Monday, 19 December 2011

Wine Recommendation

Alamos Mendoza Malbec 2010

The Americans are going mad for Argentinian Malbec at the moment, so for this one to be around at £7.99 probably means someone at Majestic's buying department got themselves a bit of a steal.

If you're like me and leave all your Christmas shopping until the last minute this is one to grab as a good solid wine that should keep things flowing over the Christmas period. Since it's not too overt a new-world fruit bomb this is one that can be enjoyed by everyone, even in the five minutes between Friday and Tuesday that they're not eating!

Expect lots of soft, autumnal black fruit on the nose, a faint whiff of bonfires. It's medium bodied with black cherry and blackberry all backed up with a faint tarriness and supple tannins.

£7.99 from Majestic

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Thought of the Day

It occurred to me this afternoon, while I was supposed to be busy doing something else, that books and Pinot Noir have a similarly alluring aroma to them.

This applies to both the new; the freshly opened lively new world Pinot or the sometimes medicinal, clean print smells of a book you've just bought, and the old; the more illusive, the reassuring atmosphere created by old books in a library or the leafy humus and farmyard aromas of a a mature wine.

I'm sure this can't be a coincidence, even if it's entirely psychological.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A+ Wine Day, The Red Wines

This is just to finish off things with regard to last week's tasting at Australia House with my pick of the reds.

Flight 6: Pinot Noir (6)
I picked the Yarra Valley Innocent Bystander 2010 from this bunch. Not necessarily because it was the best wine, but because I thought that at £12.99 (on the list, through a search it's £11.95 from Wine Direct) it was really keenly priced. It's full of exuberant fruit as you might expect, bursting with cherry and strawberry, but with an underlying spicy complexity that marks it out as a more serious wine. Most of the rest in the flight were £20+, which puts them into the realms of some pretty serious Burgundian/Central Otagan wines, and I didn't think they represented that good value for money. Certainly if you like the your Pinot on the pongy side, only one, the De Bortoli 'Reserve Release' 2006 fitted the bill.

Flight 7: Shiraz (8)
The best of the Shiraz flight was indicative of a shift in focus for Australia's signature grape. the First Drop 'Mother's Milk' Barossa 2009 as made from fruit selected fruit from two vineyard areas at different altitudes, resulting in a delightfully aromatic complexity with really fresh fruit flavours. Lacy Tannins create a pleasant texture, with a touch of spice and absolutely no hard edges. £16 from Harvey Nichols. This would make a great wine for the Christmas dinner table. There's enough fruit for it to be a crowd-pleaser but it's not too aggressive - and definitely not from Old School Barossa wine making.

Flight 8: Shiraz blends (3)
For me the Turkey Flat 'Butchers Block' Shiraz Grenache Mourvédre 2009 Barossa Valley showed the sweetness of the Grenache well, nicely balancing with the alcohol. The Mourvédre provided a certain earthiness. A well-thought out use of different fruit and considerate blending. (£10.95 from Formulawine).
For all the talk on the day of the wine revolution taking place in Australia, it was interesting that this was one of the wines which seemed to reflect the terroir the most - remains to be seen if the quest for 'regionality' results in less of a focus on single-variety wines.

Flight 9: Cabernet Sauvignon (6)
I agreed with Tim Atkin and Nick Stock on this one, the Hollick Coonawarra 2009 is a superb wine, and a bargain at £16.65 from Slurp. This is what modern Australia can do best, power with elegance, and nothing overdone - plenty of fresh blackcurrant fruit as you might expect, but without the sometimes overpowering eucalyptus leafiness that can be off-putting at times, and with silky smooth ripe tannins.

Flight 10: Fortified Wine (4)
OK, not red wines but worth a mention was the powerfully spicy, dried fruit Rutherglen Muscat from Stanton & Killeen - £12.40 from Slurp. Having said that if you're into sticky sweet dessert wines this style is well worth a try in whatever form you find it - treat yourself!

