jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Loire red after football: P-J Druet

I've just come off the football pitch after an enjoyable game. Nine versus eight, finishing 2-1 after an hour. A solid defensive display by our side, coupled with a goalkeeping error by the other side, allowed us to sneak a hard-fought victory. There were some juicy challenges, but it was a warm-spirited affair, and the inevitable stiffness tomorrow will be worth it. I'm playing again tomorrow night, but this will be a less taxing five-a-side.

I've turned to a bottle that I bought a while ago from Majestic for some vinous refreshment (professional footballers tend to prefer the ice bath, and then a night club). It's Pierre-Jacques Druet's Le Cent Boisselees Bourgeuil 2003, a Loire red from the famously hot vintage. I remember buying it because Druet is one of the Bourgeuil's stars, and because the Loire suffered less than most other French regions in this otherwise disastrous vintage. It's interesting that those who hyped 2003 in Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone have never really been called to account. It's a vintage I avoid every bit as much as 2002 (although Bordeaux and Burgundy didn't do all that badly in this otherwise damp year).

The wine? Quite elegant and almost Burgundian, with a bit of the minerally, gravelly character that I love in Loire reds, but with some softness and richness that you don't always get in these wines. Elegant, midweight and approachable with strawberry and raspberry fruit, it's drinking very well now, but might not last too much longer. This is Druet's machine-picked, unoaked cuvee, and I reckon it's one for drinking early. I'll be on the lookout for more recent vintages; sadly, no longer at Majestic.

For more information on Druet, see the excellent report by Chris Kissack at his Winedoctor website. Chris is really good on the Loire, and his site is an excellent read.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A soul-restoring Montlouis

There is always hope for the world of wine when, amongst the sea of spoofulation and depressing commercial correctness, you get ambitious, talented people investing their time and money in worthy but unfashionable regions such as Montlouis. Stephan Cossais is one such winegrower, and this wine of his isn't perfect, but it is beautiful. It's an amazingly rich, vibrant, life-full expression of Chenin Blanc. You can read more about Cossais at Jim Budd's Loire Blog.

Stéphane Cossais ‘Le Volagré 2006 Montlouis-sur-Loire, Loire, France
13.5% alcohol. Beautifully packaged, and with an amazing good-quality long cork. Deep yellow/gold colour. Rich, mineral, toasty nose with notes of herbs and apples, and a lemony, subtly cidery lift on the nose. Bold, intense palate shows a hint of vanilla and toast (this cuvee, unusually, had 20% new oak) with powerful citrus, herb and mineral notes. A distinctive dry Chenin Blanc with power, richness and intensity. This is a producer to watch. 91/100 (retail c. £19, UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)

[Note added later: sadly, as Jim points out in the comments below, Stephane Cossias died in July at the awfully young age of 42.]

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I love Vouvray

UK importer Richards Walford specialize in the Loire, among other things. Today they put on a treat for trade and press - a tasting of the 2008 Huet Vouvrays, plus a vertical of Huet demi-secs taking in the decades back to the 1940s. My favourite was 1962, but the 1947 was pretty smart, also. The 1957 was remarkably fresh. I didn't really get on with the 1971, which I thought was a bit herbal.

2008s were oustanding across the board. You can just buy these blind in confidence knowing they will taste great now, and great in 20 years, and probably outlive you if you store them well.

Most of these older wines had been reconditioned in the domaine: topped up where necessary, had a small SO2 addition, and then recorked. That's why the labels look so good: they'll have been added fairly recently.

Vouvray is a wine nut's sort of wine. I love it. [And forgive the quality of the picture: I only had my camera phone with me.]

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Domaine de Chevalerie: fantastic Loire reds

I'm a huge fan of red wines from the Loire, which, when they're good, are fantastically fresh and characterful. I'm almost always in the mood for a good Loire red, which is something I can't say for all wine styles. Here are two brilliant wines from Domaine de Chevalerie, which is owned by the Caslot family: Pierre, Stephanie and Emmanuel. This domaine is currently in conversion to organics (will be certified by Ecocert from the 2009 vintage) and is experimenting with biodynamics. It's definitely a domaine to watch.

Domaine de Chevalerie 'Galichets' 2006 Bourgeuil
Just lovely. Pure, sweet blackcurrant and dark cherry fruit with some grippy, savoury gravelly notes sitting in there beautifully with the sweet fruit. Rich, with good concentration, but also lovely freshness and definition. Good tannic structure. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, £16.99 Handford)

Domaine de Chevalerie 'Chevalerie' 2006 Bourgeuil
From southwest facing 70 year old vines on sandy clay over limestone. Beautiful wine. Lovely full aromatic nose of dark cherries, blackcurrants and smooth chalky gravelly notes which add definition. The palate is midweight with elegant fruit and silky-yet-firm tannins. Supple and quite complex, this is a delicious wine with a sense of place. 91/100 (£14.60 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A crazy natural white from the Loire - Chenin on acid

How could you not like this wine? Quite easily, I suppose, if you are uncomfortable leaving familiar territory. It's a crazy wine made by a biodynamic grower from the Menu Pineau grape variety and aged in large barrels. I really like it.

