Monday, 10 November 2014

Wines of The Cape

Recently I have become more interested in the wines of South Africa, and is think this is due mostly to being exposed to it at a really interesting tasting in Nottingham, and in a new book I got about wines from the Southern Hemisphere, which has some really interesting info on wines and history of the Western Cape.
South African wine, developmentally is really interesting. Wine has been made in the Cape since the late seventeenth century, when French Huguenots in exile began cultivating vines, initially in and around Cape Town, then Constantia (where the famed dessert wine Vin de Constance comes from). In fact, Francshhoek in Paarl, one of the oldest towns in South Africa, is the Dutch for 'French Corner', for the high levels of French who settled here. It is also worth saying that wines that come from Francshhoek are often more French in style.
This French influence seems to have run through all the wines I have tasted recently, particularly those of both the Northern and Southern Rhone Valleys. The following are some of those wines.....

Bellingham Estates Bernard Series Roussanne, 2013
Bellingham are a pretty large producer in SA, but their Bernard Series wines are a smaller project which began in a small corner of their Francshhoek cellars at the start of the 21st century. The wines, like The Foundry wines in the same picture are based on a New World take on the Southern Rhone. The fruit mostly comes from Francshhoek, with some also coming from further north in Paarl, picked from low lying, north facing vineyards. Paarl is one of the warmer regions of The Cape, but Francshhoek's low lying vineyards rely on and benefit from the shadows cast by the Elephant's Corner mountains, once known as Oliphants Hoek to keep them cool.
This is a pretty big wine, with a real smokiness on the nose, with peaches, apples and mangos, and an almost yeasty aroma. Although it comes from a pretty warm place, there is some acidity, and a slight oiliness on the palate, and fantastic length. That soft, oaked tropical fruit comes through too, making a really enjoyable wine.

Glenelly Grand Vin 2008
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Shiraz (40%), Petit Verdot (14%) and Merlot (6%). This winery has in recent years been taken under control by a bit of a Bordeaux legend. Madame May de Lenquesaing, of Chateau Pichon Languville Comtesse de Lalande. This takeover in 2003 has done nothing but good things for Glenelly, they produce fantastic wines at various levels. This wine has spent 18 months in French oak, a third of which is new.
What a big, but structured wine. The nose is packed with tabacco, green pepper and blackcurrant, and a distinct prickle of spice. It is almost intoxicating in its richness, which comes through on the palate. More blackcurrant, and a savoury earthiness, all wrapped up in grainy, well integrated tannin. There is a fair amount of acidity too which really lifts the wine and gives it a refreshing edge. At no point did it come across as too heavy or cloying. It'll certainly keep over the coming years!

The Spice Route, Mourvedre, 2009.
Spice Route is the second project by Fairview founder, Charles Back. Fairview began in Paarl, and sourced from various sites within the surrounding regions, which is how we came across the Klein Amoskuil farm in Malmesbury, Swartland. Under performing Chenin Blanc and Pinotage vines were pulled up and replaced with varieties found more frequently in the Southern Rhone, and in this case, Provence too. Bushvines reign around here, these gnarly, low slung, small quantity producing vines are suited perfectly to the hot Paarl climate.
The colour of this wine is near black, with aromas or brine, black olives, smoked meats, blackberries and vanilla. It has spent 12 months in two and three year old French oak, which adds a lovely softness to the palate. Tannin isn't huge in here, but it is evident, and has grip. Acid is also really well balanced and helps the palate retain freshness. I really enjoyed this wine, and with a couple of Spice Route's other wines winging their way to me as I write, I can't wait to taste a few more!

I'm often being told that at some point 'I'll come to my senses' and get properly stuck in to The Old World, rather than with the new; California, New Zealand, Australia and now South Africa. If this is the case and I will eventually become more obsessed with European wines, then maybe South Africa is a good place to start. The connections aren't just historical between the Old World and New here. The re-imagining of French styles is constantly evolving here, with French greats moving to The Cape, and graduates from Stellenbosch wine making courses going the other way, the two seem more separated by geography than anything else.
For now though, I'll certainly continue exploring new and interesting things down in The Cape.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Zinfandel, An All-American Hero

OK, so I'm a fan of Californian wine. It has been documented before on here. One of the main reasons for being such a fan is down to one grape in particular. ZINFANDEL.
Zinfandel is genetically identical to the red grape of Puglia in southern Italy - PRIMITIVO, and subsequently cuttings were taken to America by Italian migrant workers in the 19th century, principally for winemaking, and to make wines that the homesick workers could drink and feel nearer their homeland.

