Tasting Skills Tested

20200131_210228What better way to mark the final evening of the UK’s membership of the European Union than a wine tasting evening organised by the Bristol-Oporto Twinning Association? The Association fosters links and arranges exchange visits between Bristol and Oporto, the Portuguese city from whom Bristol has bought goods, particularly port, for centuries.  And, for this meeting, we also welcomed representatives from two of Bristol’s other Twinning groups, Bordeaux and Hannover.

The event was hosted by Alan, the owner of Clifton Cellars, one of Bristol’s best independent wine merchants, who brought along a selection of wines with bottles and labels concealed and challenged the group to identify the grape or region, country of origin and price of each. ‘Blind’ tastings border on the impossible, even for wine professionals like me, so I approached the evening with some trepidation – fully justified, as it turned out, even with Alan’s helpful hints!

As we discovered when all was revealed, our test began with the smooth, creamy Talmard Macon Chardonnay with its lovely ripe fruit on the palate. By contrast, the 2nd white, a Rioja, Viña Real, showed a decidedly spicy, oaky character. These were followed by a trio of reds which, as Alan suggested, were even more tricky to identify. The first, Ca’ Vittoria Appassimento from Italy, was made from partially dried grapes in the style of an Amarone, but without that wine’s usual heaviness (or sky-high price!) Next, a Portuguese red – inevitable, I suppose, given that this was an Oporto Twinning Association meeting. Vina do Mouro had the fresh, blackcurrant aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon enhancing the flavours of a blend of Portugal’s native grapes.

All too soon we had reached the final wine – a nicely balanced and satisfying Merlot-dominated red Bordeaux, Château Trébiac from the Graves region. And then it was time to add up the scores which showed that 2 members of the group had achieved more than 70% correct. As Alan himself said, the winners’ bottle prizes could not have been more well deserved.

A delicious cheese and paté buffet ended the evening – a chance to chat with friends and to try some of the wines again – obvious, of course, when you can see the labels!

All wines are available from Clifton Cellars and are priced between £12 and £15.

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.

 

4 Wines, 4 Cheeses

How do you choose wines to pair with cheese? There are so many different wines and so many different cheeses. It’s not a new problem: the former French President, Charles de Gaulle, once complained of the difficulty of governing a nation that makes 246 different kinds of cheese – and he didn’t even consider the wine pairing element!

Here in the UK, we may not make quite as many cheeses – although I think we have some that are equal to or better than many from France – but the choice on our shelves, including imports from all over the world, is vast.   So, how do you start matching them with wine?

The first point to remember is that everyone’s taste is different, so, when I was asked to bring along a selection of wines for tasting alongside a cheese board at an event recently, I chose 4 very different styles hoping the guests would find some pairings that worked for them.

Soroptimists tastingFirst was Domaine Sainte Rose’s ‘Le Marin Blanc’, a soft and fairly full-bodied white from southern France (Majestic, £9.99). I expected this blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier would go well with most soft cheeses, yet several people commented that the flavours of the Brie emphasised the acidity in the wine. A Wensleydale with cranberries worked better – the sharpness of the fruit offsetting the crisper elements of the wine.

As a less obvious pairing, I took along a rosé: Muga’s clean and fruity Rioja Rosado (most supermarkets, around £10). Views, as I expected, were mixed, with some pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wine and the way it worked with the cheeses while others, again, noting the acidity. Clearly, something I’ll have to bear in mind when pairing cheese with wine in the future.

There were no such complaints about my choice of red; Errazuriz’s Max Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (£12.99, Waitrose Cellar) had just that right blend of black fruit and subtle oaky spice to match the Cheddar perfectly.

And finally, a sweet wine. I love Domaine des Forges’ Chenin Blanc from France’s Loire Valley (£10.99 for a 50cl bottle, Waitrose Cellar). You can happily drink it on its own, with a sweet dessert or, as here, with a blue Stilton. The combination of the sweetness in the wine and the saltiness in the cheese worked really well and it proved a most popular end to an enjoyable evening.