Julien Courtois L'Originel Vin de Table Francois NV
This is actually from the 2006 vintage (indicated by 'L6' at the bottom of the front label. Importer Doug Wregg describes it as Chenin on acid - cheese and cider in one glass. It has a complex herby, appley, waxy nose. The palate is open, appley and wonderfully complex with a long minerally, acid finish. Weird but lovely. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene - retail is around £16)

Labels: ,

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ampelidae and a Jurancon

Two impressive white wines tonight. First, one of Frederic Brochet's Amplelidae wines - the 'S'. [See my review of his wines from last year.]

Ampelidae Le S 2006 Vin de Pays de la Vienne, France
This Sauvignon has a fresh, assertive nose of grassy, green herby notes. But on the palate these green notes are joined by some lovely rich melon/tropical fruit notes. The combination is really attractive. It's also a beautifully packaged wine. When I tried this last year it was a bit reduced; it's resolved a bit since. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Second, a sweet wine from Jurancon. It's a little unusual, but delicious.

Domaine Castera 'Cuvee Prestige' 2006 Jurancon, France
Sweet, citrussy and herby with nice spiciness and hints of vanilla accompanying the peach and pear fruit. There are also some notes of crystalline fruits. Rich and sweet, yet fresh at the same time, with a hint of pithy structure. Lively and intense. 90/100 (£14.95 Great Western Wine)
Must go to sleep soon - it's the first day of the International Wine Challenge tomorrow, after which I'm taking younger son to see AC/DC at the O2 arena.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A nice lunch in Paris

On the way to Champagne, we stopped off for a lovely lunch in Paris. It was at a small restaurant called Chez Casimir, a short walk from Gare du Nord (6 rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris, 01 48 78 28 80). Nothing flash; just good simple French cooking, bistro style, with a short but fabulous wine list.

I was let loose on it, and chose two reds. But first we began with a really nice Champagne.

Champagne Drappier Pinot Noir Non-dose
Really interesting: tight and fresh with lemony elegance and a hint of toasty richness. Very bright and lively, and despite the lack of dosage this doesn't seem out of balance. 91/100

Then to the reds: one a natural Loire red; the second a really individual Cote Rotie. Both brilliant. Prices? The Breton was about 20 Euros, the Barges around 50.

Catherine & Pierre Breton 'La Dilettante' 2007 Bourgeuil, Loire, France
Light coloured, this has a lovely nose of elegant cherry and herb fruit, with some hints of earth and spice. The palate is light and complex with a bit of funk as well as juicy, vibrant fruit. A deliciously drinkable wine with some natural elegance. 89/100

Gilles Barge Cote Rotie Cuvee du Plessy 2005 Northern Rhone, France
Wonderful: bloody, earthy, slightly spicy with lovely dark fruits. The palate is a bit meaty with lovely concentration and definition. A fantastic effort in a rather traditional style. 93/100

Labels: ,

Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Loire Sauvignons, one of which is great

I love the Loire, but it tends to be Chenin Blanc rather than Sauvignon that gets me excited when it comes to the whites.

Here are two interesting Loire Sauvignons, one of which is particularly wonderful.

Sébastien Riffault Akméniné Sancerre 2007 Loire, France
I thought Sancerre was mostly boring, but this is brilliant. It’s a challenging, complex, life-enhancing expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Full yellow in colour, it has a complex, rather wild nose of nuts, minerals, herbs, diesel oil, lemons and apples, with hints of sweet dried fruits. The palate is savoury and full, with lovely minerally acidity and nutty, grassy fruit. It’s just so complex, but if you’re looking for typical Sancerre, then this isn’t for you. I really like it, and rate it as the best Sancerre I’ve ever tasted. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene) 03/09

Jean Paul Mollet Pouilly Fumé ‘L’Antique’ 2007 Loire, France
Aromatic grassy, herby nose with some melony richness. There are some pronounced green herbal notes here. The palate is concentrated and richly textured with a hint of fruit sweetness and green pepper/herby notes, as well as a touch of minerality on the finish. Quite a serious Sauvignon. 89/100 (Sainsburys, this is due to be offered at a promotional price in April) 03/09

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 06, 2009

Crazy sparkling red, again

I don't know why, but I seem to have been drawn towards sparkling red wines of late. There's the Afros Vinho Verde Espumante, the M&S Lambrusco, and now this - a sparkling red from the Loire.

Domaine de Montrieux Petillant Naturel Boisson Rouge, Vin de Table NV
Emile Hérédia is the dude behind this remarkable wine - a Gamay from the Loire, made naturally (without the addition of sulfur dioxide), with the fermentation finished in bottle. Sealed with a crown cap, this is a sparkling cherry red-coloured wine that's just a little off dry. It's deliciously more-ish, with flavours of ripe cherries backed up by some subtle spicy, earthy notes, giving it a savoury feel despite the sweetness. It gains complexity with time in the glass - while this is a fun wine, it also repays contemplation, and I really like it. It's the sort of wine you just want (or need) another glass of. Serve chilled. 90/100 (£13.75 Les Caves de Pyrene, Green and Blue)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Saumur

Here's the view from our hotel (Mercure) in Saumur, over the Loire. Just about to hit the road for Bordeaux. Later...


On tour in France (2) Macon and Saumur

The Lallemand tour continues. It's the next best thing to being in a band. We show up in town, check in to our hotel, have dinner together and then the next day we do our gig, finishing early afternoon. Then we pile into the tour bus and drive to the next destination.

