Thursday, 16 February 2017

Champagne for my real friend real pain for my sham friends

Everybody loves a party and nothing says party better than a glass of bubbly but which one to buy and why. It's a dilemma for even the most discerning quaffer do I buy two bottles of something cheap or blow it all on something pricey and is it worth spending the extra on a famous brand than Supermarket own label stuff. Before I even try to answer this here comes a history lesson...

Just like everywhere in Europe the Romans planted here first but it was the Abbeys of the middle ages where the real story of Champagne begins. but it is not with fizz the wines then were very pale red wines in the Clairet style typically high in acidity due to the northerly location. The grapes used at the time were Gouais for red and Fromenteau to make white.

Champagne wasn't even the first place in France to make Sparkling wine that honour belongs to Limoux who did it kind of by accident. Yeast from fermentation found its way into the bottles and continued to ferment giving these wine a slight sparkle unfortunately they sometimes exploded when rattling their way to market along unmade country roads.

Fast forward to the 1730's and  Champagne in a form we would recognise has become widespread but it is a costly and technically difficult process requiring extensive cellars and costly investment of time and materials beyond the capability of the tennants growing the vines. Only a few aristocratic families enjoy the wealth and connections to both produce and market the wine to the courts of Europe where it becomes the "Wine of Kings and King of Wines". From the very beginning it is a luxury product for the wealthy and well connected and the aspiring middle class want in and a re willing to pay a little extra to be like their social betters, sound familiar.

Its not all fawning and social mobility though there is plenty of corruption and class war to culminating in Champagne Riots in 1910 and 1911. The growers fed up of grapes being bought in from other parts of France to undermine their prices and constant bribes being demanded from middle men attack some of the warehouses and destroy shipments of illicit grapes. Eventually a fairer system that guarantees prices for growers and prevents them being undercut is established and this is pretty much where we are today.

So why is Champagne expensive well first off it is a time and resource intensive process and the land costs are higher than in many other vineyard areas. Secondly it has always been that way so why would producers choose to make it cheaper as long as the demand is there and given that historically at least these have been fairly limited production there has been no need to reduce price. Thirdly and this applies to the big Champagne houses mostly advertising and sponsorship of prestigious events and making sure the right people are drinking your brand or more importantly seen drinking your brand doesn't come cheap. So if you are persuaded to drink a particular brand just because Jay-Z, or whoever likes it then just accept that your paying a little bit extra for that association. 

So two bottles Supermarket or one Veuve Cliquot/whichever big brand you prefer. One of the weird things about Champagne which makes this a tricky one to answer is anyone can have their own brand of Champagne and it isn't easy to tell where or how that wine was made. This means supermarkets can create their own brand and you might not be able to tell from looking at it if that is a Champagne house that makes their own Champagne or a grower who has produced something from his own grapes. So what the brands offer is a guarantee of authenticity and of style so that the Veuve you buy this year tastes like the Veuve you had last year and will taste like Veuve you buy in 10 years time. There is rarely the same guarantee with an own label wine this is also why if you love one brand of Champagne you should stick with it rather than switching as styles of Champagne are very variable. 

What is so special about Champagne anyways. Champagne at the entry level can be hit and miss and I would opt to spend my money in the ten to twenty pound range on a good bottle fermented wine from somewhere other than France or Cava or Prosecco than a very cheap Champagne. Why? well because unless you know it then it's a massive punt in the dark and there is more chance than not it will be boring and even if it is OK then that is probably the best you can hope for while say Pelorus or Jansz Vintage in the same price range are going to be really well crafted wines with depth balance and true enjoyment. However what these wines lack and which truly exceptional Champagne can offer whether that is a bottle of Dom Perignon, A Vintage Pol Roger which has been hidden in a cellar for fifteen years or Drappier's Grande Sendre with its balance of rich toast and bright acids is the width and depth of wines crafted from vines grown across different vineyards and a supporting cast of wines from previous vintages blended to create something living and vital.

So is it all just hype like always with Champagne the answer is no but it also yes.


Friday, 16 December 2016

How to choose wines for Christmas on a budget.

Wow where did the year go... Brexit.. Trump and now Christmas shopping makes me want to crawl up in a ball and hide until January. However as that is not an option then here is a by no means complete guide to getting some decent options in the cupboard so you can adopt a siege mentality and avoid going anywhere near an off licence between Christmas and New Year.

