Monday, 14 October 2013

Clos d’Alzan Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2011 - A decent bet under £11

Very good en primeur buy @£7
I've mentioned this wine a few times before.

The 2010 was superb value, particularly en primeur at £7-8 per bottle.

The 2011, which has just arrived at my door after a long wait, is also excellent.

Few 2011 Côtes du Rhône wines are as good as 2010, but then 2010 was one of the best years ever.

In Bordeaux they are saying it will eventually surpass even 1982.

In the Rhone I am not sure, but I loved the 2010s I had.

This 2011 was also great value at around £7-8 per bottle, also en primeur, although I had to wait a LONG time for it.

Now it's about £130 a case, and that's decent value for what you get. It has an unexpected freshness and a fruitiness, with the complexity of the region that other wines in this price bracket lack.

It's not a "light" wine by any means, but the bottle I tasted was very quaffable indeed, which you don't always think fits with Côtes du Rhône wine. They are not Bourgogne or Fleurie wines, after all. I felt I could really taste the Grenache in it. I suppose you could say it's powerful but very well balanced and accessible.

I drank it at just below room temperature, at least as first, which may have affected the palate. where I bought it, describes it rather differently. They say: "A rich and dark Grenache blend boasting lots of blackcurrant fruit, pepper and spice. Impressive power and balance with a lingering finish".

That's not really what I've had from my one bottle, but nonetheless it's worth investigating, despite the reviewer disagreements.

At £130 a case, or just under £11 per bottle, it's a decent bet, and you'll be supporting a small vineyard too, rather than supermarket buying practices. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Domaine la Sarabande: Great value Languedoc drinking

A recent addition to the Sarabande vineyards
Sarabande is a relatively new addition to the up and coming Languedoc wine region within a region of Faugères.

It's run by two knowledgeable and friendly folk, Paul and Isla Gordon.

Their wines, produced from small parcels around Faugères, are superb drinking.

I was lucky enough to visit their house in the village during August and taste a few of their recent vintages.

They make several reds and a rose, and promote their work and wine via this enjoyable blog.

As you'd expect for the region, the grapes are mostly Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache.

Despite breaking one of the bottles of their wine in my suitcase flying home from Toulouse, I've managed to enjoy several bottles of their rose, mid range and signature reds since August.

Those I have sampled are pictured below (pinched from their blog but I hope they won't object). Their wines range from 7-8 Euros for the Rose, to 12.50 for the AOP Faugères and 25 Euros for the excellent "Les Espinasses".

Here's where to go to consider buying the wines. For cutting-edge boutique wine (if that's not too silly a term, which it may well be) from an emerging region lots of wine fans are excited about, it's well worth trying a few.

 Les Espinasses, left, is powerful stuff. At 15% it needs food to accompany it, but drinks beautifully.

I'm finding I am enjoying the good newer wines from the Languedoc more than my traditional Côtes du Rhône at the moment. They seem less predictable. Perhaps because they are new to my palate.

For value drinking, the bottle just below, AOP Faugères is pretty unbeatable at below £10 a bottle (pre UK tax).

I'll be buying a case of this as as soon as my 2011 Clos d’Alzan Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2011 is exhausted. That arrives next week from those excellent folk at

(I bought it En primeur at a total cost with tax of about £7.50 per bottle, based on the excellent 2010. I'm not expecting it to be quite as good as 2010, but at that price I am sure it will still be worth it)

The Sarabande rose is also below. It's keenly priced, although I found it a little acidic. But that's probably me more than the wine. For some reason I find a lot of rose too acidic to have more than a glass of. For rose fans, I'd say try it, it beats buying from supermarkets any day.

If interested in buying the wines, contact

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Gerard Bertrand La Forge 2000 - A hidden Languedoc gem

Not cheap, but a rare gem
I first discovered La Forge in a wine shop in Shanghai.

An odd way perhaps, but it was via a friend who spends his summers in Languedoc-Roussillon, so perhaps not that much of a surprise.

The region is by far the best value place in the world for what are now wines of rapidly increasing quality.

Places such as Corbieres and Fitou have a reputation for bulk wines, mass production and less than average, fruity quality.

