Tag Archives: 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!

Summer in a bottle – gorgeous golden pinks from Provence and surprises from further afield

5 Jul

In a midsummer made for pink wine drinking, the Wine Wanderers have challenged themselves to reconsider roses made outside the South of France.   It was a wrench; it’s hard to turn away from the beautiful golden-pink wines which characterise Cotes de Provence and have a quality mostly absent from pinks made elsewhere.  It’s what Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Paris Ritz, speaking of the Clos de l’Ours CdP he sells through Le Petit Ballon, so aptly describes as “a stony minerality”.

Our prejudice against deeper-pink wines which often lack any hint of minerality has been fed over the years by some horrid Rose d’Anjou and even nastier “blush” zinfandel first encountered when the Wanderers lived in California.   It was a shock to return to these shores and find that white zinfandel had followed us – but we were close enough to France to pick up endless five-euro bottles of Cotes de Provence in French supermarkets which never disappointed, despite the bargain basement price.

CdP has now made it on to UK supermarket shelves, riding the crest of a wave of Brits’ preference for pale pink roses, but costs twice as much here as it does in France, thanks to the duty.   The Wanderers enjoyed Laithwaite’s gorgeous golden-pink Domaine Les Gres(£10.99 or £9.89 if buying 12) but felt it was a bit pricey.    At least both Sainsburys and Waitrose, whose own label CdP’s are decent value on promotion if also pricey otherwise at £8-9, have ramped up their range of pinks in light of sales of tens of million bottles every year and made some good finds elsewhere.

It’s not only in Provence where a preponderance of grenache makes for a great drop. Having established on a visit to Langedoc-Roussillon how good winemakers there are at blending this grape with syrah(viz. the excellent value L’Or du Sud by Foncalieu, £5.49 at Lidl), we ventured further north, enjoying a £6 Winemaker’s Selection Cotes de Rhone from Sainsburys, which also blends grenache with Syrah.  Ditto an £8  Barrihuela Rioja Rosado – here the grenache is spelled garnacha – perhaps a little finer than the excellent value £4.99 Rioja rosado from Lidl.

Laithwaites’ Pillastro Rosato from Puglia presented the first challenge to our prejudiced palates, not only because it was a slightly suspect strawberry pink, but because the grape was primitivo, the progenitor of zinfandel.   While not as sweet and nasty as the “blush” zinfandel we used to drink in California, the Pillastro was still too jammy for our taste, and a reminder that primitivo/zinfandel does have an inherent sweetness which is subsumed by the alcohol when it appears as a joyous red.    Similarly, we love red pinot noir, but not the New World pink pinot noirs tasted from various sources – a bit sweet and a bit fizzy for our tastebuds.

Specially worth mentioning is a great rose from Greece we approached with anticipation, remembering a wonderful cheap as chips rose enjoyed with barbecued pork in a remote corner of Mykonos.   Twin Sails, a Waitrose exclusive, is made from the xinomavro grape, another variety usually reserved for reds but this one performing perfectly as a fragrant pink with not a hint of unwanted sweetness.   Fabulous value at an everyday price of £5.99, all you should really have to pay for a wine that looks and tastes like summer in a bottle.

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.

Georgia on my mind – for fabulous food and 8000 years of fine wine

22 Oct

Georgia, that beautiful land in the Caucasus which has been independent from Russia for 20 years, is a revelation for the palate.  A trip to Tbilisi and beyond revealed the most beautiful produce I have ever seen, and an incredibly original and rich cuisine.

Lamb baked with plums and tarragon, aubergine slices wrapped around spiced walnut paste, chicken roasted and steeped in an intense creamy garlic sauce, grilled trout robed in a rich pink pomegranate dressing – the list goes on.   From a Mongolian invasion the Georgians took khinkali –  dim sum-style dumplings stuffed with meat and rich broth, which they chase down with cha-cha, their home-grown grappa – but khajhapuri, bread stuffed with cheese into which eggs are often cracked at table to mix in, cook gently in the goopy cheese and scoop out with pieces of crust, is entirely their own invention.

It didn’t take the Romans, among the many invaders this country has endured over the centuries, to teach the Georgians how to make wine.  They were doing it 8000 years ago, the world’s very first wine-makers, and they are still sticking to many of their ancient principles.  The most unique of these is a first fermentation of grapes with skins, seeds and sometimes stems intact, in clay pots known as qvevri which are buried in the ground to keep them cool.  After a few weeks or as long as six months, the grape juice comes out of the pots and the wine-making process continues.  The results vary, from intriguing white wines, often amber to orange in colour and high in minerality, to red wines which are more of an acquired taste, preferred young, tough and tannic in their home country.

Georgian reds become much more palatable for western tastes when they are allowed a little age.  Most are  made entirely from the Saperavi grape, one of 500 indigeneous varieties, while others mimic a classic Bordeaux blend.   I enjoyed  a delectable  2007 blend from Winiveria  at the Georgian Food and Wine Festival, and with dinner a beautiful organic Saperavi 2008 from Nikoashvili vineyards.  The real stars of my tasting trip, though, were two gorgeous clay-pot whites from the poetically-named Pheasant’s Tears.   The best way to enjoy their amber, honey-scented Rkatsiteli and even more exotically fragrant Mitsvane is to visit the winery’s rustic restaurant in the wine town of Signaghi, where Guy cooks up a storm.   After feasting on various combinations of the aubergine, walnut, pomegranate and beetroot salads so beloved of the Georgians(they also grow the world’s sweetest tomatoes and crispest cucumbers), we enjoyed a stunning casserole of mushrooms baked in cream and the tasty smoked, stringy cheese which abounds in the country.

London’s two-star Michelin chef Claude Bosi left his Hibiscus restaurant for a weekend to cook a gala dinner in Tbilisi during our stay, using only fine Georgian ingredients.   But while his cep tart with pomegranate sorbet was a triumph, none of his savoury dishes were better than the best of the local specialities we ate on the ground.    Great Tbilisi restaurants like Kopala, the Bread House and In the Shadow of Metekhi are all surprisingly affordable – the message is to get there before Georgia is identified, rightly, as the world’s next great foodie destination.