Visiting Wirra Wirra, McLaren Vale

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Wirra Wirra is one of those wineries that we sometimes take for granted. They’ve been there for (seemingly) ever, making good wines in reasonable quantities, but don’t often get the headlines. But the great thing about wineries like this is that they connect with lots of people, and you can find the wines pretty much everywhere. So I was pleased to visit.

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The late Greg Trott was the man behind Wirra Wirra. The actual vineyard, though, dates back to the early days of winegrowing here. Robert Strangeway Wrigley came here from Adelaide in 1894. He was a bachelor who played cricket for south Australia, and was getting his family’s reputation into trouble in the city, so he came out to the McLaren Vale to grow grapes and make fortified wine. He died in the 1920s with no heirs, and the property was effectively left to ruin for 40 years.

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Then Gregg Trott came along in 1969. A failed worm farmer, oliver grower and chicken farmer, he took over Wirra Wirra and rebuilt the old buildings stone by stone. He set about making wine, and as with many of his projects, it was on the ambitious side, but with the help of regular injections of cash from investors, over the next few decades developed a reputation for premium red wines. Trott died in 2005, but he eccentricities and love of cricket are stamped all over this venture.

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A third of Wirra Wirra’s needs are provided by their estate vineyards: they have 21 hectares in the estate vineyards and another 30 just outside the GI, all of which are now farmed biodynamically.

Paul Smith, winemaker Wirra Wirra

Paul Smith, winemaker Wirra Wirra

The winery looks pretty old school, but it has a lovely row of two ton open top red fermenters that makes working parcel by parcel a possibility.

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Wirra Wirra Lost Watch Riesling 2017 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is from two vineyards in the hills. It’s hand picked, gently pressed and fermented dry. Pristine with lively lemony fruit. Fresh with a slight herbal edge to the lime and green apple characters. Fresh, quite elegant, fruit-driven style. 90/100

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Wirra Wirra 12thMan Chardonnay 2016 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Vineyards in Lenswood and Lobethal supply the grapes for this fresh, balanced Chardonnay. It’s fine and fresh with lovely citrus fruits and some pronounced, nutty, toasty oak. There’s a savoury cedary edge. Showing nice restraint, this is a linear wine with lovely citrus fruit, and the oak will settle down with time. 91/100

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Wirra Wirra Original Blend 2016 McLaren Vale, Australia
Since 1972, Trott’s debut vintage, Wirra Wirra’s main wine was the Church Block, a Grenache/Shiraz blend with the emphasis on the Grenache. The recipe was tweaked in 1983 to include Cabernet Sauvignon after some consultancy from Brian Croser, so this wine carries the legacy of the original blend of the Church Block red. Fermented in small open top fermenters with the Grenache picked a little early to keep freshness, and matured in old oak. It’s pretty and vivid with jammy raspberry and cherry fruit. Lovely freshness and purity here. It’s a fruit-driven style that’s harmonious and balanced. 91/100 (A$25)

Wirra Wirra Church Block 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
This is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Shiraz and 13% Merlot. Distinctive, fresh, supple blackcurrant fruit with delicious spicy notes and some bright raspberry character. Hints of tar and mint here, with fine-grained tannins. Fruit driven and vivid. 90/100

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Wirra Wirra Catapult Shiraz 2016 McLaren Vale, Australia
This is an interesting wine, with a meaty, olive edge and a bit of pepper complementing the blackberry and black cherry fruit. Has richness and focus with nice freshness. Perfumed, bright and elegant. 93/100

Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
This comes from vineyards closer to the sea: these are warmer sites but have limestone subsoil. 40% new oak, a 50/50 mix of French and American. Complex, warm, broad and spicy with vivid olive, black pepper and blackcurrand notes, as well as a cedar twist from the oak. Ripe and intense with some tarriness, and maybe even some smoky notes. Powerful and complex in a rich style. 91/100

Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2014 McLaren Vale, Australia
This is from old, low-yielding bocks, fermented in open fermenters and aged in tight-grained French oak for 17 months. Leathery and earthy with a tarry edge to the black fruits. Very concentrated and intense with sweet dark fruits and some smoky, spicy oak character. There’s freshness as well as concentration. Dense and weighty, with burly tannins, and a hint of aniseed. Needs time. 93/100

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D'Arenberg, with Chester and his Cube

chester osborn darenberg cube

On Wednesday I visited D’Arenberg, an important producer in Australia’s McLaren Vale region. I remember when I was first getting into wine in the mid-1990s and being seduced by the D’Arenberg reds, with their beautifully detailed back labels and distinctive red sash design. I remember buying and selling the famous Dead Arm Shiraz, which is probably the only wine ever to be named after a trunk disease. But this was the first time I’d visited.

