Happy New Decade?

2016-10-19 15.50.39Let me begin by wishing you all a very Happy and Peaceful New Year. But, it’s not just a new year – it’s the start of a new decade; time, perhaps, to ponder on where the wine world will be at the end of the 2020s.

I’ve got no special talent as a forecaster – I’ve been mistakenly predicting the widespread availability of wines from China for several years! – so my thoughts are based on a continuation of what has happened in recent years. And that, inevitably means climate change.

Global warming – in some cases combined with increasing drought – has resulted in the dreadful wildfires in Australia and California that I’ve blogged about recently. But it has also meant that some areas that were previously too cool to ripen grapes reliably are now thriving – the picture above was taken at Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, England. Even Champagne producers are buying land in southern England as an insurance against their home region becoming too warm for sparkling wine production. And, more widely, many growers are reporting that they are harvesting ripe grapes weeks earlier than their predecessors – mixed news for wine lovers as grapes that have ripened too quickly have had less time to gather nutrients from the soil and pick up flavour.

Linked to this has been another important trend this century: the increasing number of growers switching to organic – or at least more sustainable – growing methods. Viticulture has had a poor reputation for overuse of pesticides and other harmful chemicals and any reduction of these can only be good for the environment. And, on the same lines, it would be good if certain producers stopped using such ridiculously heavy wine bottles – I recently found one that weighed over 800gms empty!

But, perhaps most worrying for the wine industry in the 2020s is the fact that statistics show fewer young people are choosing to drink wine, preferring beer, spirits or even no alcohol at all. If demand falls, then less wine will be produced and that means less choice for all of us wine lovers.

Wildfires Hit Vineyards Again

NSW Fire and Rescue picture

With the holiday season almost upon us, this Blog was simply going to send festive greetings and thanks to all my readers. But the worsening news about the catastrophic wildfires in Australia changed my mind. I was already thinking that, for many in the wine industry and beyond, 2019 has not been a good year. Last month, I blogged about fires hitting the Sonoma wine region in California and now our TV screens are full of the apparently even worse situation in Australia which has, tragically, claimed a number of lives including those of brave fire fighters. The picture above shows some of the work by the New South Wales Fire Service.

Two areas in particular have been mentioned in connection with the Australian fires – one north of Sydney, the other east of Adelaide; both are key winemaking regions.  The Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, is one of Australia’s oldest vineyard areas, first planted in the 1830s and now the source of unique Semillons and robust Shiraz. The Adelaide Hills are more recent – ironically the result of winemakers looking for cooler, upland areas where they can create delicate Chardonnays. The extent of damage in both areas won’t be clear for some time but early reports speak of widespread damage to vineyards, winery equipment and stocks built up over many years.

Golding wines fires

(Picture from Golding Wines)

All who have enjoyed wines from these regions will surely join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families and employees who have lost so much.

In sending seasons greetings, I also hope that 2020 will bring better news to all.

Best of the Year?

“What’s the best wine you’ve tasted in 2019?” A question that’s almost inevitable as the year draws to an end. And impossible to answer. I calculated a few years back that I tasted more than 500 wines in a year, so you see the problem of choosing just one.

I try the line that “there’s a couple of weeks to go this year; I hope I haven’t tasted it yet” but that brings an unbelieving smile; both my questioner and I know that I’m dodging the answer.

In truth, I don’t think there has been 1 stand out wine this year but I’ve tasted many very enjoyable ones. Here’s a few of the less obvious examples at real value for money prices:

Mantinia

Among the whites, Seméli’s Mantinia Nassiakos from Greece (Wine Society, £10.95) has been a favourite of ours for years. Made from the local moschofilero grape, it’s quite floral on the nose with a lovely citrussy freshness and a hint of spice on the palate. Try with lighter dishes or as an aperitif.

Discovery white

Hungary’s Royal Tokaji Dry White (Majestic, £9.99) (in the centre of the picture above) is a little fuller and richer with flavours of green apples and herbs and a subtle touch of oak. This works well with fish or white meat.

Mencia

From the reds, another wine I’ve blogged about before: Regina Viarum’s Mencia from Galicia in north-west Spain (Wine Society, £11.50). Delightfully smooth and fresh with lovely, slightly bitter cherry aromas and flavours. Completely unoaked, the pure fruit shows through and would make a perfect accompaniment to partridge or duck, perhaps.

