Tag Archives: red wine

Clean organic wine from the beautiful south of France and beyond

18 Feb

via Clean organic wine from the beautiful south of France and beyond

Big black wines to see winter out

3 Mar

Just when we thought an early spring had arrived the weather turned brutal again, and the Wine Wanderers have been getting through the last of winter with some big, black wines we don’t drink at other times of the year.
Not to say we eschew rich reds altogether – we always enjoy a good syrah with a hunk of lamb – but there are wines which pack so much punch we approach them with caution, including our beloved Barolo, reserved for special occasions.

Biggest and blackest of all wines is malbec, too rarely tempered with a soupcon of anything, which we tired of for a while after tasting more than 70 in a week on a visit to Argentina(wine-makers here are doing much more interesting things with other varietals), but have now acknowledged the need to revisit.

Malbec, however much the Argentinians claim it for their own, was the pride of Cahors in south-west France before the wine-makers of Mendoza decided to get seriously stuck into it.   While always big and in the hands of the Argentinians pretty reliable, it can be a one-note wine devoid of any subtlety.   However, the Wanderers got the chance to appreciate its finer nuances courtesy of Chateau de Mercues, a distinguished domaine which makes some very fine bottles indeed in the Cahors region.

The Wanderers thought the Prestige Cuvee 6666 2014 was as good as it was going to get at a recent London tasting until the very special Icone WOW 2009 from sister domaine Chateau de Haute-Serre was poured – simply sumptuous.   Annoyingly, there is not yet any UK distribution for these bottles and vintages, but Dulwich Vintners does sell Mercues’s slightly less elevated Grand Vin at prices from £18 per bottle, depending on the vintage.  One delightful way of getting Mercues’s top wine would be to visit the vineyard, which is attached to a Relais & Chateaux hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, and pick up the 6666 for 28 euros a bottle, the Icone an eye-watering five times as much at the cellar door.

Encouraged by how fine a malbec can be in the hands of good winemakers, we decided to sample an award-winning Argentinian example from Aldi, their Exquisite Collection Malbec, which has bagged a Which? Best Buy award as well as winning Silver in competition.   It was fine, but paled into insignificance beside an astonishing big black bottle from France Aldi is currently fielding.   Bonfleur Languedoc Reserve 2011 may not contain any malbec whatsoever, but for a syrah/grenache/mourvedre blend, always a good bet for body and flavour, it is absolutely huge, positively forcing you to sip and savour rather than quaff.

The secret is the age – this wine was found lying around the chateau by the new owners of the domaine, Mas des Belles Eaux.  It had somehow been forgotten for four or five years, and has gained enormously in complexity during that time.   Tasting as good as a bottle three times the price, this £6.99 wonder is one to bag now before the limited stock vanishes forever; note Aldi offer free delivery and allow you to make up your own case in the unlikely event you wouldn’t want to buy at least six of these(we are about to order our next half-dozen, if there are any left).

Another limited edition offering is from Lidl – an inky-looking syrah which somehow has been listed in their “Naturally Light” range.  That’s because their MW taster found “freshness” in Cave du Tain, a rich Rhone with a deep colour and slightly gamey taste.   But unlike some malbecs, it only looks inky and doesn’t actually taste of black ink!

Amalfi – surprisingly great wines as well as super lemons

6 May

The Wine Wanderers were recently on the Amalfi coast in search of the world’s finest lemons.  We found them, in droves(or should that be groves?), but what we also stumbled across, quite unexpectedly, were some of Italy’s best and least-celebrated wines.

Campania was not known for its winemaking skills as recently as a decade ago, but boy, have they come a long way in this land of fine mozzarella, fabulous seafood and, indeed, superlative lemons.   They are making excellent fiano, falanghina, Greco di tufo and aglianico in Campania, as well as some excellent white blends – and the Wanderers were lucky enough to be staying at two of the best hotels in the region, where some serious thought has been given to showcasing Campania on the wine list.

First stop was the Santa Caterina in Amalfi, where we tasted that superb aglianico.  The Wanderers first tasted this sumptuous, inky red in neighbouring Basilicata, where it has an AOC, and did not realise production was more widespread.   A Donnaluna 2011, actually 90 per cent aglianico tempered with 10 per cent primitivo,  was a voluptuous drop to accompany an inventive dish of burrata, poached egg and asparagus; the Greco di tufo “Devon” from Cantine Antonio Caggiano Taurasi which preceded it was crisp, dry and refreshing.

Sitting over the sea next day with an excellent seafood risotto, it was fitting to be served a splendid falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio.     But even better was a Furore blend of 60 per cent falanghina and 40 per cent indigenous biancolella.  Furore is named for a wine village just up the coast from Amalfi; this very excellent example came from from Cantine Marisa Cuomo.

On to Sorrento and one of the world’s oldest and grandest grand hotels, the exemplary Excelsior Vittoria, where they actually have a live pianist serenading guests in the breakfast room every morning.   Dinner is served in the Michelin-starred Terrazza Bosquet, where maitre d‘ Luciano gave us more Campania whites which knocked our socks off.   With scampi from the Messina Straits in Sicily we had the smokiest and most minerally fiano de avellino Colli di Lapio from Cleria Romano.   And a Per Eva Costa d’Amalfi falanghina blend from  Tenuta San Francesco stood up beautifully to a dish of orzo risotto perfumed with black garlic and candied zest of Sorrento lemons from the hotel garden beneath a bed of delicate white cuttlefish.

