Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Every month or two we try to organise a blind tasting in Barcelona, typically focusing on wines from around the world. Last night was our first after the summer break and we tasted our way around 6 different, mono-varietal wines from around the world of wine with two whites and 4 reds. It’s not a completely 100% blind experience so for each wine there was a choice of 3, each with tasting notes, with only one being correct. As always, it was a lot of fun and a great way to not only try different wines, but learn a bit about how they’re structured, how they taste and what really defines them in comparison with other wines from around the world. Below is the descriptions that were handed out, as well as the revealing of which wine was which!

Wine 1 is a:

Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain: The quintessential Galician white wine, particularly where Paella is involved! Albariño tends to be pale to medium lemon in colour and very aromatic, with notes of ripe citrus fruits, peach, white flowers and often sweet herbs or even a touch of honey. Acidity is high, especially in the leaner expressions to the north, and the flavour on the palate leans more towards citrus zest and sweet herbs.

Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, France: Renowned for their dry Rieslings, Alsace has a continental climate and long ripening season that allows for intense versions of this grape to be grown. Typically pale to medium coloured, these wines are typically aromatic with notes of ripe citrus fruits, green fruits and often a touch of smoke or wet stone sensation, although not usually from oak contact. High acidity is a given and alcohol levels can also reach 14% quite often. Grand Cru Riesling will be tight and unyielding in youth, yet full of energy and will still be aromatic,

Chardonnay from Chablis (1er cru), France: Chablis is a distinctive style of Chardonnay, coming from the cool climates of northern France. Pale to medium in colour, these wines can differ slightly, mostly depending on whether they’re oaked or unoaked. Regardless, the notes will often resemble lemon and lime zest, green fruits and a flinty, smoky note when young which will soften with age. Acidity is extremely high and there’ll be a sharp, steely sensation on the palate which may be softened by malolactic fermentation.

Conclusion: It was indeed a Chablis from France that kicked off our evening, correctly chosen by 5/10 of the attendees. All the options were high acid varieties, so the trick was to define the texture on the palate and see if wine-making or a tell-tale aroma would give the game away. The real defining factor was the presence of tightly-grained, smoky French oak which this Chablis had aged in for 12 months. Highly unlikely in both the case of Albariño and Riesling, but very common for good quality Chablis from the Premier Cru level and upwards. Delicious wine as it happens, as is so often the case with Drouhin, and as I always say; everything in life is better with a glass of Chablis!

Wine 2 is a:

Verdejo from Rueda, Spain: One of the most famous white wines from Spain, hailing from Rueda, and made in a few different styles. Most Verdejo tends to be unoaked, with a pale colour and aromas of citrus fruits, green fruits and something herbaceous, almost laurel-like. Acidity ranges from medium to high but alcohol is usually kept in check, and the wines can be soft and very appealing.

Semillon from Hunter Valley, Australia: One of Bordeaux’s great white grapes has a very different expression in Australia. When it’s young, Semillon has a lean, mean structure and flavour with noticeable lime zest, smoke and masses of acidity, accurately described by the top wine-maker in the region as ‘Battery acid’. With age, these flavours broaden into honey, toast and roasted nuts.

Pinot Gris from Marlborough, New Zealand: Pinot Gris is still best known for its simple, homogenous expressions from the north of Italy. In New Zealand, however, a riper style is aimed for. Notes of citrus, green fruits and riper notes of melon and peach are usually expressed here, somethings with some soft herbal notes and an almost ‘beery’ character to the wine. Alcohol levels are typically over 13% and there is often a bitter sensation on the finish.

Conclusion: Not one of the best known wines in the world, but 8/10 correctly guessed this to be a Pinot Gris from New Zealand! Loveblock is the same organic producer whose Pinot Noir I recently presented at our New World Wine Tasting and their Pinot Gris is on an equal footing; soft, slightly spicy and utterly delicious. Everyone ruled out Semillon due to the lower acidity and lack of a smoky, nutty aroma, whilst two detected the soft herbal notes of the wine and confused it with a well made Verdejo. However, the round, glycerol-heavy nature of the wine, the stone-fruit dominated flavours and slight, cleansing bitterness on the finish led most people to the right path. Nicely done!

Wine 3 is a:

Gamay from Cru Beaujolais, France: Another pale coloured wine, Gamay wines tend to be restrained on the nose with aromas of fresh red fruits, violets and sometimes very light hints of oak. Alcohol tends to be no higher than 13.5% and tannins are noticeably low, although the fresh acidity makes for a refreshing beverage.

Cabernet Franc from Chinon, France: Cabernet Franc is a red variety that ripens in cooler conditions, making it a favourite in the Loire Valley of France where it produces incredibly characteristic wines. Pale ruby colours and fresh, tangy red fruit flavours are common, as are herbaceous, stalky aromas of leaves and undergrowth. Tannins are usually quite firm but not overpowering and acidity is high, making for a light, refreshing style of wine that rarely exceeds 13% alcohol.

Dolcetto from Piedmont, Italy: Quite literally ‘little sweet one’ due to the its low acidity and bright fruit flavours, Dolcetto is usually a simple, very quaffable style of wine grown in several appellations in northern Italy. Despite the medium levels of alcohol and acidity, tannins can occasionally be quite prominent and compete with the fruit. At its best, these wines are best drank young and tend to be simple and uncomplicated.

Conclusion: For our first red of the evening, I wanted to choose something aromatically distinctive and 7/10 correctly noted that this was a Cabernet Franc from Chinon. Whilst the structure could be of help, this was more related to flavour profile and the cool climate of the Loire and its effect on Cabernet Franc. Fresh red fruits, a touch of graphite, violets and a strong, herbaceous character led the majority here, to a delicious bottle of Les Petites Roches 2011 by Charles Joguet, an iconic producer of Chinon.

