Monthly Archives: August 2017

One size fits all.

I first worked in a wine shop in 1970, helping out at Christmas time. As an impressionable young man, I found it fascinating enough to inspire a life-long interest. One of the things I remember was the different bottle sizes, something that would be inconceivable in today’s standardised world. I was reminded of this when I picked up Alex Lichine’s Encyclopaedia of Wines and Spirits, 1967 vintage, sorry, edition. I thought the appendix on bottle sizes it would interest our reader, as it did me.

I list all the sizes designated as bottles below.

German 70cl; Alsace 72cl; Anjou 75cl; Beaujolais 75cl; Bordeaux 75cl; Burgundy 75cl; USA 75.72cl; Port 75.75cl; Sherry 75.75cl; Champagne 80cl.

The last three were also called Quarts which meant that, for Champagne, a half bottle was 40cl, also called a Pint (Two pints making one quart, remember?). Didn’t Pol Roger make a pint of Champagne – and are thinking of doing so again.

Why was 75cl (mostly French regions) decided upon as the standard? How did all the 0.072 and 0.075 sizes come about (local glass blowing, perhaps?). Why was the three-quarter litre size adopted instead of the half and full litre?

Other interesting names were a Pot of Beaujolais (50cl), a Fillette of Bordeaux (37.5 cl), a Marie-Jeanne of Bordeaux (250cl), a Split of Champagne (20cl), the wonderfully named Tappit Hen of Port (227 cl). The US called their half bottles Tenths and their bottles Fifths.

Dear reader – if you’re still awake – think how the supermarkets would love this array of sizes on their shelves.

More gems from the old book later.

[Richard: when I started drinking wine in Nottingham Rioja could be bought in 210cl bottles. And one peculiarity still exists – Chateau-Chalon (and certain other wines from the Jura) which uses 62cl bottles called clavelins. Not, as you might uncharitably assume, to rip off the consumer but because, apparently, that is what 100cl of wine evaporates to in 6 and a quarter years, which is the minimum ageing period for the appellation. Sold by the Wine Society, but I’ve never tried it. However the grape used – savignan – is also used to make vin jaune, also sold in 62cl bottles, a rather sherry like wine which I recall we tasted once, without blogging.

I think the standardisation was due to what would then be Common Market rules. The large Spanish size vanished after they joined. Be interesting to learn how Chateau-Chalon escaped. See Annexe XVII of this document giving legal recognition to odd bottles shapes and sizes.]



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The Indian giver


The American term ‘Indian giver’ describes someone who presents a gift and asks for its return. I bought Richard this wine a few years back and, last Sunday, he presented it for us both to taste; it had been decanted 30 minutes, I tasted it blind. The wine was an ’06 La Reserve Leoville Barton, the ‘baby brother’ of a well-known St Julien 2nd growth Chateau Leoville Barton and, therefore, has some pedigree.

Intense red in colour, it had a very slightly brown rim. The aromas were dominated by vanilla and dark fruits, particularly damsons and plums rather than blackcurrant. There was an appealing freshness and slight spice to the nose but it was difficult to pick as Cabernet Sauvignon. Information about the blend is difficult to find. The palate was pleasantly tannic – expected of a claret – but without any particular characteristics. ‘Too young?’ is what I noted but I don’t think it will develop and change greatly. I would describe it as pleasant, but no more.

[Richard: Not familiar with the phrase but it is a good one. I think this was a birthday present from Geoff in 2012 but I could be wrong on both counts. From MWW? Anyway when John and I bought claret en primeur in the early eighties we shared a case of Leoville Barton – the 1982 as I recall – why was terrific. So I was interested to try this wine. As Geoff says, it didn’t have much in the way of classic claret indicators, like the cigar box nose. A decent drink but, ultimately, one lacking excitement.]

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Right grape, wrong country

With it’s distinctive white pepper aroma Syrah is an easily identifiable grape. This wine was so peppery – in the taste as well – that I thought it must be French. However, had I pondered a bit longer I might have identified a rather bright character, with no heaviness, which would point away from the Rhone with its high temperatures towards, say New Zealand. And so it proved (Quarter Acre 2011, Hawke’s Bay, from M&S). A very nice wine with an easy to drink, tempting, spicy taste, if a little short. Recommended.

[Geoff: this wine scored well in the recent Decanter awards, hence my purchase (£15). I liked its bold peppery smells and taste – as R. points out. Can see it being a ‘crowd pleaser’ and good value. Very enjoyable.

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Moulin Touchais 1983 (with cheese)


One family have managed and owned this vineyard since two years before the French Revolution which, considering the French laws of inheritance, is a feat in itself. Situated in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon, south of the Loire below Angers, this is a wine well-known for its sweetness and, surprisingly Richard liked it!

