Vin de Constance, one of the world's great sweet wines

vin de constance

Yesterday I had the chance to taste, for I think the third time, the 2008 Vin de Constance. I didn’t spit my sample.

This is one of the world’s great sweet wines. It’s made by Klein Constantia, and it’s a wine that has been made to replicate, as closely as possible, the famous Constantia wines of old. You can read all about it here, in a report on a visit.

Interestingly, some of the inspiration for the current set of winemaking techniques came from Tokaji – most notably, the way that extended skin contact with the raisined berries is practised. The tannins are an important element of this wine style, and there’s lots of good stuff in the skins of the Constantia-style ‘aszu’ berries (picked separately, as in Tokaji) that needs a bit of maceration to bring it out.

I’d always thought that the Tokaji aszu berries are all botrytised, but on a recent visit to Tokaji I learned this isn’t always the case. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. And Vin de Constance is not a botrytis-style sweet wine, but rather a late-harvest wine.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 Constantia, South Africa
Wonderfully complex, spicy and marmaladey with sweet, pure apricot fruit. The palate is fresh and sweet with grapes and raisins as well as spiciness. Lovely intensity here, and a long, warm, spicy finish. Remarkable. 95/100

Find this wine with

Some great wines, tasted blind


So Stu, Joe, Will and I rocked over to Andrew’s pad in Fulham for an evening of wines tasted blind, together with some rather nice food. We’d initially agreed to keep it to one wine each, but we ended up with quite a bit more than this. It was a fun evening. Our blind tasting was terrible, of course. Here are my notes.

Champagne Henri Abele Rose NV France
Lovely, fresh, precise fizz with a hint of cherry and a bit of bite. Nice balance here with some toast and raspberry notes, too. 90/100

Lune d’Argent Clos des Lunes 2011 Bordeaux, France
Textured, fresh and bright with citrus and pear fruit. Lively with nice precision. Delicate and pure, with no obvious oak influence. 88/100

Hatzidakis Assyrtiko 2013 Santorini, Greece
Citrus and pear fruit with some pith and some nutty, waxy notes. A bit of warmth with tangerines and lemon curd notes. Very bright. 91/100

Puklavec Gomila Furmint 2012 Slovenia
Pithy and lively with citrus fruit and some nutty, herby, waxy characters under the fruit. Lovely precision and intensity. 89/100

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Margaret River, Australia
Some evolution here, with complex notes of herbs and warm spiciness. Concentrated with good density and notes of blackberry, mint and spice. Beautifully elegant with great complexity and really nice balance. 95/100

Stag’s Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley, California
Focused, bright and pure with sweet cherries and berries. Lovely sweet fruit dominates, with purity and definition. Ripe style, and very accessible and easy. 90/100

Rockburn Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand
Elegant supple cherry fruit. warm, spicy, sweet fruit with notes of spice and green herbs. Seductive and quite rich. 93/100

Grant Burge Mesach Shiraz 1995 Barossa, Australia
Ripe, rich and spicy with lovely blackcurrant fruit and some ginger and mint characters. Dense with a bit of grip and quite youthful. Good acidity. 91/100

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 1998 Rioja, Spain
Meaty, spicy and complex with aromas of vanilla, herbs and spice. The palate has real complexity with cedar, herb, spice and coconut characters under the warm cherry fruit, together with hints of leather and spice. So integrated, stylish and complex, this is a lovely wine that needs a bit more time still. Fabulous. 96/100

Contino Reserva 1991 Rioja, Spain
Warm with notes of herbs, spice, minerals and cedar, as well as ripe raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s some earthiness, too. Complex and nicely evolved, this is delicious. 92/100

Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2008 Beechworth, Australia
Ripe, sweet and rich with notes of black cherries, plums, olives and meat. Rich, smooth, bold and intense with lovely fruit. A rich wine with some real interest. 94/100

A brilliant dinner at Grain Store

grain store king's cross

I’m terrible at writing restaurant reviews. I don’t much like reading them either: especially not the earnest efforts that go through each dish, ingredient by ingredient. I think the best sort of review answers the following question: how much fun was your meal? Did you really enjoy it?

So I had dinner at the Grain Store. It was one of the most enjoyable restaurant experiences I have had. For a start, we rocked up without a reservation on the off chance, and got the last table – the chef’s table, facing the kitchen. The design of the dining room means the kitchen is visible from just about everywhere, but this table makes you feel like you are in the centre of a drama. You even get to hear head chef Bruno Laubet shout at his staff when they get something wrong.
bruno loubet

I love the food at Grain Store. It’s just so creative and light, with a strong emphasis on vegetables. The flavours are often innovative, but they work. It’s definitely the sort of place where you order a range of small plates and share them – for this reason, it probably works best with smaller parties. For two, it is just perfect.

