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Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part I

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

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As this was my first blind tasting session in well over 2 months owing to my studies for exams on spirits and sparkling wines, I enjoyed it even more than usual. For a first blind tasting after a long time without practice, I was reasonably happy with the outcome although as always, the real learning is in the post-tasting analysis. With that being said, here were the wines and the results!

Wine #1

 The first wine has a medium lemon colour. There are pronounced aromas of ripe golden apples, peach, apricot, and a touch of white flowers. There is a note of wet stones, lime, lemon and a lovely honeyed note. Just the slightest hint of tell-tale kerosene.

On the palate the wine is off-dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There are pronounced aromas of candied lime, lemon, ripe green apples, pear, peach and honey. The finish is long with the same wet stone/mineral quality discovered on the nose. An excellent wine with a long life ahead of it; refreshing acidity, a lovely balance of both primary and tertiary flavours and a good intensity. It felt very typical of a high quality Riesling.

Guess: Riesling from Alsace in France from the 2009 vintage.

Reality: Riesling from Nahe in Germany from the 2011 vintage

Wine: Emrich-Schonleber Weingut Lenz Riesling 2011

Emrich Schonleber

Emrich-Schonleber is a small estate ran by Werner Schönleber and his family, which now comprises 18 hectares in the Nahe region of Germany, just south of the more famous Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It has been a family ran estate since the 18th century although only became focused on wines from 1965 onwards. Today their 18 hectares of land are given over to the production of wine, mainly focused on Riesling with elements of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).

Conclusions/Learning points: I’m reasonably happy with this conclusion, as I judged the acidity, sweetness levels (14 g/l sugar) and flavour profile well. I misjudged the level of alcohol which ultimately took me to the wrong place, and the evolution of flavours which took me to the wrong vintage. I need to drink more good quality German Riesling as I still sometimes mistake weight of flavour for alcohol in terms of mouth-feel. Even delicate wines can pack a punch!

Wine #2

 This wine has a medium lemon colour. There is a medium+ intensity of aromas, with ripe peach, apricot, nectarine and green banana. There is detectable oak here, contributing notes of vanilla, cloves, honey, bread dought and a slight nuttiness; almonds? The oak is a little heavy and there is a slightly rubbery note to the wine.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a pronounced intensity of almonds, vanilla, toast and very little fruit; very muted in fact. There is a lot of phenolic bitterness to the wine which dominates into a relatively short finish (medium-). A reasonable quality wine but missing fruit and balance.

Guess: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chenin Blanc from Swartland in South Africa from the 2014 vintage

Wine: A.A Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2014

A A Badenhorst

A.A Badenhorst is a venture between two cousins in Swartland, South Africa, where they cultivate 28 hectares of old bush-vines. Although this wine didn’t fare well in my blind tasting assessment, I have enjoyed their other products over the past year, especially the white and the red from their ‘first tier’ of wines.

Conclusions/Learning points: A swing and a miss. This is a good example of taking a single aspect of the wine and allowing it to dominate the conclusion, in this case the relatively clumsy oaking and oxidised notes, both of which I encounter with lower quality Xarel.lo here in Catalunya. Normally acidity would be a tell-tale sign from Chenin Blanc but according to the fact-sheet on this wine from the A.A Badenhorst website; “… and slightly lower acids than previous years.” Pleased to judge the alcohol correctly here and if I were taking this as part of a WSET exam, marks would still be high indeed as I judged both the flavour profile, structure of the wine and usage of both lees contact and oak vessels. According to their website, A A Badenhorst focuses on the production of ‘natural’ wines so I suppose typicity may have been a slight issue in the wine selection? Anway, I wasn’t even close in my conclusion!

Wine #3

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of fresh aromas, with green apple, green pear and gooseberry coming to the fore. There is ample fresh citrus here with both lemon and lime, wet stones, freshly cut grass and elderflower. Clearly a very fresh and youthful wine with no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There is a pronounced intensity of lemon, lime and gooseberries, wet stones, green apple and green pear. An incredibly crisp, lean style of wine with plenty of mineral nuances. The finish is mouth-watering and medium+ in length. A very good quality wine with clean, refreshing flavours, a balanced structure and a good intensity and finish. It doesn’t speak strongly to a particular grape but is exactly the sort of sharp, white wine I enjoy, particularly on a hot summers day.

Guess: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Zarate Balado 2014

Zarate Balado

Adega Zarate is one of the oldest wineries in Rias Baixas, in the sub-region of Salnés. Tracing their lineage all the way back to 1707, the family have been recognised as a top quality style of fresh, mineral-driven Albariño since the 1950’s and have pioneered many of the new technologies, stainless steel etc, that the region now takes for granted.

