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Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 24 – December 2017

Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 24 – December 2017

December: The harvest is well and truly over! The grapes have been picked and the main focus will now be in the winery itself, as wines finish fermentation at different periods, destined for different styles of storage and ageing before being included in any final blends. In the vineyard, this is an excellent opportunity to prepare for the next year, with some growers choosing to clean up any unwanted weeds that have been growing throughout the harvest, wash the hard wood of the vines with a copper-based fungicide and cultivate the soil to allow the winter rains to soak in deeply. In cooler climates, a lot of growers now start ‘buttage’, that is the ploughing of soil close to the base of the vines to protect them against the cold winter weather. General maintenance work may start, but nearly all efforts will be focused towards the newly fermented wine and perhaps even an opportunity to take a break every now and again; certainly deserved after the strenuous efforts of the harvest!

Hello Wine Lovers! Here we are, in that most festive time of the year and gearing up for what is hopefully a stress-free and wonderful holiday for everyone. I’ll be working and studying all through the month, but we’ve still got enough time for at least one more tasting before we say goodbye to 2017 completely. As it’s the last tasting of the year, it feels like a good opportunity to revisit ‘Fintan’s Fridge’ and pull out some special bottles. I suspect spots will disappear quite quickly so for anyone I don’t see over the coming month, happy holidays and I look forward to catching up over a glass in the new year!

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

14th December – Fintan’s Fridge– 40 euros p/p

Articles: I probably spend too much of my time reading online articles about wine. However, as a result I can find and select a choice few to share – here are my three favourites from last month!

1. ‘Where Burgundy meets New Zealand’ by Elaine Chukan Brown. The term ‘Burgundian’ is thrown around a lot in the wine world, far too often in my own opinion, and is a constant reminder of just how well thought of Burgundy is in the industry. However, I was delighted to discover that a region as Pinot-obsessed as Burgundy actually had a strong connection, even more so when I discovered it was one of my favourite wine regions in the world; Central Otago. Burgundy isn’t a place renowned for opening its doors and sharing its knowledge, so this came as a truly pleasant surprise and I suspect both regions will gain a lot from the association!

2. ‘WWC’ 5 by Pierazzo da Faltre. As there’s not been a huge amount of stand-out wine-writing this November, a throw-back to one of my favourite articles from 2016! One of the most charming pieces of writing I’ve read for a long time. A wine-writing competition was launched by Jancis Robinson MW and some of the resulting pieces are now being published on her website, including this gem. A rambling, delicate piece about the simplicity of wine, local food and wine culture in an almost Hemingway-esque style. If you read anything, read this.

Wine of the Month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; here is my favourite wine of the month:

Algueira Pizarra 2014: Every month I find this decision becoming harder and harder; a sure sign that I’m spoilt when it comes to the amount of excellent wine that I get to try! Beating out a superb Syrah from A.Clape and some top contenders from the rest of Spain comes this pure, wonderful Mencia from one of Ribeira Sacra’s top producers; Algueira.

Adega Algueira is a top quality estate ran by Fernando and Ana, two of the grass-root growers who’ve since decided to go it alone and with spectacular results. A mere 11ha of land makes up their estate, focusing primarily on Mencia and Godello, with small bottlings of Merenzao, Caino and Souson to boot. Their ‘Pizarra’ bottling is their flagship wine, coming from the Carballocovo vineyard with vines over 80 years old. Whole bunch fermentation, vinified in large oak and then aged in 600l barrels for 11-14 months, this is serious stuff.

It’s also right up there with the best wines from Ribeira Sacra. A medium ruby colour and wow, what a nose! Bright, red cherries, violets, wild herbs, black pepper and smoked meat – this is a beautiful middle-ground between Burgundy and the Northern Rhone. Fresh and bright on the palate with real tension to the wine and a long finish; superb. Already complex and will drink beautifully over the next 5 years. Ribeira Sacra really is going from strength to strength!

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That’s it for this months newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and please, if you have any suggestions or things you would like to see get in touch! Either respond to me here or email to I can’t wait to see you all soon for more wine, food and good company.

