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!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Wines of Bordeaux

Bordeaux Chateau

Bordeaux: potentially the most famous and widely recognised wine region in the world but not exactly at the height of fashion at present. Bordeaux itself is a port-town sitting on the river Garonne leading to the Gironde estuary on the west coast of France; a key to its enormous commercial success. It is France’s largest produce of AOC quality wine, with over 112,000 hectares planted with vines and almost a quarter of all quality wine in France is produced here. Not only that, but many of France’s most prolific wines and producers hail from this cool, wet part of the country with prices for the 1st growth wines stretching into the stratosphere, particularly since the 2009 and 2010 vintages when Asia first ventured into the fine wine market in force. However, all the glamour and wealth from the top estates paints a false picture; the top Chateau make up a paltry 5% of total production. The rest is shared between an increasingly impoverished and struggling group of producers, numbering over 7000 at the last count. As a result, the market of Bordeaux is particularly complicated with a younger generation of wine drinkers unable to purchase the top wines and the majority of producers struggling to make ends meet against the new waves of more accessible, New World wines.

Historically Bordeaux was first catalogued as a wine producing region by the Latin poet Ausonius (after whom Chateau Ausone is named) but in truth began to define itself during the 17th century and is largely in part due to the unquenchable thirst of the British. With preferential treatment in London for Gascon merchants and a reprieve on all taxations for products shipped from Bordeaux, England slowly flooded with Bordelais wine, surviving even the 100 Year War between the two countries. Another nation with an enormous impact was the Dutch, whose industrious merchants drained the marshy Medoc, paving the way for some of the most important Chateau we know today, as well as creating an enormous market for inexpensive white wine. However, like much of Europe, phylloxera coupled with two World Wars led to severe difficulties and many vineyards weren’t replanted until the 1950’s, when the trade started to recover in a big way. Wine purchases, ‘En Primeur’, as futures became the norm as Chateau could no longer afford to hold large stocks of wine in reserve, the American market became increasingly interested, and a succession of fine vintages in the 1980s triggered global interest. In 2017, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the trials and tribulations of the Bordelais as the prices seem to increase every year, regardless of the vintage.

Bordeaux-Wine-Map

Geographically speaking, it’s easiest to think of Bordeaux in terms of the ‘left bank’ and the ‘right bank’; quite literally the regions of each side of the Gironde estuary as it splits into the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers with Entre-Deux-Mers, ‘between two seas’, the large area in the middle of the two. There are over 50 appellations within Bordeaux itself but the most famous vineyards and wines are to be found in the well drained soils of the Medoc and Graves on the left bank and St. Emilion and Pomerol on the right. The climate is moderate maritime, influenced greatly by the proximity to the Atlantic ocean and as a result, the wines are very mild in style, or to quote Jancis Robinson MW: “Marked by subtlety rather than power.” Grape varieties vary but tend to be focused around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the former being more prevalent on the gravelly soils of the left bank and the latter finding itself on the cooler clay-based soils of the right bank and all throughout Entre-Deux-Mers. Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot make up the other important red grapes of the region, with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle only making up 10% of plantings for white and sweet wines in the south.

The part where Bordeaux gets complicated is its many classifications and trade structures; it is indeed the most heavily classified wine region in the world with only Pomerol exempt from a ranking system of sorts. The most famous of these was the 1855 classification of the Medoc which has largely defined the most famous Chateau in the entire region of Bordeaux. Sauternes and Barsac were classified at the same time separately for sweet wine production. Not to be left out, Graves decided to create their own classification for their Chateau in 1959 and St. Emilion has updated their own classifications as recently as 2012, albeit with some very high profile legal battles in the process. Small wonder most consumers find Bordeaux to be a tricky region to navigate and this is before getting onto the topic of negociants, en primeur tastings, expanding territories, foreign investment and critical opinion, with Bordeaux to be a big market for some of the worlds most highly acclaimed wine writers and wine merchants. Still, there’s simply no better way to discover a region than by drinking a few glasses of its wine as we delve into it, and on that note, here are the wines we chose to help us navigate our way around the region:

Haut Lafitte

Le Petit Haut-Lafitte Blanc 2013 – The second white wine of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Grand Cru Classe wine from Pessac-Leognan; a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. The white wines of Bordeaux, whilst only making up 10% of total production, are considered by many to be the finest white wines in the world. Typically the wines express a cooler climate expression of Sauvignon Blanc with lots of citrus, white stone fruit and gooseberry aromas with a softer, more floral aroma depending on the level of Semillon and/or Muscadelle. These wines are often oaked and in the case of Le Petit Haut-Lafitte Blanc, for 10 months in 50% new oak with consistent lees stirring. There’s a wonderful balance of toasty oak, crisp acidity and fresh fruit flavours with a wonderfully complete texture. Delicious stuff!

