Monthly Archives: February 2017

Beware the Greeks – again

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We have sung the praises of Santorini’s Assyrtiko grape a few times on these pages; as a direct result, the wine has now quite a following in the UK! It was with great interest, therefore, that I learned that Majestic (rather belatedly for a specialist wine merchant) had started to stock the grape, proclaiming on their web-site “This is our first venture in to Greek wine in 10 years and we think we have found a corker. Bone dry and extremely fresh ….. ” Let’s test the claim, shall we?

Voila Assyrtiko 2016 is not from Santorini, but Crete; it weighs in at 13.5%. Very, very pale, slightly petillant with medium legs is how it appeared. The nose was clean with a lemon sherbet smell i.e. lemons with a slight sweetness.

On the palate, it had a weighty texture, rich in taste (someone said, like an Albarino) but it was slightly off-dry, with a taste of pears.  A simple wine, a bit vacant in the back palate, pretty good value but rather cloying in the mouth after a while. Being rather unkind, I ventured it was ‘a flat Prosecco’. This wine has not the dryness of a Santorini Assyrtiko nor certainly the power and elegance. However, I can suggest that it is made for a market that likes this very slightly off-dry style. It would be good with seafood but, on its own, not for me.

Majestic, – “bone dry”? – no. Susy Atkins (Telegraph) – “salt – tinged”? – no. It’s neither – trust us.

[Richard: of the many bottles of Assyrtiko we’ve tried (not all blogged), this was easily the worst – or to be more charitable, the least interesting. It would have been difficult to identify the grape blind unlike, say, the Assyrtiko produced by Gaia. The comments by MWW and Atkins make me wonder if they were tasting a different wine.]

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Le Matchstick (the French have a word for it).

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A (man made), flinty aroma of freshly struck matches is, for me, the most instantly recognisable wine smell. As ever, Jancis Robinson explains it well. She quotes an Australian producer, ”over the last three to five years or longer we have seen winemakers of high-end Chardonnay actively seeking to emulate the reductive “struck match” characters found in so many Burgundian whites including Domaines Leflaive and Coche Dury.”

And so it was with this wine. Pronounced struck match nose which followed through onto the taste, a rich mouth feel, lots of tropical fruit flavour but slightly too sweet for me. I had no hesitation in identifying New World chardonnay, which was correct, from Australia, which wasn’t. In fact it was a 2015 New Zealand  from Dog Point, a wine I’ve tasted before, although I don’t remember it as being so sweet.

[Geoff: I have to admit looking forward to this wine because of my liking for well-made chardonnays. Only a few days before I enjoyed an excellent Newton Johnson chardonnay from South Africa; the Dog Point, I assumed, would be at least as good. Richard’s notes sum up my experiences, everything spot on until it came to the finish which was sweet and seemingly out of balance with the relieving acidity. Can’t help but think the Marlborough region must have been very sunny and/or hot that year. Even a spell in the fridge couldn’t up the acidity notes and Claire, my wife, remarked on the sweetness. I recall  having the same issue recently with a Pinot Gris from Kumeu River, so much so I returned it. What a pity! Got another bottle to go.]

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“The new [in 2007] greenhouses”

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An intriguing name for a wine this; it’s the translation of ‘La Serre Nuove’. To give its full title you must add ‘dell Ornellaia 2007. Presumably now, ten years later, they are now called La Serre Vecchie.

To the wine. The colour was an intense very deep red with a brown rim whilst the nose had what Richard described as a ‘spirity’ aroma. For me, it was an odd mixture of flowers and almost menthol aromatics and didn’t seem ‘together’. There wasn’t a satisfying depth to it.

The palate was better then the aromas. Just. The tannins were present, mixed with acidity and a leathery, earthy taste. It opened to a slight blackcurrant flavour. The disappointing aspects were its lack of length, refinement and any real complexity. It just seemed a big, red wine that was okay to drink but not much more.

Bolgheri DOC is the coastal region of Tuscany, brought to prominence in the late-1960s/early 1970s by the use of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes in Sassicaia  . Cellartracker tells us that this wine is a Bordeaux blend but doesn’t specify the proportions. Tasting notes made by various drinkers in the last 12 months also say that they expect this to improve, some up to 2021. The excellent vintage conditions of 07 Tuscany, the wine’s tannins and the high alcohol (14.5%) augur well but I’m not really convinced.

But wine has a way of proving its pundits wrong and it might develop well, depending on whether you like the end result, of course. It might be worth sitting on, Richard.

[Richard: Last bottle, I’m afraid – actually, I’m not. Third Italian red in succession, the most expensive (around £30 WS, out of stock) and, by some distance the worst. I’ve hung on to this since 2011 to the end of the WS drinking window but is was still hard and tannic, not an especially pleasant drink and thus a big disappointment. A rare unfinished bottle.]

CHILEAN COT

Just a few lines on a Cot wine (aka Malbec) given to me as a present about three years ago. It is from the Perez Cruz winery in the Maipo Valley, close to Santiago, Chile. The vineyards of this region are in the Andean foothills and benefit from their altitude which encourages acidity in the grapes. This helps balance the sugars developed in the warm climates of the whole region. However, they still produced a substantially alcoholic 14% ABV in the wine. This was a ‘Limited Edition’, whatever that means, from 2011.

Richard and I tried it after it had been open (but vacuum pumped) for 3 days. The lifted blackberry fruits were still present in both the aroma and taste but it had lost just a touch of the attractive freshness present on opening. Quite a simple wine but with dominant primary fruit flavours which, I have to admit, I prefer to a lot of the Malbecs on the market at the moment.

