Well the party season is upon us and it's time to start thinking about bubbles. Now there are plenty of cheaper and excellent alternatives, like Prosecco for example, but for many people, tough times or not, bubbles means Champagne. However, even if you're determined to stick to Champagne for those parties and special occasions, there are still plenty of interesting alternatives to the big and famous brands that account for the vast majority of the sales. Let's have a look...
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Whilst there, I soon realised that regardless of the fact that I'd come out for a bottle of Italian Passito and even though Italian wine was clearly one of their specialities, their real niche is German Riesling from small independent domaines. More specifically they had a great line-up of Riesling Trocken. Riesling what? Well, before looking at the specific wines I took away with me, let's have a quick look at the different styles of German wine...
For a start the whole conversation here is about quality German wine. We're not talking about supermarket bottom shelf hopelessly cheap branded wine, Liebfraümilch, Blue Nun or Black Tower - we're talking about superb wine and in particular Riesling. The same applies to other varieties - Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Silvaner for example - but we'll confine our discussion
Monday, 17 October 2011
I'm currently running an Italian wine course that tours the country over six weeks. Sourcing the wines for the course is a fun task, but for some wines an extremely tricky one. For things like Chianti and Barolo you're fairly spoiled for choice in the London market, leaving me a different problem of which example to go for. However, trying to find some of the rarer wines I wanted for the course (that are classic styles within their own regions of Italy, but don't travel much), was considerably harder. The toughest job of all was getting the passitos I needed, which are wines
Monday, 10 October 2011
Monday, 12 September 2011
As you can see from my rather fetching hand-drawn map, when travelling south through Burgundy, the Maĉonnais is the last wine zone you get to (before the vineyards merge seamlessly into Beaujolais). There's plenty of Maĉon Rouge, usually from Gamay (the same grape variety as Beaujolais) and a fair amount of Bourgogne Rouge, made from Pinot Noir, but overwhelmingly it's white wine country here, with white Burgundy from Chardonnay (as usual), made in a wide range of qualities and price points.
Up to about ten years ago, the Maĉonnais was very much the poor relation of the other Burgundian sub-regions. In recent years however there have been huge improvements in both vineyard and winery, resulting in the Maĉonnais being the most exciting hunting ground in Burgundy for high quality white wines at a good price.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Now they are rare, but some of them are very good indeed. The best reds are made from the local Gaglioppo (yet another interesting and obscure Italian variety), which by reputation reaches its heights in the small appellation of Cirò. The other appellation that apparently makes good wines from Gaglioppo is Savuto, but it's so rare you're unlikely to ever see a bottle. Finally right in the tippy-toe in the town of Bianco they make some superb white wines from
Friday, 29 July 2011
In Switzerland, the production is much smaller still than Austria and the wines are even more obscure. The key region for quality is
Friday, 22 July 2011
Friday, 17 June 2011
Whatever name it goes by, it's certainly not shy and demurring. No Pinot Noir this. It's got loads of
Thursday, 16 June 2011
But prior to Argentina making this variety its own, it originally came from Bordeaux and South-West France. In Bordeaux it used to be in the vineyards a lot more than it is now, but it was very troublesome in the vineyard and the role it played in the Bordeaux blend (adding voluptuousness and weight to the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon) has been almost entirely replaced by Merlot. It's still in some of the satellites of Bordeaux, as they're called, which are the lesser outlying appellations (like Bourg and Blaye) and there's a fair bit over the department border in the Dordogne, where they make Bordeaux lookalikes in Bergerac, often with more Malbec than Merlot.
However, the one area in France where it is the star player rather than a bit-part support act is in the appellation
Monday, 6 June 2011
Being fairly remote, the region has maintained it's own wine traditions and varieties, which take you into an ancient vinous world. There are five principle varieties of the region; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (from Burgundy but also cultivated in the Jura for centuries), Trousseau (a bit like a lighter version of Pinot Noir), Poulsard (making light red, pink and orange wines) and their signature white variety, Savignin. The last three are local varieties not really found outside the region.