Fourcas Dupre

Chateau Fourcas Dupre 2010 – Now we head to the Listrac-Medoc, one of the lesser appellations of the region and the highest in altitude. Typically on the left-bank of Bordeaux you’ll find a higher concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon, at the most northerly limit of where it will ripen. The key here is the well-drained gravel soils that help retain and reflect heat back onto the grapes, giving them the extra boost they need in the final weeks of the ripening period. Chateau Fourcas Dupre is a good quality producer focusing mainly on red wines, with the Fourcas Dupre being their ‘Grand Vin’, with two other atypical wines with a majority of Merlot in the blend. Still tightly knit together after almost 7 years of age, this is an outstanding value-for-money purchase and showcases how good wine from the ‘lesser’ appellations can often be. Fresh, structured and full of young fruit, slowly evolving into the typical graphite and cedar of left bank Bordeaux.

Haut Bergey

Chateau Haut-Bergey 2010 – Back to Pessac Leognan now for a look at a wine with some pedigree; Chateau Haut-Bergey. Purchased in 1991 and renovated heavily by Sylvain Garcin-Cathiard, Haut-Bergey now produces around 50,000 bottles of their top wine every year. A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Merlot and aged in 30% new oak for 16-18 months, this is very much a modern expression of Pessac-Leognan. The 2010 we drank was only just starting to show itself, tightly wound and full of graphite, dark fruit, toast and licorice. Given time, this will be a real beauty and is really very representative of a high quality vintage, where wines will typically take a little longer to open up and express themselves. The wait is usually worth it!

Grand Pontet

Chateau Grand-Pontet 2007 – Ah, the ever popular right bank of Bordeaux. St.Emilion, with its cooler, clay-based soils is the spiritual home of Merlot with many of Bordeauxs most highly acclaimed wines hailing from both here and neighbouring Pomerol. Cabernet Franc also thrives here, adding perfume and freshness to the, sometimes, very ripe Merlot wines. Chateau Grand-Pontet has been in the hands of the Becot family since 1980, themselves no stranger to Bordeaux with several other properties in the region, and is a wonderful expression of St.Emilion Grand Cru wines. 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc is blended and aged in 80% new oak for between 12 and 18 months before the final blending and bottling. Powerful and full of ripe, dark fruits, violets, chocolate and a lovely note of cedar lingers through into a very long finish. The ‘Wine of the Night’ by popular consensus and little surprise there! A wonderful wine with a reasonable life still ahead of it.

Botrytis

Chateau Doisy-Vedrines 2009 – A tasting of Bordeaux wouldn’t be complete without a beautiful Sauternes to finish the evening. Some of the most famous sweet wines in the world hail from this corner of wet, misty France where the perfect conditions for botrytis (Noble Rot) are to be found in the regions of Sauternes and Barsac; close enough to the Garonne river to create humid, misty mornings which are then swept away to be replaced by warm, dry afternoons. This results in slightly dehydrated grapes, full of flavour and concentrated with both sugar and acid. Chateau Doisy-Vedrines is actually located in neighbouring Barsac but is allowed to use the Sauternes appellation, as with all producers located within Barsac. This is a much lighter, fragrant style of Sauternes with a clear expression of botrytis; bitter orange, marmalade and candied peach. There is a wonderful integration of oak here and I can’t think of a better way to finish an evening than with a bottle of this and a plate of good, blue cheese. Still incredibly young with a long, delicious evolution ahead of it.