 

Wine 4 is a Pinot Noir. Where’s it from?

Pinot Noir from Baden, Germany: Germany is now the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world, known locally as Spätburgunder. Baden is the warmest region in the country and so accounts for the majority of plantings of red grapes. Stylistically, German Pinot Noir is traditionally very pale, yet sometimes over-oaked. Ripe red fruits married to touches of vanilla and toast whilst maintaining low alcohol is common, with earthy, undergrowth aromas coming through with age.

Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand: Not quite as pale as traditional Burgundy or German Pinot Noir but still lightly coloured. Pinot Noir from Central Otago is often very aromatic, with notes of candied fruits, light oak and often hints of leather and undergrowth. Look out for bright, persistent flavours on the palate and occasionally hints of reduction, which can smell a little rubbery. The bright fruit flavours are a good sign of New World Pinot Noir and these wines from New Zealand are often very perfumed.

Pinot Noir from Oregon, USA: Pinot Noir in Oregon is still establishing itself as a style, with top producers like Drouhin and Bergstrom now producing wines of class and style. Slightly darker and riper in colour than the majority of traditional cool-climate European Pinot Noir, Bright, ripe cherry fruit dominates, with noticeable oak influences and often noticeably high alcohol levels. Likely to be more structured and firm in comparison to a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Conclusion: As soon as I read out the name of the winery, heads dropped. Only 1/10 correctly identified the origins of the wine, which I think is partly due to no-one having tried a good quality Pinot Noir from Germany before. The clue was in both the structure and the profile; Baden produces much lighter, classic Pinot Noir than the two, New-World options. At 12.5% alcohol and full of just-ripe red fruit and undergrowth with a touch (20%) of new oak, this is classic Spätburgunder. Ziereisen are one of the better producers in a region dominated by the grape variety, and manage to walk the line between over-extraction and oaking  with remarkable ease.

Wine 5 is a:

Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina: The ambassador grape of Argentina, Malbec is noted for its soft fruit flavours, soft tannins and an easy-drinking style. Sometimes criticised for being a little simple, it often tastes of plums, damsons, and dark chocolate with hints of violets. Whilst top quality examples do exist with a more complex array of flavours, they are sadly rarely seen outside Argentina itself. The classic Argentinian Malbec is often incredibly dark, with purple hints but younger examples can be lighter in profile.

Pinotage from Stellenbosch, South Africa: Pinotage is a love it or hate it kind of grape, as it really smells and tastes unlike any other grapes in the world. Almost exclusively grown in South Africa, the wines tend to be deeply coloured with aromas of blackberries, mulberry and often a smoky, dark aroma, with hints of coffee often strongly related to the oak regime used in wineries within South Africa. Occasionally volatile aromas can taint the wine and the tannins can often be quite aggressive.

Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain: Ordinarily a medium-bodied grape, the continental climate of Ribera del Duero and consumer demand leads to darkly coloured, rich wines that are often alcoholic, powerful and heavily structured. Often blended together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Malbec, these are often heavily oaked wines designed for early drinking pleasure, although the very best can age for decades. Aromas of dark fruit, noticeable oak (French and/or American), leather and tobacco are common.

Conclusion: A classically styled Ribera del Duero went down a treat, and was also correctly identified by 6/10 as the wine in their glass. Pinotage is the first to be discounted, owing to the difference in structure and also flavour profile, but differentiating Malbec and Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero isn’t as easy as it sounds. A key difference is that, with age, Tempranillo develops a beautiful array of leather and dried tobacco aromas not often emulated in Malbec, whereas Malbec tends to have a softer, riper tannin profile. Bohorquez are an old-fashioned producer, making wines in the style of Alejandro Pesquera minus the brett! A lovely wine just hitting its stride at 10 years old.

 

Wine Number 6 is a ….Wildcard entry! No clues for this one:

For the final wine of the evening, there were no clues or help, just a glass of wine in front of everyone. It was a pale, garnet colour with a very pronounced nose of dried cherries, rose petals, violets, smoke, toast and wet earth. Highly acidic and with plenty of ripe, firm tannins and a wonderful flavour intensity, this took most people to one place; Northern Italy. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know the exact region, but the fact that most people went for Nebbiolo from Piedmont, or in one case a remarkably astute guess of Lombardy, is fantastic! It is indeed Nebbiolo from the north of Italy, in fact in the extreme reaches of Lombardy, in the Valtellina region. Lacking the weight and gravitas of some of its more famous cousins in Barbaresco and Barolo, the wines here tend to be leaner, more floral and incredibly refreshing. Ar.Pe.Pe are the most famous producer, having built a reputation for their long-lived, regionally defined expressions of Nebbiolo. A great way to finish a wonderful evening of tasting!

 

Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 22 – October 2017

October: The harvest is in full swing! Visit any major vineyard, especially those harvesting red grapes at this time of the year and you’ll find a very busy time for most vignerons and wine-makers. Harvesting the grapes is always a delicate negotiation with the weather; the fact that the 12th October would be ideal according to your plans isn’t always factored in by mother nature, who is quite prone to rain at this time of the year, promoting both fungal rot and dilution of the grapes, forcing workers to pick earlier than otherwise desired. The winery itself will be working hard everyday and, in big commercial operations, around the clock to clean, select, destem, press and start the fermentation process for the incoming grapes. Hired hands mix with experienced, full time staff, the fields are alive with the sounds of picking and all this time, whoever owns the operation is praying that this year will see enough healthy, ripe grapes to make a reasonable profit. One of the real beauties of wine is this reliance on the basic crop; the humble grape. With the right phenolic ripeness, balance of acidity and sugar and the attention of a skilled wine-maker, the sky is the limit. 2017 is already proving to be an early year for Spain, so most will be finishing up over the next two weeks.