The appellation Côtes du Jura covers all of the wine region and contains a couple of other sub-appellations, the most famous of which being Arbois. Both make wines in all colours from any of the main varieties. What's really interesting though, is that the appellations also make a couple of odd-ball wines - Vin Jaune and Vin de Paille. Vin Jaune comes from either of the main appellations or from the smaller Château-Chalon, which specialises in this ancient and slightly bizarre style. It's the Jura's answer to Sherry, with wines aged in barrels for over six years under a thin covering of yeast, called the voile (meaning the veil), which is similar to the flor covering in Sherry. This gives extremely complex flavours to the wine and as the wine is made in an oxidative way, it is very stable and can last in bottle for donkey's years.
The other speciality wine made in the Jura is Vin de Paille (straw wine), which is sweet wine made from grapes that have been concentrated by drying them on straw mats (though these days they're more likely to be dried hanging up). Unlike Vin Jaune this isn't unique to the Jura; it's a style used in other areas of France, all over Italy (most famously in Vin Santo for sweet wines and in Amarone for dry red wines), in Germany and Austria (where it's called Stohwein) and indeed anywhere where there are quality conscious producers wanting to have a go. In the Jura it's made with all three of their unique varieties; Poulsard, Trousseau and Savagnin, along with Chardonnay. The wine I had the other day was a bottle of 2002 Arbois Vin de Paille from the producer Jacques Puffeney. It was absolutely superb. Very complex, rich, dark nutty flavours that just went on and on. You'd really want it with some Christmas pudding or something else dark and rich that could stand up to it. Alternatively it makes a lovely digestif, just on it's own instead of a pudding at the end of the meal, which is how we had it. A real winner.
So if you are heading through the Jura region, do stop off and pick up some odd looking bottles; you're unlikely to find them anywhere else and it's very rewarding to explore these lesser-known delights.
Monday, 30 May 2011
The first wine was from Alsace, a region chiefly known for its outstanding white wines from the designated 'noble' varieties Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. However, the region also grows one red variety amongst all the white, which is Pinot Noir. Now to be honest most of these Pinots are very light in colour and a bit thin in flavour - fine slightly chilled with a simple lunch but nothing to bother sticking in your boot to take home and certainly nothing to challenge Burgundy. However, the quality has been creeping up in recent years and certain producers are now making a newer style of Pinots that are nothing like the traditional light lunchtime quaffers; they are generally fairly full, rich and oak aged, often similar in style to ones across the border in Germany. Some are very good indeed.
The one we tried
Monday, 16 May 2011
The event started with what was announced as "the wine trade's first ever question time". It was a bit like Question Time I suppose, with a panel of German Wine experts fielding questions from the audience on their specialist subject. Whether or not it was the first event of its kind I don't know - I doubt it - but it was a good format that bravely tackled the problems that blight German wines. A few stats that were announced during the Q&A succinctly highlight what these problems are:
- The average retail price for a bottle of wine
Thursday, 7 April 2011
There were lots of stand out wines, but I'll just focus on a few that caught my attention...
Starting with the whites, we kicked off with a Muscadet, which comes from the mouth of the Loire on the Atlantic coast of France (as you can see from my rather fetching hand-drawn map). The name of the wine simply reflects the grape variety it's made from (the variety was originally called Melon de Bourgogne, referring to its roots, but nowadays it's more often referred to simply as Muscadet). It's quite a light wine (normally just 12%) that should show crisp acidity, simple freshness and a taste of the sea. A good example is one the great seafood wines of the world - indeed when having a plate of oysters for lunch, Muscadet challenges Chablis and Champagne for the title of best partner.
The top Muscadet usually comes from
Monday, 4 April 2011
This 15p hike follows in the footsteps of similarly large rises each year since 2007, which have taken the duty per bottle from
Friday, 18 March 2011
A starter for ten: what's the highest mountain in Europe? Easy, Mont Blanc right? Wrong! Actually it's the Russian Mount Elbrus, which is the highest peak of the Greater Caucasus, the lofty range running between the Black and Caspian Seas. Towering at 5,642m, Elbrus is a full 800m higher than its Western European rival - so why does everyone think Mont Blanc is the highest European peak then? Good question. To answer it I need the help of one of my rather attractive hand drawn maps...