Conclusions/Learning points: Another miss, although not a million miles away, this time. High acid, semi-aromatic varieties tend to quite alike and the differences can be very small. The irony of this is that I actually like and drink this wine a lot, but it isn’t like most commercial Albariño s as it doesn’t showcase the peachy, floral side of the grape and focuses more on the citric, mineral style. I’m not too sure that I can learn a great deal from this one, other than to perhaps include more grape varieties in my final grouping as I didn’t even consider Albariño!

Wine #4

The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium intensity of fresh and slightly dried strawberries, cherries and red apple skin. There is a light hint of smoke, pepper and tertiary aromas of undergrowth, grass and a touch of leather.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium- ripe and firm tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium- body. The flavour intensity is quite similar to the nose but rather dilute and the finish is medium. This is a reasonable quality wine but I was underwhelmed with the intensity of flavour, as well as the simplistic nature of the wine as it felt like it had a little bottle age.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy in France (Basic level) from the 2011 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from the Ahr Valley in Germany from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder 2010

Meyer Nakel

The Ahr Valley is one the most northerly German wine regions, although at a tiny 550HA it is not well known internationally. This was my first experience their wines but Werner Näkel has been producing mainly red wines here since 1982, when he first took over the family estate. I’m not a fan on this single showing, but looking forward to trying more of their wines in the future! I did briefly consider Switzerland as an origin for this one…

Conclusions/Learning Points: Well, happy enough to correctly guess that is was Pinot Noir. The confusion for me on region was the medium alcohol (13.2%, correctly judged) but the very light, ‘dilute’ flavours and lack of complexity. As with the wine above, I’m not sure there are too many lessons to take from this other than comfort in the fact that it would be a truly horrible exam if it included a red wine from the smallest producing region of Germany!

Wine #5

This wine has a deep ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe blackberries, plums and black currants. There’s something light oak influence here with toast and cloves, and a touch of dried herbs and leather. Not overly complex but fresh and pleasant, with some development.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium+ firm and slightly sticky tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ body. The flavours are fresh and accessible, the wine is well structured and there’s some development of flavour. It tastes Italian but I can’t think of a grape variety that encompasses all the above, or even a blend. The finish is medium+. A very good quality wine that was a lot of fun to taste and deliberate over.

Guess: A Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Bordeaux Superieur in France from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Montepulciano from DOC Rosso Conero (Marche) in Italy from the 2008 vintage

Wine: La Calcinara Folle Conero Riserva DOCG 2008

La Calcinara

La Calcinara are a small estate in the heart of Candia, Italy. They’re a relatively new establishment having been founded in 1997 by Mario Berluti and focuses exclusively on the Montepulciano grape planted on 9 hectares of land. A new winery for me but happy to try more based on this experience!

Conclusions/Learning points: A mile away in the end and this one is very much down to lack of knowledge and experience with Italian wines. In my tasting note I wrote at the side “it tastes Italian” but I didn’t have the theoretical knowledge to take the deep colour, the flavour profile and reconcile that with both high acidity and the firm, sticky nature of the tannins. One for the memory bank!

Wine #6

This wine has a pale garnet colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of dried red fruits like cherry, strawberry and red plums. There is clear and obvious oak usage with vanilla and dill, as well as a plethora of tertiary characteristics like dried tobacco, leather, mushrooms, wet leaves and a touch of volatile acidity.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium- slightly grippy tannins, medium alcohol, medium bodied and a medium+, very savoury finish. The flavours on the palate are almost entirely tertiary and this is clearly an old wine. Incredibly savoury but there is also a sweetness to it, I believe contributed from the American oak which leads me to my conclusion.

Guess: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1990 vintage

Reality: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1995 vintage

Wine: R.Lopez Heredia Vina Cubillo 1995

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R. Lopez de Heredia are an iconic producer from Rioja, being one of the very first wineries to establish themselves there back in 1877. Arguably the most traditional bodega in Rioja to this day, they pride themselves on staying true to their roots and their wines reflect this, with long, slow maturations in American oak for both white and red wines the norm. If you’ve ever wondered what quintessential Rioja was all about, pick up a bottle of Tondonio/Bosconia/Cubillo with some age on it (The 2004 Reserva sells for 20 euros in Spain; insane QPR) and enjoy!

