Author Archives: Bristol Wine Blog

About Bristol Wine Blog

Bristol Wine Blog is written by Ian Abrahams, a freelance Wine Educator, trading as Wine Talks and Tastings. Ian holds the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Diploma, a high level professional qualification, and is a certified tutor for WSET. He runs courses for both professional and amateur wine lovers in and around Bristol including at Stoke Lodge (see the Bristol Adult Learning Service brochure or online at www.bristolcourses.com). You don’t have to be an expert or wine buff to enjoy Ian's courses, so long as you enjoy a glass of wine. Find him also on Facebook.com/winetalksandtastings.

Bordeaux, Burgundy or…?

Standard

When you buy your wine, do you focus on Bordeaux, Burgundy and the other traditional regions of France or, do think, as one friend of mine said, that these areas are living in the past and trading on a reputation that is no longer justified?  For me, that criticism is a little harsh, but I can understand that many find wines from California or Australia are just so much more approachable and usually better value. 

But, I wanted to put the traditional areas to the test and so I advertised a course entitled ‘The Classic Wines of France’ at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre – a good move as the day was fully booked in record time with a waiting list!  No pressure then!  I just had to find the wines for my eager group to taste.

I wanted plenty of variety and so chose 4 wines from each of Bordeaux and Burgundy plus 2 each from the Loire and Rhône.  And, when I asked the group to choose their favourites at the end of the day, the results were very close with a single vote separating the top 4 wines.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the opposition, the 2 Loire whites shared top spot:

2017-11-16 10.43.18Bertrand Jeannot’s steely fresh Pouilly Fumé (Wine Society, £13.50) showed the benefit of extended lees ageing, while the crisp, fragrant demi-sec Vouvray from Château de Montfort (Waitrose, £11.99) had already been a winner at a previous wine course of mine, having been chosen by those who came to the ‘Wine Rivers of Europe’ day earlier in the year.

But reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy (both from the Wine Society) were close behind:  2017-11-16 10.44.11Château Sénéjac is everything you’d hope a Bordeaux red would be – lovely black fruits and just a hint of tannin; the only surprise is the price: £12.95 – a reflection, I suppose, that it is only an AC Haut-Medoc and not something grander.  No such bargains, sadly, from Burgundy but the group clearly thought Domaine Tollot-Beaut’s Chorey-les-Beaune justified its price tag (£23) with the typical, slightly perfumed Côtes de Beaune style of Pinot Noir coming through particularly well. 

So, is the reputation of these areas justified?  I think the day proved conclusively yes!  Provided you’re prepared to pay a little beyond every day prices, the ‘Classic’ areas of France certainly offer some delightful and very drinkable wines that really shouldn’t be ignored by any wine lover.

Advertisements

Carmenère – the Clear Winner!

Standard

2017-11-13 18.25.40In the minds of many who enjoy a glass of wine, Chile is the place to look for something fresh, fruity, easy-drinking and not too expensive – the sort of wines the Australians used to call ‘sunshine in a glass’.  But that’s only part of the story: Chile is full of ambitious young winemakers eager to break away from the ‘cheap and cheerful’  tag and experiment with something more interesting that will appeal to those prepared to pay a little more. 

Typical of this trend is the Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon I blogged about earlier this year but, for a much wider selection, I joined  a tasting organised by the Bristol Tasting Circle recently and supported by ‘Wines of Chile’.  Committee member and wine educator, Tim Johnson’s choice included wines from all the main international grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir.  A particularly nice example of the latter (Falernia’s Reserva from the Elqui Valley, £14.95 from Great Western Wine) got my top mark of the evening.  

Among the less well-known was Huaso de Sauzal’s País (also Great Western Wine, £22.95).  País was brought to South America by the Spanish in the 16th century and, after decades, even centuries, of neglect, has recently attracted the attention of a number of winemakers who are coaxing lovely red and black fruit flavours out of this formerly unloved variety.

These days, no tasting of Chilean wines could be complete with examples of Chile’s ‘own’ grape, Carmenère.  Once thought to be Merlot, it has been embraced enthusiastically since the error was discovered in the closing years of last century and, appropriately, provided the overall joint winners of the evening from Santa Ema (Tanners, £12.80) and Los Vascos’ Grande Reserve (Slurp, £13.95).

So, sunshine in a glass?  Yes!  But a whole lot more, too!

If you would like to join the Bristol Tasting Circle and enjoy tastings like this, please leave your details in the comment box below and I will pass them onto the membership secretary.

 

What Kind of Chardonnay?

