Popped down to the White Horse at Hedgerley today where an ale festival was underway. Together with brothers in law William and Dominic, I supped several different ales in the warm spring sunshine.
This is a pub that cares about cask ale, and knows how to keep it in good condition. We tried a number of different ales. First, Moongazer from Tring Brewery. This is a deep coloured ale with lovely sweet flavours and a bit of hoppiness. Great balance. Second, a pale beer called Pictish Lambzilla. This is fresh, light, bright, fruity and hoppy. Easy to drink, but could have done with just a touch more complexity?
These three beers were lovely. The Coco du Mer from Wood Street Brewery is a porter style, all dark and chocolatey with some malt and a touch of savoury bitterness. I liked it; the others didn’t. Kennedy’s Carouse, from Holden, is pretty special: an unusual herbal ale with some apple notes. Distinctive and lively. And finally, the Epicurion from Mallinsons was one of the stand-outs: this is pale yellow in colour and has amazing bright lemony fruit. Citrussy and fine with nice complexity, and a lot of drinkability.
Here’s the video from the rare grape varieties tasting conducted by Dr Jose Vouillamoz at the London Wine Trade Fair this week, organized by the Circle of Wine Writers. I’d agreed to film it for them (I am on the committee), even though I was a little concerned that filming a tasting would actually be a bit boring. But this was such a good tasting, packed with really interesting commentary by Dr J, that it’s actually a compelling watch, especially the introductory section. He’s a real star in the making: an ultra-cool scientist.
Today I gave a talk on social media and the wine industry at a conference in Logrono (Rioja) organized by DIAM, the closure company. Also speaking was José Penin, author of the respected wine guide, chosen to represent the existing media. I was chosen because I have made a reputation with more modern media.
As well as the talks, there was a panel discussion that we both took part in, and a tasting. This was conducted by Antonio Palacios, an enologist and wine scientist, and consisted of five rather different wines from around the world that were all sealed with DIAM.
La Scolca Gacvi 2012 Piedmont, Italy
Great concentration of flavour, this is fresh, tight and crisp with fresh apples and lemons, and a hint of anise, as well as some stone and herb notes. A good example of Gavi 88/100
Le Domaine de La Cave du Village Raoul Cruchon Viognier 2011 La Côte, Vaud, Switzerland
Fresh, crisp and rounded with smooth texture and nice weight, showing lovely pear and white peach fruit. Great precision, with a subtle herbal edge to the smooth bright fruit. Quite serious. 92/100
Bergolt Merlot Cabernet Dorio Trocken 2010 Pfalz, Germany 13 months in oak, one-third of which is new. Sweet, creamy and slightly oaky on the nose with some vanilla. But the dominant theme here is bright, vivid berry fruits with some spiciness. Lively and berryish with cherry freshness and a bit of peppery bite. Fabulous fruit quality. 92/100
Levet L’Amythyste Côte Rôtie 2010 Northern Rhône, France Two years in oak. Quite powerful and backward with subtle notes of roast fruit, mint and medicine alongside the spicy, peppery, vivid berry and black cherry fruit. Some warmth from the oak, but overall a tight, dense, quite youthful wine with a good future ahead of it, currently in the vice-like grip of firm tannins. 92/100
Clos de Los Siete 2009 Mendoza, Argentina Sweet, ripe, perfumed nose with some slightly jammy berry fruits but also some pleasantly fresh violet floral characters. Ripe, supple palate has well balanced fruit but also a bit of warmth and some distinctive, firm, rather drying tannins. 90/100
I’m in Logrono, Rioja, where I’m giving a talk about the role of the internet in wine communication for wineries, as part of a conference organized by closure manufacturer DIAM. Penin, the well known Spanish wine critic, is also taking part.
Last night the speakers and organizers had an informal dinner at an egg-themed restaurant, Manda Huevos (location here). It isn’t a high-end place, but it is fun, and it’s certainly the first egg-themed restaurant I have eaten in.