Not any more. Those wines of course still exist, but more and more boutique wineries, and much larger ones, are springing up to take advantage of the soil and weather.

In the past the Gironde river served as a connecting artery between Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux. Wine used to be shipped down the river to bulk up clarets of the past. Whether this still happens I am not sure.

This wine, Gerard Bertrand La Forge 2000, is truly a hidden Languedoc gem. I also tried the 2001 and the 2002, plus a few others. The 2000 is a stand out. It is not cheap at around 50 Euros a bottle, but for a rare treat, if you can get it, it's highly recommended.

In the glass it's the colour of 20 year old left bank claret, with the complexity and smoothness to match.

It's a blend of Syrah and Carignan, the latter being a grape you see less often compared to better known equivalents in Languedoc, such as Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and sometimes Cinsault.

Given the grape variety, La Forge 2000 lacks the tannins of Bordeaux, but has survived 13 years in vat, barrel and bottle to create a wine of supple richness, smoothness, complexity and a touch of sweetness.

This is without doubt the best non-Bordeaux aged red wine I've ever had. There are only a couple of hundred bottles of it left, according to our charming guide who took us around the winery. I imagine it does not have long until it is past it's best. The 2002 that we tried had gone over the edge, but the 2001 appears to have some ageing potential left until it reaches the heights of 2000, if that's possible given 2000 is a stand-out vintage in the region.

Given that wines from the far south of France lack the Bordeaux tannic structure ability to age for 10+ years this was a real find for me.

I visited the winery, Château l’Hospitalet, in mid/late August this year and a few more photos are below.

It's part of an impressive empire built up by Gerard Bertrand, a former rugby player for the French national side, over the last twenty years.

In the distance from the top of the hill you can see the sparkling of the mediterranean sea.

Mini-vertical tasting of La Forge 2000, '01,'02,'30. A difficult day.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Hidden gem year: 1996 left bank Bordeaux

Bargain vintage drinking
As an amateur enthusiast and small collector of some vintage bottles of red, I've come across a few years which I think represent very good value given the quality and price on offer.

One of these is 1996 Bordeaux, on the left bank.

I've never had a bad bottle from the year, and there is incredible variation as the wines age.

For example Potensac 1996 is a bit of a gem. It tastes to me like a 2000, smooth, elegant and with a long long way to go.

Meanwhile Cos Labory 1996 is a completely different beast. It's claret that Jancis Robinson and others suggest drinking now. It's on the way out they say. I'd agree, which is what makes it such a bargain at just £30 a bottle with tax and duty.

I found a couple of cases on BBX, the Berry Brothers exchange where you can buy from individuals online within the Berry's system.

Other great 1996 wines worth a look from the left bank are Calon Segur and Sociando Mallet. Both cracking, if a little more costly at around £75 and £50 each.

For value aged claret drinking, there's a lot of mileage left in the vintage.

Making this blog more interesting..

After a while blogging on individual bottles of wine that style has run its course.

I thought about deleting the blog altogether. Writing about something such as wine, where a few years learning counts for little by comparison to others, is a humbling experience.

Rather than doing that though, I'll make it more about places, areas, vintages and experiences. That should provide a little more variation.

Let's see how that goes.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Meyney 2003 - supreme value mid-range drinking

I just picked up half a case of this, best scores for the Chateau ever by Jancis. 

I've had it once and it was very very good. The 2010 is also staggeringly good already. But is already £45 a bottle here in UK.

Seems like quite a bit left around, at around £30 a bottle. 

I swapped it for a 15 minute speaking gig ten mins from home. Seemed like a better deal than the cash.

Here's what Jancis has to say: 

Ch Meyney 2003 St-Estèphe
13 Oct 2010 by JR
Date tasted01 Oct 2010
ProducerCh Meyney
When to drink2010 to 2020
Published13 Oct 2010
Dark crimson. Translucent and appetising and so delicate and ethereal! Quite exceptional. So lifted. Very well done, lots of fruit there. Even if not that much density. (Average group score: 16.8)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Good short summary of how the Cru Bourgeois system works

This from a Forbes food and wine writer, Katie Bell:

"The short history goes something like this: in 1932, the Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 wines as Crus Bourgeois.