Conclusions/Learning points: Not much really, as aside from the vintage I was right on track. It’s always nice to finish with a win, especially as this is the sort of classic Spanish wine which may well come up on an exam. Vintages are difficult to be specific about as a wine gets older and the trick is to figure out the quality of the wine, and then try to discern how far along the path it is. I slightly over-rated the Cubillo and as a result, I thought it was older than it actually was. A better quality wine would have more structure, fruit and intensity at the age of 22 years old, but I’m splitting hairs really.

Overall, a really enjoyable tasting! It’s good to be back with the more general wines of the world and I have a full 9 months of studying and practice ahead of my final exam in January 2018. There’s lots to taste and lots to learn, so I will be back next week for more!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: Can Rafols dels Caus

Every month we’ll be tasting and learning about an iconic producer of Spanish wine in detail. To attend these tastings, please make sure you check the blog on the 1st of every month for the newsletter with the details, or join the Meet-up group to get updates as tastings become available.

Can-Rafols-dels-Caus

It’s often said that DO Penedes attracts some of the most innovative wine-makers and projects in Spain, partly due to the varied climates and soils, and partly due to the relatively relaxed regulations around grape varieties and general wine production. However, there are also many excellent producers who’ve been around for quite some time, and this week we’ve chosen to look at one of my favourites; Can Rafols dels Caus. Details of the wines can be found at the end of the article.

As we’re only presenting a single Spanish producer per month as a dedicated tasting, the selection process is always a bit of a dilemma as there’s simply so many quality producers to choose from. Are they an iconic producer? Not really, as most people outside of Catalunya aren’t aware of who they are. Are they on the cutting-edge of wine innovation? Again, no. Whilst the use of some of their grape varieties are a little unorthodox, they have a refreshingly balanced approach to the creation of their wines. So why did we choose to showcase Can Rafols dels Caus this month? Simply put; they’re focused on slowly but surely improving the quality more than the size of their production, they’ve invested heavily into both the estate and their vineyards, and the results are starting to become very apparent in the glass. This methodical, honest and hard-working approach towards wine strikes a chord with me and I’ve very much enjoyed tasting their wines over the past year.

Carlos Esteva, owner of Can Rafols, has been at the estate since 1979 although the land itself was purchased in 1939 by his grandfather. The estate itself is a sizeable 450 hectares of land, although only 90 hectares are given over to vines and recently the family have acquired another 250 hectares of land, although my understanding is that it was only done to ensure that it wouldn’t be purchased by a stone-quarrying company which would, in their own words, ‘represent a serious threat to the environmental equilibrium of this part of the Garraf.” Where deep pockets meet strong principles, wine does remarkably well! Thanks to the undulating terrain, there are various slopes with different exposures to sunlight on top of the chalky, limestone mass that is the Massis del Garraf; a coastal mountain range in Catalunya which the vineyards of Can Rafols sit neatly on top of. This, along with differing depths of soil and an owner with a desire to experiment have led to the cultivation of more than 28 different grape varieties, with a nice blend of both indigenous Spanish and Catalan grapes, as well as other European varieties.

Vineyards

The vineyards are mostly either organically or biodynamically farmed, something that Carlos and his team don’t make a huge fuss about. To quote their website: Good wines can only come from good grapes and balanced vines where production allows the grapes to ripen properly – there is a great belief that nature should be allowed to take its course…This is the philosophy at Can Ràfols dels Caus and the secret to making the best wines.” Seems fair enough to me! The last 40 years have seen Carlos invest heavily in the vineyards, both practically and in terms of research, as well as planting new varieties. As you’ll see from the single vineyard wines in a moment, this has paid enormous dividends with those varieties now approaching 30 years of age and a good balance between vigour and fruit concentration.

Can Rafols Cellar

The estate itself was originally constructed during the reign of the Romans over 2000 years ago now, and unsurprisingly when Carlos decided to spruce it up a little in 1979, there was a little bit of work to be done. The biggest issue by far was the old cellar, which would have undone a lot of the hard work and investment in the vineyard had they continued to use it to make wine. In 1994 Carlos decided to renovate it completely and whilst I can’t find a cost quoted for it, it was an enormous undertaking, completely changing the 2000m2 space into a modern facility, designed to be both clean, hygienic and optimally functional. It’s completely embedded into the stone of the Massif del Garraf with huge, stone doors designed to make you feel as though you’re walking into a mountain. Only wine is made here, leaving enough space for both the production of wine as well as simultaneous visits to the facility, with gravity harnessed to carry the finished wine into a nearby bottling facility.