Day 2 was Macon, where we did our seminar at the Lycee Agricole in Davaye. It really is beautifully sitauted, in the middle of the rather beautiful vineyards of Pouilly-Fuisse and Saint Veran (pictured above and below - two of the shots were taken in the early morning sun). I never realized just how attractive this region was. The room we were meeting in was the Salle de Jules Chauvet, named after the famous wine scientist who these days is celebrated as the father of natural wine.

After the seminar we had a five-and-a-half hour drive to Saumur, where we are today. We dined very well last night at 'La Reine de Sicile' on rue Waldeck-Rousseau. Really nice food washed down with Saumur wines, both white and red. I'm shortly about to give my presentation for the third time, so I'm hoping my delivery will be almost perfect!

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lovely Bourgueil

Tonight's tipple is a delicious Loire red. Loire reds rock.

Frederic Mabileau Racines 2005 Bourgueil, Loire, France
13% alcohol. Cabernet Franc from 40 year old vines. This is a really delicious, ripe Loire red with beautifully focused sweet blackcurrant and raspberry fruit with a slightly sappy edge and some gravelly, chalky notes adding contrast. Impressive stuff. I really like the savouriness combined with the pure dark fruit: it's what Loire reds do so well. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A great Vouvray

I know. Vouvray is unfashionable and a bit geeky, bit it can be great. This is an old bottle that I bought from Oddbins in the 1990s for around £12 if I recall correctly. It has developed beautifully and is now drinking very well, although I suspect it will last a couple more decades. I think I have one more left.

Domaine des Aubuisieres Les Giradieres 1er Trie 1996 Vouvray, Loire, France
A delicious, mature sweet Vouvray that's just beginning to hit its stride. Deep yellow colour, it has a lovely waxy, herby, lanolin nose with some crystalline fruits. The palate is sweet, concentrated and multidimensional, with high acidity offsetting the intense herby, tangy fruit. Although it is sweet, it's not really a dessert wine. Would be great with strongly flavoured cheeses. 93/100

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Serious Loire Chenin

A new wine for me. It was part of the Les Caves de Pyrene tasting I did on Thursday morning, and I brought the remaining 3/4 of a bottle home to study at length(!). It's a fantastically pure, fresh, intense Chenin of real appeal. It also goes very well with mature Cheddar cheese.

Frantz Saumon ‘Minérale +’ 2007 Montlouis, Loire
From a grower in conversion to organics, working with indigenous yeasts in large and small oak. Intriguing nose shows classic Chenin notes of herbs, apples, lemon and a faint hint of soft cheese. It’s really pure and focused. The palate is pure and minerally with broad, textured herby, appley fruit kept fresh with high acidity. It’s more-or-less dry, fresh, pure and linear, but with a rounded character that presumably is contributed by a bit of residual sugar. A lovely, precise wine with a long future ahead of it. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene in the UK)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 17, 2008

Richard Kelley's new Loire website

Big plug for Richard Kelley's new website devoted to the wines of the Loire: www.richardkelley.co.uk. First serious content here is the ultimate guide to Savennieres. This is serious wine geek territory, and Richard, who is an MW who works for Richards Walford, has done some meticulous research which he is very generously offering for free on the web.

Disclaimer: I've been helping Richard put this together - I haven't touched the content, but have just done some basic web design and tecchie things. Apart from being paid for my time, I have no financial interest - rather, I was just keen to help get this amazingly good information out there for the benefit of wine lovers worldwide.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Locked in time with a Huet 89

Waitrose press tasting today. Nice to see Neal Martin there - haven't seen him for quite a while. Perfect tasting conditions at the Worx in Parson's Green, with plenty of space and lots of spittoons, as well as fantastic natural light. The tasting is so extensive I'll be going back tomorrow to finish it off.

For as long as I can remember, Waitrose used to be the top supermarket for wine. It was one of the things I quickly learned - they were almost untouchable. But despite having a gazillion Masters of Wine on their buying staff, in the last year or two the unthinkable has happened: people have been starting to criticize Waitrose's wine range, albeit in hushed tones. I began hearing whispers on the tasting circuit that some of their buying was a bit safe - a bit boring even. Tesco began to get plaudits for the work they were doing, and then M&S started to win awards for their range.

From my tasting today - I did the reds and sweet wines - I think this is a little unfair. There are some really good, exciting, innovative wines. Yes, there were a few duds and some rather ordinary offerings, but fewer than most supermarkets have. I found plenty to like, and it's not just the wines that were restricted to only a few stores that impressed.

It's hard to select just one wine to blog on tonight, but I've chosen a Loire classic, which, alas, is expensive and only available in 2 branches (although it is available on Waitrose Wine Direct). Still, it was nice of them to let us taste it.