First of all remember planning is everything so think about what you've currently got in no one wants to have the neighbours drop by and have to open that bottle of 2002 Vosnee Romanee you've been keeping hidden because you've got nothing else on hand. Now is the time to make sure that you have a bunch of wine stuffed in the cupboard under that can make you look fabulously generous and capable without having to slip out the back door to run to the offie for a bottle of something terrible and overpriced.

Lets set some rules we are mostly talking about getting wines that you can open happily because you are confident that they are tasty enough that they will be supped freely and leave your guests thinking fondly of you as a gracious and generous host and not as the skinflint with antifreeze in his grapejuice. Equally you don't want to spend your hard earned on some idiot who wouldn't know a bottle of Dom Perrignon from a can of special brew. We're also not looking at Christmas dinner you probably know who is coming for that and what your eating you can plan accordingly this is about the rest of it and having enough on hand so it's as stress free as possible. Keep the receipt too, if you buy too much and it isn't what you normally drink then take it back in January and get a refund or trade it in for something you do want to drink most retailers should be fine with this and check with them when you buy it at least that way you know.

So get yourself a case or two of fizz for under a tenner a bottle you will be able to get Aldi's Monsigny or Lidl Comte de Senneval both of which are very drinkable most of the supermarkets have some kind of equivalent champagne for around the £10 mark. The truth is these wines though perfectly pleasant lack the real power and class of Champagne so if you want that you will have to double your money and that is not the name of the game here. English Fizz as much as I would love to recommend Nytimber is also out of the running even something like Pelorus from Cloudy bay (one of my top ten non Champagne) is too expensive. Prosecco is around the same price as entry level Champagne not that much under a tenner and some that is really pretty bad particularly among some of the branded stuff. Sainsburys taste the difference is actually pretty good Waitrose have Prosecco Valdo Oro also decent and even Aldi's Prosecco Superiore is tasty enough all of these come from either of the named villages Valdobiadenne or Coneglianno and this is probably your best bet for a sign of quality make sure these are named on the Label and you should be safe.

You could go for Cava, Codorniu Raventos is great and Friexenet Cordon Negro is always safe. The brave option is to go for something Loire Langlois owned by Bollinger is good as is Bouvet staying with France Aldi's Cremant de Jura is a superb wine and amazing value and a good bottle of Blanquette de Limoux is always a Joy. These might be less familiar to your guests but should still be approachable.

However the Safe bet is probably Prosecco or  cheap Champagne these are crowd pleasers as the flavours are one people know and that is part of the secret here. Christmas is not the time to introduce people to challenging new flavours and experiences this is time for comfort and security for your guests to find things easy and so give them something they know and that you know they will be happy with also again buy enough that when a bottle runs out you can open another bottle of the same thing and keep topping up anything you can do to make the day easy for you and easy for your guests so much the better. Buying a case at a time will hopefully also get you a bit of discount.

The average price spent on wine in the UK is £5.03 which I can not quite believe and means most people are drinking some pretty terrible wine most of the time. Especially if you consider at this price only 47p of that is spent on the wine the rest goes on packaging tax and so on. Its Christmas after all so lets give ourselves a slightly higher price point to play with how about £7.99 more than trippling the amount that goes on the wine and so hopefully tripling the quality of the wine. Don't forget we are looking for wines that we can open anytime guests drop by over the festive fortnight or for Christmas eve, New years eve or New Years day or bottles you can take along to any last minute get togethers when you really don't want to have to "pop in" to a supermarket and get stuck behind someone buying the turkey, trimmings and entire confectionary aisle.

Ok white wine first what we need is something half decent but we haven't got a lot of money so lets start by crossing any of the following off our list Chablis, Pouilly Fuisse, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume any of the famous regions are going to be too expensive? See it's not quite as easy as it seemed we could go for something a bit obscure but again we need wines that anyone even stick in the mud Dave from accounts.

Here we go then New Zealand Sauvignon blanc is pretty universally loved and at least tolerated and you will find some for under £7.99 pretty much anywhere and it will be OK but it won't really be very exciting but we are after safe not exciting so this is a decent bet. Your gran will be happy because its fruity enough to not seem too dry and the flavours are familiar enough that the cricket club will be happy.

If you do want to push for something a little more interesting Albarinho from Rias Baixas in Spain can have many of the attractive qualities of a Kiwi Sauv Blanc but still have a bit of personality in this price range, on a similar note a Vinho Verde from Portugal could do the same thing with a bit less alcohol and a touch of spritziness if you like that sort of thing. if you fancy going Riesling go New World and look for an abv of 12% or more and ideally Clare Valley in Australia or Bio Bio in Chile. I would normally suggest looking at South Africa or Eastern Europe but unless you are familiar with the wines this is not the time for experiments but if you know a drinkable Chenin or Irsai Oliver go for it.  If Marks and Spencer have a deal on six bottles or more the Colina Del Itata Field Blend is as good as anything this price. Any of these wines except maybe the Riesling should be easy drinking enough to keep a small gathering fueled through the strictly final get together.