It was a pleasure to present the wines of Can Rafols dels Caus last night and below is a list of the wines we drank as well as the reception they got from our 10 tasters as part of our weekly wine tasting here in Barcelona:

Gran Caus Blanco

  1. Gran Caus Blanc 2014 – Xarel.lo, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay. 

    An interesting point about even the affordable wines of Can Rafols is that the wines are always held back for 2 years or more in the bodega before being commercially released, to allow the wines to settle and evolve slightly. This is an impressive part of their production and that it applies to wines like this fresh, zesty white, Gran Caus Blanc, even more so. At 13 euros a bottle, this would be warmly received at any dinner table.

  2. Gran Caus Rosé 2015 – Merlot 

    I really like this style of rosé wine; bright pink, immensely fruity and very, very old-school. Most Spanish rosé wines you see today imitate the enormously fashionable style of wine from around Provence in the south of France; light, salmon-pink, delicately perfumed and soft on the palate. Traditionally in Spain, macerations were longer (18 hours in this case), making the colour deeper and the wine more intensely flavoured. They don’t look as attractive in a transparent glass bottle but there’s a lot to be said for a glassful of strawberries, cherries and red plums! Simple, honest and delicious.

    Single Vineyard Wines

  3. Pairal Xarel.lo 2012 – Xarel.lo

    Xarel.lo continues to make a case for being the Catalan white grape variety to pay attention to. This was the first of the single vine-yard white wines that we tried, and it ended up blowing the other two away, despite being the most affordable of the three. Made from the oldest vines on the estate, between 60 and 70 years old, and aged in chestnut oak for 4 months and then the mandatory 2 years in bottle, this was the group favourite by a significant margin. Still quite lightly coloured but full of evolving fruit aromas, light oak influences and a lovely nuttiness. I enjoyed learning about the use of chestnut oak (more porous than normal oak, with slightly fewer congeners to impart) and I can’t help but feel that it had some impact on the evolution of the flavours, whilst maintaining the freshness of the wine. The Wine of the Night with a very impressive 7 votes!

  4. El Rocalis 2012 – Incrocio Manzoni

    The second of the single vineyard wines and made from an interesting grape variety that seems to be slowly infiltrating Catalan white wine production; Incrocio Manzoni, named after Professor Luigi Manzoni of Italy’s oldest school of oenology in Veneto. A cross between Riesling and Pinot Blanc, it certainly takes strongly after the former with fresh, green fruit aromas, citrus components and that lovely element of minerality so often found in good quality Riesling. 4 months in oak softens the wine and I can’t help but feel this could age for quite a bit longer, as it was still quite focused on primary aromas and flavours.

  5. La Calma 2012 – Chenin Blanc

    Like El Rocalis, La Calma is a single vineyard wine with grapes planted around 25-30 years ago, with this wine focusing on Chenin Blanc. Whilst it’s uncommon to see 100% Chenin Blanc wines in Catalunya, various wineries are experimenting with it as part of their blends and it’s easy to see why; with it’s ability to grow in a variety of climates whilst maintaining depth of flavour and naturally high levels of acidity, Chenin Blanc is truly an under-rated variety. La Calma is now starting to come into its own as the vines age. Also like El Rocalis, I’d be interested to see this wine in 5-10 years time!

    Gran Caus Sumoll

  6. Can Rafols Sumoll 2013 – Sumoll

    The indigenous red variety that’s capturing the hearts of everyone in Penedes at the moment, Sumoll is slowly gaining momentum in the Catalan wine industry. The vines at Can Rafols are over 50 years old now and this is one of the best expressions of Sumoll I’ve had the pleasure of trying. Lightly coloured and delicately aromatic, with notes of raspberry, cranberry and wild herbs; I always think of Sumoll as being somewhere between Pinot Noir and Mencia. The use of large chestnut barrels is back at work here and the result is a lovely, quaffable wine. This was the second favourite wine of the evening after Pairal.

    Gran Caus Tinto

  7. Gran Caus Tinto 2008 – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

    Last but not least, we finished with a Bordeaux blend, the greatest of the “Gran Caus” range and a throw-back to the sort of wines that inspired Carlos Esteva from a young age. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and aged for 12 months in barrel, then another 4 years in bottle before release. At 12.5% ABV, this was styled on old-school Bordeaux and had the classic green bell pepper, graphite and muted fruit of a cooler vintage from the region. The beauty of this wine was the powdery tannins and long, savoury finish. Certainly not a wine for everyone and about as far away from typical Spanish wine as it’s possible to be, showcasing the diversity of the Can Rafols estate. A lovely finish to a lovely evening!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Wine tasting picture

