Tag Archives: Wine

Lebanon’s Heroic Wines

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musar 4 (2)The wine world has many stories of triumph over adversity yet, surely, the most remarkable is that of Chateau Musar.  Musar’s vineyards are in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and its winery just outside Beirut, a couple of hours drive away over the mountains.  As a result, more than half of the vintages since 1975 have been made in a war zone or, at least, with the threat of war close by.  So, it is a truly heroic achievement that, in all that time, only 1 year has been missed.

And, when you taste the wines, as I did recently with the Bristol Tasting Circle, this desire to survive comes through.  Few of Musar’s wines are designed for drinking young.  The reds we tasted went as far back as 1996, the whites to 1991 and even the rosés – elsewhere often made for drinking within a year or so of the vintage – included a bottle from 2004.

The key to this longevity is a mixture of the growing conditions and the winemaking.  Although the Bekaa Valley sits at a warm latitude of 34˚N, its altitude – over 1000m (3000ft) above sea level – gives cool nights which help to retain the acidity in the organically-grown grapes – a vital element in making these full-bodied wines so well balanced. 

In the winery, everything is done with minimal intervention: indigenous yeasts, little added sulphur, no fining or filtering; simply harvest clean, ripe grapes and then let the natural processes do the rest.

The reds we tasted – interestingly before the whites – were mainly based around southern French varieties, particularly Cinsault and Carignan with a little Cabernet Sauvignon added, while the distinctive, spicy and honeyed dry whites were made from 2 local specialities, Obaideh and Merwah (although Jancis Robinson MW suggests that they may really be Chardonnay and Semillon, respectively).

This was a fascinating tasting of some unique and heroic wines.  All are available from local independent wine merchant ‘The Little Tipple’, email norman@littletipple.co.uk for details and prices.

 

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Spain’s Unloved Hills

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I’ve mentioned before in Bristol Wine Blog how much Spain has improved the quality and diversity of its wine over the last couple of decades.  Yet, I regularly meet wine lovers who, with the likely exception of Rioja, have still not caught up with the change and continue to think of Spain as just producing simple, mass market wines. 

And, I’m guessing the one region of Spain that, they believe, this comment most applies to is the hills in the south-east of the country overlooking the Mediterranean.  It’s an area that, in the past, was the source of much cheap ‘plonk’ sold to undemanding tourists holidaying along the beaches of the Costas and, no doubt, these bottles still exist.  But, look a little more carefully and there are some delicious wines – mainly reds – produced from old vineyards of Garnacha (also known as Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvedre) and the very local Bobal.  DO names (Spain’s equivalent to France’s AC) including Jumilla, Yecla and Utiel Requena are among those to seek out.

unde vinumUnde Vinum (Waitrose, £13.99), a Bobal from the last named DO is a typical example of all that’s best from this area.  Soft and harmonious and full of attractive black fruit flavours, there was also a lovely freshness about the wine reflecting, perhaps, the fact that the grapes were from vineyards some 800m (2500ft) above sea level; the altitude nicely offsetting the extreme summer heat often found in this area.

Interestingly, the wine was aged in a mixture of barrels and tinajas (clay pots – see below on the right of the cellar). 

amphorae at frederic magnienI saw these pots in use in Burgundy a couple of years ago where they were thought to age the wine more gently and preserve the fruit flavours.  They’re certainly not a cheap option and their use in Unde Vinum shows the sort of wine the producers of this wine, and others in this still unloved part of Spain, are aiming for.

Terroir in Chile?

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Talk about wine to anyone in France and, before long, you will hear the word ‘terroir’.  The local climate, soil, slope of the land and grape variety or varieties planted all contribute to the terroir and some include local traditions and winemaking in the mix, too.  In that broader sense, terroir is what makes one wine different from another. 

Given that, it’s surprising that you rarely hear the word used by growers outside France.  They’re aware of it, of course – anyone who has ever tried to grow anything, either professionally or for fun, knows that certain plants grow in certain places and not in others – they just don’t seem to use the word.

So, I was interested when, a few years back, the Chilean producer Undurraga introduced a range of wines under the ‘Terroir Hunter’ name.  Was this simply a bit of marketing or was there something behind the name?  The first example I tried – a Grenache blend, I think – showed clearly that these were quality wines and I’ve looked out for them ever since.

terroir cab fThe latest is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc with 15% Merlot (Wine Society, £14.95) from the Catemito vineyard described on the back label as being on shallow, sandy clay soil on an alluvial terrace overlooking the Maipo River.  The terroir concept continues by noting that the local climate is temperate with cool breezes encouraging the slow ripening of the grapes. 

And the taste?  A lovely herby, green pepper nose greets you (my wife thought ‘spearmint’) followed on the palate with rich, dark blackberry and chocolate flavours.  There are still some well-integrated tannins there even though the wine is already more than 5 years old and a super, long, dry finish.  One slight reservation: the 14% alcohol shows through a bit making the wine a little ‘hot’ but, with the right food – red meat, game, mushrooms, aubergines or tasty hard cheeses all spring to mind – and decanting in advance to clear the sediment, this is a real winner and a credit to the use of the term ‘terroir’.

