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.

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

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

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 19 – July 2017

July: A baking hot month under the Spanish sun for both us and for the grapes; a couple of years ago, during July 2015, it even became so hot that the plants stopped photosynthesising for a few weeks! As flowering is concluded at this stage, the vines are suddenly the proud parents of small, tightly knit bunches of hard, green grapes. This is the first indication that the grower has of the size and quality of the crop for the year and some will even begin ‘green harvesting’ at this stage, which is the act of removing some bunches of grapes in order to help concentrate the remaining bunches. Depending on how warm it is, veraison can begin in late July or early August, that is to say, the changing of the colour of the grapes to white and red depending on their variety.

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 19th Edition of Maestrazgo Wine Clubs newsletter. I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer break and enjoying the whacky weather of Barcelona; one moment it’s unbearably hot, the next it’s a thunderstorm, the next it’s a breezy day, reminiscent of Spring. You’ll likely see me around town a great deal as I’m working a lot over the summer, including planning some new tastings for September onwards! There’ll be some slight structural changes to Maestrazgo Wine Club when we relaunch in September, but all will be revealed in next months newsletter. For now I can only wish you all the best and apologise if I wander past you in the streets of Barcelona; being a new father is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had but it does make for some very sleepy moments…

Barcelona Wine Tasting Events:

As there won’t be any Maestrazgo Wine Club tastings for a few months, here are a few other groups on Meet-up that are organising interesting wine tastings around the city:

BCN Tastings Wine Club: Ran by my friend, Alex Pastor, this is a new group focusing on high quality wines from both Spain and abroad. Expect upcoming tastings this month on the varying styles of Rioja as well as an international tasting of sparkling wines! https://www.meetup.com/BCN-Tastings-Wine-Club/

The Wednesday Wine Club: Ran by Alice and organised at Vivinos, The Wednesday Wine Club is a regular group with varying topics, mostly focused around the world of Spanish wine. They recently organised a successful trip to a recent wine festival in Priorat as well, so a very interesting group to be part of! https://www.meetup.com/Wine-Wednesday-Tasting-Networking/

BCN Gastronomic Society: A collection of different organisers from around the city, look out for events organised by Adria Montserrat as he tends to organise the wine events. https://www.meetup.com/BCN-Gastronomic-Society/

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. ‘Priorat’s new structure’ by Miquel Hudin. Priorat has long been a shining light in its approach to appellation and structure, championing not only village wines but individual vineyards as well. Miquel Hudin, wine-writer and local expert, looks into the future of the structure of the appellation and what it all means at present. The future looks increasingly bright for Priorat and if the rest of Spain can adopt a similar approach to understanding their soil, vines and ‘terroir’, then so much the better! https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/priorats-new-structure

2. ‘Fino’s context warning’ by Sarah Abbott MW. I still remember the first time I tried Fino Sherry; it was during my level 3 WSET course in London and I was very much put off. Salty, briney and what on earth is that smell? It’s now a personal favourite, which just goes to show you how much tastes can change, but I have a lot of sympathy for people who are first introduced to this very specific drink. Sarah Abbott MW puts this into perspective with some interesting asides about the production, cultural and historical aspects of the drink. http://www.timatkin.com/articles?1788

3. ‘Alta Alella – The search for terroir expression’ by Yolanda Ortiz de Arri. Alella is a tiny DO just north of Barcelona, with a grand total of 9 producers registered in the area. By far and away the shining light is Alta Alella, a modern winery perched on the top of the hill, overlooking the town and sloping down into the Mediterranean sea. Yolanda Ortiz digs into what makes the winery tick, their various projects and their philosophy heading into the future. Alella is all of a 20 minute bus ride from Barcelona for the grand cost of 3 euros each way, so consider a day out exploring the vineyards and wines of the area; it’s the perfect time of the year for it! http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-252-alta-alella-the-search-for-terroir-expression

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

Domaine Andree Anjou Rouge 2012


There was a lot of competition this month, as I’ve been lucky to drink and try a lot of very good wine. However, Domaine Andree wins through with their delicious, refreshing and very reasonable priced wine from the Loire Valley in France. The grape in use is Grolleau Noir, a variety I only discovered around a year ago, and it turns out that it isn’t commonly used for quality wine production. However, with low yields and clever vinification, this humble grape turns into something really special. Aromatically gorgeous, with wonderful aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries and violets. There’s a touch of light oak usage to give it a touch of complexity and just a hint of something herbal. With 12% alcohol and lots of verve and life, at 16 euros a bottle this is the perfect summer wine. Currently imported and distributed by Vila Viniteca.

