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.

Wine Rivers – Revisited

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Back last autumn, I blogged about a series of evening classes I was running at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre under the title ‘Wine Rivers of Europe’.  Each week, I chose one of Europe’s rivers and we talked about and tasted the wines that are produced along its length and the influence of the river on those wines.  But, not everyone could give up 5 evenings and so, last Saturday, I ran an abbreviated version in just 1 day.  Despite leaving out a big chunk of the original material and only tasting 12 wines instead of 30, we still explored the importance of rivers to many of the wines we drink.  They affect climate – warming or cooling the area and helping to cut down on the effects of frost, they scour out deep channels with steep banks providing great exposure to the sun and better drainage and, in days when road transport was difficult, they were the easiest way to transport heavy cargoes – like wine – from one place to another.

The rivers I chose – the Loire, Rhône, Rhine, Danube and Douro/Duero – provided a wonderful diversity of wines, from a delicate Rhine Riesling to a rich, sweet LBV port and plenty in between.  And the class favourites on the day were equally diverse with 3 joint winners:

2017-05-19 12.26.50Château de Montfort’s Vouvray (Waitrose, £9.99) was clean and refreshing and just a little off-dry making it a perfect aperitif or a match for light summer meals or picnics. 

2017-05-19 12.27.25Peter and Ulrich Griebeler’s Dry Riesling from the Mosel (Majestic, £10.99) showed just how successful and attractive this modern take on German wine can be – delicate with lovely apple and ripe pear flavours and a really long clean finish. 

2017-05-19 12.28.49Of the reds, Lamatum’s Ribera del Duero Crianza (Majestic, £8.99) was a clear winner.  Made from 100% Tempranillo, this is grown high on Spain’s Central Plateau where the hot summer days are offset by cool nights giving a weighty but well balanced and black-fruited red – one that might be even better in a year or two.

In their different ways, each of the wines showed the effects of their closeness to rivers and the whole group agreed that this relationship was a fascinating topic to explore.

My next courses at Stoke Lodge will be after the summer break.  Log on to www.bristolcourses.com in a month or so when full details will be available and booking open. 

Wine with Lobster and Beef

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“Drink with lobster risotto or rare prime rib”.  Winemakers often put advice on their labels concerning possible food matches but, I must say, this one really surprised me.  Why?  Because, in my mind, I can’t imagine a single wine that might pair successfully with these 2 dishes; indeed, in many ways, I’d be looking at almost diametrically opposite wines. 

The richness of the lobster and the creaminess of a good risotto would point me towards a big rich white – something from Burgundy or the Rhône, perhaps, or a full-bodied Californian or Australian Chardonnay. And, although I’m not someone who subscribes blindly to the ‘white with fish, red with meat’ theory, for me, a rare prime rib is definitely red wine territory with a wide range to choose from.

So, what was this miracle wine that the winemaker thought might pair with either dish? 

Cline SyrahCline Cool Climate Syrah from California’s Sonoma Coast region (Majestic, £13).  Delightfully full and rich with intense red fruit flavours and just a hint of the kind of spicy, peppery flavours that many good Rhône Syrahs display, this is undoubtedly a big wine (14% alcohol), yet everything is so beautifully in balance that you’d never feel overwhelmed – or think that you’d have to stop after a single glass.

We drank it with some orange and molasses sugar marinated venison steaks and it went really well – the fruitiness in the wine matching the sweetness in the marinade and the pepperiness going with the gamey flavours of the meat.

But, personally, I still can’t see the wine going with either lobster or risotto.  But that is the wonder of food and wine pairing – everyone’s sense of taste is unique to them and different from everyone else.  And so it should be; without that, we’d lose the very diversity of food and wines that make this such a fascinating subject.

Drink Local!

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Not so long ago, English Wine was a joke – and a not very funny one at that!  The pioneering growers in the 1960s and 70s chose to plant the varieties they thought were likely to ripen in our climate – often the unexciting Muller-Thurgau (the main grape in Liebfraumilch).  They then tried to balance the inevitable acidity of barely ripe grapes by leaving plenty of residual sweetness in the wine, often back-blending in the German style (“sussreserve”) for extra sweetness.  The result: wines that were, in the main, ‘interesting’ – in a masochistic sort of way!

How things have changed in the last 2 decades!  English wines have improved beyond all recognition and many are multiple international award winners – often against the best in Champagne.  In particular, our sparkling wines grown in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire on the same chalk soils you find in Champagne and using the same grape varieties.  Many are so good that Champagne producers are buying up land in the south of England to produce their own versions.  But, despite this, many customers’ views of English wine are still conditioned by the past and it remains an uphill struggle to convince them. 

But there’s a great opportunity soon for those who haven’t tasted an English wine recently (or even those who have): English Wine Week begins on Saturday 27th May and many vineyards and wine merchants are holding special events to celebrate.

Sharpham Estate SelnNot wanting to be caught out without a relevant bottle or two to open during that week, I’ve been collecting a few examples on recent shopping trips.  The problem is, once they’re sitting on the wine rack, the temptation is close at hand and, in fact, the empty bottle from the Devon-based Sharpham vineyard’s Estate Selection dry white (Waitrose, £13.99) is already in the recycling bin.  It was delightfully fresh and floral and, although only 11.5% alcohol, there was enough weight to go with some flavoursome smoked whiting.

English wines really have changed.  Do give them a try.

 

 

The Price of Bordeaux

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A case of red wine was sold at auction last month for £11000.  Admittedly, it was Château Latour, one of the most prestigious estates in Bordeaux and from the highly acclaimed 2010 vintage, but it set me wondering whether any wine is worth almost £1000 a bottle.  And, of course, the buyer of this case is likely to have to wait at least a decade before the wine is at its peak, assuming, that is, that he or she is going to drink it, rather than (more likely) re-selling it at a profit.

