The Tannat grape is native to south west France where it traditionally produces wines described as ‘rustic’, Madiran probably being the most well-known. It has also received plaudits in Uruguay which seems to produce a softer, fruitier style of wine then France. This wine, however, came from the far north of Greece, hard by the Macedonian border. Utopia 2011, made by Alpha Estate, is 100% Tannat and weighs in at 14% ABV.
The pronounced colour left a ruby stain on the glass when the wine was swirled. Some pigment there then. There was a delightful fresh nose, slightly menthol and blackcurrant, with an underlying smokey and vanilla perfume suggesting barrel- ageing. So far so good.
Richard had the palate description spot on – “hollow” – which was a disappointment after the pleasures of the smell. It was lacking richness and depth and could be described as ordinary red wine. The smell was better then the taste. This seems to have matured quickly, quite the opposite to its French equivalent which is, to be kind, rather austere for at least ten years.
[Richard: whenever I’m in Birmingham I try to call in to the Greek shop just outside New Street station. An interesting selection of wine and food and where this bottle was purchased, for around £10. As Geoff says you don’t expect to see Tannat in Greece and this made me want to try it. Alpha wines are always good quality and this is well made, with an enticing nose but the taste is acceptable without being special. An interesting experiment but I think Greek wines are better made with native grapes. Off to Crete shortly and hoping to try a few.]
Sauvignon, that is. Unmistakeable, an enticing nose with hints of menthol. Open for 48 hours under vacuum when I tried it, very deep red, brown rim, rich taste with lots of fruit and a lovely mouthfeel. Very enjoyable and we both had a second glass. Not French as I first though but Australian (Katnook Estate, 2012, CS), my second guess.
[Geoff: A confession – my prejudiced view of Australian wines has limited my experience of them. Hefty, jammy and clumsy has previously been my opinion. That is, until recently when I’ve been impressed with CSs from western Australia (blogged) and now this beauty from Limestone Ridge’s Coonawarra district. The famous red soil, overlaying limestone, is noted for its Cabernets which benefit from cloud cover and cooling breezes. This was a rich, black-fruit, silky mouthful with some attractive complexity. As Richard said, very enjoyable. Interestingly, Katnook Winery occupies the original sight of the area’s first commercial winery, started by James Riddoch in 1896.]
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.]
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.]
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.]
The Telegraph must have heard we were going to blog Chateau Musar this weekend. There was a chunky (and informative) article by Victoria Moore in Saturday’s edition about the Cinsaut grape and its presence in the Lebanon. What Vicky (if I can call her that) omitted was the grape’s growers need to reduce the yield of this vigorous variety – admittedly this is true of many grapes. It is drought resistant but, I suppose, in very dry conditions, the lack of water concentrates the berries’ flavours.
So, Chateau Musar 1998 from Richard’s flight (more like a full staircase) of wines. The low intensity colours of ruby red with a brick rim were clear and bright. There was a slight oxidised (brett?) smell that I’ve noticed before on Musar, but the lasting impression was one of leanness. It’s difficult to place the smell (VM had the same problem) but our thoughts went to spice, mature red fruits, aromatic and – more out there – cherry menthol Tunes. The palate was light and dry, lean again and fresh but the cherry flavour was now sweet.
As my chum says, Musar’s idiosyncrasy makes it one of the wines from which you can discern “the maker from the taste. It’s an unmistakable wine”. For me, it’s one of those wines which I know I should enjoy more but the ‘should’ imperative doesn’t work in wine appreciation.
[Richard: Chateau Musar has always been one of my favourite wines so I couldn’t resist a half-case of six Musar vintages (WS, about £22 per bottle, averaged.) The’98 was the oldest and had been opened 23h when Geoff tasted it, from a decanter. (The cork crumbled on pulling). An unmistakable aroma and taste and I’d be disappointed if I didn’t recognise it blind. Not many wines you can say that about. It’s never revealed – perhaps they don’t know – exactly what goes into a Musar, although it certainly includes some cinsault which, I think, helps lighten the other grapes – carignan and cabernet. The result is a very lean, intensely savoury wine but one, as Geoff hints, which divides opinion.]
According to the very informative neck label, this wine’s home is the medieval village of Scansano in Maremma, south-west Tuscany. The blend is 90% Sangiovese (Morellino being its local name) and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. With its DOCG status, it sits on the top of the Italian quality ladder. The vintage is 2013 but it has had 24 months ageing, half of which has been in small barrels, presumably made of oak.
The ageing had certainly impressed upon the colour, the body of the wine being an intense ruby but it had a brick-coloured rim. The aromas were an attractive black cherry, at once both sweet and sour, with some deeper notes of spice and leather. This was an impressive wine, so far. The palate repeated all those primary and tertiary notes with the addition of some well-structured tannins adding to its pert, fresh quality. Our criticism was its lack of depth of flavour, immediately appealing but then rather losing it in the mid-palate to end rather short. Well made, it would be a good food wine, if a little simple.
All credit to Aldi for searching for something interesting, slightly off the well-beaten track to Chianti.
[Richard: another in the Aldi ‘Lot’ series, many of which have been reviewed here, still at £9.99. A peculiar foxy nose on opening but that soon went, indeed the wine was improved on day 2 being smoother and richer. One to decant and one of the better wines in this series, my only reservation being that it didn’t taste much like a classic sangiovese.]