General Ramblings
A collection of wine facts, questions and drunken musings on the world of wine

Taking a break – I miss running the Maestrazgo Wine Club events, I really do. They’re my favourite part of the week and although it’s not a profitable exercise, I get a lot out of the process. However, taking this extended break has given me an awful lot of ideas on how to improve the tastings, how best to take them forward and has resulted in a restructuring of how they’re going to work. Fear not, this isn’t a large change and all will be revealed next month. All I will say is; if you’re a wine lover living in Barcelona, these tastings will be unmissable!

Barcelona Wine Selection – I’ve often been quite critical of the international selection of wine available in Barcelona, but recently it feels like I can find a reasonable choice from most countries in the world, albeit with a bit of extra leg-work. Keep an eye on my Barcelona by the Glass project as over the coming months I’ll be reviewing a lot more wine shops, bars and even a couple of restaurants with special wine choices within the city. Word to the wise; Vila Viniteca have just reorganised their shop on Carrer Agullers and a few interesting bottles have been uncovered from the dark corners; it’s not unheard of for the staff to lose track of what’s in there!

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

Blog: winecuentista.com
Facebook: Wine Cuentista
Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista
Instagram: wine_cuentista

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

Fintan Kerr

Maestrazgo Wine Club Newsletter – Edition 17 – May 2017

May: A similar month to April, with a great deal of green growth and management of the soil and canopy to be done. Unfortunately this year, there has already been frost sweeping across Europe which has destroyed many of the buds that would ordinarily go on to flower and produce grapes. As a result, 2017 is already off to a rough start and the damage hasn’t been fully assessed yet; even parts of continental Spain have suffered quite badly. With warmer temperatures, buds are starting to develop earlier than usual and the late Spring frosts are particularly harmful, wiping out not only the potential crop but in severe cases, even limiting the vines ability to recover and produce extra buds. There’s still lots of work to be done to prevent these outbreaks of frost and to shelter as much of the vineyards as possible. Whilst wealthy producers may go as far as hiring helicopters to disperse the cool pockets of air, most vignerons will be up all night, lighting fires and trying to keep cool air from settling. A hard month lies ahead.

Hello Wine Lovers! Welcome to the 17th Edition of Maestrazgo Wine Club and another month of wine tasting in Barcelona. This month we’re going to be doing another 3 tastings, with one blind tasting of international varieties, a tasting focusing on some of the most exciting, terroir driven wine-makers in Spain and an international tasting looking at the famous Rhone Valley of France. We’re only two months away from our annual summer break from our weekly gatherings, so I’m looking forward to signing off with a bang! There are some delicious wines to be drank and as always, the tastings will be taking place in our private room in the Born district of Barcelona and are limited to 10 persons per event.