Hello Wine Lovers! It’s so nice to be back again, organising tastings with you all. I very much enjoyed our tastings looking at some Summer Discoveries from both the Old and New Worlds, and it was a nice way to introduce some new, top quality wines. This month we’ll be organising two more tastings with stronger themes. First of all, we’ll be heading back to that perennial favourite favourite on the 12th Octber; blind tasting. 6 different wines from around the world to be tasted, analysed and then speculated upon. It’s a lot harder than it looks, but also a lot more fun as well! Then, on the 26th we’ll be taking a trip to the north of France to discover the Loire Valley, one of the largest yet least known regions in France. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc… all grown in these cool climate, resulting in wines with real character and charm. Make sure to check the tastings out here and contact me to reserve your spots!

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

12th October– International Blind Tasting – 30 euros p/p

26th October – International Tasting: The Loire Valley – 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. ‘France’s Shrunken 2017 Vintage’ by Gavin Quinney. Gavin Quinney owns a wine estate in Bordeaux and produces vintage reports for Jancisrobinson.com on an annual basis. 2017 has been one of the worst harvests in living memory, with huge swathes of delicate buds and flowers annihilated by Spring frosts. Whilst this, along with a plummeting pound, is bad news for the UK wine market, it isn’t the reason I’m sharing this article. At the bottom, Gavin sums up 10 ways to interpret the data and I think it’s a great way to look at isolated parts of the wine industry, as part of a bigger picture. https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/frances-shrunken-2017-vintage-10-considerations

2. ‘Rioja could be a victim of it’s own success’ by Yolanda Ortiz de Arri. A slightly misleading article title, as the piece is really an interview with an incredibly interesting sommelier in Rioja, covering various topics. I really gain a lot of interesting, contextual information from reading interviews and listening to podcasts, and this is no different. Carlos Echapresto and his brother run a small restaurant in Rioja, mainly focusing on local wines and centred around their philosophy of being genuine hosts. A statement that really stood out for me regarding the sale of expensive wines: “I won’t sell it to a Russian billionaire who wants it as a whim because I don’t want to make money with them. The public might think they are worth a certain amount, but it’s not my case. I store these beauties to treat friends..” My kind of guy! https://www.spanishwinelover.com/enjoy-272-sommelier-carlos-echapresto-rioja-could-be-a-victim-of-its-own-success

3. ‘Take it away…’ by Paul Keers. I don’t often link articles from the Sediment Blog, mainly because the humour is very British and I’m not sure that everyone will find it as hilarious as I do. However, I had to share this one. Paul, known as PK in the blog, lampoons a lacklustre Sangiovese and mostly before he’s even tried it! Wine marketing isn’t always a success, especially when it falls into the hands of a cynically hilarious wine-lover! http://sedimentblog.blogspot.com.es/2017/09/take-it-away.html

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.

Ritual Pinot Noir 2015: Choosing this wine seems to get harder and harder every month, which is probably a sure sign that I’m drinking too much! Regardless, the winner this month, and reconfirmed by its success at our New World wine tasting this week, is Ritual Pinot Noir 2015 from the Casablanca Valley in Chile. The fact they’re able to produce such a charming, accessible Pinot Noir at 15 euros a bottle is remarkable and good news for wine lovers everywhere! A fruit-forward wine with lots of bright cherries, strawberries and hints of pepper and toast from the 20% new oak, with some whole-bunch freshness and a touch of something earthy. Very ‘New World’ and extremely likeable. I purchased this wine through Vinissimus.com who are doing a really good job of supplying a strong selection of wines, through different styles and price points.

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

Fintan Kerr

Barcelona Wine Tasting: Summer Discoveries in the New World

The second part of our introductory tastings after the summer break, and after our hugely successful Old World tasting, is of course wines from the New World! This week we’ll be trying some interesting wines from South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Australia, which are some of the best I’ve tried over the summer of 2017.

Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Whilst a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is hardly the most ground-breaking of discoveries, I was really impressed with this expression from a region I know far better for Pinot Noir. Martinborough is a small region on the southern tip of the northern island of New Zealand, with some of the most acclaimed wine-makers setting up shop there, generally focusing on the production of spicy, earthy Pinot Noir. However, there are significant plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and along with Palliser Estate, Alana Estate is leading the way with some top quality, slightly riper expressions of the grape than Marlborough across the water.

Alana Estate is a relative newcomer to the area, having been founded in 1993; this would make them quite established in many other regions in New Zealand, but pioneers such as Ata Rangi and Dry River have been making top quality wine since the 70’s. A modern project with a no-expense-spared approach to wine-making, including a team of wine-makers from around the world, the focus is, like their neighbours, mainly on Pinot Noir. However, their Sauvignon Blanc is a superb expression that I have confused with Sancerre, not once but twice, in blind tastings before, due to its mineral edge. Their aim is to develop an understanding of the terroir of Martinborough, so each plot is vinified separately using native yeasts and vinified in their state-of-the-art winery.

Another Monvinic Store purchase, whose wines are featuring heavily in my tastings at the moment! The Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc is one of their better value wines at a little over 20 euros a bottle and a wonderful expression of this riper, yet subtler, style of Sauvignon Blanc. I say subtle but the aromas are still very pronounced, with the characteristic lime and grapefruit aromas, green apples, peach and just a touch of gooseberry. Enormously refreshing on the palate with lots of zesty acidity and very clean, precise flavours. A long, clean finish with a chalky, mineral sensation; certainly a few steps above the generic Sauvignon Blanc that so often comes out of New Zealand.