Fintan Kerr

Thoughts on: Judging with the IWC

Last week I took a break from my relentless studies and headed to London for my first ever experience of judging a wine competition, in this case with the International Wine Challenge, or IWC. A friend of mine had done it previously and highly recommended the experience, both from a learning and networking point of view, and with my final exam around the corner, the opportunity to taste 150+ wines in expert company was obviously quite appealing. I was booked onto Tranche 1 as an ‘Associate Judge’, the lowest rank, and scheduled to judge on both Thursday and Friday.

Before I go any further, I suppose this is a good opportunity to look at the concept of a wine competition. When you go into a store and see medals pinned to bottles, or shiny stickers extolling how well these wines scored, chances are they were placed into a wine competition of some sort. On a commercial level, this sort of stuff genuinely helps to sell wines so wine competitions are still important to producers who want to stand out in an increasingly crowded market-place.

The general idea is that a producer will pay a set amount of money to enter their wine into a competition, and supply around 4 bottles of that wine to be tasted and judged. This is where everything deviates depending on the organisation in question, as some are very professionally ran, with all wines tasted blind by a large number of professionals from different backgrounds and some.. well… let’s just say that some local fairs are a little less discerning. I’ve heard stories of a 4 man judging panel where every judge had a conflict of interest in some way with the wines they were scoring, including making the wine themselves!

Fortunately, the IWC is one of the former and I was quite blown away with the level of professionalism and organisation on display, with over 160 different judges all tasting the wines blind, with the same wines often being judged by different tables throughout the course of the week. At the beginning of each day, the judges are organised into groups of 5 with one ‘Panel Chair’ who leads the group, one ‘Senior Judge’, two ‘Judges’ and a single associate. They meet together a few minutes before starting and the Panel Chair, typically a MW/MS or equivalent in the industry, and go over the ground rules for the day. The general idea is this:

Each group spends the day at a big table divided into two parts. In each part is a themed flight of wine, all presented blind with minimal information about them, such as Country/Region, Vintage and grape varieties.

The group as a whole then tastes these wines blind, scoring them using the 100 point scale. Bronze medals are awarded to wines who score 85-89, Silver from 90-94 and anything 95 or above is awarded a gold medal.

At the end of each flight, the Panel Chair goes around the group asking for a score on each wine. If the scores are mostly aligned, say everyone thinks it’s a bronze, then a bronze it is. If there is any level of discrepancy, then everyone has to justify their position on the wine including a tasting note. Ultimately the Panel Chair makes the final decision, but every voice is heard and I was delighted to find that being an associate judge didn’t make a difference when we got to debating; of more importance was your justification for the score you gave. Balance, length, intensity, concentration, finish, finesse.. the criteria for what makes a great wine tends to be almost universally accepted, and these were the yardsticks by which we measured every wine.

In this way, we tasted our way through 75-85 wines per day with a break for lunch in the middle. As soon as you’ve tasted the flight on one half of the table and moved across to the other, one of the IWC staff whizzes away your dirty glasses, bottles and brings a whole new blind flight to that side of the table. In this way, you spend your entire day moving from side to side, tasting and scoring with very little wasted time.

As the wines being judged are all entered by companies at their own discretion, the variety is about as broad as you can expect. I tasted a lot of wines with styles I was familiar with, but also wines from grapes I’d never heard of (mainly Italian) and countries I have little experience with. In a single day we might go from vintage Champagne to Italian white wines, then across to Turkey for some red blends, Argentinian Cabernet Franc, Galician reds, German and Alsatian Riesling, Ukranian white wines, mixed wines from Hungary and so on. Absolutely anything and everything is tasted, with widely varying quality levels. We dismissed a lot of wine from the competition entirely for simply not being close to a medal level, with a lot of high scoring surprises along the way.

On both the days that I judged, I had the pleasure of two excellent Panel Chairs guiding me through the process, Natasha Hughes MW and Anne Krebiehl MW. The Senior Judges were both gentlemen who’d spent well over 20 years in the industry, and the judges ranged from MW students to professionals working in laboratories for wine analysis, senior retail staff, sommeliers and a smattering of highly qualified persons not working directly in the industry. This probably all sounds very intimidating but the atmosphere was warm, friendly and inviting and I had no problem getting into the swing of things. Once you get going it’s quite a fast-paced day and you’re standing up for the entire duration, so don’t be surprised if you feel quite sore at the end of it all; I certainly did after day 1!

