The wine from hell

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Inferno, the Italian word for hell, is a sub-region of the dramatic Valtellina region in the north of Piedmont, close by the Swiss border. A look on the Internet will reveal just how dramatic this small wine producing region is. Steep slopes (necessitating hand-harvesting), terracing and kilometres of stone walls are the oenological facts of life in this region. Inferno is the warmest part of the Valtellina (hence the name) but the south-facing slopes enjoy a huge diurnal temperature range, giving both ripeness of fruit and delicate acidity levels. The dominant grape (min. 90%) for this DOCG is the Chivanesca, AKA Nebbiolo.

Inferno DOCG, Valtellina Superiore 2013 (13.5%) is an impressive wine. Richard purchased it as part of a mixed Italian case and if the others are as good – and as interesting – as this he should be well-pleased with the WS. (Will he admit it, though?). Very light red in colour with a slight brick rim and a nose slow to develop, it rather underplayed itself at the start. However, the typical Italian cherry-tartness flavour was polished and stylish with very delicate floral notes. What was remarkable was the lack of obtrusive tannins that young Barolos (same grape) have; it was as if a 40 year old Barolo had aged in four years.

A new one for me, I’ve not tasted a Valtellina before. Really interesting, well worth trying – I’m looking forward to the others!

[Richard: I wasn’t quite so keen as Geoff. Certainly an interesting expression of the nebbiolo grape which developed over the evening but I felt the whole thing was rather too delicate, especially at £19.50.]

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Unmistakeable

Probably the most reliable indicator for spotting a particular grape is white pepper on the nose and taste. This invariably means syrah.

Given the taste and appearance I felt confident that this was a syrah from the Old World, that is France, Rhone valley. Right, wrong and wrong. In fact from the Gimblett Gravels region in New Zealand. Not a style I know very well but this was certainly an excellent example, being light and youthful in appearance, lean and savoury on the palate.

[Geoff: This was a purchase from a recently discovered wine shop in Ledbury called Hay Wines. Just over £10, it had all the characteristics of a gentler Northern Rhone syrah with bags of refreshing flavours and weighing in at a lightweight 12.5% ABV. Ideal for us oldies and rather nostalgic as this is the alcohol level we grew up with. A lunchtime syrah, no less. It was the first of two good wines this Sunday]

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“Touched by class”

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These were the words used by my drinking chum to describe this wine and – I echo those sentiments. I tasted this blind and it was a very enjoyable experience. St. Peray, the small, southernmost AC of the northern Rhone region, only produces white wines – still and sparkling – by using various combinations of the Marsanne and Roussane grapes. Pre-phylloxera, this area was famous for sparkling wines (a tipple of Napolean, no less) but had declined to circa 50 hectares before building back to around 70.

The Domaine de Tunnel by Stephane Robert 2011 can be bought from the WS for £22 and is worth it. Clear, lemon yellow in the glass, there is a heavier look to the wine (13.5%) which suggests some richness. The lemon aroma is present but mixed with subtle floral notes and the stone fruits so redolent of the Rhone white grapes. I did not get any smell of oak – the fruit shone through. The palate was dry, spicy and long with an almond quality. There was some refreshing acidity but the impression that lingered was one of understated power and a very slight – and very attractive – fruity sweetness.

This was a quality wine that is in one of my favourite styles. Very enjoyable indeed.

[Richard: from a mixed case of Rhone whites. Hope they are all as good as this.]

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Right place, wrong grape

This wine had a grassy nose I felt sure was cabernet franc from the Loire. It wasn’t. The taste was silky and textured but I couldn’t get a distinctive grape. I was pretty sure it was New World/Australian but couldn’t get any closer – my knowledge of Australian wine regions is rudimentary at best.

In fact a cabernet sauvignon but one which, for me, lacked classic CS characteristics. Good wine though – recommended. The M&S webpage (£90 for 6) says there is 20% Merlot which may account for my puzzlement.

