jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finca Allende Calvario: high-end Rioja that hits the spot

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rioja. I recognize the brilliance of the terroirs, but I'm frequently upset to see them squandered by growers who aim too low, or who get sucked into spoofulating their wines with too much new oak and picking too late. Here's a heavyweight high-end example that actually hits the spot. It's expensive, though.

Finca Allende Calvario 2004 Rioja, Spain
Allende is located in Briones, and is a producer that seems to be able to integrate tradition wth modernity to great effect. The wines are vineyard based (unusual for the region) and aged in French oak, as opposed to the more usual American. This is a single vineyard wine from 60 year-old Tempranillo vines. Rich, slightly roasted red fruits nose showing subtly creamy raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh with lovely pure, spicy, dense, sweet red fruits backed up by firm tannins. A fresh, pure, intense red of real class. 94/100 (£65 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Torres Rioja and some nice Iberian wines with friends

I have a soft spot for Torres, as many readers will know. They make good wines in quantities that ensure everyone can get their hands on them. I wish more big wine companies did as good a job.

Of late, Torres have branched out from their Catalan base, and have recently released their first Rioja. It's called Ibericos, and 480 000 bottles have been released from the first vintage (2006) - over the next couple of years this is expected to be close to a million bottles annually.

Torres Ibericos Crianza Tempranillo 2006 Rioja, Spain
Deep coloured. Lovely balance here in this modern-styled Rioja, which combines sweet, creamy blackberry fruit wuth spicy oak. There's nice freshness, and also a hint of meat and olives. Good acidity keeps things fresh. A primary wine with lovely definition. The oak is noticeable, but less cloying than in many examples of Rioja. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose from the end of April)

I tasted this wine again tonight with some friends, in what turned out (coincidentally) to be an Iberian-themed dinner party. Also drunk were:
  • The wonderfully pure, focused Waitrose Douro Valley Reserva 2006 from Quinta de la Rosa, which is a brilliantly afforable expression of the Douro. My wine of the evening.
  • Cune Imperial Rioja Reserva 2001, which is deep, spicy and complex with some coconut and vanilla notes.
  • Vina Herminia Rioja Crianza 2004 - sweet, ripe and seductive with a bit of vanilla and some spicy, plummy fruit.
  • Marques de Monistrol Reserva Privada 2004 Catalunya, which is plummy, spicy and dense with a savoury, earthy character to the fruit.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music, Rioja, Morrisons & Majestic

Spent this afternoon at Morrisons (a major UK supermarket) press tasting, held at Vinopolis. It was quite disappointing: far too many wines were tired, lacked freshness, or just were rather ordinary. I hate having to say negative things like this, but I have to be honest or I'm no use to anyone as a journalist.

On the way out I wandered through the Majestic store at Vinopolis. What has happened with Majestic's range? I went to their press tasting last week, and came away underwhelmed. And taking a look at the wines they stock in store, I was struck by how much less interesting the range seems to be now compared with, say, two years ago. Majestic used to be brilliant; now they are just merely good.

That brings me round to Rioja, which along with Bordeaux is vying for the title of 'world's most underperforming wine region'. When you consider the resources Rioja has in terms of old vines, climate and fantastic terroirs, how come so much average or poor wine is made? Presumably because they can get away with it: Rioja is a very strong brand with consumers. Tonight, though, I'm sipping Cune's Rioja Reserva 2004 (11.49 Majestic, Waitrose, Wimbledon Wine Cellar), and it's very nice. With ripe dark fruits, it has a hint of modernity, but then there's some spice, earth and minerality that makes it taste more traditional. Reasonable value for money and with room for further development.

So, what about music? I don't like to go on too much about music on this blog, because musical taste is just so personal - even more so that taste in wine. I'm a keen music fan - I have four guitars, which I'm playing quite a bit of late, as well as a mandolin. But I haven't been listening to as much music as I'd have liked to.