[caption id="attachment_976" align="alignleft" width="640" caption="From the Balkans to the Causasus"][/caption]
The border of Europe and Asia has always been a bit of a blur; the Ancient Greeks considered the Greater Caucasus range to mark the border, which would put Elbrus on the frontier, but then in the eighteenth century various European Countries decided to consider the border as the lowlands just above the Caucasus, thus putting the mountain range and Mount Elbrus in Asia. However, more recent definitions
Friday, 11 March 2011
I would suggest this is a big mistake and you should turn it upside down! In the bargain end of drinking, most New World wine at around £6 to £9 is very fruit-forward and not overly interesting for my taste. Sure it's well made, but in a straight-ahead fruit juice kind of way. By contrast a lot of wine in that price bracket from Mediterranean places like
Friday, 4 March 2011
At the tasting there were flights of wines from eight different vignerons across the region. There were no poor wines on show and lots of extremely good ones. I was particularly taken by the wines of a couple of producers; Chateau de la Tuilerie from the Costières de Nîmes and Domaine de Cabrol from the little known appellation of Cabardès.
It's a very interesting appellation is Cabardès. It's one of the youngest in France, being official since just 1999. It's also the only appellation in the Country that allows red wine to be made from both Altantic grape varieties (allowing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and the much less known Fer) as well as Mediterranean grape varieties (allowing Grenache and Syrah). So how does this come about and why doesn't it happen more often? Well, it's mainly about soil and climate. Let's quickly look at the differences between the two sides of Southern France with the aid of my own rather fetching hand-drawn map...
[caption id="attachment_944" align="alignleft" width="640" caption="Wine Regions of Southern France"][/caption]
The wine regions from the Atlantic side of the South of France (Bordeaux and South-West France) are typified by gravel soil and humid winds coming from the ocean, plus a fair bit of rain. By contrast the wine regions
Monday, 28 February 2011
Upon arriving home I decided that to do justice to such a freshly caught and regal fish I should really crack open a fairly heavy-weight white Burgundy. So that's what I did, saluting the Sole with a bottle of 2003 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles from the producer Morey-Coffinet. But hang on, I think that calls for
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
The four dregs were (and in one case are) a 2008 St Laurent (lovely spicy Pinot Noir-ish Austrian variety), a terrific and sappy Bourgogne Rouge, a 2005 Crozes-Hermitage and now finally a Barbera d'Asti that I may or may not finish. Wow, a really mixed bag making for a slightly odd supper. However, it's really interesting to have four decent wines in quick succession that are totally different. Perhaps surprisingly the Bourgogne rouge was the best companion to the meal, but in fact none of them was out of place. Now my stoppers can get back in the drawer and start working again tomorrow.
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
What kind of place do you normally end up at if you fancy a simple meal when out in town? If you'd like a basic but decent bottle of wine that's very food friendly and also good value, it's still hard to beat a simple Italian Trattoria. True, a lot of them are now looking like tired dinosaurs compared to the endless noodle bars and fusion eating spots that are starting to grab the 'simple but decent' market away from them. However, there are still lots of great family run Italian places around London and they are one of the few types of eatery where the wine is reasonably priced and well matched to the food. More often than not the lists are all Italian wines and they are normally clustered around £10 to £20 a bottle which is just what you want when keeping it simple. You can typicially get a bottle of something savoury and satisfying for around £15 which is nigh on impossible in most other places. So what wines are a good bet on the list of an Italian Trattoria? Well, there are several candidates depending on exactly what nosh you're going for, but there's one wine that seems to be on every Trattoria list that's often a good choice
Friday, 11 February 2011
The other night I had my last bottle of 2003 Vieilles Vignes Saint-Joseph from Domaine de la Côte Sainte-Epine. I bought it in bond from the Wine Society a couple of years ago for around £13 after duty and VAT.
As with all the other bottles I had in the case, I approached it with some trepidation. Why you may well ask? How scary can a bottle of wine be? Well, it's got a beautiful core of fruit with decent structure, balance, concentration and length - all good. However, the hallmark Syrah minty-lift is so powerful on this wine that I blink and almost cough each time I sniff it. No exaggeration.