Rioja at Bar 44

While we were enjoying a delicious tapas lunch at our new favourite wine bar, Bar 44 in Clifton, we noticed a Rioja dinner advertised at the same venue. 6 delicious-sounding courses each accompanied by a matching wine. We booked straight away and we weren’t disappointed.

Tempranillo is the main grape for Rioja’s reds but, as with most red wine grapes, its pulp is colourless so, by careful pressing you can also make an attractive white wine which, here, was served as aperitif and with the opening scallop starter.  Pumpkin gazpacho followed alongside a second white: an old favourite of ours, the complex and subtly oaky Murrieta Capellania.

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The next 3 courses, a risotto, some wonderful lamb with aubergine and roast fennel and some rosemary infused manchego cheese allowed us to explore the range of ageing and oaking that typifies Rioja. Quinta Milú’s unoaked young example was full of simple red fruits, while Beronia’s Reserva 2014, made, unusually with Mazuelo (perhaps better known as Carignan) rather than Tempranillo, had a lovely blend of fruit and gentle smokiness, although will, in my view, be rather better after a further 2 or 3 years in bottle.

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The final red, served with the cheese, was Beronia’s Gran Reserva 2010. I mainly avoid Gran Reservas as, in the past, I’ve often found them dried out and vegetal from just too long sitting in oak barrels. Not here! This was fresh with just the perfect mix of young fruit and spicy, oaky complexity.

The beautiful, tasty dessert of pears prepared 3 ways provided an ideal foil for a not over-sweet dessert wine.

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Bodegas Vivanco’s blend of 4 late-harvested red varieties was an unusual but successful choice with a lovely honeyed nose and palate of red fruits with a certain nuttiness.

What stood out for us in this evening was not just the quality of the food, nor even the interesting nature of the wines but, above all, the care and respect for both the food and the wines that was obvious in the pairing of the two. Congratulations to Bar 44.

 

A Turkish Delight!

Turkish tastingIf history had turned out differently, Turkey might, by now, have been one of the great wine producing countries of the world.  Some of the oldest known relics of winemaking have been found near its border – in Georgia and Armenia – and, with the moderating influence of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas, a number of areas of the country have an ideal climate for grape growing.  Indeed, Turkey has the 5th largest vineyard area of any country in the world.  Unfortunately for wine lovers, its cultural and religious heritage means that most of its grapes are harvested to sell for eating or as raisins or sultanas; only 3% of the crop is made into wine – and barely 1 bottle in 10 of that is exported – a shame as many critics have noted that Turkey has some really interesting native grape varieties.

I was able to find out for myself recently as the Bristol Tasting Circle organised an evening dedicated to Turkish wines.  And, sure enough, alongside the familiar names – Cabernet, Syrah and Sauvignon – were wines made from Emir, Narince, Kalecik Karasi, Çalkarasi and Ökügözü.

The first 2 named, both local white varieties, were blended to produce one of my favourite wines of the night: Cankaya, an attractive, soft, peachy white made by one of Turkey’s largest producers, Kavaklidere (£8.99, available, as are the other wines mentioned in this blog, from www.tasteturkey.com).

Of the reds, Kayra Alpagut’s Ökügözü (£19.99) had the sort of tangy, herby flavours that reminded some at the table of a nice Loire Cabernet Franc but I preferred the mellowness of Vinkara’s subtle, red-fruit flavoured Kalecik Karasi Reserve (£18.45, although the Wine Society have the same producer’s non Reserve bottling of the same grape at £9.95.  Is the Reserve worth nearly twice the price?  I tried the other some time ago and, for me, the cheaper wine is the better buy).

Turkey is clearly producing some interesting, attractive wines but, because amounts exported are small, they will never be cheap and may be hard to find.  But, if you’re looking for something a little different, why not try a bottle – it may prove to be a Turkish Delight!

 

 

 

Bordeaux, Burgundy or…?

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.

Bristol’s Own Wine

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.