I began with Camden Hells Pale Ale, which is one of the two beers from this brewer on draught, and it was a good way to start. The wine list? It’s nicely eclectic and well chosen, with plenty of fun for wine geeks. The glassware is really nice, too. There’s also a cocktail list, and suggested pairings of certain cocktails with specified dishes, which is a cool touch. This is a place that explores flavour in interesting ways. Next time I’ll try some cocktails for sure, but I didn’t have the courage this time.

I had two reds by the 250 ml pitcher. The first was Birtokbor Kekfrankos 2012 which is imported by The Winemakers Club, and it’s fresh, vibrant and quite elegant, with just the faintest spicy, medicinal edge. The second was Domaine des Murinais Crozes-Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2011, which is immensely satisfying: a ripe, textured, nuanced Syrah with a hint of pepper.
grain store

The food? Everything was good, and very reasonably priced. Pumpkin hummus was a real hit. Multigrain porridge with dried squid, spring onions and seaweed oil was lovely with a fishy edge and great texture.

The cauliflower ‘cous cous’ and spelt salad with pistaccio and yoghurt was topped with a vegetable merguez, and was brilliant, Just £7 for this dish.

Smoked aubergine salad, wood sorrel and seared sardines was fabulous, with rich, warm flavours.

Homeade kimichi cabbage broth, udon noodles and squid was probably the most conventional thing we had, splitting a £16 main in two, and worked really well.

The service is incredibly attentive and perfectly judged. I know this review sounds a bit gushy, but I can’t think of too many places in London where I’d rather eat at the moment, especially if I’m paying.

More on the Coravin, a remarkable wine serving device


Back in October, I wrote about the Coravin, having seen one in action for the first time. Yesterday at a tasting of high-end wines at London merchant Roberson, I had my first proper encounter with the device as a tool of the trade. It’s such a game changer.

From the point of view of the Roberson guys who I spoke to at the tasting, this has really altered how they work. They sell a lot of wine to restaurants. In the past, if you were an agency girl or guy, you’d take some samples, and show them to the restaurants you were pimping wine to during the course of the day. Then you might leave the rest of the bottle with one of the restaurant people. It’s incredibly costly in terms of samples, even if you get a few free from the producer for this purpose.

With a Coravin, you can select the samples you take on the road, and pour what you want. And then you can reuse that sample bottle next time, and the time after. You can get around 20 samples out of a bottle, over a course of months. It’s massively more efficient. And it means that you can take grand bottles to good clients, without worrying about the cost of wasted wine. One of the Roberson folk described Coravin as ‘pretty much essential’, after having used it for a while. Roberson are about to get their third device. The official EU launch has crept back and back, and is currently targeted as September to October, but still some devices have made it into the UK.

The tasting they are putting on during the London wine fair involves some smart bottles, and Coravin allows them to use the same bottle over all three days of the tasting without anyone feeling they are getting a slightly out-of-condition sample.

But there is a faint cloud on the horizon for Coravin. Today news broke that seven bottles have broken while being used for Coravin sampling. It seems that some bottles, already weakened, might break – but it hardly seems to be quite the scare story that some of the wine media are turning it into.

I’m surprised by some of the coverage. It’s as if some of the wine press are wanting this device to fail. I can’t see why, because I think it’s an incredibly positive development for fine wine. Coravin are delaying further sales until they have enough neoprene sleeves to ship with each device, the idea being that you apply a sleeve to each bottle to protect from any breakages. But the chance of breakage using this low pressure argon delivery device is so small, I suspect no one will ever use these sleeves.

Here’s my video of the Coravin in action:

Domaine Camp Galhan 'Les Pérassières' 2012 - a brilliant, affordable Rhone red


This is a really super wine, made from a lesser known IGP on the edge of the Cevennes, not far from Avignon and Nimes. One of the best value reds I have had of late.

Domaine Camp Galhan ‘Les Pérassières’ 2012 Vin de Pays Duché d’Uzès, Rhone, France
13.5% alcohol. A blend of fresh cherry fruit with some peppery, meaty notes. Refined with some olive tapenade colour. The palate is ripe but elegant with a meaty edge to the black cherry fruit, and some garrigue herby notes. Some violet floral notes too. It reminds me a bit of a top Touriga Nacional from the Dao in Portugal. So beautiful with lovely poise: ripe but defined. 93/100 (Yapp £10.25)

The fabulous Papaskarasi from Chamlija, one of Turkey's top wineries

chamilja papaskarasi

Tasted today, at the London Wine Fair, a remarkable red wine from boutique Turkish producer Chamlija. It’s a grape variety that’s new to me: Papaskarasi. Not much is known about its origins. Mustafa Camlica of Chamlija proposes that one of its parents is Prokupac, a variety I have experienced in Serbia. When I tasted it, it reminded me of Kardarka (aka Gamza), which is a Hungarian/Bulgarian variety that tastes like a cross between Pinot Noir and Gamay. There’s some speculation that Kadarka is a child of Papaskarasi. Mustafa found this variety growing in an old parcel of vines in the mountains. Neighbouring winery Arcadia have taken some cuttings and have planted a plot of this variety, too, but haven’t made wine from it yet. It shows lots of promise.