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of blind tasting and I’d go as far to say I consider it to be the single best exercise from a studying perspective, as it requires you to pool together your ability to taste with your factual knowledge and come to a realistic, educated conclusion about what’s in your glass. For the wine professional, blind tasting is most useful for the purpose of removing bias. After all, as human beings we’re essentially the product of our own experiences and our view of the world is largely defined by that, meaning that it’s incredibly hard to be truly objective about…well…anything, really. Now, fortunately wine isn’t something that divides opinion in the same way that politics and religion do, but I still hear quite a lot of regular commentary showcasing clear and obvious bias one way or the other. Common examples include:

I don’t like Chardonnay, it’s just too oaky for me”

I find Spanish wines to be overly extracted and alcoholic”

Xarel.lo seems to be pretty limited in terms of its quality potential”Confession: This one was me last year and I’ve since eaten my words several times over, although I’ve still yet to be convinced of it’s consistency at a high level. Time will tell and perhaps I’ll be eating this statement as well!

You get the idea. I even have a friend who regularly disparages New World wines as a general category; you know, those 7 or 8 enormous countries that regularly produce top quality wine from 3 different continents across hundreds of individual regions, often with many decades of wine-making under their belts. You’ll find people who only drink wines from certain regions; the British are notorious Francophiles, for example, and I’ve met wine drinkers in London who rarely venture outside of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone, although market forces are slowly squeezing all but the wealthiest of drinkers out of that particular corner of the vinous world. There have been several examples where even respected wine critics struggle to be objective when faced with a famous label, potentially a wine fetching hundreds of even thousands of euros a bottle, with even the vocabulary used to describe the wines changing to suit the occasion.

Enter; blind tasting. Stripped of the knowledge of what’s in your glass, the drinker has to rely on their own ability to taste and conclude about the level of quality themselves. No falling back on theoretical knowledge here; that Chave Hermitage should taste quite spectacular considering the €200+ price label assigned to it, but does it really? There’s only one way to find out. Put it amongst a group of other Syrahs from around the world, in a bottle with no label and get tasting. Now granted, this does require a taster of some experience and skill, with a quality matrix for determining how good the product is. Even then there are individual factors that could throw the results one way or the other but it’s the closest thing to an objective assessment as possible and an awful lot better than being invited to a beautiful Chateaux, being treated like royalty and then pretending that you can still be objective about the €100 glass of wine in front of you. “I’m 90 points on that!”

Hermitage

The real trick is to differentiate between your system for objective quality, and what you personally enjoy in a bottle of wine. As everyone in the world enjoys food and wine in a different way, having a critic say “I enjoyed drinking this” holds as much merit as me telling you that I’d prefer to not have to pay exorbitant fees for the pleasure of being self employed; precisely nothing other than my subjective opinion on a subject close to my heart. So, when a respected critic blind tastes a wine and assigns a score to it, it should be a reflection of the objective quality of the wine, usually judged along the lines of BLIC, and not a reference to style and/or preference. Obviously that means you need to read the tasting note that goes along with it rather than just blindly following numbers, as a 99 point Grand Cru Burgundy is no good to someone who wants something luscious, soft and accessible.

With that in mind, I decided to try and introduce this concept to Maestrazgo Wine Club as part of our monthly, international blind wine tasting. The tasting was themed around 3 pairs of wines, each made with the same grape variety (100%) but of different quality levels. For each wine, I was curious to know which one people thought was their favourite and also which one they thought was objectively a better wine. Now in hindsight, this was probably a little too much considering we rarely practice any sort of analytical tasting and it takes a certain amount of confidence to say “This wine is clearly not as good as the other, but I prefer it anyway”. Still, a fun tasting and of course we did the more enjoyable part of blind tasting as well; which grape is it made from, which country/region and so on. The wines we tasted are below and keep your eyes peeled for more blind tastings in the future (there will definitely be one in April!).

Pair 1: Girlan Chardonnay 2015 (Alto Adige, Italy) vs Hamilton Russel Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 (Walker Bay, South Africa)

Our first two blind wines of the evening and we decided to compare two Chardonnays from different parts of the world and at different quality levels; Girlan 2015 and Hamilton Russel 2015. Girlan is a lovely, affordable Chardonnay from Cantina Kellerei, a small co-operative based in Alto-Adige, northern Italy. The quality of the fruit is lovely and malolactic fermentation has softened its profile. No oak has been used resulting in a lighter, fruitier style of Chardonnay. Despite the fact that most people recognised it was the lesser of the two in quality, it was preferred stylistically by 4/10! By comparison the Hamilton Russel Vineyards Chardonnay is a very different wine, with obvious but well integrated oak characteristics, masses of ripe stone and citrus fruit and a really vibrant concentration of flavour. Narrowly the most popular wine but most people could tell it was the better quality wine, simply based on the intensity, complexity and finish. Next up; the reds! #wine #winetasting #italy #southafrica #bcninspira #bcn #barcelona #barcelonagram #instagood #instadaily #photooftheday #photo #winelover #winelovers #winetime #wineoclock #chardonnay #whitewine #vino #vinoblanco #blindtasting #fun #wineoftheday