Chester Osborn, fourth-generation winegrower here, is largely responsible for the size, scope and prominence of D’Arenberg today. He joined the family business after studying at Roseworthy in 1983, 40 years after his father Darry joined. D’Arenberg is a significant presence in the McLaren Vale, with the cellar door packed each weekend and a bewildering range of over 60 different wines, not to mention 500 acres of vines managed organically and biodynamically. But D’Arenberg is just about to take a leap forwards with its wine tourism, with the opening of the much-talked about D’Arenberg cube in around five weeks, at the end of October.

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Chester is a showman. D’Arenberg is D’Arenberg, but it is also Chester. With his long hair and colourful dress style (aside: I remember nine years ago discussing with him his plans for launching a clothing brand; apparently, this is still on the cards), he’s a powerful brand. But with this, he’s also a thoroughly engaging, friendly  individual who’s lovely to taste with.

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Chester had the idea for the cube over a decade ago, and planning permission was obtained in 2010, but the effects of the financial crash meant that the project had to be paused. Chester says he was lucky they got permission then, because the guidelines have since changed, and now any structure with this much glass, in a sunny area, would be denied permission for environmental reasons. The Cube, with it’s zany futuristic design, has cost some $14 million, but $2 million of that has come in the form of government grants.

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What takes place inside the Cube will be every bit as extraordinary as the visual impression of the exterior. The top storey will be a tasting room with 115 television screens and bar areas. The next level will be a restaurant that Chester says will be extremely high end. Then the next level is a multi-use area that might be used as a floating bar, or for blending classes. The level below will be another multi-use area and will have kitchens and toilets, and then the downstairs is a contemporary art gallery, with an emphasis on installations. There will also be a wine fog room, where guests will inhale wine.

We had a look at 10 wines.

Dry Dam Riesling 2017
A blend of Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale fruit, this is lively, fruity and juicy with nice lime and a bit of pith. Very pure and primary. Just 10% alcohol with a pH of 2.8. 90/100

The Money Spider Roussanne 2016
Unoaked, from sandstone soils. Very limey and intense with some pear and peach notes. Rich, spicy and with a distinct pithiness. 89/100

The Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2015 Adelaide Hills
Fruity and expressive with bright lemons and pith, and some green apple. Lovely fruit focus here with good acidity, and the oak is very well integrated. 91/100

The Custodian Grenache 2014
‘We have been big instigators of Grenache in Australia,’ says Chester Osborn. ‘We buy up to half of the McLaren Vale’s Grenache.’ This is really vivid and pretty with raspberry and cherry fruit. Lovely juicy, direct fruit with a bit of grip. Vibrant with nice fruit sweetness. 90/100

The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2014
Good concentration here: really vivid and quite structured with lovely raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Quite refined with a hint of earth and some chalky minerality. Surprisingly understated and even a bit European in style. 93/100

The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2009
Sweet and a bit minty with earth and spice, as well as good structure. Sweet berry fruits and high acid, with a juicy finish. 90/100

The Dead Arm Shiraz 2014
Only 5-8% new oak here, and all French. Aromatic with intense black fruits. Lush but fresh with real power and concentration. Complex with minerals, earth, tar and spice. Structured and intense, this dense wine needs time. 94/100

J.R.O. Afflatus Single Vineyard Shiraz 2012
This is a 100 year old vineyard with sand on sandstone. Very fresh and finely structured with nice brightness and fruit purity. Concentrated and intense with firm tannins. Very expressive with purity and concentration. Bright, linear. 94/100

The Old Bloke and Three Young Blondes 2011
This is Shiraz with 2.5% each of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne (just the skins from the ferments of each variety are added). Very sweet and aromatic with some tropical fruit characters as well as sweet cherries and raspberries. Very sweet and concentrated with a chalky, mineral edge. Dense and brooding, but with very fine grained tannins. 93/100

Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
This is a nearly extinct clone that yields under 1 ton/acre. It’s a fresh, structured wine with pure blackcurrant fruit. Compact and vivid with nice freshness. Tight, compact and firmly structured with good potential. 93/100

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Koomilya, the 'new Wendouree'

The Koomilya vineyard in McLaren Vale

The Koomilya vineyard in McLaren Vale

Komilya is the exciting new vineyard-based project from one of the McLaren Vale’s stars, SC Pannell. I don’t like to hype wines, but this is one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve made in Australia. This is the McLaren Vale’s Wendouree, in terms of style, intention and potential longevity.