Domaine Huet 'Le Clos' Premiere Trie 1989 Vouvray, France
Deep yellow colour. Complex, sweet spicy-edged nose showing lemon, herbs and crystalline fruits. The palate is pure and fresh with lovely bright tangy apple and citrus fruit with some apricotty richness. Lovely purity and length. This wine has evolved much less than you might expect and still seems like a baby, with a long life ahead of it. 72 g/litre residual sugar, so it's sweet but not too sweet. 93/100 (£85 Waitrose)

They also showed the 2002 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec:

Domaine Huet 'Le Mont' Demi-Sec 2002 Vouray, France
Lovely intense appeal and herb nose with just a hint of savoury Chenin funk. Concentrated linear herb and apple palate with some lemony freshness. Richly textured and off-dry. Delicious, and still very youthful. 91/100 (£22 Waitrose)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Insolite: a lovely Loire Chenin

Loire Chenin Blanc is geek territory. Chenin is a fabulous grape, but it's not for the masses - it requires quite a bit of investment on behalf of the drinker, in terms of understanding it and learning to love it.

Here's a good one. Appley, minerally, a bit tangy, with some notes of cider (in particular, it has a bit of tannic bite like you get with bittersweet cider apples). Perhaps that is one reason that Chenin can age so well - it's a white wine with tannin.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves 'Insolite' 2006 Saumur, Loire
Fantastic stuff from old vine Chenin Blanc. Notes of honey, spice, apples, vanilla and dry straw on the nose. The palate is savoury and vivid with fresh green apple and lemon acidity and concentrated herb and straw savouriness. Extremely fresh with real cut and bite: this needs food, really. A complex savoury wine with a bit of bite. 91/100 (around £13, Les Caves de Pyrene, artisanwines.co.uk, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, RSJ)

As an aside, it's interesting to compare the corks from this and the Sottimano I mentioned here recently. The Sottimano looks like it is unbleached. The Insolite shows something I often find in sweet wines, and also Chenins - the wine seems to have eaten into the end of the cork, softening it. Is this the acidity? (see below)

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sauvignon in Styria, day 1

Arrived in Graz this afternoon for the Sauvignon Congress. I'm staying at a wonderful traditional hotel in the old town, Erzherzog Johann, which is in the best part of a small city that just falls short of being beautiful (although it has a lovely laid back feel to it). Conference sessions start tomorrow, but this evening there was a reception and dinner at the Schlossberg, which is perched on top of a steep hill in the town centre, accessible by a steep path or furnicular car.

It was a lovely evening. Part of the reason for attending a conference like this is that you get a chance to meet loads of people. I chatted this evening for the first time to Denis Dubourdieu and Richard Smart, both legends in their own fields, as well as catching up with a whole bunch of others.

There was also an informal tasting of a range of Styrian Sauvignons, which were uniformly very good. Sauvignon Blanc in Styria has a particular character - it's bright, fresh and fruity, with some depth to it. It isn't grassy/herbaceous like the New Zealand style; nor is it minerally as it so often is in the Loire. I think the next few days will be interesting.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A beautiful Coteaux du Loir

Tonight's wine is a beautiful, natural Loire red from the Coteaux du Loir appellation. It is made by Christian and Nathalie Chaussard from the Pineau d'Aunis grape variety, with no sulfur dioxide added during the winemaking process save for a little at bottling.

You just have to love any winegrower who can label their capsule with the slogan 'vigneron non-conforme'.

Nathalie et Christian Chaussard Les Longues Vignes 2005 Coteaux du Loir
Slightly chilled, this is a beautifully aromatic red wine with a peppery, spicy edge to the pure, sweet cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is smooth and pure but with a distinctly savoury, earthy, spicy finish. Complex and alive, with lovely freshness. A hauntingly beautiful light red wine. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Labels: ,

Monday, June 16, 2008

Consolation in natural wine

Had a bit of a rubbish day yesterday. Supposed to be fathers' day, but the kids were appalling (most specifically older son) and it was all a bit depressing. So I turned to wine, and specifically a rather remarkable natural wine. Suddenly, everything seemed a lot better.

Le Clos de Tu-Boeuf La Guerrerie Vin de Table Français
This is actually from the 2006 vintage, and it’s a wine made by Thierry Puzelat in the Loire, from a blend of Cot (aka Malbec, 70%) and Gamay (30%), with the grapes grown in the Cheverny appellation. Following Doug Wregg’s advice (he’s the dude from Les Caves de Pyrene who import this into the UK), I chilled it down and decanted it before drinking. It’s fantastic, life-affirmining, ‘alive’ wine. It’s aromatic with some earthy, spicy depth to the dark fruits. In the mouth it’s refreshing and bright with a lovely dense, grippy, spicy earthy quality under the focused bright fruit. It finishes quite grippy, but the defining feature is the brightness. It’s a natural tasting sort of wine that’s just so easy to drink. It’s kind of like Pinot Noir, but with some edges. 91/100 (£11.75 Les Caves de Pyrene)

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Can Muscadet be 'serious'?