Red wine is a bit of a mine field and where you will have to curb your natural instincts most strongly, remember this is not going to be served with a meal but with nuts, chips and dips and olives if your lucky so anything too full on or dry is going to come off badly. In the same way with the whites the big names St Emmillion, Pomerol, Barolo Chateau Neuf Du Pape will be out of the price range and if not most likely rubbish. So you might want to go completely the other way and look at beaujolais so long as it is fruity and fresh it can be a surprise hit likewise Frappatto and Dolcetto from Italy even an Aussie Tarrango or very light Grenache can be moreish.

You might want something a bit fuller though and it starts to get a bit tricky all the supermarkets have their own branded wines which look like they should be ok but are often a bit dull and these are the kinds of wines that everyone drinks. First things first offers are everywhere but only worth it if the wine you buy is one you think is going to work is that special discount on a big brand Shiraz really good or just the same boring crap you avoid the other eleven months of the year. The safest bet in many ways is a Malbec everyone loves a Malbec and Trivento reserve is decent and around the right price so no one is going to mind if this is where you end up.

However if you look for something from the Cote du Rhone by Chapoutier or Perrin you could get something altogether more festive even La Ville Ferme (made by Perrin) could make a pretty classy alternative. I would also consider a nice bit of South African Pinotage Morrisons own label best (or whatever they call it this month) is surprisingly good, but there are a good number of South African blends around that are very good value and hugely quaffable.

Most important of all is try to enjoy the time with friends and family and remember whatever doesn't get drunk by New Years day is going to have to be drunk by you so don't just but the cheapest bottle in the shop. Merry Christmas Everyone.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Some wines from Italy that tasted pretty good to me!

Why is Italy such an exciting country for wine lovers, while France is such an intimidating one. It's not like Italy is any easier to understand. The regions still tend to give name to the wine and you don't even have the comfort of well known grape varieties to give you an idea what you're getting. For me it's the earthy generosity of the wines and above all ripe reds and fragrant zesty whites which compliment the equally rustic and deceptively simple cuisine of Italy.

I will be coming back to Italy and Looking at particular regions in future posts so this is just a catch up of a few Italian wines I've had recently that seemed particularly good value.

Barolo, Piedmont, Italy 2010
Nebiolo 14.5%
Lidl £11.99

This has the classic aroma of rose and generous sweet red fruit on the palate without being overly concentrated or extracted. It has some balanced tannin which gives it a dryness and bite on the finish but at no point seems too much for the wine, which you might expect at this sort of price.

This was a well balanced and enjoyable wine and a cut above the usual supermarket Barolo fare. It has some of the elements that you might expect in a wine twice the price while not having the class or concentration of the more expensive stuff it has more than you expect for twelve pounds. This has something like the feel of place that I look for in fine wines and for that alone it has to be worth the entry price.
19/20 for Value 18/20 for Barolo where money is no concern.

Asti, Piedmont, Italy
Dolcetto 12%
Marks and Spencer, £6.99

This is pretty cheap and cheerful fare too not quite as juicy as the Frapatto( mentioned in an earlier post) but with plenty of summer berry fruityness. This comes from Piedmont the same region as the Barolo but is a million miles removed from the weight and complexity of those wines.

This is another fresh and fruity summer red with a nice sideline in mouthwatering acidity. Lovely cherry aroma and blueberry blackcurrant on the palate this is a slightly simple even one dimensional wine but tastes as fresh as if the grapes were picked last week.

Alba, Piedmont, Italy
Barbera 14%
Ascheri 2008 £10-15

Now were back to something with some weight, from the wonderful Ascheri stable this is all dark fruit and autumn spice. This is Piedmont again and balances somewhere between the Barolo and the Dolcetto. It has the vibrancy and fruityness of the Dolcetto and some of the weight and character of the Barolo.

A wine to suit fans of New World wines this has a real ripe and juicy blackberry/plum/damson thing going on getting close to jammyness. It has a nice rounded lush weight in the mouth that makes it feel a bit serious and satisfying without it getting dry or oaky. Most of the vineyards around Alba are planted with the more illustrious Nebbiolo grape so Barbera is more often to be found in the fruity and easy drinking style from Asti but wines like this show the grape can give something altogether more dense and intriguing.