Standard

ChardonnayAsk many wine lovers to name their favourite white wine grape and they will reply unhesitatingly ‘Chardonnay’.  Yet, you’ll also find plenty who take precisely the opposite view; so much so that I have been persuaded to run an ‘Anything but Chardonnay’ course at Stoke Lodge Centre next spring.  So, why the extreme difference of views?

The answer is simple: Chardonnay is so versatile in where it grows and so amenable to different treatments in the winery that you can fairly say that no two examples are the same. 

Taste Chardonnay from a cool climate, like Chablis for example, and you get crisp, citrus or green apple flavours.  A little warmer, perhaps around Pouilly Fuissé, and that turns into ripe pear or peach.  Further south in France or in parts of Australia and California that are warmer still will give quite tropical flavours – pineapple or melon. 

And all that variety before the winemaker gets to work.  Chardonnay is quite a favourite with winemakers as they often see it as a blank canvas, ready to be manipulated into just the sort of wine that they, or their customers, want.  For example, they can put it through malolactic fermentation (a process that softens the harsher acids and creates a creamy, buttery texture) or they can leave the wine on the lees for a while to add richness or, then again, they can use oak barrels – new or older – to add woody, spicy flavours.  And, of course, they can put it through a 2nd fermentation and make Champagne or sparkling wine.

Or, they can do none of these; ferment and mature in stainless steel tanks and simply let the delicious, ripe fruit shine through. 

Vire ClessePierre Ponnelle’s Viré Clessé from southern Burgundy (Majestic, £13.99) is a perfect example of this ‘less is more’ approach.  Delightfully fresh and clean with attractive citrus and peach flavours; no oak, just very pure fruit and excellent length. 

I’d recommend it to Chardonnay lovers and haters alike – but, as you’ve seen, it’s just one of many possible styles of wine from this most versatile of all grapes.  If this one isn’t to your taste, don’t give up on the variety, just keep looking.

Bristol’s Own Wine

Standard

Port O BristolBristol now has its very own wine, but don’t worry if you’ve never seen it on the shelves.  At present, there’s just one small problem: the label is missing some key information, so it isn’t legal to sell it in the UK yet.  But I have tasted it! 

That was at a wine tasting evening arranged by the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association – a group that fosters links and arranges exchange visits between Bristol and friends in the Portuguese city with whom we have had trading links for many centuries. 

The event was hosted by Alan, the owner of Clifton Cellars, one of Bristol’s best independent wine merchants.  He brought along a selection of wines which truly showed how far Portugal has advanced since the days when it was only known for Mateus Rosé.

The tasting included 2 very different whites: Quinta de Gomariz’s vibrant, citrussy Alvarinho (aka Alboriño) from the Vinho Verde region (£13.99) and Lagar de Darei, a richer and subtly oaked bottle from the Daô made from the local Encruzado variety (£11.98)

Of the reds, Patraô Diogo’s Aragonez- (Tempranillo) based red (£12.85) is a fascinating and rare representative of the tiny Colares region on the coast west of Lisbon.  Its sandy soils have resisted the phylloxera bug and so vines there can be planted on their own rootstocks.  The Vinha da Mouro (£13.50) from the Alentejo showed a lovely southern warmth and richness and brought the evening to a happy close.

But, what about the bottle pictured above?  The ‘Port O’Bristol’ is from a traditionally planted vineyard at the far eastern end of the Douro Valley.  Produced by Ramos Pinto’s winemaker, this was brought over in barrel from Portugal in a sailing boat and bottled in Bristol.  There’s a tiny production and this is the first vintage of a wine that is certainly a ‘work in progress’ at present but one that is worth keeping a close eye on.

If you are interested in joining the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association, please leave me your details below and I will happily pass them on to the Membership Secretary.

St George and Retsina

Standard

Vineyard KokotosIn my blog last time, I talked about the vast array of wine grapes native to Greece.  Many of these are found only in a limited area where they have been grown for generations and are perfectly suited to the conditions. 

So, our wine tour of that country became a week of 2 halves.  As we travelled south towards the Peloponnese, we left the Xinomavro-based reds of the north behind and, instead, met up with another red variety, the almost unpronounceable Agioritiko (“eye-your-yit-iko”) which, happily, is also known as St. George.

St. George is altogether softer and rounder than Xinomavro with lower acidity and gentler tannins – more like a Merlot than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark cherries and herbs dominate the palate with some spiciness where the wines had some oak ageing.  We tasted some delightful examples at Tselopos and Gaia.

But, as with the early part of the trip, our visit south wasn’t all about red wines; the Malagousia and Assyrtiko grapes we tasted further north were still found here, but were joined by Moschofilero, grown high on the plateau of Mantinia.  This has lovely freshness with floral and citrus flavours – Domaine Nikolaou’s bottling stood out.