Stephen Pannell is the son of Bill Pannell, the man who planted Moss Wood, one of the top vineyards in Margaret River. Steve made his name as chief winemaker for Hardy’s, and while he was there, one vineyard in McLaren Vale had a special attraction to him. It was from this 80 acre property on Amery Road that he sourced Shiraz for the Eileen Hardy, Hardy’s flagship red. So when he managed to persuade the growers, Don and Jill Cant, that it was time to sell, he pounced. He purchased it in 2012.

JC Block Shiraz, 80-100 year old vines

JC Block Shiraz, 80-100 year old vines

It’s an old vineyard, but its history is poorly documented. The oldest vines here likely date back 120 years: a block of gnarly old Mourvèdre. The Shiraz is pretty old, too, and there are two blocks that he makes separate wines from, which he’s called JC and DC, after the growers he bought from. Steve has named this special place Koomilya, which is the name of a ship that used to take wood from South Australia to Western Australia and back. Steve recovered the bell from SS Koomilya while he was scuba diving in Margaret River, and so this name stuck with him.

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The Koomilya wines are made in a classical style. They don’t see any new oak, or any small oak for that matter, and are aged in 2700 litre foudres. These are serious, old-school wines with incredible potential for development. Just as with Wendouree, they are not wines to crack in their youth, but instead need cellaring. So far just the 2014 Shiraz and 2013 DC Block have been released. We were lucky to try the as-yet unreleased 2015s which are amazing wines. And just as with Wendouree, they will likely all be sold to mailing list customers. Time to form an orderly queue.

koomilya

Koomilya Shiraz 2014 McLaren Vale, Australia
Concentrated and very fresh with lovely expressive raspberry and blackberry fruit, with a faint meaty savouriness and a twist of reductive tightness. Taut on the palate with grip, this has lovely intensity, and needs quite a while to shed its reductive youthfulness and unfurl properly. Backward but with amazing potential for development. 94/100

Koomilya Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
Concentrated, pure and fine with lovey raspberry and black cherry fruit. Structured and very fine. Backward and tannic but pure and primary with lots of finesse, even though there’s good structure here and some floral perfume even at this early age. Thrilling wine. 95/100

Koomilya Cabernet Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
Brooding blackcurrant fruit nose with some fine floral notes. Lovely freshness and purity here with good acidity. So pure and expressive, with real finesse. Tannic yet pure, linear and elegant. A classic. 96/100

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Koomilya JC Block Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
80-100 year old vines from a block that used to be a core component of Eileen Hardy Shiraz. Intense brooding nose of sweet raspberry and cherry fruit with a subtle tarry edge. Concentrated but very fresh with firm tannins and more red than black fruits. Dense and subtly tarry. Fine, but needs a lot of time. 96/100

Koomilya DC Block Shiraz 2013 McLaren Vale, Australia
Brooding nose is tight with some floral berry fruits. The palate is tannic and firm, with some sweet berry fruits and cherry richness. Very appealing with lovely density and structure. 94/100

Koomilya DC Block Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
Highly aromatic with brooding black cherry and raspberry fruit. Really concentrated with amazing depth and a hint of spicy richness. Burly and tannic but still very fresh and pure. Has massive potential for development. 95/100

A day in Adelaide: Big Table, Lady Burra, Shobosho, Pink Moon

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It’s nice to be back in Adelaide. I spent a few days here last July, and it’s a very liveable place, a little scruffy around the edges, but a great place to eat, drink and wander around.

adelaide

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I had a day in the city yesterday. I began by wandering through the Central Market, where there are quite a few coffee and breakfast options. I had a lovely green egg and ham on sourdough at Big Table, and the coffee was superb here too. There’s also a decent wine shop here: Vintage Cellars, which has a good selection of Australian and semi-good selection of international wines.