In 2003, the first official classification of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc was established and included 247 châteaus out of 490 candidates. 

Several châteaus (excluded from the classification) deemed this as unfair. The classification was annulled in 2007 and then, lo and behold everyone came to some agreement on things and in 2009 a Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Official Selection process was implemented.

Now, in order to be designated as Cru Bourgeois a wine must be evaluated each year by a select panel. Some wines don’t make the cut, but they are welcome to try for the following year."

The full article is here.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Chateau De Pez 1959: Yes really, and yes still drinking well

If like me, you sometimes like wines that are past their fruit best, you might like this.

It's Chateau De Pez 1959. You couldn't tell from the label.

It's on 'tap' at the Sampler in London, for about £18 a glass.

Quite pricey, you might say. But when else would you have the chance to taste a 1959 Saint Estephe?

They have a Calon Segur of the same year there, which I am quite tempted by. But it's £180, which is a little steep. One day perhaps.

What was the Chateau De Pez 1959 like?

Well, I had a tiny glass of the 1985 Hermitage La Chapelle 1985 just before it (what a way to prepare the palate) and the Pez had more structure, and at least the same fruit.

But it had the Bordeaux backbone, the structure, the Cabernet Sauvignon spine that Rhone wines at age can't quite compete with, given my limited knowledge.

The expert chap in the shop tells me 1959 was a fabulous year, perhaps that's why it's still very drinkable.

It's the oldest red I've yet had, by about 11 years. Over the hill for some I'm sure, but I thought it was fabulous.

Bargain 2005 St Emilion: Croque Michotte, an organic gem

Good honest right bank quaffing
Sometimes you just want a hearty well-drinking rich Bordeaux.

I had this a couple of months back, when the weather was much colder. It went wonderfully with a rich beef and bean stew.

Perhaps not so much a summer red, given its power but the ripe fruit and low acidity (OK that's from the Wine Society blurb, my notes are not that good) might mean you could drink it before winter.

This wine is about £16 a bottle from the non-profit UK Wine Society. Decent value at that price, I'd say.

The 2005's are just starting to come into their own for me. Just beginning to drink well. 

What a year it will turn out to be. They say 2010 is going to be the best year in history for Bordeaux (better than 1870, 1945, 1961 or 1982). While we wait, the 2005's will do very nicely.

Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: An Aconcagua gem

This is a beautiful boutique wine from the Aconcagua valley in Chile.

It's what you might expect from a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lots of character, delicious big bold fruit but eventually with a subtle complexity and length of finish I haven't always found in New World Wines.

It's become much much better in the 24 hours since I opened it.

In that time, somehow, a hint of age has crept in. It's become that much more structured and balanced.

At first the fruit and alchohol and American oal (I'm guessing) is quite over powering. I was at first a little disappointed.

But give it 12-24 hours and it smooths out a little, opens up and whilst you still get the oak on the nose, it's much less so on the palate. There are few tannins that I can detect.

I tasted this at Chilean wine tasting here in London a few months ago, and it was by far the top of the list of around a dozen boutique small vineyard Chilean wines.

But then I don't much like Merlot (top right bank Bordeaux aside!) so maybe that's just me.

The winery itself, pictured here, looks stunning. I am visiting Chile in October so may try to pay a visit.

They have even looked at their biodiversity footprint. Impressive stuff. 

This was about £14 per bottle from Roberson's wines in London, but I think I bought their last case, sorry.

Chilean wine has apparently one of the lowest pesticide "footprints" due to the growing conditions in at least some of the country. I can't wait to get back there.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ormes de Pez 2007: Decent early drinking

2007: A forward year, so they say
Ormes de Pez is one of my favourite wines.

A former Cru Bourgeois, (I think) it has probably more minerality than any other wine I know.

There are few Saint-Estephe's that can compete with it for big, bold, earthy mineral flavours.

Calon Segur and Phelan Segur, both of which I have been sampling recently, are at the other end of the Saint-Estephe scale for me. Much more subtle. Not better, just different.

The only other Saint-Estephe I know that reminds me of Pez is Lafon Roche, another big beast from the north of the left bank.

