Saturday, 30 August 2014

Balthus 2007, world class 'garagistes' wine for £30 ish a bottle

Of course most of us don't drink £30 bottles on a regular basis.

I don't. My stock wine at the moment is Domaine de Sarabande 2010/11 at just over a tenner a bottle.

Alternatively the UK Wine Society has superb Rhone wines at as little as £7 each. Paul Jaboulet is one name to try, well known in the region.

But now and again you want to try something a bit special. Something a little rare or unknown.

Balthus is one of those wines. It's not super cheap, but it's a wine that has apparently beaten first growth wines at ten times the price in blind tastings.

Fine and Rare have it at £200 for six. A bit punchy on price? Maybe. But for what you get it's worth it.

It's from a tiny vineyard where they work really hard to only use the best of the best grapes, with lots of pruning early on to make the vines work really hard in producing the best grapes possible.

Then they use a slightly different process in production. Read all about it here. And the "garagistes" movement/style here.

The result is a really concentrated, 100% merlot wine that's quite different from anything else I've had. It needs a lot of time in the decanter. I would suggest four hours, then saving half for the following day.

Wine can't breathe enough (within reason) in my view. I had 1967 Bordeaux the other day that my friend finished the following day and said it was much better.

The Balthus is quite acid to start, but when it opens, really silky, smooth and rich. The tannins fall away and the concentrated dark fruit lingers wonderfully.

Highly recommended as a wine to show off to friends over dinner, given the tiny production and approach taken by the makers. Always nice to drink something wonderful with an unusual story behind it. Particularly when you know some people have paid 10 times the price for similar wines voted not as good as this by the experts.

More on how it scores is here.

Here's a fun video of the taste test where it beat so many top wines.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Wine Society's 1914 wine list

A friend of mine sent me this the other day. The names, descriptions and general look and feel mean it's a bit of fun, and history to peruse.

Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2005 - Fantastic Aussie grape juice

This is a superb Aussie Riesling by Jeffrey Grosset in South Australia.

The Clare Valley, where it's made, looks pretty stunning from this collection of google images.

I'd be the first to admit to not knowing much about Australian wines, particularly the whites. Being so close to France here in London it's easy to be snobby about New World wines, particularly the whites.

That's why I'm mentioning this one on the blog. It's a superb example of what is, for me, an unusual white.

I've had a fair few Rieslings from Europe and they can be, as you will likely know, very varied. The range is possibly greater than any (or at least many) other grape(s).

Some can be, for me, a little too sickly sweet. That's personal given that the older I get, the less I like sugar in any form, even now in wine. Funny how your palate changes.

This was a gorgeous dry Riesling. What I found extraordinary about it was that you taste it in phases. I counted about five 'things' happening across a mouthful.

I've not encountered that quite so distinctly in any other wine I've had, which is why I must taste it again to check.

Here's what the maker has to say about it.

Jancis Robinson gives it 18.5 from 20 and said: "Intensely introvert and mineral. Very pure yet full bodied...Very persistent and fine. Racy and pure." I am not entirely sure what all that means, but this stuff is lovely. It seems to be hard to find, but worth the search if successful. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

A trip to champagne, in photographs

Chateau de Rilly, Rilly-la-Montagne. A lovely spot to stay and explore the region from

Lobster sarnie in a local one star Michelin in Ay. 

The champagne lunch menu. All local/grower champagnes

Roger Brun's English export Champagne. As drunk in barracks!

Phillipe Brun offers wonderful local/grower Champagnes at his Cave

Well worth a visit to Roger/Phillipe Brun's Cave in Rilly 

Just some of the millions of champagne bottles ageing at Moet

And a few more. 28kms of tunnels, many dug by hand in the 19th Century

The world's largest wine barrel in the foyer at Mercier

A reconstruction of how it used to be at Mercier 

Classy display of ageing champagne bottles in Mercier's 18kms of cellars 

No words needed here 

Starting a tasting before dinner in the vault/cellar at Mercier 

I can't talk enough how about how good their champagne is. Stunning. 

Birthday dinner in the Mercier vault/cellar. 30 metres underground. Wow. 

Dinner, all with Mercier's best champagnes. Who says
you can't have white/rose with beef?

Reims Catherdral, nearby. Gorgeous

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A quick look in the Berry Brother's vintage cellar

Last week I was lucky enough, with a few friends, to have a quick tour of the Berry Brother's cellars in London. The shop alone is worth a visit if you are in central London. The photos below speak for themselves, some lovely old wines in here, the earliest from the early 19th century. 

Agathon, Mount Athos, Evangelos Tsantali 2007: Organic Greek claret, yes really

very decent indeed
Well not quite.

Claret of course can only be from Bordeaux.

