Tag Archives: Wine

The 2018 Harvest

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harvest 2017A few weeks ago, I blogged about the record high summer temperatures across much of Europe and how these might lead to the same problems growers experienced in the heatwave year of 2003.  Then, many wines tasted ‘cooked’ and lacked freshness and most were past their best much sooner than expected.  But, the reports I’ve seen recently suggest that my worries may have been misplaced.  In fact, the word is that, so far, the grapes harvested this year have shown excellent levels of ripeness and volumes are up on 2017.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there have been no challenges during the growing season; many have noted that, as the heat was accompanied by humidity, vine diseases, notably mildew which attacks both leaves and berries, have been a major problem.  And harvesting has had to be careful and painstaking as pickers are often finding healthy grapes and shrivelled, dried out berries in the same bunches.

But the 2018 harvest is only part way through and, where later ripening varieties are involved, things are still uncertain.  Take Bordeaux as an example: there, the white grapes were all gathered in by the end of August and are now safely in the fermentation tanks.  Now, thoughts are turning to the Merlot, which, in most places will be reaching full ripeness.  I’ve not heard that the storms that affected the UK last week had an impact on Bordeaux to any great extent and, hopefully, that variety will be soon be picked and it, too, will no longer be subject to the vagaries of our autumn weather.

More problematic is the Cabernet Sauvignon which some growers are insisting needs at least another three weeks of dry, warm weather to fully ripen.  Will they get it?  There will certainly be nervous eyes looking at the skies for rain clouds.  The decision of when to pick is such a crucial one; too early means the grapes are short of peak ripeness and the wine will taste thin and green but waiting may risk rain, rot and a ruined crop.

The challenges of being a winemaker!

 

 

 

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An Elegant Aussie Shiraz

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‘When you find a wine you like, keep buying it’ sounds like good advice.  But things aren’t always as simple as that.  Weather variations might mean that next year’s bottle will taste very different to this year’s.  Also, winemakers move on and their replacement may have other ideas and, over time, styles and fashions change.  And, of course, so might your own taste as you sample more widely.  As a result, the wine you loved a few years ago may not be the wine you want to buy now.

But there’s another reason for abandoning an old favourite:

Langi Ghiran Shiraz

I first tasted Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz more than 20 years ago and loved it instantly.  Although a big, concentrated wine, it was far more elegant than any other Australian Shiraz I had ever tasted.  And, for a good reason: rather than coming from the Barossa or one of the other warm regions noted for the grape, this was from the much cooler, high altitude Grampians region of Western Victoria.  The lower temperatures meant that the grapes ripened slowly, picking up more flavours than would otherwise have been the case, and could be picked at lower potential alcohol levels, resulting in the style I was so taken with.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person who found Langi Ghiran attractive and, over the years, the price has consequently gone through the roof.  A bottle that could once be (almost) every day drinking is now £50 plus – a figure I only stretch to for very, very special occasions.  But, thanks to the Wine Society, I can still enjoy a Shiraz made by Langi Ghiran: the Society’s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz (the 2014 vintage is currently available for £16) is made by the same producer and, whether it is made from younger vines or bought-in grapes, I don’t know.  But it does give much of the taste and style of the estate wine – at an affordable price.

We recently opened a bottle of the 2012 vintage that had been sitting on a rack under our stairs for a number of years and it was quite delicious with some venison steaks marinaded in sugar and orange juice and with a gin and juniper berry sauce.  It was, however, only just ready to drink (after several hours decanting) so, if you buy the 2014, as I will, do leave it for a couple of years at least before you enjoy an outstanding wine and a real bargain.

 

A Spicy Choice

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Kedgeree was first introduced to the UK from India in Victorian times by those returning from that country after military or diplomatic service.  Then, it was mainly eaten as a breakfast dish in some of our large country houses.  Today, it is more likely to be seen as a lunch or light supper dish – and that’s when my wife and I enjoy it.  But how do you find a wine to pair with a mixture of smoked haddock, pungent spices like cumin and coriander, the sweetness of sultanas and that simple ingredient that is so often described as a ‘wine killer’: eggs?