The IWC runs these events twice a year, ensuring that bottles are tasted once they’ve had a period of time to rest and taking into account the variation in harvests between regions on different sides of the hemisphere. When you ascend the ranking hierarchy and make the trip a few times, it’s common to receive some sort of financial reimbursement for your time and your travel costs. As an associate and a first-timer, this clearly wasn’t the case for me, but rarely has money been better spent. To taste such a gamut of wines across different quality levels, whilst surrounded by industry experts, your peers, and to talk about those wines for the entire day? Priceless. It’s also a fantastic way to keep in touch with what’s going on in the industry, as you’re tasting wine you wouldn’t necessarily buy yourself.

I shall be back as often as time and money allows. Here are a few of my highlights both in terms of wine, and general observations:

A general reaffirmation that people who choose to work in the wine industry are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Looking at some of the names around the room I was expecting a few clashes of ego, yet the atmosphere never deviated from an inclusive one.

The wines I tasted from Spain were such a mixed bag, it’s hard to draw conclusions. There were some delicious Albarino’s, one of the Mencia wines from Bierzo was so pure and crisp I was convinced it was from Ribeira Sacra, and even the chunkier ones showed well. However the Rioja wines were universally poor, including a few outright faults and poor quality wine-making. A shame.

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough doesn’t necessarily have to be tropical and over-blown; the Awatere Valley sub-region produced some elegant, mineral styles including a gold medal winner, with some of the purest fruit I’ve tasted from the country.

There is a lot of very average wine out there. Don’t be afraid to call it out. As Natasha Hughes MW told me “If you wouldn’t be happy serving this to your friends at home, it shouldn’t be receiving a medal”.

It really does pay to be in good physical condition for these events. 9 hours of standing and shuffling around takes its toll, as does the huge amount of wines tasted. I’m reasonably fit, but I think a slight increase in my work-outs won’t do me any harm!

Despite people having very different preferred styles of wines, a group can quickly calibrate when tasting together for a short period of time if they’re all speaking the same language. The WSET system put me in very good stead for this, whereas some struggled to understand why the wines they loved were scoring quite poorly.

Should Tim Atkin MW ever want a career outside of the wine industry, he wouldn’t make a bad DJ for parties and weddings. He was responsible for the music over the week and aside from some very questionable country music, did a pretty good job at varying the music over the day: relaxing and soothing in the morning, upbeat and energetic towards the end when we’re all flagging and looking forward to a cold beer!

Thoughts on: Wine Communication

Wine communication is getting harder and harder to define as, like so many other industries, the mediums responsible for talking about it are changing year by year. Cellartracker, Instagram, Twitter, Vivino… the list goes on, and the one pattern is that interactions are getting shorter, with less information shared in each new platform. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I can understand this strategy for a lot of industries. Take fashion for example; the most important thing about it is how it looks, right? I don’t have many friends who work directly in the business, but I’ve yet to meet someone who’s interested in the soil types where the cotton was grown, or the manner in which it was picked and for a few reasons, let’s not get into where it’s made and who’s making it. I’m sure you can dig deeply into fashion, but it seems that brief messages and pictures of emaciated people wearing clothes is still broadly accepted as the best way to talk about it. (Believe it or not I’ve actually, unwillingly, been to a fashion show or two. I didn’t hear any in-depth talk about fashion but I’ve been put off the word ‘fabulous’ for life).

Is that really true for wine, though? Whilst I think wine can, and to a certain extent should, be enjoyed simply as a beverage, for anyone who seeks to truly understand why it tastes the way it does, there’s a never-ending rabbit-hole of knowledge to invest decades in before you get there. Obviously, that’s only for those of us who forgot to get jobs in banking in our early 20’s, and a little knowledge will go an awfully long way in developing your appreciation of wine. So what’s the best way to do that? I’m a big advocate of formal study but I do recognise that it only goes so far, and isn’t ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to invest large amounts of time and money into it.