A really lovely wine from an excellent company who rarely make anything less than excellent wines.

Veneto, Italy 2010
Corvina Rondinella Molinara 15%
Masi Amarone Costasere £30

Might just be in my top 10 of Red wines for the last twelve months. This is the real deal from the guys who re-introduced the apasimento method and it is simply brilliant. Made with grapes that have been allowed to dry over the winter so all the flavour and sugar is concentrated and then fermented slowly to extract as much of everything that can be extracted. This wine is like the amp in spinal tap that goes up to 11 its just that bit more.

 Fabulously concentrated and rich the wine has an opulence that makes you slow down and relax into the glass. It's not over done but it has a presence that is not about huge oaky savour or tannic heavyness it's much more welcoming and relaxed than that. Again the balance is very fine and the fruit, the alcohol, the tannin are all there giving a structure that holds all the other elements in place allowing them to unfold slowly as you work your way down the glass or the bottle.

I've said in the past that there is a danger with wines from regions or producers that have a reputation of being underwhelmed, well that is not a problem here. This is everything that a red wine drinker could possibly hope for layers of flavour and aroma that develop from one sip to the next. One second cherry and the next cedar and liquorice but all the time staying alive and fresh.

This wine is like Cassius Clay before he became Mohammed Ali hard to put your finger on but with a mighty wallop.

Sicily, Italy 2012
Nero D'avola & Syrah 13%
Donnafugata Sherazade £12.99

This Sicilian red is based on Nero D'Avola and while it has good intense black fruit aromas and some spicy depth on the palate it does not have a heavy tannic weight. This again is that lovely balance of generous fruit and rustic earthiness that makes so many Italian wines a joy.

It's not that this is short on class or complexity but that it retains the warmth  and carefree pleasures of a weekend somewhere warm. From the cool label to the modern winemaking everything about this wine oozes a relaxed self confidence. The grapes are given a relatively short period in contact with the skins and aged briefly to let flavours develop without becoming too overwrought or jammy. The morello cherry and plum flavours remain fresh and bright while acidity and tannin balance to give structure without dominating. An enjoyable wine for al fresco dining with some good olives, salami and crusty bread.

Gavi de Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
La Toledana 2013 £11.99
Cortese 13%

Gavi is a wine I have developed a real soft spot for, whether it is because I am generally keener on Italian reds than whites that when I do find a region I enjoy I cling on for dear life or the balance between alsace florality and burundian richness. Whatever the reason I feel safe selecting Gavi when often I am underwhelmed by other Italian Whites.

So the Toledana is a pretty straight down the middle Gavi lovely white blossom floral aroma and clean citrus. The palate is washed by fresh acidity that sets your mouth watering then tart peachy apricot flavours make themselves known like a less rich viognier, the whole thing ends with a touch of chablis like flintyness. There are better Gavi around but as an introduction to the style and for sheer value for money this takes a bit of beating.

Soave Classico, Italy 2013
Pieropan 2013 £12.99
Garganega 12%

If you are feeling flush La Rocca is the single vineyard wine widely considered to be the best that Soave has to offer however even the entry level wine has huge class. Soave is within the Veneto region and uses the Garganega grape which in richer soil than that of  Soave often gives thin and disappointing wines.

However somehow late harvesting and poor soils combine to give something pretty special in the hands of the Pieropan family. They were the first to label their wines as Soave and the first to produce a single vineyard wine so not lacking in ambition or confidence. This is not simply a classic but a region defining wine and like Kellogs it remains the original and the best.

Pieropan's wines have a lightness and freshness on the palate which makes it elegant and refreshing yet they are not thin or weak and have a mouthfilling intensity of flavour. The aromatic brightness of spring blossom is matched on the palate by lime and sweeter more tropical fruit which finishes with a hint of buttery nuttiness. If you are used to Garganega being the supporting act to Pinot Grigio in supermarket wines then you owe it to yourself to find a bottle of this wine and have your eyes opened.

As ever if you've got any comments I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, 20 February 2015


I recently attended a tasting by the Wine Society and worked my way diligently through the 30+ wines on show pausing only to nibble on a dry water biscuit every now and then. For those who do not know the Wine Society is a members only society set up to buy good quality wine for sale exclusively to it's members. Set up in 1874 it is a little old fashioned, but not out dated, has long standing relationships with many of its suppliers allowing it to negotiate some excellent wines and prices.