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Pair 2: Telmo Rodriguez Gazur 2013 (Ribera del Duero, Spain) vs Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 (Rioja, Spain)

These were our second two blind wines of our blind tasting, and a little trickier to choose between them as not only is the quality gap smaller than the preceding Chardonnays, but one of the wines is significantly older making for an extra variable to determine and account for. Both wines are 100% Tempranillo with Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 hailing from DOC Rioja and Gazur 2013 from DO Ribera del Duero. Gazur 2013 had come recommended by Madrid Uncorked and so I ordered a few bottles to try it out; no argument from me, lovely, sappy and fresh Tempranillo from Telmo Rodriguez. Telmo is something of a Tempranillo guru in Spain, focusing on small plots of older bush-vines and fermenting in a variety of vessels including older oak, cement and concrete. A good wine and great QPR at 8 euros; I can't wait to showcase his top wines next month as part of our tasting on Spanish Wine Producers! Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 is a very different beast; soft, round, aromatic and absolutely delicious. From a bodega owned by Luis Canas, Amaren 60 Reserva 2008 is produced from 60 year old vines, fermented in large oak vats and aged for a further 18 months in French oak barrels. The result is a stunning, modern style of Rioja that would be a crowd-pleaser around the world and is already drinking wonderfully. Despite the high quality of both wines, 8/10 people preferred the Amaren with 9/10 judging it to be of a higher quality. At around 30 euros a bottle, it isn't the cheapest option but to my mind, well worth a mini-splurge! #wine #winetasting #barcelona #bcn #barcelonainspira #barcelonagram #photo #photooftheday #instagood #instadaily #winelover #winelovers #winetime #wineoclock #tempranillo #vino #vinotinto #spain #rioja #riberadelduero #wineoftheday #delicious #blindtasting

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Part 3: Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 (Piedmont, Italy) vs Marco Abbona Barolo 2011 (Barolo, Italy)

Our final two blind wines of the evening brought us back to Italy, this time to Piedmont to compare different styles of Nebbiolo from the larger appellation of the Langhe, named after the hills north and south of Alba, to the smaller, more prestigous appellation of Barolo within it. First up was Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2015. Produttori del Barbaresco are a wonderful co-operative hailing back to 1958 and currently owned by 50 growers in the region. It's a forward-thinking production focused almost exclusively on high quality Barbaresco, and that in conjunction with an excellent vintage in 2015 makes for excellent quality Nebbiolo at very affordable prices. Vibrant red fruit, florality and crisp, unobtrusive tannins; a steal for 12 euros! Going up against this was Marziano Barolo 2011, a top quality producer easily recognised by the beautiful labels depicting local birds and other wildlife. Made in a traditional style including a slow, 36 month ageing in large oak barrels, this was a powerhouse of a Barolo. 2011 was a notoriously warm vintage and the 15% alcohol was uncharacteristic of the style. Still a lovely wine but I'd like to try this again from a cooler vintage. Preference was split 50/50 on this one with the majority recognising the pedigree of the Barolo. By far the most difficult pair of the evening! Already looking forward to next months blind tasting on international red varieties 🙂 #wine #winetasting #barcelona #bcn #barcelonagram #barcelonainspira #winetime #winelovers #winelover #wineoclock #blindtasting #italy #piedmont #barolo #nebbiolo #instagood #instadaily #photo #photooftheday #vino #vinotinto #wineoclock

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It’s good to be back

Wine sunset

My poor website. It’s been a good three weeks since I wrote anything of note, mainly due to the fact that my last three weeks have seen me turn into a sort of hunch-backed troglodyte whose main goal was to memorize the differences between the various sub-regions of Champagne, Lambrusco clones and the importance of acidic backwash in Bourbon production amongst pages of other detail concerning sparkling wines and spirits. Studying for two separate exams to be taken on the same day is something that hopefully I’ll never, ever have to do again. However, they’re done and dusted now and short of failing them (My spirits tasting wasn’t fantastic, but not that bad I hope!), I can now look forward to a long, slow study towards my final exam in January 2018 and get back to doing what I love most; learning, talking about and drinking wine!