Let’s start with the basics.  Although I’m not one for sticking rigidly to the ‘white with fish or poultry, red with red meat’ idea, in this case, the tannins of most red wines are likely to make the spices taste much hotter (and so, out of proportion with the rest of the dish) and I can’t see a rosé – even the most assertive example – standing up to all those strong and powerful flavours.  

So, we’re thinking white wine.  But what sort?  You might have heard ‘oaked with smoked’ and I certainly wouldn’t put you off a nice oaked Chardonnay as a match for the smoked fish, but the sweetness and spices gave me another idea: Gewurztraminer.  The word ‘gewurz’ means ‘spicy’ in German and wines made from this variety often have a slightly spicy edge to them.  It’s a grape that is native to both Germany and France’s Alsace region, although it’s now grown more widely – I’ve tasted some lovely bottles from New Zealand, for example.

Turckheim GewurzBut we had one from the excellent co-operative in the Alsace village of Turckheim on our shelf (Corks of Cotham, £12.99) and the cool, aromatic, slightly off-dry taste went fairly well.  But, as anyone who cooks will know, even if you follow a recipe, dishes don’t turn out tasting exactly the same every time.  Perhaps I was too conservative when adding the spices as this Kedgeree wasn’t nearly as flavoursome as I expected.  As it was, the oaked Chardonnay might have worked better – or an Alsace Pinot Gris or even a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 

Next time I’ll make sure I taste the food before choosing the wine!

 

Crete – for the Adventurous

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If, like me, you’re always looking to be adventurous (with regard to wine, of course!), searching out different tastes and, especially, for unusual grape varieties, a good place to start is surely Greece.   Look back at the blogs I wrote after my wife and I visited the country last October and you’ll read about the delightful reds we tasted made from Xinomavro and the almost unpronounceable Agioritiko.  And then there were the stunning, crisp Assyrtiko whites, the best of which come from the spectacular volcanic island of Santorini.  But, it’s another of the Greek islands, Crete, that has, perhaps, an even wider range of native local grapes. 

We went there – although that was a few years back – and found that almost every restaurant offered bottles made from Vilana, Vidiano, Mandilari, Liatiko or Kotsifali – the first 2 local white varieties, the others red.  All provided pleasant drinking, especially when teamed with the local food, although I might have been favourably influenced by the local scenery and ambiance, too!  But I did note down a couple of names that I thought stood out from the rest and were worth seeking out back in the UK, although it has taken me until recently to follow up on my good intention.

Vidiano

I found Douloufakis’ Dafnios Vidiano in Maltby & Greek (£14.50), although, for my American readers, the label shows that it is also imported by Diamond Importers of Chicago.  A lovely rich and food-friendly unoaked white with delicate orange and apricot nose and palate – a little like a good Viognier.

And we still have a bottle of the same producer’s Liatiko red (also Maltby & Greek, £16) on our wine rack.  I wonder if that will show as well on a cool, wet winter day in the UK as it did on a lovely warm evening in Crete?  Glancing out of my window, we may not have long to wait before finding out.  Watch this space and I’ll let you know.

 

Priorat Re-vitalised

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Most wine drinkers will be familiar with the name ‘Cava’ although, according to a recent survey, surprisingly few who bought it knew where it came from.  The correct answer is, of course, Catalonia, but this region in the north-east of Spain has far more than just the popular sparkling wine to offer.  I’m thinking, in particular, of the marvellous, intense red wines from the remote hills of Priorat. 

Vines were first planted there by Carthusian monks in 12th century and wine has been made there ever since.  But, by the 1980s, Priorat’s vineyards were regularly being abandoned and the area was in danger of disappearing from the wine map.  It was so steep and the stony land so difficult to work that most of the traditional farmers found winemaking there uneconomic and the younger generation were lured towards jobs in the larger towns or the tourist resorts along the coast. 