There are always plenty of people dressed in tweed and a good number of very fine waistcoats were in evidence also. I don't intend to dwell on any wines that didn't float my boat however what did become apparent over the course of the tasting was that price didn't always mean a more enjoyable glass of wine and that where price did indicate an upswing in quality it was often slight. There are no scores as only a brief impression was gained but here we go.

Domaine Barou, Condrieu 2013 £29

Condrieu is a wine made from the Viognier grape in tiny quantities hence the price tag there were three Condrieu on the tasting and for my money this was the best of the bunch. The aroma was floral and pretty, lovely mouthwatering acidity which gave balance on the palate to the bright peachy stonefruit. This was broad and mouthfilling without being flabby and a wash of lingering minerality on the finish. Quite light and sprightly on the palate there was a very fine elegance to this wine which would happily pair with Lobster, Crayfish or good meaty Scallops.

The Domaine is a small family affair producing wines in St Jospeh and in Condrieu producing organic wines. The yield is carefully controlled to increase the quality of the fruit and the use of sulphur is minimised through the use of companion crops. Whether it is fair to say this care and commitment is reflected in the wine is impossible to say but it certainly stood head and shoulders above the other whites for me.

However I will give a nod to Domaine Villard Contour de Mairlant Marsanne which at 12.50 a bottle had some real freshness and verve and while lacking the depth of the Condrieu had a smattering of its class.

Domaine Courbis, Cornas Champelrose 2006 £23 and Cornas Sabrotte 2010 £38

Cornas is a smallish appellation below the larger St Joseph and it's South facing vineyards give wonderfully ripe Syrah fruit that is often the first to be harvested across the Northern Rhone. Both these wines exhibited real concentration of flavour without ever straying into jammy over extraction. There was a savoury almost herby oilyness with the Sabrotte just ramping this up slightly and offering a bit more balance and depth but both wines exhibited a significant degree of class. I haven't really mentioned fruit because it was there but in a Timothy Spall backgroundy kind of a way.
Certainly these had more complexity and depth than anything from the Southern end of the Rhone Valley and indeed for me outshone the more illustrious wines from Cote Rotie which seemed a touch simple in comparison, especially to the Sabrotte.

Domaine Villard Seul en Scene Terre de Vienne 2007 £30

With hopes to achieve appellation status for these vineyards across the river from Cote Rotie this may represent an interesting region to keep an eye on. The wine had more than a hint of the vegetal green pepper note that can be evident on Syrah but the fruit on the palate had a real sweetness and vivacity which suggested a wine of some energy despite having spent a few years in the cellar this was as sprightly as a puppy and equally good fun.

The Syrah L'Appel des Sereines 2012 at £11.50  was a much lighter proposition but still very enjoyable made from younger vines from St Joseph predominantly this had a nice warming peppery spice and red fruit with a little tannin giving it a backbone. There is plenty to recommend both these wines and it probably depends on the depths of your pockets or your curiosity which you would plump for.

Domaine Maby Lirac Blanc La Fermade £9.50
Tavel Prima Dona £9.95
Lirac Rouge La Fermade £9.95

The Tavel Rose is Domaine Maby top wine from Tavel and iis utterly lovely mde to have more intensity than the normal french rose this is almost like a Clairette from Bordeaux in colour. There are red summer fruits of all complexions fresh raspberries, sweet strawberries and tart redcurrants rub against each other giving a liquid version of summer pudding without the sweetness. This wine is made from Grenache 55% and Cinsault 45% from a site on a plateau covered in the same kind of pebbles found in Chateau Neuf Du Papes.

The White has buckets of white blossom aroma and tropical fruit on the palate stopping short of pineapple sweetness but getting into mango kind of territory. A blend of Clairette Grenache Blanc and Picpoul which retains enough cleansing acidity to balance the big fruit and keep this wine light refreshing and moreish. If you fancy an alternative Kiwi Sauvignon this could be an interesting one to have a go at.

Lirac is on the other side of the Rhone from Chateau Neuf Du Papes and as mentioned shares similar soils and geography however thanks to rather too many dull wines it does not have the reputation of it's famous cousin across the river. The wines of Domaine Maby thankfully are not dull and have balance and finesse and crucially lots of tasty sweet dark fruit. The wines are alive and balanced with a clear pure definition to them which enhances the expression of the fruit while the finish is a little short it reinforces the simple and enjoyable nature of the wine which is one of the reasons the wines of Southern Rhone are so popular. This is serious wine for people who do not take life too seriously. there is plenty to enjoy but no need to spend hours in contemplation.

