I am quite amazed by how good the 2014 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc is. You’ll probably be amazed by how amazed I was, so from the outset, I’ll answer some questions that some of you may be thinking.
This was a bottle bought off the shelf last week in Tesco (it was just £6, so I thought it would be good to have a first look at the new vintage, after having reviewed the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 so favourably recently).
- I drank it over three nights, so this is a carefully considered verdict.
- I’m not a complete idiot, and I have tasted quite a lot of Sauvignon in my lifetime – it’s one of my specialities.
- I don’t have any commercial ties to Brancott (or parent company Pernod Ricard). I don’t do gigs for them, I don’t get paid to present their wines at masterclasses, I don’t have them sponsor my roadshows events via pay to play, and so on. [Although I did travel to New Zealand with Pernod Ricard back in October 2011.] It’s a mighty convenient narrative to be plugging the small companies with no marketing budgets, but when the big guys do well, that’s good for everyone, and should be recognized.
- So now, the wine. It’s just beautifully balanced with the loveliest aromatics, and at £6 is one of the wine world’s great bargains. This is New Zealand Sauvignon come of age: no heaviness, no clumsiness, no jarring sweetness to offset out of control acidity. You should probably try some, if you like New Zealand Sauvignon at all. And I do.
But if it’s this lovely aromatic profile that you like (as I do), then this is a wine to buy now and consume young. There’s a group of aromatic molecules called polyfunctional thiols, that are responsible for part of the Sauvignon aroma, and research has shown that on average, Marlborough Sauvignon has very high levels. Two of these molecules are closely related, 3MH and 3MHA. It’s the 3MHA in particular that gives the lovely passionfruit and grapefruit aromatic lift, but over time this hydrolyses into 3MH. The rate of this chemical change is determined by temperature, so it’s important that the wine is stored and shipped at as low a temperature as possible if this character is to be retained.
Brancott have a detailed understanding of the role of these polyfunctional thiols in Sauvignon through research they have taken part in. And they seem to be putting this knowledge to good use, making lovely wines like these at good prices and in large quantities.
Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Really crisp, pure and bright with lovely grapefruit and passionfruit characters. There’s a real crispness and freshness here with lovely focus and brightness. It just shows enticing aromatics and brilliant balance, and is benchmark Marlborough Sauvignon. 92/100
Regulars here will probably know that the northern Rhône is one of my favourite regions, and that I am crazy about cool-climate Syrah. It would be fair to say that negociant Vidal Fleury is not one of the northern Rhône’s elite producers, but they seem to be getting better, and this is a very smart wine indeed. It delivers richness without sacrificing the fresh peppery, floral essence of Syrah.
Vidal-Fleury Crozes-Hermitage 2012 Northern Rhône, France
13% alcohol. Lovely sweet pure black cherry and blackberry nose with nice peppery spicy framing. Supple, fresh, direct palate with nicely weighted sweet black fruits and a hint of olive and black pepper. Typical, stylish and delicious, showing great balance. 93/100 (£16.95 Square Wine Co, Hailsham Cellars, Wholefoods
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I admit it: I hadn’t really heard the Charles Smith story until I read about him on the blog of a Canadian friend, Nicole, even though I’d run into a couple of the wines (one stocked by Virgin Wines, and one by Wholefoods). How could I have missed him? What a back story! He seems like the essence of dudeness, and so I was delighted when I bumped into this wine of his, a deliciously focused and utterly drinkable Riesling. I like the balance: it’s a wine that you can just drink, but if you give it some attention, it will reward you with another dimension.
Charles Smith The Honourable Riesling 2013 Washington State, USA
13.5% alcohol. Lively and fresh with lovely grapefruit and lemon notes, as well as a hint of grapey richness. Very pure, friendly and full of interest with nice balance, and a hint of white pepper on the finish. Stylish Riesling that’s utterly delicious. 91/100 (£11.99 Marks & Spencer)
This is a super wine. It’s a new launch from Bordeaux superstar Pichon Baron. Christian Seely describes it thus: ‘It is a second wine, made from grapes from the intermediate parcels that might sometimes make it into the Grand Vin, sometimes into Tourelles [previously regarded as Pichon's second wine]. Les Tourelles itself comes mostly from a specific terroir called St Anne.’ If I’d been tasting this blind, I wouldn’t have thought of it as a second wine at all.
