jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chile's Cloudy Bay? Sauvignon from coastal Colchagua

So you've got your head round the new Chilean cool-climate regions: Leyda, San Antonio, Elqui, Limari. Here's another for you - coastal Colchagua. And this Sauvignon Blanc is the first wine to be released from this new region, in vineyards recently planted at Paredones, just six kilometres from the sea.

It's a startling wine, with amazing freshness and precision. It's fully ripe (the flavour signature isn't methoxypyrazine), but it's stunningly pure and intense. Could this be Chile's 'Cloudy Bay'? A Sauvignon so distinctive and arresting that it becomes a bit of an icon?

Casa Silva 'Cool Coast' Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Colchagua, Chile
13.5% alcohol. Aromatic, fresh, pure, linear nose showing grapefruit and mineral characters. Almost alarmingly pure and transparent, with a hint of saline. The palate is intense and precise, with high acidity and dense grapefruit and lemon character, as well as some brine notes and piercing minerality. It's incredibly fresh yet shows no rough edges, avoiding austerity yet not tending towards fatness or blowsiness at all. I love it. 92/100 (£12.95 Averys)

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Does Sauvignon age? Two older Seresins

Does Sauvignon Blanc age? I used to think 'no'; now I think 'usually not', but perhaps I should say 'yes, when the original wine is balanced and not too green.'

Here are two older Sauvignon Blancs from Seresin, one of Marlborough's leading producers. Both have aged well; the 2002 is very stylish indeed, the 1999 more 'interesting'.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Marlborough
92% Sauvignon, 8% Semillon, 7% fermented in French oak. Refined nose is minerally and citrussy with some tomato leaf and some green pepper notes. The palate has a lovely greenness that hasn't turned to tinned pea, with complex grassy, herby notes as well as some grapefruit freshness. This is still fresh and is ageing really beautifully, with chalky minerality under the fruit. 91/100

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 1999 Marlborough
89% Sauvignon, 11% Semillon (this portion fermented in French oak). Yellow gold colour. Evolving with some toasty nutty notes and hints of oiliness. The palate is savoury with some lemony acid under the dense, subtly grassy minerally fruit. Still very much alive but perhaps past its best. 87/100

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fume Blanc

The late Robert Mondavi was famous for many things, among them creating a new white wine style. The year was 1966, and his idea was to oak age Sauvignon Blanc and call it Fumé Blanc. It was a hit, and now this name is also used by other producers for similarly styled versions of this variety. Normally, Sauvignon works best unoaked, but the estate Fumé Blanc works really well (I was surprised how much I liked this). The Private Selection is less successful, although it’s still quite an attractive wine.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Fumé Blanc 2008 California
Interesting nose, with a combination of sweet pear fruit, some herby greenness and a touch of sweet oak. The palate is richly flavoured with a herbal edge to the sweet fruit, bolstered with a hint of vanilla. Attractive and broad, this is a distinctive wine. 85/100 (£9.99 Planet of the Grapes, Drinks Direct)

Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc 2006 Napa Valley, California
This is really good. It’s very fresh, with minerally, lemony fruit, a touch of grassiness and also some subtle vanilla and spice from barrel fermentation. There are some richer melon notes, but the fruit profile tends to the fresher end of the spectrum, and the oak is both high quality and really well integrated. It works, and the result is a sophisticated, fairly complex dry white wine. 90/100

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A lovely high-end Marlborough Sauvignon

A while back, I attended a remarkable tasting where we looked at top-flight Sauvignon Blanc. I asked the question, can it ever be serious?

Well, this is a wine that I was sent in response, from Seresin winemaker Clive Dougall. 'We aksed ourselves the same question in 2006,' says Clive, 'and in 2007 produced our first reserve Sauvignon Blanc, with the aim of creating a serious, complex and food friendly wine, which would improve with age.'

This wine was made from Seresin's oldest vines (18 years), thinned to three tonnes per hectare. The fruit is hand-picked, sorted and whole-bunch pressed, with no inoculation. Half is fermented in old oak, half in stainless steel. The wine is certified organic. I think it's pretty serious. UK availability is Armit (agent), suggested retail price £23.55.

Seresin Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazingly full, aromatic nose with notes of grapefruit, passionfruit, herb and pear. Lots of richness, with a hint of greenness. The palate is complex and concentrated with sweet bold fruit and a subtle herbiness, as well as a nice minerality. Texturally rich but still fresh. Brilliantly poised. 92/100

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Delicious SA Sauvignon at a good price

I've been slightly concerned by the direction that South African Sauvignon Blanc seems to have taken of late. The emphasis has been shifted towards methoxypyrazines - the grape-derived compounds that give that grassy, green pepper character. Now these can be positive in small doses, but when they're the main flavour signature, it's a bit yukky.

Here's a brilliantly balanced SA Sauvignon, that's also great value for money. It's from Warwick, who call themselves 'Warwick Estate' on the label where the grapes are estate grown, but here are just 'Warwick', presumably because the grapes are not all from the property: in South Africa, the term estate has a specific meaning.

Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a delicious, well balanced Sauvignon showing a mix of ripe, melony, peachy fruit with crisper herby, grassy, grapefruity notes. The overall effect is a wine that manages to be ripe and rich, yet fresh and crisp at the same time. Very stylishly done: one of the very best Cape Sauvignons around, and from far the most expensive. At the offer price, it's a total bargain. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose, currently on offer at £6.79)

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986

It has been a lovely day. One to cherish. It's interesting how one good day counts for at least as many as three or four bad days, cancelling out all the negative energy. We went over to my younger sister's place in Gerrard's cross, where we met with her family, my twin sister's family and my parents. It was good fun, with a BBQ, some football, some cricket, a bit of table tennis and some table football, as well as numerous young kids running riot.

I digress. I wanted to post a belated note on a remarkable wine that Oz Clarke brought along to a recent icon Sauvignon Blanc tasting as a blind ringer, which I have just written up here. It turned out to be the 1986 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This was just the second vintage of this iconic wine, and it was a real treat to taste this piece of Marlborough 'archeaology', which has survived remarkably well. The 2000, tasted this August, had also evolved in interesting ways.

My note, as written blind:

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986 Marlborough, New Zealand
Deep yellow/gold colour. Intense, herby nose with a hint of greenness, as well as toast, honey and butter notes. Bold palate is very rich with savoury, herby characters. Very unusual. A distinctive style with lots of weight and some sweetness. Quite remarkable. 92/100

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Monday, May 18, 2009

How to scare the Kiwis

I have yet to report on a remarkable tasting I took part in last Friday. It was led by Montana's head winemaker Jeff Clarke, and it was an attempt to discuss what 'icon' level Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc might look like. Montana are midway through a project, aided by top wine scientist Denis Dubourdieu, to work out where they are going with development of a high-end Sauvignon.

A small group, including Julia Harding, Oz Clarke, Stephen Spurrier, Quentin Johnson, Jane Parkinson, Robert Joseph and myself tasted 24 high-end Sauvignons from around the world, blind.