The Chenin Blanc grapes are harvested early (20%) for acidity, the balance being picked when the grapes have developed sweetness and it this superb balance of the sugars and acids which makes the wine so attractive. The wine is kept – in bottle – for 10 years before release thereby maintaining freshness as it slowly matures over the long period. The result – a beautifully balanced  wine of 14% ABV which is a delight to drink.

Colour? Think Lucozade, deep orange, but bright as a button and with minimal viscosity.

Aromas? Slightly oxidised, slightly toffee, not particularly complex.

Taste? Sweet honey, long, acidity for freshness, light weight and relatively simple, beautifully made.

Absolutely superb with the salty andsweet Dolcellate which brings out its richness. Not so good with salty Roquefort as it makes the cheese appear acidic.

Great experience. A dessert island wine.

[Richard: from the WS, £30, not unreasonable for a 34 year old wine. Sold out unfortunately. Can’t add to Geoff’s comments except to emphasise that the wine really comes to life with a blue cheese. There is still plenty left so I’ll try with another variety next time.]

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Down on the farm


Quinta do Vale Meao is sited in the Upper Douro region of Portugal, a region that is inhospitable to most life forms apart from the growing of vines. Minimal soil, 60 degree slopes of unstable schist, 100 F. heat and malaria are all to be found in this region. Those elements plus a sparse infrastructure (until recently) have kept this area relatively poor. If the Bordeaux chateaux is one end of the vineyard spectrum these Portuguese farms are at the other. But, times they are a changin’.

We gathered round two glasses of the 2009 vintage Q. do Vale Meao last Sunday. We saw intense colours of blood red – ‘brooding’ seemed apposite – with considerable viscosity (14.5%) and smelt aromatic black fruits, lifted by acidity lending the wine some freshness. The palate was certainly weighty, tannic and dry with a medium length but still attractively fruity. This was a big wine in every sense yet not overly rustic. Certainly one to enjoy with strong flavoured foods but I liked its definite character; it proclaimed its region well.

Grapes? A blend of Touriga Nacional 57%, Touriga Franca 35%, Tinta Barroca 5%, Tinta Roriz 3%.

[Richard: a really top-end Portuguese red – at least in terms of price – but I wasn’t much impressed. A peculiarity in that I thought it better before decanting when it had a port like sweetness but this vanished the following day and the wine failed to soften much over the course of an evening.]

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de Castelnau


This champagne, Jean de Foigny NV (12.5%), is made for the Wine Society by de Castelnau, a 100 year old champagne house. The house being named in honour of a WW1 general who commanded French forces in two Marne battles. de Castelnau make a range of champagnes – as well as a pretty impressive web-site. [Edit: it turns out that de Castelnau was acquired by a co-op – the Co-op Regionale de Vins de Champagne – in 2003. No mention of this on the Castelnau website but the bottle, above, gives the Co-op as the maker. Doubtless why it is such a good price.]

The WS blend is 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier with Pinot Noir making the balance thereby producing a surprisingly gentle drink. The mousse was very fine in the pale straw coloured wine and had no hint of green, which suggested older rather than younger wines. This was confirmed by the distinctly rich caramel nose redolent of a vintage champagne. The palate was definitely dry, however, with an almost salty quality and of medium length. Although uncomplicated, with slightly bruised apple flavours, this was a lovely champagne and gentleness was its abiding characteristic. Many cheap champagnes – and some expensive ones for that matter – can be very aggressive in terms of bubbles and acidity but Jean de Foigny can definitely be excluded from that dubious category. Definitely recommended.

[Richard: very nice – not dissimilar to the WS English sparkling wine made by Ridgeview. Well balanced, easy to drink. A bargain at £19.50.]

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Some wines, like Chateau Musar or Vina Tondonia are generally easy to spot from the aroma. Another is (most) white burgundy. And so it was that I confidently pronounced this wine (Saint-Aubin Champs Tirant, 2014) as such, despite it being opened twenty-four hours and double decanted. As it turned out I’ve got a bottle, as yet undrunk, Geoff having picked up a few marked down in Waitrose. A classic supple, spicy nose, with a hint of struck match, rich smooth mouth-feel followed by a complex lemony taste. A bargain at the reduced price of £16.99.

[Geoff: I’m delighted to hear that Richard has another bottle – this wine was excellent and certainly a bargain. I’m becoming an advocate for decanting all wines, regardless of colour, as it certainly paid off with this wine. Pre-aeration it was closed, slightly reductive on the nose and dominated by lemony acidity. When tried 40 mins after decanting it became broader, livelier and had lost those dominating aromas and flavours. After enjoying it on Saturday night I returned it to the bottle where I vacuum sealed it with the result Richard has described. Decanting is a must]

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