Yesterday, picking up older son from boarding school in Devon, I had a few minutes spare so I wandered into town and bought a CD from a lovely little record shop run by a real enthusiast, who complimented me on my selection. It was I want to see the bright lights tonight, by Richard and Linda Thompson, from 1974. I guess you could describe this sort of folk-influenced rock as the musical equivalent of natural wine. A bit quirky, but interesting. My previous CD purchase was a more modern recording: Sarah Bareilles' Little voice, which has two stand-out tracks - Love Song and Gravity. Another album (yes, I know, terribly old fashioned term, but I still miss buying 12" records in gatefold sleeves) that I've listened to a lot of late is The Feeling's Twelve stops and home, which is a modern classic that combines elements of Supertramp, Queen and 10 cc in a thoroughly creative work that's a hundred times better than their follow-up album Join with us.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

On the main site, and Rioja

On the main site recently:
Tonight I have my twin sister Anne and her husband Dominic staying with their kids, before a big family cricket match tomorrow. We've been opening lots of bottles, including an interesting Rioja. It's really oaky, with lots of vanilla and coconut, plus some menthol and spice from the oak. But it also has really concentrated, well-defined red berry fruit. It's the Vina Izadi Rioja Gran Reserva 2002 (£18.59 Laithwaites).

This wine has me in two minds. Tasted today, I think it's just too much, with too much extraction and intensity and oak all mushed together. The sort of wine that impresses but isn't all that drinkable. However, I suspect it is also the sort of wine that could metamorphose with a decade's bottle age into something elegant and complex, and so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. The fruit really is quite impressive.

Also enjoying some chocolate Anne and Dominic bought along: Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa dark chocolate, which is intense and rich, but not at all bitter. I imagine this could even be wine compatible, because it's not too sweet. In fact, this Rioja works quite well with it, although it shouldn't.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A few Spanish wines

Five Spanish wines tasted tonight in an impromptu line-up. Good, solid commercial wines, these. The two Laithwaites wines were nice surprises: I wasn't expecting them to be up to much, but they were really good.

Castillo Labastida Aniversario Rioja 2004
From the Cosecheros de Labastida Co-op, made for Laithwaites. Very deep red/purple colour. Ripe, sweet fruit on the nose which is quite lush, and has a hint of vanilla. The palate is dense and fruit-driven with some ripe, spicy fruit and a bit of tannic structure. It's nice to find this density of fruit and a relative lack of obvious oak in a Rioja. Modern but balanced. 88/100 (£7.06 Laithwaites)

Monasterio de Santa Cruz Tarragona 2005
Deep red colour. Ripe sweet berryish fruit here with a nice supple quality and a cherry freshness. This is a delicious fruit-driven style that's ripe and approachable with just a hint of spicy seriousness. Well made. 86/100 (£6.55 Laithwaites)

Marques de la Concordia Tempranillo 2005 Rioja
Deep coloured. Savoury, spicy, slightly earthy and midweight, with a drying finish. Attractive drinkable wine. 84/100 (£5.99 Tesco, Oddbins)

Bodegas Navajas Vega del Rio Rioja Crianza 2003
Light, bright and quite attractive with red berry fruits, backed up by some earthy, spicy depth. Not profound, but savoury and bright. 83/100 (£5.99 Morrisons)

Vina Herminia Excelsus 2005 Rioja
Mid-red colour. Complex sweet, ripe cherry and red berry fruit nose is quite perfumed and harmonious. The palate is sweet and round with smooth, elegant, subtly spicy fruit. It seems to have a fair bit of Grenache character (Garnacha makes 45% of the blend). Not a big wine, but really expressive without that overpowering oak influence so often found in Rioja: this spends less than a year in oak, and is better for it. Impressive. 89/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blind tasting at home, and a bretty Rioja

As I've mentioned here before, I often do blind tastings at home where I let Fiona select at random from the sample rack and then present me a few wines double-blind. It's a really useful educational experience, although you could argue it's not truly double-blind, because I have some idea of what wines are sitting there (usually around 250 different bottles).

Tonight's two are detailed below. I'm reproducing the notes I made as they were made, and then adding some brief comments made after the wine was revealed.

Wine 1. White. Fresh, spritzy and vibrant. A youthful white with zippy acidity and a spritz. Light, dry and a bit mineralic. There's a touch of herbaceous methoxypyrazine character. I think it's a youthful warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Price guessing: £5. [It's the Flagstone 'The Berrio' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elim, South Africa. Tasting it sighted, I think I was a bit unfair calling this a £5 wine, or is this just the sight of the label speaking? It's quite refined and very refreshing, but there's a strong cool-climate feel here: it reminds me a bit of some of the Leyda Sauvignons I tried in Chile.]