And then there’s Retsina!  Dubious though we were, a wine tour of Greece wouldn’t really be complete without tasting it. 

Gaia RetsinaFortunately, the example we were shown was Gaia’s modern take on the subject: Ritinitis Nobilis – delicate, fragrant and lemony-fresh.  Yes, there was a subtle hint of pine resin on the nose and the palate, but it just seemed to add an extra aromatic dimension to the wine rather than being the central flavour.  I wouldn’t guarantee that all Retsina would be this drinkable, but it’s worth keeping an open mind.

And so, all too soon we were on our way home.  Thanks again to our tour manager, Caron, and invaluable wine guide, Derek Smedley MW for making the trip so interesting and worthwhile.

We travelled with Arblaster and Clarke (www.winetours.co.uk), a specialist in wine-related holidays.

 

The ‘X’ Factor

Standard

Dom Karanika VydsHow many grape varieties do you know whose name starts with the letter X?  If you can do better than 3, please leave me a comment. 

My 3 start with Xarel-lo.  It’s grown in Spain and it’s usually used as part of the blend for Cava.  Then there’s Xynisteri, mainly, if not exclusively, found in Cyprus and finally, the only red grape of the trio, Xinomavro – one of the best of a vast array of wine grapes native to Greece.

Greek wines have had a poor reputation in the UK in recent years with many thinking they’re all like retsina.  For me, that view is outdated; there are some excellent examples available here – and even more in Greece, where my wife and I have just visited and enjoyed tastings at some of their top wineries.

Xinomavro (the initial ‘X’ is pronounced ‘ks’) translates, perhaps unpromisingly, to ‘acid black’ but, in the right hands, can produce some really attractive, ageworthy reds.  Sometimes, as at Alpha Estate or Dalamara, its lovely blackberry and spice flavours are found as a single variety wine, elsewhere it forms a harmonious blend with Syrah, Merlot or other local varieties.  We even tasted it in a Blanc de Noir fizz at Domaine Karanika.

And that same estate was one of 2 (the other was Domaine Dougos at the foot of Mount Olympus) that showed us red wines made from a grape described as “the most exciting variety in Greece”: Limniona.  Revived from near extinction, it produces deep coloured, intense wines with black cherry and pepper flavours and, when young, firm tannins.  Certainly wines for keeping – if you can find them.

But the northern half of Greece, where all these wineries are situated, also produces some delicious white wines, notably from the fragrant, peachy, Malagousia grape (try Domaine Gerovassiliou) or the crisp, fresh Assyrtiko, better known as the signature variety of the island of Santorini where Domaine Sigalas produce the best example of the grape I’ve ever tasted.

All of these wines certainly have ‘the X factor’ even if only one has the spelling.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you about our meeting with Saint George on the second part of our wine tour – the ‘Story of Greece’ organised by Arblaster and Clarke (www.winetours.co.uk) and guided by the wonderfully knowledgeable Derek Smedley MW.

What’s in a Name?

Standard

Flower and BeeThere are many good reasons for choosing a bottle of wine: something you’ve enjoyed before, a recommendation, a wine on special offer.  And then there are the impulse buys; I’m sure most of us have made those on occasions.  “I wonder what that wine’s like?” as we pick up a bottle that our eye is drawn to.  And the wine pictured above must be a prime candidate for that sort of purchase: unusually named ‘The Flower and the Bee’ and, with a label reflecting the name and even the foil over the cork in yellow and black ‘bee’ colours, the entire packaging of this wine says ‘look at me’.  And ‘buy me’, of course.

But the design is not the only reason for giving this wine a try: it’s on the Association of Wine Educators list of the top 100 wines under £25 and, having tasted it (bought from Grape and Grind in Bristol, £13.99), I can confirm that it fully deserves its place.

It’s a delicious unoaked dry white from the Ribeiro region in the north-west of Spain, made from the local Treixadura grape.  Quite peachy and fresh on the nose leading to a rich, full flavoured mouthful with lovely peach and ripe pear flavours and a good, long finish.  Although I’d be happy to drink it on its own, it’s also a great food wine: ideal for some white fish in a creamy sauce.

So, why ‘The Flower and the Bee’?  The wine comes from the Coto de Gomariz estate which is run organically (although not certified as such) and is moving towards biodynamic methods which involve nurturing the entire eco-system of the estate; the flowers and the bees are as important as the grapes to the producers and the naming and the label reflect that.

It’s a neat idea and certainly good marketing.  But, try the wine and I’m sure you’ll buy it again – regardless of the eye-catching packaging.