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

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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

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Wines of Australia

Last week we drank our way around the two islands of New Zealand, so it made a lot of sense to journey to their closest neighbour a week later and discover the wines of Australia. A quick look at the map, however, is enough to know that the wines are likely to be enormously different regardless of whether or not they’re in the same part of the world. Australia is roughly the same size of the USA and the majority of the population quite sensibly don’t live in the centre, where the unbearable heat and lack of water drives people towards the coast. Unsurprisingly, the majority of quality wine is to be found in much the same areas and the Australian wine-market has proven itself perhaps the most adaptable to change in the world, having reinvented itself many times over. Today it is the 6th largest producer in the world and commands respect at all price points.

Historically viticulture started in the 19th century in Australia, with the first records dating back to 1791. Between 1820 and 1840, viticulture became firmly established across the southern half of Australia, all driven by cuttings brought from Europe as Australia has no native vines to speak of. The industry boomed and sank like much of the rest of the world as phylloxera, mildews and two World Wars took their toll on the wine industry, and Australian wine as we know it today really began in the 1950’s. Australia was an early adopter of stainless steel fermentation tanks and as technology became more prevalent, the production of fortified wines decreased and dry wine started to grow in importance and volume. High yielding, poor quality grapes were pulled up and replanted, mainly with the three grapes we most commonly associated with Australia today; Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which account for almost 60% of the total production at present.

Where these grapes are grown, however, and the styles of wine they produce are very much related to where they’re grown, exaggerated by the sheer size of the country. There is a rough north/south split in terms of climate, with the northern half of Australia being more akin to a tropical climate and the south being a lot drier, with an early Autumn and long, hot days. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean and Tasman sea makes an obvious difference, although due to the mass of land this isn’t as pronounced as in other areas of the world. Whilst the majority of Australian bulk wine is grown the Riverlands and Riverina, most new projects are now seeking out cooler climates either at altitude, or closer to the ocean to help off-set the heat and gain more balance in the resulting wines.

In terms of wine-making, Australia is often considered to be the most modern in style with an incredibly scientific approach to vinification. Most wineries, even medium-sized ones, have their own laboratories instead of relying on third party companies, and is equipped with a broad array of modern technology such as computer-controlled crushing equipment, fermentation tanks, rotofermenters and usually quite a lot of new oak. This modernity transfers to the philosophy of wine-making as well, with a very different approach to some of the common ‘faults’ of wine-making, with an almost zero tolerance approach to brettanomyces, volatile acidity and so on. This is in direct contrast with some of the most famous wine-regions in Europe, where a little bit of these compounds is often considered favourable to the style. Do you like that smell of petroleum in aged Riesling? I personally do and it was one of the first ‘oh wow’ moments I had in wine. According to Jim Barry, by comparison, it’s a fault and should be avoided.

With such a broad climatic diversity and a modern approach to wine-making, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Australia is making every style under the (incredibly hot) sun. The most typical style of Australian wine, from entry level to no-expenses-spared premium expressions, are made using Syrah and typically entitled “Shiraz”. It’s grown in nearly every region, providing a vast diversity of differing styles, price points and ageability. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are in second and third position respectively, with the former producing some outstanding wines in Margaret River in Western Australia. Pinot Noir is also an important red grape, being used for both sparkling wine and premium red wines, typically planted in the cooler regions of Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. For white wines, Chardonnay rules in terms of volume and some truly top quality expressions are made throughout the country. The pendulum of fashion tends to drag the style from one extreme to another, although some of the wines I’ve tried over the past year seem to be settling in a happy medium. Both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are grown in some quantity although typically vinified and sold as separate varieties rather than blended, with Semillon achieving a unique, smoky characteristic in the Hunter Valley, especially as it ages. Riesling is likely the other most important white variety, with some incredibly pure, zesty expressions hailing from Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Tasmania.

With such a broad diversity of wines to cover, we decided to keep it simple this week and cover the basics, using high quality wines from regions across the country. In the future, we’ll definitely organise more tastings to explore the individual areas of Australia in more depth. Until then, here at the 6 wines we drank!

Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Riesling 2013. Jasper Hill is the leading producer in Heathcote, a relatively new producer in the cooler Victoria region of Australia. Very much in the style of wines from the Northern Rhone, the wines here are made in an old-fashioned format, with little to no irrigation in their granitic vineyards and a minimalistic approach to wine-making including very low levels of sulphur. Although some excellent Shiraz and Nebbiolo is made here, we’ve gone for their excellent Riesling with a few years of bottle age. Subtly floral with lots of citrus fruits, slightly herbal characteristics and just the sandlightest hint of honey. There’s a lot stored away here and I’d happily keep it for another 5-10 years and see how this develops!

De Bortoli Villages Chardonnay 2012. De Bortoli are better known for their inexpensive, bulk wines produced in Riverina but they have a few quality wines, such as this Chardonnay, mainly produced in the much cooler Yarra Valley. Stephen Webber, the wine-maker, has made a clear move away from excessive use of oak in his wines to allow the cooler-climate fruit to really shine. This bottling of Chardonnay is a great example of this. Whilst there is certainly some French oak influence with a smoky, savoury character, the fresh lime and green fruits come bursting through. Some lees stirring is evident with a yeasty character and overall, this is an inexpensive, truly tasty Chardonnay that I suspect would give some more expensive Burgundies a run for their money!

Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Our only wine from western Australia, hailing from the Margaret river. Xanadu was originally founded in 1977 by Dr John Lagan and was one of the first pioneers of the region. It has since been incorporated into the Rathbone Group where it has joined the likes of Yering Station and Mount Langi Ghiran. The resultant change in quality, including vineyard and winery improvements, has resulted in some truly excellent, modern wines that are now being recognised throughout the world. This blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot is a beautifully structured wine bursting with cassis, ripe plums and eucalyptus. 14 months in 40% new French oak results adds a smoky-but-sweet background note, resulting in a delicious, accessible wine.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2012. Probably the most iconic producer in the entire of Australia, Penfolds have been leading the charge since the 1950’s although the first vineyards were planted in 1844 by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold. Better known for Grange, the pinnacle of their production, Penfolds have a broad range usually using fruit from multiple different regions to create wines that are defined by wine-making rather than any individual region or vineyard. Kalimna Shiraz is made from a variety of vineyards with the hot, ripe Barossa Valley usually well represented and obvious in the dark, ripe brambly fruit profile. Penfolds have always been famous for their continued use of American oak and it’s true here, with 12 months ageing contributing notes of sweet vanilla and bitter chocolate to the wine. Still quite young and closed, this should unfurl into something delicious over the coming 5 years although it’s approachable now with a reasonable decant.

Chapoutier Tournon Shays Flat Vineyard 2012. It took a bit longer than you might expect for Northern Rhone producers to realise the potential of Australia and start investing here, but make it they did. Chapoutier, one of the leading lights of the Northern Rhone, has made a sizeable investment here and now produces some of the most delicious wines coming out of Victoria, produced from vineyards purchased in 2009. The wine is somewhere between Australia and the Northern Rhone, with lots of ripe black, brambly fruit, black pepper, dried violets and the gorgeous smoked meat character so prevalent in good, moderate-climate Syrah. A really beautiful combination of two styles and one of my favourite Syrahs for a reasonable price.

Chris Ringland Marvel Shiraz 2010. Chris Ringland is an Australian wine-maker famous for making wines with absolutely enormous concentration, depth and flavour. For those who like big Spanish wines, you might be familiar with Clio and El Nido from Jumilla, which Chris has a big hand in as part of the Juan Gil project. His Australian wines follow a similar principle; incredibly old, unirrigated vines which are then fermented in open oak vats and aged for between 1-3 years, in a combination of French and American oak.

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Wines of New Zealand

On Thursday we continued drinking our way around the world of wine as part of our weekly wine events here in Barcelona. This week we decided to look at arguably the newest ‘New World’ country, and one of the most successful most domestically and internationally; New Zealand. This small country is more famed for its dairy farming and rugby than anything else, but since the 1970’s wine production has really taken off. This late start and the relative isolation of the country (the closest country is Australia, almost 1600km away!) simply makes the success story of the wine industry here all the more remarkable.