As you may have guessed Domaine Maby is the wine I will be putting my hand in my pocket to get in a case or two, of the Societies own wines the Cotes Du Rhone by Domaine Jaume was fabulous value while the Societies Exhibition Hermitage Rouge 2007 was a lovely example of a mature wine with still plenty of oompf.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Oh The Hops

Seems like everyone is all about beer at the moment and I mean that in a good way. The range and quality of beer is better than I have ever known it to be and the willingness of consumers to spend a couple of extra quid to get a tastier brew is a reflection of this. With all this in mind here are a few Saison style Beers I've had recently, sadly not a style we get too much of in the UK but maybe if we get a half decent summer this year a few local brewers might have a crack at it. It's also a very female friendly style of beer having a big clean fruity hoppy style and champagne like levels of fizz, that w
should win over even the biggest Sauvignon blanc devotee.

So you may already know what a Saison is but some of you may not and this my understanding (it is probably wrong but hey). Back in the time before pubs beer was made on farms as a way of using up grain and making water safe to drink. It was also co-opted by the church to make festivals and celebrations a bit more fun. Harvest time was a natural time for Farmers and Churches alike to celebrate the bounty of the earth by putting as many fresh and tangy hops into a beer as possible. The good people of Wallonis decided while were at it, why not make it twice as strong as the usual stuff we drink all day and enjoy the mellow fruitfullness of the season properly. Ok so probably not quite how it happened but it gives you the gist

Saison Dupont
Wallonia Belgium 6.5%
£7 70cl

Saison Dupont is like Champagne in Beer form. Not only is it sealed with a cork, it also has a tendancy to spray everywhere like you've just won a grand prix, so open with care.

After all that what's it like well the beer itself is very golden and light in colour with a slight haze sort of like a malt whisky that has got too cold. It has a clean and fresh grassy note on the nose supported by malty yeastiness with a touch of candyfloss. The palate has a wonderful lightness which makes it dangerously gluggable lots of fruity floral pear and peach type top notes a little breadth and fullness with the bready mid palate but it's the big dry slap of fresh floral hops at the end makes it a glass of unadulterated joy. Have this with a curry in winter and barbeque in the summer and you will be very happy.


Saison Vos
Sly fox Brewing company. 6.9%
approx £10 70cl

This 6.9% abv is a US Version of a Belgian Farmhouse Ale has so much in common with the Dupont it's kind of hard to really notice too much difference between the two. However when you taste them side by side you realise that this has a bit more depth and weight to it a fuller malty savour which gives it even more substantial food friendly presence. Its golden with a slight haze and has plenty of peachy fruity citrus in there both on the aroma and the palate. This is less of a frothy fizzy explosion but is still light and refreshing and has plenty of sparkle perhaps more the distinction between a vintage champagne and non vintage in respect of a comparison with the Dupont. If pushed I would have to say the complexity of this makes me want to say I prefer this but the Dupont is so damn yummy in a not even having to think about it kind of way that I'd go for that, but this is a fantastic
beer for all that.


St Lupulin
Odells Brewing Co. 6.5%
£2.99 35cl 

There's some nonsense about the patron saint of hops or some such guff on this very lovely label. Lupulin is a compound in hops which can also be bought on herbal high websites with a whole range of soporific qualities verging on the miraculous. Its dry hopped giving some of the fresh summery floral hoppy character so evident in the previous two. A lovely golden colour with less persistent carbonation than in the larger bottles. There is a touch of drier hop bite on the finish of this one which is less evident in the richer Vos Saison and acts as a wonderful palate refresher.This is not quite as Champagne-like as the other two this is much more of a big fruity hoppy beer as anyone who might regularly drink an IPA would understand it and enjoy. Fresher and lighter perhaps than an IPA but still with that big bitter hop character that we have gotten a bit addicted to .. maybe there's something in that herbal high stuff after all.


If you wanted an English equivalent to these styles of beers you are looking for something with a big hit of hops and a quite light dry body balanced by alcohol around the six to 8% mark which points us in the direction of a decent IPA maybe like the Kernel below. However what you miss from this style is the lovely fresh hop note that the Saison Dupont throws at you like a bucket full of flowers.

So this summer I'm gonna ditch the Pinot Grigio and Prosecco in favour of a bottle or two of something Saison shaped.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Age before beauty

I've been sampling a few bottles that have been under the stairs for a year or two to see how worthwhile it is to stash a bottle of your favourite Saturday night treat and here's the results.