Mullineux Old Vine White Blend 2013

Considering we’ve showcased Eben Sadie and A.A Badenhorst a few times, it made sense to finally get around the to third pioneer of the Swartland in South Africa; Mullineux. The Swartland is a small but very fashionable wine region just north of Cape Town, and home to some of South Africas oldest vines and now, some of its youngest wine-makers. The gnarly old bush vines, mostly Chenin Blanc and Rhone varietals, have made their home here in the dry, granitic soils and yields are characteristically low. Combined with the more minimal intervention style of wine-making and the results are often quite wild, showcasing the raw material available in this hot, dry part of the country.

Mullineux are a very new addition to the region, set up in 2007 by Chris and Andrea Mullineux, backed by wine-lover Keith Prothero. As with many wineries in the area, the wines are made from dry-farmed (unirrigated) old vines with the intention to showcase the rugged nature of the Swartland. Mullineux are particularly famous for their Syrah grown on differing soil types, which have become increasingly acclaimed and expensive as a result.

My favourite wines from Mullineux, however, are undoubtedly the Old Vine blends, where a selection of old vines from different parcels are blended together. Their white blend is mainly Chenin Blanc, with around 20% made up of Clairette and Viognier to add some extra lift and perfume. However, the raw power of the old vine Chenin Blanc defines this wine, with lemon curd, golden apple, peach and melon aromas as well as the typical lanolin, betraying the grape variety. At only 4 years old, the acidity is roaring with the same ripe orchard fruit character, with a little almond nuttiness as well. Powerful, ripe and very typical of the Swartland. A great wine!

Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir 2015

Chile has a bright future ahead of it in the wine world. Best known for their exportations of consumer friendly, easy to drink wines from large producers, the focus is changing to higher quality expressions from individual regions and smaller projects. The climate for making wine in Chile is just about perfect, with a varied Mediterranean climate moving down the country and different regions naturally leaning towards certain grape varieties and styles. Outside of their typical industry, I’ve also very much enjoyed discovering the Chilean style of Carignan, most famous in the Maule where VIGNO help encourage growers to maintain their old vine plants, as well as some top quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and even some aromatic varieties. It’s to these cooler climates that we head this week, to the Casablanca Valley and a project by the name of Ritual.

Veramonte wines is a relatively large company, but instead of centralising in one large winery they have instead ventured out and invested in several smaller estates, each with their own identity and style. Ritual is one of the their largest and sits on 100 hectares of vineyards in the Casablanca Valley, one of the coolest regions in Chile. Consultant wine-makers such as Paul Hobbs have a say in the style of the wines, which tends to be clean, fruity and made for short-to-mid term consumption. Having tried the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and also some wines from their other estates, it was the Ritual Pinot Noir that stood out the most. I would love to get hold of a bottle of their Chardonnay, if I can find it!

Pinot Noir is my favourite grape so it comes as no surprise to learn that I’m curious to see how it grows around the world. In the Casablanca valley, cool morning fogs caused by the Humboldt Current wash over the region, slowing down the ripening of the grapes and stretching the growing season considerably. As a result, the slow but very intense accumulation of flavour leads to a very likeable, very ‘New World style’ of Pinot Noir. Bright cherry and strawberry flavours are prominent, with a little earthy savouriness in the background and a touch of toast and black pepper from the oak treatment. Lovely and soft on the palate with a refreshing acidity and accessible, delicious fruit flavours; this is affordable Pinot Noir done excellently. By far the humblest wine of the tasting at 15 euros a bottle but I suspect it may be a dark horse for Wine of the Night! (Spoiler: It did indeed wine Wine of the Night with 5/10 votes!)

Loveblock Pinot Noir 2014

We’ll be sticking with Pinot Noir for the moment but this time heading across the ocean to New Zealand, a country that whilst almost synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc is also staking its claim as the New World producer of Pinot Noir. I find myself in agreement, having tasted so many world class Pinot Noirs throughout the country, particularly from Martinborough in the north and Central Otago in the south. However, one of the most famous names in the New Zealand wine industry is rightfully turning heads with his new project in Marlborough, better known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and this was my best discovery from New Zealand during the summer months.

Loveblock is the new project of one of the most famous couples of the wine world; Kim and Erica Crawford. Having been so successful with their own branded wine, they sold the rights to Constellation and built a much smaller project in the higher reaches of Marlborough, in the Awatere Valley. Here they produce top quality Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer but the addition of some land in Central Otago in 2008 allowed a top quality Pinot Noir to be added to the portfolio.

As mentioned previously, I love Pinot Noir and what a Pinot Noir this is! The land in Central Otago they’ve acquired is from the slightly warmer area to the north of the region, and it shows in the robust character of this wine. The ripe, bright red fruits that are so characteristic of New Zealand are showcased first and foremost, with a little brambly character as well. The wine was only partly aged in oak but there are definite characters of toast and black pepper, as well as emerging notes of tomato leaf, earth and a touch of tobacco. Already so complex and yet still so vibrant, this is delicious stuff. I will definitely be squirreling a bottle or two away for a bit of future development.

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2012

Still in the southern hemisphere, but now over to Mendoza in Argentina, one of the first regions to capture my imagination and palate when I first started to appreciate wine. Malbec is King in Argentina, with Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon distant 2nd and 3rd plantings, whilst Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc make up the majority of white grapes planted. However, as the wine industry starts to mature here, wine-makers are starting to see the potential in other grape varieties not commonly associated with Argentinian productions, including Tempranillo, Carignan and most importantly, Cabernet Franc.