This wine, whilst extremely young, almost criminally, is drinking well right now. It has all the character of Pez you would expect.

 I hear the left bank Bordeaux 2007's are generally drinking well across the board.

Mine came from Carrefour in Brussels. More on where to buy it here.

It's not as huge as the 2003, which is possibly the most extreme of this genre I have tried (it's so intense friends of mine disliked it) and I thought this 2007 was well balanced by comparison. It's well worth a try.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

1978 Las Cases and 1996 Calon, Cos and Leoville Barton

Cos D'Estournel 96', unbeatable
 Yesterday a few friends and I enjoyed a small horizontal tasting of 1996 wines, and a rather special birthday bottle.

First, the 1996 wines. We tried:

1996 Cos D'Estournel

1996 Leoville Barton

1996 Calon Segur

Opinions differed slightly on the Calon. Some felt it still very closed, even after an hour or so in the decanter.

Others said its nose was superb and it was a great example of Calon Segur's more recent output.

The Barton, we all agreed, was a little rough around the edges.

Las Cases, Barton, Cos and Calon, lined up
It lacked balance, but that may be been the bottle: One of our party has tried it previously and noted that bottle was quite different, as far as he recalled.

The Cos won, as Cos usually does in these circumstances. It still has decades to go, and the forest floor mustiness is just emerging, with so much fruit, depth, character, complexity and finish, it was the wine of the night.

The only one that competed, for very different reasons, was the 1978 Leoville Las Cases. This was something of an outlier to the others, impossible to compare really.

A St Julien wine, but overlooking the Latour vineyard in Bordeaux (Pauillac), some might say it had gone past its best. But for us it still had plenty of fruit, depth and complexity, with that wonderful aged claret nose and finish. A truly great "super second" that I doubt I will taste again, at least in that year.

The wines came from Fine and Rare. Not cheap, but well worth it for a special celebratory evening.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Avignonesi Montepulciano Riserva 2007: Holy Mackerel

Best Montepulciano I've had, no doubt
The say Barolo is the king of wines, the wine of kings.

But most kings wouldn't turn down this Montepulciano Riserva 2007, unless they were seriously inbred and a fan of Black Tower instead.

That's entirely possible, Royals not being the brightest of our breeding stock in Europe.

However, that aside, this wine is well worth trying.

As you may know, they only make Riserva wines in Tuscany every few years, and you can see why when you try this one.

It changed dramatically in the glass. At first it was soft(ish), you could taste the age, the complexity and the fruit. Then it shut down and became quite tannic, almost rustic, as Sangiovese can often be. After another thirty minutes it opened up again, and kept it's more tannic edge, but that softness and slight hint of age came back on the mid-palate.

It's one of more complex Italian wines I have had recently. The 2007's are of course far too young to be be drunk now, but I have had quite a few recently (they have just been released recently in the case of Brunello, I believe) and from what I can tell, it's a great year, much better than 2006.

This website gives the wine a community score of 90. I'd score it higher, if I did such things. Gorgeous, fruity, aged and complex, with that tannic change, it's a journey in a glass. Buy buy buy.

I had it with medium rare steak and a rocket and parmesan salad at Negozio Classica in Notting Hill.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Domaine de la Solitude 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape: Plummy elegance and power

Not to be drunk in solitude
"...mainly a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and a light note of Cinsault. These wines are full bodied, rich textured and soft at the same time able to change according to the vintage from sweet black fruits, red fruits, exotic fruits, kirsch, ripe plum mixed with spice notes, leather and smoked: a rich style with mouth finals long and heady."

So says the website for this smooth, elegant CNP.

I'm not sure I can pick all of that up from the bottle I am trying, particularly given the cold I picked up in China (some of their wines are fantastic) last week.

But for those readers who like a smoother, silkier CNP, as opposed to some of the more rustic Côtes du Rhône wines out there, this is a gem. 

Despite the fact that it's 14.5% alcohol, you really wouldn't know from tasting it, particularly once it has been open for 24 hours. 

I am finding less and less point in drinking wines within 24 hours these days. Much better, I find, to open a bottle, taste a glass, write a few notes, then let it breathe for 24 or 48 hours, and then drink the wine with food. 