I won't spill the beans yet - this is something I want to write up in detail - but it was a really interesting tasting. There was quite a divergence of opinion among us as we discussed the wines. For example, one South African that was just a blast of methoxypyrazine was disliked by me, but loved by Stephen Spurrier. This was just one example of many where experienced tasters disagreed about what made for top-notch Sauvignon.

Oz Clarke bought along Vina Leyda's Garuma Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Chile's Leyda Valley, and this was slipped into a flight of Sancerres. It looked really good, so much so that the following day I bought a bottle of the 2007 in Waitrose to try at home. This is an impressive effort, and if I was a Kiwi I'd be concerned: it's real competition to Marlborough.

Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Garuma Vineyard 2007 Leyda, Chile
Pretty serious. Lovely fresh grapefruit and lime nose with some fresh grassy notes. The palate is concentrated, limey and mineralic with some lovely crisp, taut fruit. Lively and expressive. 90/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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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.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Two iconic Marlborough Sauvignons

So what are the two most important wines from New Zealand? Tough question, but my answer would be a pair of Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region. They weren't the first wines to be made in this region, but they were the ones that established its reputation and led to its current status as the best place on the globe to grow the Sauvignon Blanc grape. I like them both, but while I'd count them as New Zealand's most important wines, they're not currently its best wines, by quite a long margin.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s something magical about Cloudy Bay. An iconic wine, particularly here in the UK where it used to be almost impossible to find on shelves, and which some merchants sold for as much as £25 a bottle. People love it: the label, the name, the wine. Anyway, availability seems to have improved – I picked this up in Sainsbury’s. Assertive, grassy nose with complex herbal flavours with some nice aromatics and a hint of tropical fruit. The palate is intense and herby with some grapefruit and citrus character, as well as high acidity. Not as rich and showy as the early Cloudy Bays, but still an attractive wine. 88/100 (£16.99 Sainsbury’s, 13.5% alcohol)

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
A classic: this is one of the wines that established Marlborough as a great place to grow Sauvignon Blanc. It’s also the wine that introduced me to Sauvignon Blanc back in the early 1990s. Made in reasonable quantities, it’s totally reliable and a great ambassador for New Zealand wine. Fresh, lively nose with great balance between the grassy, herby aromas and the richer passion fruit characters. The palate is lively and intensely fruity with green grassy, grapefruity freshness allied with fuller tropical fruit notes. It has lots of personality. 88/100 (£7.93 Asda, 12.5% alcohol)
Read more about the origins of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the importance of Montana's here.

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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

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A duo of Sauvignons: Aussie meets Kiwi

Two Sauvignons this evening. Quite interesting.

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Pale coloured, this is a really impressive Aussie Sauvignon. It's crisp and super-fresh, with herbs and minerals on the nose, and a palate of lemony, herby fruit with a slight tropical lift. Minerally acidity keeps this lean and refreshing, with a lovely transparency to it. 88/100 (£8.99 Majestic, reduced to £5.99 until 28/04/09 - at which price it's a bargain; 13.5% alcohol)

Ara Resolute Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
This isn't your typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It's a concentrated, mineralic style with less of the tropical flourishes you might expect from the region. Instead, the focus is on concentrated, tight, herby, citrussy fruit with a distinctly savoury green pepper character on the palate. Great concentration and minerality; this really needs food to show its best at the moment. 89/100 (£13.99 Majestic; 13.5% alcohol)

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Some blind Sauvignons, a 30 year old Tawny and a 35 year old Claret

A family lunch at my sister's place in Gerrards Cross. Brother-in-law Beavington is a bit of a wine nut so we usually do some blind tasting, and befitting our give and take relationship (I do the taking part), he provides the wines. The tasting was a little scaled down this time in view of the credit crunch (although he is one of the few bankers who still have jobs) and also the fact that several of the party were ill. And I was driving.

Anyway, we started with three Sauvignons, and then did a really nice Tawny port and an old Claret from a slightly dodgy year. Great stuff.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is tight, crisp and minerally with some limey fruit and grassy notes, as well as a bit of residual sugar adding roundness. Real purity and focus here - it's almost like a Riesling. 90/100

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh, herby, grassy nose. The palate is lean with high acidity. This is an acidic Sauvignon with some minerality. An averagely good Marlborough Sauvignon, which is surprising considering its fame. 87/100

Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Remarkable stuff, vinified with a bit of oak, although it's not an oaky wine. Stongly herbal, aromatic nose with bright grassy fruit and some grapefruit and citrus pith notes. Pungent, intense palate with a tangerine peel edge to the grassy fruit. I had this down as a high-end Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc - quite unlike anything else I've had from New Zealand. 92/100

Chateau Lynch Bages 1973 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is a fully mature, savoury Bordeaux with some soy notes joining the earth, spice and red fruit character. Tastes like old wine, but there's still some interest and life here. Savoury and bone dry with high acidity. Drinking quite well, but don't hold on to this any longer, because it's fading fast. 83/100

Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Port
Beautifully complex and intense with amazingly complex nutty, citrussy, woody notes combining together brilliantly. Superb with amazing acidity and complexity. Beautiful. 94/100

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Serious Saffie Sauvignon and a top Champagne

Two very impressive wines today, a relaxed family Boxing Day. First, a remarkable South African Sauvignon Blanc. Second, a lovely Champagne.

Kumkani Lamner Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Groenekloof, South Africa
This is amazing stuff. Weighing in at 14.5% alcohol and with immense concentration, it's a serious Sauvignon from a vineyard whose climate is moderated by the fact that it's just 7 kms from the Atlantic ocean. It has a powerful green grassy, herbal nose with green peppery notes. On the palate there's tropical fruit/passion fruit richness balanced nicely by the powerful grassy methoxypyrazine character. Not at all subtle, but a serious, striking wine. 92/100 (£11.99 Majestic, £9.99 each if you buy two)

Mumm de Cramant Grand Cru Champagne Brut Chardonnay
12% alcohol. This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is beautifully precise with crisp lemont fruit and nice herb and apple complexity. It's concentrated and intense with lovely fruit expression. Quite dry and savoury - this has a lower dosage (sugar addition) than is normal for Brut Champagne. A brilliant effort. 93/100 (£43.99 Thresher, Harrods, Ocado)

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bordeaux Blanc

I've drunk quite a bit of Bordeaux Blanc over the last few weeks. It varies in quality, of course, but I think it should be a bit more popular than it is. First of all, it's dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, which is super-fashionable these days. Often, it's blended with a bit of Semillon, which adds lemony freshness. And then there might be a bit of Muscadelle in, to add fruity, grapey notes.

Bordeaux Blanc can be fresh, fruity and inexpensive. It can also be more serious and more expensive. Often, the more expensive examples will have a bit of oak - this is one of the few regions where Sauvignon is regularly barrel fermented. As a rule, Bordeaux Sauvignon tends to be more minerally and less generous and aromatic than, say, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Tonight's wine is an example of a really good Bordeaux Blanc - one that's serious and quite complex.

