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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!

Thoughts on: A Tale of Two Wines from Chinon

Cabernet Franc is one of my favourite grapes in the wine world, capable of elegance and charm in its own right and adding perfume and freshness to many of the worlds Bordeaux blends. Despite being grown in warmer regions, particularly in the USA and Argentina, it really excels in cool to moderate climates, where the crunchy, red fruit profile and herbaceous flavours come into their own. This typically means Bordeaux, where it was historically planted as an insurance in case the Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t full ripen, particularly on the right bank where Cabernet Sauvignon has traditionally struggled to ripen in the cooler, clay soils. However, despite certain Chateau using Cabernet Franc as a majority in their blends (Cheval Blanc being a notably famous example), my favourite region for the variety has always been Touraine in the Loire Valley, particularly around a small region known as Chinon. (Psst, we’ll be doing a wine tasting of the Loire Valley in October with Maestrazgo Wine Club!)

The Loire Valley isn’t a warm place, being located in northern France, but as it stretches so far along its namesake river, making generalisations about style is difficult. What is certainly true is that the Loire is responsible for some of France’s best value, cool climate wines, with only really Sancerre commanding premium prices in certain markets. Touraine, located in the centre, is arguably the most important of the zones, often referred to as ‘The Garden of France’. It’s here that the best regions for Cabernet Franc are to be found, with both Chinon and Bourgueil making a strong claim, with Chinon probably the best known of the two.

Over the last year or so, I’ve drank a reasonable amount of Chinon but never in a comparative format. So, when Monvinic Store were having a small sale of some affordable wines from the region, I scooped a few bottles up and went about with the comparison! It’s worth noting that Chinon roughly comes in two different styles; full bodied, more structured Cabernet Franc from the clay and gravel soils, whereas lighter styles are made on the sandy, alluvial soils closer to the river. How fortunate then, that I managed to have wines from different producers, in the same vintage, on these two, very different soil types! It’s worth noting that 2011 was a pretty torrid vintage in the Loire, where the continental conditions make for some severe vintage variation, and typically it is the Cabernet Franc grown in the more structured style that rides the bad years more capably.

Domaine Grosbois Gabare Chinon 2011 – 12.5% ABV

Domaine Grosbois is an old estate that has been ran by the Grosbois family since the French revolution, with 9 hectares of land on the lighter, sand and gravel soils around Panzoult. Like so many estates in France, it has recently been given an injection of pace and a clear direction by a younger generation, in this case Nicolas Grosbois. My experience with wine-makers is that the best nearly always have an international appreciation of wine, and often experience in other wine regions. This is true for Nicolas who worked at one of my favourite wineries in New Zealand, Pegasus Bay, as well as Brokenwood in Australia. His main contribution to the future of Domaine Grosbois was to revitalise the land, first of all with a switch to organic viticulture and more recently to the more controversial, biodynamic system. All his Cabernet Franc is unoaked and the intention is to give a pure expression of Chinon and his vineyards in particular.

Gabare 2011 is 100% unoaked Cabernet Franc harvested from sandy soils at the base of his vineyards. A slightly murky, ruby colour and with a subtle aroma of fresh red fruits, this isn’t giving much away but slowly opens up to reveal lighter notes of fresh violets, fresh leaves and black pepper. A little lean on the palate with the same fresh flavours, and perhaps a lack of texture from the tannins. A nice, simple Cabernet Franc that feels affected by the weather conditions of 2011.

Charles Joguet Les Petit Roches 2011 – 13.5% ABV

Charles Joguet is a name that resonates in the Loire Valley and particularly in Chinon; taking over his family estate in 1957, Charles was one of the first wine-makers to start attracting international attention to the region. The estate itself is sat on deeper, clay dominated soils covering 36 hectares of prime vineyards, including some of the very best in the appellation. 9 different wines are made in total, reflecting their origins from specific plots around the estate. Since Charles retired, the estate went through a short but unwelcome period of misdirection and inactivity, before Kevin Fontaine took over the reins and brought it back on track. This is the producer I’m most familiar with in the region and I’ve enjoyed 5 of the 9 cuvees thus far, all a wonderful expression of Chinon and Cabernet Franc.

The wine itself has a much clearer appearance when compared with the Gabare from Domaine Grosbois. Aromatic and energetic, the extra ripeness of the wine is apparent with a riper red fruit profile, graphite, gravel, earth and a stronger, more clearly defined herbal note. The lovely, crunchy tannic profile comes out on the palate and there’s the energy and vibrancy I so love about wines from Chinon. A lovely balance of red fruits, herbal notes and earth; quintessential Chinon.