Wine 2. Very deep coloured red/black. Rich, dark fruit here: quite weighty with a tarry edge to the dark fruits, together with just a hint of rubberiness. It's ripe and powerful, with black fruits showing some evolution. There's some oak and a hint of mint. Tastes quite expensive, and it has some evolution. It doesn't taste Australian, but it's new world. Chilean? I reckon a high-end Chilean Cabernet-based wine. Price £15. It's quite attractive; almost Bordeaux like in places. [It's the Santa Rita Triple C 1999 Maipo, Chile. Tasting it sighted, a bit later, this does have a lovely evolved aromatic presence that has a bit of a minerally, gravelly, tarry Bordeaux finesse. The palate is nice but doesn't quite match that - there's a hint of bitterness on the finish. Interestingly, this is more than half Cabernet Franc. It's quite a serious effort, actually. I'm pleasantly surprised.]

Interestingly, the Faustino VII Rioja Semi Crianza 2005 Spain (£5.99 Co-op) I opened earlier is remarkable, in that it's a widely available commercial brand, but it's stuffed full of (what my palate takes to be) Brettanomyces. It's worth trying if you haven't experienced a bretty wine before, I reckon.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three whites

If you pushed me, I’d have to confess to being a red wine sort of guy. It’s reds that I tend to plump for, unless my food choice absolutely dictates a C-thru (as some Aussies refer to white wines).

Tonight, three whites to report on. A seductive, aromatic Californian; a Roussillon white that I was a little harsh on yesterday; and a surprisingly good inexpensive white Rioja.

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois 2005 California
This is really interesting. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Moscato and Chenin Blanc from California and it works. The result of this coming together of three rather different varieties is an accessible, pretty, grapey aromatic white with good balance between the floral, grapey aromas, a little touch of sweetness, and acidity to keep things fresh. A wine for casual sipping that doesn’t need food, and which would really appeal to novice wine drinkers. It’s just good fun. 85/100 (£7.50 http://www.winedirect.co.uk/)

Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire Blanc 2005 Côtes du Roussillon, France
This is made predominantly from 100 year old white Grenache vines, fermented in oak. I was a little unfair declaring this to be like Chilean Chardonnay when I tasted it yesterday. There’s prominent oak here, but closer inspection reveals an extra dimension that I’d like to believe comes from the old vines and terroir. The nose shows vanilla, nuts, honey and a subtle, fresh minerality. The palate has nice fresh, almost lemony fruit, alongside the richer toasty, nutty oak and some tropical fruit richness. If these were my old vines, I’d pick a little bit earlier and tone down the oak (use old rather than new, and perhaps 500 litre rather than 225 litre) and aim at a reductive élévage that brings out the flinty minerality in a more pronounced way. This isn’t a bad wine – I quite like it, and at £6.99 it’s a total bargain. But I reckon it could be a bit better and have more of a personality. 86/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

Rioja Gran Familia White 2006 Rioja, Spain
Hand-picked Malvasia and Viura, without any of the oak that sometimes kills off white Rioja. The fresh, bright nose is quite lemony with some nutty, honeyed depth. The palate is crisp with good acidity and lovely fruity, herby, slightly nutty flavours. Nice balance and freshness: delicious for the price. 84/100 (£4.99 Tesco, Co-op)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Rioja and cricket

I really enjoyed my visit to Rioja Alavesa, despite the punishing start and the 22 hour day it necessitated. I was visiting Bodegas Palacio in the Rioja Alavesa, who are achieving great success with fruit-dominated Riojas aged in French oak, as opposed to the more common oakier, American oak-aged style that this region has become well known for.

We began by looking at a range of white Riojas. They are keen to produce a high-end white Rioja, and in order to have a clearer idea of where they should go in terms of style they opened some of the better-known examples and we had a discussion. Then we tasted through their current range. After this, it was time for a lunch and more discussion, with a bottle of 1964 Glorioso Rioja Gran Reserva to help us. Lunch was followed by a trip to visit some vineyards; primarily, two that have been earmarked for an icon red wine project. The first was old vine Tempranillo, the second some 80 year old Graciano (pictured). As is common in the older vineyards here, the vines are trained as bushes, with two or three main arms which are then pruned back to a couple of short spurs each. These vineyards just look fantastic.

