Tag Archives: Wine Society

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.

 

 

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.

 

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 Century Wine Club

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One of my fellow wine bloggers (appetiteforwine.wordpress.com) wrote recently about his aim to become a member of the ‘Century Wine Club’, open to anyone who could show that they had tasted at least 100 different grape varieties.  I think I might qualify as I’m always looking for different and unusual wines but I haven’t kept detailed notes going back far enough to prove it.

But I did open a bottle the other day that, if he can find it, will almost certainly get Mr Appetite for Wine (sorry I don’t know him by any other name) one step closer: the Italian producer Cà dei Frati makes their wine I Frati (Wine Society, £12.50) from the grape Turbiana.

2017-01-28-11-15-18Grown on the southern shores of the beautiful Lake Garda and labelled as DOC Lugana, this little-known variety yields a rich, floral and complex white, full of quite subtle tropic fruit flavours; a wine that would be ideal with fish or chicken in a creamy sauce.  Unusually, it is matured in barrels of acacia wood – not oak – although there is no hint of any wood ageing on the nose or palate.

Turbiana was once thought to be Trebbiano, Italy’s most widely planted white grape variety.  This link surprised me as I know of no wine from that grape that has the richness of flavour that I Frati shows.   Research for Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes” confirmed my doubts – indeed, it showed that there are at least 6 different varieties all using the name Trebbiano.   No wonder it apparently produced such a range of different styles!

Trebbiano di Lugana is still sometimes used as a synonym for Turbiana although it now appears that it may be more closely related to Verdicchio – widely grown on Italy’s Adriatic coast and producing some delicious, fresh, lemony whites – than to any of the more common Trebbianos.

I hope my fellow blogger can find a bottle; it will get him 1 closer to his target in a really delicious way.  He should, however, be careful in lifting it – the bottle weighs in at a ridiculous 770 grams empty!  The contents are good enough to speak for themself without such excesses.

Finally, a word of thanks to an eagle-eyed reader who spotted a mistake in a recent blog: my ‘Hidden Corners of Spain’ wine course at Stoke Lodge will be on Saturday 4th March, not the 7th as I said previously.  A few places are still available and you can book via www.bristolcourses.com or by phone to 0117 903 8844.

Oz Chardonnay’s New Look

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Not so long ago, opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay would have inevitably meant a wine with lots of sweet tropical fruit (pineapples, melons, lychees and the like), a strong oaky taste and plenty of heat and power deriving from a likely alcohol content of 14% or sometimes even more.  These wines, along with robust, chunky Shiraz- and Cabernet-based reds, were the mainstay of Australia’s great success over here.  You still find them in every supermarket, mainly sold under a famous brand name and often benefitting from a discount or special offer price.  But, they weren’t (and aren’t) to everyone’s taste.  In fact, I (and quite a number of my good friends) avoid them completely.  For us, they are just too big and dominating to be enjoyable.

Which is why you might be surprised to find me blogging about opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay.  But this one was different! 

hay-shed-hill-oz-chardHay Shed Hill Chardonnay (Wine Society, £14.50) has just 13% alcohol, delicate, subtle oaking and the sort of delightful citrus and green pear aromas and flavours that you’d normally associate with a good Chablis.  So what is going on?

To start with, it’s from Margaret River in Western Australia, an area far from the South-East and its battle for high volume sales.  The vineyards for this wine are situated high on a gravel ridge in the Wilyabrup Valley, quite close to the sea, so benefitting from cooling Ocean currents.  This ensures that the grapes ripen more slowly and retain enough acidity to keep the wines refreshing.  And, of course, skilled winemaking from owner, Michael Kerrigan, formerly of Madfish and Howard Park.

But this is not just one exception to the normal pattern; there’s another Margaret River Chardonnay sitting on our wine rack with just 12½% alcohol.  It seems like a whole new world awaits. 

Re-thinking Greek Wine

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Greece has been making wine since ancient times.  Remains of grapes and winemaking equipment dating back to at least 2000BC have been found.  And, through trade, Greece had an enormous influence on the early development of wine right across southern Europe.  Yet, in more recent times, the reputation of Greek wines has dipped dramatically.  Even today, mention the country’s wine to some and the reply will be ‘retsina’, often with some derogatory comment attached.

That’s not my experience at all.  There are some excellent Greek wines around and, as often happens in places with a long wine heritage, you can find a vast array of distinctively flavoured native grape varieties, some perfectly adjusted to conditions in just one small area of the country.

Take the white grape variety Assyrtiko (“ass-seer-tick-o”) grown on the island of Santorini, for example.  Santorini is one of the windiest islands in the Mediterranean.  Training the vines along wires would be impossible; the whole thing – vines, posts, wires, the lot – would simply blow over; even growing as a bush doesn’t work in many parts.  Instead, the vine has to be knotted into a basket shape, kept close to the ground to protect the grapes from the winds (see picture below).  Few grape varieties would tolerate such treatment, but Assyrtiko grows happily there.santorini-vines

Fortunately, in the right hands, it also makes delicious wine.  Hatzidakis’ bottling (Grape and Grind, £12.99, Wine Society, £13.50) is crisp and fresh, quite citrusy but with a little weight behind it, too.  We found the flavours developed nicely after a while in the glass; my wife suggested that decanting might help – I think she was right. 

And that’s what you find with these lesser-known grapes – they give you all sorts of surprises.  You won’t like them all, but I always think they’re worth trying once and Assyrtiko, in particular, really should be on every wine lover’s list.  

Valpolicella: So Misunderstood

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valpolicellaSay the name ‘Valpolicella’ to many wine lovers and you’re likely to hear a fairly negative reaction.  I take a different view: Yes, there’s a glut of pretty ordinary examples among the bargain basement offerings on supermarket shelves and these have caused Valpolicella’s reputation to suffer in recent years.  But, leave those alone (and pay a few £s more) and you’ll find some delightful, fresh and deliciously fruity reds that are ideal for drinking on their own or with, for example, a seared tuna steak.

My suggested food match is a key to what you should expect from this red wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy: it’s a delicate red, not heavy or chunky but light-bodied, refreshing and easy drinking.  You can even chill it for a summer picnic.  One of the best producers is Allegrini whose wines bring out all the lovely bitter black cherry flavours that are so typical of a good Valpolicella (available from Bristol’s Grape & Grind, £12.50 or the Wine Society, £10.95).  This wine is now available under screw cap after Allegrini fought a long battle with the regional authorities who were insisting on cork closures.

Just as you need to take care to avoid poor examples of Valpolicella, there are a number of very different wines with similar names:  Amarone della Valpolicella is made in the same region, but using partially dried grapes to give a much fuller, richer and robust wine, while if you see the word ‘Ripasso’ on the label alongside Valpolicella, this is a kind of halfway house between the two – but still much bigger in style than a simple example.  And finally, Recioto della Valpolicella is a sweet wine.  All these can be delicious, but check the label carefully to see you’re buying the style you want – and, above all, avoid the ultra-cheapies that have so damaged the reputation of these attractive, but misunderstood wines.