Category Archives: Wine Courses Bristol

A Clear Chilean Winner

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“Which are your favourites of the wines you’ve tasted today?” is a question I frequently ask at the end of a wine course or tasting that I’ve run.  The result is normally very close, often with 2 or 3 of the wines tying for the most popular.  That isn’t surprising; tastes vary enormously with everyone having their own particular preferences.  And those preferences will be reflected in how they vote, which is why it is rare for one wine to have a clear win.

So, on the few occasions when it does happen, the winner must be quite special and have wide appeal – not always the same thing.  Such a wine emerged from a recent day course on the Wines of the Americas that I ran at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre.  From a dozen wines from such diverse countries as the USA, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil, Tabali’s Encantado Reserva Viognier from Chile’s Limari Valley (Waitrose, £9.99) was not just a clear winner – it secured more than twice as many votes as any of the other wines we tasted. 

tabali-viognierAlthough I can’t remember such a decisive result before, I wasn’t surprised this wine was popular; I’ve opened it on a number of occasions previously.  It has really appealing floral and citrus aromas which carry through onto a rich, just off-dry palate balanced by good, clean acidity and with flavours of ginger and apricot.  A lovely wine: complex, fruity and characterful.

It is only in the last 20 years or so that the Limari Valley has started to concentrate on quality wines – previously much of the production there was distilled into pisco, the local brandy – and Viognier is hardly a mainstream grape for the area but Tabali’s site, just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling influences, is clearly well suited to this tricky but high quality variety.  Perhaps we’ll see wider plantings there in future.

And, looking to the future, a date for your diary: on Saturday 7th March my next course at Stoke Lodge will be on ‘The Hidden Corners of Spain’.  We’ll focus on wines from some of that country’s less well-known regions and grapes.  Places are still available but booking is essential: www.bristolcourses.com or 0117 903 8844.

The Wine Rivers of Europe

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Have you ever thought how many of the main wine regions of Europe are close to rivers?  The Rhone, Mosel and Douro Rivers are all so closely linked to wine that they have wine regions named after them.  The Loire has vineyards along more than half of its length, the Rhine features in a number of German regional wine names and Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rioja all have rivers running through or close to them – the Garonne and Dordogne, Saone and Ebro, respectively.  And there are many others. 

This is no coincidence: rivers affect climate, they can excavate deep valleys with steep sides ideal for vineyards, they provide water for irrigation and, in centuries past when road transport was difficult, they provided the easiest way to transport heavy cargoes such as wine.  In these and so many other ways rivers have been helpful either to grape growing (and so to winemaking) or, perhaps, more importantly, in ensuring that a particular wine can reach its market.

And it’s this fascinating subject – “The Wine Rivers of Europe” – that I’ve chosen for a series of talks I’m running at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre this autumn. 

SL Brochure 2016Each week, I’ll concentrate on a particular river and we’ll talk about (and taste, of course!) the wines that can be found along its length.  Provisionally, the talks will comprise the Loire, Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Douro.  They will run for 5 consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7pm to 9pm starting 2nd November.  The cost for the whole series is £60 plus a share of the cost of the wines tasted (which will be limited to a maximum of £8 per person per week).  Booking is essential as places will be very limited and can be made online at www.bristolcourses.com or by phone on 0117 903 8844.

If this doesn’t appeal or you can’t make the dates, have a look at the same website for some of the one day Saturday courses I’ll be running at Stoke Lodge during the first half of 2017. Hope to meet some of you there!

Wines for Summer

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“Can we have a tasting of wines for summer drinking?” a client asked me recently. Of course!  It gave me the chance to concentrate on refreshing, easy-drinking bottles – perfect for that picnic or barbie – or just for drinking chilled on their own in the garden.  And, because wines like these focus more on enjoyment than on deep appreciation of their finer points, they’re not usually that expensive; in fact, I bought all the wines in Majestic and none cost more than £8 (based on their offers for mixed cases of at least 6 bottles).

Summer WinesWe started with a Vinho Verde from northern Portugal: Quinta de Azevedo (£6.99) is a delightfully crisp and fresh white made from a blend of little-known local grapes.  To follow, something more floral and fragrant: Mayu’s dry Pedro Ximenez (PX) from Chile (same price).  This wine surprised me when I first tasted it as PX is more commonly found in Spain’s sherry region, where it’s mainly used for sweetening, yet, here, it shows a completely different (and most attractive) side to its character.

I can drink rosé at any time of year but there’s no denying that sales peak in the summer and so it was an obvious choice for this tasting.  I took along a couple: The Ned Pinot Rosé from New Zealand (£7.99) is an old favourite of mine – full of lovely summer berry fruit flavours – while Cune’s Rioja Rosado (a bargain at just £5.99) is simply a lighter, more delicate version of a young red from the region.

In warm weather, you’re usually looking for something you can serve cool and, of course, you can’t chill red wine – or can you?  I wouldn’t suggest putting your best claret in the fridge (but that’s hardly a wine for a summer picnic, anyway), but lighter reds such as Beaujolais or Valpolicella are actually better for a half hour chilling.  The same applies to Allegrini’s Tenuta di Naiano Bardolino (£7.49), from the next door region to Valpolicella, with its tangy flavours of bitter cherries.

And, finally, to barbecues.  An Australian Shiraz would be the choice of many – and I wouldn’t argue, but why not try a French example of the same grape?  Domaine les Yeuses ‘Les Épices’ Syrah (£7.99) is my choice – similar spicy, peppery flavours and lovely violet aromas.

So there we have it – my selection of wines for summer.  The group I ran the tasting for enjoyed them all, although the Vinho Verde just edged it in the final vote.  Try them – I hope you like them, too.