“Controversial, demanding.”

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No, it’s not another Brexit article but those two adjectives are used by Jancis Robinson to describe the Baga grape; the berry used in Niepoort’s Lagar de Baixo’s 2015 wine from Bairrada in Portugal. It’s ABV is a surprising 11.5%, so another light red.

The grape whilst being thick skinned is prone to rot in the humidity of western Portugal so growers have a dilemma – pick early to avoid rot and have highly tannic and acidic wines or pick later and risk rot in the September rain. But there are some great Baga-based wines. It sounds like the girl in the Longfellow poem “When she was good, she was very, very good/but when she was bad, she was horrid.”

This wine was more towards the very good with its fragrant notes of cherry and, for me, rhubarb (gently). It had those higher, acidic smells of freshness but with some depth of maturity that is typical of a big red wine. The dry finish was medium in length, nicely tannic with some cherry sweetness in the mid-palate. It had a fullness of flavour which belied its 11.5% ABV.

So, a skilful bit of wine-making and blending, I guess. It balances fullness and acidity vey well. I wondered if some of the blend had been made using carbonic maceration as rhubarb is the tell-tale smell. Anyway, a lovely wine.

[Richard: from Vin Cognito, slightly more expensive than the Pais. Fascinating wine given the low alcohol – why can’t every wine maker do this? We’ve tasted Baga before – this was better, although I didn’t get the rhubarb.]

 

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Pale and interesting

Either by coincidence (us) or because we were separated at birth (our wives) we both chose a low alcohol wine for a Sunday tasting. I was blind tested on the bottle above (Bouchon Pais Viejo 2018 £12, 12%), picked up by Geoff, from Connolly’s, a long established Birmingham wine merchant. This was yet another ‘never tasted before’ grape, namely the Pais from Chile. Very pale and bright, with a rather Pinotesque strawberry nose led on to a smokey, fruity/sappy taste. Not long or complex but very quaffable and a wine I enjoyed a lot and would purchase.

[Geoff: Ha ha, separated at birth, very good. Well, my brother, I’m pleased you liked this. It was good the following day too, especially having been kept in the fridge and taken out half-an-hour before tasting. It went well with cauliflower cheese, cutting the rich, fatty notes of the sauce. Refreshing style that would do well on a warm day and more interesting than most rose. Good find and great value, bro.]

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A ‘Onesie’ wine

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‘Decadent’ is how one taster described this wine. So does it reflect a state of moral or cultural decline? Or is it, more positively, a wine that is hedonistic, indulgent and voluptuary? It’s fascinating how these terms come to be applied to a drink but I can see the reason for them after tasting Richard’s last offering. Carried round in a decanter, the Wirra Wirra Maclaren Vale RSW Shiraz 2010 was then carried back – minus about two glasses – to accompany a meal.

Shiraz is the most planted grape variety in Maclaren Vale – indeed in Australia – providing a whole range of qualities and quite different to the leaner, peppery offering from its northern Rhone birthplace. It’s very popular in the tastings that I run, possibly because of its alcohol levels, slight sweetness and weight. A true ‘Onesie’ wine. (see below)

Very intense, almost black in colour with a ruby red rim, this smelt of cooked blackberries but with acidity that maintained some freshness. Attractive to smell, that acidity was still present in the taste with the addition of a silky smoothness and structured tannins which kept it dry rather than jammy. There was also a greenness, a herbaceous side to which I was drawn, again preserving its freshness. Not particularly complex, this is a popular drink and it’s easy to understand why.

‘Onesie wine’ was a term used for a bottle of wine drunk in front of a whole day’s TV watching on Christmas Day when you don’t even get out of your nightwear. My God, what’s the world coming to !! Moral decline?

[Richard: from TWS over five years ago at a chunky £30 which makes it overpriced, I think, for what you get. Nevertheless a good wine, well made and if you like the style – which I do less and less – you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Vacuum sealed and finished off 4 days later it was completely the same. I’d rather have a Rhone shiraz at an equivalent price. I’ve never heard the term ‘onesie wine’ before but I’ve got one bottle left and will be sure to drink it in my pyjamas.]

 

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Prosecco, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Port and Lemon…

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There is a legal wrangle between the Italians and Australians over the rights of the name Prosecco. Made famous (infamous) in northern Italy, this slightly sweet spumante has become a symbol of celebration, aided by its very low cost and its availability. It’s become the Bristol Cream sherry drunk in our parents’ generation or, going back even further, my grandma’s Port and Lemonade. (The slight sugary flavour is the constant.)