Then I wandered. I headed up to the east end where there are lots of food, drink and shopping options, including the main shopping drag of Rundle Street. This is where Mother Vine wine bar and East End Cellars are found, both essential destinations for wine lovers.

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In the afternoon I lunched at Lady Burra Brewhouse. This is the only brewery in the Adelaide Central Business District, and I did a tour and tasting with brewer James Collison, who moved here from Little Creatures’ main brewery in Geelong. Here he makes a really good range of beers, including a bright pilsner, and seriously good Pale Ale, a rich but balanced IPA and an Irish Red Ale, which is distinctive and quite British/Irish in style. Seasonals include a monster-sized Stout, which stays in balance, and a really convincing Berliner Weisse (not yet released).

James Collison, Lady Burra Brewhouse

James Collison, Lady Burra Brewhouse

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As well as beer, Lady Burra is also a restaurant. This brewpub idea is a really good one, and the combination of good quality but informal food (I had a fab prosciutto and artichoke pizza washed down with a pale ale) is a really good one.

Martini, Pink Moon Saloon

Martini, Pink Moon Saloon

In the evening I met up with my fellow travellers, Ronny Lau and Cathy Huyghe, and our babysitter from South Australia Tourism, Minnie McCreanor, and we headed off for a drink at Pink Moon Saloon. This is a really nice place in the middle of lots of food and drink options in the west end, just of small bar central Peel Street. The licensing laws were relaxed a few years ago making it much easier for small bars to open, and the result is a thriving scene with lots of very cool looking options. I had a lovely Vesper Martini, and my colleagues’ drink options all looked pretty smart, apart from Ronny’s (he had an Australian Prosecco).

Open kitchen, Shobosho

Open kitchen, Shobosho

Then we went to dinner at Shobosho. This is an informal, bright, but beautifully done yakitori joint. The food was superb – we worked our way through the chef’s menu – with lots of variety and richness of flavour. The wine list was also amazing, and they let me order. So we ended up with a couple of new releases from Taras and Amber Ochota – the Weird Berries in the Woods Gewurztraminer, and the Green Room Grenache, both 2017. They worked perfectly: elegant, fresh, well defined flavours that matched the style of food very well. Shoboso is just the sort of confident, stylish restaurant that typifies the new Australia. The service was also excellent, with each dish explained properly (there were lots of them) and the pace of the kitchen perfectly judged.

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Niagara Riesling: some treats from Cave Spring, Flat Rock and Vineland

Angelo Pavan

On my mini-trip to Niagara last week I got to try a few very nice Rieslings that served to remind me just how well this grape variety does in Niagara. I tasted some Cave Spring Rieslings at dinner with Angelo Pavan (pictured above), then squeezed in a quick tasting of some older Rieslings with Ed Madronich and Jennifer Hart, and then caught up with Brian Schmidt at Vineland for a whizz through their latest releases.

Cave Spring CSV

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2015 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
From plantings in 1975 and 1978. Very pure and delicate with lovely citrus fruits and some fine pear character. Quite dry wuth lovely precision. Subtle and fine with a delicate crystalline character. 92/100

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2007 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Complex and intense with lovely peach and nectarine richness, as well as sweet lemony fruit. There’s a trace of sweetness here, and this is generous but fresh with lovely purity. 93/100

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2005 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
So complex with lively, pure citrus fruit and some bitter grapefruit pith characters. Nicely spicy with some richness and a hint of mint. Distinctive stuff. 93/100

Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2007 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
This is a drier style of Riesling made from a higher portion of the vineyard where the dolomitic limestone is close to the surface. Complex and a bit waxy with some nuts and lanolin. Lively with a bit of pithiness and nice evolution with a lovely mineral character and great acidity. Lovely complexity with an amazing finish. 93/100

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2004 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
There’s a subtle creaminess here. Some mineral character under the citrus fruit, and lovely lemony delicacy. Has sweet fruit with good textured and delicacy, showing refined acidity. 93/100

Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Very linear and pure with delicacy and precision. Lovely fine, pure lemony fruit. Lots of potential here. 92/100

Flat Rock Estate Riesling 2006 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
This is 19 g/l sugar and pH 3.24. It has lovely weight. Off dry with a seamless purity and hints of honey and lemon. Quite mineral with lovely citrus fruit. 92/100