Tim Atkin summed up by saying he was more optimistic than he had ever been about Australian wine. Some of these wines are definitely at the forefront of disproving some of the old Aussie wine myths - and most enjoyable for it.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A+ Wine Day, The White Wines

Having written a post the other day about Australia Wine's One Day Wine School I thought I'd write up some thoughts on the wines themselves.

There was close to fifty wines throughout the course of the afternoon, and so what I thought I'd do is just pick out some of my personal highlights, the best of the flights - along with any other interesting comments that were made at the time.

Flight 1: Sparkling Wine (2)
Both the Jansz 'Premium Cuvée' and the Brown Brothers Brut  'Méthode Traditionelle' were excellent, very little to choose between the two, and either one will be far superior to any bargain basement Christmas Champagne deals you'll find in supermarkets this month. Personally I preferred the elegance of the Jansz but I'd happily drink either.

Flight 2: Semillon (3)
I love Semillon, but perhaps with more bottle age than was shown here, although I'd imagine older examples are going to be particularly hard to get hold of. The best of these was the oldest, a 2003 'Vat 1' from Tyrell's in the Hunter Valley. It had mellowed out with the couple more years it had on the other two; pithy, delicate and flinty. A superb apéritif. £25 from Majestic.

Flight 3: Viognier (3)
The first glimpse of d'Arenberg's distinctive red stripe, and an old favourite, the 'Last Ditch' Viognier, 2008 vintage. Generous stone fruit and smokiness, by contrast with the Yalumba Eden Valley 2010 which had much more classic honey , orange blossom and floral notes. Couldn't choose between those two. £9.95 from Wine Direct and £12.10 from Slurp Wines.

Flight 4: Riesling (6)
Things were starting to get into less-charted waters here, a flight of six Aussie Rieslings? Well if these couldn't showcase the differences in the regions, what could? There was a few interesting wines in this lot. I thought the Ferngrove 'Cossack' Great Southern 2010 (£14.65 from Slurp) was great if you like a leaner, steely, petrolly style of Riesling. It's still young and somewhat austere, and like the Mitchell Wines 'Watervale' 2010 it would be interesting to see how they'd pan out with age. The Watervale had more floral and lime notes, classic Clare. Long way to travel to try this since it's available where I used to work at Weavers in Nottingham, £13.50.
Also of interest was the 'mesh' Eden Valley 2009, a collaborative effort between two winemakers who vinify separate wines from the same parcels of fruit (hence the name). I actually thought this was the best of the bunch, although I could see Nick Stock's point about wanting to try both of the wines to see what the winemakers did with the original fruit. Lots of lime cheesecake, where often I find Aussie Riesling to be a bit overpowering on the lime cordial stakes this had a lovely, almost chalky, creaminess which took the edge off. £16.60 from Slurp.

Flight 5: Chardonnay (9)
I've not done a great job of finding favourites so far, and given this is the biggest flight, I failed to do so here. Report of the death of Australian Chardonnay, crushed to death under a mountain of new oak, have been greatly exaggerated. But if you've survived this long then I narrowed it down to a pick of one from each of the three areas (there was three wines from each region).
The first group was from the Mornington Peninsula, the best of which I thought was the Ocean Eight 'Verve' 2010 which had just a touch of reductive matchstick aroma and a good chalky minerality (struggled to find this one, although apparently it's imported by Hallowed Grounds, expect to pay around £24).
The de Bortoli Yarra 2008, a former Jancis Robinson wine of the week, and again a tricky one to get hold of, had much more peachy fruit and was a more rounded style. According to the listing I was given it is a Wine Society line but they list the 2006 at £13.50, not this vintage.
Finally the Adelaide Hills 2009 from Shaw and Smith was beautifully aromatic, with lots of mellow fruit and a gorgeous supple mouth-feel and texture. (£24 from Majestic).

Plenty of food for thought there I hope. I'll return with some reds when I get a chance.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A+ Australian Wine One Day Wine School

Five in the morning is far too early to be getting up and thinking about wine, but this is what I found myself doing this week courtesy of an invitation to one of Wine Australia's inaugural 'A+' One Day Wine Schools in London, as set up in conjunction with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

I was unsure about how to do a write up for this as a day. Nick Stock, one of the guest speakers (the  others being Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin MW) was on Twitter earlier and described it as 'epic,' which is no overstatement. If there is any criticism at all it is about the level of ambition. Fitting so much into one day was always going to be difficult, and when you add guest speakers that encourage the audience to challenge them with questions and in turn enjoy answering, then a packed day becomes even more so. This blog post is about the day itself, rather than the wine, which I'll talk about another time.