Unless, that is, you are Basil Fawlty.

But I blind tasted you on this you would swear this was 5-10 year old cabernet sauvignon from the left bank of the Gironde. You really would.

It took a while to come out of its shell and definitely needs 12 or 24 hours of decanting. I've had it open for 48 hours in the fridge with the air sucked out of the bottle and it's now really opening up.

And yes, it's from Greece. A blend of organic local Limnio and Cabernet grapes, it's really both a gem and a bargain.
It has the classic claret flavours for me. A little age, black fruit, a hint of smokiness and some tannins to give it character.

For £10.99 a bottle it's well worth a try. Here's where I bought it, my first purchase I think, from UK wine site Swig.

I'm a sucker for well written wine pitch from the various websites I sign up to for updates on wines. They sold me on the location as much as the tasting notes:

"The vineyards lie on the slopes of Mount Athos in Macedonia, which takes its name from the mythical giant, Athos, who threw an enormous boulder at the god Poseidon, but his aim was poor and it landed in the Aegean Sea, creating the rocky peninsula named after him. Known today by most Greeks as ‘Holy Mountain’, it is home to twenty monasteries (see photo above), where Eastern Orthodox monks live and work and farm the land organically. Evangelos Tsantali, the winemaker, buys their grapes and continues those principles in the winery, making a wine that is certified as fully organic."

"The blend is an even split between the local grape variety, Limnio, known for its velvety influence on a wine’s texture, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A double act similar to Bordeaux, where Merlot adds soft flesh to Cabernet’s muscle. Its gentle flavours and fine aromatics can be attributed to the fact that the vineyards sit at a height above sea level that confers warm days, but cold nights – the essential recipe for aromatic expression."

Swig Tasting Note: “Medium deep Morello cherry colour with just a touch of brick showing at the rim.  It has a delicately perfumed, Claret-like nose, with a lovely hint of autumnal maturity. It’s the sort of wine you want to sip slowly and keep coming back to, as it unfurls slowly in the glass. There are all the classic Cabernet Sauvignon notes of blackcurrant leaf, plum and capsicum, framed by notes of pencil shavings and powdered spices from the 8 months spent in new French barriques. The fruit on the palate is soft, ripe and subtly spiced, old-fashioned, almost, in its fine-grained texture and has the feel of a carefully handmade wine. The Claret-like impression on the nose gives way to a sunnier character on the palate, more reminiscent of a Tuscan Cabernet, with notes of dark cherry, cassis, laurel and the mellow aromas of mahogany and chestnuts. It’s not a ‘modern’ wine, so I wouldn’t recommend it if your default choice of red is a Californian Merlot, but it’s a lovely wine to serve just below room temperature and enjoy with a big cote de boeuf, a haunch of venison or barbecued lamb chops. 14% alc. Drink now-2017.”

Monday, 16 June 2014

Handy wine bottle size chart

Useful map of the wines of France

2001 Ronchi di Cialla 'Cialla Bianco' Colli Orientali del Friuli - Longest wine name winner and a cracking aged Italian white

This hard-to-find Italian white from Friuli, if you can get it, is well worth searching out.

I had no idea, until a couple of years ago, how well some whites can age.

I've had whites from Western Sicily that were 20 years old. Others from the Loire region in France almost as old.

Champagne, famously, can age very well. But other whites don't usually, as I suppose, most reds don't either. has a little information on this wine here. And if you are really keen you seem to be able to buy it in HK dollars here.

This one was a beauty. It opened up after 30 minutes in the bottle once opened, and has a richness and a texture you just don't seem to get outside Burgundy in younger whites (in my limited experience) 

More reviews are here. I'll be seeking out some older vintages from this under-rated region. 

We tried it at the ever excellent 10 Greek St in London, which has the best value wine menu that I have found in London (make sure you ask for the 'other' wine list)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Volnay Vielles Vignes 2009 - Alliterative Burgundy for fans of claret