Flat Rock Estate Riesling 2008 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
37 g/litre sugar, pH 2.8. Amazing acidity here: lemony and intense with a fine spiciness. There’s some sugar here but it tastes just off dry because of the acid. So intense and pure, and quite lovely. 93/100

vineland riesling

Vineland Dry Riesling 2016 Niagara, Canada
3.8 g/l sugar. Lovely freshness here with bright lemony fruit. So linear with keen acidity and a stony edge to the fruit. Pristine, pure and expressive, this is a real steal and will age beautifully. 90/100 (CA$15)

Vineland Semi-Dry Riesling 2016 Niagara, Canada
The flagship wine of Vineland. 10.8% alcohol, 20 g/l residual sugar. This is so pretty. It’s off dry with a steely edge to the lemony fruit and some subtle melon and honey notes. Has a bit of tangerine character on the finish. So pretty. 89/100 (CA$15)

Vineland Elevation St Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016 Niagara Escarpment, Niagara, Canada
1979 plantings. 37 g/l sugar. Concentrated and expressive with lovely transparent lemon and tangerine fruit, with a hint of apricot richness. Lovely mouthfeel and weight. Very stylish with good acidity nicely balanced with some sweetness. 91/100 (CA$20)

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What's the role of emotion in the perception of wine?

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One of the aspects I didn’t cover much in my discussions of perception in I Taste Red, is how emotion affects the perception of the world around us.

When we are consciously aware of things around us, we create a model of the world that is a seamless, unified representation that includes input from all the senses, joined together and combined during pre-conscious editing steps. What we know of the world is a representation that we have created, based on information that reaches us from our sensory systems, but which also contains input from us, most significantly the knowledge and experience that we have gained of how the world works.

In our infancy, we learned how to package together sensory input from different modalities about aspects of the world, in such a way that we became skilled at manipulating ‘objects’. For example, we recognize immediately a car, a tree or a house, and we have expectations about how these objects normally behave. This is even though cars, trees and houses come in many different types: despite this, we have some sort of filter that has extracted the essential features of these objects that has allowed us to learn to recognize them. This makes processing the world around us much faster, and without this sort of object processing the task of perception would require much more computing power, which would slow us down.

Object manipulation occurs with taste and smell. Take coffee: 800 different aromatic molecules, lots of different styles, but we recognize a coffee as a coffee. Think of an orange. It is a certain shape and colour (vision), plus it feels a certain way (touch), plus it has a characteristic flavour (taste, smell, touch and vision).

And without us generating our own version of reality, creating a model that the reality outside then shapes and constrains, we’d not be able to process reality quickly enough to deal with it. Hence consciousness is effectively a by-product of looking for computational speed and efficiency.

So where does emotion come in?

Classically, cognition (thinking, reason) has been considered as separate to emotion, with the two acting in opposition – the struggle between the mind and the emotion is a common theme in philosophy and literature through the ages. Are we going to allow our rational mind to overcome our base emotions, in order to make sensible, logical decisions?

But research suggests that we can’t make this dichotomy. Emotion is very much a part of cognition, and the two are not easily separated. If we think about how we are feeling right now, then as well as our perception of what is around us, there’s the emotional content that is blended in. The perception affects the emotion, and the emotional state we are in affects the perception. It’s very hard to tease them apart.

If you are tired, or feeling low, this almost acts as a filter through which perception passes. It changes the experience of the world. Likewise, if you are feeling happy or elated, this will change how the world seems to you. People with low blood glucose overestimate distance, for example (they feel tired and that path seems much longer than it is). Strap a heavy pack on someone’s back and they will overestimate the steepness of a hill.

When people experience strong emotions, it changes the way they see the world. In some cases, quite dramatically. Have you tried to reason with a depressed person? Sometimes emotion is so strong that the world looks incredibly bleak and hopeless, while to someone who is happy, it can seem full of opportunity.

One of the most difficult things we do consciously is to interpret the state of another’s mind. As humans, the social skill of reading people’s thoughts and intentions is an incredible bit of computing: something as small as the tone of voice, or a small change in a facial expression, can communicate someone’s mind to us.