[Richard: Nice wine which had held up well. Around £14 I think which is perhaps a little ambitious but I still preferred it to the Tuscan.]

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Gimme Ghemme

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Richard’s Toraccia del Piantavigna 2003 was part of a special case of older Piedmont wines put together by the Wine Society. They sold out very quickly and a positive reviews from a Society member was quick in coming. Therefore, a wine, we thought, worth trying. And it was.

Made from 90% Nebbiolo with 10% Vespolina (a local grape famed for attracting (or not) wasps – not scooters – because of its high sugar content) this was a delight. Definitely brown in colour, with little viscosity and only medium intensity, this shouted “Drink me!”. The nose took some time to develop its sweet red fruit aromas (Richard thought ‘spirity’) but it stayed gently floral, though not necessarily violets which is the classic Nebbiolo nose. There was a fair weight in the wine and certainly tannins but the dominant flavour for me was the stewed red fruits showing some bottle age. It finished long and dry.

The 10% Vespolina must have contributed to the sweetness of the wine, thereby possibly helping moderate the more drying tannins of the Nebbiolo. It was certainly an attractive mouthful.

We’d tried a mono-varietal Vespolina (DOC Colline Novaresi) minutes before and found it an attractive, though simple, wine of medium tannins. There is another wasp-attracting grape, Vespaiola from the Veneto, and both grapes have declined in popularity since the Phylloxera crisis. These bloody insects get everywhere!

[Richard: six different vintages of a poor man’s Barolo seemed worth a punt. This was the oldest, around £20, and a bargain. Pure and tasty, it improved through the evening and could have usefully been decanted. And you wait ages to taste an obscure Italian red grape and two come along at once. The Villa Roncati (WS £13) was opened on a Thursday, thought too full-on and re-corked. It improved and softened every the next few days. Peppery with an herbaceous nose, well balanced. Don’t think I’d buy it again but it was an interesting drink.]

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Definitely Burgundy

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Tasted this (2012 Réyane & Pascal Bouley Volnay) blind with Geoff on Sunday and was not in the least tempted to wonder if it was a New or Old World pinot. Quite pale, typical nose, pure refined taste although rather raw and tannic on the finish. But savoury and mouth filling. Clearly Old World but my attempt to place the wine within the region was totally wrong in that I thought northern, rather than southern Burgundy.

[Geoff: I was delighted to share this with my drinking partner; it seems he is better at choosing between Burgundy and NZ Pinot than I am.  Following a classic Pinot nose of sweet red fruits, this wine was quite lean in the mid-palate but none the worse for that. However, as Richard has commented, it came across a little too tannic at the finish which might suggest it needed more time. Or that it was a good village wine with no further pretensions. Which reminds me of that James Thurber line “it’s a naïve domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.” Quite appropriate, in this case.]

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Maxed out

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The origins of this wine completely fooled me in the blind tasting. The reason being, on reflection, was that it had no particularly strong characteristics apart from being well-made and completely in balance. The Max made by Miles Mossop is a South African wine from Stellenbosch and is a Bordeaux blend (CS 54%, Merlot and Petit Verdot equally making up the remaining 46%). There were no strong indications of its 11 year age either on the nose or on the palate, rather it was remarkably fresh and gave off all the primary fruit notes of cherries, strawberries and cranberries with the accompanying acidity. These were repeated in the taste along with a pleasing tannic grip. The colour was a mid-red – neither purple or brown rimmed – with no particular indications of viscosity.

It would be interesting to see how this wine develops. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more distinguishing features but there is no doubting its quality as a dry, fresh tasting, well-balanced wine of medium length.

[Richard: I don’t often buy wine from South Africa but was intrigued by a WS offering of mature wines from Miles Mossop (about £22, now sold out), really because they didn’t seem to be South African in style and the absence of the dreaded pinotage grape is always welcome. This was a very smooth, very drinkable, well-made, claret-style wine that opened up well over the evening, albeit, as Geoff says, rather lacking in character. To me the nose was clearly CS but, as we know, it’s easy to guess the grape when you’ve seen the label. Talking of which, we don’t often mention back labels – traditionally a place for a little information and a lot of hyperbole but this one was special. Apparently the wine offers an ‘older soul juxtaposed with youthful ardour and a fearless strength’. I didn’t quite pick up on this. Two more bottle of other vintages left, though, so perhaps all will become clear.]

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Old gold

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This (Marques de Murrieta 2008 Capellania) was an unusual wine in many ways. Firstly the colour – not quite as deep as the Wolverhampton Wanderers first team strip – but a very deep yellow. Secondly the nose where,  I can’t improve on Geoff’s suggestion of ‘furniture polish’. Finally the taste, a bit oxidised, lots of acidity, a very interesting, rather citrussy, thinnish mouth feel. Sherry like but not sherry. My first suggestion was Savagnin, from the Jura, my second Spanish, as it reminded me somewhat of Vina Tondonia. In fact we’ve tasted this wine before, some three years ago when we wondered if it would age. It has but now the wine definitely needs food as the taste palls after a while. From the WS who have moved onto the 2011 at £15, which I think is good value.

[Geoff: I’m pleased we had this now, because I don’t think it had much more to give. It was interesting because of the acidity levels despite the age and the origins of a warm climate. Richard estimated well when he said Vina Tondonia, the two wines are very similar in style. For me, it was like drinking an older en rama sherry and, like that drink, needed some tapas to balance the pronounced flavours. No more left now.]

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