Another wonderful evening with a great group of people, with wines to match the uncharacteristically cold, wet weather in Barcelona. There won’t be any further international tastings in February but from March 9th onwards, expect to see weekly wine tastings, right in the heart of Barcelona city centre. For more information contact me through our page here, whether it’s to join an existing wine tasting or to organise something privately with your friends and family.

Thoughts on: Judging Quality in Wine with the WSET Lexicon

wine-judging

So, I spent the entire of yesterday learning how to taste and analyse sparkling wines as objectively as possible, in exam conditions. This ranged from cheap and simple Prosecco to incredibly expensive Vintage Champagne, Lambrusco to sparkling Shiraz and a little bit of everything in between from all corners of the globe. As usual, the WSET method of tasting focuses mainly on the students ability to correctly analyse a wine, breaking it down in terms of flavours, aromas and the structure. However, at the Diploma level a great deal more emphasis is then placed on your ability to qualify the quality level of the wine, ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘outstanding’ with a substantial amount of justification needing to be given regardless of your decision.

I’ve always appreciated the methology I’ve learnt from studying with the WSET; it’s a very rigorous, methodical approach that forms a solid foundation for practically any sort of tasting you’ll be required to do professionally in the industry and can easily be built upon to be a little more flexible. Essentially, it’s designed on the following framework:

Balance – Is the wine balanced? Does anything stick out unpleasantly, or does any one part of the wine overpower the others? Sometimes very acidic wines can become a little tart if the flavours aren’t concentrated enough. Sweet wines can taste cloying and sloppy if the acidity is too low to support the sugar concentration. Alcohol can be quite aggressive and hot if it’s unreasonably high in the context of the wine. Even something you really enjoy in a wine, say bright, fruity flavours, can make a wine quite disappointing if everything else falls flat by comparison.

Length – How long do the desirable flavours last for? Some wines can be quite basic and still be well balanced. Some wines can be quite basic and give the impression of quality, often due to manipulation of oak, lees contact and extraction. A good, long finish however, is essentially impossible to achieve without healthy, top quality grapes and as such, is a mark of real quality.

Intensity – How intense are the flavours in the wine? This is something I find is often misjudged as it’s easy to confuse power and size with intensity. You can have a 15% ABV Barossa Shiraz that has real intensity on the palate but at the same time, a 9.5% ABV Riesling from the Mosel Valley can pack just as much of a punch. Intensity is the strength and impact of those flavours and how they’re delivered. I recall Jancis Robinson MW referring to her first experience with Musigny Grand Cru as being like ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’ which very much encapsulates the concept.

Complexity – How complex are the aromas and flavours in the wine? Is it a young, simple wine or is there a level of development there? Can you easily distinguish between primary fruit flavours, secondary influences of wine-making and the tertiary effects of bottle ageing? Does it improve the wine as a whole?

wset-outside

Now, it’s fair to say that this system isn’t perfect. I’m sure many of us can think of a wine that is absolutely delicious without being overly complex. I’m sure that, as individual consumers, some of us like wine that is sometimes a little bit unbalanced providing it’s in favour of an attribute we happen to particularly enjoy. It’s also been noted that certain wine styles, particularly those with levels of brett, volatile acidity and other ‘faults’/quirks fare quite poorly, regardless of how tasty they are. This is where individual tasting scope and common sense comes into play; the system is after all, just a foundation to be built upon, not a stand-alone all encompassing solution. On a more personal note, below are three additional factors I subconsciously process when drinking wine outside of exam conditions:

Provenance – Is the wine easily identified? Put simply, I want wine to taste like the grape(s) it’s made from and the place it comes from as I appreciate tasting flavours and styles that have been built from decades of consistent work, regulation and tradition. Innovation is important but it has to have a solid basis other than some mad wine-makers personal philosophy if I’m going to part with hard earned cash in order to acquire it.

Accessibility – Can I drink this now or do I have to wait for a number of years before opening it? Put simply, a lot of high quality wines are quite aggressive when they’re very young and require time in the bottle for the components to integrate, soften and become more expressive. This is a problem if you live in Barcelona and rely on good friends with wine fridges to store your modest collection. As a result, I rarely buy wine anymore that I won’t be drinking within a year or two at the latest. This is a really personal one and if I had anywhere remotely appropriate for long term ageing, one I’d scrap in an instant. Probably.