Clearly, emotion plays a big role here. Not only are we trying to work out the other person’s emotional state, but also our role in that social interaction is strongly shaped by our own emotional state. How we interpret another’s intentions depends very much on our emotions. We even try to understand the emotional state of someone else through reading their words: this is especially true with social media, where people can take offense to something we say when we meant it entirely innocently. How many interpersonal conflicts have come from people reading ‘between the lines’ and projecting their own emotional baggage onto someone else?

Our emotions lead us to pay attention to different aspects of the environment. It’s possible for us to assign greater significance to certain things when we are in one emotional estate, versus when we are in another. If I am upset, just a small comment from someone else might be misinterpreted and seem like a big deal, when normally I would brush it aside and attach no importance to it. If I’m feeling hungry, the supermarket is a very different environment to me than it is when my belly is full.

What about wine? I think emotions are relevant to our perception of wine, because emotions are a part of perception, and it’s pretty much impossible to tease them out. They will affect our experience of taste and smell. More than this, wine itself contains alcohol, and as we drink, it changes our internal state. It has emotional content, in this very basic sense: as I drink, some of my social inhibitions are withdrawn. If I am in good company and good cheer, this effect is magnified. If I am morose, then I am in danger of plunging further into the pit. But there’s also the emotional content of place and company and our feelings towards the wine. If I’ve found a good bottle at an affordable price on a restaurant list, then there is emotion there. If I am with friends and looking forward to a good evening, this will change the way I perceive the wine, because the emotion is part of that very perception. If a glass of wine is a reward after a long day when the kids are safely off to sleep, this is also a strong emotional content that is part of the experience of wine.

We see emotion in tasting notes. A wine can be joyful. How? It’s an emotion. From reading tasting notes, there is ample evidence that emotion is an integral part of the perception that the writer is trying to capture verbally. Do colours have emotional content? I think so. Wines have colour.

We have downplayed the role of emotion. We have seen it as untrustworthy, and something that must be reined in and overcome. We have lived with the illusion that it is possible to overcome emotion and be rational, and that the two are separate, competing domains. But it’s now clear that emotion is very much part of perceptions. Emotions affect how we perceive, and what we perceive affects our emotion, so that the two are intertwined, and by the time we get this unified conscious perception which contains outside information, our own modelling, and input from our own internal state, they have been blended together in such a way that we can’t really unpick them.

Emotion is part of perception. Emotion is a big part of the perception of wine. It is perhaps no wonder that advertisers seek to place wine in the situation of its consumption, with the emotion of enjoying wine right at the forefront.

Champagne Piper-Heidiseck's new Cuvée Essentiel Extra Brut, and a review of their Vintage 2008

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Last night I drank (with help, of course) two Champagnes. One was the impressive new Cuvée Essentiel, and the other the 2008 vintage, from Piper-Heidsieck. It’s a house I associate with forward, generously toasty wines, so it’s nice to see the Essentiel, which is a bit more serious and well defined.

Champagne Piper-Heidiseck Essentiel Cuvée Réserve Extra Brut NV France
12% alcohol. The idea behind this cuvée is that it’s the same base wine as the regular non-vintage that’s aged longer and has lower dosage. This was cellared in 2012 and was disgorged in June 2016, and has 5 g/l dosage. It’s really impressive: there’s fresh citrus and green apple fruit, with a faint twist of cherry and a bit of fruit sweetness. But this is kept in check by good acidity, and the lower dosage doesn’t cover over all the edges, leaving a bit of crispness and structure on the finish. There’s some of that Piper toasty generosity, with a twist of fresh-baked bread, but there’s some saline lemony briskness on the finish. Really assured and quite delicious. 92/100

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Vintage 20018 France
12% alcohol. This is refined and very toasty with complex spicy, almost saline citrus fruits, together with a bit of peachy richness. This has an intriguing texture, because it’s rich, bready and toasty, but at the same time fresh and spicy with good definition. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, with delicious but restrained richness, and a complex, spicy finish. 91/100

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Gamay 33, Metrat Fleurie La Roilette Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015

metro fleurie la roulette

Metrat is underrated as a Beaujolais producer. I visited him last year, and really loved the wines. This is one of his best, a Fleurie that comes from a special Lieu Dit, La Roilette. The crus of Beaujolais have a fair bit of soil variation, and there are some especially privileged sites, and now growers are beginning to put them on labels. This is an exciting move.