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec 2007 Bordeaux
100% Sauvignon from a Château that is more famous for its fabulous Sauternes. It is made by Denis Dubourdieu, the Bordeaux University professor famous for his work on the flavour compounds in Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit and lemon notes dominate, with some herby, tangy savouriness and high acidity. There’s a pronounced tangerine character, too, with lovely contrast between the ripe, bright fruit and the more savoury pithy notes. Some wood here, but it fits in perfectly. A complex, gastronomic wine. 93/100 (£14.50 The Wine Society)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dog Point: serious NZ wines

Two wines from Dog Point, a premium New Zealand winery formed by ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturalist and winemaker team Ivan Sutherland and James Healy. These wines are better than Cloudy Bay! Especially the remarkable Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lively aromatic nose with a nice combination of intense, grassy herby notes with restrained passion fruit character. It falls on the side of freshness rather than richness. The palate is concentrated, rich, vibrant and intense with lovely rich fruity characters combining with grassy, minerally freshness. Fantastic grown-up Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of real interest. 91/100 (£12.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is just fantastic. One of the very best New Zealand Pinot Noirs: complex, balanced, and every so slightly funky. The nose has a lovely subtly meaty, spicy, warm, herb tinged cherry fruit character, as well as some floral, almost northern Rhône-like notes. The palate is textured and elegant with beautifully balanced savoury spiciness, just a touch of herbiness, and sweet berry fruits with just enough structure to keep things savoury. Beautifully poised and very easy to drink, this has seriousness, elegance and charm. 94/100 (13.5% alcohol, cork sealed) (£20.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Top SA Sauvignon and a classic Barossa red

Two wines from a batch of samples sent by Enotria. The first - a really impressive SA Sauvignon. Nice to see this, because most SA Sauvignons I've tried of late have shown overpowering methoxypyrazine character (green pepper/vegetal/chalky). The second - a traditionally styled Barossa red, with rather obvious but tasty ripe fruit and American oak characters.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elgin
A really fine, elegant South African Sauvignon. It has a very pure, minerally nose with delicate, subtly herbal, gently grassy fruit. The palate is really pure and minerally with some savoury, cut pepper notes, but also a bit of lemony fruit. It’s quite subtle but full flavoured, and would be great with a wide range of different foods, especially a really fresh, simply prepared grilled sea bass. This is one of the best South African Sauvignons I’ve yet tried. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red 2005 Barossa, Australia
A traditional-styled Aussie blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot, this is great fun. It shows sweet, ripe, tarry, slightly minty, spicy raspberry, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which carry over to the palate, which is rich, sweet, mouthfilling and really spicy, with some sweet vanilla oak. The classic Barossa blend of super-sweet fruit and American oak works well. It’s not a subtle wine, but it’s honest and delicious if you are in the mood for it. 88/100 (£7.99 Tesco, Waitrose)

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Koru Sauvignon Blanc: remarkable stuff!

Here's a really fantastic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It's made by Jasper and Sarah Raats (which is the name of Jasper's family's vineyard in South Africa), who I've just found out are involved with one of my other favourite Marlborough Sauvignon producers Clos Henri. Their own wines come from a 1 hectare vineyard in the upper Wairau valley with stony loam and silt soil (Sauvignon), and a 1.1 hectare vineyard at the foot of the Wither hills on clay soil (Pinot).

You can read more about Koru on their website. Interestingly, they state:

'We also believe that the fresh herbaceous, capsicum, grassy flavours in Sauvignon Blanc, that many people love, is not the only flavour spectrum possible in NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It actually has a very complex flavour profile that develops with more time out on the vine and ripening in the sun. The flavours we are after also includes flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit, ripe gooseberry, passion fruit, very ripe kiwifruit and, if we are lucky, some gunflint and mineral tones.'
They've certainly achieved this here:

Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007 South Island, New Zealand
Sealed with natural cork. Made from a 1 hectare single vineyard by Jasper and Sarah Raats, this is an intense, concentrated Sauvignon Blanc with rich peach, pear and passion fruit character, together with a bit of grapefruit freshness. It's really intense and well balanced with ripeness and richness to the fore. It isn't grassy like so many Sauvignons, but tends to the more tropical end of the flavour spectrum, while still retaining freshness. This is certainly quite expensive, but it is one of the very best Kiwi Sauvignons out there. 93/100 (£22 Hellion Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Striking Kiwi Sauvignon

A distinctive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - not from Marlborough, the region normally associated with Kiwi Sauvignon, but from nearby Nelson. This shows perfectly the passion fruit character that is often part of the aroma of Sauvignon, which comes from a chemical that belongs to a group known as 'thiols'. Thiols are sulfur-containing compounds that are quite important in wine flavour chemistry - wine science geeks will know that as well as being positive, in some contexts they can contribute to the fault known commonly as 'reduction'.

Brightwater Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Nelson, New Zealand
Remarkably forward, aromatic passion fruit nose that's quite tropical, and slightly 'sweaty'. The palate is broad and quite rich with tropical fruit and a grassy minerally freshness. A really intense, striking sort of Sauvignon that teeters on the edge of being unbalanced, but which I quite like. 90/100 (£10.79 Laithwaites)

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Superb Waipara Sauvignon

New Zealand Sauvignon is no secret, but it's usually Marlborough that's the region in question. Here's a stunning example of this variety from the Waipara region, near Christchurch.

Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Waipara, New Zealand
Part from ungrafted 20 year old vines; part from a new block of selected clones. Limestone-rich soils. This is a cracking Sauvignon with some Loire-like minerality and well as focused grassy, fruity, blackcurrant bud aromatics. The palate is concentrated with lovely bright grassy, herby fruit and lovely textural richness, finishing quite minerally with high acidity. Lively, intense and well balanced. 92/100 (£9.99 Hellion Wines, http://www.hellionwines.co.uk/ - this is the new vintage, just available, with the equally good 2007 vintage still available in a whole range of independent wine merchants, such as Stone Vine & Sun and Noel Young)

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

A new high-end Spanish white

Storks' Tower is an innovative new project from Spanish wine company Barcelo, who are behind the Cosme Palacio and Glorioso Rioja wines. Three impressive Storks' Tower wines are already listed in Tesco (£6.99 each, with promotion down to £4.99) - a crisp white, an attractive rose and a nicely defined red. But they are also making some more serious wines under the brand 'Triunfo', and this is the white, not yet stocked in the UK. Sam Harrop MW consults here.

Stork's Tower 'Triunfo' Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain
A really interesting wine. It's barrel fermented, but rather than being an oaky monster, this is complex, fresh and minerally. The nose shows tight nutty, herby, citrus pith aromas that are joined on the palate by complex grassy, herbal, citrussy notes. There's good concentration, but the overall effect is one of a very fresh, focused, minerally wine with nice textural elements and good acidity, rather than something 'big'. There's a hint of tangerine on the finish, too. Highly food compatible, with potential for further development. 90/100 (expected retail will be c. £14 in the UK)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tasting grapes - a remarkable aftertaste

Time for some wine science. There was an interesting aside in Denis Dubourdieu's paper at the recent Austria conference. Denis is the man responsible for identifying a group of sulfur-containing compounds called thiols as being important in the aroma of Sauvignon Blanc.