Les Griffons de Pichon Baron 2012 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
13% alcohol. Lovely focused sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with freshness and a subtle sappy, gravelly edge. Very pure and alluring but not in the slightest bit over-ripe. Pure, clean, refined palate with blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Real focus and harmony. A brilliant expression of Pauillac that’s not trying too hard, and has lovely freshness and the sort of structure that makes you think this could be a good bet for mid- to long-term cellaring. I really like the freshness here. 94/100
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My South African wine journalist friends have been raving about Elgin Chardonnay for ages. Do you know what? They may just be right. I’ve some good ones of late, including impressive examples from new boy Richard Kershaw, and this stunner from Iona.
Iona Chardonnay 2013 Elgin, South Africa
13% alcohol. A lovely Elgin Chardonnay that blends freshness with a bit of richness. Just beautifully balanced. Grapefruit, pear, white peach and subtle bready notes combine to create an expressive Chardonnay with real citrus precision. Real class. 94/100 (£14.99 Marks & Spencer)
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I had a remarkable tasting a few weeks ago with Marcelo Papa of Concha y Toro. He did an experiment: picking some of the grapes for Marques de Casa Concha a month earlier than they are currently picked. He says that he had to close his eyes when he looked at the seeds: they were still green. The wine was brilliant. So much so that he’s now picking everything a month earlier than normal. I tried the results: normally I find Marques de Casa Concha to be a bit boring and Chilean. The early picked version? I’m going to buy some when it’s released. It’s proper wine. He says he has to use far fewer oenological products in the winery, because the yeasts are much happier. I’ll be writing this interview up in full, but I wanted to mention it here, because I am going to make a plea to winemakers around the world:
Please, just pick earlier.
This fad for picking by taste, waiting for ‘phenolic ripeness’, and waiting for brown seeds is just nuts. Look at the fabulous wines coming from the In Pursuit of Balance wineries in California. Some of these are at 12% alcohol. From California. And they are brilliant.
I recently went to a US Cabernet tasting put on by the Institute of Masters of Wine. It was an incredible line-up of 88 wines, including most of the big names. But it was quite depressing in that so few of these wines showed freshness and definition. Most were picked too late. Alcohol levels were frequently far too high. And these wines are almost all REALLY expensive.
It is so depressing to see red wines routinely at 14.5% or 15% alcohol – or even higher – because they are rarely any good. Pick too late, and you end up with a wine that doesn’t express its site very well. You end up with struggling ferments, and an increased risk of Brettanomyces. Your wine becomes a more powerful solvent for extracting flavour from the oak. You lose structure and acidity, and you end up having to add acid and use oak to provide structure.
Why not just pick earlier?
Hambledon Vineyard has history. It was established in 1952, the first of the new era vineyards in the UK. The village of Hambledon is also the cradle of the sport of cricket.
Hambledon Vineyard was bought by Ian Kellett in 1999, and he decided fairly soon on that the future for England is sparkling wine. He bought in outside investors, and grew the vineyard from the paltry 4 acres it had declined to, to its current size of 50 acres. There’s also a new gravity-fed, state-of-the-art winery. Since 2011, Hervé Jestin has been in charge of winemaking here. In April this year Hambledon also bought the neighbouring 46 acre Meon Hill vineyard.
So, this is the first release of the new era, and it’s a really impressive sparkling wine. More, and presumably even better, is to come in the future.
Hambledon Vineyards Classic Cuvee NV Hampshire, England
12% alcohol. Taut and quite complex with ripe apples, citrus, pear and even some fig, with a bit of creaminess. The palate is crisp and bright with high acidity clamping down on the fruit, but there’s still some apple and pear character. Subtle bread and toast notes begin to emerge after a while. Very young but pretty serious. 91/100 (rrp £28.50 Berry Bros & Rudd, Fareham Wine, Hawksmoor, Scotts, Bird of Smithfield, Skylon, RFH)
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I’ve tasted this – the new version of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – three times in the last week. I think it’s one of the best ever. I know that it’s a brand that has enjoyed celebrity status in the UK, so much so that it has even had to be allocated and/or bundled by retailers, because everyone wants some. And it hasn’t always lived up to the reputation. But the 2014 vintage is a classic example of top-quality Marlborough Sauvignon, with exotic notes yet also lots of finesse. You pay for the quality, of course (around £20 retail), but it’s just such a lovely wine with a great back story.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Really aromatic with lovely green pepper and grapefruit as well as some exotic passionfruit notes. Quite delicate and expressive with lovely balance. Real finesse on the palate with the riper, more tropical notes balanced by fine, mineral, chalky and subtly green notes. I’d buy and drink this as young as possible for the lovely delicate aromatics, or I’d cellar it to get something rather different – a 1996 tasted recently was lovely. 92/100
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So, on Wednesday evening I had one of the best pizzas I have ever experienced. I met up with buddy and fellow Beer Anorak Daniel Primack for a spot of dinner at Pizza Pilgrims. We each bought a bottle, both white it turns out, and they were both fantastic. It was such a nice evening.
