Monthly Archives: February 2019

Choosing a Blog Wine

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How do I choose the wines I’m going to include in a Blog? The answer is simple: like many wine lovers, when I find a wine I really like, I want to share it with others who might appreciate it. And, if there’s a story to tell about the producer, the grape variety or where the wine comes from as well, so much the better, as that, hopefully, makes the piece more interesting to read. Also, I buy all my wines from shops or on-line and, apart from any case discounts that would be offered to any customer, I never accept ‘incentives’ to include a particular wine in this Blog.

Recently, I’ve been lucky (or chosen well!) as almost everything I’ve opened has been worth sharing and Blogging about. Here are a couple of the nicest:

Oatley SyrahI’d previously enjoyed Robert Oatley’s Finisterre Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in Western Australia (WA) and that producer’s Syrah from the Great Southern region of WA (Wine Society, £17) is just as good. The wine showed the same subtlety and restraint that I’d liked in the earlier bottle but with Cabernet’s typical blackcurrant flavours replaced with delightfully fragrant black cherry and hedgerow berries. More reminiscent of a Syrah from the northern Rhône than a typical Australian example, it is interesting that Oatley has chosen to use the European version of the grape’s name, in preference to Shiraz.

Crasto DouroCrasto Superior (also Wine Society, £14.50), a full-bodied red from Portugal’s Douro region, is altogether richer and more intense and needs to accompany robust food to enjoy it at its best. Made from a blend of local grapes including Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, this spends 12 months in French oak barrels resulting in lovely spicy flavours adding to the attractive sweet fruit.

Two wines that I’m happy to share with you. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too.

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Counting Sheep – or Wine?

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Counting sheep

There’s a theory that counting sheep may help you fall asleep – the idea being, I assume, that the boredom of the whole process gradually lulls you. My wife, Hilary, recently suggested an alternative that might appeal to wine lovers: naming the Crus of Beaujolais! These are the 10 best villages that are allowed to use their own names on the wine label, rather than the generic ‘Beaujolais’. Their status ranks above both ordinary Beaujolais (which includes Beaujolais Nouveau) and Beaujolais-Villages, which, confusingly, relates to wine produced in a group of villages outside the top 10 rather than in these particular villages.

Despite all red Beaujolais being made from the same grape variety, Gamay, the landscape of the region is quite diverse so, as a result, the wines from each of the named villages have their own identity.

Starting in the south, Brouilly is the largest of the Crus and its land entirely surrounds the extinct volcano, Mont Brouilly on whose slopes are found another Cru, Côte de Brouilly which produces more concentrated wines. Régnié, the newest of the Crus to be promoted, has mainly sandy soils leading to soft, early-drinking wines.

To the east, Morgon is very different: many wines from here will age quite well and develop almost Burgundy-like flavours and aromas. Chiroubles has the highest vineyards in the region and produces light, delicate wines while neighbouring Fleurie, probably the best known of the Crus, lives up to its name with floral, charming wines.

Moulin-a-Vent is another village producing more robust, longer-lived styles, while the vineyard area of Chénas, already the smallest of the Crus, is gradually shrinking and I wonder how long it will retain its independence. Juliénas produces stylish wines of real character and then there’s the most northerly Cru of all, Saint-Amour: light wines which, because of their name, have a particular appeal on romantic occasions!

All can be delicious and are rarely expensive but would trying to remember the names help you fall asleep? Or would they, perhaps, encourage you to wake your partner to share a bottle?

Contains (fewer) Sulphites

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This month’s gathering of the Bristol Tasting Circle was a rather more sombre affair than usual. The group’s long-serving Secretary, Judith Tyler, died last month and this was our first meeting since that very sad event. Judith, alongside her fellow committee members, Tim and Graeme, had worked hard to widen the appeal of the Tasting Circle and so attracted many new members. The Group will continue but we will miss her infectious enthusiasm.

I’m sure she would have enjoyed our tasting this month with local wine merchant and regular Tasting Circle visitor, Raj Soni (www.rswines.co.uk), presenting a selection of bottles from producers who are making a real effort to reduce sulphur levels in their wines.