Chamlija Papaskarasi 2013 Thrace, Turkey
Beautifully expressive with fresh, lively black cherries and plums on the nose. Supple, juicy, elegant palate with a green herby edge to the sweet black cherry and plum fruit. So expressive and a bit like a ripe Pinot Noir in character, with good freshness and a bit of grip. 94/100

Find this wine with

Domaine Gauby La Roque 2011, a remarkable skin-contact Muscat

gauby la roque

Gauby is the domaine that put the Fenouilledes in France’s Roussillon on the fine wine map. The wines are brilliant, and because of their fame, they’re also (alas) quite expensive. On a recent tasting, this bottle really took my eye. It’s a skin-contact Muscat, a variety that seems to respond pretty well to this sort of fermentation. And it’s made with no added sulfur dioxide at all. Not to be confused with the red ‘La Roque’, which is an old vine Grenache.

Domaine Gauby La Roque Blanc 2011 IGP Pays des Cotes Catalanes, France
Whole-bunch Muscat fermented on skins for 10 days. 11.5% alcohol. Amazingly perfumed with pear, apricot, spice and grapes. Precise, fine, subtle palate is spicy and peppery with lovely pear and apricot fruit. Fresh and showing real finesse, this is an utterly delicious wine. 94/100

Find this wine with

Les Clos Perdus Le Blanc 2011

les clos perdus blanc

Paul Old and Hugo Stewart’s Les Clos Perdu makes some really interesting wines from biodynamically managed vineyards across promising terroirs in the Languedoc and Rousillon. This is a varietal Macabeo from 60 year old vines grown in the Agly valley, Roussillon. It’s fermented half in stainless steel and half in wood. It’s not expensive (mid-teens GBP).

Les Clos Perdus Le Blanc 2011 Pays des Cotes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
13.5% alcohol. Complex white with grapefruit, tangerine and apricot fruit characters as well as hazelnut and toast. Fruity and savoury at the same time, combining richness and freshness. There’s a hint of Sauternes to this, with nice texture too. 93/100 (UK agent Indigo Wines)

Find this wine with

Learning to love Nebbiolo: Villa Giada Treponti Nebbiolo 2007 Monferrato

villa giada treponti

It has been a while since I reported on my quest to try to fall for Nebbiolo, and I have quite a few wines to tell you about. The first of these is really distinctive. It’s from Piedmont, but from Monferrato rather than Barolo, and so – considering the quality – it’s superb value for money.

It’s Andrea Faccio’s Treponti, and it’s a complex wine with lots of edges. It has sweet fruit, but also lots of grippy tannins and angular bits sticking out, as Nebbiolo often seems to have. But I think it’s a really good wine – one that will show its best with food, and which will age well. We don’t want all our wines to be polite and inoffensive.

Villa Giada ‘Treponti’ Nebbiolo 2007 Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
14% alcohol. Savoury, tarry, slightly minty edge to the vibrant, grippy, edgy cherry and plum fruit. Combines ripeness and savouriness, with dense, sweet berry fruits and also some angular, primary tannins. Really interesting wine with lots of personality, leaving you feeling that it has lots more to show, given time. 92/100 (£16.99 Hawkshead Wines)

Lanzerac Pinotage 1966


Had an excellent tasting at lunch at High Timber today, focusing on older South African Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. It was really cool to be able to try this bottle, in particular – the Lanzerac 1966 Pinotage – because it’s older than me, and it’s still in great condition. This wouldn’t have been an expensive wine when it was released, and it’s served in a very distinctive bottle. Lanzerac, part of the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, still use this bottle shape for their current offerings: it was launched in 1959, the first commercial bottling of Pinotage was the Lanzerac 1961, but the range virtually disappeared in the 1970s before the brand was revived in the mid-1990s. I tasted a 1964 Lanzerac Pinotage in 2012, and it was also in good shape.

Lanzerac Pinotage 1966 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Earthy and spicy with a hint of medicine, as well as plenty of herby cherry and berry fruit. Lovely density and fruit presence for a 48 year old wine, with some smoky, savoury notes under the vibrant berry fruits. This is really delicious, and has some time on its side still. Lovely. 94/100