In the mid 1800's, Zinfandel accounted for more than two thirds of vineyard acreage, which continued into the 20th Century. During prohibition, when all alcohol was outlawed, wine, and in particular, Zinfandel, was one of very few types of alcohol to keep a steady flow of production. More accurately though, Zinfandel grapes continued to be produced, and OFFICIALLY, Zinfandel wine production decreased. As with any law there are loopholes, within prohibition, sacramental (religious) wine was allowed, as was some level of home winemaking. This grape was preferred partly because of it's thick skins and dark colour, and more importantly its ability to produce alcoholic strength. Meaning that Zinfandel winemaking continued relatively hassle free throughout this period, and more people visited church!!
 It was post-depression and post-prohibition where Zin struggled, meaning that many of the great vineyards were either abandoned or pulled up to plant other profitable crops.
Those that remain can date as far back as the 1850's and are known as Old Vine Zinfandel. These are truly precious, heritage sites within California, and go into some of the finest varietal wines that the state make. They are generally quite wild looking, untamed, gnarly bushvines, that produ
ce small amounts of very powerful fruit, which then becomes glorious wine!

One of the greatest areas of Zin production is in the north of Sonoma County, around Dry Creek and the Russian River Valley. Zinfandel whilst on the vine can produce alot of sugar and subsequently alot of alcohol. So to restrict this, vines are grown at a higher altitude, so that they gain the sunshine but less of the heat associated with it, and therefore a lower level of ripeness. This elevation is also useful as Zin grapes and vines are at risk of developing mildew and mould, when exposed to lots of fog, keeping the vines at altitude in up the valley walls keeps them above the fog line and hassle free.
Joseph Swan Vineyards make some incredible wines, from a real variety of grapes and vineyard sites, and their Mancini Ranch Zinfandel is one of their best. Made using mostly old vines dating back 70+ years! Russian River's cool climate allows loads of 'hangtime' for the grapes allowing them to develop such dense and expressive levels of flavour that age beautifully for years and years! I have one bottle of 2005 left that will continue to tempt me for hopefully a few more years yet!

Another region, known more for its award winning Cabernet Sauvignon is the fantastic Napa Valley. Situated a little further North of Carneros, and East of Sonoma County. This increased distance from San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Coast means that the climate is slightly warmer, and therefor produces generally riper, richer wines. With Zinfandel's ability to produce sugar and alcohol in hot conditions, most of its vines are planted to the South of Napa, nearer to the cooler region of Carneros and San Pablo Bay. Oak Knoll, Yountville and Stag's Leap District are all areas to the south that produce good quality Zin, alongside Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Frog's Leap are one such producer, their Sauvignon is fantastic and crisp, whilst the Chardonnay is smoky and rich. Where they really succeed is in their Cabernet and Zinfandel production. Incredibly rich wines, with fruit, smoke and a decent bit of acidity, and the ability to age a few years come out their cellars that really do exemplify the region.

Zinfandel is a very misunderstood grape for the most part. People just assume it only makes a sweet unnatural pink wine, but they forget that to make a rose you need to start with RED grapes, and these grapes are so very red. Zinfandel grows on some of the oldest vines that have seen so much development and have survived through great depressions, and legislative measures that in their efforts to halt wine-making, actually prospered. Zinfandel is a great grape and I for one think everyone should enjoy it!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Some Tasty Americans

What a whirlwind couple of months!!! I have been here, there and everywhere recently, and ever so busy. The principle reason being my WEDDING! (Which now, being six months ago, shows how crazy this year has been!)
What an amazing day it was, even with a little calamity, it was just perfect. Stayed dry and sunny just long enough to make it to the church, and from the church to our lovely hall for the reception, which was excellent fun. We ate great food, drank really great wine, and bore witness to an absolutely incredible dance routine by my parents and new in-laws. Quite amazing.
So, a couple of tasting notes from around that period of frantic organisation that I'm only just getting round to now.

Ridge Vineyards, Chardonnay, 1991, Santa Cruz Mountains
From high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Central Coast California, some of the highest elevations in the whole of the Golden State. So high in fact, that a couple of times a year, a little snow is known to fall on the peaks!
This wine started out quite tightly wound, displaying some vanilla, menthol and lemon. The palate didn't seem to have a great deal going on either. Pretty high acid and not a great deal more.
Fast forward 30 minutes and the glass had come alive!! It was exploding with aromas of vanilla, baking spices,  smoke, candied lemon, bruised apples, pineapple chunks and crystallised ginger. A really inviting nose. The palate was packed with more of that tropical fruit, dried pineapple, apples, a little lemon and a kind creamy vanilla sponge cake quality. The acidity had subdued too, there was just a hint of sweetness, from really delicious ripe fruit, and a refreshing lift from the remaining acidity to help keep the structure. A really good wine, still together after all these years!