The prices of top wines are now silly – the Liv-ex Index calculates that they have tripled since 2004 – and the sad fact is that it is putting the best wines way out of reach of most wine lovers.  When I first started taking an interest in wine, you could buy one of these top Bordeaux for about 20 times the price of an ordinary wine – just about affordable for a really special occasion – now that figure stands at 150 and rising steadily.

So, for those of more modest means, is there any way you can sample a decent Bordeaux?  Happily, I’d say yes!  Look for wines with the words ‘Cru Bourgeois’ on the label.  These are from estates which fall outside the Classified Growth system.  Many are, nevertheless, well situated and with talented and dedicated winemakers.  But, because they are not listed among the privileged few, prices are far more reasonable.

A couple of days ago I opened such a bottle that I’d kept under the stairs for a few years – even lesser bottles take a while to reach their peak. 

Senejac BxChâteau Senejac 2006 had become nicely mellow and mature with soft, leathery flavours and a long spicy finish.  You’d probably pay around £15 – £20 for the equivalent today.  Don’t expect the length or complexity of a Latour, just really pleasant drinking – and at a sensible price.

Beyond Sunshine in a Glass

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Australia built much of its early reputation in the UK on crowd-pleasing Chardonnays.  The recipe was simple but effective: plenty of up-front tropical fruit and oak flavours and generous levels of alcohol.   “Sunshine in a glass” as they were often described.  And, although these wines are still popular – look on any supermarket shelf – there are many wine lovers who would never even consider, let alone buy, an Oz Chardonnay.  Their reputation, at one time so helpful, now puts off some of those who grew up on the early Chardonnays but who are now looking for something more interesting and complex.

Yet, if you search a little wider (and pay a little more), there are some really talented winemakers in Australia who are using the country’s favourite grape to produce delightful, flavoursome bottles in a subtle style that would have been totally alien 2 decades ago.  Take Lenton Brae’s Southside Chardonnay from Margaret River (Wine Society, £14.95) for example. 

Lenton Brae Chard They use older vines (some planted in the pioneering days of 1982) to make a rich, mouth-filling wine with lovely green apple and pear flavours.  Fermenting in a mix of new and used French oak barrels adds a restrained spiciness.  But despite this, there was also enough crispness and freshness to go perfectly with asparagus – a dish I’d normally associate with a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry English white.

Margaret River in Western Australia has always done things a little differently.  2000 miles away from the more famous vineyards in the south-east of the country and with cooler influences from the Indian Ocean, WA has never produced wine in the volumes of those further east.  It has always concentrated more on quality than quantity as shown perfectly by this Lenton Brae.

But wines such as this are also a timely reminder to those who have ignored Oz Chardonnay for so long to take a fresh look.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Pinot Noir from …..Germany?

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I always find it hard to convince wine lovers to try German Rieslings – so many people still think of them as being nasty, sweet and all tasting like cheap Liebfraumilch.  The truth may be the complete reverse but, sadly, the reputation remains.  And, if German whites are a hard sell, how about their reds?  In fact, did you even know that Germany made red wine?  Give yourself a big pat on the back if you said yes and a bonus mark if you’ve ever tasted one!

We visited Assmanshausen on the Rhine last year, one of the few villages in Germany dedicated almost exclusively to red wines.  They are made from a grape called Spätburgunder locally (we probably know it better as the Burgundy variety, Pinot Noir) and we loved what we tasted so much that I’ve been looking out for them ever since.

Given what I said in the first paragraph, they’re not going to be on every UK wine merchant’s shelf but, again, the Wine Society has come up trumps with a delicious example from Martin Wassmer (£12.95).

Wassmer P NoirHe has vineyards in the Baden region in the south of Germany where the climate is milder than much of the country and seems to suit the tricky-to-ripen Pinot Noir grape perfectly.   The example we tasted had the typical earthy, farmyardy nose that mark out so many good Pinots.  It was quite light bodied and relatively low in tannin but with lovely savoury flavours and an intense plummy fruitiness.  Really drinkable and moreish, this would partner duck, turkey or chicken beautifully or even lightly chilled on its own.

And once you’ve tried a German red, have a re-think about their whites, too: a good quality dry Riesling (look for the word ‘Trocken’ on the label) is a real delight and about as far from the dreaded Liebfraumilch as it is possible to imagine.

 

 

A Lack of Taste

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The people who collect our recycling had a surprise last week: alongside the usual pile of paper and the mountain of cardboard and plastic wrapping, there was just one empty wine bottle.  No, we hadn’t been away on holiday nor had we given up alcohol for Lent, it’s simply that my wife and I both had colds.  Now I know that’s nothing compared to a relative and some of our good friends who are suffering much more serious health problems – all good wishes to them for a speedy recovery – but, while the colds were at their height, we found we really didn’t want to eat or drink much at all and then, as the worst part came to an end, blocked noses took over.

So, why was that a problem?  Well, as I regularly explain to classes, most of what we usually call ‘taste’ is actually done through the nose and so, if your nose is blocked, as it often is after a cold, your sense of taste is diminished.  The technical explanation for this is that our brain senses what we call flavours and aromas in the olfactory bulb, which is mainly reached via the nostrils but, also, from a channel at the back of the mouth called the retronasal passage.  If those avenues are cut off or restricted by the after-effects of a cold or by other medical conditions or treatments, we struggle to smell or taste anything.  And, as most of us drink wine because we enjoy the taste and smell, then, if those pleasures are denied, its best to leave the bottles where they are until, hopefully, healthier times arrive.   

But, we have missed our wine.  As the marvellous Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” says, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.  Exactly!  Perhaps that’s why a traditional toast is “Good Health!”