Crete on the Radar

Last time, I reviewed a tasting of the wines of the Jura – one of very few tastings I had been to since the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, but, as I noted then, tastings, like buses, seem to come along in pairs.  And, so, the very next day, I was off to another, this time hosted by Rachel of Corks of Cotham and focussing on the wines of the Greek island of Crete. 

Crete has been making wine since at least Minoan times (3500 to 4000 years ago) and that long history no doubt accounts for the wealth of unique local grape varieties found on the island.  But, unlike the Jura which uses its range of native grapes to create some idiosyncratic styles, Cretan wines are far more approachable and, as a result, the 2 tastings could not have been more different.

Rachel concentrated on the wines of a single producer, Lyrarakis – one that my wife and I visited when we holidayed on the island a few years ago – who, helpfully, label most of their wines with the name of the principal grape variety.

The tasting began with a pair of attractive dry whites – the crisp, fresh, citrussy Vidiano was more to my taste than the more perfumed and floral Dafni (£14 each).  The smoky Liatiko rosé (£18) seemed quite restrained on both nose and palate, but the Kotsifali red that followed was, for me, the wine of the night – even if it was the cheapest on show (£12).  Reminding me a little of a good Pinot Noir, this was smooth and elegant with quite low tannins and good red fruits; a wine that would react well to chilling slightly in warmer weather.

Liatiko reappeared in 2 contrasting reds.  The first, named ‘Queen’ (£14) was blended from several vineyard sites, a little weightier than the Kotsifali and full of pleasant spicy black fruits.  The other, from old (pre-phylloxera) vines in the sandy Aggelis vineyard (£19) was more complex and showed the benefit of 2 extra years ageing with lovely dried-fruit aromas and flavours together with hints of smoky oak and a good length. A wine for claret lovers to try.

The evening finished with a medium-sweet blend of 6 local varieties, Liastos (£16).  Made from partially dried grapes to intensify the sugars and with 12 months barrel ageing, this was full of marmalade and honey flavours but balanced with enough acidity to keep the wine refreshing.

A delicious end to an excellent tasting and further proof, if any was needed, that the wines of Greece and its islands should really be on every wine lover’s radar.


Tastings are Back!

When I lived in London, we had a saying that you’d wait ages for a bus then 2 would come along together.  I’m not sure if that still happens but, just now, the same seems to apply to wine tastings!  I’ve hardly been to any since the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, but this week, there were 2 on successive days.  I went to both.

The 1st, hosted by local wine educator, Tim Johnson, focused on the wines of the Jura – an area of eastern France between Burgundy and the Swiss border.  Vineyards here are quite scattered with most in the foothills of the Jura Mountains.  Tim summarised the region succinctly as ‘The Three Is’: Indigenous varieties, Idiosyncratic styles and Iconic wines.  The examples he produced wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it was a fascinating exploration of the region nonetheless.

Typical of the Indigenous varieties was Poulsard (£14.95), an early-ripening grape giving a quite pale coloured red with low tannins but plenty of attractive cherry-flavoured fruit.  A little like Beaujolais in style and very drinkable. 

Idiosyncratic styles were almost everywhere in the tasting but I’ll mention 2 in particular:  Vin de Paille (£29.50) is a dessert wine made from late-harvested grapes which are then air-dried to further concentrate the sugars.  Flavours of honey and marmalade predominate.  If you like Italy’s Vin Santo, try this.  Macvin de Jura (£33.16) is also quite sweet but has a grapey freshness being a blend of unfermented juice mixed with local marc (perhaps better known as ‘grappa’) and then barrel aged for 10 months.  Also very drinkable but beware – this is 17.5% alcohol!

And the Iconic wine?  Vin Jaune is made with the local Savagnin grape (not to be confused with Sauvignon) which, after fermentation, is left to mature in cask for more than 7 years and develops in the same way as a dry amontillado sherry, which it resembles in both aroma and taste.  It’s sold in 62cl bottles which is supposed to represent the amount left from a normal bottle size (75cl) after the evaporation that happens during the long ageing.  This loss is known as “the angels’ share” – perhaps someone should have a word with these angels as Château-Chalon’s Vin Jaune sells for more than £60 a bottle!

So, just a brief look at some of the Jura wines we tasted – try Yapp Brothers if you want to sample them yourself.  And catch up with my review of the week’s 2nd tasting next time.

A Happy Return

It’s been a long time – more than 2 years in fact – since I was last able to blog about the Bristol Tasting Circle, a local group of wine enthusiasts and professionals who, until Covid intervened, met monthly, inviting winemakers or independent wine merchants to talk to us and share their wines. 

Happily, we have recently been able to revive the format and our first guests were Tim and Jill North of Hampshire-based Joie de Vin who brought along a selection of interesting bottles from the south of France for us to taste.  Joie de Vin ( focus solely on French wines and seek out artisan growers who make their own wine in small quantities.  All their producers work sustainably, many are organic, some biodynamic and their passion for their products shines through. 

Everyone present had their own favourites but I must mention Domaine Laurens who have a great way with naming: one of their reds translates as ‘like a Sunday under a cherry tree’!

It’s hard to choose just one or two from the bottles we tasted, but a white and a red from the same producer, stood out for me.  Domaine La Toupie is based close to the village of Maury in the foothills of the Pyrennees and uses Macabeu, better known in Spain than France (Viura, the grape of white Rioja, is the same variety), to make a delicious, mouth-filling, tangy, peachy food-friendly white (‘Solo’, £14.95).

La Toupie’s red, Quatuor, (£17.50) is a blend of 4 varieties well-known in this area: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvedre.  A soft, chunky wine (15% alcohol, but well-balanced, so there’s no alcoholic ‘burn’) with great complexity and flavours of ripe black fruit, cassis and lovely cinnamon spice from the subtle oak ageing.  The 2017 that we tasted, although delicious now, would certainly benefit from a couple more years in bottle.

It’s difficult to convey how good it was to get back to the Tasting Circle after all this time and the wines from Joie de Vin and Tim’s presentation made us all realise just how much we had missed.