Domaine Carneros, Brut, 2008

The grapes that go into making sparkling wine generally speaking, need to hold higher levels of acidity than those that go into still wine, meaning they need to be less ripe, with lower levels of sugar. This means that once vinified into the initial still wine, they still possess enough acidity, and a low enough alcohol level to survive a second fermentation. This higher acidity is achieved either by harvesting early, or growing the grapes in a much cooler climate (and possibly still harvesting earlier). This is why regions such as  Champagne and Southern England do so well in sparkling production.
California, although generally a very warm part of the world can still produce some of these cooler destinations, thanks to the cold winds and fog coming in from the Pacific, being funneled through the Golden Gate Bridge and San Fran Bay, they act like a giant air conditioning unit. The first wine region to be exposed to these cool breezes as they wash across the land is Carneros, a subregion of Napa Valley.....
Domaine Carneros is the Californian project of renowned Champagne producer Taittinger. They have found that with the temperatures being very slightly warmer than the average of Champagne, the ripening period is much more reliable, and the vines produce the sort of crop that the winemakers would expect in a 'Vintage Year' in Champagne.
This wine is a blend of Chardonnay (51%) and Pinot Noir (49%), and spent 3 years in the cellar before disgorgement, and then an addition of very little sugar in the dosage.
All this, plus some bottle age, means that the wine is pretty bracing in its crispness, with a 'well fired' yeasty bread aroma, apples and lemons too. The palate displays that lack of dosage. There is such a lemon acidity to this wine, mixed with the weighty qualities that a little oxidative age and toasty, nutty character, you get a really well balanced wine. Really delicious.

Monday, 10 February 2014

OZ-FEST!! A Trio of Australian Riesling

Where have I been all this time!!??
The answer, working alot, and planning the wedding, which is drawing ever nearer! T-minus 6 weeks now. 
The new job is going well, selling lots of wine, and hopefully getting a few people into new wines they wouldn't normally have gone for. Particular highlights were a tasting I did at Christmas, of sparkling wines, the real winners for me were a duo from Stellenbosch, a Hungarian born winemaker called Pongracz. A white and rosé, both using the same Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Really delicious, light wines, with good biscuity aromas and huge, delicious acidity. Great wines and really good value.

The wines here are from a tasting I did two weeks ago at the Lincolnshire Poacher, for the Nottingham Wine Circle. My first ever, that I have hosted, with wines from my own collection. Here are a couple.....

Paulett's Polish Hill River Riesling, 2011, 
Clare Valley
Wow! This wine kicks you in the face a bit!! The nose is lightly perfumed, with faint aromas of petrol, apples and lots of lemon, both candied and fresh. There is some sulphur too underneath adding richness. It has your mouth watering before you even taste it. 
The palate is really zingy, more of that lemon zest, with a slightly oily texture. There is a faint tang of sweetness that is so familiar to Riesling, but such huge acidity, that is synonymous with Clare Valley Riesling. A really delicious wine, a proper food wine, and perfect for the summer. But not this summer, keep it for a few more years and it'll develop much richer petrol and lemon aromas. Really delicious, and atypical of what I normally go for. The start of a new interest.
Monsters, Monsters Attack!! Some Young Punks, Riesling, Clare Valley 2010.
A wine for punks!!! Apparently.
SYP are a producer, also based in Clare Valley, but make wine from grapes sourced across Barossa and Eden too. They market themselves as a flashy 'punk scene' winery, with awesome, quite OTT labels. I love them!
Although the label is less than serious, the wine inside the bottle is  pretty impressive. The fruit in this comes from two sites in Clare, Watervale and The Slaughterhouse Road Vineyard just outside Clare town itself.
What a delicious nose, full of ripe pear, some melon, lime and petrol. I've mentioned ripeness, there is such sweetness in the nose, that also appears in the palate. Flavours of pear and apples, a little smoke, and sweet candied lime. It's not all sweetness and light though, there is still that Clare Valley acidity, that keeps the palate fresh and zingy.

Bay of Fires Riesling, Tasmania, 2006
The fruit here is sourced from the South of the island, form the Derwent River and Coal River valleys, expressing Bay of Fires' cool climate style Riesling.
The nose is packed with petrol aromas, and smoke with some tangy lemon underneath. There's also a very slightly oxidative quality.
This wine is probably slightly past it's best, but there's still some really pleasing qualities, richness and great whacks of acidity, plus just a little sweetness in the form of ripe pears, and some bracing lemon bite. Not bad, and nice to try a Riesling from a slightly more unusual region.