I really enjoyed this small experiment, and not just because I love drinking Chinon. I learn a lot of theory as part of my studies and it’s nice when something practical helps click the pieces into place. In this case, that soil type and the situation of the vineyard makes a big difference when it comes to the profile of the wines from Chinon, particularly in poor vintages. The extra ripeness and balance of the Charles Joguet made it a far more attractive wine, with more energy and more typicity. I would love to find the same two wines from a better vintage, 2010 say, and make the same comparison. Keep your eyes peeled on the 1st October as there will certainly be a Cabernet Franc or two to get your lips around in our tasting of the Loire Valley!

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!

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part IV

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

Monvic is open once again after the summer break, hurrah! With a little over 4 months until the Unit 3 exam, it seems like a good idea to get back practicing again. To ease myself in a little more easily, and also due to meeting a friend for lunch on the same day, I thought I’d do a quick 15 minute, 2 wine tasting. 1 white, 1 red, both mono-varietal. Whilst blind tasting isn’t an easy discipline, this should be about as easy as it gets!

White Wine

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe citrus fruit, green apple, green pear, fresh stone fruits and a chalky, stony quality. A touch of white flowers and no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high, bracing acidity, medium alcohol, a medium body and a medium+ intensity and finish. This tastes like either an incredibly young wine or a grape variety that naturally has a lot of natural acidity, although there is a nice texture to the wine; it certainly has some weight. Relatively neutral in terms of profile with a nice, fresh character and a gorgeous, saline finish, but as with the nose I couldn’t discern any obvious wine-making. Really delicious stuff but feels tight, like it’s being drank very young.

Guess: Godello from Valdeorras, Spain, from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Chablis, France, from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Daniel Dampt and Fils Cote de Lechet 1er 2014

From a long lineage of vintners, Vincent Dampt continues the family tradition of excellence at Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils, which was established by his father. The estate currently consists of 30 hectares, including 16 hectares of Chablis and 14 hectares of Chablis 1er Cru. The recently constructed cellar is equipped with stainless steel tanks which is intrinsic to the fresh, mineral style of Chablis produced here. The purchase of modern, powerful cellar equipment has enabled the group to increase its production of bottles, which now stands at 150,000 bottles per year.

Conclusions/Learning points: Gah. This is very much a case of thinking about something too much and coming to an overly obscure conclusion. Reading my tasting note back, it’s screaming Chablis. Prominent acidity, fresh citrus and green fruit flavours, no obvious oak but a decent weight with some texture… of course, Godello. Still, the profile matches for both, it’s just a case of playing the game a little bit and going with the more likely choice. On the positive side, this was a really delicious wine from a producer I hadn’t tried before. Really looking forward to finding more of his wines!

Red Wine

The wine has a pale cherry-red, ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe red berries, currants and a hint of strawberry. Nicely perfumed, there’s some violet, floral notes here as well as some earthiness and just a touch of stalkiness – whole bunch fermentation? Hints of toast, pepper and a subtle char might be coming from old oak and there’s also a high toned, volatile aroma that lifts everything quite nicely. Very old world and slightly minimal intervention in style.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe, firm tannins, medium+ alcohol, a medium+ body, a medium intensity and a medium finish. Whilst slightly generous on the nose, this is a leaner wine on the palate with some grip and bite to the tannins. Much leaner in terms of flavour profile as well, with that fresh berry fruit and herbal character coming to the fore. Still fresh and well balanced, but not at the same level as the Chablis before it.

Guess: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Wine: Foillard Morgon Eponyme 2013

Jean Foillard is a disciple of Jules Chauvet, a noted enologist who believed in fashioning Beaujolais in an altogether different way from the modern standard of semi-carbonic maceration. Foillard’s 8ha (cultivated organically though not certified) include one of the best sites in the whole Beaujolais region, Morgon’s Côte du Py. Important to the style are low yields and very ripe grapes, which are subject to a long cool vinification, practically zero use of sulphur and minimal or no filtration.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Thrilled to nail this wine, particularly as I followed a very logical process to get there. Possible grape varieties included Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, almost definitely old world, suggested by the firmness of the tannins and the lean/mineral flavours. Lack of a strong black pepper and/or smoked meat character made Syrah from Croze-Hermitage unlikely and the tannic structure and slight peppery note made it unlikely to be Pinot Noir, so Gamay it is. Morgon was a bit of a shot in the dark, I’ll admit but most of the more minimal interventionist styles I’ve tried have been from producers with land there, including of course, Foillard! Very happy to get one of these completely right, even if I messed up the Chablis. Onto a full tasting next week!

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