Although the blue lobster with bisque reduction sauce and caulifower foam must be the finest dish cooked anywhere on the Amalfi coast, we couldn’t blame Luciano for serving us a chardonnay from hundreds of miles north in Cortefranca,Lombardy.   Ca‘ del Bosco is one of the best chardonnays in all Italy and possibly the world; it can stand side by side with Montrachet, big, buttery with a lemony nose and altogether gorgeous.

The Wine Wanderers rarely choose Italian wines outside Italy, yet they never fail to surprise and delight us in their country of origin.   You have to be more careful with what you pick up in the British supermarkets, but Sainsburys does a pretty decent Aglianico del Vulture from Basiiicata at £8.   They also have a drinkable Greco di Tufo on offer till May 17 at £8(normally £10), but the Wanderers preferred a somewhat more elegant version of this varietal from Tre Fiori, £10.99 at Waitrose.   Wine Direct has that fine Feudi falanghina for £13, and Mad About Wines has the Furore for £21.85, the kind of price Campanian winemakers could not have dreamt their wines would fetch a decade or so ago.

Pinot noir to pine for – perhaps the world’s finest grape

11 Apr

The Wine Wanderers have been lying low for a few weeks working our way through an awful lot of the pinot noir we first learned to love when we were living in California.

This grape is notoriously difficult to cultivate, but they make some lovely bottles over there, which is why pinot got a special mention in the wine country road movie Sideways.

Enjoying well-deserved product placement in that film – perhaps it was a spontaneous mention not even sponsored – was a bottle of Fiddlehead, one of many fine pinots you can find in the unlikely “Lompoc Ghetto” – as Oz Clarke explained to me at a tasting, it’s a row of wine-makers’ warehouses hidden behind the Home Depot in Lompoc.

My $40 bottle of Fiddlehead, made by Kathy Joseph, who gave up medicine to make wine, was greatly enjoyed, but I haven’t found trace of it in the UK. We do, however, have plenty of pinot to go at, though it ranges from the good to the bad and ugly, and price is no guarantee of quality.

To deal with Burgundy first, the region which made its name on pinot noir often deals out the greatest disappointments. This may not be to do with the wine-making so much as the fact red Burgundy seems to require so much bottle-ageing, it can be simply unaffordable to find a really great drop. Not true back in the day, when the Wanderers enjoyed many a bottle of Cotes de Beaune and, on occasion, Nuits St Georges we simply couldn’t afford to touch now.

Happily, some great pinot is coming out of the New World, and one of the most sublime is the Willing Participant sold by Waitrose for just £10.99. It has the heady aroma which makes you expect an enormously powerful wine, but it turns out to be surprisingly light and elegant on the palate. A gorgeous drop.

We have a couple more to taste from Waitrose at this price point which look promising, but we hated their Chapel Hill pinot from Hungary. Even at £6,99, it was horrid.  To be honest, pinot noir is not worth tasting unless it has that absolutely heady, voluptuous aroma which gives you the same feeling as falling in love before you even get it in your mouth.

New Zealand has a reputation for pinot, but we felt very let down by t Dog Point we tasted – no character at all. By contrast, Goose Bay was absolutely sublime, and we also enjoyed a powerful 2006 pinot noir from Yarden in Israel. You’re more likely to find the 2007 in the shops now, but it has very similar berryish characteristics.

And finally – who knew the Tuscans and Croatians also made pinot noir?   At the incredibly lovely Villa San Michele in Fiesole, above Florence,  I enjoyed the most sublime pinot nero 2007 from Coldaia, Agricola Fortuna, last week.  And last night in Croatia a beautiful 2008 from Krauthaker.   To die for, like all the best pinot noir.

Barbera d’Alba and Birds custard with Marco Pierre White

23 Jan

The best bottle of wine we’ve drunk in the past week was with the former enfant terrible Marco Pierre White,  youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars back in the day.  It was a fine Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne 2009, listed at the Rainbow Inn in Cooksfield, East Sussex.  This charming eatery looks like a pub but is actually a proper restaurant which Marco has recently put his stamp on under the Wheelers Brand, and it has a very decent list.  It was good to see a Petaluma Cab Sauv from Australia, a Malbec from the excellent Catena winery in Argentina and a Californian Pinot Noir from Calera among the reds and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner as well as a Rully, one of the unsung stars of Burgundy, among the whites.

The food was as fine as you might expect, though since handing back his Michelin stars several years ago and stepping away from the stove, Marco has made it his mission to dispel food snobbery.  He defends his commercials for stock cubes by insisting they are used in many top French kitchens(we were shocked, but will take his word for that), and takes a childlike delight in the fact the Wheelers signature pea and ham soup is made with the frozen variety from Birds Eye.   No quibble with that – frozen petits pois are invariably smaller, greener and sweeter than all but the freshest in the pod on supermarket shelves – but it was surprising to hear him swear that only half the custard in the excellent sherry trifle was made from scratch and topped up with the product of a Birds packet. It bears the name of one Wally Ladd, the chef who crreated this particular trifle recipe at the Connaught, so one can only hope MPW was not playing a little joke at his expense.

Other good things at the Rainbow – a starter of quails eggs on a crispy base spread with mushroom duxelles and enrobed with rich hollandaise sauce, a rib-eye steak with perfect bearnaise and sensational triple-cooked chips, and hot raspberry souffle for dessert.  Marco has installed nostalgic white lace tablecloths and some stunning modern sculptures, as well as  wall to wall Jax cartoons from his personal collection, and the room overlooking the floodlit garden would be an enchanting place to have dinner.   Worth trying at the bar are Marco’s own ale and cider brews, though alas with so many other pubs to oversee around the country, you’re not likely to find him in residence to trade sparkling banter very often.   Still, the new Rainbow should prove a welcome addition to the Lewes dining scene, and prices are very reasonable for food of this quality.