Of course it can! In fact, there aren't many wine regions that cannot make 'serious' wine, should the ambition and expertise of the grower be present. Having said this, some regions find it harder to make serious wines than others, and Muscadet isn't wall-to-wall with world class bottles. But it is often in these lesser-rated appellations that growers with a commitment to making excellent, expressive, terroir-based wines without any spoofiness get their chance to excel. And when they do, it's a happy coincidence that the wines are often affordable, because points chasers and 'collectors' are after the right names for their cellars. So here's a serious Muscadet that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Pierre Luneau-Papin Semper Excelsior Clos des Noelles 2002 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, France
After a 30 month elevage, this attractively packaged Muscadet is just beautiful. It's a concentrated, full flavoured white with expressive, complex mineral and herb notes on the nose. The palate is rich with powerful mineralic fruit and hints of citrus pith, as well as an almost marine-like quality that's hard to describe. Almost profound. 90/100 (Available in UK from Les Caves de Pyrene)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Vouvrays from Huet

Vouvray is wonderful stuff. It's an unusual white wine from the Loire, made from the Chenin Blanc grape, and it can be dry, fizzy, off-dry or sweet (with or without botrytis) - it just depends on the vintage, the vineyard, and the producer. Huet is one of the best producers, and certainly the most famous. A sleb Vouvray, I guess. Here are two very interesting examples.

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec 2000 Loire, France
Lovely tangy, herby nose with some appley fruit, as well as a bit of sweetness. The palate is just off-dry, with melon, apple and herb notes, finishing with nice mineral complexity. Quite full and lovely. 92/100 (rrp £16, Richards Walford are the UK agent)

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec 1995 Loire, France
Lovely complex nose is fresh and tangy with cheesy, herby fruit. The palate is bright and lean with high acidity. It’s really expressive. A lean, minerally style with a really fresh personality. 92/100 (rrp £17.49, Richards Walford are the UK agent)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An excellent Loire Cab Franc

Isn't Eurostar great? Such a painless way to travel, especially if you travel business class and make use of the lounges. The move to St Pancras as the London terminal means that Paris is now very close indeed: it's no more difficult to get there than it is to reach, say, Manchester or Leeds. And probably about the same sort of price.

We finished our tasting of Loire wines at Sopexa's offices by early afternoon yesterday. We came up with 30 or so wines that we'd selected to be ambassadors of Cabernet Franc, and - though I say it myself - I think we did a great job. 2006 and 2007, the vintages represented, weren't the easiest, but the wines we chose are all really good. The tasting process itself was relatively painless, and we all respected each others' palates enough to make the discussion of each wine's merits a very constructive one.

At the end of the tasting, Sam Harrop pulled out a wine that he'd brought along from Domaine de la Chevalerie, a producer whose 2007 wine had made it into the ambassador selection in our tasting. This was a really smart wine from the 2005 vintage, and it was nice to drink it with our late lunch.

Domaine de la Chevalerie 'Chevalerie' 2005 Bourgeuil, Loire, France
Deep coloured, this has a lovely focused, tight nose with rich, spicy, dark fruits, and just a subtle hint of reductive funk. The palate is concentrated with lush, sweet fruit backed up by rich spicy elements. A generous ripe style with lovely focus, this is a gorgeous expression of Cabernet Franc. 92/100

Today, I've spent the day with the kids and a couple of their cousins in Thorpe Park. It is Chav heaven. If you are a good chav, you go to the great theme park in the sky, where the queues are short and the fast food is supersized at no extra cost. I took some motion sickness pills with me in case I had to go on any of the extreme rides, but fortunately this wasn't necessary. My elder son really, really loves Thorpe Park. Is there any hope for him?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In Paris, with French wines

I’m currently in Paris, doing some tasting with Sopexa looking at the Cabernet Franc project wines. It’s an exciting initiative that has been going for a couple of years, with a view to helping growers make red Loire wines that appeal to the UK market while still possessing a sense of place.

The tasters? Sam Harrop MW, who is providing technical/winemaking help with this project, Sam Caporn, Jim Budd and myself. Today we looked at around 160 wines between us, trying to identify those that could be used as ‘ambassadors’ of Cabernet Franc. There were some really attractive wines, typically showing focused bright dark fruit and just a bit of grippy tannin.

We finished tasting just after 4 pm, and there was time for some wandering. I walked down to Caves Auge on Boulevard Haussmann, which is a remarkable wine shop specializing in natural wines. It’s cluttered and old fashioned, but has a mouthwatering array of things that are hard to find in the UK. I controlled myself and just bought three bottles: Thierry Puzelat’s In Côt We Trust 2005 Touraine, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2006 and Alain & Julien Guillot’s Mâcon Cruzille Clos des Vignes du Maynes 2006.

This evening we dined at a lovely restaurant, Maison de Campagne (rue Pierre Demours). Decor was a bit chintzy, but the food was fantastic, and best of all they had a lovely, well priced wine list, that reinforced the fact that France makes the world’s most interesting wines, in a diverse array of styles. Here are my notes (all these wines were well under 30 Euros):

Domaine Vincent Carênne Vouvray ‘Le Peu Morier’ 2005 Loire, France
A fantastic Vouvray that is just off-dry. Lovely mineralic nose with some fruit richness. The palate is richly textured with lovely herb and citrus fruit notes, and just a bit of Chenin funk. Finishes really mineralic. 92/100

Stéphane Tissot ‘Les Bruyères’ Chardonnay 2004 Arbois, Jura, France
The proprietor asked whether we knew this wine when we selected it – it was a warning that it isn’t the sort of thing to everyone’s taste. But I think it’s fantastic. Remarkable nose with smoky, minerally, flinty notes as well as the toastiness and richness you might expect from ripe Chardonnay. The palate is rich but bone dry, with more of those reductive notes and lovely minerality. Fantastic stuff. 93/100

Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2006 Côtes de Rhône Villages, France
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Deep coloured, with a dark, spicy, meaty nose that is intense and quite savoury. The palate is dense with bold sweet fruit countered by spicy, earthy savouriness. A powerful, intense win of real appeal. 92/100

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crazy French wines at Lords

France Under One Roof is the title of a large annual tasting held here in the UK, the 2008 installment of which I attended today. Held at the Nursery Pavillon, Lords, it's an event that brings together all manner of French wines, from cheap branded bottles to some smart high-end stuff.