The first vines were actually planted almost 200 years ago in 1819 by missionaries, but it would take almost 150 years for anyone to fully realise the potential of producing wine here on any sort of scale. Beer and imported wines (mainly Australian) dominated the local scene and even as recently as 1960, the most planted vine on the islands was the American hybrid known as Isabella, the complete lack of which is now a pretty good indication of just how awful wine must have been! In fact, this same year was the first time that restaurants were allowed to sell wine officially, a relaxation of alcohol licencing that wouldn’t make its way to supermarkets and general stores until 1990. With all these obstacles, it’s little wonder that the New Zealand wine industry was so slow in getting off the ground.

One of the greatest natural obstacles the New Zealand wine industry faced was its green and fertile land; wonderful for most crops and livestock but a complete hindrance to the production of good quality wine. Excessive vine vigour meant huge labour costs in the vineyard and under-ripe, green fruit that would carry these overtly green flavours over into the wine. Dr Richard Smart, the government head of viticulture from 1982-1990, would go on to make huge improvements and create trellising systems and ways of managing the vineyards that have been key to the rapid changes in the New Zealand wine industry and have also rightly catapulted Dr Smart to fame and international acclaim. With the basics of viticulture established, the 1990’s became a land-rush to try and find the most suitable vineyard sites. Marlborough became the centre of attention and slowly pulled ahead just after the turn of the decade in terms of size. Today it is 5 times larger than any other region in the country and is the centre of production for most large brands, as well as being globally recognised for its characteristic Sauvignon Blanc.

Today, 36,000 hectares are planted across the two islands; if New Zealand currently has a problem it’s that the country has no more room for vineyards! Almost 90% of vines are located in Marlborough with the vast majority being Sauvignon Blanc. There is no major wine producing country in the world that is so dominated by a single variety, but the crisp, aromatic and intensely flavoured Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has taken the world by storm and seems unlikely to slow down anytime soon, much to the annoyance of neighbouring Australian wine-makers who have lost 40% of their market to this export! Pinot Noir is the second most widely planted grape variety and continues to improve year on year, with distinctive styles being produced across the country; Martinborough and Central Otago are the two heavyweights of this grape variety, although more is grown in Marlborough. Chardonnay is another widely planted variety, often used for local sparkling wine although some more serious dry wines are now being made from this grape. The future looks to be exciting, with many aromatic varieties slowly gaining traction; Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and even Spanish Albariño are all finding their homes here!

Our tasting consisted of 6 wines from all across the country, paying special attention to the comparative styles of both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – Brancott Estate, formerly known as Montana, is the largest producer of wine in New Zealand by a significant margin and is currently part of the Pernod Ricard group. They were the first producer to start planting heavily in Marlborough in 1973, a tactic that has paid off handsomely since, and by 2005 was producing over half the countries entire production. They have since sold off their projects in Gisbourne and Hawkes Bay, focusing solely on high quality production within Marlborough itself. Their Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand in a glass; intensely aromatic, very fresh and screaming with fresh green fruit, gooseberries, nettles and citrus fruit. A quintessential wine that any student would love to be presented with in a blind tasting! At 9 euros a bottle in Spain, this is extraordinarily good value and goes some way to explain the success of the brand.

Neudorf Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2014 – By point of comparison, our second wine is a slightly older Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring Nelson. It’s hard to generalise about the climate here due to the variations in topography and soil, but it’s generally a little cooler and wetter than Marlbourough. Neudorf have been producing wines here since 1978 and own some of the oldest vines in the country. Their Sauvignon Blanc is stylistically very different to the Brancott, with deeper, richer aromas of ripe citrus, asparagus, elderflower and green fruit. Slightly creamy on the palate and much softer than most Sauvignon Blancs, this is really delicious stuff. A complete contrast of styles!

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2011 – This is the best Chardonnay I’ve so far had the pleasure of trying from New Zealand. The winery itself is in the far north of the country, in the region of Kumeu next to Auckland. Famous for their various expressions of Chardonnay and Burgundian vinification techniques, these wines rightly sell for high prices, so it’s a pleasure to be able to present a mature example in Barcelona! 100% Chardonnay vinified with indigenous yeast in French oak, then matured for a further 11 months from a single vineyard “Hunting Hill”. The result is an incredibly mineral, steely expression of Chardonnay with a beautiful citrus and floral characteristic, lots of natural acidity and an enormous intensity of flavour. Stunning stuff and the clear winner of our “Wine of the Night” award with 5/10 votes!

