Tag Archives: Wine

Chilling Red Wine?

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brouillyDrink white wine chilled, red wine at room temperature.  Isn’t that the first thing every wine lover is told?  But is it always true?  I’d say it’s not necessarily as simple as that.  To start with, you’re the customer – if you prefer your Chablis warm and your Claret straight from the fridge, why shouldn’t you have it that way?  (Just don’t expect me to spend time drinking with you!)

In the main, I prefer my white wines chilled, although not – as some people serve them – so cold that any taste is frozen out of them.  But, as for red wines, I think we need to look behind the idea of serving at ‘room temperature’.  When this suggestion was made – at least a century ago, as far as I can make out – central heating was rare and most living rooms were, as a result, far cooler than we expect these days.  In fact, they were probably around 18 – 20˚C (64 – 68˚F), an ideal temperature to serve most red wine.  That’s not so now when 22 – 24˚C (71 – 75˚F) is, perhaps, more common.  So, you might argue that you shouldn’t serve red wines at today’s room temperature but slightly chill them instead; I say slightly chill them, not reduce them to a typical white wine temperature.

But there are a few reds that, personally, I would choose to drink even a bit cooler than this – and those are reds that are well suited to the very hot, sunny weather we have enjoyed (or not!) in Bristol for the last couple of weeks or so: light-bodied reds such as Beaujolais, Valpolicella, some Loire reds and some Pinot Noirs can all benefit from a half an hour in the fridge to bring them down to, perhaps, 14 – 16˚ C (57 – 61˚F).  I find the chilling makes them more refreshing without masking the flavours.

But, that’s my view.  If you want to drink your reds at present-day room temperature, then there’s nothing wrong in that; as I said before, you’re the customer and the customer is always right! 

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The Unloved Riesling

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Howard Park RieslingRiesling seems to be one of those ‘love it or hate it’ grape varieties.  I’m generally in the former category but I get the feeling from talking to other wine drinkers I meet that I’m in the minority there.  I know that everyone’s sense of taste is unique to them so, clearly, there will be some who just don’t like the sort of flavours Riesling offers.  But, more frequently, those that tell me they hate Riesling point to the semi-sweet bargain-basement Hocks and Liebfraumilchs you used to find in every supermarket as the reason for their view of the variety.  I have to be careful how I reply as I need to gently point out that those wines rarely contain any Riesling (they’re more likely to be made from Muller-Thurgau).   But, even ignoring that misunderstanding, there are so many different interpretations of Riesling worldwide, it’s hardly fair to say you either love them all or, indeed, hate them all.

In Germany alone you find delicate, dry or just off-dry examples (try something from the Mosel), slightly richer bottlings from further south (the Pfalz, perhaps) as well as the wonderful fine dessert wines with only 7 or 8% alcohol.  Across the Rhine, in Alsace, the dry Rieslings are more full-bodied, regularly with 13% alcohol, or there’s the lovely sweet late-harvest bottles.  All very different from each other but all with the distinct refreshing acidity that is so much Riesling’s hallmark.

But, travel to the cooler regions of the New World – Oregon, Washington State, parts of Australia and New Zealand – and you find a particular local take on the variety:  From Australia, especially, the acidity is often in the form of a lovely lime-flavoured freshness and a bottle we opened recently showed this to perfection: Howard Park’s Riesling from the lesser-known Mount Barker region of Western Australia (Great Western Wine, £12.50).  Here, influenced by cool winds and currents from the southern ocean, Riesling ripens just enough and the result is a delicious white, ideal as an aperitif or to accompany lighter dishes with, perhaps, a gentle Asian fragrance.  

Wines for 4th July

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 I’m pleased to say that, over the past year, Bristol Wine Blog has attracted a whole host of new readers; in fact numbers have more than doubled compared to earlier times.  Welcome to all of you!  Interestingly, most of the newcomers are from the United States and so, as we’re closing in on the 4th of July, I thought I’d give you one Brit’s take on the wines you send over to us, starting with a delicious bottle we opened last night:

Clos du Bois PNClos du Bois Pinot Noir (Majestic, £14.99) had all the lovely silky smoothness I expect from this quality grape along with plenty of red cherry fruit and an attractive smokiness.  And, with only 13.5% alcohol, it wasn’t too heavy and proved really food-friendly with pan fried duck breast strips with a tomato and mushroom sauce.  It also brought back happy memories – it was a wine we used to sell at Harveys when I worked there way back before they closed their Bristol base.

But, sadly, it’s not often I can find such a gem;  although we import more wine from the USA than from any other country except Australia, the vast majority is simple stuff from the major mass-market brands (Barefoot, Echo Falls and the like) at pretty much bargain basement prices.  Now, clearly those please a lot of people and sell very well so I’m not knocking them, but, let’s be honest, when it comes to true wine lovers, there really isn’t much in these bottles to get excited about – or to blog about.

Yet, I know the US produces some wonderful wines.  The problem is that the choice of good ones here is quite limited and the prices sky high: typically £25 to £60 – way above what most UK customers are prepared to pay.  I’d just love to find something attractive at a more affordable ticket, but I struggle.

So, please, dear American readers (and others!): think about the wines you enjoy in your own home or in your favourite local restaurant.  Are any of these from US producers who would like to sell something interesting and appealing in the UK and can get it on the shelves here around £15 to £20?  If so, then do urge them to take the plunge.  There are a lot of UK wine lovers who would happily pay that sort of money and so celebrate the 4th of July with an appropriate bottle!