Aside from being mistaken by Tina Coady for Jack Hibberd, I found today's tasting quite reassuring. At the bottom end - the more commercial wines, where France has traditionally struggled to compete - I tasted quite a few wines that would give similarly priced new world competitors a real run for their money. In fact, it's getting to the stage where I'm beginning to be confident that a £6 French wine will outperform a £6 Californian or Australian bottle.

But it's France's diversity at higher price points that is so exciting. I spend a good deal of time tasting with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene. They have some utterly fantastic, and in some cases crazy, wines.

The craziest of all, and one of the lovliest (in a funky sort of way) was a 'natural' wine from the Loire, which Doug described as being like 'Chenin on acid'. He was right.

Domaine Julien Courtois 'l'Originel' Vin de Table, France
This is a 100% Menu Pineau, an old Loire variety, grown biodynamically. It's a crazy, but lovely wine, reeking of cheese and cider. Herby, waxy, appley and pretty complex on the nose. The palate is appley and wonderfully complex with a long, minerally, acid finish. Fantastic stuff: weird but lovely. 93/100 (£15.99 Les Caves)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 07, 2008

Elegant Italian and Saumur revisited

Two wines tonight, one of which I've mentioned on here before - the Les Nivieres Saumur 2005 from Waitrose (£4.99) is a lovely wine - essence of Cabernet Franc. It's edgy and a bit green, and I probably scored it a little to highly last time, but I really enjoy it, while acknowledging that Loire Cabernet Franc may not be everyone's cup of tea. I think the sappy, mineralic greenness complements the fruit really well. Tannins are very grippy, which makes this a food wine. But it's an antidote to new world sweetness, and at this price it's hard to beat. It just makes the branded competition look a bit daft.

The second wine is another Les Caves wine (for which I make no apologies), and it's supremely elegant and alive. I can't believe this is Sangiovese. Decanted (I'm using my decanters a lot now) it opens out beautifully with a bit of air. This wine isn't expensive, and it makes some of the Burgundy 2006 prices look a bit silly.
Il Paradiso di Manfredi 2005 Rosso di Montalcino, Italy
From a small estate that practices many biodynamic principles, this Sangiovese is thrillingly alive and elegant. The aromatic nose shows dark cherries with purity and freshness allied with a bit of earthiness. The palate is quite complex with some earthy spiciness undeneath the sweet, pure dark cherry and blackberry fruit. There's a lovely smooth, elegant texture here, that's somewhere between silk and velvet. There's also a hint of forest floor. Finishes quite savoury. A supremely drinkable wine that's hard to resist. It tastes really natural (in a good way). 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A brilliant, affordable red from the Loire

This is perhaps the best £4.99 wine I've ever had! I'm just amazed that Waitrose can list a wine of this quality, with a real sense of place, at a regular price of £4.99. If it were £8.99, I'd still think this was a good value wine. Look, it sounds like I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. And I didn't have just a sip at a big tasting (sometimes you can over- or underestimate a wine this way); I drank the bottle over two nights. I suspect that the excellent 2005 vintage is largely responsible for the over-delivery on quality.
Les Nivières 2005 Saumur, Loire
From Cave de Saumur. I love this wine. A varietal Cabernet Franc from a ripe vintage (13.5% alcohol), it has a nose of leafy, spicy, deep blackcurrant fruit with a distinctive minerality. The palate is quite dense, savoury and tannic with lovely fresh, pure, sappy raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, and a mouth-drying finish. It’s a really intense, food friendly sort of wine that captures the essence of Loire Valley reds brilliantly. This has so much character, it gets a surprisingly high rating from me for such an inexpensive wine. 90/100 (£4.99 Waitrose)

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A thrilling Saumur Blanc

Every now and then I drink a wine that (almost) leaves me speechless. It's usually not wines that wow with their first sniff or sip, but rather wines that beguile - that draw you in, and as your attention becomes focused on them, they seem to reveal progressively more, engaging both intellect and appetite in a journey of thrilling discovery. OK, less of the flowery language - I just really, really like this sort of wine. It's what the 'old world' does really well.

Domaine du Collier Saumur Blanc La Charpentrie 2004 Loire, France
A fantastic, complex, savoury dry white wine from the Chenin Blanc variety. A yellow gold colour, the nose is complex with notes of apples, pears, minerals, wax and dry straw. The mouth is savoury and minerally, and quite dry, with herb-tinged appley fruit and a flinty/matchstick reductive character that adds complexity. There's an acid tang on the finish, together with hints of apricots and pear-skin. I think this is quite profound - a really thrilling effort that should age gracefully for the next 20 years. With its distinctive character, though, I don't think this is a wine for everyone. 94/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vouvray bargain

Grand Cru wines is selling off the last of Poniatowski's Vouvray stocks at knock-down prices. I have no commercial connection with them, but I thought this was worth mentioning as a service to readers:

"1990 Clos Baudoin, Vouvray Moelleux
Only two months remain before Philippe Poniatowski has to clear his cellar in Vouvray, and hand over the Domaine to the new buyer. As large stocks are still in his cellars, he has given us even lower prices on some of the wines, and we have now purchased the remaining stocks of the outstanding 1990 Clos Baudoin.