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

11th May – International Wine Tasting: Blind Tasting – 10 places available – 30 euros p/p
18th May – Spanish Wine Tasting: The Terroir Manifesto – 10 places available – 30 euros p/p
25th May – International Wine Tasting: The Rhone Valley – 10 places available – 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. ‘Penedes and local grapes’ by Amaya Cervera – Spanish Wine Lovers are back with another excellent article, this time on the indigenous varieties of DO Penedes.With such a wealth of indigenous grapes in Spain, it’s sometimes a wonder we use anything else at all but the truth is that a lot of them are slowing dying off, as vineyards are replaced with more fashionable varieties. Read about what they’re up to in the Penedes to combat this. http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-245-peneds-plays-the-local-grape-card
  2. ‘Where have all the wine merchants gone?’ by Tim Atkin MW. This is an excellent article written by one of the most widely travelled Masters of Wine, Tim Atkins. The piece is about the British wine trades tendency to focus on famous names and scores to sell wines, rather than getting out there and making new discoveries, something I believe applies very strongly indeed to the Spanish wine trade! All the really excellent importers and retailers I know of share one similar trait; they get out there and they taste the wines. Every year. As a result, they’re always adding new producers, wines and styles which enriches our wine culture immensely. http://www.timatkin.com/articles?1775
  3. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a fake’ by Adam Lechmere. Forgeries and fakes in the wine industry are reaching a whole never level, with some experts estimating that as close to 75% of all wines imported into Hong Kong are fake; a terrifying thought. As bottle prices for the rarest wines spirals out of control, there’s a huge industry in well made fake wines to sell to collectors and what we know at the moment, is that we’ve only discovered the tip of the iceberg. If you haven’t seen the documentary Sour Grapes on Netflix already, I highly, highly recommend you watch it! https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/where-theres-will-theres-fake

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

Francisco Barona Ribera del Duero 2014

Technically a little more than 25 euros, (28 to be precise) but what a wine! It was only a few weeks ago that I was having a conversation with a friend about wines from Ribera del Duero, something along the lines of how the wines are always a little bit too similar in style. Then this comes along. Fresh, vibrant and so full of energy and concentration, a truly delicious wine. I believe it’s the first vintage of this new producer and there’s a limited production of 12,000 bottles making this pretty difficult to find. If you can track some down, I highly recommend it! I’ve got two bottles put away somewhere, so perhaps it may come to a tasting with a year or two of extra age behind it…. more likely it’ll be consumed with great relish long before that! This sort of wine is the future of Ribera del Duero.

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!

“Do I need a wine fridge to store my wine?” – Honestly, it really depends on how long you want to keep it for. If you’re planning on drinking your wine within a year or two, professional storage isn’t really necessary and most cool, dark places will do. If you’re fortunate to live in a house with more than one floor, under the stairs is almost ideal for this sort of make-shift cellar whereas for the majority of us living in Barcelona, a bag or box under the bed is probably the next best option. For longer term storage or for particularly poorly ventilated flats (my previous abode turned into Hells Kitchen during July/August) then yes, a wine fridge would be highly recommended!

“What is ‘Fortified Wine’?” – A Fortified Wine is usually a wine that has had neutral grape spirit, 77-96% ABV, added at some point during its creation, often during the fermentation process. This was historically done to make wines more robust for long sea journeys; a certain George Washington famously toasted the independence of the USA with Madeira, a wine that has been both oxidised and fortified to around 19%, making it an ideal drink to send across a 3 month trans-Atlantic crossing in the 18th Century! It is also done to kill the yeast responsible for completing the fermentation, leaving a sizeable quantity of unfermented sugar in the wine. As a result, many fortified wines are sweet; Port, sweet Sherries, Madeira, Vin Doux Naturels etc. Highly under-rated and usually available at very good prices. PX drizzled across vanilla ice cream with crushed walnuts… thank me later.

“What’s the correct temperature to serve wine?” – Naturally this is slightly subjective as it largely depends on the personal preference of the person drinking the wine. However, the old adage of ‘Serve red wine at room temperature’ certainly doesn’t hold true in Spain, and with the advent of central heating only really makes sense in you live in an igloo, in which case you probably aren’t drinking wine and definitely aren’t reading this newsletter. My personal favourite temperatures depend slightly on the body/style of the wine, just as a general rule I try to serve red wines around 16°C and whites at around 10°C. If you’re ever in doubt, try to serve the wine slightly cooler than you would ordinarily as it will always warm up in the glass but is highly unlikely to get cooler.

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

Blog: winecuentista.com
Facebook: Wine Cuentista
Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista
Instagram: wine_cuentista

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

Fintan Kerr

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: 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!

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