An eye opener for a Burgundy novice like me
Regular readers of this blog, if there are any, may note that I don't blog much about Burgundy. This is for a really simple reason. I don't know much about the region, or the wines. I haven't had the time or the budget to explore the decent stuff. Finally, being completely honest, Pinot Noir is really not my favourite grape. I often find it a little lightweight for my tastes, which are far more Bordeaux, Rhone valley or Languedoc aligned when it comes to French wines. However, I'd be the first to admit to not having tried much decent burgundy, given its cost and my slight prejudice against the grape. 
The one region I have always been a fan of which focuses on Pinot Noir is Central Otago in New Zealand. 
Back in 2009 I was in Marlborough and Queenstown and tasted quite a few South Island Pinots. Many of the Central Otago wines I had, I loved. They have an intensity and complexity that I enjoy in other regions. I've got a case of 2010 Rippon Vineyard, Rippon Mature Vine which I am really looking forward to tasting at some point soon, probably Christmas.
Anyhow, back to Volnay. Now this is a find. The manager of the wine bar in Prague where I tried this last week told me many of the wines from this area have these below characteristics. 
Some more about it is here, from A lot more is here, and this link is worth a click..
If you can find this wine, it's about £20-30 a bottle, as far as I can tell.
Here are my tasting notes from the half bottle we tried:
2009 Domaine Poulleau Pere & Fils Volnay, Cote de Beaune, France
Rich acid nose, spicy, earthy forward fruit. Minerality, definite age on the front of the palate and then the Pinot breadth and smoothness kicks in. Long finish, bit of oak and vanilla (but in a very good way!)
This wine was a bit of an eye opener for me. I haven't had a Burgundy like this before. That's more likely due to my ignorance (in fact it definitely is). This wine really ticked all the boxes for me and I'll be hunting out more in the future.

Chateau Ricardelle La Clape 2009, Cuvée Juliette 2009 - "Prepare the hounds"

Love the label
If you like big punchy but complex reds, there's plenty of Australian wines out there that meet that requirement, apparently. I just haven't had many of them yet. 
The key word is complex. I've found plenty of big Aussie reds, and even bigger South African ones, but I do find them a bit one dimensional. Sorry. 
I've clearly not had the right ones (although I did have some of Vergelegen's best and was not that wowed at the time) 
So I tend to stick to French reds, and the odd Southern Italian too. You just cannot beat either region for value. 
In the eponymous Wine Bar in Prague recently (here's a few photos of the place ) I discovered yet another Languedoc wine that I knew/know little about. 
This Chateau Ricardelle La Clape 2009 is a great example of a powerful, aromatic, silky yet complex modern red from this under rated region. Family owned, according to this site. 
The vineyard is very close to the sea near Narbonne in the far south of France, an area I visited last summer when I had a look at Gerard Bertrand's L'Hospitalet
Here's a post on that particular visit from September 2013.
The Cuvée Juliette 2009 which I tried in Prague is, according to the bar manager who knows the Chateau personally, named after the wine maker's daughter. 
The label is fantastic, good to see a Chateau with some imagination and creativity. 
The wines are very reasonably priced too. This exact wine is hard to track down but the others from Ricardelle seem to be under £15, even from BBR.
The Cuvée Juliette 2009 is a mix of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre, a blend common in this area, and is aged in French barriques for 12 months. My tasting notes are here:
Huge, smooth, dark berry cassis, and chocolaty flavours, 14.5% alcohol but slips onto the palate and has a finish like rich velvety silk. Alcohol taken to its limits but balanced given the huge fruit. Has a complexity that some 'Parkerised' wines lack. A man's wine (generally speaking!), no doubt.
Despite the high alcohol levels (unavoidable this far south it seems) it went wonderfully with the utterly superb beef bourguignon in Prague's Wine Bar (linked above and well worth a visit), and pictured below. Both wine and wine bar are well worth a visit if in Prague or Southern France.

The simply named "Wine Bar" in Prague does superb nosh

Friday, 6 June 2014

Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi - Punchy italian white that represents good value

14.5% but don't let that put you off...
One of the many pleasures of travelling around Europe is the wines you find which you don't see much of at home. Or more likely, just hadn't looked at much.

This Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi 2009 I discovered in a restaurant in Prague after much googling of the wine list to match something with seafood.

I know almost nothing about the region, or didn't until I read a few articles, but this is a wine I would advise checking out.

It's not for the faint hearted though.

Here are my tasting notes from last night:

Dry, rich, reminiscent of bone dry white bugundy but with a focus that feels Italian. Restrained nose. The age of this 2009 is coming through. Strong acid, zero citrus/lemon (hooray) 

Slightly off bitter finish. High alcohol at 14.5 which adds to the texture, but you wouldn't know it was quite that much unless you checked. Definitely a palate cleanser but also so much more than that, lots of complexity. 

According to several reviews the finish is supposed to be of toasted almonds, but my palate is clearly not advanced enough for that. 

More about the region is here. The Riserva, as so often in Italy, is worth paying a few Euros more for, apparently. 

Wine-searcher makes it sound compelling enough simply by describing the location:

"The Castelli dei Jesi wine-producing zone encompasses the hilly territory around the town of Jesi in the province of Ancona. This area features fortified villages which were built here in medieval times, and which give rise to  the Castelli part of the DOC name. The terroir here is ideal for the production of mineral-tinged dry white wines, thanks mostly to its calcareous, clay and limestone-rich soils and a relatively dry maritime climate."