Why is this important?  Although sulphur in various forms is widely used in the wine (and food) industries as a disinfectant and preservative, it can cause breathing problems; asthma sufferers are particularly at risk and, as a result, the warning ‘contains sulphites’ appears on virtually all wine labels. Too much sulphur can also affect the taste and smell of wine; think how a struck match smells and that gives you the idea of what to look for. However, wines with too little sulphur can become unstable, so there’s a balance to be drawn. But, from this tasting, it was clear that wines with sulphur levels more than 50% below widely accepted norms can be both stable and delicious.

BTC Low Sulphur

Two reds particularly stood out for me: Château Saint Estève (£12.40), a Grenache-based blend from the southern Rhône, is smooth, intense and mouth-filling with lovely black cherry flavours and great length while Louis Chenu’s Bourgogne (£20) was more delicate but full-flavoured and with a typical Burgundian earthiness.

These, and all the other low sulphur wines we tasted, are available online from www.nfizz.co.uk. Many are also organic (or biodynamic) and most (but not the Rhône wine mentioned above) are suitable for vegans.

 

 

Ribeira Sacra – for the adventurous

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The Spanish DO (designated wine area) of Ribeira Sacra isn’t at all well-known – even among keen wine lovers. In fact, in Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (nicknamed the ‘Winelovers’ Bible’ with good reason), it merits just 2 lines. And the Wine and Spirit Education Trust ignores it completely until students reach ‘Diploma’ level. But, based on the wines I’ve tasted from there, it’s certainly an area worth exploring – and not just for the adventurous.

So, where is Ribeira Sacra? Look to Spain’s far north-west where you find the cool, Atlantic-influenced region of Galicia, which is becoming increasingly popular due, in particular, to the high quality Albariño grape. This white variety thrives near the coast but, go just 50 miles or so inland, and it’s a local red grape, Mencia, that dominates in ancient, almost impossibly steep rocky vineyards; you’ll see the words ‘viticultura heroica’ on the label pictured. Growing vines here is heroic viticulture indeed!

MenciaBut, if you’d expect Regina Viarum Mencia (Wine Society, a bargain at £11.50) to reflect this harsh, uncompromising landscape with a wine of a similar character, you’d be wrong. It’s a wine that, for me, had the same silky smoothness of a nice Pinot Noir – interesting as some thought that Mencia might be related to that grape, although apparently not. This classy example is delightfully fresh with lovely slightly bitter cherry aromas and flavours. Completely unoaked, the pure fruit shows through to give a refreshing and very satisfying red wine. Food-friendly as you might guess – but nothing too big or robust: partridge or duck, perhaps.

Ribeira Sacra’s production is tiny and wines from there may be difficult to find but, next door, in Bierzo, they also grow the Mencia grape and Majestic have a good example in Pizarras de Otero (£7.49).

Either way, this is a grape and a region worth getting to know.

An Open Mind

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We human beings are often creatures of habit. And that can be especially true when we’re buying our wines. We’ve enjoyed a bottle in the past, so let’s buy it again. Why take the chance of trying something different, which might not be as good? I understand that although, if I’d taken that view, I’d probably still be drinking the Black Tower Liebfraumilch and Mateus Rosé that I first tasted more years ago than I care to admit!

But the world of wine is changing and perhaps, more importantly, our own tastes may be changing (see the Liebfraumilch comment above!). Maybe it’s time to look again at a wine that we didn’t like previously?

Happily, someone on a recent course of mine did just that. She’d hated Australian whites in the past because they were too alcoholic and oaky but booked in on ‘Wines of Australia’ anyway. The result? She discovered how much has changed. Indeed, of the list of wines she noted to buy again, four were white. Being open-minded and prepared to experiment has opened up a whole new area of enjoyment for her.

Interestingly, one of her new white likes was a Riesling – a grape variety that would benefit from a re-think by many wine drinkers. For too long wrongly associated with low quality sweetish German wines, there are now some delicious dry examples around. And not just from Germany.

Oz RieslingPeter Lehmann’s Wigan Riesling from Australia’s Eden Valley (Wine Society, £12.50) is delightfully dry, crisp and zesty with lovely lime-peel aromas and a delicious honeyed palate. And, with only 11% alcohol and no oaking, it’s just the sort of Australian white that more of us should be discovering.

You just need an open mind.