This Domaine de la Solitude 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape is for you if like a big, smooth, powerful, plummy French red. My bottle was a gift, but has it for around £20 or a bit less. Worth a try.

I'm really going to miss the 2010 Rhone wines when they are gone. I'm already finding my favourite UK retailers are stocking 2011 Rhone wines now over 2010. 2011 was not as good a year as far as I can tell. Stock up on 2010's while you can, I wish I had.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Cos Labory 2005 Saint-Estephe: A keeper and a drinker

Gorgeous left bank, will be a stunner
I've just discovered this chateau and it seems like excellent value.

I picked up some 2005 and two cases of the 1996 recently.

The 1996 is a bargain, I think, at around £250 per case on the Berry Brother's wine exchange system, BBX.

The 2005, they say, will not be drinking properly until 2015.

I've opened one bottle and left for a couple of days after opening you begin to taste how good it will be when it has aged.

The 2005 is scoring between 88-92 and 16.5/20 upwards. What that means I don't know.

I had a 96 pointer wine recently that was plain awful. But this wine is worth laying down for the next decade.

Having made two trips to Bordeaux in the last 18 months and met wine makers from Cos D'estournel, Pichon Baron, Latour, Comtesse Lalande, Smith Haut Lafite, Haut Bailly, Cheval Blanc, Petrus, d'Yquem, L'arrivet Haut Brion, Lynch Bages, Le Pin and a few others, I can tell you they are all worried about climate change. Very worried. Weather may outstrip technology in wine regions in the next ten years. It's worth stocking up now.

Côtes du Ventoux, 'Les Traverses', Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2010: Balance and power from Provence

Provence Grenache/Syrah 2010
This is, quite simply, the best wine under £8 per bottle I've tried, perhaps ever.

A bold statement? Maybe. I only bought a single bottle from the UK's Wine Society for £7.50.

This wine is big, bold, smooth, rich, elegant, powerful, all the over used words we use with good wine.

The two elements that come through the most for me are the mid palate density. Explained here, and the balance.

I'd also say it has excellent finesse, which is praise indeed considering it's classed as close as you can get to a Rhone wine, which are less known for subtlety than say a Burgundy or Bordeaux wine.

Anyhow, the 2011 is available at the same price here. A must try. Yes there is a connection between price and quality in wine, but this is a great example of just what excellent value you can get if you shop around, stay away from supermarkets and experiment with organisations such as the Wine Society. You just can never beat France for value wines, it's more or less impossible. It's the same at the top end for me. It's in the £20-100 per bottle range that Italy competes, no other country can come close.

I had a 2002 Torbreck "Descendents" recently. Around £70-80 a bottle or so. Awful. All black pepper and overpowering alcohol. This wine at £7.49 a bottle, is miles better.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Chateau Brown 2009: Tasty but 14.5% alcohol is too much

14.5% phew. Tasty though.
Call me a bluff old traditionalist, as Blackadder once said, but 14.5% alcohol, is too much for any red wine, except perhaps a dessert wine, however it tastes.

Chateau Brown 2009 is good but way too alcoholic even for that very forward year.

It has good balanced minerality, it's peppery, with huge dark fruit typical of 2009.

Fans of full-bodied American wine and fans of Parker will love this. It has more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon, which I am always a little dubious about.

It's also dark, inky and full of blackcurrent and cassis, Some reviewers said chocolate, and I kind of see what they meant.

Its slightly tannic but not overly so, and tastes like it should be drunk fairy young.

Chris Kissack, AKA the Wine Doctor, really rates this 2009 but oddly fails to mention the very high alcohol content.

I would give this a 15 or perhaps a 16, if I did ratings, which I of course do not. Who am I do so?

In conclusion, it's tasty but too strong to be a real gem, even at around £20 per bottle.

For a big(ish) tasty wine, I'd suggest instead a Saint-Estephe instead, Chateau Pickard perhaps, at this price range.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004: Excellent value under £25

Superb nose, will be better in five years
Second wines of second and third growth's are the way to go for value drinking.

That is, if you define value drinking around the £20+ mark.

That's hard to justify for every day quaffing of course.