Now thiols are made by yeasts from precursors present in the grapes. In the must, these precursors are odourless. The late Emile Peynaud, another famous wine scientist, remarked that 'it is winemaking that reveals the aroma hidden in the fruit'. Denis recalled how Peynaud talked about the aftertaste of Sauvignon grapes: 30 seconds after swallowing, you suddenly get all these lovely aromatics which weren't there earlier.

This reflects the transformation of precursors to aromas by the enzymes in the mouth. I was reminded of this comment when I tasted some almost ripe Phoenix grapes in my back garden today. They didn't taste of all that much, but after a minute or so I was getting these remarkable passion fruit/gooseberry aromas in the back of my nose.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Austrian Sauvignon that rocks

Played football again tonight for the first time in ages, and it was great fun. I was really encouraged that while I felt knackered after 10 minutes, I stayed that way for a full hour without feeling totally knackered. Football is brilliant for fitness. You run a lot in short bursts, but because you are chasing a ball your mind is taken off the fact that your muscles and lungs are in real pain, and thus you cover much more ground, more pleasurably, than you would if you were jogging or running on a treadmill. Best of all, if you exercise regularly, you can drink more wine and eat more calorific foodstuffs (e.g. cheese) without becoming fat. Not that it's wrong to be fat. It's just that I have such a fragile ego I need to avoid becoming fat because I couldn't cope with other people's disapproval.

Time for some wine after the football, and nothing better than a beautifully aromatic, fresh, minerally Sauvignon from Austria. This is a really superb effort.

Huber Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Niederosterrich, Austria
Wonderfully pure, precise and aromatic, with lovely minerality and bright fruit, along with some freshness from high carbon dioxide levels. The palate is pure with rounded, fresh, almost transparent fruit, a hint of fruit sweetness, and then beautifully focused minerality. It's a bright wine, but it's not at all sharp or acidic. There's a lovely combination of ripe fruit and minerality, but none of the grassiness that's a signature of this grape in New Zealand. It reminds me a bit of Gruner Veltliner, with its textural components and hints of spiciness. 91/100 (UK agent Thierrys)

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Montana Sauvignon Blanc: new release of an affordable iconic wine

The first release of Montana Sauvignon Blanc was in 1979, which puts it at the dawn of history in this, the largest and most well known of New Zealand’s wine regions. Considering the impact that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has had on the wine world, it’s amazing to consider that this region didn’t really take off until the mid-1980s.

New Zealand has a history of wine dating back to 1819, when the first grape vines were planted by a missionary named Samuel Marsden in the north of North Island (although there’s no record of him making wine – you have to wait another 16 years for this). But until the 1970s, the wine industry didn’t develop much. Indeed, an early edition of Hugh Johnson’s famous World Atlas of Wine dating from 1970 doesn’t even mention New Zealand.

Some growth occurred in the 1970s, but then there was a problem of over-production that resulted in a vine pull. The problem was that Kiwis generally preferred beer to wine.

It was in 1973 that Montana planted the first commercial vines of the modern era in Marlborough. Montana founder Frank Yukich decided read more...

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sauvignon in Stryria, day 4 and summary

Back home after a wonderful few days in Austria. Graz proved to be a fantastic venue for the worldsauvignon conference: the organization was utterly perfect (in particular, good quality simultaneous translation into three languages is quite a feat), and it's a very easy city to spend some time in. It would be a nice place to live: big enough that there's cultural richness and some people to hang out with, but small enough that it feels relaxed and friendly. Pictured above, by night.

The sessions on the final day included a very polished paper by Larry Lockshin on marketing issues, a Masters of Wine panel conducting a tutored tasting of 12 very interesting Sauvignons from around the world, and a final panel looking at the market for wine in Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA.

After the conclusion of the conference, Tim Atkin and I joined some of the NZ guys for beer at the top of the mountain. Graz is unusual in that it has a small mountain right in the middle of the city. You can take a furnicular, or a lift, or even walk up - and at the top there's a beautiful beer garden with views over the city. It was a lovely way to end what was an inspiring and stimulating three days.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sauvignon in Styria, day 3

Right now, I'd kill for a red wine. Day three of the worldsauvignon congress has been brilliant, but there's only so much Sauvignon a boy can take.

Some really good stuff today. Highlights for me were three rather technical papers. The first was Denis Dubourdieu's excellent talk on thiols in Sauvignon Blanc. He's a bit of a wine science legend, and a really nice guy to boot. Had a couple of nice chats with him today.

Matt Goddard, a Brit who has relocated to the University of Auckland, has been doing some great work on identifying the yeasts involved in spontaneous ferments, and has discovered that if you inoculate with specific Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains plus Pichia kluyveri (a wild yeast) you get really interesting wines. Specifically for Sauvignon, there's a synergistic interaction in terms of thiol production.

Also from kiwiland, Chris Winefield presented another excellent paper looking at thiol precursors. Really good science unpacking the GLV (green leaf volatile) pathway in vines. Not for everyone, but I found it gripping.

Then there was a panel tasting looking at the ageing potential of Sauvignon Blanc. If the conclusion of our clones panel was that it's a bit of a non-issue, then the conclusion of this panel was don't bother ageing Sauvignon Blanc. [Maybe I'm being a bit naughty here.] I just loved the typo in Jean-Christoph Bourgeois' name (pictured).

Then this afternoon, there were several topical excursions to the Styrian wine regions. Mine was titled 'The culinary side of life: typically Stryrian'. We went to a castle, tasted some Sauvignon Blanc, and tried some ham. Then we had dinner. It was jolly, and I was with a nice group, but it was a little short on the culinary side. Pictured at the top is a view from the castle, and also the tasting we had.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sauvignon in Sytria, day 2

A very successful first day of the World Sauvignon Congress, held here in sunny Graz. 250 delegates are attending, representing 30 different countries. The proceedings began with an hour's opening ceremony, which contained several speeches, as well as some country dancing and a performance by a folk group, as well as an anthemic four-piece brass band. There were also appearances from the three 'princesses of wine', pretty Austrian girls selected for their attractiveness but also their knowledge of all things vinous. Pepe Schuller MW revealed that his wife is an ex-wine princess.

The folk group was led by Hans, who is the president of the local wine growers syndicate. He composed a piece titled 'from vine to wine', which he played. It's in 3/4 time, as it most Austrian music it seems. The dancing group were good, but had the rather alarming habit of letting out high pitched yells at seemingly random intervals. In one dance (pictured), the men systematically clapped the soles of their feet, their thighs and their hands in a complex sequence.

The sessions were very good, once they got underway. We learned from Ferdinand Regner that the parents of Sauvignon Blanc are Traminer and Chenin Blanc. Richard Smart told us why Tasmania is just as good as Marlborough for growing Sauvignon Blanc, and also spelled out the implications of global warming for the wine world. 'The world's wine sector is a canary in the coal mine for agriculture', he pointed out. 'It's an early warning signal'. The lucky regions set to suffer least are Chile, Argentina, China, New Zealand and northern Europe. And Tasmania.