But a small group, led by Rene Barbier, were moving in the opposite direction.  They recognised the potential in the very old bush vines of Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) and in the unusual llicorella soil, comprised of decomposed slate and quartz, which reflects the heat and aids the ripening of these late-maturing varieties.  Now, some 30 years later, the area has been re-vitalised and is producing some outstanding wines and, although the most prestigious ones sell for £200 or more, you can find some extremely attractive bottles for a lot less.

PrioratTake Arc de Pedra, available from Majestic, for example (£12.99).  At first sip, you find lovely sweet red fruits but, as it develops in the glass, it reveals raisins, prunes and subtle hints of vanilla and toasted almonds.  As you might expect, this is a big wine (14%) but it is well balanced.  The 2016 vintage that we opened was still showing quite prominent tannins, and although it went well enough with the strong flavours of a venison steak, in truth I probably opened it a couple of years too soon.  But, whether you drink it now or keep it, it would certainly benefit from decanting a couple of hours in advance, a comment that would apply equally to most of the deep, brooding reds from this – happily – rediscovered area.

Wine Lovers Beware!

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Glass almost emptyI have some bad news for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine (or two): a recent study published in The Lancet, the respected international medical journal, found that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.  The previous view that moderate drinking may protect against heart disease remains true but the latest view is that the greater risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs any pluses.

But, before we all reach for a bottle to drown our sorrows, let’s look behind the eye-catching headlines at what the report actually says about the risks:

Taking 100,000 non-drinkers, 914 could expect to develop certain cancers in any one year.  A similar size group who have 1 drink a day causes this figure to rise by just 4 people.  With 2 drinks, it becomes 981 and with 5 drinks a day (which equates to a little more than half a bottle of wine) to 1252.  So, share a bottle of wine with a friend every day and you have just over a 1 in 100 chance of contracting one of these diseases.   If you don’t drink at all, your chance is just under 1 in 100.  In other words, even drinking at the highest level surveyed, you have almost 99 chances in 100 of avoiding these ailments – and ultimately dying of something not alcohol-related!

Of course, nothing in life is completely without risk; just ask my wife, Hilary, who is currently recovering from a broken ankle sustained while she was crossing the road, while completely sober!  You just need to manage that risk which, for those who enjoy a glass of wine involves drinking responsibly and in moderation, avoiding binge drinking or drinking before driving. 

Ignoring sensationalist headlines that really don’t reflect the true findings of this important study may also lower your blood pressure! 

No Bad Wines?

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SL Supermkt 1“You never say anything bad about a wine on your blog” commented a friend recently.  “Does that mean you never open a bottle that was truly awful?”

It’s a good question but, thinking about it, I can’t recall the last really poor wine I tasted.  I have, of course, opened faulty bottles, which isn’t the same thing at all: bottles can be corked or oxidised or display some other characteristic that means that the wine doesn’t taste how the winemaker intended it to taste.  Faulty bottles can occur in any number of ways – bad batches of corks or poor storage, for example – but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor wine; another bottle of the same bought at a different time might be delicious and so it would be unfair to blog about the bad one.

But, back to the question about truly awful wines.  This is a bit more subjective but, taking the standard as one that was so badly made or unpleasant tasting as to be almost undrinkable, I really can’t remember the last time I met a wine like that.  Admittedly, I’ve opened some that had very little character (and so didn’t blog about them as there wasn’t anything interesting to say!), but even those, in the main, were correctly made and not unpleasant to drink, simply rather bland.  Incidentally, some that fall into this category are among the best-selling brands on the UK supermarkets’ shelves!

Things weren’t always as good as this; turn the clock back to when I first started appreciating the wine I was drinking and I often found bottles that were only fit for pouring down the sink.  Maybe such wines are still made but the fact that they almost never reach our shelves is down to the skill of the professional wine buyers who visit growers on behalf of the major supermarkets, high street wine chains or wholesalers.  They are the people who weed out the rubbish and ensure that, although there may be the odd faulty bottle or wine that isn’t to our taste, we rarely open one that is truly awful.