But before opening this, Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004, the second wine of Gruard Larose, I'd had a glass of the Wine Society's Catena Cabernet Sauvignon for about £11 per bottle.

What a stark contrast, The Catena was really nothing special, despite the Wine Society hype. Big alcholic New World fruit, not much density, little complexity and a relatively disappointing length of finish given how they have sold this wine on their website.

Then we tried this Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004, which I bought in Carrefour in Bordeaux in October last year. I don't recall what I paid for it, perhaps 20 Euros.

Wow, what a difference. This 2004 is on the cusp of greatness, for the price and the year that is.

It's say £9 more than the Catena mentioned above, but a world away in difference. Well worth the extra £9, I would argue.

You can decant it for an hour or two, with an aerator (do they make a difference? I don't know) and just sit and breathe in the nose in a big Bordeaux glass for half an hour.

I didn't take a sip for ten minutes.

What a gorgeous nose of ripe cassis black fruit with a hint of mustiness/forest floor/age, and perhaps lead pencil shavings (first time I have picked that up in wine).

Pencil nonsense aside, it's certainly got a woody (but not oaky) bouquet, combines age, power and fruit superbly, and has wonderful balance.

The finish will improve I think, over the next five years or so. At nine years old, it is still rather young. It is still slightly tannic but I am sure those will even out in the next few years. One to keep, and to drink a bottle of occasionally to see how it is maturing.

Really superb value at around the £20 mark.

Here's one UK retailer that sells it.

I shall be hunting down a case of this to put away for 2015.

(I just noticed that I'd reviewed this wine before, here. I thought I had, but couldn't find it when I searched for it on the blog, but here it is. Interesting to note I had picked up slightly different notes last time.)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Paolo Manzone Barolo Serralunga 2007: Austere, complex and classic in style

Powerful, elegant, punchy, complex
This wine is described elsewhere as "austere and intense".

I thought that was a very apt description. I had only a glass and a half, without it having much time to breathe, over dinner recently, and still it was superb.

Another reviewer says that the region, Serralunga d'Alba, is home to the most classically structured Barolos. 

This wine, left, scores 90 from one reviewer.

I thought it was superb, but it appears impossible to find, at least on the internet.

All the more reason to seek it out.

It strikes me, from what I read, as a deeply traditional example of the best of Barolo.

As elsewhere, there is huge controversy around the modern versions of Barolo, which have been accused of being too fruity and oaky (sound familiar Brunello and Bordeaux fans?).

Anyhow, this seems like a classic, if you can get hold of some.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Taylor's Vintage Port 1994: Wow, but not cheap

Hubbada Hubbada, damn fine Port
Usually, I'm not a huge port fan.

I often find it, well, a bit cloying. That's harsh I know.

That's probably a particularly tough assessment when it comes to good quality port, rather than the lower end stuff I said I quite liked on this blog before.

The 1994 Taylor's is the top end vintage, so I am told.

I am organising a wine tasting / 40th birthday on Friday and this is the last thing on the menu. So as organiser, I poured a glass to taste tonight. Wow.

It's about £80 a bottle from Fine and Rare UK. More from elsewhere.

Is it worth it? Depends on how much you like Port. I wouldn't pay that. But I am lucky enough to share this bottle with six others.

They say Wine Spectator gives it 100 points.

As we all know, the 100 point system is increasingly, and rightfully under scrutiny.

But this is damn fine Port I must say. As a Port amateur I can say it has a huge, alcoholic nose with gloriously complex and deep red fruit. It's big, smooth, supremely elegant and has without doubt, the best finish of a port I've known. Buy some. If you like top port, I imagine this is what it feels like.

I wrote the above prior to reading the Wine Spectator review on Amazon (Amazon, the shame!):

"In a word, superb. It's full-bodied, moderately sweet and incredibly tannic, but there's amazing finesse and refinement to the texture, not to mention fabulous, concentrated aromas of raspberries, violets and other flowers. Perhaps the greatest Taylor ever, it's better than either the '92 or the '70, though it's very like the '70 in structure."