El Enemigo is one of my favourite wineries in Mendoza, led by the head wine-maker of Catena, Alejandro Vigil. The investment came from Adrianna Catena, one of the daughters of Nicolas Catena, who fell in love with French varieties from an early age, and who shares a love for Cabernet Franc in particular, along with Alejandro. The variety ripens fully in the warm, continental climate of Mendoza yet the high altitidues of the vineyards in Gualtarry allow for the rich red fruits, herbal flavours and finely grained tannins to stay intact, unlike many warmer climate expressions of the grape.

The wine itself is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Malbec, with the structure and herbal flavours coming from the Cabernet Franc, whilst the darker fruits and rich, chocolatey sensation on the mid-palate is undoubtedly the impact of the Malbec. Rich, ripe cherries and plums, green bell pepper, dark chocolate and coffee dominate the nose, whilst the old, Alsatian oak used to age the wine for 16 months contributes a little vanilla and cinnamon sweetness, without obscuring the delicate violet aromas. Juicy and herbal on the palate, this is a beautifully soft and enjoyable wine; very Argentinian yet with a little bit of Old World restraint. At 5 years of age this is really showing well and is about in its perfect drinking window.

Jasper Hill Nebbiolo 2012

After Pinot Noir, I’ve probably drank more Nebbiolo this summer than any other grape variety, all from its spiritual home in Piedmont, northern Italy. I was aware that Nebbiolo was grown in small quantities in both America and Australia, with the latter gaining most of the plaudits. This is surprising, as all reports coming out of Australia suggest that, despite the requisite heat to ripen Nebbiolo, it’s a notoriously difficult grape to cultivate, owing to the exact balance of sunlight and warmth needed before the resulting wines edge stewed fruit and excessive alcohol levels. This quote from James Halliday, famous Australian wine critic, more or less sums it up; “Nebbiolo has been grown in the King Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula, Heathcote, Mudgee and Murray Darling, and in none of these regions has it yet produced wines of unambiguous class. It may be that the combination of better clonal selection and greater vine age will produce worthwhile results in 10 or 20 years’ time, but it will take a brave and financially secure vigneron to prove the point.”

If there’s a winery equal to the task, it would be Jasper Hill. Based in the cooler region of Heathcote, in Victoria, Jasper Hill have become a leading light for the area, with international investment recently flooding in, particularly from vignerons in the Northern Rhone of France. Founded in 1975, Ron Laughton and his wife were some of the first wine-makers in the country to realise that Australia was capable of making serious wine, and focusing on understanding their land, the soil and which grapes suit each plot. This has led to not only excellent Shiraz and dry Riesling, but some acclaimed Grenache as well as this delicious Nebbiolo. Their wines are produced in small quantities and are sought after, both within Australia and abroad.

Even within Piedmont, Nebbiolo comes in a few different styles, roughly split between traditional and modern. Traditional wines tend to undergo longer macerations and fermentations, as well as being aged for several years in large oak vessels, sometimes needing more than a decade before they’re approachable. By comparison the modern style is fermented more quickly and aged in newer, smaller barriques allowing for the tannins to soften more quickly and become approachable at a younger age. This wine is not really in either camp. A lovely garnet, Nebbiolo colour and hugely aromatic, with ripe dark cherries, damsons and blackberries dominating, as well as the tell-tale, beautiful aroma of crushed rose petals. Tar, earth, wet leaves and a touch of black pepper add a savoury aspect, all of which is communicated through to the palate. Still a very young wine, the acidity is understandably full-on, and the tannins still very grippy. Having said that, I think this wine has the potential to be absolutely outstanding after another 5 years and still offers a great deal of pleasure now. As these vines age, they’re barely 20 years old at present, I would expect to see the wine come into its own and become a benchmark example of Australian Nebbiolo.

That’s it for our New World tasting, and what a lovely evening it was! 6 excellent wines with the underdog proving to be the most popular of the evening, and a trip around some of the most famous New World producing regions. Keep an eye out on Sunday 1st October for the newsletter and information about our next upcoming Maestrazgo Wine Club events. Until then; salud!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: Summer Discoveries in the Old World

Ordinarily, our Maestrazgo Wine Club tastings have a theme of some sort. Typically a country or specific region to be explored, a grape variety to track across the world or perhaps even a style to discover in several different places. However, with this being the first of two introductory tastings after a 3 month summer break, we’re going to look at some summer discoveries instead. By that I mean a tasting of 6 of the best wines I’ve discovered over the summer period, with a split between the Old World and the New World. I had the good fortune to taste over 150 wines, with some real stand out examples in a variety of different styles and hailing from across the major wine producing regions. 6 wines, 6 regions – vamos!

Veyder Malberg Liebedich Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner used to really bug me, mainly due to my complete inability to correctly identify it in blind tastings. It’s also surprisingly difficult to get hold of in Spain, despite being one of the great white varieties of the world and the single most important in Austria. As a result, the examples I was tasting were often not that interesting and usually in the context of trying to ensure I didn’t guess it was Albariño in a blind tasting (3 times in a row! Grrr!). However, as I started to dig a little deeper and use different distributors in Barcelona, I discovered that Monvinic Store had a good selection of wines from a producer I’d heard about but never had the chance to taste; Veyder Malberg.

Peter Veyder-Malberg is the founder and driving force behind Veyder-Malberg, acquiring a series of old, terraced vineyards in the Wachau region of Austria as recently as 2008. A little like the Douro Valley in Portugal and our own Priorat in Catalunya, these vineyards are rugged, difficult to manage and full of old vines, many of which were severely under-valued and sadly, were often uprooted in favour of other projects. Having worked as an oenologist in Weinviertel until 2007, Peter had a clear plan for this newly acquired land; organic viticulture, worked only by hand and managed to preserve its unique character. Unlike many other Austrian wine-makers, Peter also eschews botrytis affected grapes, preferring a lighter, more mineral style of wine.