Alsace P Noir

And finally, Paul Blanck’s Alsace Pinot Noir (Waitrose, £14.99). Pinot Noir can be quite a tricky grape to grow and, as a result, some examples from Alsace can be thin and sharp. Not this one! Ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours show through in a wine of real elegance and style. One for a seasonal turkey or the lowish tannin would also point to pairing it with a robust fish dish, say a tuna steak.

I’d happily nominate any of these as the best value wines I’ve tasted this year. As for the best of all? I’m still hoping!

The Sweeter Side

As I promised last time, this Blog focuses on the afternoon session of my ‘Sherry, Port and Madeira’ day course at Stoke Lodge in Bristol where we talked about and tasted some delightful Madeiras and Ports. Both these wines are made by stopping the fermentation process before all the sugar in the grapes has been turned into alcohol so, even bottles labelled ‘dry’ have really quite a bit of sweetness about them.

Sercial is one of 4 ‘noble’ grapes grown on Madeira and is the variety responsible for the driest wines. The example from Henriques and Henriques (Waitrose Cellar, £20) had all the lovely tanginess you’d expect and would make an ideal aperitif. It, like most Madeiras, is a blend of wines from different years so the ’10 Years Old’ reference on the label is an average age of the wines, not a particular vintage.

Madeiras

Bual, Verdelho and Malmsey (or Malvasia) are the other 3 noble varieties in ascending order of sweetness and it was the latter that gave us our 2nd tasting. Blandy’s Malmsey (£19, also Waitrose Cellar) has all the richness and character to go perfectly with a chocolate dessert or, perhaps, for this time of year, Christmas Pudding.

Port 1

Moving on to the ports, we began with Niepoort’s Dry White (£15, Wine Society) – crisp, fresh and drier than some so another good choice as aperitif, although, in Portugal, the locals would probably prefer to precede their meal with a 10 Year Old Tawny, lightly chilled, instead. Tawnies are aged mainly in barrels so lose much of their deep red colouring; the Wine Society’s Exhibition 10 Year Old (£17) is one of my – and my wife’s – favourites: mellow, fruity and with great length.

Port 2

Ruby ports, by comparison, are a much deeper colour as they are bottled relatively earlier than tawnies. So, ignore the slightly misleading name and enjoy Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage (Waitrose, £12.59) – with its lovely sweet fruit it’s a really satisfying mouthful.

Port 3

But the pinnacle of ports is the Vintage and Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 (Waitrose, £34) lived up to expectations. With a mellowness from 15 years ageing but still with lots of red fruit, this Single Quinta port (from one estate) was a fitting finale to a most enjoyable day.

 

Sherries to Inspire

What better theme for a tasting at this time of the year than ‘Sherry, Port and Madeira’? Although sales of all alcoholic drinks peak around now, wine merchants will tell you that these 3 are particularly seasonal. And so, for my latest day course at Stoke Lodge in Bristol, I took along a selection of old favourites combined with some less well-known bottles hoping to inspire the group of enthusiasts who signed up.

As the Ports and Madeiras all had an element of sweetness in them, I began with the sherries and the most delicate and driest of all, a Fino.

Sherry 3

La Ina is widely available around £9.50 but its purity of flavour and length suggests something much more expensive. While grapes for a Fino can be grown anywhere within the Jerez region of south-west Spain, the Manzanilla vineyards are nearer the coast around the town of Sanlucar de Barameda, giving that sherry a slightly salty tang. My choice, a Pasada (£11.95 from the Wine Society), is a particular kind of Manzanilla which has spent around 7 years in barrel, giving a more mellow, nutty flavour.

Sherry 1

Oloroso sherries are altogether richer and fuller in taste and are a much darker colour. Many are sweetened before bottling but I found a delicious dry example in Lustau’s Almacenista range (£17.99, Waitrose Cellar) – as smooth as any I have tasted.

Sherry 2

For the final sherry, I went to the opposite extreme: the lusciously sweet, almost treacly Tio Toto Pedro Ximenez (Wine Society, £13.95). Pedro Ximenez, or PX to its friends, is often used to sweeten other sherries but here, on its own, it would make a perfect accompaniment to Christmas Pudding or – my favourite – poured over good quality vanilla ice cream. It also paired nicely with some chocolate cake generously brought along by one of the class to celebrate a birthday.

And then we broke for lunch. A good place to end this Blog. Next time, I’ll tell you about the equally delightful Madeiras and Ports I shared with the group in the afternoon.