La Roilette is to the far west of the cru

La Roilette is to the far west of the cru

La Roilette cru sits on very deep black granite. Historically, Roilette used to be part of Moulin-à-Vent, which borders it to the east. In 1920, when Fleurie was demarcated, La Roilette ended up in Fleurie.

This wine comes from vines planted in the 1920s and 1930s, and it has amazing density and precision.

Domaine Metrat Fleurie La Roilette Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015 Beaujolais
13% alcohol. This is superb. It’s dense and concentrated – hallmarks of the 2015 vintage – but it also has freshness, minerality and precision. It’s vivid with good acidity supporting the stony black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some tannic grip and lovely brightness and focus. This is a powerful, structured expression of Gamay, but it isn’t heavy or clunky. It coats the tongue with some fine-grained but grippy tannins, and there’s a hint of damson bitterness countering the sweet, intense fruit. Will likely develop well. 93/100

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For food and drink at the airport, forget the lounge, and let's rethink the flight experience

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I had a good experience in Toronto airport this evening. Arriving quite early, I got through security, and then wandered around Terminal 3. Because I was flying WestJet (saving my client money!), there was no lounge access. This forced me to check out the various food and drink options in the terminal, and I found a brilliant craft beer bar called Beerhive. I took a seat at the bar, and there was power (a source of happiness when travelling). Bonus. I ordered off a tablet, which had a really user-friendly menu. I chose a Muskoka Tap Room IPA. The app then offered me some food options, so I ordered some delicious-looking tuna tacos. I paid with my card, and a few minutes later the beer and tacos arrived. They were tasty, so I made another order: some nachos and a different Muskoka beer.

It was a much better experience than going to a lounge. I had wifi, I had power, I had delicious craft beer and good bar food. Compare this with the food and drink in almost all airline lounges, which is second rate. This is the bizarre thing: nowadays, in decent airports, food and drink in the main terminal is better than you get in the lounge. But everyone goes to the lounge if they can, and eats and drinks badly (it’s free), when they could be having a better experience by not going in. And although it would cost some money, this amount of money isn’t a huge deal for anyone who has lounge access.

If I use a lounge, it’s because it is quieter and nicer than the main terminal experience, and I have access to power. But sometimes the British Airways Galleries Lounge can be really busy and you can’t find a power socket. I don’t usually eat the food there, because it is calories without pleasure. The beer is terrible, and the wine is rarely much better, so often I just end up drinking sparkling water. The coffee is never as good as the options outside the lounge either.

Then there’s plane food. On WestJet, you have to order meals in advance if you want them, and if you want alcoholic drinks, you have to pay for them. There is no wine on board that you’d want to pay for, and the beer options are limited. But it makes you think: why do I ever eat airline food? Boredom? It’s terrible. On the way our I bought a really nice salad and a sandwich from Pret, and they were far better than anything I’ve been given for free on a plane, even in business class. On a recent Norweigan flight you had to pay for food, but you could order it from the touchscreen on the seat back and pay for it there with your bank card, and then the cabin crew brought it to your seat. This was quite cool: I had a lovely big salad and a lovely craft beer from Norway, and it was much more enjoyable than normal airline food. Maybe all airlines should stop giving out free food and alcoholic drinks, and instead stock some interesting options and offer them to passengers – I would pay good money for interesting booze, rather than being stuck with hideous cheap stuff that they now give me for free. Why not offer expensive options, and make some extra revenue? Some people want nice things and will pay for them, even in economy.

The WestJet entertainment system is good. You need your own device with the WestJet app, and then you can watch a wide range of films and programs. The quality on even a phone screen is better than most airline seat back screens. If you don’t have your own device, you can rent one for a few dollars. This saves a lot of expense and weight for the airline: installing seat back screens in every seat is insanely expensive and it all weighs a lot. And technology moves fast: the British Arways Highlife Entertainment System on the older planes in the fleet was groundbreaking 15 years ago but now is antediluvian. So maybe it’s time for airlines to rethink the whole flying experience. They could make more money and have happier customers, who tailor their own personalised flight experience through clever use of technology.