The price is now ludicrously cheap for a wine of this quality. The 1990 was undoubtedly one of the greatest twentieth century vintages, and will last virtually forever. The 1990 Clos Baudoin has 79 grams per litre of residual sugar.

£159.00 for 1 case of 12 bottles, inclusive of duty, V.A.T. @ 17.5%, and delivery within UK mainland. [There are volume discounts] Offer valid until 31st December 2007.

Orders may be placed by email, fax (0871 733 7047), or by phone/answerphone (0871 474 0635). Enquiries to Grand Cru Wines Ltd.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Loire and Germany for dinner

Yixin Ong was in town, so on Friday night he convened a wine nut dinner at RSJ, with myself, Rahsaan Maxwell and Tom Blach. Tom and Rahsaan are people whose writing I've read on the internet, but have never met before. It was a very nice evening, with some interesting wines and a couple of near misses - wines that were good but had the potential to show better. (Pictured, left to right, are Tom, Yixin and Rahsaan.)

We began with a sparkling Vouvray from Huet - a 1987 - which was quite lovely. It was delicate and bright, but had a little of that Chenin funk that worked really well. This was followed up with an old Muscadet - the 1990 Luneau Papin Muscadet Le L D’Or. Initially we wondered whether this might be corked, but then decided it was just showing rather faded, along with some distinctive savoury minerality that stuck out a bit. Not at ease with itself, and others had fared better with this wine recently. 2000 Domaine de la Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Hommage à Louis Derré was a remarkable, lightweight red wine with a minerally, gravelly edge framing some slightly meaty but otherwise very fresh fruit. Lovely and expressive: points chasers would hate this. Then we moved on to a pair of Germans. 2006 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Spätlese #17 was expressive, minerally and a bit zippy from some carbon dioxide, and had some lovely weight to the fruit. 2006 Daniel Vollenweider Wolfer Goldgrube Spätlese GK was much richer, with over 100 grams/litre of residual sugar, and a thick, rich texture. Stylish and in need of some time for the complexity to emerge from all that sweetness. Finally, we went for a big gun, spotting the 1971 Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ère Trie on the list at a decent-ish price. Sadly, it was tiring a bit. It came up at room temperature, so we decanted and chilled it in the ice bucket, only for it to turn from light brown to dark brown in 20 minutes. It was still nice - under the oxidation there was the memory of a complex wine, but sweet Vouvray is usually pretty much immortal, so it was a shame not to get a pristine bottle. The evening came to an end and we were relatively full of wine, and Yixin was tired enough to fall asleep on the last train home. But he bravely revived enough when we got back to crack open a half of Reinhold Haart 2005 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese, which was showing lovely lush fruit with a nice transparency to it, and the promise of greater things to come.

Evenings like this remind me why wine is such an interesting subject.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trade fair day one

So I rock up to the London wine fair at about 2 pm. I have a few moments spare, so I taste through the Symington portfolio of Douro table wines (Altano much improved in 2005, as is Chryseia and Post Scriptum) and Ports, before heading up to the seminar rooms where I was chairing the Closures debate.

This year the focus was on retailers and their involvement in closure development, with a star-studded panel made up of Andy Gale (Tesco), Howard Winn (Sainsbury), Jenny Bond (ex-retailer, now a consultant) and Ian Rogerson (consultant who works with Co-op). Before we get going, Sam Harrop pops in to let me know the preliminary findings from the faults clinic at the International Wine Challenge. More on those in a few days.

We kick off. Last Thursday I stayed up to watch Question time to get some tips on how to run a panel debate from the master himself, David Dimbleby. While closures is a hot topic, it's not nearly as contentious as the subject matter Dimbleby deals with, but I got some useful pointers: most significantly, don't let questions hang in the air - always direct them to someone. So I reckon I did a better job this year than last, and the panel were great.

Afterwards it was time for a quick beer with James Gabbani (of Cube, organizers of the debate), Andy Gale and the Oeneo guys, before a quick stop at the Cube party. James had to explain to the bouncers not to be too rough with any drunken guests (apparently last year a wayward reveller got their face a bit mangled when they were dropped onto the concrete floor outside from a height), and Scott Burton runs after Murray McHenry (of McHenry Hohnen) to tell him that, yes, he can come in even though he doesn't the required wristband, the lack of which has led to him being refused admission. Then we get some beer. Had a nice chat with Jack Hibberd, Stuart Peskett, Christian Davis and Graham Holter, but then it was time to head off.

