Tag Archives: white wines

Antipodean Semillon

 

Semillon, as I’ve often stated, is one of my favourite wines. But only, and it’s a significant but, if it’s upward of seven years old. When young, it’s dominated by pronounced acidity, rather short and uninteresting. Ageing brings wonderful musky notes and a very subtle richness whilst still maintaining the lime acidity which becomes more balanced with age. Semillon’s ability to mature has me searching good wine merchants’ shelves for older vintages – and there usually are some as it is not a popular grape variety.

Mitchell’s 2007 Watervale Clare Valley Semillon was purchased from Weavers in Nottingham who are now selling the 2009 vintage for £12. According to Mitchell’s web-site, the wines are barrel fermented (the label says from wild yeasts – but not exclusively?) and then left on their lees for 12 months to add creaminess and complexity to the wine.

This wine was a shade shy of gold with still a hint of green (denoting acidity) with the expected medium/low viscosity (13.5%). The nose was aromatic, with key-lime and pie crust – the typical muskiness – smells. The medium-length palate was dry with the lime flavours still present in the balanced acidity.  The second day saw a developing richness but, to be critical, I found it a little shorter and not as complex as expected. Still pretty young but I don’t think it’s going to change much more. It was a lovely glass, nevertheless.

(The other half of this tasting duo is on holiday in Crete; Richard will have lots of interesting grapes to write about on his return)

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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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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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Rhone

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Francois Villard, according to His Majesty Robert Parker (bow), is one of the ‘stars’ of the northern Rhone. This judgement, to which we all defer, was discovered after Richard and I tasted his 2014 Mairlant St Joseph blanc . We were not, therefore, weighed down by great expectations. It did turn out to be a dickens of a wine, however.  50% each of Marsanne and Rousanne, 13.5% ABV and 40% of it aged in oak casks, I tasted it blind.

The distinctly yellow colour with no hint of green, suggested age – or low acidity – and the low viscosity hinted at not too much sun. (Old world?).

A wonderful nose (Richard spot on with his Bird’s Custard powder smell), this was all vanilla, apples and beeswax (well done, Angie) furniture polish. The palate repeated those notes but added toffee and caramel with a more bruised apple flavour. It was medium in weight (think semi-skinned milk).

Wine books can be a bit sniffy about the expansion of the large St Joseph AC in the northern Rhone, claiming the wines are lacking in character. This most certainly wasn’t.  It’s been great to write a positive review again.

[Richard: Geoff lent me a Waitrose Wine Cellar catalogue so I ordered a few as a change from TWS. Cost about £25 which is just about reasonable, especially given the producer. A classy,  very enjoyable, well made drink which went well with a chicken casserole and, at 13.5%, perfect for a Sunday night.]

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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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“…seldom anything of interest…”

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These were the words of Tom Stevenson in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopaedia when describing the white wines of the Cote de Ventoux. Fortunately, he used the word ‘seldom’ because Richard had brought back from holiday this wonderful Chateau Pesquie 2010 which he had opened (30 minutes earlier) on Sunday. I tasted it blind and it was certainly impressive.

Made from the fussy Rousanne grape (80%) and Clairette, with a little Viognier, the wine showed a intense deep yellow colour, beautifully clear and bright, with only medium alcohol showing (it was 12.5% ABV). The nose was  particularly memorable – ripe melon fruit with apricots – as it suggested a lusciousness which was certainly noticeable in the heavy mouthfeel on the palate. It was both rich and balanced with acidity with floral honeysuckle flavours – possibly from the Viognier – and, again, apricots. The flavours were complex and very long.

There are lots of wonderful words about Rousanne, especially as to how the grape was revived from a decline and how it is favoured by the Perrins of Beaucastel fame and Jaboulet. This grape (not its more vigorous partner, Marsanne) is allowed in the white southern Rhone blends which, in the past, I have found a bit hollow. That was certainly not the case with this wine. It would make a wonderful accompaniment to stronger flavoured fish, white eat and cheese dishes.

[Richard: our second wine from this classy chateau, to the east of Carpentras. The cave had more red wine than anything else and most of the white was of recent vintage. However I spotted a few bottles of the above and wish I’d bought more, especially as the lady on the till said it was ‘the best’. I think it was around €18. A really delicious, complex, fully mature taste and, yes, the best white wine I’ve tasted in ages.]

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