Let it breathe, and it's an absolute belter. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Five wines of 2012 at under £10 per bottle

Here are five bottles under £10 that I'd pick out as my winners of 2012:

This wine is the best of the two Côtes du Rhône's on my list, the 2011 is reviewed here

I wouldn't go as far as Parker, who gave it 90 points and said "The Côtes du Rhône les Trois Soeurs offers a delicious mouthful of wine for a song. Its dense plum color is accompanied by notes of white chocolate, crushed berry fruit, earth and licorice...enormously satisfying." 

But for the price, it's a winner.  I would say though, that for just over £10, this option is a better one.

2) Penguin Sands Central Otago Pinot Noir

I picked this wine out for a few reasons. Firstly, you almost never see Central Otago wines at under £10. In my experience you rarely see them under £20.

I dread to think of the maker's margins on this wine, sold by Tesco at under £10 six or so months ago. However, supplier margins aside, if you can buy some, it's an excellent entry-level wine.

Central Otago wines are far superior to the Marlborough region further north (Tohu is an exception) and for the price this is a bargain.

3) Clos d’Alzan  Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues

This wine is beautifully balanced. Great acidity, it's full flavoured and needs food.

I was able to buy it En primeur and so picked up a case for around £6-7 per bottle. It's now hard to find, although has the 2011, I wonder if it is quite as good. If you can find the 2010, it's great value drinking. I wish I'd bought a second case.  

If I had to pick an overall winner, it would probably be this.

The Wine Society doesn't need to share profits with shareholders, and so pours extra cash back into value for members.

My family have been members for decades and at around the £10-15 level, the Wine Society is always the place to start looking.

This Vacqueyras 2010 is as good an example of the area I've had, and a deserving member of the Society's Exhibition range. You'd expect to pay more than £15 for this wonderfully balanced example.

Unfortunately it seems hard to obtain these days, but again, if you can find it, buy a few cases. At £9.99 a bottle you can't go wrong. 

5) Los Vascos Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011

This is probably the runner up, and is much more available than the 2010 Vacqueyras above. The Wine Society has it at £8.95 a bottle and describes it thus:

"A taste of fresh, ripe, unadorned and unoaked perfumed fruit which ripens so well on Chile's ungrafted vines. Elegant and full of charm. From the Rothschild estate".

 It's superbly delicious, fresh, smooth and wonderfully structured, particularly for the price. The 2009 and the 2010, if you can still buy them, are both also fabulous. I have also had the 2007 which is stunning. The 2011 is reviewed here by this blog.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The six most important words in wine tasting are...

"Complexity. The single greatest standard used in assessing the quality of a wine is complexity. The more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it—in the bouquet, in the taste—the more complex the wine. The very greatest wines are not so much overpowering as they are seemingly limitless.

(This and the below, is all according to Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator. Full article here)

Texture. This is a feature of wine that too often is overlooked. Yet pay attention to texture, as it may be the most important "hidden" feature of wine quality. This is especially true with white wines; one of the "giveaways" to quality (and potential longevity) in dry white wines is revealed by texture.

Midpalate Density. Every taster has his or her go-to feature. For some it's bouquet. For others it's a wine's finish, whether it's short or long, intense or faint. For me, it's midpalate density.

The midpalate feature is sometimes hard for tasters to recognize. The easiest way to grasp the notion is to imagine a candy with a hard, dense center. You suck on the candy and figure that it's soon to be gone. Then you reach that hard, dense center and you discover that there's a lot more yet to come. Voilà! Midpalate density.

Proportion. The element of proportion is easily grasped. A wine, like an attractive person, should be reasonably proportionate. It shouldn't finish "short." You should have a sense of the wine's flavors being metered out to you in roughly equal amounts and time spans: the scent, the beginning taste, the midpalate and, critically, the finish.

Finesse. The feature of finesse is a favorite of mine. It's something I look for almost obsessively. Finesse is how the flavors of a wine are delivered. Imagine a lay-up in basketball where the player drives toward the basket, gracefully leaps up and the ball rolls off his fingertips and falls effortlessly into the net. That's finesse.

Balance. The concept of balance means different things to different tasters. It's one of those classic you-know-it-when-you-see-it qualities. At its most basic, balance refers to an equilibrium created by roughly equal amounts of “fruitiness” and acidity in wine (and sweetness in a sweet wine)."