The tasting as a whole went down pretty well I think, we try so much superb Old World wine at the wine circle, it was nice to offer up something different. I'll definitely look into getting more of this Australian Riesling. I love their bright lemony acidity, the smokey sulphur, the petrol ever increasing as the wine ages, which it will do, all in all, I LIKE RIESLING!!!!!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

It's been a while........

Well.....what a month. I've not been anywhere near as involved with this blog recently as I should have been! My life of late has been taken up by work, and not much else!
Now although I have been very very busy, I must say that in my new role, I am ever so happy.
The opening weekend was a huge success, I got through something like 200 bottles of wine! Madness. At times it was a bit crazy, and a little overwhelming, but generally, as a new team, in a place none of us were completely familiar with, we did well, and by the end of Sunday we were all fit to drop! I counted 98 hours for myself in that opening week. I didn't think it was possible to do so many!! But nevermind, I couldn't be happier with how things went!

So, as mentioned before, we had our first attempt at baking our own wedding cake! After many, many hours, and cracking our own weight in eggs, we did it! Well, Emma did it. My jobs amounted to greasing tins, and cutting out paper!! Which was probably for the best, because, as you can see above, it turned out a treat!! Success!!! I think with a bit more practice with royal icing, we'll be on to a winner.

Eating such a sweet treat did require an equally sweet tipple, and, as this is a wine blog, I suppose I better include some wine....

Ontorio Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2006, Maule Valley, Chile.
Although relatively simple, this wine was an enjoyable thing. There were lot's lovely sweet honeyed aromas, alongside lemon and orange peel, grapefruit and elderflower and a small touch of oak richness. The palate was full bodied, with elements of candied nuts, caramel and more of that grapefruit and orange. The finish was pleasant enough, although lacking in a little more acidity and freshness, but you can't complain and £4.95!!

Elysium Black Muscat, 2011, Andrew Quady, Madeira County, CA
I love this wine!!!
I'd never had a Quady wine before, but had been keen to try one, particularly the Orange Muscat. Recently I found them on offer, under £10, so thought it was time to give one a shot!
The nose is gorgeously rich, full of roses and raspberries, a small amount of cream too. The palate is equally punchy. More raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrant. There is delicious sweetness too. But not too much, the sort you'd get from a young vintage Port, with a great level of acidity that, when lightly chilled really refreshes the palate. Lovely.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Moving Forward

I have officially left my job now!! Two years and six months after beginning there, and beginning my interests in wine, I have decided to move on to pastures new!!
I think it was the right time to go for something new. I've been a general manager now, and I want to try and progress more specifically within a wine oriented role; which my new job seems to be!
The venue in question is 'The Wingerworth Pub & Kitchen'. A brand new gastro-pub venture, not yet open, in a village (Wingerworth) just outside Chesterfield. My role is to be the resident 'wine guy'. I will have a good deal of control over the wine list, food and wine matches.. Pretty much perfect!
So, rather than go straight from one job into the next, I decided a little time off was in order, not much, just a week of rest and relaxation. Which so far has included having a new boiler fitted, buying new uniform, and having a practise at baking our wedding cake! More info on the success of this at a later date I suspect! With this well earned rest, I think I should be able to relax with a glass or two!

Domaine Sainte Rose 'La Nuit Blanche' Roussanne, 2011, Languedoc
First up was this wine, a refreshing little thing that we drank on Friday night. Well, I didn't drink a great deal, I was feeling a little under the weather, but having tasted it once before, I knew what was coming.
The nose is deliciously rich, full of oak, and tropical fruits; pineapple, grapefruit and peaches, as well as vanilla and cream. It's pretty floral too The palate is big and fleshy, peaches, melon and lots of rich vanilla. In truth, it's a pretty weighty wine, lacking a little acidity and not necessarily in any way refined. But sometimes that's just what you need! And I enjoyed it greatly.