Radikon Slatnik di Oslavia 1993 Vino di Tavola, Italy
What right does this wine have to be so fresh? Full yellow colour. Very delicate and fine with hints of vanilla, white plums, cooked lemons and marzipan, with bready notes and a hint of hazelnut. Nice fresh grapefruit notes, too. real finesse and purity, and after a while in the glass you get some lovely apricot character. 94/100
Shobrook Wines Giallo 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
11.5% alcohol. I’ve really enjoyed this wine in the past, and the new vintage doesn’t disappoint. It’s beautifully aromatic with tangerine, apricot and passion fruit. Lovely freshness and detail with bright fruit, good acid and some pink grapefruit characters. Such a brilliant wine. It’s a skin contact Sauvignon, if you must know. 95/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)
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Although I’m often travelling through it, and have stayed a few times on business, I realized that I hadn’t been a tourist in Paris since I was 15. And some super cheap Eurostar deals created the opportunity: spend a day in this great city doing some really touristy things.
So after a very early start, we arrived at Gare du Nord by 10 15 and ready for some fun. Soon I realized that Paris is a city of queues, and this is something you have to build into your schedule. From queuing at a cashpoint in Gare du Nord, to queuing to get a carnet at the Metro, to queuing to get into all the touristy attractions, quite a bit of time is taken up in this fashion.
First stop, Notre Dame (a short walk from Metro Citie). The sun was shining, and it was looking fabulous. But we’d been admiring it for barely three minutes when we witnessed a queue fight. Two older men who should have known better. A stocky white haired guy in his 60s and his wife had tried to jump the long (but fast moving) line to get into the cathedral. A taller, academic looking bloke in his 50s physically pushed the stocky guy away from the queue line. There was lots of shouting, lots of pushing, but I didn’t detect any punches thrown, or headbuts, and security were on the scene after about two minutes.
We carefully joined the end of the queue and within a few minutes, without any fighting, were inside. It was very impressive.
The windows in Sainte-Chapelle -13th century
Next, a short distance away, and a rather longer queue (plus 8.5 Euros each) later, we entered the Sainte-Chapelle. It’s a much smaller church than Notre Dame, but arguably more beautiful and stunning because of its incredible windows. The effect was spoiled somewhat by the fact that a third of them were covered up for renovation, but it was well worth seeing.
Les Fines Gueules
It was time for lunch. We walked across Pont Neuf, then up the Rue du Louvre, past the famous museum, then left down Etienne Marcel, to Les Place des Victoires, where we found Les Fines Gueules. It’s a lovely wine bar/restaurant in an interesting building, and we lunched well, on cod on aubergine, and tuna tartare. To drink – Domain de l’Ecu Gros Plant du Pays Nantains ‘Gros Pet’ 2011 (slightly oxidative, minerally, acidic and nice) and Alexandre Coulange ‘Le Pourboire du Vigneron’ 2012 Vin de France (from the Aude, a natural-style, meaty, open red wine with some chalky notes).
The clock in Musee d’Orsay
After lunch we wandered through the grounds of the Louvre, crossed over the Seine and headed to the Musee d’Orsay. Now this is a totally cool gallery in a beautiful building converted from a disused railway station in the 1970s. Of course, there are queues here, too – one to get past security screening, and one to buy your ticket. But once inside, it was surprisingly peaceful. Even the spectacular impressionist and post-impressionist galleries with their super-famous works weren’t too busy.
After this we headed to Montmartre, to do the famous climb up to the Sacre-Coeur. Montmartre is a bit sketchy, and even those famous stairways don’t feel as special as I remember them from my teen years. It’s more touristy than a Spanish seaside resort, with gazillions of ‘artists’ trying to pimp spectacularly bad canvases, and street vendors flogging plastic Eiffel towers. Still, it has to be done. Back to Gare du Nord with a few minutes to spare – a great day out.