Mike Trought gave a thorough overview of the amazing development of Marlborough over the last 20 years into New Zealand's top wine region. He also looked at the issue of regionality. Kobus Hunter explained why canopy management is key for quality in South African Sauvignon Blanc. Ulrich Pedri described his studies on looking for suitable sites for Sauvignon Blanc in the Sudtirol. And then it was my turn to chair the panel on Sauvignon Blanc clones, with three experts - Laurent Audeguin, Wolfgang Renner and Damian Martin - each making presentations.

Tonight is the conference dinner. More country dancing, folk songs and yodelling?

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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.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Off to Austria

In the morning I leave for Austria. More specifically, Graz, for the World Sauvignon Congress, where I have to sing for my supper by moderating a session on clones.

I'm looking forward to it: I'll learn a lot, and Styria in August should be very pleasant. I'll let you know how I get on.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A pair from Maycas del Limari

Concha y Toro, Chile's largest wine company by far, is on fire at the moment. They're making seriously good wines in large volumes. Perhaps their most interesting venture is the Maycas del Limari wines, from a cool climate region in the far north of the country that is emerging as a promising place to grow vines. This affordable pair of wines impress.

Maycas del Limari Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Super-fresh, this is a bright Sauvignon with a nose showing gooseberry, grapefruit and green pepper. The palate is crisp and fruity with vivid fruit and a hint of greenness that comes across as almost spicy. A beautifully expressive, lean, concentrated Sauvignon that's quite extreme but works really well. Think Awatere Valley with even more edginess. 90/100 (£8.99 Tesco)

Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva 2007 Limari Valley, Chile
Amazingly deep colour. Beautiful nose of sweet brooding blackberry and raspberry jam with complex spicy notes and lovely purity. On the palate there's a hint of rubbery greenness, which along with the pure blackcurrant fruit which makes it taste a bit Chilean, but there are also warm spicy notes. It's a ripe, fruity wine of broad appeal, and overdelivers for its price point. 90/100 (£8.99 Oddbins, Tesco)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tomato leaf aromas in wine

Was watering my tomatoes today, and struck by the remarkable aroma that comes from the leaves when you brush them with your hand. It made me think of the wines where 'tomato leaf' is used as an aroma descriptor.

Which chemicals are responsible? For the distinctly green leafy aroma, cis-3-hexenol is the prime culprit, but I have also seen 2-isobutylthiazole listed as the signature chemical behind this smell.

Which wines have it? Tomato leaf is a Sauvignon Blanc sort of descriptor. It's pungent and quite green, and it is often used to describe Sauvignons from the cool Awatare Valley in Marlborough. It's a very attractive smell, although I'm not sure I'd want too much of it in my wine.
As with many of these descriptors, after a while it becomes a bit of a code word. As we taste, we decide what sort of wine we are tasting, and then trot out the usual terms that we associate with that wine. To smell and taste what's actually there requires quite a bit of concentration and deliberate effort.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Impressive Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Chile is a wine country that is learning and developing fast. One of the most exciting things about Chile is that winegrowers are eagerly prospecting for new vineyard areas, and a relatively recent discovery is Leyda. It is a cool-climate, coastal wine region adjacent to the more established (but still quite new) Casablanca Valley, and it's currently making some really impressive Sauvignon Blancs, as well as some smart Pinot Noir. Here's a wine from Leyda that I like a lot. It's sophisticated and even a little understated.

Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Leyda Valley, Chile
Attractively packaged, this Sauvignon comes from the cool-climate coastal Leyda region in Chile. It’s quite impressive, with a mandarin and grapefruit notes, as well as some green pepper and a bit of minerality. Concentrated but smooth and quite understated, this is sophisticated rather than showy. A serious effort. 91/100 (£8.99 Waitrose)

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A crazy Pinotage and two from Waitrose

I can't help, when it comes to Pinotage, descending to a level of criticism that I object to when I see it from others, if you know what I mean. I become dogmatic and opinionated.

Normally, I reckon I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I embrace diversity. Live and let live; see the best in everything; every cloud has a silver lining; everyone deserves a second chance.

But Pinotage is vile. In fact, I've thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World's Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it's OK, they're sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.

Anyway, I think I have found a potential winner for my competition. It's the Diemersfontein Pinotage 2007 Wellington, South Africa. The back label reads:
'This is the one! The original coffee/chocolate Pinotage now in its seventh great vintage. It befriends - it converts - it seduces'

You know, Diemersfontein have sussed Pinotage. The way to make it work is to mask the flavours of the grape. This wine really does smell of coffee and chocolate, and it is seductive. There's a hint of roast bacon here, as well. The fruit is sweet, and it's actually quite delicious, in a rather strange, slightly weird way. This is available in the UK from Asda, and it's probably my favourite expression of Pinotage.

Also tasted tonight, with a barbecue after watching elder son play cricket (golden duck this time, alas, and after we'd spent ages in the nets trying to work on some sort of defensive strategy), a couple from Waitrose which go well with this balmy summer's evening. They're from the Waitrose own-label range, which are sort of hybrid 'in partnership with' wines.

The first is a beautifully balanced, rich Sauvignon from Villa Maria (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007) that's really delicious. The second is a Barossa Shiraz 2006 Reserve from St Hallett, which is smooth and pure with nice texture and a hint of vanilla and chocolate. It's suave and stylish, if a little primary.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Serious Languedoc Sauvignon?

France's appellation system is mucked up. The problem is, it's hierarchical, but the hierarchy doesn't really work all that well. Many Vin de Pays are much better quality wines than AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllee) wines. This is completely confusing for consumers. Look, I'm not denying the fact that AOCs have helped preserve the wondeful diversity of French wines - it's just that in practice the whole system needs some sort of overhaul.

Anyway, the Vin de Pays category goes from strength to strength, but it's a shame that these wines have to be stigmatized by being a lower rung on the hierarchical appellation system.

Here's a fantastic Sauvignon that's the best yet Vin de Pays Sauvignon I've encountered.

La Baume 'La Grande Olivette' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
Beautifully packaged in a deeply punted bottle, this is a serious Sauvignon Blanc. The nose shows lots of rich, almost pungent gooseberry and passion fruit (technically, this is a thiol-rich style, and it's almost sweaty), together with some green pepper notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with richness combining nicely with grassy freshness. Stylish stuff. 90/100 (£6.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two stunning kiwis, and a note on the power of terroir