We then returned to taste samples from these vineyards made in the 2005 vintage. In short, they were great. The Graciano was amazingly fresh and vibrant with great density, good tannin and high acidity. Unoaked. The Tempranillo had been oaked and showed fantastic richness of fruit, yet still retained freshness. Blended together the result was superb: intense but fresh and with great definition. Much better than many of the inky, soupy, oaky high-end newwave Riojas on the market at the moment.

Woke up this morning feeling fresher than I should have done, perhaps because it was my first game of cricket of the season, for the Wine Trade XI captained by Nick Oakley, versus the Gents of Essex, held at Coggeshall's fine ground. It's normally a batsman's track, so bowling can be quite hard work. Last year (reported here) I had figures of 7-0-42-0. This year, though, it clicked. I opened the bowling, and with the fourth ball cleaned out Coggeshall's overseas professional with a ball that swung in and then straightened out. The next over I got another wicket. And one more two overs later. My figures of 8-2-31-3 would have been a lot better but for the final over where I conceded one more run than the previous seven overs together. Chasing 231, we went on to win the game with 7 down and a few overs to spare.

Tonight I'm drinking a very nice affordable white Burgundy: Albert Bichot Bourgogne Domaine du Pavillion 2005 (Oddbins £8.49). It's fresh and bright with a really nice reductive edge, which, in the context of this wine, works really well.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Day trip

It's 5 am in the morning and I should be in bed. Instead, I'm sitting in the departure lounge at Stansted Airport, waiting for a plane to Bilbao, from where I'm visiting Rioja for the day. I can't begin to express how unappealing the start time this morning was. In order to get to Stansted for the flight, I had very few options. No chance of getting to Liverpool St in order to get the Stansted express, so instead I had to get a minicab to Heathrow (just a few miles from where I live), then the 03:20 National Express coach to Stansted. This meant getting up at 02:40. Alternatives would have been to drive (which would have meant hiring a car because ours is in use), staying the previous night at Stansted or taking a cab all the way there - all of these would have been expensive options.

Forgive me for ranting. National Express coaches are cheap, and tend to run on time, but they're a foul way to travel. Last time I did this trip I was the only person on the coach. This time it was almost full. You don't get any legroom at all. Far less than the worst charter airline. It's physically uncomfortable sitting in the seat. And there was an overweight slob in the seat behind who snored loudly and unpredictably for the whole journey. Loud predictable snoring is bad, but there's something far worse with unpredictable snoring, the sort that comes and goes like waves breaking on the shore, sometimes rising to a noisy crescendo, then lulling into quiet, snotty murmurs, the odd silent spell - rather than being a relief - only serving to build the tension and through a process of anticipation make the next wave even more terrible. Surely the snore is the ugliest sound made by the human body.

I remember as a child the rare occasions when I had to sleep in the same room as my parents. My dear father snores. Loudly. So loudly, infact, that when he goes to bed early you can hear him from downstairs. [I hope he doesn't mind me disclosing this.] So sharing a room with him was utter hell. You absolutely had to fall asleep first, and deeply, and hope that you weren't woken during the night. We used to go camping for our summer holidays, and I recall sleeping in the car with the windows up simply because this was the most effective means of muffling the loud snores coming from my parents' compartment of the tent.

Back to wine. This evening I tried an unusual Chilean wine: Anakena Ona's Pinot Noir Merlot 2005 from Casablanca Valley. Who ever heard of Pinot Noir blended with Merlot? Actually, the proportions are such that it could simply be labelled Pinot Noir in many wine countries: 79% Pinot, 15% Merlot, 3% Syrah and 3% Viognier. The wine itself shows supple, ripe red berry fruits with a bit of blackcurrant and red cherry. It's quite ripe and a little confected, but there's nice freshness to the fruit, together with just a hint of medicinal character. It would be interesting to taste blind. You'd certainly place it in the new world, but beyond this it would be tricky. Quite a nice food wine because of its freshness. £8.99 Oddbins.

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