With that being said, here’s what I’m looking forward to the most:

Maestrazgo Wine Club: I’m really looking forward to our weekly tastings over the spring and summer and due to my progression towards the final exam of the WSET Diploma, you can expect to see a large amount of international tastings taking place, as well as numerous blind tastings. Spain won’t be neglected as every month we are doing a tasting of a top quality producer, at a slightly lower cost than our international tastings, and I will be sure to sprinkle in some surprise tastings on topics I’ve always wanted to do, as I slowly acquire the wines necessary for them ( I’d love to do a ‘Big 5’ tasting on the founding pioneers of Priorat, for example. My kingdom for a heavily discounted bottle of Clos Erasmus!). Whilst the tastings are fully booked for this month already, April is just around the corner so keep your eyes peeled on the 1st of the month!

Barcelona Wine Culture: I will come up with a better name for this, but it’s an idea I’ve wanted to go through with for about a year now. The idea is to start profiling some of the best wine bars, restaurants and wine shops in Barcelona, meet some new people and of course, enjoy a glass or two along the way. I have a list of around 25 locations I intend to start with, but looking forward to venturing out to new locations and hopefully finding some new gems to recommend.

Tasting videos: Whilst I have a face better suited for radio, I also dislike writing long tastings notes as I find them to look quite cryptic on paper and completely meaningless to anyone who doesn’t understand the language of wine (Tar, dried roses, wet leaves…. sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Welcome to wine-speak!). As a result, I think that a webcam purchase is in order and Wine Cuentista will take to Youtube on a semi-regular basis, to walk through some of the wines I love to drink! It also gives me a brilliant excuse to drink a lot of new wine from around Spain and do some bargain-hunting in the process. First step; figure out how to make a video… it’s a work in progress!

Blind tasting: I haven’t done a practice blind tasting for well over a month now, which is criminal considering it’s my favourite activity in the world. Looking forward to not only getting back to Monvinic but also catching up with my blind-tasting group and continuing my studies in the best way I know how; tasting wine!

Becoming a Father: There are those who feel this should technically be the first thing on my list, but it’s still another 3 months away which is allowing me to do a remarkably good job at pretending it isn’t as close as it actually is. If all goes to plan, Dante will say hello to the world on the 14th June and I can say goodbye to any small amount of free time I had left, as well as any thoughts of sleep. Does that sound negative? Probably but I’m a realistic guy and the truth is I couldn’t be happier about it. Another chapter, and one worth raising a glass to.

Barcelona Wine Tasting Newsletter: March 2017

Every month I send out a simple newsletter to the members of Maestrazgo Wine Club; a small group of wine-lovers who meet once a week to explore the world of wine together in a small tasting room in Barcelona. For more information on Maestrazgo Wine Club and how to book a wine tasting in Barcelona,check out this page for more information.

budburst

March: This is typically a month of two halves. The first half includes the final preparation for spring, including planting new vines in areas that are free from frost-danger. Spring does not officially start until the 21st March but the unpredictable variation on temperature has meant this can often come sooner. As the weather warms up in the second half of the month, so does the soil temperature and several things start to happen. The new canes will start to produce sap and the vines will come out of dormancy as the temperature of the soil reaches around 10°C . The winter buds will slowly expand and become woolly, leading to eventual budburst as seen in the picture above. Spring is finally here!

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 15th Edition of Maestrazgo Wine Club, and the start of the beautiful ascent into Spring here in Barcelona. Last month was very quiet due to exam studies which I am set to take on the 8th March, but I’m pleased to say we’ve got 3 wonderful tastings lined up for the month, including an international tasting on the iconic region of Tuscany in central Italy. Due to the huge popularity of blind tastings, my own personal favourite activity in the world of wine, we’ll be doing another international wine tasting this time trying to understand the process of defining quality in wine. Finally, we’ll be looking at another top Spanish producer, this time at one of the most interesting projects in DO Penedes; Can Rafols dels Caus. I’m also expecting to start my Youtube tasting channel at some point this month, which I’ll keep you posted about, but perhaps most importantly just taking the opportunity to take a breath, sit back and catching up with everyone. It sure does feel a lot like Spring!