To my mind, New Zealand is the new world country that is coming closest to making high-end wines with some of the complexity and interest of the best from the old world. [Maybe this is a bit unfair on California.] I'm hesitant to say this lest it be misinterpreted; I don't want people to think I'm an old fogey who thinks that Bordeaux and Burgundy have a monopoly on fine wine. But if you're honest, and you've tasted serious high-end wines from around the world, then you'll doubtless share my view that the new world can't yet compete at the very top end.
Anyway, New Zealand continues to make strides, and here are two wines that I reckon are pretty serious. The first is the latest release of Clos St Henri, the 2006 of which I tried a couple of weeks ago in Tate Britain. The second is a delicious Merlot (don't say that often...) from the Gimblett Gravels, a fantastic terroir in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region. I'd say this wine shows as much Gimblett character as it does Merlot character; I reckon a Gimblett Syrah is closer to this wine than a Merlot from somewhere else, if you see what I mean.
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazing stuff, this Sauvignon made by Henri Bourgeois of Sancerre. It's beautifully textured with good balance between the sweet, ripe pear and peach notes and the green grassy herby, gooseberry character. Real intensity and complexity here, with lovely focus and just the right amount of greenness to confer savoury freshness. I love the packaging, too - this is one of the few (5%?) of New Zealand wines that is still cork sealed. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2005 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This tastes so much of the Gimblett Gravels - it reminds me of the Syrahs that I've had from here, even though it's a Merlot? Is that terroir? I still think Syrah is the best variety for this patch of ground, but there's no doubting that this is a lovely Merlot. Deep coloured, it has a lovely fresh, bright peppery, gravelly edge to the well defined blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate has lovely definition with lovely freshness, concentration and ripeness. There's some nice tannic structure. Pretty serious, especially for a Merlot. 93/100 (£15.99 Waitrose, http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/)

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

A great weekend, and New Zealand's top Sauvignon Blanc?

So, Fiona and I were given a nice present by our good friends Karl and Kate. The deal was they would get to look after our lovely children and RTL for the weekend; we would get to go to a five star hotel in London at their expense. Very generous of them, especially if you've met our children and hound.

We kicked off our 30-ish hours of liberation by a long lunch at the Tate Britain. The food here is solidly good - simple and effective, with a modern-British feel. The wine list is sensational and fairly priced. The surroundings are nice, too.

I struck gold ordering the wines: a bottle of 2006 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (£29), and a half of Crozes Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2005 from Domaine du Murinais (£12). The Clos Henri was simply the best Marlborough Sauvignon I've ever tried - big, multidimensional, rich but precise. The Murinais Crozes was all that you could ever expect from a modestly expensive Syrah - pure, sweet fruit with lovely definition and an almost Burgundian elegance. No hint of rusticity.

We wandered the gallery a bit. Turner is the dominant force here - and you can understand why, because his work is remarkable. Afterwards we headed off to the hotel (Renaissance Chancery Court, Holborn) where we slobbed out, with the help of some Pol Roger NV. Then this morning we got up late before finding a fantastic breakfast spot a short walk away from the Charing Cross Road. Now we are home, and the kids and RTL shall shortly be returning. It's been a brilliant weekend.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Sauvignon and Pinotage: confronting prejudice

You'd think after a week of tasting some 500 wines, I'd be running away from the stuff. Aversion therapy, I think they call it.

Not a bit of it. Instead, my palate is like an athelete's body, finely honed by an intensive training regime, and working with even greater precision and discriminative power. [Deliberately silly, this bit.]

Two prejudices to face head-on, tonight. First, that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is dull and predictable. Second, that all Pinotage is vile, filthsome stuff. Both prejudices prove to be ill-founded, on this occasion at least.

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is deliciously concentrated and fresh, with a lively, assertive cut-grass and green pepper herbaceousness, as well as piercing lemony, grapefruit pith fruit. A wake-up call to the palate. Deliciously intense and well balanced, this is a versatile wine that would match up well with some of the strong flavours of modern fusion cuisine. 90/100 (£12, UK agent MMD Ltd)

Sizanani Pinotage 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
40% of this brand is owned by an employees trust (http://www.sizanani-wines.co.za/). It's a really gluggable, fruit-forward wine with soft sweet berry and dark cherry fruits countered by a bitter, plummy, tarry, slightly rubbery twist. The overall effect is of a juicy red wine with a sense of deliciousness and enough savouriness to make it work with take-away pizza or spaghetti bolognaise. It takes the slightly negative features of Pinotage and turns them into positives in the context of this wine, so I think it's worthwhile in the right context. 83/100 (£5.99 Oddbins)

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Three blind Sauvignons, and off to Argentina

Later on today I depart wintry old London for a quick trip to Argentina. It's my first time to this increasingly interesting wine country. I'll be based in Mendoza, and will be seeing some of the top producers. Forgive my childish enthusiasm, but I find visiting wine regions very exciting still. If ever it becomes a chore, I'll stop writing about wine.

Yesterday, we headed over to brother-in-law Beavingtons for some lunch, but perhaps more importantly a spot of blind tasting. Devoted readers of this blog will remember that last time we did this he served me some of his Justerini & Brooks cellar plan wines, which he'd just removed from bond without being aware of their current market value - so we enjoyed Bruno Clair Corton Charlie and Le Dome.

This time the tasting was in three parts. First some Sauvignons, then a couple of Champagnes I'd brought along, then three reds, finishing up with a couple of dessert wines. I'll start with the Sauvignons. Notes as written, with no tidying up later.

Wine 1 (Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006)
Quite refined. A Sauvignon Blanc with some subtlety and minerality. Finishes crisp. It's delicious and could be either a Sancerre or a stylish New World Sauvignon Blanc. Guess the price at £9.99. 88/100

Wine 2 (Montana Brancott Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
Full grassy green nose. Green pepper here: very assertive. Powerful, herby, tangy palate with real weight and freshness. A new world Sauvignon Blanc. 87/100 Guess price at £7.99

Wine 3 (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough)
A powerful, intense, fresh Sauvignon Blanc combining rich tropical friut notes with high acidity. Assertive and crisp. Concentrated style with lots of impact. A stylish new world Sauvignon Blanc. There's a bit of tomato leaf, too. Precision and power. 89/100 Guess price at £9.99

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

NZ Sauvignon Blanc: Sacred Hill on form

It's easy to take NZ Sauvignon Blanc for granted. But we shouldn't forget that 25 years ago Marlborough didn't really exist - we also shouldn't forget the revolution in the world of wine that NZ Sauvignon has caused. Its impact has been huge.

Tonight I'm drinking a good-un - it's from Sacred Hill, one of the Hawkes Bay wineries I visited in November. This Sauvignon is actually from Marlborough, though, and it treads the ripeness/greenness tightrope well. Tony Bish, the chief winemaker (pictured), has forged a wine that balances riper tropical fruit notes with fresher, grassier ones, to make an intense, full-flavoured, fresh white wine with real appeal. Good value for £7.99 from both Morrisons and Tesco.

As an aside, it has been another glorious, spring-like day in London. We headed out to the Surrey Hills to do a circular route taking in Holmbury Hill, stopping at a pub for a pint of London Pride and picnicking in the woods on soup and bread. It's one of my favourite walks, and on a day like today, it's hard to beat.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Wild Honey with Hannes Sabathi

I met with young Austrian winemaker Hannes Sabathi (pictured) today for lunch.

The venue was Wild Honey (newly Michelin starred) in St George Street. It's simply fantastic: some of the best food I've had in a long time - my slow-roasted pork belly, served with a remarkable risotto, containing chorizo among other things, was close to perfect. Hannes had a gorgeous looking medium-rare roast of veal. My creme brulee to finish with truly was perfect. The ambience is good too. The only thing that let it down a bit was the patchy service: at one point we were presented with someone else's desserts, and it took an age to see sight of the wines that Hannes had bought with him.