Which brings me to the humble blog. I know, I’ve heard it too; blogging is dead and only fools would bother continuing with it in the wine industry. Which is fantastic, as those fools tend to be the most interesting, dedicated people I’ve met with real passion and knowledge to share; why else would they persist? Whether it’s through a video platform of some description, podcasts or the old-fashioned internet blog, I still believe one of the very best ways to learn about wine is to pick a blog or two and follow them closely. Ideally, choose someone with a diverse and educated view of the world of wine and read everything they write. If you have time and/or masochistic tendencies, follow a few.

Wine is a delicious drink but there’s no short-cut to learning about it in detail. A picture can paint a thousand words but all I usually learn from wine-related instagram posts is that everyone seems to have more money, time and friends than I do. Good quality wine information that isn’t behind a paywall is getting harder to come by, so I’ve updated my ‘Recommended Reading’ page linked here, to help you get a head start on some of the best on the internet. Happy reading!

PS. If you’re a fan of the long-format of instagram posts concerning wine, have a quick look at my account here. It takes my fat fingers a good 10 minutes to type each one up, and I usually get angry at my phone at least once whilst doing it. If that doesn’t add to your reading pleasure, I’m not sure what will.

Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 23 – November 2017

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 23 – November 2017

November: This is typically the last month of the harvest for most wine-makers and indeed, practically all the white grapes and most of the reds will have been picked, pressed and begun fermentation already, with the exception of some late-ripening varieties or those small pockets of grapes in particular micro-climates. The big task in November is making the wine; with winery space at a premium and stainless steel tanks, barrels and concrete eggs all full of fermenting wine that has to be monitored constantly in order to make sure the temperatures, nutrient levels and volatile components are all in check. It can be a pretty stressful place to be! Now the time in the vineyard is more or less over, biology takes a back-seat to chemistry as science and artistry vie for control of the process. If the harvest was good and a good crop of healthy grapes was brought in, the sky is the limit for a skilled wine-maker. If the yield was low and/or poor quality due to rots, fungi, weather conditions or unforeseen circumstances then the wine-maker will have a challenge on their hands to turn it into a good quality wine that can return the investment of the year.

Hello Wine Lovers! It’s been a long month for everyone in Barcelona, politically and socially, and I’m glad that Autumn seems to be finally rolling in with cooler weather and, hopefully, cooler heads! From a wine perspective it’s perfect drinking weather, with red wines drinking beautifully at room temperature and bigger white wines starting to appear on dinner tables around the country, perfect for the bolder fare of the colder months. Due to a convoluted schedule and a brilliant opportunity to start learning how to judge at wine competitions with the IWC, I’m afraid we can only present a single tasting this month. However, it’s a great one and a good opportunity to look at some high quality, contemporary wines from a country we haven’t looked at in a while… Spain! Entitled “The New Spain’ in tribute to the late John Radford, a Spanish wine expert who last wrote the complete book about Spanish wine under the same name, it’s not to be missed! As always, to contact me and book a spot, get in touch here.

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

23rd November – The New Spain – 30 euros p/p

Articles: I probably spend too much of my time reading online articles about wine. However, as a result I can find and select a choice few to share – here are my three favourites from last month!

  1. ‘Whatever…it’s rosé’ by The Sediment Blog. Getting excited about rosé as a wine professional can be tricky as it’s so often a wishy-washy wine. Exciting on the nose and then utterly disappointing on the palate. Or a deeper, structured wine that makes you wonder… why didn’t I just get a glass of red instead? Whilst top quality rosé wines certainly do exist, I still enjoyed this little bit from the hilarious CJ and PK over at the Sediment Blog.

  1. ’10 Smart Rioja Buys’ by Amaya Cervera. One reason I’m excited about getting the WSET Diploma out of the way in January is that I can start focusing a lot more on Spanish wines again. Here, Amaya Cervera of Spanish Wine Lover creates a list of 10 different wines from DOC Rioja to sample. Split into three major parts and likely to start focusing on wines from individual villages and vineyards, Rioja is an exciting place to be at the moment. For all the attention lauded (rightly so) on the new wave wines from Galicia, there are quite a few wines in this list I wouldn’t mind getting hold of!

