Monthly Archives: June 2018

Jurançon: Sweet or Dry

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Many years ago, in my early days of studying wine (rather than just drinking it), one of the bottles our tutor brought in for us to taste was a delightful sweet wine that none of us had ever heard of before.  It was called Jurançon and it resulted in an immediate ‘Wow!’ from the whole class.  I’ve been buying it ever since – when I can find it, that is, because production is not large and much of it is drunk locally, which, in this case, is in the far south-west corner of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

I couldn’t recommend one producer over another – they all have their own slightly different styles – but I haven’t had a bad bottle yet, so, if you enjoy dessert wine and see Jurançon, then I’d suggest you give it a try.

As I got to know these wines better, I realised that, apart from the lovely sweet bottles, there was also a dry equivalent: Jurançon Sec – if it doesn’t have ‘sec’ on the label it will be sweet.  Both are made from a blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, with some Courbu and Camaralet added to some of the dry versions.  All are local grape varieties; none, as far as I know, is grown outside the region, so those in search of membership of the ‘100 Club’ should take note!

Jurancon SecAs with the sweet versions, Jurançon Sec from most producers is worth buying although we particularly enjoyed Domaine Montesquiou’s Cuvade Préciouse (Vine Trail, £13) recently.  Its tangy flavours of citrus and herbs and just a hint of spicy smokiness from the gentle oak ageing reminded me of a nice white Burgundy – there were certainly shades of the same flavours in an Auxey-Duresses we had in a restaurant a few days later; the only difference: excluding the inevitable restaurant mark-up, the Jurançon would be about half the price!

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Cup and Rings

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Cup and Rings AlbarinoIt wasn’t just the label that made me buy this wine, although I was so intrigued by both its design and the name – The Cup & Rings (available from Majestic, £9.99) – that I had to pick it up.  I suppose that counts as a victory for the marketing team!  But, when I looked more closely, I realised this was a wine I should try. 

The label showed it was made from one of Spain’s best native grape varieties for white wines, Albariño, grown in the ideal cool climate of Galicia in the far north-western region of the country.  Then there were the words ‘Sobre lias’; this is a winemaking technique that involves leaving the wine on the dead yeast cells (the ‘lees’ in English, ‘lias’ in Spanish) for a period of time after the fermentation has finished.  The aim of this is to add a certain depth of flavour to the wine and often to create an attractive savoury character.  In this case, the period of ageing on the lees was 2 full years – longer than I’d normally expect, but clearly promising a wine with some complexity.

The winemaker was obviously pleased with his creation as there was his signature on the label: Norrel Robertson is a Master of Wine who has been making wine in Spain since 2003, although he is a Scot by birth, hence his local nickname which translates as the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

On opening the bottle, the wine was as good as I’d hoped for: delightfully refreshing, rich and complex with a lovely floral character and ripe pear flavours – rather than the stone fruits I often associate with Albariño.  But there was also an almost salty tang about it – not surprising, I suppose, given how close to the sea many of the vineyards are in this part of the world.

And the name ‘Cup and Rings’?  It is, apparently, an ancient Celtic symbol found in prehistoric rock carvings across Europe, especially in both Galicia and Scotland.  So, very appropriate for a Scot working in Galicia but also a great way to encourage curious customers like me to buy!

 

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!

 

 

 

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.