Stunning new releases from Domaine Queylus, Niagara, Canada

queylus wines

I’ve written about the wines of Domaine Queylus before. This winery, headed up by Thomas Bachelder, is making some of the most distinctive wines in the Niagara wine region. I met with Thomas and winemaker Kelly Mason to taste through the 2014s and the soon to be released 2015s. These are really impressive wines, and it’s always great to spend time with Thomas, who is a real thinker and has great insight into making terroir-expressive wines. ‘We try to render the vineyard into the glass,’ he says. And he means it. In 2015 Thomas and Kelly used less extraction, in response to shorter crops and more concentrated flavours in the grapes because of the very cold 14/15 winter. The 2014s are lovely wines, but the 2015s are potentially stunning.

thomas bachelder

queylus

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2014 Niagara, Canada
This is fine, supple and savoury with nice cedar spiciness under the fresh red cherry and plum fruit. Has nice structure and a bit of grip, with good acidity and nice elegance. Fine spices here. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Noir Réserve du Domaine 2014 Niagara, Canada
There’s some supple sweetness here with fine red cherry and plum fruit. It’s quite mineral with good acidity and nice structure under the fruit. Has some elegance, and fine savoury detail. Grown-up Pinot Noir. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Noir Le Grande Reserve 2014 Niagara, Canada
‘This has a coiled spring in it,’ says Thomas Bachelder. ‘You want to cellar it.’ Has the two eastern blocks of the home vineyard and a big slice of Neudorf. So fine. Has some raspberry and red cherry fruit with good acidity. This is all about elegance, with lovely precision and weight. There’s a lovely acidity here, with a juicy freshness to the red fruits. This needs time but it’s really fine. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Very fine aromas of red cherries, herbs and spice. The palate has lovely freshness with a density to the cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s real concentration here with dense fruit but also some elegance. Has good acidity and some structure. This is a big wine that’s lovely, but will need time to come round. 94/100

domaine queylus

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
There’s some real elegance here with fine red cherries and plums. Supple and elegant with lovely focus, some fine sappiness and lovely integrated acid and tannic structure. This is really linear and focused with a lovely purity and potential for development. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir La Grande Réserve 2015 Niagara, Canada
This is beautifully focused and sweetly fruited with taut, compact, yet elegant red cherries and a fine silky texture. Everything is in focus, and there’s a real elegance. Such purity and focus here with a very fine structure. Massive potential. So elegant. 95/100

Domaine Queylus 7 Terroirs 2014 Niagara, Canada
A blend of all four grapes, just one barrel made, never marketed. Has some Chardonnay even! This is for the partners from Montreal, who wanted all the terroirs represented in it. Started with Pinot and added the other grapes. Spicy, cedary and dense with some warmth. Fresh with red fruits and some spiciness. Sappy and a bit herby. Grippy with some tannins. 92/100

Domaine Queylus 7 Terroirs 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely density with raspberries and plums and nice structure from the tannins and the acidity. Very lively and expressive. Lovely concentration weight and freshness with lots of everything. This is fun. A decadent wine. 93/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2014 Niagara, Canada
The Cabernet Francs all have some Merlot in them. This is really fresh and supple with nice sweet cherries and plums. Nice acidity and some fine-grained structure. Has some raspberry and some sappy herb notes. Very juicy and lively, with real elegance. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Réserve du Domaine 2014 Niagara, Canada
Juicy, fine, supple and elegant with fine red cherries and blackcurrant notes, with lovely juiciness and a hint of greenness that’s perfectly integrated. Nice raspberry freshness. Young but elegant. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Very fresh and fine with supple red fruits and a bit of blackcurrant. Very expressive and supple with some raspberry. Very expressive and elegant with purity and a hint of meatiness. Lovely fruit here. So fine and pure. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely juicy, bright blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry freshness. Pure and quite elegant with nice brightness but also substantial concentration and weight. A hint of meatiness. Lovely. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Merlot La Grande Réserve 2015 Niagara, Canada
Such finesse here: bold and structured with lovely cherry and raspberry, plus some blackcurrant freshness. Has grip and good acidity with very fine structure and keen acidity. Substantial but elegant with real purity. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely freshness and purity with lemons, pears and fine spiciness. The oak (just 10% new) is well integrated and pure with lovely stony freshness and lemony precision. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
Fresh, nutty and pure with transparent lemon and pear fruit. Has a nice mouthfeel with hints of wax, spice and fennel in the background. Nice purity and density here. Bright finish. 93/100

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