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2014 – Our first red wine of the evening and it hails from the quite boutique region of Martinborough, to the south of the north island. Despite it’s relatively small size (3% of the countries total vines) it continues to outperform and the producers here have a general philosophy of ‘quality at any cost’. Whilst admirable, this does tend to drive the prices up quite significantly! However, the result is a spicy, dark and ripe style of Pinot Noir that I’ve come to love. Palliser Estate are a great example of this and their signature wine is produced from 18 year old vineyards. A light oaking regime allows the fruit to shine, and shine it does! Ripe aromas of strawberries, cherries and plums sit nicely on top of subtle black pepper and cloves from 25% new oak, with the tell-tale smoky, undergrowth aromas just starting to come through. Structured and fresh, this is drinking deliciously already, which is certainly much of the appeal of Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2011 – Now for something completely different; a Pinot Noir from the very south of the country in Central Otago, produced by one of the countries only 100% biodynamic producers. Burn Cottage is a relatively new project having been started in 2002, and focuses heavily on sustainable agriculture through biodynamic viticultural practices, helped by consultant Ted Lemon of Littorai in Sonoma. Central Otago is a far more extreme climate than Martinborough and vintage variation is far more pronounced as a result, in fact the most southerly vineyards in the world are located here! Pinot Noir represents 75% of all plantings and tends to be lighter in both colour and flavour profile than their northern brethren. This wine is a far more delicate, silky expression of Pinot Noir with soft red fruit, smoke, leather and a developing meaty aroma. Still fresh on the palate with completely integrated tannins, this a very sophisticated wine. A close runner up for Wine of the Night with 3/10 votes!

Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2013 – Our final wine of the evening and it comes from one of the countries leading producers; in fact, when putting this tasting together I was amazed at how many truly excellent producers there are in a country that has barely 10% of the production of Australia! Te Mata was revived as a producer in 1978 (Their first vineyards were planted in 1892 making them the oldest producer in the country!) and have gone on to achieve huge success, not least due to their balanced portfolio of excellent wine. All of their vineyards are located in the Hawkes Bay area on the warmer north Island, particularly suited to the production of red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. To finish with, we’ve gone for their incredibly stylish Bullnose Syrah, an elegant, peppery expression of Syrah full of crisp blackberry and red cherry fruit, pungent violets and coffee aromas. Firm, beautifully grainy tannins and a cool, 13% alcohol deliver the flavours with verve on the palate. An excellent wine and a lovely way to finish the tasting.

Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Our monthly blind tasting has been going for some time now, and last night was probably the most successful so far. We’ve experimented with many different ideas in the past, with a lot of tastings being themed. We’ve looked at blind tasting the same varietal at different price points and seeing if we could determine which wine was the most expensive, and which one we liked the most. We compared the same varietals as grown in the Old World vs the New World, we’ve looked at comparing different qualities of the same varietal under blind conditions and of course, we’ve done blind tastings where the objective is simply to try and identify the wine itself.

This tasting was focused on the latter and is probably the most fun aspect of blind tasting; guessing the varietal(s), the region and the country of origin. For the sake of simplicity, we chose 6 mono-varietal wines from around the world and asked the tasters to either make a tasting note or categorise the most important aspects of the wine in their heads. Once they had a good read on the wine, we handed out three separate, generic descriptions for wines and asked them to match their conclusion with the choices available. Some were considerably easier to spot than others and the results are quite interesting, with some wines being almost entirely correctly guessed and others where the analysis was correct, but the choice of three similar options took people down the wrong path. A lot of fun and an opportunity to try some delicious wines from around the world, whilst learning a little about blind tasting. Below is the descriptions that were handed out, as well as the revealing of which wine was which!

Wine 1 is a:

Garnacha from Navarra, Spain: Typically light in colour and often quite aromatic, Grenache from Navarra tends to be lightly oaked, fruity and best drank young due to the lack of structure. High alcohol and a peppery characteristic are signs to look out for on the palate as well as ripe red fruits; strawberries and cherries are often consistent tasting elements of Grenache, as well as hints of fennel and licorice.

Pinot Noir from Waipara, New Zealand: Not quite as pale as traditional Burgundy or German Pinot Noir but still lightly coloured. Pinot Noir from Waipara 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.