[Geoff: I bought this because of the reputation of the Margaret River area for Bordeaux blends. I wasn’t disappointed and expected the forward-fruity style. What was attractive to me was the edge of unripeness/herbaceousness (Richard’s “grassy”) that saved it becoming too plump and sweet (my issue for with Oz wines). A good wine, well made and easy to drink – if a little lacking in complexity.

Aah, the search for complexity – the curse of the wine buff.]

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Double Blind

Sunday tasting. Two wines, the same grape – syrah – from different continents, a similar price with us each opening and tasting one of them the night before. Would we be able to identify them if tasted blind? How good was our taste memory? (Claire, Geoff’s wife did the pouring in our absence). In fact it was pretty easy, even from the nose.

The wines: Cline 2012 (California) and Hermitage 2014 (France, from the Cave de Tain co-op). The Cline has been blogged before. We thought MWW had sold out but a few more turned up, around £16. The Hermitage was from Waitrose, reduced from £28 to £17. I’d tried the Hermitage on Saturday and thought it was restrained and elegant, with a rather reticent nose. The Cline delivered a big blast of blueberry fruit on the nose and was tarry/smokey on the palate with a silky mouth feel and clearly wasn’t the Hermitage. Both wines were very enjoyable and well priced – although I don’t think we’d have paid £28 for the Hermitage – and drank well into the evening. (Geoff was having fish so I got both bottles).

[Geoff: Comparisons are at the heart of wine tasting. We compare in expectation – “I think this wine might be like …”; we compare via memory – “This wasn’t as good as …..”; and we compare grapes, vintages, areas, growers etc. And I especially love blind comparisons.

These two wines created lots of discussions which Richard had summarised excellently above. For me, the Hermitage had the edge on elegance and freshness because of the apparent higher acidity – I’d noted it as tasting like (another comparison) a bowl of summer fruits, both red and black. The Cline, slightly older, had developed some tertiary notes – tar, smoke, vanilla – which was shown up against the fresher Rhone. Both were lovely wines – well-made, layered and great examples of a lovely grape.]

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Full English

 

Over the last few years I’ve tried most of the big names in English sparkling wine – Chapel Down (quite often), Ridgeview, Three Choirs, Camel Valley – but never Nyetimber. This was remedied yesterday when we tried a bottle of the non-vintage. A powerful mousse led into an equally powerful aroma which was no different from any well made champagne. The full, rich taste had plenty of depth and length – this is not really an aperitif champagne – although it is certainly elegant. All three champagne grapes are used but the proportions are not revealed. Probably the best English sparking wine yet. This was a present but I think it came from Waitrose.

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Chateau de la Grave Grains Fins 2015 Bassereau

Cote de Bourg, situated on the Gironde’s right bank, is well known for its red wines which dominate the AC’s production. There are, however, 25 hectares (out of 4000 +) devoted to white wine production and this wine is one of the results. It is a blend of Semillon (70%) and Colombard and has an ABV of 13.5%. It’s available from the Wine Society at a bargain £9.75.

The Semillon grape, widely grown all over the world, then just as widely uprooted, earned a reputation for basic, characterless white wines of high acidity and minimal flavour. It is notable in two areas – Bordeaux (particularly for sweet whites) and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Colombard is a grape favoured by brandy producers but now finding devotee growers and makers of still wines where it raises acidity levels and adds peach flavours.

Intrigued yet?

The colours were a medium intense lemon yellow with a very slight green tint. It was particularly clear and bright. The nose was a blend of citrus and yellow peach but with a fascinating, and unusual, smell of ginger spices.

This was not a wine shy of flavour. Peach dominated, broad, dry and long, it is a wine with bags of character. To be critical, it could be said to be lacking in refinement but – and this is only a theory (don’t groan, Richard) – I think it needs to be given time. The Semillon famously develops after 8 -10 years therefore the dominant flavour at present is from the Colombard. It’s good now but it’s also one to put down, I think.

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