Dinner was with Dirk Niepoort, Swiss journalist Chadra Kurt and Cloudy Bay viticulturalist Siobhan Harnett at RSJ restaurant near Waterloo. RSJ has an incredible wine list that is almost exclusively from the Loire. We chose a 2004 Savennieres Clos de Coulaine by Claude Papin and 2005 Saumur Champigny Domaine des Roches Neuves by Thierry Germain. Dirk bought some wines: 2005 Charme, 2006 Niepoort Pinot Noir and a 1978 Colheita, all of which were great. Siobhan brought the 2004 Te Koko and a late harvest Riesling. I'll be seeing Dirk again tonight for the official 2007 Dirk Niepoort annual dinner.
Pictured is the view from the balcony of one of the waterfront rooms at Excel. Canary Wharf is visible in the distance.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Enira...what's the point?

Bulgarian wines used to be very popular in the UK back in the early 1990s when the Australians weren't quite up to speed. They over-delivered on flavour, were nice and fruity, and didn' t cost much. Since then, for one reason or another, they've become much rarer on supermarket shelves, and have been confined to a bargain basement niche.

But here's an ambitious Bulgarian wine, priced at £8.99. I've tried the previous vintage a couple of times at Waitrose (UK retailer) press tastings, and no less an authority than Jancis Robinson made it her wine of the week. I even recommended it in the Express, although I did comment on the level of ripeness (veering towards jamminess), while commending it for its purity of fruit and concentration. I like Noel Young's take on this wine: he seems to have nailed it. Here's my first look at the 2005, and to be honest I'm going off this wine rapidly: the follow-on vintage seems to be in a similar over-ripe style, but has carried it off less successfully.

Enira 2005 Pazarjik, Bulgaria
14.5% alcohol. Baked, sweet jammy nose already showing some evolution. The palate is ripe, a bit jammy and alcoholic. Sweet and spicy with an earthy edge, but overall it lacks freshness and is a bit hot. I guess they are on the right lines here in that this is much better than anything Bulgarian I've tasted in a long time, but it seems that they've just picked a little too late, losing definition and freshness in the process. Very good 82/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

Much nicer, and also from Waitrose is the wine I'm drinking now:

Frederic Mabileau Les Rouilleres 2005 St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Loire, France
This Cabernet Franc is deep coloured and has a lovely fresh, gravelly nose of dark fruits. It has that distinctive rain on dry pavement sort of 'rocky' aroma I often get in fresh Cabernet Franc, which gives a nice savouriness. On the palate it's brightly fruited and quite grippy, with earthy, spicy tannins and a pleasing herbal edge to the fruit. The dominant theme is bright summer pudding fruits, and it is lovely. Very good+ 89/100 (Waitrose)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remarkable Loire Chenin

The last couple of evenings have seen me tussle with a profound but challenging Loire Chenin. It's Savennieres Roche Aux Moines 1994 from Domaine Aux Moines (website here), which I'm pretty sure comes from Caves de Pyrene. A deep gold colour it has a wonderful nose of tangerine, lemon, minerals and a faint hint of spice. The palate is tangy, deep and dry with good acidity, some apricot and a lovely cheesy, herby sort of Chenin complexity, together with citrussy freshness. It's dry, savoury and intense: quite a challenging cerebral sort of wine. A bit like a dry Sauternes in flavour profile. Very good/excellent 93/100

It goes pretty well with two cheeses I bought from Harvey Nicholls' food hall before the Craggy Range tasting: a beautifully tangy, nutty Reserve Comte, and a wondefully intense, tangy Montgomery Cheddar which hasn't yet reached the crystalline sort of stage that this cheese can evolve into.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 02, 2007

The benefits of age

Another glorious spring day in London, with temperatures hitting 18 centigrade (hotter than Jerez and Corfu, for example). But given the unpredictability of the weather these days, it could be snowing later in the week! Pictured is Regent's Park about an hour ago.

Forgot to mention some nice wines had over the weekend, at a lovely dinner party hosted by a rather good chef. The deal was that I should bring the wine. With goose foie gras we had Aigle Blanc Vouvray Moelleux 1990 - I was worried this wouldn't be sweet enough, but it worked very well. With asparagus and truffle cooked in butter we had Louis Jadot Meursault 2003: the fatness and richness of this wine worked well, with what is traditionally a difficult pairing. With a veal main course it was the turn of a 1989 Penfolds St Henri. This was the first vintage that St Henri was labelled 'Shiraz Cabernet' rather than 'Claret', and it was drinking perfectly. Age has turned this wine into something elegant, dark and thought-provoking.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comparing notes

How consistent is your palate from day to day? And how much bottle variation exists? If you use scores, what sort of error margin is built in to them? In the light of such questions, it's nice to be able to compare notes made on separate occasions. It's best when you don't remember having tasted a wine previously, because then there's no temptation to score the same the second time round.

I was planning to write up the last of the natural wines I purchased in Paris last month on this blog, but then leafing through past notes I realised that I'd reviewed this producers wines last May - the write-up went live this week (here). I'm adding here my notes from drinking the wine the other night, which are as written. You can compare them and see how close the perceptions were, even though they were separated by several months, and made in different environments. Always a healthy comparison to make.

Domaine Rosse Anjou 2004 France
Very deep colour. Dark, savoury, gravelly, minerally nose with some cured meat and black fruits notes. The palate is very savoury and tannic - verging on the austere - with vibrant black fruits, gravelly, earthy undertones and a hint of black olives. This is extreme and wonderful: a real delight for fans of wines with personality. Very good/excellent 91/100

Labels: , ,