Most importantly -Is it delicious? The most subjective factor of them all. Do you want to pour yourself another glass of it? Is it good enough that you’d want to share it with your friends? This may be no more objective than Alice Feirings consideration of ’emotional impact’, but it’s less pretentiously presented (I hope). I may be a wine geek but if I’m rushing to share a wine with someone, it’s far more likely to be this point than anything else.

I suppose the most important consideration of systematic tasting and analysis is to have a few criteria to go by, regardless of what they are. This is ultimately how we develop our own preferences, tasting experience and slowly start to unravel and learn the world of wine from a practical point of view. As soon as you start to stop and think about a glass of wine, your relationship to wine starts to change; for the better, I hasten to add! If you don’t already, the next time you drink a glass of wine take 30 seconds to ask yourself ‘What do I like about this wine?’ It’s well worth the time!

Barcelona Wine Tasting Newsletter: January 2017

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

winter-pruning

January: The vines start the New Year in much the same condition as the rest of us; fast asleep. The leaves have long since gone, and the green canes that grew in the summer before will have lignified; that is, turned brown and woody. Any extra carbohydrates will be stored deep in the trunk of the vine and this is a sign that winter pruning can begin. Traditionally pruning starts on the 22nd January or the feast of the patron saint of vignerons, St. Vincent, although for practical reasons it tends to begin a lot sooner. Winter pruning is an arduous but necessary task as it determines the numer of buds left on the vine for this years growing season and subsequent harvest. Not the most thrilling of jobs in the cold winter but there’s little rest when it comes to the production of good quality wine!

Hello Wine Lovers! Happy New Year to you all! 2016 was a wonderful year but now we’re looking ahead to the promises of 2017 and regardless of what the wider world has to say, we fully intend to pick up where we left off and carry on exploring the world of wine together. I’m back in London for some more studying this month, leaving us with space for 3 tastings and I thought it would be a good time to go back to some basics. We’re going to kick off by looking at some of the most interesting and exciting regions in Spain to look out for during 2017 with our tasting on the 5th January; “Bold Predictions: Regions to drink in 2017”. On the flip-side of this, on the 19th January we’re going to take a moment to explore some of the lesser celebrated regions of Spain with our tasting “The Lost Ones: Lesser known DO’s of Spain” before finishing with a tasting of a bedrock of the modern wine industry “International Wine Tasting: The Wines of Bordeaux”. As always, the wines we present will be different to those you’ve tasted in the past as we take a fresh look at Spanish and Catalan wine, as well as a modern traditional look at that great French classic; Bordeaux. I’m delighted to have everyone along for another year and I look forward to seeing you all soon!

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club

5th January– Bold Predictions: Regions to drink in 2017 – 25 euros p/p
19th January – The Lost Ones: Lesser known DO’s of Spain– 30 euros p/p
26th January – International Wine Tasting: The Wines of Bordeaux – 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. ‘Classic, Trusted Wine” by Andrew Jefford. This is a little longer than most articles by Jefford, or indeed compared to the articles I usually link, however, it’s a really lovely look at why appellation law exists and what effect that has on the consumer. It’s all about trust in the end, but how is that built? Read on! http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/opinion/jefford-on-monday/classic-wine-reputation-351630/

2. ‘Why regulating “natural wine” is very good thing’ by Miquel Hudin. Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions I get asked is “What is natural wine?’. This consumer confusion is entirely justified, because it’s very difficult to explain exactly what “natural wine” is! This is down to a lack of certification and regulation, meaning that legally the term currently means nothing. Miquel takes a look at some of the contentious points to navigate when making the definition, and offers his refreshingly caustic view on proceedings. https://wineonsix.com/why-regulating-natural-wine-is-very-good-thing/

3. ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado – what’s it all about?’ by Amaya Cervera. You may have heard that DO Cava has been working to produce a new quality level within the industry, to help define the truly excellent, aged Cavas that are available on the market today. It was originally meant to be ready for Christmas 2016 but it appears likely that it will be authorised in early 2017 instead. From 36 months minimum ageing to grapes sourced from limited areas known as ‘Parajes’; exciting times for Cava indeed! http://www.spanishwinelover.com/learn-220-cava-de-paraje-calificado-whats-it-all-about