 

Wine and Sharing

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May I begin by wishing all my readers a Happy and Peaceful New Year and, in this, my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2019, I’d like to share with you a brief summary of some of the delicious wines my wife and I enjoyed over the holiday period. 

Greek pair 

Many were old favourites including 2 Greek wines I’ve mentioned before in this Blog: Domaine Sigalas’ Assyrtiko/Athiri blend from Santorini (£20.40) is wonderfully rich and mouth-filling yet still crisp and citrusy and with a clean, long, long finish – undoubtedly one of our favourite whites – while the lovely fresh and elegant, black-fruited Alpha Estate ‘Turtles’ Syrah from the northern, Florina, region (£16.70) fills a similar place for us among the reds.  Both are available on-line from Greek Specialist, Maltby & Greek.

Pieropan Calvarino

I’ve also praised Pieropan’s range of Soaves previously but this was the first time I’d tasted their single vineyard, Calvarino, bottling (Wine Society, £18).  Less full-bodied than their superb ‘La Rocca’, this is still light years away from any standard Soave.  Quite restrained but with an attractive herbiness and, again, a seriously long finish.

Borthwick PG 

A new name to me is the New Zealand producer, Paddy Borthwick.  His Pinot Gris (Grape and Grind, £14.50) is just off-dry and with attractive tropical fruit flavours; definitely a grower to look out for.

Moulin a Vent

And finally, for lovers of reds, a stand-out Beaujolais: not in the light and quaffable style but much deeper and more intense.  Louis Boillot’s Moulin-a-Vent (Wine Society, £15.50) could easily be mistaken for a good village Burgundy – quite savoury and with earthy black fruit flavours; very much a food wine and one to be savoured.

So, in welcoming the New Year, I’d like to think that wine and sharing might help the world become a calmer and more tolerant place in 2019 than it seems to have been of late.

2018: Looking Back

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Around this time last year, a friend asked me “How many different wines do you drink in a year?”  I had to confess that I had no idea.  But, the question intrigued me and so, geek that I am, I decided to try and count them in 2018!  Amazingly, I persevered and, with just a few days left of the year, the total has just passed …..550!

Mathematicians among you will have calculated instantly that that’s about 1½ wines a day so, before anyone thinks I’ve spent the entire year in a permanent drunken stupor, I should say that the majority of the 550 have been at tastings where it’s been sniff, slurp, spit, scribble a quick note and on to the next wine – very little actually swallowed.

Not satisfied with mere numbers, I can also report that I’ve tasted wines from 23 different countries and from at least 99 different grape varieties – ranging alphabetically from agioritiko to zweigelt (Greek and Austrian reds, respectively).  I say ‘at least’ 99 because I only counted the major component of any blend and there were a couple of wines that I couldn’t discover which grape was involved.

The obvious next question must be ‘which was your favourite?’ and that, I’m afraid, is the hardest of all to answer – I’ve been lucky enough to taste so many truly delicious wines.  But I can say which was the most memorable:

Colares Branco 1969On a damp, chilly autumn day, my wife and I went to an event at Bristol’s Underfall Yard where an assortment of Portuguese products had been brought from Porto to the UK carried by a century-old sailing boat, the Bessie-Ellen.  Among the cargo was a few bottles of Adega Viúva Gomes’ Collares Reserva Branco 1969.  This incredible 49 year old wine is difficult to describe; perhaps closest would be to say it was in the style of a white port or madeira (even though it was not fortified as they would be) – deep golden colour, tangy and nutty and a finish that lasted for ever.  Remarkably, it was still full of life – and easily the most memorable wine of my busy, fruitful year.  (www.xistowines.co.uk may have some left, about £45)

One for the Holiday Table

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“You’ve not blogged about wines to drink at Christmas” a friend said to me recently in an accusatory tone.  He was someone whose knowledge made him more than capable of deciding what do drink for himself – and I told him so.  “Yes, but there will be some people who would welcome some tips” he replied.  OK, he’s right, but, at the moment, every media site I look at seems to have the same idea, so there’s no shortage of advice.  And, of course, as I’ve said many times before, everyone’s taste is different, unique to them, so how useful is that advice really?

Having said that, I did Blog on the subject way back in December 2016 and, for those who are interested, those posts are still available in my archives.  Most of the wines I mentioned then are also still available and good (although the vintages and, particularly, the prices will have changed). 

So, with apologies to my friend and to others who would have liked an update, I’m going to Blog instead about a delicious white I opened last week – one that would certainly be good enough to grace any table over the holiday period:

Chilean ChardEmiliana’s Signos de Origen from Chile is a real bargain at £12.50 from Bristol independent wine merchant, Grape and Grind.  Lovely peach and pink grapefruit aromas greet you on first sniff and those flavours follow through onto the palate.  Although 14%, there is no heat to this wine, just a full, rich and flavoursome mouthful from the unusual grape blend of Chardonnay supported by the 3 white Rhône varieties Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.  I like the clean freshness of the wine, a result, no doubt, of the cool Pacific influences on the Casablanca Valley where La Vinilla vineyard lies.

We enjoyed it with some roast salmon with spiced sweet potato wedges but I can see it going equally well with other fish, soft cheeses and – dare I say it – even with turkey!