Again, this wine was purchased via Monvinic Store which comes as no surprise, given it’s artisan and minimal intervention style. Veyder Malberg produce a little less than 20,000 bottles a year and for any of these niche wines, Monvinic remain the single best vendor in the city. The Liebedich 2012 is a blended wine from 5 different parcels, all too small to be considered for a single-vineyard wine. As with all Veyder-Malberg wines, there is no oak or botrytis influence and the expression of Grüner Veltliner as a result is a typically semi-aromatic, savoury one. Lime peel and green apple offer a little fruit character, but this is more about the slightly vegetal side of Grüner Veltliner; hints of celery, white pepper and a touch of almond with the 5 years of bottle age. On the palate the acidity has softened slightly and offers a refreshing, crisp and delicious wine with lots of intensity, and a subtle finish. A little bottle age has allowed the wine to gain a little body and the overall effect is lovely; an impressive Austrian wine!

Immich-Batterieberg Zeppwingert Riesling 2012

German Riesling has been one my success stories of 2017; from not being able to tell the difference in quality levels to getting a real handle on what they’re all about and tasting a variety of producers, both iconic and up-and-coming. I haven’t really found a preference on sweetness levels, and instead I focus on the balance between the acidity and the sugar; the tension in the wine. It doesn’t matter whether the flavours are crisp and zesty, or broader and denser, so long as the wine has an energy about it. With the natural acidity of Riesling and the unique growing conditions of the steep, Mosel Valley, it comes as no surprise to find they manage this balance better than anyone else in the world.

Immich-Batterieberg have one of the oldest histories in the Mosel, with the origins of the vineyards dating back to 911, created under the watchful (and slightly hungover) eyes of the monks. Purchased by the Immich family in 1495 and ran by the family for 500 years until 1989, creating a strong identity for their dry and off-dry Rieslings. The style is very much a hands-off approach, with Gernot Kollmann, the wine-maker, preferring to let the 60 year old vines do the talking. The Cru wines are vinified separately in old oak with spontaneous fermentations, low sulphur additions and no acidification/chaptalisation the normal approach.

I tried 3 wines from Immich-Batterieberg including the crus of Steffensberg, Batterieberg (the namesake of the winery) and Zeppwingert. As much as I enjoyed them all, and they were all delicious, the Zeppwingert seemed to have the best balance of them all, with ripe, accessible fruit whilst still maintaining a focus and intensity on the palate. It’s still a zesty, fresh wine with lime zest and green fruits at the fore, with some stone fruit starting to emerge as the wine broadens with a little age. The gorgeous white floral notes of Riesling are apparent, as are the chalky, mineral aromas that so define Riesling from the Mosel. Precise, vibrant and delicious – my kind of Riesling!

Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2015

Beaujolais has made a global revival over the last decade or so, partly due to the recognition of top quality producers in the area, and partly due to the escalating prices in neighbouring Burgundy. When I first learnt about Beaujolais, it was simply that there was a clear divide between the 10 ‘crus’ of Beaujolais and the generic wines, often made using early-harvested, over yielding vines and subjected to specific yeast strains and semi-carbonic maceration to get a bubble-gum, banana flavour. Ever since, I think I can count the amount of times I’ve drank Beaujolais Noveau on one hand, and none of them have been enjoyable. The wines from the 10 ‘crus’ of Beaujolais, however, are a different story, located to the north of the region and enjoying a better exposure to sunshine and often more favourable soils for Gamay, the champion grape of the region.

Jean Foillard is one of the aforementioned producers whose name has rightly risen to fame for the wines he produces here. A disciple of Jules Chauvet, an early pioneer of the more structured, serious approach to Beaujolais, Foillard farms 14 hectares of the best vineyards in Morgon, considered by many to offer the deepest flavours and structure of the 10 crus. The majority of his vineyards are on the famed Cote du Py, a small rise of volcanic, granitic soil that is believed to be a major factor in the depth and complexity of the grapes grown here.

Beaujolais, like many regions with continental and often marginal weather patterns, is subject to vintage variation. The warmer years create wines that are accessible at an earlier date and have a riper fruit profile, whilst the cooler years often create wines with more restraint and elegance, that sometimes need a little time to soften and come together. 2015 was an undoubtedly warm year for Beaujolais, and most of Europe, and that means a riper, more accessible version of this great wine. Cote du Py, as it suggests, is made from grapes grown on the volanic soils to the south of Villié-Morgon with a mixture of vine ages (10-90 years!), produced in a low intervention style and aged for 6-9 months in old oak barrels. On the nose there’s a gorgeous aroma of ripe red fruits; strawberry, cherry and raspberry, complimented by lilac and violet floral notes. The whole cluster fermentation adds a level of herbaceousness and there’s the traditional earthiness of Foillards wines. Ripe, fruity and juicy with a pleasantly herbal edge – a pleasure to drink now and will be in full flight in around 5 years time!

Francisco Barona Ribera del Duero 2014

Ribera del Duero was one of my first loves in Spanish wine; a bottle of Tomas Postigo Crianza 2010 still stands out as a defining moment for me on a rainy day in December 2014. Hugely popular both locally and internationally, the region has been challenging Rioja for some time as the King of Spanish wine, with both regions largely reliant of Tempranillo based blends. However, whilst Rioja has been able to maintain a good balance between the cheap-and-cheerful wines, ambitious modern projects and traditionalists, Ribera del Duero seemed to lose its way a little bit and almost every wine ended up tasting a little too similar; big black fruits, dark chocolate and a slathering of French oak. With Vega Sicilia the perennial stalwart of traditional wine-making in the region, it’s only recently that the new wave of wine-makers are starting to make themselves known here, often eschewing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec in favour of more traditional, and often much older, vines such as Albillo, Mencia, Bobal and Garnacha.