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! A lot of Cru Beaujolais is treated like any other red wine, so don’t get lost looking for obvious evidence of carbonic maceration!

Result: Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2009. The trick here was to pick up on the confected, bright fruit aromas which were almost like boiled sweets. All the wines listed are pale and all could potentially have quite soft, medium tannins and acidity, so the clue was in the flavour profile. 7 of the tasters guessed correctly, with two being led astray by confusing the fruit aromas with the effects of carbonic maceration and guessing Beaujolais, although the high alcohol (14.5%) is also a clue that it’s probably not from a moderate climate in France. Only 1 vote for Grenache. A good start!

Wine 2 is a:

Merlot from Pomerol, France: Merlot is the dopple-ganger of all red grapes, a little like Chardonnay for white wines. In Pomerol, the iron-rich clay soils create a powerful, structured style of Merlot that is closed in youth and blooms later in life, to reveal a succulent, rich wines full of fruit and soft tannins. Deep colours are normal, as are a high level of smooth tannins and a huge flavour profile.

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, leather and tobacco are common.

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.

Result: Terrazas de los Andes Malbec 2014. This one really threw people and it was quite mean to put Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero as an option, as the two flavour profiles can be closely linked. Telling them apart when tasted blind is very difficult and as a result, 6 tasters guessed incorrectly that this was a Spanish wine. Only one vote for Merlot from Pomerol and 3 correct guesses for Malbec from Argentina. This was the ‘Wine of the Night’ and was roundly enjoyed by everyone. There’s a reason that Malbec is considered a ‘crowd-pleaser’ and enjoys so much popularity around the world! Delicious, soft and very quaffable.

Wine 3 is a:

Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Valley, Chile: Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red variety in Chile and for good reason; it really works here! The style tends to be quite modern and the wines are darkly coloured and intensely flavoured. There’s no mistaking the rich aromas of cassis, nor the strong scent of capsicum and eucalyptus. The wines here are often obviously oaked, with sweet notes of vanilla, coffee and baking spices, whilst the tannins are quite high but usually soft to allow for early consumption. A world-beater!

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, leather and tobacco are common.

Result: Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. New World Cabernet Sauvignon is a pretty distinctive beast, with the ripe cassis aromas, notable green bell pepper and often strong aromas of eucalyptus, this was correctly identified by 8 tasters. This was a close second for ‘Wine of the Night’ and my only gripe is the silly, heavy bottle it’s produced in. Good work by the Torres family and a very well done to our tasters!

Wine 4 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.

Result: Charles Joguet Cuvee de Terroir 2010: Probably the easiest of the evening and correctly identified by 9 of our 10 tasters as Cabernet Franc. The cool climate of Chinon is essential for this benchmark style of the grape, with its high acidity, medium, crunchy tannins and herbaceous notes. Completely the opposite of the Malbec in that quite a few people weren’t a fan of the style, but did an excellent job of identifying the wine correctly.

Wine 5 is a:

Nebbiolo from Barolo, Italy: Nebbiolo is grown throughout Piedmont but Barolo is where it is at its most dramatic; tar and roses is the classic short-hand tasting note for Barolo. Nebbiolo creates pale coloured wines that bely their structure, with Barolo in particular full of powerful tannins and roaring acidity, allowing these wines to age for decades quite comfortably. The aromas of Barolo can be quite haunting, with cherries, dried herbs, smoke and floral aromas combining beautifully, although this can at times be spoiled with excessive amounts of new oak. Barolo tannins are the real key point to look out for here.

Garnacha from Navarra, Spain: Typically light in colour and often quite aromatic, Grenache from Navarra tends to be lightly oaked, fruity and best drank young due to the lack of structure. High alcohol and a peppery characteristic are signs to look out for on the palate as well as ripe red fruits; strawberries and cherries are often consistent tasting elements of Grenache, as well as hints of fennel and licorice.

Syrah from Croze-Hermitage, France: The flatter vineyards of Croze-Hermitage in France created an incredibly characteristic style of Syrah, with a strong, black peppery characteristic often dominating. Larger oak barrels sometimes facilitate the growth of brettanomyces (a type of yeast) often with meaty, savoury aromas resulting. The colour of the wine is paler than other Syrahs in the region and the tannins are medium but quite firm. Dark fruit characteristics and fresh acidity make this a very food friendly style of wine, which helps the austere nature of the wine.

