

But, back to Soave, and, for me, some of the best of the Classicos come from the producer, Pieropan.  Their top bottling is La Rocca (around £20 but worth it) with wonderful – almost white Burgundy – richness.  But, even their entry level wine, simply labelled Soave Classico (Avery’s £13.99), is a real treat and it was this that we opened – and loved – on our special occasion.

Yes, you pay rather more for a good Soave but isn’t life too short to drink ordinary wine?

Bringing Back Memories

Standard

I’d like to begin my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2017 by wishing you a Very Happy New Year – a new year in which I hope you will continue to enjoy your wine and (hopefully) continue to read about it in this blog!

I’m often explaining to people about the process of tasting wine – how you use your eyes, your nose and your mouth and take time to really get to know all that the wine has to offer.  But, sometimes, there’s even more involved: you open a wine and your imagination begins to work overtime as the smells and the tastes trigger something in your brain.  

That happened to both my wife and I recently.  The very first sniff of a glass of Roaring Meg Pinot Noir (Majestic, £17.99) transported us back to the view below, taken from the terrace of Mount Difficulty, the New Zealand estate where this wine comes from.central-otago-mt-difficulty-view-from-terrace

It’s almost 3 years ago now since our time in New Zealand.  For part of our stay, we based ourselves in Queenstown on the South Island to explore the Central Otago wine region.  Our wonderful guide, Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail took us around some of the best estates including a very special food and wine matching lunch at the Wild Earth winery that remains a highlight of the visit for us.  Happily, one that we can mentally re-visit regularly as Waitrose often stock the estate’s crisp, vibrant Riesling (£14.99).

But, back to the Roaring Meg, one of the last stops on our trip.  Named, according to the bottle, after a local stream – although we heard another story, perhaps less suitable for a wine label!  The wine itself is everything good Pinot Noir should be: intense and focussed with lovely savoury red and black berry flavours – a perfect foil for light red meats, poultry in sauces or cheeses.

If only New Zealand was a little closer, we’d visit regularly but, as it is, we have to make do with our imagination and open a bottle or two to bring back liquid memories.