I kind of know what he means here. I'm not sure I grasp all of it just yet, but it's best list I've seen to date

Chateau Gruard Larose 1983: Supreme elegance

Perfect claret

 In a small wine shop hidden away in the UK countryside, I found a few bottles of Chateau Gruard Larose 1983 in their cellar.

For some reason the purchase price was less than £50 a bottle.

Having opened, decanted and drunk a bottle on Saturday with the good lady, I can tell you it's a genuine gem.

I wasn't sure if I should decant it, and found tasting it upon opening left me none the wiser.

In the end I did, using an aerator (overkill I think).

It must have changed four or five times in the glass over a few hours.

Upon first taste, I picked up a little acid, and some cedar notes, perhaps some tobacco, within this wonderfully balanced wine.

It tasted to me like a first or second growth mature aged claret should, with those classic St Julien notes. The finish was about ninety seconds.

After just a few minutes, it turned much much sharper and acid.

At that point I began to feel I had screwed up quite badly, and had ruined the wine.

Luckily, after another fifteen minutes or so it changed again, softening and began opening up with floral aromas, becoming almost quite a light and elegant wine.

Then it changed again, the aged nuances came back and all the best elements combined and the balance came through.

I've not experienced anything quite like all that before. But perhaps I was not paying sufficient attention.

After three hours in the decanter it was in its prime, and didn't then last long.

The nose came back out, the age was present but with plenty of fruit and the finish was shorter but sublime.

I don't normally write this many notes but given the experience, why not.

The wine scores about 92/100 from many critics. More on it and where to get some is here.

I will be treasuring my last two bottles of this, and likely buying more when I can.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A visit to Château d'Yquem, king of wines

You can just stand and admire...
 According to my learned friends who know wine, unlike me, Château d'Yquem is the world's best wine.

I'm not sure who decided that, and I am sure there are some who would disagree. 

I wouldn't know, as I haven't tasted its best. 

On a recent trip to Bordeaux I was lucky enough to pay the place a visit.

Despite the somewhat gloomy October weather, which ruined the harvest to the point that for the first time in 20 years, Château d'Yquem will make no wine from the 2012 harvest, the place still takes your breath away. Like Chateau Margaux and Pichon Baron, it simply does not look real.

A fairytale setting. We arrived during part of the harvest, which you can see below being brought in.

Stunning, even in October's gloom
 We tasted a few grapes from the fields, without realising we might be some of the few that did in 2012.

We tasted the 2006, and I can't recall much about what it was like I'm afraid, and I hang my head in shame.

In my defence, a visit just before to Haut-Bailly had probably overwhelmed my humble palate.

I remember it was of course very very good, but I am told 2006 was not the best year for Sauternes, which is probably why freeloading visitors like us were given it. I'd have done the same.

This is not of course to cast aspersions on the excellent hospitality we were shown, merely to indicate that like Wayne in Wayne's world, we were unworthy (of the good stuff)

Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia, and a few more pictures are below:

"Fresh" from the fields
"The vineyard has 126 hectares (310 acres) in the Sauternes appellation, though only 100 hectares (250 acres) are in production at any time. Each year, vines from two to three hectares are grubbed up and left fallow for a year. Since grapes from newly planted vines are not worthy of the chateau name for five to seven years, about 20 hectares are held in reserve each year. The vines consist of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon blanc, though the latter's vigour implies the proportions are more nearly equal in the final wine.

Harvesting is carefully timed, and on average six tries through the vineyard are undertaken each year to ensure that only the botrytized grapes are selected. The yield averages nine hectolitres per hectare (2.5 acres), compared to the usual twelve to twenty hectolitres per hectare in Sauternes. The grapes are pressed three times and transferred to oak barrels for maturation over a period of about three years.

On average, 65,000 bottles are produced each year. In a poor vintage, the entire crop is deemed unworthy of bearing the Château's name; this happened nine times in the 20th century: 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992 and in the 21st century one time: 2012."

Bringing in the harvest
Good, I think

It keeps for centuries, apparently
No fatuous caption needed