Result: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2014. Previously I’d correctly identified this myself in a tasting at Monvinic and I knew I had to include it in the line-up, as it just screams Old World Syrah! Some of the tasters went astray with the majority believing it to be a Nebbiolo. I’ve done this myself before, as the generic idea of Syrah is a deeply coloured wine with ripe fruit aromas. When grown on the flatter plains of Crozes-Hermitage, however, the wines tend to be fresh, peppery and savoury with a relatively pale colour and often quite an austere profile. Only 4 correct identifications on this wine but a great opportunity to learn about the differences in Syrah!

Wine 6 is a:

Sangiovese from Tuscany, Italy: Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in all of Italy, and has come to define the style of many regions such as Chianti, Brunello and Montalcino. The classic aromas and flavours of Sangiovese are sour-cherry, tomatoes, raspy, dried herbs and almost a tea-leaf character. Like Nebbiolo, both acidity and tannins are characteristically high which often leads to a dry finish. New oak can lend aromas of vanilla and spice in addition when more modern styles are produced.

Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, Spain: This grape from north-west Spain is becoming increasingly popular for its fresh, acidic profile with fresh black and red fruits, soft herbs and firm tannins. Oak is rarely the dominant factor in wines from this part of the country although some older oak can be used to help soften tannins and stabilise colours. Delicious when young and the best examples can gain complexity with some bottle age.

Nebbiolo from Barolo, Italy: Nebbiolo is grown throughout Piedmont but Barolo is where it is at its most dramatic; tar and roses is the classic short-hand tasting note for Barolo. Nebbiolo creates pale coloured wines that bely their structure, with Barolo in particular full of powerful tannins and roaring acidity, allowing these wines to age for decades quite comfortably. The aromas of Barolo can be quite haunting, with cherries, dried herbs, smoke and floral aromas combining beautifully, although this can at times be spoiled with excessive amounts of new oak. Barolo tannins are the real key point to look out for here.


Result: Bibbiano Montornello Chianti Classico 2010: In terms of misleading information, I thought this might be the hardest of the evening along with the Malbec and Tempranillo hints earlier. The difference between Nebbiolo and Sangiovese structurally can be quite slight, with both having notably high tannins and acidity. Flavour profiles differ, with Nebbiolo being the more savoury of the two, and Sangiovese leaning more towards a distinctly herbal note. Another clue was that the Nebbiolo was listed as coming from Barolo, the most powerful expression of Nebbiolo. This was an almost even divide with 6 tasters correctly guessing that this was a Sangiovese and 4 heading towards the north of Italy. No guesses at all for Mencia, which was great!

Whilst the given information can be misleading, I think we’re going to try something similar again for next months blind tasting. It’s a great way to learn about your palate, the world of wine and also how to distinguish between very different and very similar styles of wine. Looking forward to the next one already!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Wines of Tuscany

Last week we hosted a tasting of the stunning region of Tuscany and the wines that come from these softly undulating hillsides. Tuscany is home to some of Italy’s most recognisable and famous wine regions such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, as well as being the spiritual home of Italy’s most widely planted grape variety; Sangiovese. Whilst good quality white wine can be, and is, made, it is generally in small quantities and Tuscany is very much red wine country with the very best wines able to hold their own with the very best in the world.

Historically speaking, Tuscany has always had a connection with wine having been influenced heavily by both the Greeks and then the Romans. Known as the Etruscan people in ancient times, they were known for their lavish lifestyles and ostentatious dinner parties. However, the reason we know Tuscany so well historically was due to the important of Florence during medieval Italy, the largest city in the region and widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance. It was also a capital of European trade and documents dating back to the 14th century suggest that as much as 300,000hl (30 million) litres entered into Florence every year. Like practically every European nation, a combination of Oidium and Phylloxera annihilated the wine industry for a few decades in the late 19th and 20th centuries before replanting and the introduction of appellation laws started to rebuild the region into what we now know today.