The main dishes were served in frying pans. You get some chips, you choose your topping (I chose a salt cod-based one) and then they whack two fried eggs on top. There’s a bit of table theatre, as they chopp up the egg and topping together (this is optional). The result is surprisingly delicious.
There are other things you can eat here, but I do like the way that this place dares to be unique. It’s unusual, informal, inexpensive and fun.
I visited Hedonism Wines for the first time today. You can see a report, mostly pictorial, on my visit here. Some thoughts:
It is an amazing retail space. Beautifully planned and perfectly executed. It’s a bit like a museum of wine, where a wine lover can gain a good deal of pleasure from just wandering around and looking at all the amazing bottles.
But I can see why some object. There’s a focus on the rich and famous of the wine world, which isn’t always in strict correlation with what’s interesting and worthwhile in the wine world. And I don’t much care for prestige wines.
However, there are interesting, well chosen wines here. I didn’t search extensively, but I came across a really good Portuguese selection, and the South African whites were brilliantly chosen, with current knowledge and not just a reliance on old classics.
Yes there is a Sine Qua Non room. But while I don’t like the wine style, I admire the packaging and brand cohesion here. The room is remarkable.
There’s also a Penfolds room. Grange is an ‘icon’, but it’s not the most interesting, compelling Aussie wine out there. The marketing, though, is spot on. The wine is good enough. We just have to look on and gasp at the prices Penfolds are getting for this wine.
Yes, this is a retail outlet that is irrelevant to most wine drinkers. But isn’t it GREAT that wine has this sort of bling factor. Wine is pappable. It’s ‘A’ list celebrity. How cool is that?
I think that Hedonism Wines is great for wine overall. Of course, I don’t think many of the celebrity wines are worth the money, and that you can have much more fun elsewhere. But many people buying celebrity bottles aren’t looking for value for money. Quite the opposite. If a wine is affordable, it loses some appeal. We shouldn’t despise this shallowness of the marketplace; rather, we should be positive, and think of the benefits for wine overall that comes from people willing to drop $$$$ on a bottle of wine brings.
Overall, the profile of wine is raised by retail outlets such as Hedonism Wines, and this is a good thing.
This is an amazing wine. It’s from a now extinct Quinta in Carcavelos, Quinta da Bela Vista. The last crop from this vineyard was in 1969, and Carlos Fonseca (of Companhia Agricola do Sanguinhal, who bottled the wine in 1991, and holds the remaining stock) reckons that this particular wine, which is a non-vintage, has an average age of 70 years. They looked back at the records and found that 400 litres were produced in 1969. The total amount of wine in the cellar was 14000 litres, hence the calculation.
The reason Carcavelos has pretty much disappeared is because the vineyards were located near Cascais, next to Lisbon, and the value of the land for development far exceeded that of vineyards. There is just one 10 hectare vineyard remaining, owned by the state, in Oeiras. The grape variety here is Galego Dourado, aka Loureiro.
This wine is fortified, but it’s not sweet – it reminds Carlos of a Sercial from Madeira, and I see where he’s coming from.
Quinta da Bela Vista Carcavelos NV Portugal
Deep yellow in colour with some bronze hints, this has a lively aromatic nose of spice, raisins and casks. It smells sweet, but it’s not. The palate is rich and powerful with some fresh, spicy, citrussy notes counterbalancing the nutty, slightly figgy richness. The key facet though is an incredible length: the flavour persists for ages. A lovely, beautifully balanced fortified wine of real interest. 95/100
Tried this today: it’s a brilliant Austrian skin-contact white. Just beautiful: one of the best examples of an ‘orange’ wine that I have tried.
Schell Mann Achtung Wine 2007 Thermenregion, Austria
From Fred Loimer, this is a skin-contact white (an ‘orange’ wine) made from Grüner Veltliner, Muskateller, Rotgipfler, Traminer, Zierfandler, all grown together in a mixed vineyard planted in 1936. It’s amazingly fresh and aromatic with lovely peach, melon and citrus aromas, as well as some spice. The palate is fresh, vital and quite grippy with lovely fruit chartacters and a nice spicy, dry finish. It’s actually a full yellow colour – not orange. A remarkable wine of real precision and interest. 94/100
So, after two day’s judging, today was the Balkan wine festival here in Sofia, where a number of producers gathered to show their wines. I just wanted to report on a few particular highlights.