  1. ‘Lady-strangler News’ by Miquel Hudin. No, really. That’s the title. Miquel looks at a provocatively entitled grape variety native to DOQ Priorat and an exciting new discovery. The wine referenced is also one of the most delicious white wines from Priorat and should anyone be visiting, I heartily recommend a visit to Marc Ripoll Sans, as his 100% Carignan is also superb.

Wine of the Month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; you’ll find me mostly drinking in the 6-25 euro range.

Chave Seleccions ‘Offerus’ 2013 Every month this seems to get tougher and tougher, but this excellent St.Joseph stood out for its purity of fruit and sheer drinkability; a gem of a wine made from the least considered region in the Northern Rhone. The easterly facing vineyards get 1-2 hours less vital sunlight than their neighbours and as a result, most of the Syrah here struggles to ripen fully, particularly in cooler years. Louis J Chave, the iconic producer of Hermitage, recognises this and produces a crisp, pure wine with a gorgeous core of fruit and a clean herbal edge. Who says that negociant wines can’t be great? Certainly not the cheapest wine at 26 euros a bottle through but a genuinely delicious drink. It’d have to be to beat the competition this month!

Social Media
These newsletters only come out once a month and there is a limit on space for content. If you use Social Media and want to keep up with regular wine updates and occasional rambles, feel free to connect with me on any of the following platforms.

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That’s it for this months newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and please, if you have any suggestions or things you would like to see get in touch! Either respond to me here or email to I can’t wait to see you all soon for more wine, food and good company.

Fintan Kerr

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Loire Valley

With it being such an unseasonably warm Autumn, it made sense to explore a region better known for producing refreshing, crisp and often subtle wines, before the colder weather does finally creep in. So, we’re heading to one of the most famous cool climate wine regions in the world; The Loire Valley. The Loire Valley in France is named the countries most famous river, as well as being the third largest producing region in the country, sitting on more or less the same latitude as Burgundy but on the much cooler west coast. Today, with the exception of England’s growing wine industry, it is the furthest north-western limit of quality viticulture, remarkable in itself but particularly so when you consider the variety and breadth of wine here.

By the time the Romans had left France, viticulture was certainly well established here, surviving the invading Visigoth hordes and forging a reputation for quality wines over the next few centuries. By the 11th century AD, wines from the Loire were shipped across France and as far as England and Belgium. Today, it’s Paris that is most important to the Loire Valley wine trade, with a large percentage of wines here sold to Parisians visiting the region for the weekend. In fact, it’s surprisingly difficult to find wines outside of France with only a recent fashion-swing to lighter, more delicate wines helping to expose the regions of Chinon, Vouvray and co. to the broader wine drinking world.

Geographically, the Loire Valley is a long, meandering region so trying to be specific about the climate as a whole is difficult. However, regardless of where the vineyards are based, the style of wine is likely to be very different from anything in southern Europe, with both Winter and Spring frosts a very real danger. The closest region to the ocean, Muscadet, benefits from warming currents from The Gulf Stream, whereas further inland to continental Touraine and Sancerre, extreme weather patterns become more common.

Due to these changes in conditions and to a certain extent, soil types, the Loire Valley is likely the most diverse French wine producing region. A great deal of indigenous grape varieties are grown and vinified here, and in almost every style. The one over-riding stylistic similarity of the wines here is the freshness of the wines; whether it’s a lean, mean Cabernet Franc in a particularly cool year, or an unctuous sweet Vouvray, there’s a streak of acidity running through the wines that always seems to lift them up and makes them very food friendly.

As our tastings focus around 6 wines, the choice was difficult but by focusing on regions in all 3 major parts of the Loire, we were able to cover the more famous appellations and sneak an indigenous grape or two in for good measure as well! From the eternally unappreciated Muscadet, to Sancerre, Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgeil and a sneaky appearance from a little known grape that goes by Grolleau Noir, there’s something for everyone.