Francisco Barona is one of the ‘new wave’ in this respect and, as it happens, this is his first commercial vintage! His family has been making wine for generations and after studying oenology in Bordeaux and working around the world; the USA, South Africa and France, Francisco returned to Ribera del Duero where, with some help from his family connections, he was able to source 5 different plots of land. These plots contain not only old-vine Tempranillo but also a general mixture of the other indigenous grapes mentioned above, often from very old, under-rated vines. I’ve generally found that the inclusion of some of these grapes gives the wines from Ribera del Duero a fresher profile, with a strong backbone of acidity and a lighter body. Considering it’s not unusual for wines in this region to hover around 14.5%-15% alcohol, this is definitely for the better!

Considering this is Francisco’s first wine, it’s remarkably well defined. There’s almost always an element of trial and error in the wine world, but to have a wine that’s so well balanced and vibrant at your first attempt is really quite remarkable. It has the same inky, dark colour that so many wines from the region have, but it’s so much fresher on the nose and palate. At this youthful stage, there’s an overwhelming core of ripe, black and red fruits, licorice and lots of powerful French oak; vanilla and baking spices to the fore. Tightly coiled and clearly waiting to open up with a little age, this is certainly a producer and wine to watch! Still, due to the soft, ripe tannins and enjoyable, fruity flavours this is delicious now and will certainly win a few hearts back to Ribera del Duero!

Felsina Fontalloro 2011

We head over to Tuscany next, where a modern approach to arguably the oldest defined wine region in Europe, Chianti Classico, is represented by the wines of Fattoria Felsina. Sangiovese remains the most planted grape variety in Italy and also constitutes a remarkable amount of quality wine around the very different regions of the country, but it is undoubtedly best known for it’s expressions in central Italy, particularly Tuscany. A variety with naturally high levels of both acidity and tannins, this could potentially be a difficult grape to sell on the commercial market but the sour cherry characteristics, Tuscan herbs and subtle, savoury characteristics have given it an advantage over its cousin to the north; Nebbiolo. Chianti and Chianti Classico are two regions best known for the grape, as well as the long lived Brunello di Montalcino, but then the question really lies in style. Leaner, more floral and marked by a herbal characteristic? Long lived and powerful, with layers of flavours evolving over years and decades? As always, it’s a question of personal taste, although Fontalloro certainly leans towards the latter.

Fattoria Felsina has existed since 1966 when a gentleman by the name of Domenico Poggiali decided to invest his money here, at a time when Italian wine-making was not the attractive option it is today. Various new partners entered the business and now, it’s not only an iconic producer of Tuscan wines but a great model for other wineries, proving it’s possible to take a hands-on approach, maintain quality and create a profitable business at the same time.

Out of a broad portfolio of excellent wines, my discovery from Felsina this summer was undoubtedly Fontalloro, their flagship wine. Like so many grapes, I enjoy Sangiovese in a variety of styles but even at high levels of ripeness, the flavours and aromas tend to stay fresh and attractive, so I’m wary of overt oaking and extraction which can disguise these features. Felsina, much like Fontodi, seem to manage their premium oak-aged wines better than most and create a wonderful marriage of the two. Fontalloro is their premium Sangiovese wine and spends between 18-22 months in French oak. Technically an IGT wine as grapes are used from outside the Chianti Classico DOCG, it’s a ripe, powerful expression of Sangiovese that is only just entering its drinking window now! 2011 was a warm year and this is already a wine made from ripe grapes, so the overtly ripe, and slightly dried, cherry aromas come as no real surprise. The herbaceousness of Sangiovese is only just coming through, as the smoky, dark aromas of oak need some time to settle. Powerful and dense on the palate with thick, ripe tannins and a strong core of acidity; this is a castle of a wine! Absolutely packed with potential and I’m glad to have another bottle or two squirreled away for the next few years, where this will bloom into something quite special.

Chateau Vielle Cure 2006

I’ve really come to admire Bordeaux, and I don’t recall ever having tasted a glass whilst I lived in the UK. Frustrating really, as mature Bordeaux is so easy to come by over there whereas in Barcelona, the prices are absolutely disgraceful for the same wines. I have a preference for the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated left bank, with the slowly emerging graphite, earth and leathery aromas a perfect match for winter dishes in Barcelona, but I have come to appreciate the slightly earlier mature right bank, where Merlot and Cabernet Franc take over proceedings. A wine I’ve enjoyed a lot over the summer is a fully mature Fronsac; Chateau Vielle Cure 2006.

Chateau Vielle Cure has a long history in Fronsac, but was taken over and revitalised in 1986 by American owners, bringing in the (in)famous Michel Rolland as consultant for the wine-making process. Limestone soils and old vines come together to create a truly delicious, and excellent value, expression of right-bank Bordeaux, with enough sunshine from the south-westerly exposure to properly ripen grapes with each vintage.

The wine itself is a great example of mature Bordeaux. Incredibly, this is still available, albeit in tiny quantities, for less than 20 euros a bottle in Barcelona. Apparently this wine is still a staple of many claret-lovers in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. At full maturity now, there’s a lovely, deep garnet colour and a huge amount of complexity on the nose. Dried and ripe fruits, black pepper and charred wood, graphite, leather and even a green note of bell pepper; Bordeaux in a glass! There’s still a littl grip to the palate, with a long savoury intensity and finish still in balance, despite the relatively low acidity. A great example of mature, affordable Bordeaux done well.

Our next tasting will be on the 28th September when we look at another 6 wines, this time focusing on the New World wine regions. A similarly varied line-up awaits and whilst all the spots have been taken, should you wish to consider a private tasting do get in touch via this contact form. Until the next time; happy drinking!