After the introductions the first main speaker was Andrew Jefford, who treated us to a lecture which, I assume, is a first glance into what his forthcoming book on Australia must go into in unparalleled depth. It was a more detailed examination of Australian climate and geology than in the WSET diploma, and so not for the faint hearted, but superbly presented and illustrated - with plenty of information provided for us all to digest at our leisure afterwards.

The focus of the day was how wine is being re-assessed in Australia, and how there is a movement away from wine as a commodity and towards something genuinely invoking a feeling of place. Nick Stock suggested that during the first Australian wine boom exporters had 'forgotten to take the back-story' which left them struggling once people had tried those initial wines and then said 'What next?' This is why Andrew Jefford's lecture (and the information surrounding the wines later) was so geared towards terroir, the feeling being that Australia has proved itself time and again with regards to technology-driven fruit expression, and is now moving forward.

A great wine is always enhanced by a good atmosphere and good company. Australia House certainly provided the atmosphere, and the guests were great company. As a self-confessed wine geek I'd have been happy to pay the train fare just to sit and listen to these guys talk about Australian wine, but there was nearly fifty wines to taste too.


If anyone in the wine trade is interested is even vaguely interested in how Australia is pushing itself forward as a home of something more than supermarket wine, then I would highly recommend you try to get on this course. Even if Australia isn't your thing then it is fascinating to see something that is now coming to light, and it will be interesting to see if other countries follow suit. There are lots of great books and writing about the 'Classic' wine regions. but this is in many ways a whole new discovery, and it is that freshness that makes it inspiring.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Marramiero 'Inferi' 2003

This one's a bit of a blast from the past, and a blast it is. It used to be an old Oddbins staff favourite. One of those wines that used to be talked about on the company grape-vine (sorry, couldn't think of another phrase) before it came into the warehouse and invariably fought over by the managers who wanted allocation for their 'customers.' This really meant it was snapped up by staff on pay-day, if not delivery day, and customers' chances of getting to try some was rather less.

It's a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a big ripe inky wine, coming in at a whopping 14% alcohol. Even having mellowed a little over the years since I bought it the tannins are still grippy and there is still masses of black cherry fruit, tempered by smoky vanilla and spicy oak.

I'm sure some might argue that it's a bit load, and all this barrique ageing and fruit is too international a style, but I've always enjoyed this - and I think it's still got enough of an Italian accent to be proud of, rather than disrespectful to, its heritage.

One I've had for a while, probably somewhere around £15, although I'm not sure who stocks it now. If you see it, grab some, but don't be afraid to let it cellar.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Notes on Notes

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. - Ira Glass

Writing good tasting notes, by which I mean ones that people will relate to, understand, and be informed and entertained by, to the point where they will keep coming back and reading more, is a creative process. Like any other creative work, it isn't easy (hence the quote above). It's the old 'walk before you can run' cliché, and it's why I thought Victoria Moore's piece in the Telegraph back in September wasn't particularly helpful. I think she overlooked the fact that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust diploma course that she thought was so prosaic, and therefore dropped out of, was a matter of writing to demonstrate understanding of fundamental things  for an exam. It is a starting point. There is also a difference in a purely personal tasting, and tasting with an audience in mind. I doubt anybody at the WSET is suggesting that following their rigid guidelines is likely to get you a column in the Telegraph, but most of us, when we take our first tentative sips, need to have terms we can immediately relate to. When I am trying to get people to examine the flavours of wine for the first time, articulating their thoughts is invariably the most difficult part - they are usually convinced they're 'wrong'. I always tell people that tasting wine is a learned skill, there is nothing particularly difficult about it to start with, and once people practice as a matter of course they'll get better and enjoy a more rewarding experience.