Montes Alpha, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
Now apparently, according to many sources, 2007 was a very very good year in Chile, particularly in places like Casablanca Valley and Colchagua. A slightly cooler summer that gave the grapes longer on the vines before reaching ripeness, and thus making it possible for the wines to develop great tannin structure to develop with age.
Upon opening, this wine I found it a little closed and restricted, showing some fruit and oak, but not a great deal. The palate was similar, acidity and muted fruit, Not so good.
A couple of hours later, and continuing the next day, my, how everything changed! The nose is packed with a mix of sweeter and savoury levels. Black cherry, cassis and black pepper are the real dominant features, but there is some greenness too, and a little smoky bacon! There is blueberry too, and some spicy oak, a pretty big nose, but with nice, soft edges.
The palate is equally large, but not overblown. Predominant flavours are, again, black cherry, blueberry, and black currant. There is some eucalyptus-menthol there, smoke and oak as well. And heaps of refreshing acidity. Delicious. I have one bottle left, which I will keep hold of I think, for a little while longer. I'll have to hide it mind. What makes this wine even more enjoyable is that I found it in Tesco for the princely sum of £4 per bottle!! BARGAIN!!!

So there you go. I'm keeping myself busy during my down time. Not long now before the new job officially begins!! I'm getting a mix of feelings right now, excitement and nerves, more nerves right now though. It'll all be OK though.
Now then, lets finish this baking......

Monday, 14 October 2013

Some of America's Finest

It may come as a surprise, but I'm quite an avid lover of Californian wine. I love the rich, fruit forward, exciting nature of the region. I also love the approachable nature of the geography and the desire of the winemakers to make wines for people to enjoy.
Principally, my grape variety of choice is Zinfandel, the distant relative of Puglia, Italy's Primativo. Zinfandel has a long, rich history within California. It us the variety that survived and pre dates Prohibition, and across the state, ancient vineyards still exist, in some cases, from the 1800's! They are wild, untamed, gnarly old vines, that produce very little fruit. But what they do produce is so deeply concentrated, rich, and expressive, in the right hands, it can make sublime wine!
This leads me neatly to some wines I tasted recently by Ridge Vineyards, one of the greats of California....

Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County 2009
71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah and 6% Carignane.
This wine came across really well. A young, brooding wine, full of muscle, and power, but also a great deal of finesse refinement, and control.
There's a great freshness to the nose, of blueberries, raspberries and spice, herbs and smoke. The palate is full of those same herbaceous qualities of the nose. A real green quality; green peppers and a bit of basil freshness.
There was some heat on the palate, but not overwhelmingly so. The dominant characteristics I picked up beyond the savoury liveliness were luscious red berries and a hugely bracing acidity and a small suggestion of sweetness. All rounding off with really mouth puckering, grippy tannins and brilliant length. A great wine, with a bright future ahead!

Ridge Vineyards, Geyserville, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County 1992
I can't seem to find exact blend ratios for this vintage, but I can say that it's a mix of Zinfandel and old vine Carignane, seemingly excluding Petite Sirah in this cuvee (or at least within this vintage).
What a wine.....The nose is just gorgeous. Full of generous amounts of red cherries, red currants and a piquant smokiness that is just delightful.
The palate is full of fruit, ripe fruit, with secondary earthy qualities running like a seam through each aspect of this wine, stopping it becoming confected or stewed. There is oak, but seemingly subdued. Surprisingly the fruit seems to usurp the oak dominance, given the 21 years this wine has been around, this is a welcome surprise. The tannins are soft and fine, and fill the mouth, giving a very literal 'warm fuzzy feeling'. After all of this, as with the Lytton Springs, there is a great whip of acidity to freshen up that warmth and suggest this wine potentially has more to give!

Ridge Vineyards, York Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley 1982
This vineyard doesn't produce Cabernet Sauvignon any more, it now just produces one of Ridge's vineyard/ region specific Zinfandel blends, which it has done so ever since it's 'discovery' in 1971. With this severing of lineage in mind, there was a feeling that this wine was a bit special and a little different. Admittedly, it's not a Zinfandel like the last two wines, but it is another great bottle from Ridge, so definitely worth some sort of mention.
The nose was a glorious mix of sour, red and black cherry. As well as some floral elements and some rich smoke. There was some very faint minty, basil, menthol nuances too, just about. The nose also carried some light raisin elements and lovely cigar box aromas. There seemed to be both savoury green peppers and  slightly piquant red pepper on the palate, alongside more of the rich, vanilla flavours. The fruit on the palate comes across tart and really quite punchy, sour red cherry and other less precise red fruit give the mouth feel a great sense of depth and vitality. Again, as seemingly with all Ridge wine, the acidity was present, and will probably outlast us all.

All in all, through this brief but diverse window into the wares of Ridge Vineyards, I have managed to taste a spectrum of wines at different stages of their lives, all be it different cuvees, a very interesting and educational experience. One that leaves me with one overarching impression of Ridge. When young, their wines display great power, restrained power. Then with age they gain complexity in the form of savoury qualities, whilst retaining bright fruit and acidity, proper Cali wines.