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.

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!”

Interesting and Unusual

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Regular Bristol Wine Blog readers know I’m always keen to taste wines made from different grape varieties or in obscure wine regions.  So, the Bristol Tasting Circle’s latest theme, ‘Interesting and Unusual Wines’, was just perfect for me.  Especially as the wines were chosen and presented by Rachel from one of our best local independent wine merchants, Corks of Cotham (and now of North Street and at Cargo, too).

And from the moment I first looked at the tasting list, my anticipation was heightened: almost half the wines were from grape varieties I’d never tasted before.  But, it’s not good enough for a wine just to be unusual, it has to be enjoyable, too.  And these, in the main, certainly were.

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Among the reds, 2 in particular stood out for me: 7 Fuentes Suertes del Marques (£15.99) is a juicy, black-fruited wine made mainly with the Listan Negra grape variety grown on volcanic soils in Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  This is still young and will benefit from a couple more years or decanting whereas Envinate’s Tinto Amarela (£21) from Estramadura on the Spanish mainland would be delicious now – quite fresh in character and full of attractive sour cherry flavours.  

Spain also provided one of my 2 top whites, the simply named Reto Ponce (£17.99).  Herby and citrusy with pleasant aromas of fennel, this is from the local Albillo grape grown in the hills above Valencia, an area hitherto much better known for its reds, particularly from the variety Monastrel (aka Mourvedre).

But my favourite wine of the evening was from Austria.

2017-04-10 19.13.33Johanneshof Reinisch’s Gumpoldskirchner Tradition (£14.99) is both a mouthful to pronounce and a delicious mouthful to taste.  From a blend of Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, this is wonderfully fragrant – almost like a Gewurztraminer on first nose – with spicy, honeyed flavours but a completely dry finish just begging to be teamed with a noble fish in a creamy and perhaps slightly spicy sauce.

All in all, a fascinating tasting, showing just how many different tastes and styles are out there just waiting to be discovered – and, incidentally, the benefits of a good independent wine merchant who can home in on the best of them for their customers.

Moroccan Wine? Yes Really!

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If you compiled a list of the world’s most important wine producing countries, Morocco would be found closer to the bottom than the top.  But it shouldn’t be that way.  With a winemaking history dating back to Roman times and spanning latitudes between 30 and 35˚N (similar to Southern California), you’d expect it to be more prominent, specialising in wines in a rich, warm climate style.  That was certainly how it was in the distant past, but the 2nd half of the 20th century was not kind to Morocco’s wine industry and, by 1990, ¾ of her vineyards had either been grubbed up or were useless commercially.

Happily, with the assistance of mainly foreign investment, things are beginning to change and there are now a number of producers making interesting and very drinkable wines.  But, the legacy of the bad times remains and shops won’t stock wines if customers aren’t asking for them and customers can’t buy wines if shops aren’t stocking them.

So, all credit to the Wine Society (yet again!) for taking a chance and putting the delicious Tandem Syrah on their list (£11.50). 

Moroccan SyrahA collaboration between Crozes Hermitage producer Alain Graillot and Thalvin in Morocco, this has all the lovely blackberry fruit of a good Syrah (M.Graillot knows all about getting the best from that variety, of course) together with an attractive richness and some spicy hints from the subtle oak ageing.  

As for food matches, well, thinking of North Africa, a tagine with cous-cous comes to mind – a perfect choice.  But, in fact, any full-flavoured dish using red meat, aubergines or mushrooms (especially dried ones) would go well with this, as would a nice hard cheese.

And once you’ve taken the plunge and tried this bottle, why not ask your local wine merchant what else they can find from Morocco?  It’s time that country realised its potential.

 

Pick up a Picpoul

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Not so long ago, the name ‘Picpoul de Pinet’ would have meant nothing to all but a tiny minority of wine lovers.  Today, while still not widely known, this crisp, dry white from the Languedoc region in the south of France is beginning to establish a reputation.  And, surprisingly, much of the credit for that change must go to Britain’s major supermarkets, most of whom now have an example in their premium ranges.  Take Tescos:

Picpoul 1their ‘Finest’ Picpoul is just £7 a bottle but is delightfully refreshing with lovely herby, citrusy flavours and enough richness to suggest it would be a perfect accompaniment to many creamy fish or shellfish dishes.  And, it’s not just the supermarkets who are selling Picpoul – Majestic’s Villemarin (£8.99) and the Wine Society’s Domaine Félines-Jourdan (my favourite example and great value at £8.50) mean that it is readily available for those who are looking for something just a little different – but nothing too scary!

Picpoul, the name of the grape variety (occasionally spelt Piquepoul), apparently translates as ‘lip stinger’ in the local dialect (but don’t let that put you off); its home is a tiny area between the towns of Pézenas and Mèze overlooking the Bassin de Thau, a glorious nature reserve within a stone’s throw of the Mediterranean.  Apart from this one wine, this part of the Languedoc is an area far better known for its reds – the southern French sun and heat are too much for most whites.  But not Picpoul – it retains its acidity and freshness and provides a very welcome glass chilled on a hot day. 

And, thanks to the supermarkets, before long, more wine lovers will be able to pick up a Picpoul.