To someone with a will to learn about, but not a knowledge of, wine, an expressive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a fantastic wine because the flavours are so up front and identifiable. A similar sort of thing can be seen with beer. Pointing out hoppy and malty flavours may not be that interesting to readers of beer blogs, but without knowing such fundamental style differences your tasting notes will never improve, and indeed sometimes overlooking the basics can be as bad as being unimaginative. There are parallels in other disciplines that rely on both the creative and the mechanical, not least beer and winemaking. It's perhaps stretching the point somewhat, but few would argue that there is no art or creativity in architecture and the architect certainly needs to know the building they are designing won't fall down. Picking out an American IPA and saying to a beer novice, 'try this, this is what a hoppy beer tastes like,' might lead to a similar revelation seen with 'try this, this is what wine people are on about when they say gooseberry flavours!'

Villa Maria 'Cellar Selection' Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine I remember ever remember feeling like I could in any way describe the flavours of - I picked it for a staff wine sales competition with Oddbins and won (although I am sure I had some help from sympathetic colleagues). Since then I have been working through the WSET qualifications - the prosaic mechanics of educating my palate - and I hope eventually to fight my way through to the point where my work is as good as my ambitions.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Masserian Pietrosa Verdeca 2009

One of the reasons wine is put forward by some as the world's greatest drink is the rich variety involved in the raw ingredient – the grape. In a discussion on which was 'better' wine or beer, the fact that Italy alone has over 1000 different native grape varieties was used as an argument that wine was more varied than beer. While this may be a legitimate point, if you have to be a geneticist and DNA profiler such as Dr José Vouillamoz, a contributor on the subject in the Oxford Companion to Wine to tell the difference then really that makes absolutely no difference at all to us as consumers. The point of all this? Well, this is a single varietal wine, made from Verdeca, which is a pretty obscure variety – it's not listed in Oz Clarke's book Grapes & Wines and its entry in the OCW doesn't run as far as flavour characteristics (it's actually more of a suggestion that it doesn't really have any.) The question is I suppose one of whether wines such as these represent a genuine case for preservation of obscure varieties on the grounds of taste rather than purely academic interest.

The wine itself is a lovely colour, pale gold with green hints. Lots of lime on the slightly floral nose. There's plenty of fresh green apple and lemon flavours. I also thought it had a pleasant texture, a slight oiliness but since it was backed up with a decent acidity, which must have been a worry with a Puglian white, it seemed to work.

I don't think that Verdeca is ever going to take the world by storm (not exactly sticking my neck out there) but given it is declining in popularity as a crop in Puglia, it would be a real shame if were to die out entirely. I have certainly had plenty of Italian white wines that are far less interesting than this.

£11.99 (75cl) from Delilah Fine Foods in Nottingham

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Pipe & Glass

I was glad to see that the Pipe and Glass in South Dalton, East Yorkshire won the Michelin Pub of the Year award. I was brought up near there and it's a pub I've been visiting on and off most of my life since my parents still live nearby.

While it's generally had a good reputation locally, in the last few years it's really kicked on from there; good Yorkshire beer, an excellent wine list and superb food, which has earned it a Michelin star - and it's our venue of choice for birthday dinners and other celebrations. It also has good vegetarian options which, importantly, don't leave you wanting a snack by the time you have got home.

Highly recommended if you're ever in that part of the world. Friendly and unpretentious, proper Yorkshire hospitality.

More in The Guardian.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2010

As far as I can remember this is the first time I've tasted a Tasmanian Pinot Noir. Climatically Tasmania is well situated to produce good wines from cool-climate loving varieties, providing some shelter can be found from the winds.

As New Zealand Pinot Noirs seem to be getting more and more international recognition, and thus becoming more expensive, it was interesting to try this one to see if a relatively unknown area of a country not generally that well regarded for Pinot (apart from certain areas) could compete.

If you're a fan of the light, Marlborough style of Pinot Noir then I'd say this wine, from the Devil's Corner range of second wines from Tamar Ridge is well worth a go. Lots of perfume on the nose, violets and red fruit, and a tart raspberry and redcurrant palate with refreshing acidity levels.