Domaine Landron Le Fief du Breil 2013
Muscadet-Sevre et Maine is the most significant appellation of Nantes, close to the mouth of the Loire. It’s here that you’ll find Domaine Landron, a small, biodynamic operation ran by Jo Landron, an effusive character and a big believer in single vineyard bottlings. Le Fief bu Breil is just that; a textured, salty white wine that’s spent 20 months ageing on its lees, giving it it’s weight and formidable ageing potential. Green apple and citrus fruits dominate on the nose, with a hint of sweet brioche, tarragon and wet stones. Fresh and softly textured, this is, to steal a phrase, ‘the little black dress’ of white wine. We’re drinking this at 4 years of age, but well made Muscadet has something of a cult following that prefers to wait for at least 10 years before opening their bottles, when the wine will have a more pronounced saline and nutty character.

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2016
Sancerre is unquestionably the most famous appellation of the Loire Valley, particularly in the UK where it has become something of a benchmark for dry, white wine. Whilst some red wine is made, the vast majority is a crisp, mineral white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grown on 3 differing soil types. Domaine Vacheron are probably the most famous producer in the region with over 47 hectares planted and a history dating back to the very beginning of the 20th century. Their Sancerre is archetypal; pale in colour but with real interest on the nose. Lime peel, green apples, gooseberries, nettles and a distinct, flinty note are married with a zesty acidity and a subtlety not often found in its New World counterparts. Best drank young and ideally, paired with some delicious goats cheese!

Huet Vouvray Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec 2010
Whilst Sancerre may be the most well known appellation of the Loire Valley, in Touraine it’s Vouvray that’s king. Fashioned in a variety of styles from Chenin Blanc, these are long-lived wines with a strong local following. The soil here, Tuffeau, defines the region and partly due to the drainage from these soils and the unique Atlantic-meets-continental climate here, harvests can last well into November. Huet is the standard bearer for the region, its reputation created by the tireless Gaston Huet and only recently changing hands due to his death in 2002. Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec is made from the oldest site in the appellation of Vouvray and has all the Chenin funk you could desire. A medium gold colour at 7 years of age, with pronounced aromas of ripe, dried orchard fruits, orange, quince and wet wool yet still full of vibrant acidity. Rich and delicious with a long, slightly sweet finish.

Domaine Andree Grolleau Noir 2013
Grolleau Noir is the indigenous variety I’m excited to present, created by Stephane Erisse of Saumur. Grolleau Noir is one of the grapes you read about in formal texts that are often disregarded as having limited potential, but as with everything in the wine world, there will be an exception. Domaine Andree is a tiny project of around 3 hectares, focusing on Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and of course, Grolleau Noir. Pale in colour and very delicate on the nose; very Loire Valley in style! Fresh cherries and raspberries compete with subtle aromas of violets and rose petals, with a touch of something herbal and an earthy aroma underpinning it all. Fresh and surprisingly firm on the palate, this is really refreshing stuff. 12% alcohol and yet packs a punch, an excellent example of a well made varietal that so few vignerons give a chance!

Roches Neuves Franc du Pied 2012
To finish our tasting, another Cabernet Franc from neighbouring Saumur-Champigny, on the same side of the Loire as Chinon. Thierry Germain is the master-mind behind Roches Neuves, one of the most famous biodynamic estates in France, having learnt his trade at Clos Rougeard. ‘Franc du Pied’ is a young, vibrant expression of Cabernet Franc, the signature grape of his production, aged in large oak foudres for 10 months. A more delicate expression of Cabernet Franc, without any noticeable oak, with notes of ripe cherry and bramble, black pepper, toast, violets and green bell pepper, with a superb delineation between flavours. Structured and fresh with a long, clean finish.

Domaine Pallus Chinon 2012
So, to my favourite grape variety of the Loire Valley; Cabernet Franc. Grown throughout the region but predominantly in the centre around the regions of Chinon, Bourgeuil and Saumur, the cool, crunchy and herbal style of Cabernet Franc here has won many fans over the years. Chinon in particular has created a name for itself as a top quality appellation for age-worthy expressions of the grape, and Domaine Pallus as a high quality producer with huge potential. Their flagship wine, Grand Vin de Pallus, is a wonderful example of Cabernet Franc with ripe cherry aromas, light vanilla and toast, green bell pepper and compost. Firm and crunchy on the palate with the same fresh but ripe flavours and a touch of spice. Classic Chinon.

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