 

 

Wine from Dried Grapes

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It would have been so easy to walk past the bottle sitting there on the bottom shelf of a large supermarket display: a rather dull label, a producer I’d never heard of and surrounded by a number of unexciting bargain-basement wines.  And then I spotted the word ‘Appassimento’ on the label.  Suddenly this wine became a lot more interesting.

Appassimento is a method of making wine from dried grapes and dates back at least 3000 years.  In ancient times it was quite common, especially in the warmer southern Mediterranean wine-growing areas.  After harvesting, the grapes were spread out on reed or straw mats under the sun (or hung up in nets) for 3 or even 4 months before being crushed and fermented.  During this time, they lose up to 50 per cent of their moisture, becoming shrivelled and dried up.  This concentrates the sugars in the berries producing a richer, sweeter wine.

Today, the process is much less common and many producers now dry the grapes in drying lodges rather than using the traditional straw mats.  It is mainly practised for sweet wines such as Vin Santo and one of my favourites, Passito di Pantellaria from a tiny island off the south-west coast of Sicily.  There is also one particularly famous dry example: Amarone della Valpolicella. 

The bottle I bought was not so famous but also dry.  This one was from the Puglia region in the ‘heel’ of Italy, made from an unusual blend of grapes: Merlot, Negroamaro and Zinfandel – this latter variety has a long history in the area, although better known locally as Primitivo.

Puglia AppassimentoCa’ Marrone’s Appassimento (Tesco, £8.50) has all the power and richness that this process typically gives to this type of wine, but accompanied by good plum and prune flavours and a certain smokiness.  This isn’t an easy quaffing wine but, with robust food it really comes into its own.  And at the price, it’s a real bargain when you think of the cost of a good Amarone.

 

Wine with Anchovies?

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We bought some nice trout recently caught locally in Chew Valley Lake and my wife was poring through some old recipe books looking for a tasty and different way to cook them:  “how about baking them and serving them with an anchovy sauce”, she suggested.  Just seconds after agreeing that the idea sounded really interesting, I suddenly realised the challenge I’d set myself: what sort of wine could possibly go with it?

The trout wasn’t the problem – unless they are quite old, when they can take on an earthy flavour – trout is quite wine friendly; it was the anchovy sauce that was causing my headache!

Why?  Anchovies are both salty and oily and, in addition, have quite an assertive flavour – all characteristics that can have an effect on wine.  Saltiness can be an advantage, taming tannin and making wines taste smoother and richer but it also makes wine seem less acidic – and it’s acidity that would be vital to cut through the oiliness of the anchovies.  And, with quite a strongly flavoured sauce, the wine would need some character if it wasn’t to be completely overwhelmed.

In all of this, the question of red or white faded into obscurity – until we tasted the almost-finished sauce, when we both agreed that we couldn’t see a red working at all.  So, a white; but which one? 

The food and wine of a region often work well together and, in this context, Portugal came to mind.  Not anchovies, but sardines have many of the same characteristics.

And so we opened the somewhat pretentiously named FP by Filipa Pato (Wine Society, £9.95). 

Pato WhiteFilipa is the daughter of Luis Pato – the man who, virtually single-handedly, put Portugal’s Bairrada wine region on the map – and she is certainly keeping up the family reputation with this delicious appley-fresh white made from 2 high quality grape varieties native to this area of Portugal – Arinto and Bical. 

One final thought: the surname ‘Pato’ means ‘duck’ in Portuguese.  I wonder how duck and anchovies might work together?  And the wine to match?  Any suggestions?

 

The Meaning of Terroir

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The French use the word ‘terroir’ a lot when talking about wine.  There’s no exact translation in English but I usually think of it as meaning the combination of natural factors that affect how a vine will grow in a particular place and so how the wine made from its grapes will taste.  The local soil, slope of the land, exposure to the sun, shelter from the wind and climate are all clearly part of terroir but many would say the local traditions and customs of an area should be added to that list.  And, how about the variety or varieties of grapes used?  Are they part of terroir or not?  Who knows?

But terroir is not unique to France, even if the word is.  I recently opened a bottle of Tierras Coloradas Old Vines Carignan from the Montsant region, deep in the hills of Catalonia in North-East Spain (Waitrose, £9.99).  Montsant CarignanThis was clearly made with the Spanish equivalent of terroir in mind –why else would the back label highlight the particular soils of the Montsant region – red and yellow clay, slate and chalk – on which the grapes for this wine were grown?

And talking of the grapes, the old vine Carignan is also part of the tradition of the area (although there’s a nod to internationalism here in calling them by their more common French name, Carignan, rather than their usual local alias, Mazuela).

The wine itself is a rugged, earthy red with attractive violet aromas and deep, intense flavours of cooked plums and dried fruits.  But, did I taste the terroir in the wine?  Well, it’s clearly from somewhere warm (14% alcohol and the cooked and dried flavours) and almost certainly from somewhere quite traditional in style.  So, there are certainly some links to its place of origin but, I have to confess that, tasted blind, I doubt whether I’d be able to identify it specifically as a wine from Montsant, but it’s quite delicious and excellent value for money nevertheless.