Indeed, the restaurant seemed very confused by the whole process of bringing wines along, even though this had been negotiated at the time of booking. In the end we got them, and remarkably they didn't charge us any corkage.

So, how were Hannes' wines? Not yet 28, and running the family winery, he seems to be doing a brilliant job. The winery is in Sudsteiermark (Southern Styria), which specializes in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Muskateller. The Klassik wines are precise and fresh, while the Single Vineyard wines have real personality and depth, allied to a minerally precision. There's also a reserve line, and the two Sauvignon Reserves I tried, 2003 and 2006, are among the best expressions of this grape I've yet to experience.

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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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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Serious, affordable white Bordeaux

I never drink white Bordeaux. Ever. Nor does anyone else. If you want Sauvignon, you go to New Zealand or the Loire. If you want it with a splash of Semillon, you go to Margaret River. What's the point of Sauvignon with an attitude problem? And it's only Americans who try to oak their Sauvignons.

But we know the truth is more complex than this, if we are honest with ourselves. In particular, we realize that white Graves is serious stuff, and that sometimes Sauvignon/Semillon blends from Bordeaux with a bit of barrel fermentation are worthy of our attention: they're serious, ageworthy wines in their own right.

Tonight I sip a white Bordeaux that is both serious and affordable. It's Chateau Beaumont 'Les Pierrieres' 2006 Premieres Cotes de Blaye Blanc, which Lea and Sandeman list for £7.95. Initially, on opening it Fiona and I had divergent opinions. She's highly sensitive to oak, and doesn't like oaked white wines at all - she immediately rejected this as being oaky. I'm clearly an idiot, and didn't get oak at all when I first tried it. Instead, I got a bit of struck match reduction as the defining feature on the nose. But Fiona is right: Beaumont used new oak barrels for this wine. They fermented it in new barrels destined for their red wine program, understanding that by the time fermentation was complete with the white, the red would be ready to press into the already-used barrels.

The combination of oak, reduction and fresh, herb-tinged fruit results in a fairly complex, savoury, expressive white wine that I reckon will improve in bottle for perhaps five to ten years. It's a really interesting wine, in the style of serious white Graves, but it's affordable.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Three Yalumba whites

Following on from the recent Pewsey Vale Riesling review, three more wines from Yalumba, whose offerings I usually like quite a bit.

Yalumba Y Series Sauvignon Blanc 2007 South Australia
Fresh, pure, bright nose with subtly green herbal fruit. The palate is crisp and tight with nettley, herby fruit and a rounded, fruity finish. Quite a stylish effort that’s modern and commercial, but not too in-yer-face. Only 11% alcohol. 86/100

Yalumba Y Series Riesling 2007 South Australia
This is fresh, bright and fruity, with a crisp limey edge to the generous, slightly herb-tinged fruit. There’s a nice richness to the fruit here: it isn’t as bone dry tasting as some Aussie Rieslings, but I don’t think there’s much residual sugar – rather, the richness comes from some ripe fruit which adds a tropical edge to the limey zestiness. 87/100

Yalumba Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay 2007 South Australia
This is crisp and fresh, but with some nutty richness, too. But I’m not really sure about it. There’s a bit of a minerally reductive note on the nose and the palate seems a little hollow, finishing with some bitterness. I guess it’s OK, but I don’t enjoy it all that much. 80/100

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some Chilean whites from Errazuriz

You know, I reckon that Chilean whites work better for me than Chilean reds at the moment. After a strenuous but hugely enjoyable game of football tonight, played on the new synthetic surface that England played Russia on a while back, I'm trying three Chilean whites from Errazuriz. And they're pretty good.

Errazuriz Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Casablanca Valley, Chile
This is sourced from a block on the La Escultura estate, planted in 1992 with clones 242, 107 and Davis 1. 20% of the fruit (all hand harvested) was given 6 hour maceration with skins. It's nicely aromatic, with a fresh, slightly herby nose that shows good freshness and minerality, along with more tropical fruit richness. The palate is quite rich textured with lovely fruit sweetness giving it a rounded character (yet there's only 1.39 g/l residual sugar), along with good acidity contributing freshness. There are notes of grapefruit and herb, too. It's quite a concentrated and moderately complex Sauvignon of real appeal. A great buy at this price. 90/100 (£9.95 Berry Bros & Rudd http://www.bbr.com/, http://www.chileanwineclub.co.uk/)

Erazzuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Casablanca Valley, Chile
Again, a portion of the fruit here (24%) was given a 6 hour maceration to add body and aromatics to the wine. The wine has quite a zesty, citrussy nose with some fresh green herby notes and a bit of fruit richness. The palate is refreshing and quite crisp, but there's an appealing richness to the fruit, and a rounded character, too. Good concentration here, in a style that falls somewhere between the in-yer-face Marlborough (NZ) style and the more savoury Loire expression of this grape variety. 88/100 (£6.49 Oddbins, £7.99 Thresher, but three for two)

Errazuriz Estate Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2006 Casablanca Valley, Chile
I like the concept behind this wine. 'Wild Ferments' are those where cultured yeasts aren't added. What happens is that indigenous yeasts from the vineyard and winery environment begin the fermentation slowly, and then after a while the regular wine yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, kicks in and finishes the job. Because of this, the wines that result (particularly the whites, in my experience) have added complexity of flavour, and a rather different mouthfeel. And here, with this Chardonnay, it works well. It has a warm, complex nose of butter, toast, herbs, vanilla and fruit spanning the spectrum from figs to lemons. The palate shows nice toasty complexity and nice fresh acidity, finishing long. Altogether, this is a thought-provoking, rich style of Chardonnay that may well improve with a couple of years in bottle. Good value for money. 90/100 (£9.99 Tesco; Sone, Vine and Sun; £11.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

NZ (5) the Marlborough wine region

I've mentioned before how I think that visiting wine regions is important: you can taste as much as you like and read as much as you like, but it is only when you see where the wine comes from that it really clicks.

Over the last couple of days in Marlborough, this has certainly happened for me. There's so much to say, I don't really know where to start, but here's a woefully brief account.

Flying into Blenheim, you land right in the middle of the vineyards of the Wairau Valley plain: this is the heart of the wine region, and it's flat, with a sea of vines in all directions and not a lot else.

Five minutes after landed I had picked up my hire car, parked it, and was taken off by Damian Martin of Ara. Ara is an impressive new project: in a subregion of Marlborough some distance inland from Blenheim, Ara have started developing an enormous terrace of 1600 hectares. They've already put 400 hectares or so in, and they are tilting for the top. The vineyards are brilliantly run, with closer spacing than is normal for Marlborough, and a focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Two wines have so far been released under the brand 'Composite', and more will follow. One to watch.

I spent the afternoon and evening with Damian - he invited me to his home (he has a French wife and three charming bilingual children) where we dined well on green lipped mussels (these are approximately four times larger than normal mussels, and are delicious) and salmon. We drank Ara wines, and finished with a beautiful Te Mata Coleraine 1998.