So the regular advice on ageing wine is getting more and more to not really bother. Most wines produced commercially are not meant to be laid down and as the fashion is for higher alcohol, softer tannin and lower acidity the need to lay down wine while it matures/becomes drinkable is in all but a few wines a thing of the past. However wine does still change and mature and even on a budget there are wines that you can find that will age fairly gracefully it's then a question of whether you want instant gratification or if you've got a bit of patience.

Choosing which wines to lay down is always a tough choice if you're not spending lots on top producers in classic regions (and who can do that) then you can look for wines that ape those styles and you should not go to far wrong. So instead of premier Cru Bordeaux how about Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon or Chilean Carmenere but remember these wont need as long. Beware of wines that come pre-aged in your local wine store or supermarket, these are more than likely wines which have been sat around in a warehouse or the back of a store for ages it's much safer to buy and store at home. Ideally of course you'd store your wines with a reputable merchant like the Wine Society, but they will charge you so somewhere with a stable temperature, no vibration and out of direct sunlight is the least you must do.

Paso Doble 2008
Malbec Corvina
Tupungato Argentina £12ish

First off I should declare a bias this is a wine I've had before and one I really enjoy from a maker who on the whole I think makes excellent wines. Masi are an Italian company who are based in the veneto region but have this Argentinian out post. They partially dry the 30% of Corvina grapes which go into this wine add even more depth to the high grown Malbec grapes which make up the majority of the blend.
This wine when young is a suprisingly modest wine with a good degree of class and plenty of cherry and plum fruit. After some time in bottle there is a less vibrant aroma and the start of some earthyness which stops short of leather but the fruit has all but gone, on the palate this is mellow and soft I admit to expecting bigger flavours from this but the cherry has become more pruney still with some sweetness but not cloying. This has developed some of the secondary savoury character of aged wine but has also some touches of an aged port. 17.5/20

Terra Andina
Carmenere Carrignan
Central Valley Chile

This is a project from young and exciting winemakers that seeks to use blocks of high quality grapes from sites across Chile and use these to craft top quality wines. The signs then are good that this should be something a bit interesting. They have blended dry grown old vine Carrignan with Chile's great Carmenere and the alcohol at 13.7% is restrained by Chilean standards, a big and fruitdriven wine to savour.
The first thing to note is how fantastic the aromas of dark fruit and some violet even coffee that come leaping from the glass, if this is after years in bottle the young juice must very nearly blow your head off. On the palate this is wonderfully concentrated and supple yet balanced and not overpowering. There is a good blackcurrant and blueberry fruit which is offset by a creamy mouthfilling sweetness which makes this a very enjoyable and drinkable wine.
Ageing has mellowed and softened the tannin, a good coating of sediment is left in the bottle suggesting some of the bite has fallen away, and a mellow sweet spice has come to the fore. The ageing has revealed a different character and an emphasis on the complexity and secondary character of the wine while retaining the fruit character of the young wine. 18.5/20

Chateau Cissac 1992

Cissac is hardly going to bankrupt you but is an example of the kind of Bordeaux that anyone can manage to factor into even a modest collection. This is not an immensely rewarding wine when drank with a year or two of vintage often tough and unyeilding even in the best years it is outshone by easy drinking ripe new world reds.

Given 10 or more years in bottle though and that tannic grip has softened and while still there it can allow the autumnal fruit to come to the fore along with a wash of mouthwatering acidity. This is really lovely stuff elegant and soft in a way few young wines ever are. It remains bright but has a delightful mellowness like it's very slightly in soft focus.

This wine was made in a time when a Walkman was cool and Bill Clinton got elected and it still has something to offer. There's not a lot you can hide away for twenty odd years and not find technology or fashion have left it behind, a decent bottle of wine is pretty comforting in that way.18/20 (but only thanks to its advanced years)

It is certainly not essential to lay down wine more and more wine is made to be enjoyed immediately. It is also not necessary to spend hundreds of pounds on wines that you want to lay down nothing I have is over £30 to £40 and most in the £10 to £20 range. However if you do, you will have access to wines with a different character to anything you will find in the shops.

Should you fancy trying I would recommend you think about the kinds of wines you enjoy and the amount you want to spend.. The usual advice is to buy a case and open a bottle every few years until it peaks but there's nothing wrong in keeping just a few prized bottles for a special occasion.  Do some research and find which regions have a reputation for making good examples of the wines you enjoy and which producers have a good reputation and buy these. If you like Riesling you will be going for German and Alsace wines but don't rule out Tasmania, Clare Valley, Oregon/Washington State and even Constantia in South Africa. Not only will you end up with a reserve of interesting wines but you will broaden your own experience of wine which is half the battle.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Some chunky reds and one cheeky summer time red.