It is a lovely wine, but to be honest I'm not sure I'll buy it again as the mint/menthol character is just too strong in this example for me. Oh well! Still, it means I can now carry on with my case of 2005 Jean-Luc Colombo Crozes-Hermitage instead (also a 100% Syrah from the Northern Rhône), which is delicious and drinking perfectly.
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
There are a few common faults in wine; the most frequently encountered is wine that's corked (discussed separately), but amongst other faults there is also wine that's prematurely oxidised, wine that's showing too much volatile acidity (or VA) and what we want to discuss today, wine that is infected by the naturally occurring yeast Brettanomyces, better known as Brett. So how would you recognise a wine that is infected by Brett and how did it happen?
Well, how it happened is easy enough to answer. The Brett yeast
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Sunday, 6 February 2011
The course is split into six sessions, each one covering either white or red wines from one regions. More info on the course can be found here.
Testimonials of the course are found in the comments below...
Thursday, 3 February 2011
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
I love Chianti Classico. It's made from the most quintessential of all Italian grapes, Sangiovese, normally with a dash of the local grape Canaiolo blended in. Basically though, it's all about Sangiovese. It's quite a lean variety, with slightly bitter cherry fruit flavours accompanied by really crisp acidity and rasping tannins that require food. It's very savoury and once you're into a bottle it always seems to get better as your dinner goes on. Don't try and drink it on its own though; not full and generous in the fruit department and with unforgiving tannins it needs meat. Wine bar soft fruit juice this ain't. There are two different bottlings of Chianti Classico - there are the Riservas, which are aged longer in oak, being richer, more tannic and needing more
Monday, 31 January 2011
The one I had the other day was a 2007 from the producer Krutzler and was right on the money (which was about a tenner from the Wine Society). Served on the cool side for a red (straight from the cellar) it was very moreish with a pizza, showing crisp acidity, bright fruit flavours and a lovely light spicy lift. It was a good example of some of the really interesting vinous things going on in Austria these days. This one is no longer available but I'd recommend seeing if you can find another Blaufränkisch at your local merchant and giving it a go.
The wines it's responsible for are from a few towns right down in the bottom of the peninsular, notably Salice Salentino and Copertino, with the Negroamaro typically blended with about 20% Malvasia Nera. These are probably the most typical of all Southern Italian reds, with slightly bitter black cherry fruit flavours, a big personality and a rasping acidity from the Negroamaro, softened slightly by the easier going Malvasia Nera. These wines are generally great value although there are some premium and super-premium examples around. They're really worth trying and make a great midweek red to have with your pasta, especially if dressed with a tomato sauce. Most supermarkets will have at least one example, typically for around £5 to £8 tops.
Last week I had my penultimate bottle of 2004 Copertino Eloquenzia from the excellent producer Masseria Monaci. Fortunately I've got a case of the 2006 for when the 2004 runs out. Both were excellent years across Italy with Puglia being no exception. I've had the wine many times both in the Salento Peninsular and also here at home in London, costing around £6.50 from the Wine Society. It's a lovely, sappy, refreshing and slightly bitter wine sold with a decent amount of bottle age; the 2006 is spot-on now. It's a terrific everyday wine that's perfect with a slightly spicy rich pasta sauce. Yum.
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
We had it with a rich, red wine octopus casserole. Not a dish from Puglia I grant you but from Campania, also in the South of Italy and with exactly the right richness and character to accompany the wine.
Primitivo is so named not because it's primative and wild (although it is) but because it ripens early. It's from Puglia and was recently shown to be genetically equavalent to Zinfandel, the more famous variety that has made its home in California. The clones are quite different however and they are still considered separate varieties in California. Like Zin it's a powerful variety that can make extremely alcoholic wines that can be too heavy and wild if not careful. However, in the right hands and from old vines in a good site Primitivo can make superb wine that needs many years bottle age to lose its ferocity and melt into a harmonious whole.
At 10 years old this bottle from the producer Felline was just perfect, still full of strong black fruit flavour but also showing tobacco, liquorice, undergrowth and a wealth of other secondary flavours. With a great sense of place it was clearly Southern Italian but also highly complex, very well integrated, extremely long and without doubt a great wine. What a shame I only had one.
Well done to Felline indeed.