 

 

Jurançon: Sweet or Dry

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Many years ago, in my early days of studying wine (rather than just drinking it), one of the bottles our tutor brought in for us to taste was a delightful sweet wine that none of us had ever heard of before.  It was called Jurançon and it resulted in an immediate ‘Wow!’ from the whole class.  I’ve been buying it ever since – when I can find it, that is, because production is not large and much of it is drunk locally, which, in this case, is in the far south-west corner of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

I couldn’t recommend one producer over another – they all have their own slightly different styles – but I haven’t had a bad bottle yet, so, if you enjoy dessert wine and see Jurançon, then I’d suggest you give it a try.

As I got to know these wines better, I realised that, apart from the lovely sweet bottles, there was also a dry equivalent: Jurançon Sec – if it doesn’t have ‘sec’ on the label it will be sweet.  Both are made from a blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, with some Courbu and Camaralet added to some of the dry versions.  All are local grape varieties; none, as far as I know, is grown outside the region, so those in search of membership of the ‘100 Club’ should take note!

Jurancon SecAs with the sweet versions, Jurançon Sec from most producers is worth buying although we particularly enjoyed Domaine Montesquiou’s Cuvade Préciouse (Vine Trail, £13) recently.  Its tangy flavours of citrus and herbs and just a hint of spicy smokiness from the gentle oak ageing reminded me of a nice white Burgundy – there were certainly shades of the same flavours in an Auxey-Duresses we had in a restaurant a few days later; the only difference: excluding the inevitable restaurant mark-up, the Jurançon would be about half the price!

Cup and Rings

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Cup and Rings AlbarinoIt wasn’t just the label that made me buy this wine, although I was so intrigued by both its design and the name – The Cup & Rings (available from Majestic, £9.99) – that I had to pick it up.  I suppose that counts as a victory for the marketing team!  But, when I looked more closely, I realised this was a wine I should try. 

The label showed it was made from one of Spain’s best native grape varieties for white wines, Albariño, grown in the ideal cool climate of Galicia in the far north-western region of the country.  Then there were the words ‘Sobre lias’; this is a winemaking technique that involves leaving the wine on the dead yeast cells (the ‘lees’ in English, ‘lias’ in Spanish) for a period of time after the fermentation has finished.  The aim of this is to add a certain depth of flavour to the wine and often to create an attractive savoury character.  In this case, the period of ageing on the lees was 2 full years – longer than I’d normally expect, but clearly promising a wine with some complexity.

The winemaker was obviously pleased with his creation as there was his signature on the label: Norrel Robertson is a Master of Wine who has been making wine in Spain since 2003, although he is a Scot by birth, hence his local nickname which translates as the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

On opening the bottle, the wine was as good as I’d hoped for: delightfully refreshing, rich and complex with a lovely floral character and ripe pear flavours – rather than the stone fruits I often associate with Albariño.  But there was also an almost salty tang about it – not surprising, I suppose, given how close to the sea many of the vineyards are in this part of the world.

And the name ‘Cup and Rings’?  It is, apparently, an ancient Celtic symbol found in prehistoric rock carvings across Europe, especially in both Galicia and Scotland.  So, very appropriate for a Scot working in Galicia but also a great way to encourage curious customers like me to buy!

 

A Turkish Delight!

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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!

 

 

 

It’s All in the Glass!

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Glasses

I visited a friend recently and, not surprisingly, before long he offered me some wine – but not one glass, he handed me two – and, of course, without giving me any hints as to what I might be tasting.  It was clear I was expected to comment; I present him with similar challenges on occasions. 

But why 2 glasses?  There must be some connection.  I tasted both and, sure enough, there was a lot in common between them, but one was clearly softer and richer, whereas the other was more linear and tannic.  I started thinking out loud as a way of ‘fishing’ for clues: “Both from the same region?” “Yes”.  “Bordeaux?”  “Yes”.  “Same Appellation?”  “Yes”.  I was doing well so far; if the 2 wines were from the same area, then they must either come from 2 different, but close by, estates or they were from the same estate but from different years.  I talked myself into the 2nd of the options – the softer, richer wine was obviously from a warmer, riper year while the more tannic was younger, needed time or was perhaps from a less good year.

My friend smiled and shook his head.  “Look at the glasses”.  Yes, the 2 wines were in slightly different shaped glasses, but I had assumed that was simply a way of distinguishing one from the other.  “It’s the same wine” said my friend producing the bottle: a nice Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc.  I was astonished.

My friend had been to a tasting organised by Riedel glassware some time previously and had been caught by the same ‘trick’.  I knew about their range of glasses – different shapes for different styles of wine, but had always thought it was simply a way to sell more glasses!  It seems not!  Each glass is designed to deliver the wine into your mouth in such a way as to trigger the best taste buds for the style; use the wrong glass and you miss the best sensations.

I tried a similar experiment at home – not using Riedel glasses, just 2 slightly different shapes – and got a similar result: the glass on the left in the picture (from Dartington Glass in Devon) gave my chosen wine a much fruiter, fresher taste than the other.

Try the same test yourself (any glasses will do so long as they are different shapes) and, next time you entertain a wine loving friend, why not test them too?