First of all Borovitza, from northwest Bulgaria. This is a brilliant winery, making small quantities of wine from some really good vineyards. It’s owned by Dr Ognyan Tsvetanov (above), who is a very smart, thoughtful winegrower with an interesting story. I was particularly struck by three of his wines. The first was the cuvee Americano, a white blend aged in Bulgrian oak with no added SO2. Its very richly textured and intense.
The second was the Orange Garden 2008, an orange wine made from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier with fermentation on skins and then just under 4 years in oak. It’s powerful and really smoothly textured with lovely complexity.
Finally, the Gamza 2009. I pointed out that this elegant, cherryish red reminded me of Kadarka, a Hungarian variety. It turns out that they are both the same variety. It’s a bit Pinot-like, but with more body. Such a beautiful wine.
I was also really impressed by the Heaps Good Wine Company, which is run by Kiwi Nick Gee in Slovenia (he has a Slovenian wife). He’s making superb wines. The Pinot Gris is rich and textured, with lovely ripe fruit. The Pinot Noir is super-elegant with some sweet cherry fruit and a reassuringly light colour, and it is a nice contrast to the special selection Pinot called the Gambling Priest, which has more stems and a bit more structure. Both are really compelling and elegant.
I also liked Nick’s Blaufrankisch, which is a really elegant black cherry fruit expression of the variety.
Finally, Vina Caric from Croatia. Really convincing wines including a white blend called Cesarica, that’s fresh and textured, and the Plovac Ploski 2008, a warm, medium-bodied red wine with amazing savoury complexity alongside sweetly aromatic fruit. It’s really elegant.
We have spent two days judging and we have just finished. The competition was flawlessly run and this afternoon – where all of the judges got to retaste the gold medal-winning wines to decide the trophy winners – showed just how good some of these wines are. I’m really eager to find out the names of some of the winners.
Last night we had dinner at Kotileto restaurant. It’s owned by a Bulgarian, but the chef and cuisine are Serbian. The Bulgarians put a greater accent on vegetables, while the Serbians place more on meat, and especially barbecued meat. The key meat is pork, with veal and lamb second, apparently.
The food was hearty, rich and enjoyable. The wine was all Bulgarian, with a couple of very nice bottles.
This fresh, intense white was a blend of four grape varieties, made by Marash winery.
These are lovely, lovely wines. I followed them over the course of a few days, so I’m fairly confident in my recommendations, too. They are made by Jeff Coutelou, in France’s Languedoc. Jeff works naturally, using very little sulfur dioxide at all. All are young, dense and grippy, and I think that you’d be safe cellaring them for a few years (maybe 3?) even though they have minimal aded sulphites.
But I just love drinking these wines in their vivid youth, and despite their youthful structure, they show some complexity and good balance between the sweet pure fruit and more savoury flavours. They are stunning value for money.
Mas Coutelou 7 Rue de la Pompe 2012 Vin de France
A varietal Syrah from the Languedoc. Wonderfully vivid and meaty with peppery raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is grippy and firm but has lovely purity and focus. Brooding, spicy, meaty and backward. Lovely structure and purity. 92/100 (£9.95 Roberson)
Mas Coutelou Le Vin des Amis 2012 Vin de France
A blend of 75% Syrah, 25% Grenache. Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100 (£12.95 Roberson)
Mas Coutelou Paf La Syrah 2012 Vin de France
A special single-plot cuvee of Syrah. Wonderfully floral, sweetly fruited cherry nose with some pure liqueur-like notes. The palate is fruity and vivid with raspberry and cherry fruit as well as some acid bite. Very pure, fruity and silky with some tannic grip. Incredible fruit purity here. 93/100 (£18.95 Roberson)