Tag Archives: Wine Society

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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“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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“Nectar? No ta.”

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Sunday and the usual blind tasting rules applied, R. decanting 30 mins before pouring an inch into two glasses. Look, discuss, smell, discuss, taste, more discussion. “Well?” Richard inquired. “Old world.” Correct. “Is it Italy?”. No. “Southern French?” No. “Has to be Bordeaux, then.” Correct. Then we trailed off into Left/Right Bank source.

The wine? Chateau de la Grave Nectar 2010 14% ABV (90% Merlot, 10% CS)

Now my defence.

This was probably the most unlikely candidate for a claret that I’ve ever tried. Intensely black/red with a slight brick rim; very viscous, violet-perfumed with spicy black cherry notes, it yelled out hot climate from the glass. (2010 was a hot year; now being called a classic by some, controversial by others). The palate was a bruiser. Heavyweight, long, very concentrated, the tannins well-integrated but into the red fruit sweetness that dominated. Not a twig of cedar, a shaving of pencil or smudge of graphite could be detected. Great with a big stew, barbecue or cassoulet.

Absolutely nothing wrong with the wine but certainly not typical of the region. And, unfortunately, not for me. It might be more subtle given a few years but Merlot is not known for its ageing.

[Richard: every six months TWS send out a Fine Wine list which includes a page of ‘small wonders’ – the unnecessarily cute name denoting fine wines under £20. The above was only £12.50 which is low-end for fine wine although the heavy bottle and pretentious name/label seem to be an attempt to position the wine a bit higher up the scale. As did the taste – too sweet and international in style, with no sense of place. Given the way TWS promoted it I expected more than was delivered. Fine if you like Merlot, although you could probably better spend your money on something from Chile.]

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We also tasted the above – not blind as Geoff had to do a detailed note on it for WSET. A claret we both know well, although it’s only been blogged once. In terms of typicity this was the complete opposite of the Nectar. Unmistakably claret, even though the nose was more red fruit rather than black (it’s 50-50 cs/merlot). Complex, interesting, structured with ageing potential. All the things the Nectar wasn’t and at around the same price. No contest.

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A rather fine French sparkling wine

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Cramant is a Grand Cru village on the Cote de Blanc, two miles south of Epernay. The limestone rock and Chardonnay grape help produce wines of delicacy and finesse and this was no exception. Part of Richard’s mixed case of growers’ champagnes from the Wine Society, it was a pleasure to try, made even more pleasurable by my relatively abstemious Christmas.

Suenen a Cramant (12% ABV) was an intense lemon yellow, with maybe a touch of green, in colour with a fine mousse. An elegant nose of bruised, rather than stewed, apple was easily spotted as was the yeasty notes that it seems only Champagne can give.

The palate was certainly dry and high in acidity but also with a richness underlying a lemon-sherbet taste. This richness wasn’t allowed to wallow self-indulgently but rather ended in a minerally, chalky flavour which gave it some pleasing firmness. This was full of character, distinctive and, for the host “the quintessential aperitif to stimulate the taste-buds”.

Technically interesting, the label proclaimed a base wine from 2012 (richness), degorgement in March 2015 and   a dosage of 3 grams of sugar per litre, giving it the Extra Brut classification (between 0 – 6g/l).

I prefer this Blanc de Blanc style to the Blanc de Noir because of its finesse but think that it has to be well-made otherwise it can be unforgiving and aggressive. This was certainly neither of those.

[Richard: from a WS ‘growers mixed case’, about £25. We’ve being working through these over Christmas and I think this is probably the best. Unfortunately, now out of stock. Pure and very drinkable, and, even though the acidity is high, the accompanying balancing richness makes for a lovely drink.]

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