£12.75 (75cl) from Weavers in Nottingham

PS. I'm going to duplicate blog posts to here in case I start to have issues again with fasthosts and their crazy bandwidth restrictions like I did at the end of last month.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I am going to start separating wine and beer stuff I'm blogging on, so I have started up where I am going to put my beer musings.

Wine stuff remains at so long as the bandwidth allows!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Wine Recommendation

San Gimignano Sangiovese 2008

Another one from Majestic that's on a deal at the moment (2007 is advertised on the web site) - £8.99 if you buy two.

One of the first places I visited in Tuscany. A slightly unusual area in so far as it does have its own DOCG (DOC 1966-1993) for whites, under the guise of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, from a local strain of Vernaccia thought to be unrelated to any other, but at the moment is awaiting DOC status for Rosso di San Gimignano despite it having had success with Sangiovese for quite some time, and more recently with super Tuscan style international blends.

But, given all of this red-tape means the price might well be more competitive, enjoy this one at the deal price! Fruity enough to be approachable, lots of characteristic cherry flavour, but balanced with enough oak and savoury tannins to make it a more satisfying drop.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Trinity Hill 'Trinity' 2002

Dug this one out of the depths of the wine cabinet this evening. It's a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah blend from Trinity Hill in Hawke's Bay.

I had the chance to look round some of Hawke's Bay's wineries in 2005 courtesy of another ex-Oddbins staff member Greg Beachen at Grape Escape - it's a diverse and interesting wine area often overlooked because of Marlborough's dominance, although Stonecroft wines used to pop up in Oddbins and CJ Pask wines are available from my local independent, Weavers.

The brick red rim of the wine gave an indication of its age but there was still plenty of fruit on the nose, lots of Plummy Merlot. The palate was more lifted, red currants mixing with leather and earthy flavours, all supported by the oak ageing. Not sure there was much more life left in it so it's probably a good thing it got drunk this weekend - but an enjoyable drop, and one that brought back a few kiwi memories to add to the brand new one brought about by Wales' fine victory this morning!

Interestingly, according to my New Zealand Wine Atlas, these guys grow Montepulciano, as well as the grapes Hawke's Bay is rather better known for.

I'm not sure where I got this one from or how much I paid for it but similar blends from more recent vintages seem to be around £12-£13. (Label)

Friday, 23 September 2011

Wine Recommendation

Domaine de Villargeau 2010 Côteaux du Giennois

Currently on a deal at Majestic, this was in Decanter a couple of years ago as one of France's top wines for under £10, so now, at £9 each if you buy two, it is a real bargain.

A Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire's Central Vineyard areas, bargain price I suspect because this relatively young appelation (est. 1998) simply doesn't have the reputation that its more prestigious neighbours in Pouilly and Sancerre do - in a similar way to Mentetou-Salon.

Don't expect a kiwi tropical fruit bomb, this is Sauvignon at its most graceful - a glass of elegant, steely finesse.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Beer and Wine Labels

Bit of a blog about blogs. I came across some articles today about beer and wine labels. The beer label one seemed almost to be the antithesis of what the guys at Pumpclip parade are up to*, but still, it's quite amusing to see what some people find 'inspiring.' Brace yourself for Badass Redneck Lager:

Showcase of Over 45 Inspirational Beer Logos and Labels

Moving swiftly on, and hopefully more interestingly, a couple of articles (well, a load of pics really) from a graphic design blog on wine labels. Interesting to look at this through the perspective of a graphic designer rather than a wine drinker. Some of these are held up as 'exquisite' examples of graphic design, and indeed that might be a perfectly valid comment, but I'd question whether many of them actually make good labels for wine - however talented the creator.

40 Wine Labels That Will Delight You

On the other hand, this, for me at least, seemed like a better selection:

12 Wild Wine Label Samples

* Incidentally, not entirely confined to UK brewers, shame on you Lindemans!

Monday, 12 September 2011

My Blog (or not)

Created this so I can use it as a blogspot profile but I'm not currently using it.

Blog posts are at

Of course if I knew what I was doing I could probably re-direct but hey ho!