So apologies that this is my first post of the year I had meant to do more of a post Christmas review but that seems to be long gone now. In particular the Frappato from Marks and Spencer was excellent and there seems to be a real effort from their buyers to source some interesting wines from unusual places, Turkey, Georgia and the Lebanon all on their shelves.

 I will try to get more stuff up soon and get more regular posts but in the meantime here's a bit of a catch up. I'm going to put up some notes from a beer tasting recently which I hope will give some interest anyway here goes.

I've had a few reds recently of varrying quality and here are a few bottles which caught my fancy I'll have another page up soon to catch up on some that I've missed off here.

Chateau Neufs Du Papes 2007
38 Parcels £19.99

If truth be told I had hoped for a little more from this. Like most of us when I slash out on better quality bottle my expectations are raised and I want to be wowed. So if I am not and merely enjoy the wine rather than being transported by it, I feel somewhat let down. Unfair but true.

Sadly then I have to say this wine did leave me feeling a little disappointed. Had it been a normal Rhône I would have been impressed by the structure of this inky glass of wine. There is plenty of spicy herby black fruit aroma and the flavour was pretty dense, savoury and almost gamey balanced by confected blackcurrant. But this is Chateauneuf du Papes, so that is a given, what I'm looking for is balance and a silkyness that was absent from this wine. I'm looking for a bit of wow factor to justify the price so an accomplished but unexciting wine is just not going to cut it. There are lots of great Rhone wines that are more than a match for this bottle, so to justify that extra fiver it's time to stop relying on the name and start putting the value back in the wine by being outstanding.

Not a bad wine just not one that set the pulse racing which is a shame.17/20

Chateau Du Trignon
Le Bossu
Rasteau 2005 £10.99

From the same producer this wine had some of the same character as its big brother but was not quite so heavy handed and as such the fruit which had been slightly hidden behind all the oak in the Chateau Neuf Du Papes made an appearance. A lighter wine and less complex no doubt, but for me anyway, all the more enjoyable.

A hit of damson and prune with some clove on the nose followed on to the palate with a warming hit of alcohol and black pepper this had all the hallmarks of the Rhone Valley. Rasteau, Vacqueyras and Saint Joseph are well worth keeping an eye out for if you enjoy Chateauneuf de  but want to get great value. The majority of Britsh wine consumers don't look for these regions and so prices are not so driven by demand as some better known appellations but deserve more of a following.

As is so often the case for a lot less money you can get very nearly as much wine by looking at less glamorous regions and producers. 18/20

Marks & Spencer
Italy ,Sicily

This little beauty from M&S is a must for Beaujolais drinkers who fancy a change or don't want to come over all Alison Steadman when they have guests. This Sicilian fruit bomb has a massive summer fruit hit and zero tannin, it is unashamedly light and easy drinking but has so much flavour it never feels throwaway.

Looking like Cherryade without the sparkle and having something of that beverage's smell. This is a dead cert for picnics I would even stick a bottle or two in the fridge on the off chance of a sunny day. Like a blend strawberry and raspberry juice this has little in the way of finish, depth or complexity but that really isn't the point of this wine. If you like a Reserva Rioja steer well clear but for lovers of fruit forward easy drinking soft and luscious reds then this is right up your alley. 18.5/20

Australia, Barossa Valley 2007
Tempranillo, Grenache & Viognier £16.99

I generally enjoy Yalumba wines and I also like odd combinations of grapes, so this blend of Spanish and Rhone grape varietals with an Aussie twist appealed. Yalumba seem to have a happy knack of producing expressive characterful wines with a bit of class even at the affordable end of their range.

This had plenty to recommend it a big redcurrant and blackberry jam nose like an overfriendly labrador leaps from the glass. The palate is dry and the tannin as teeth staining as you'd expect of Tempranillo grown in the Barossa. I'm not sure what the Viognier contributes as it did not seem to give that lift here that it does so well in tandem with Aussie Shiraz. I was a bit confused if I'm honest, this didn't quite give the new world fruit boost to Tempranillo that Australia did for Shiraz while the Viognier doesn't change the character of the Tempranillo Grenache blend enough to seem like Rioja re-invented. I kind of just thought maybe I shouldn't have tried to be so clever and just bought something like the fabulous Condado de Haza from Alejandro Fernandez.