Alpha Box and Dice, an Australian company, market Zaptung at £17 made from the same grape (since 2008, called Glera) as Prosecco and we tried it on Sunday. The beer-bottle top closure gave it a laddish, socially-equal/ inclusive feel but how did the wine itself do?

Intense yellow in colour with a lively mousse (to get the party going, no doubt), the aromas were of melons and rich lemons. There were observations of orange peel notes but apart from that a distinct lack of fruit. Full-flavoured and dry were my other notes as well as being better tasting than many Proseccos.

The issue, as I see it, is because the grape – whatever you call it – is basically undistinguished – it needs some sweetness to make it attractive, especially as an aperitif. Hence the sugar/peach juice/cocktail mixer as an addition. Then it becomes something marketable. If it didn’t exist there would be something else because nature abhors a vacuum – especially the vacuum at the start of a party.

[Richard: my dislike of Prosecco is based on, primarily, an excess of sugar so I enjoyed drinking this. Not sweet, some complexity but as Geoff says – no fruit. But then, who knows what the Glera grape taste like? Not a party wine, apart from the mousse which was extremely lively, as the photo shows.].

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Dull and duller – part two.

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My role in this tasting was making notes on Soave, namely Pieropan’s La Rocca 2010. This is a celebrated producer which we’ve previously blogged and been impressed with and its prices (circa £30 -40) [Richard: I paid £20] reflect its fame. Or, in this case, its notoriety.

The expected appearance of a viscous wine, moving like oil in the glass, with a deep lemon colour was followed by a surprisingly muted nose of sour stone fruits. This could favourably be termed ‘delicate’ or ‘uninteresting’ in its lack of aromatics. The palate was rich with obvious lemon acidity but, unfortunately, little else. A simple wine which would justify a price tag of about a tenner.

An article praising the staying qualities of Soave Classico in The Wine Enthusiast included this observation  “Over time, the aromas become multifaceted and exhibit creamy textures and intense minerality. ” It then went on to specifically mention as “compelling” a 1996 vintage La Rocca. Well, some minerality might have saved this from being just a one-dimensional tasting experience. Interestingly, there are some negative comments on Cellartracker (and some good ones) about this wine. Maybe there is some bottle variation?

[Richard, we’ve previously blogged the 2010 and the 2009. On both occasions we were impressed. When tasting the 2010 four years ago I thought it would be interesting to taste it in 10 years time but this latest bottle suggests that there is no benefit to ageing here. This is rather contrary to received wisdom although, as Geoff says, there are quite a few reviews which suggest the opposite. The 2009 was tasted two years ago and was drinking very well, so this wine was a disappointment, being totally uninteresting and lacking the Alsatian characteristics, like mouthfeel and aroma, previously noted. Could be bottle variation, could be I kept it too long. We’ll never know.]

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Dull and duller

We tried two dull white wines at the weekend from different countries made with different grapes and sold at very different prices.

The one I blind tasted was a Pinot Gris from Alsace (Pinot Gris Lieu-dit Muehlforst MWW at £15/£9 for a single bottle/six bottles), which I eventually recognised through a process of elimination. Pale straw yellow, limpid in appearance, shy nose. So far so good but on the palate – much too sweet for me, albeit with a rather bitter finish. I’ve found that, as I’ve got older, I’ve lost interest in sweet or dessert wines, especially if, as in this case, there was no balancing acidity, making for a simple, rather cloying drink which is not worth even the lower price. MWW claim the vineyard used is ‘approaching grand cru quality’ which is a considerable exaggeration on this evidence. A shame because the wine was produced by the Hunawihr co-op, one of the best in France. We had a memorable visit there in 2013 – Geoff bought a map.

[Geoff: Yes, I agree with Richard. The attraction of a richer/sweeter wine lies in the acidity otherwise it can be likened to drinking a sugar solution.  The lack of refinement on the finish was also a  minus point.]

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The greatest sin a wine blogger can commit…

 

…(apart from wearing perfume at a tasting), is to lose your notes. This happened to me after tasting this one, a Portuguese red (2016 Lisboa Behind Closed Doors), from MWW at around £9, depending on now many bottles are bought. A young wine, lots of red fruit, easy to drink. Unusually for a blend it was possible to get a sense of the different varieties used, including, as I recall, Touriga Nacional and Shiraz. Not bad but not worth a special trip to the shop.

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