Wine Cuentista Newsletter – Edition 20 – August 2017

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 20 – August 2017

August: A blisteringly hot month in Spain, which explains why most sensible people take the month off and hurl themselves into the sea. However, for immobile vines it is a particularly important month due to the phenomenon of veraison. This is the onset of berry ripening and also when the pigmentation starts to form in red grapes, leading to the distinction in colour between the different types of grapes. Red grapes will start to turn a light berry-red colour, whilst white grapes will start to turn yellow and golden. This is a key part of the life cycle of the vine and the vignerons will be hard at work to ensure it goes smoothly. Leaves will be cut away to expose grape clusters to extra sunshine and sometimes bunches of grapes will be removed in a process known as ‘green harvesting’ in order to concentrate sugars in the remaining bunches. Some producers will already begin harvesting this month, with 2017 set to be one of the earliest harvests ever recorded in Spain!

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 20th edition of The Wine Cuentista Newsletter! It’s our final month of the summer break and that means no Maestrazgo Wine Club tasting, but keep an eye out for an announcement coming in the next few days about some changes on that front. I don’t want to give too much away, just to say that MWC is coming back better than ever before!

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!

Beyond Bling: Wither Fine Wine? By Christian Holthausen. I really enjoyed this one, a very well thought-out article indeed. It starts as an article about fine wine and turns into a painfully accurate view of modern consumerism and the pitfalls thereof. Brilliantly written. https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/beyond-bling-whither-fine-wine

‘What not to drink sparkling wine from a Champagne glass’ by Miquel Hudin. I’ve made a point of drinking good quality sparkling wine from a glass for a while now, much to the consternation of a couple of wine producers, for the reasons that Miquel details in his article above. This is a particularly good read for anyone coming to Maestrazgo Wine Club as it’ll give you a hint as to one of the structural changings we’ll be making to the upcoming tastings. https://wineonsix.com/why-not-to-drink-sparkling-wines-in-a-champagne-glass/

‘Sweet talk on wine’ by Robert Joseph. A simple but thought provoking piece about the levels of sugar in wine and its relationship to wine quality. A lot of entry level wines have elevated levels of residual sugar to make the wine more palatable to a broader audience, as well as paving over some of the more obvious short-comings of the wine itself. Is that, in itself, necessarily a bad thing? Hrm. It’s not to my palate and I would certainly mark it down as sloppy wine-making, but is that because I was taught to see it like that. What do you think? https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/sweet-talk-wine

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

This was a bottle I'd been holding onto for a while; Cuvee Frederic Emile Vendage Tardive 2001. Produced by Trimbach, one of the greatest Alsatian producers with a history going back to 1626, this is likely the best bottle of Riesling I've ever had. You can see the dramatic amber colour from the picture but the stunning aromas of orange marmalade, honeyed orchard fruits, cinnamon, marzipan and slate can only be imagined. Rich, not sweet, and unbelievably fresh! Drank over the two hours it took Roger Federer to win his 8th Wimbledon title; check out winecuentista.com for a full write-up! @trimbach #wine #france #riesling #alsace #lateharvest #instagood #instadaily #photo #wimbledon #federer #pairing #wineoclock #wineoftheday #delicious #dramatic #amber #2001 #best #history #travel

A post shared by Fintan Kerr (@wine_cuentista) on

Trimbach Frederic Emile Riesling VT 2001: Ok, so definitely not in the 6-25 euro range but the single best bottle of Riesling I’ve ever tried. The tasting notes are above as part of my instagram profile, but for a full write up of Trimbach and an insight as to why I opened such a special wine, check out this post on Wine Cuentista.

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!

“What exactly is a sommelier?” – A subject open to debate; essentially an old French word used to describe someone who served wine, and hopefully knew a bit about it, in a restaurant environment. This would typically be someone with no formal training and who simply worked in wine because they enjoyed it. Now across the world, there are sommelier schools, sommelier programs and even documentaries following the lives of sommeliers, some who work in a restaurant and some who don’t, making the whole thing very confusing indeed. Essentially, you’ll never get anyone to agree on the definition but it can roughly be used to talk about anyone knowledgeable about wine who works in a customer-facing environment.

“I want to learn more about wine formally, where should I start?” – I’m a big believer in formal education for setting a foundation of knowledge. There are many institutions you can study with but the largest, and most respected, in the world is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, or WSET for short. I’m currently studying the final level with this institution over two years and it has enriched my understanding of wine immensely, as well as giving me the stepping stone I need to begin the Masters of Wine program in 2019. A friend of mine, Sharon Levey, is a WSET educator in Barcelona. For now, if you’d like to find out more about her and the courses she runs, check it out here! http://www.winecoursesbcn.com/

‘Tannins’ – These are an important structural component of wine, mainly found in red wines due to the extraction from the skins of the grapes, although some can also be added through oak ageing. They are very important in the process of ageing red wine, as well as being important for colour stability. They are often associated with bitterness and astringency, but when ripe and well integrated contribute enormously to the pleasant structure and feel of the wine in your mouth. If you ever want to find what bitter tannins taste like; leave a tea-bag soaking for far longer than it should be – that is tannic bitterness. Tasting tannins in wine is difficult as it tends to be a textural component more than a flavour one. If you want to focus on them, try swirling the wine around your mouth and you should get a sensation at the front of your lips and around your gums, where the tannins make themselves most present. It goes without saying that a large part of skilled red wine making is the handling and presentation of the natural tannins, with ripe, smooth or finely grained tannins the goal.

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 fintankerr@winecuentista.com . I hope everyone has a lovely summer and I will see you all for more tasting in September!

Fintan Kerr

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