The geography of Tuscany is one of the reasons that so many different styles of wines can be made using mainly Sangiovese as the base. Only 8% of the entire region is classified as ‘flat’, and a massive 68% is classified as ‘hilly’. A combination of the increased levels of sunlight and more dramatic diurnal ranges on the slopes are believed to be a winning combination when it comes to producing high quality Sangiovese, allowing for the full maturation of the fruit without losing any of the appealing aromatic qualities of the grape. As a result, most of the better vineyards are planted somewhere between 150-500m above sea level and the region is divided into a huge 48 DOC and DOCG appellations, most of which are relatively unknown on the marketplace.

Other grapes do exist, notably French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc which rose to prominence in the 1960s when the absurb regional laws required the addition of Trebbiano to red wine to soften the tannins, whilst forbidding the inclusion of foreign varietals. Many top producers who wanted to continue with 100% Sangiovese declassified their wines to ‘Vino de Tavola’ or Table Wine as a result, and saw the rise of the ‘Super Tuscans’ amongst other producers. Italy has sensibly revised its appellation laws and the requirement for the inclusion of white varietals was scrapped, with IGT Toscana being created for those wanting to experiment outside of the more classical styles. The only white wine of note from Tuscany is Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, producing a relatively neutral, medium-bodied style of wine for early drinking.

However, in order to discover Tuscany as best we can, we’ve gone for 6 different red wines covering the key regions:

Frescobaldi Campo ai Sassi 2014 – Rosso di Montalcino DOC: ‘Rosso di’ in Italian wine law signifies a red wine from the region mentioned within the name, usually a declassified version of a more serious style: In this case, it’s the lighter, earlier drinking version of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. This has traditionally been in response to the lengthy ageing requirements of Brunello di Montalcino, allowing for early cash flow whilst the more serious and expensive wines are being produced. The result is a light, aromatic and less tannic style of Sangiovese made for early drinking.

The Frescobaldi family are one of the largest and most important producers in Tuscany, with over 1000 hectares of land to their name and unsurprisingly produce a huge amount of differing styles across the region. Their Rosso di Montalcino is rarely celebrated but serves as an excellent introduction to a lighter, more delicate style of Sangiovese. 100% Sangiovese is picked and fermented to 13.5% ABV before being matured in both barriques and large Slovenian casks for 12 months. A further 4 months in bottle allows for a better integration of structure and flavour, although this is a wine for relatively early consumption.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2013 – Chianti Classico DOCG: Chianti is one of the most recognisable names in the wine industry, with hundreds of thousands of bottles being consumed in Italian restaurants around the world. The region itself claims to be the oldest demarcated region in the world, with rough borders drawn up in 1716 which were then expanded dramatically in the 1930s to try and take advantage of the Chianti name and now includes 7 sub-zones. Chianti Classico is a smaller zone within this region (7000 hectares vs the 15,000 of Chianti as a whole), with stricter rules and regulations relating to how wine can be produced. 80% of the wine has to be made from Sangiovese although astonishingly, up to 49 other red varieties can be blended into the wines providing the total amount is no more than 20%.

Fontodi are one of my favourite producers period, and definitely my favourite within Chianti. They have a broad range of wines hailing from 70 hectares of land, mostly around the sub-region of Panzano. Probably best known for their superlative Flaccianello della Pieve, their best value wine must be their outstanding Chianti Classico made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for 18 months in French oak. If I had to showcase a benchmark Chianti Classico to anyone, it would be this with its aromas of ripe cherries, sandalwood and wild herbs. Zippy acidity and grainy, slightly grippy tannins; textbook stuff and absolutely delicious!

Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva “Baron Ugo” 2010 – Chianti Classico DOCG: One of the most confusing aspects of wine labelling from a consumer perspective is the differing use of terms such as “Reserva” and “Riserva” on labels. Strictly regulated in Spain, marginally important in Italy and completely useless in most New World countries, it’s a struggle to understand exactly what’s going on. Chianti is with the rest of Italy on this one, meaning that in order to classify for Riserva status the grapes have to be marginally riper and must be aged in oak for a minimum of 12 months prior to release. However, as these wines aren’t declared before the harvest it is largely meaningless as producers can decide to classify their wines on an ad hoc basis. Like a lot of these marginal labelling requirements, it’s more down to the producer than anything else, with certain producers taking the ‘Riserva’ to heart and using it to produce their very best wines.