On Sunday morning I was up early to drive round the Wairau Valley taking pictures, before heading over to Montana's Brancott Winery. The vivid, startlingly intense sunlight was welcome after Saturday's leaden skies and biting wind. Katie Speakman, the Tour and Business Development Manager, drove me round the three main subregions of the district: the Awatare Valley, Wairau Valley and Raupaura. I learned a new word: hoon. Katie is with child, and needs her sleep, yet lives next door to some hoons who kept her awake all Friday night partying. Noise control confiscated their stereo system (again) but they just moved on next door... And I thought Blenheim was a sleepy rural town.

I lunched with Patrick Materman, who is the chief winemaker for Montana and the other brands that are made at the immense Brancott winery. We tried through quite a lot of wines, and had some fun discussions. Did you know that with 3000 tons of Pinot Noir passing through the winery here, this is perhaps the world's largest producer of this noble variety?

I left just before 4 pm, and headed out of town to Picton, some 25 kms away. This is where you catch the ferry to Wellington, and it is at the head of the Marlborough sounds. I took the Queen Charlotte Drive, a winding road through the sounds, with spectacular views all along. It was indescribably beautiful in the late afternoon sun - one of the world's great drives (am I getting carried away?).

After heading back into Blenheim, I wandered into town hoping to find something to eat. I opted for the Whalehaven restaurant, where I dined well, alone. Solitary dining can feel a little lonely, but I had a good book, a glass of Riesling and a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I went to bed feeling immensely grateful.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sauvignon is (mostly) boring

Sauvignon Blanc is a really boring grape variety.

Of course, this is a generalization, which needs a qualifier: we actually drink quite a bit of Sauvignon chez Goode. It's a variety of great utility: well made Sauvignon is a really useful wine. But it rarely makes really interesting wines.

It sounds like I'm backtracking here. I'm talking about a grape variety that's successful, makes wines that are useful, and which I drink quite a bit of. Why bother with the criticism?

It's because I love interesting wine. Interesting wine is what got me into this hobby, which then became a living. Interesting wine is life-enhancing, intellectually stimulating and culturally rich. Sauvignon Blanc is rarely any of these things.

But last night we had a good one. It is the Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Adelaide Hills. There's interest here: a really vivid grapefruity zing providing counter to richer, almost melony fruity notes. It ranks near the top of the Sauvignon tree, I reckon. While I'd say it stops a little short of being a truly serious, intellectually or hedonically inspiring wine, it tastes really nice.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wine from plastic...how does it taste?

Continuing the PET wine saga, I've posted an article on the main wineanorak site about technical issues to do with wine in PET here. I also tried the two Sainsbury wines in these plastic bottles. The first was the Sauvignon Blanc. For £4.99, this is as cheap as New Zealand Sauvignon gets. It's bulk shipped in tank and then bottled at Corby in Northants.

I poured a glass and alongside the crisp, fresh grassy flavours there was a distinct detergent edge - a bit like when you drink from soapy glasses that haven't been rinsed properly, or when you taste from a glass that's already been drunk from by someone wearing lipstick.

So I got a fresh glass and rinsed it well first. Still the same detergent edge. Another two glasses were tried; each time the wine had an unpleasant detergent edge to it. How mysterious. Is this just a problem unique to my bottle, or is this a problem affecting this wine across the board?

The Australian Shiraz Rose was perfectly OK, though, with nice slightly sweet strawberryish friut. At £3.99 in PET an ideal picnic wine.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Craggy Range with Steve Smith

After the fun of last night, what better way to celebrate than a serious tasting and a good lunch. The focus was Craggy Range, a leading New Zealand producer, and it was hosted by MD Steve Smith (right), who is a specialist viticulturalist by training (he's worked with controversial viticultural guru Richard Smart before) and who is an MW.

We began by looking at a range of leading Sauvignons from New Zealand, first without food, and then with - the point being that those preferred by the group without food differed from those preferred with. Two of the wines were from Craggy Range, and generally these performed better with food. It's a textural thing, apparently.

Then we went to Craggy Range reds. First, three Bordeaux blends and three Syrahs from 2005. They were fantastic, particularly the Syrahs, which were mightily impressive, showing lovely freshness as well as intensity, with a distinctive peppery character and brilliant definition. Serious stuff.

Then Pinot Noir. Six different components from the Te Muna Vineyard in Martinborough, 2006 vintage, with different clones and oak usage. These were fantastic, with a couple striking me as dead ringers for utterly serious Grand Cru red Burgundy. Thrilling expression and structure: I've never encountered new world Pinot this good before. These components and others are blended together to make two wines, which we then tried: the Te Muna Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Aroha (a new supercuvee). Both were great.

Finally, with lunch four more wines, the pick of which was the Quarry 2001, a Bordeaux blend from the Gimblett Gravels, which is verging on first growth Bordeaux quality. A stunning wine that has wonderfully dense, expressive, earthy, minerally fruit of ripeness but also definition. It's just about drinking now but has the stuffing and structure to improve for many years to come.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Michael Seresin

Was at the New Zealand annual tasting at Lord's this afternoon, where among other things I spent some time chatting with famous cinemato-
grapher and wine producer Michael Seresin.

Seresin first left New Zealand in the late 1960s for Italy, and it was a real culture shock. 'How people lived was opposite to how I'd lived in New Zealand', he recalls. After a spell in the UK, he moved back to Italy once more, and clearly was captured by the culture of food and wine he experienced there. 'I like what wine embraces', he says, and when he decided to turn his hand to making the stuff, his first thought was to do it in Italy, before settling on his home country as the destination. 'I didn't think I'd be smart enough to do business in Italy', says Seresin. 'Besides, you are free to do a lot more in the New World than the Old'.

As befits a filmmaker whose attention is frequently on the quality of the light, as much as what is in the shot, the Seresin wines have a transparency to them. There's almost a quality of lightness that brings a sharp focus on what is present in the wine (does this sort of synaesthetic description work, or does it just sound pseudy?).

Of the wines, for me the standouts are the focused, precise Sauvignon Blanc and the two wonderful, complex, balanced Pinot Noirs. Perhaps it's the influence of organics and biodynamics that Seresin practices, or the fact that everything is done by hand, but this is an impressive set of wines. And the cinematographer influence came out when I asked Michael if I could take his picture. 'Don't use the flash,' he advised. 'The natural light is good in here.'

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Slovenian Sauvignon

Must say a little more about the Simcic Sauvignon Reserve 2004 from Slovenia. It's Sauvignon, but not as you know it. The grapes are harvested relatively late and then, rather than press the juice off straight away or after just a short skin contact, as is normal for whites, the skins are given an extended maceration of about a week. This results in a deep coloured wine with some of the characteristics of a red wine: a bit of tannin and bold, herb-tinged flavours. There's sweet, grapey, melony fruit here, together with a bit of grassy herbal character. It's distinctive, warm and intense. I wouldn't say it's profound - after all, this is Sauvignon, and it lacks true complexity or minerality. Also, I could understand some people writing this off as clumsy. But I like it because it is interesting and it makes me think about what I'm tasting. It's available in the UK from H&H Bancroft, who have just taken Simcic on, but isn't yet on their website.

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