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Vermouth

If you visit Spain and are interested in the drink culture it soon becomes evident that the Spaniards drink a lot of red vermouth (vermut), usually with ice and lemon. Some bars have a font or small barrel for dispensing and there are a number of brands you never see in the UK. A recent trend, at least in Jerez, has been the appearance of up-market vermouth. And vermouth is very common in Italy with some of their rarer brands becoming available here. For example Waitrose sell Cocchi Vermouth di Torino at £18 for a 50cl bottle which I would think is a hard sell, at least in Lichfield.

I tried three, first at room temperature, then with ice. This was a rather artificial tasting since drinking neat vermouth is, in this country, unusual with most red vermouth going into cocktails, most notably the Negroni.

Vermut Lustau: Lustau are a sherry producer in Jerez and I think this has a sherry base with added botanicals. Brown colour, rich herby nose, initially sweet but finishing dry. Sold by Waitrose, £13, 50cl. My favourite.

Carpano Antica Formula: made in Milan with a wine base with other ingredients using a ‘secret formula’. Similar in colour to the Lustau but with a shier nose and a drier finish, despite sugar being listed as an ingredient. This was sold by Waitrose but no longer with the last bottles being knocked down. Ocado still have it at £12 for a half bottle.

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino: made in the Piedmont, wine base with added botanicals and matured in oak. Light red – could have been a wine – dried herbs, especially thyme, on the nose and in the mouth, less complex than the other two but the most bitter. No discernible oak. It was sold by Waitrose (£11, 75cl) but also seems to have vanished.

All three were less impressive with ice as the taste was softened and diluted. Better to chill the bottles and/or the glass.

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One of your better cavas

Years ago when we visited Spain for holidays there was always a temptation to try cava – mainly because it was so cheap, compared to champagne, at least. So we tried a few and invariably, weren’t impressed. Too sweet, too short, lacking in character, little acidity and with a characteristic ‘hard’ finish. We gave up trying and stocked up on champagne as we made the car journey down through France. But – they weren’t all horrible. Probably the best we tried was that from Juvé & Camps. And here we are, decades later, with a bottle of their ‘Reserva’ from MWW.

I’ve never seen it suggested that sparkling wine be decanted but this wine got markedly better in the glass. Not much mousse, decent nose – I’m sure I detected chardonnay – and, still, that hard finish. But – it got better and after 20 minutes or so was a very decent drink, with some complexity. Miles better than prosecco. As to the chardonnay, the company website doesn’t list it, other websites do, so I was mistaken – although they do grow and use the grape in some of their other cavas.

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Semplicemente red

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One of the delights of our tasting blind – apart from the fun – is the shock element, especially on revealing the wine. Well, the shock came earlier this time, when I actually tasted it. I’d looked and noted colours of red with a tinge of brown (aged – wrong), smelt rich plummy to dark fruits (New World – wrong) and then put lips to glass. It had a fizz – and was deliciously savoury, sweet mid palate, dry finish, slightly tannic and very gluggable. Okay, Lambrusco – wrong.

This was Belloti Rosso Semplicemente red 2015 from Tassarolo, south of Turin, in Piedmont. It’s a blend of Barbera and Dolcetto grapes and has an ABV of 13.5%. It’s another wine from the Buon Vino natural wine suppliers and has that purity that I noticed in the rioja blogged recently (auto-suggestion, perhaps?). Anyway, I am a lover of good Lambrusco, such a great match with pizza and antipasto, so this was right up my strada.

Oh, I nearly forgot the other surprise – it had a beer bottle top!

[Richard: three wines from the Buon Vino selection now tried (one not blogged) and they have all been good. This one was very low sulphur – none added –  and our first ever crown cap as well, something rarely seen on wine but there was a slight frizzante effect to justify it. This soon dissipated in the glass and the wine is not as lively as a Lambrusco. Lots going on in the glass, very drinkable and a wine I’d buy again.]

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Not this time…

Having been pleased with my ability to spot Cabernet Franc I was completely fooled by this, a South African version (Warwick Estate 2013).

Medium intensity in colour, a rich, rather sweet smell – vanilla, Turkish Delight  – which didn’t really carry over into the taste. Quite long and drying on the finish. A pleasant drink but with none of the characteristics you would find in a bottle from the Loire. In particular the ‘green’ grassy note was completely absent.

[Geoff: R. needn’t be too self-critical, this is Cabernet Franc – but not as we know it. My feelings are ambivalent about this wine. On the one hand, it’s a very well-made, polished, complete, rich, full-flavoured mouthful. However, my liking of this grape comes from the fragrant raspberry aromas, the herbaceous, underripe tastes and the edgy tannins – none of which this had. Mind you, CF’s home in the Loire can throw up pretty raw, unpolished wines sometimes and this was way more enjoyable than those. This did exhibit the difference between a New World, warmer climate style and the Old World style. £20.50 from the WS.]

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Where is Toro?

With the increased interest in wine has come a greater exposure to new regions and grapes. Looking back forty years ago to when we drank Liebfraumilch and dull blends like Hirondelle, when supermarkets carried little stock and when wine merchants were seen as elitist it would have impossible to envisage the massive choice now available. It is very easy to try something new, as this wine shows. I’ve been to Spain many times, I especially like Rioja but I’ve never tried a wine from the Toro region and couldn’t say with any certainty there it is located.

In fact it is in the north west of Spain, near the Portuguese border. A sandy soil means that there are still some pre-phylloxera vines.

This wine (Pintia 2007) was made by Vega Sicilia, one of Spain’s most respected bodegas, using old vine tinta de toro as tempranillo is called in the region. Certainly not an rioja lookalike, in fact I was reminded of a Chateauneuf (it’s 15%) although the taste is purer and ‘thinner’ in the rioja style. After decanting lots of spicy fruit was evident with the tannins integrated. A classy drink which I enjoyed. The bottle was a present, several years ago but I’m pretty sure it came from Laithwaites where it is now sold out, despite mine being bottle number 115,613. Toro wines (not to be confused with Concha y Toro, from Chile) are hard to find in the UK so it may be a while before I try another.

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They used to make chairs…

The name means “ravine of the Boekenhout” which is an Cape beech tree used for furniture making.
Nothing woody about this (2004 Boekenhoutskloof Semillion, WS, out of stock) wine, though. Dark yellow with some green, ‘shoe polish’ nose gaining floral notes, sweetish and waxy, with a burnt, rather hard finish and little complexity, which you might expect from the bottle age. This grape is much more to Geoff’s taste than mine and I found it enjoyable without being compelling.

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Viré-Clessé

The above (2012 Guillemot-Michel Quintaine, WS £19)  is from a Burgundy AOC, never blogged before and, in my experience, more likely to be found in French supermarkets than those in England, although I note than Tesco, MWW and M&S show stock from various makers. A quintaine is either a piece of wood placed in the ground by knights to hold their shield or a mannequin used in jousting. No idea why the wine is so named.

Easy enough to spot as a chardonnay from the region, deep yellow colour, some ‘matchstick’ on the (mature) nose and a rich lemony taste. However not a complex wine and one which became rather cloying after a while, although it seems that a rich style is something the makers aim for. These wines should never be served fridge cold but this one was perhaps slightly too warm.

An enjoyable drink but I think you could do better for the price charged.

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