One such is Monteraponi. An organic producer with over 200 hectares of land under their control, often at very high elevations, they’re making wonderful classically styled Chianti wines. Eschewing modern techniques, they ferment and age their wines in older, larger barrels from Hungary, Austria and Burgundy as well as large concrete tanks. Their ‘Baron Ugo’ bottling has been aged for over 36 months in this manner (Slovenian oak and concrete), and is a traditional field blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo and Colorino. The result is a serious, structured wine meant for ageing although at almost 7 years old, the sour-cherry and herbal flavours are already expressing themselves beautifully. So much so, in fact, that this wine won our “Wine of the Night” award with 5/10 votes!

Tenuta Caparzo Vigna la Casa 2004 – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: Brunello has the shortest history of all the serious red wines of Italy, although that doesn’t say much as the name was first coined in 1865! For 57 years thereafter, only 4 vintages were ever made with Brunello used as a labelling term, adding an air of mysticism to the wine and greatly improving its value due to rarity. In modern day production, we know it as a DOCG region around the town of Montalcino with requirements designed to produce long-lived, serious wines from the Brunello clone of Sangiovese (Sangiovese Grosso). These requirements have been relaxed since their introduction in 1980 and a great many styles can be produced as a result. Roughly speaking, wines produced from grapes grown at the higher elevations to the north of the region tend to be more structured and aromatic, whilst the southern region of Brunello di Montalcino producers richer, fuller bodied wines due to the higher temperatures and clay soils.

Tenuta Caparzo are one of the most significant producers in the region, with over 180 hectares of land dedicated to the production of vines. ‘Vigna la Casa’ is a single vineyard wine, produced from 5 hectares of land in the northern region of Brunello. It’s aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak as per appellation laws for Riserva wines, although certain vintages can spend a significantly longer period of time in cask. The result is a long-lived, seriously structured and powerful wine with aromas of dried cherries, smoked meat, leather and olives. Still quite young but approachable and a great way to conclude our Sangiovese journey!

Felsina Maestro Raro 2013 – IGT Toscana: IGT (PGI) appellations were introduced to Italy in 1992 in response to producers falling outside of the traditional regions, whether due to wine-making or choice of grape variety. This has been warmly greeted in Tuscany where many of the producers were unwilling to conform the rules and regulations there, including the producers of so called “Super Tuscans”, a coin termed by the British and American wine press to group wines produced as either a blend or 100% of an international varietal, typically Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Felsina are based in Chianti Classico but often use IGT Toscana for many of their wines, including the Maestro Raro bottling of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the 94 hectares of their vineyards are towards the southern areas of Chianti where Sangiovese takes on a fuller bodied profile and Cabernet Sauvignon excels, having been first planted in these vineyards in 1987. The wine is aged in French oak for between 18 and 20 months, and another 10 months or so in the bottle prior to release. A medium-bodied, herbal and very distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon is the result, strongly perfumed and quite crunchy on the palate. Still very young and definitely will require a long decant prior to service!

Poggio al Tesoro Sondraia 2012 – DOC Bolgheri: DOC Bolgheri is located within the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany, famous for its focus on French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Unsurprisingly, many of the most famous Super-Tuscans hailed from this part of the region and Sassicaia, the first and most famous, has since been granted its own DOCG within Bolgheri. The success of this wine, along with Ornellaia and others, saw huge investment in the region towards the end of the 1980’s and the area under vine has gone from 250 hectares to over 1000 in the space of the last 30 years. The attraction is the more moderate temperatures of the coastal areas, allowing for earlier ripening and often plusher fruit profiles than those found in Bordeaux, yet not quite as rich as many of the New World sites.

Poggio al Tesoro are a relatively new project in the region, funded by the famous Allegrini family from Veneto. They acquired 70 hectares of land in different areas of the appellation and have focused on producing a variety of French varietals. Sondraia is one of their more serious red wines, heavily built around Cabernet Sauvignon with a small quantity of both Merlot and Cabernet Franc blended in. The wine is then aged for 18 months in 50% new french oak and immediately released. As the region suggests, this is somewhere inbetween Bordeaux and a New World wine, with the green, herbal aspects of Bordeaux but lots of fruit and oak as well, and at 14% alcohol this couldn’t be confused with a cool-climate wine. At the more affordable end of the Super-Tuscan scale (which doesn’t say a lot!) and a great way to finish our tasting of Tuscany.

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