Tag Archives: Wine Society

At home with a Rhone

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In Crozes-Hermitage, the largest appellation in the northern Rhone, the focus is on Syrah whose vines occupy the best granite terroir. However, the two white grapes, Marsanne and Rousanne, are also grown and blended or produced as the mono-varietal Marsanne. They are relatively easy to spot and this Sunday’s offering was no different.

Domaine Belle’s Les Terres Blanches 2014 (13%), comprised 70% Marsanne with 30% Rousanne, had been aged for 10 months. Interestingly, only 20% of this was new oak, the rest being old oak and stainless steel. I assume that this was to maintain acidity levels which can be an issue for white grapes in the south.

The result was a delicate wine, a very bright, pale straw in colour. An elegant bouquet of stone fruits and blossom with lemon acidity was very attractive. The palate confirmed its refreshing delicacy and lightness. Medium length with a slight yoghurty creaminess, lifted by lemon acidity, the wine was not quite bone dry and would make an ideal – and unusual – aperitif or pair well with fish.

This was a very pleasant, gently attractive white wine.

[Richard: very well made wine with lots to interest the nose and palate. From The WS as part of a mixed white Rhone half case, no longer available so I’m not sure of the price but decent white Rhone is never cheap.]

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Two oldies – no, not us – the wines

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The Wine Society had recently made available some 1994 Argentinian Malbecs from Weinart, a traditional producer based in Mendoza.  Richard and I tasted some on Friday evening. The wine had been decanted.

The colour was an intense ruby with a brick-tinged rim and some viscosity. The dominant aromas were plum, vanilla and tertiary notes of licquorice. There was both acidity and a slight spirit smell. The palate was repeat of the above with the addition of spiciness and some alcohol heat.

WS’s claim of complexity was interesting – we must have been missing something. To be fair, the sellers did claim the drinking window to be in 2019 so it might be still too young which may account for the presence of alcohol. In other words the wine may not have ‘settled down’ yet. However, 23 years is a long time and I would have thought that some more interesting notes might be beginning to show.

I’m wary of old red wines that have been ‘unearthed’ by buyers. Some of them taste just what they are – old red wines. Not all wines age graciously – or indeed gain more layers of flavour – we both hope this isn’t one of those.

[Richard: I bought 6 of these, en primeur, on a whim having failed to spot the 15.1% alcohol. The WS say ‘can be drunk soon after bottling’ and also ‘drink from 2019’ which is rather contradictory since the wine must have been bottled about three months ago. As Geoff says, the WS claim ‘remarkable complexity’ which passed me by. Nor can I see that holding it for another 15 months will make much difference. Come back next year…]

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Talking of older wines improving – or not, as the case may be – I grabbed two bottles of Cluver Elgin chardonnay 2011 from a basket of discontinued wines at Vin Neuf in Stratford. These were a bargain and had improved.

Very bright, intense, deep lemon in colour, the aromas of lime, sweet melon and pineapple were fabulous. This was New World chardonnay at its best – rich tropical fruits balanced by acidity for the freshness with a little vanilla cream providing the bass notes.

I’ve the other bottle left, I don’t think there’ll be any more. What a pity.

[Richard: quite a while since I’ve tried a non-French chardonnay and this was a good one. Tropical but not too tropical.]

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de Castelnau

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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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Unmistakable

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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ABC – Argentinian best Chardonnay?

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This was Zaha’s 2015 Chardonnay made in Mendoza, Argentina. Made from vines grown at 1200 metres, the wine is sold by the Wine Society, who, amongst other descriptions, describe it as ‘taut’. The cost is £20 which puts it into the white Burgundy price bracket.

A pronounced green colour suggested acidity but the viscosity also hinted at richness. There was a very slight smokiness on the nose which smelt predominately of stone fruits. (R. thought there was burnt match smell, possibly a sign of reduction). The big mouth feel was attractive as was its richness, dryness and the expected acidity. It didn’t shout Chardonnay to me – not that it needed to – but it was a good wine, nevertheless.

If I was pushed to liken it to a classic Burgundy it was certainly more southern but not as broad as the Maconnais wines. Another good wine on this weekend of good wines.

[Richard: I thought this was very good. £20 for a South American chardonnay might seem ambitious but, as Geoff has implied, it compared well to a Burgundian equivalent.]

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Another Italian Job.

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Another interesting wine from Richard’s Italian case. This time from Puglia – the ‘heel’ – a region that contributes most wine to Italy’s production (17%); the majority, over 80%, being red. Its largely flat landscape means that the cooling sea winds on three sides of the region are very important as are the techniques to help protect the grapes from the direct sunshine. The grape Nero di Troia, previously Uva di Troia, has no link to the legendary city but refers to a Puglian village of the same name. It makes an early maturing wine of high tannins and is often blended.

The wine was from the makers Rasciatano, from the 2011 vintage, and had the IGT Puglia designation. The colour indicated the early-maturing trait being distinctly brick red on the rim with an intense red core. The Italian giveaway to me was the sour cherry nose (I posed Sangiovese and Nebbiolo first) which was then confirmed on the palate. Tannins and acidity were nicely in balance, there was a slightly graphite initial taste but the wine ended long and dry. Definitely a wine to enjoy with strong flavoured foods, this was another good wine on our Italian trip.

[Richard: another good one from TWS (£21). Lots of fruit married with some complexity made for an enjoyable, if slightly overpriced, drink.]

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Fifth out of six.

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The numbers reference the fifth bottle out of a case of six white Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Burgundies Richard purchased “as a single man” (his words). We’ve blogged them all and Sunday was the turn of  Les Combettes, a premier cru vineyard abutting the Meursault AC. The vintage was 2011.

A pronounced yellow, with a green  tinge, in appearance, the wine showed some languid viscosity in the glass as it swirled. A nose of fresh lemons was the initial hit but the longer it sat the more smokiness came through. The palate was of medium weight, long, rich with a beguiling aftertaste of honeysuckle and fresh green hazelnuts. These wonderful flavours started coming through after about fifteen minutes sitting in a broad bowled glass; the warmish late-afternoon temperature certainly helped. A refined wine, certainly.

Burgundy’s high prices are well documented and this premier cru wine certainly was expensive. In a restaurant I suppose we may not begrudge spending £50+ for a really good wine but that is certainly a top price in the retail market, in my opinion. Our discussion spun around ‘value for money’ of these wines and whether the demand has put these excellent wines out of range of many wine lovers’ budgets. My estimation of this wine’s true price (if there is such a thing) would be about £35. That’s not denying its undoubted quality but “too much money is chasing too little product”.

[Richard: wines like this are the equivalent of what, in the sightseeing context, has been described as ‘worth seeing but not worth going to see’. I’m certainly glad to have tried top quality white burgundy – and prices are even more expensive now – but I can’t see I’d ever buy another bottle of premier cru. From the nose through to the taste this was clearly a very classy wine which Geoff had no trouble identifying. For me there was rather too much richness and not enough acidity although the many and varied smells and tastes made it a very enjoyable ‘vino da meditazione’, as the Italians put it.]

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