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

16th March – International Blind Tasting: Judging Quality in Wine – 10 spots left – 30 euros p/p

23rd March – Spanish Wine Producers: Can Rafols dels Caus – 10 spots left -25 euros p/p

30th March – International Wine Tasting: Tuscany – 10 spots left – 30 euros p/p

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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. ‘Spanish pre-phylloxera grapes’ by Amaya Cervera. One of Spain’s biggest points of difference on the international markets is that the vast majority of our wines are made from indigenous grape varieties; Tempranillo, Garnacha, Albarino, Verdejo and so on. However, the Torres family have been looking even further back to try and find grapes that were almost wiped out by the introduction of phylloxera to Europe, and have been doing so for the past 30 years. For all the commercialism of Torres, they’re always been at the forefront of wine innovation, going back to the introduction of stainless steel, temperature controlled fermentation tanks in the 50’s and 60’s and most recently championing the planting of cool-climate regions around the world. Could they be ahead of the game once again? http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-234-a-better-future-for-spanish-wines-with-pre-phylloxera-grapes

  2. ‘Building a wine and the art of the blend’ by Miquel Hudin. A short and sweet article on Miquel Hudin’s first hand experience of blending a wine. My take on the production of wine is that it’s a combination of the biology of the vineyard and the chemistry of the winery. However, there is a very human skill involved in nearly all wine production as well, that being the process of blending the different tanks/barrels/amphorae of wine together to create the final product. An often over-looked aspect of the wine industry https://wineonsix.com/building-a-wine-the-art-of-the-blend/

  3. ‘Scoring for Value’ by Andrew Jefford. Talking about scoring wine is a complicated issue, not least because we’re scoring quality, when wine for most people is far more of a subjective experience. How then should wine professionals build their frame-work when judging and scoring wines? In the context of wine as a whole? It hardly seems fair to compare a 6-8 euro Garnacha from Montsant to the prize wines of Priorat, often 10 times or more the cost. A very interesting read and picks up on some points we will talk about in our upcoming blind tasting! http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/opinion/jefford-on-monday/jefford-wine-scoring-value-354423/

Wine of the month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; most commonly you’ll find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range and this month is no different. As presented in our tasting of the Palacios Family…

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Palacios Remondo Placet 2012: A stunning white wine from one of the countries most exciting talents, Rafel Palacios, and a member of the hugely impressive Palacios family. Rafael Palacios created this wine in 1997, shortly before he disappeared to create his own project with Godello as the star in DO Valdeorras. There’s a wonderful balance between the intensity of the fruit and 12 months of oak contact, blending almost seamlessly together and maintaining freshness and vibrancy, even after 5 years. This was the favourite white wine of the evening and deservedly so. Retails for around 17 euros a bottle and the 2012 is currently selling in Bodega Maestrazgo!

Wine Facts

Some fun and interesting facts about the world of wine. Terminology, myths and FAQs; as science becomes more ingrained in our industry, we discover new and exciting realities every day!

Are screw-caps a sign of cheap wine?” – Definitely not. A screw-cap is a style of closure that has been extensively championed by both Australia and New Zealand, although it is starting to make an impression in Europe as well. The concept of aging wine is to find a closure that allows a small, predictable amount of oxygen to enter the wine over a period of time, faciliating chemical change. Whilst screw-caps still don’t have extensive studies of how wines will age past the 20 year mark, early studies suggest that this could potentially work for aged wines in the future; plus, how many of us age wines for 20 years or more before drinking them anyway? Screw-caps are cheaper, easier to open and mean there is no chance of cork-taint in your wine.

What do people mean when they say, ‘This was a good vintage’?”Wine is one of the few products in the world where the quality is affected drastically by the weather conditions of that particular year. This is not only the weather during the harvest, but also the weather during important periods of the plants annual cycle such as bud-burst, flower set and veraison (the time during the year when the grapes change colour according to variety) Too much rain, or too little rain, too much sun or too little sun.. all these factors add up to the quality of the vintage. An excellent vintage will be one where the weather conditions were good or excellent at all stages throughout the process; where enough rain fell in Spring to promote growth, but not too much to encourage fungal diseases. Where the harvest was warm enough to ripen the grapes fully, but not so much that the grapes had to be picked unusually early, and so on. Low cost commercial wines are typically not affected by this as they aim for a consistency of style over the years by blending grapes from various areas together, but high quality wines that aim to reflect a sense of place, or terroir, will be different every year.

‘Body’ – This is a term used to describe the weight of the wine, or more specifically how it feels in your mouth. Alcohol is the primary consideration as it adds weight to the wine and also tends to come with elevated levels of glycerol; a colourless, aroma-less alcohol that adds body and sometimes a sense of sweetness to the wine. Sugar and tannins can also make a wine feel thicker and denser in your mouth, which will add to the body. As such, it’s no surprise when ripe, powerful and alcohol wines are considered to be full bodied, and delicate, aromatic wines are considered to be light bodied.

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.

Blog: winecuentista.com

Facebook: Wine Cuentista

Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista

Instagram: wine_cuentista

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 fintankerr@winecuentista.com I can’t wait to see you all soon for more wine, food and good company. 🙂

Fintan Kerr

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