Wine of the Month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; I rarely purchase anything over 30-40 euros a bottle and more commonly you’ll find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range.

trossos-vells

Alfredo Arribas Trossos Vells 2013 : What a wonderful wine. ‘Trossos Vells’ is a 100% Cariñena wine taken from 9 small vineyards around Masroig in DO Montsant. Each individual plot is vinified separately before being blended and aged in old, French oak for 12 months. It really is a big, delicious expression of Cariñena full of dark black fruits, black pepper, dried herbs and sweet spice. Almost inky, purple in colour and an absolute must-taste for Montsant fans. At around 18 euros retail, this is superb value for money.

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

“Are screw-caps a sign of cheap wine?” – Definitely not. A screw-cap is a relatively new style of closure that has been extensively championed by both Australia and New Zealand, although it is starting to make an impression in Europe as well. The concept of aging wine is to find a closure that allows a small, predictable amount of oxygen to enter the wine over a period of time, faciliating chemical change. Whilst screw-caps still don’t have studies from aging over 20 years, early studies suggest that this could potentially work for aged wines in the future. For younger wines, the screw-caps are cheaper, easier to open and mean there is no chance of cork-taint in your wine. Don’t be put off by screw-caps!

“How do you know if a wine is corked?” – This one can be tricky as not all corked wines are easy to spot. The culprit is a chemical known as TCA (trichloroanisole) which usually forms due to natural fungi from the cork tree reacting with the chemicals used in the cork making process; namely chlorine. Small amounts of TCA are often undetectable or don’t spoil the experience of the wine. However, if your wine smells suspiciously like wet cardboard/rotten wood/wet dog, this could well be TCA. Always re-cork this bottle and bring it back to the store you bought it from; whilst they are not obliged to exchange the bottle, all good stores will.

‘Finish’ – This is a term used to describe how long the desirable flavours stay present in your mouth after swallowing/spitting the wine. The ‘desirable’ part here is very important as it is common for wines to leave an after-taste but this is not always pleasant and can consist of a acrid bitterness or a stinging sensation from a level of unbalanced alcohol! Whilst there are some minor faults in a wine that can be smoothed over by clever wine-making, long, complex and enjoyable finishes are usually the mark of a truly lovely and well-made wine.

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 Newsletter: November 2016

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

wine-fermentation

November: This is typically the last month of the harvest for most wine-makers and indeed, practically all the white grapes and most of the reds will have been picked, pressed and begun fermentation already, with the exception of some late-ripening varieties or those small pockets of grapes in particular micro-climates. The big task in November is making the wine; with winery space at a premium and stainless steel tanks, barrels and concrete eggs all full of fermenting wine that has to be monitored constantly in order to make sure the temperatures, nutrient levels and volatile components are all in check, it can be a pretty stressful place to be. Now the time in the vineyard is more or less over, biology takes a back-seat to chemistry as science and artistry vie for control of the process. If the harvest was good and a good crop of healthy grapes was brought in, the sky is the limit for a skilled wine-maker. If the yield was low and/or poor quality due to rots, fungi, weather conditions or unforeseen circumstances then the wine-maker will have a challenge on their hands to turn it into a good quality wine that can return the investment of the year. Spare a thought for the wine-makers this month, the next time you raise a glass to your lips!

13298127_1060920307308173_1483528160_n

Hello Wine Lovers! I think it’s fair to say that we’re now officially in Autumn with lashings of rain and cloudy skies making Barcelona their home; perfect weather for wine-tasting, incidentally! Last month we covered some serious ground going from the Wines of Galicia, to top quality, single-estate wines across Spain and finally a mad dash around the world in search of Pinot Noir. This month is going to be no less hectic with another 3 tastings on the cards; A blind tasting of some of Spains most iconic wine styles, an achingly sweet look at the Spanish dessert wine scene and finally, a trip to a skinny little country towards the bottom of South America – Chile! 30 spots open for the month and 3 very different topics so choose your poison and get ready for another wonderful month of tasting our way around the world of wine! Who knows, it may even stop raining eventually…

Events: Maestrazgo Wine Club:

10h November– Blind Tasting: The Wines of Spain – 25 euros p/p

17th November – Spain Sugar-Coated: The Sweet Wines of Spain – 25 euros p/p

1st December – International tasting: Chile – 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. ‘The Future of Wine’ by Robert Joseph and Felicity Carter. I love this time of the year; usually it’s when industry experts start trying to predict what the near future will bring to wine and who will benefit the most. I admire and respect both Robert and Felicity and this list of potential changes is a well thought-out and interesting piece from two excellent wine-writers. Well worth a read! https://www.meininger.de/en/wine-business-international/great-debate-future-of-wine

  1. ‘Old Wine Movies in Full’ by Jancis Robinson MW. This one is less of an article and more of an opportunity to watch a very good series of wine shows originally shot in 1995 with a much younger Jancis. It’s a collection of short videos, around 30 minutes each, of Jancis and co. travelling around the worlds major wine regions, taking it all in, drinking some very good wine and asking some very pertinent questions. All now available on youtube; the link’s in the article! http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/old-wine-movies-now-online

  1. ‘Showcooking and Wordsenglish’ by Miquel Hudin. I recently had the pleasure of spending a day picking a field of mildew-blighted Carignan with Miquel in DO Montsant and aside from his vast knowledge on the world of wine, he’s a genuinely nice guy and funny to boot. Not long afterwards he released this short article, which if you’re ever done a few winery visits will provide a chuckle or two. In the style of comedy I normally associate with Ron Washam, Miquel pokes fun at Catalan wine culture, wine visits in general and anything associated with harvest-time. Very fitting! https://wineonsix.com/showcooking-wordsenglish-in-catalan-wine/

Wine of the Month: I’m constantly on the look-out for wines of real quality and value; I rarely purchase anything over 30-40 euros a bottle and more commonly you’ll find me drinking in the 6-25 euro range.

avanthia-rose

Avanthia Rosé 2015 I could be wrong but I believe having a rosé as our ‘Wine of the Month’ may well be a first! This was a wonderful discovery for me, as I normally associate Valdeorras with crisp, weighty white wines from varieties such as Godello. I adore Mencia, which is the grape variety that makes this wine, and a good indication of quality in rosé wines for me is that ability to pick out the grape variety that made it; often difficult with bland, commercial wines that are sold on the basis of their colour. Violets, strawberries and a lovely kick of wild herbs with a racy acidity and a stunning dark pink colour – absolutely delicious! Available at Vinissimus.com for around 12 euros a bottle. https://www.vinissimus.com/es/vinos/rosado/detalle_vino.html?id_vino=avnro14

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!

‘En Primeur’ – En Primeur is a term given to wine that is sold as futures prior to being bottled, that is to say that the wine has not yet been made yet, and typically you’re taking a bet on the finished product with the incentive of a lower upfront cost to buy the wine, which frees up cash-flow for the winery. This is traditionally a practice done in Bordeaux but recently I have seen it within Spain, particularly through Vila Viniteca who, in their defense, were offering some excellent prices on the 2015 vintage of some of Spains more famous wines. Due to the nature of the transaction, you typically won’t receive your wines for 1-3 years after purchase when the made has been made, matured and bottled.

Does spending more money on wine guarantee a higher quality product?” – Not necessarily although there are less reliable ways to choose a bottle! Wine prices depend on a lot of different factors and up to around 30-40 euros a bottle in Spain, these can often be linked back to production costs. After this level however, the price increases are usually linked to supply and demand, famous appellations or wine-makers, scarcity of the product and of course, simply what the market is willing to pay for it. Within Spain, there is rarely a need to go over 20 euros a bottle to get a good, well made and individual wine that will light up the evening and there’s a wealth of choice available at this price bracket too. If you’re still curious about it, go mad one day and spend that 40-50 euros and find out for yourself. One way or the other, you’ll have your answer!

Is there anything I can do with a faulty/corked wine?” – I recently got asked this by someone who used wine that suffered from cork taint (TCA) for cooking and wanted to know if it would cause a problem. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend buying expensive wine for the purposes of cooking, I also wouldn’t use wine that I wouldn’t drink myself and faulty wines come under that category. Whilst it won’t do you any harm as TCA is harmless, it’s not going to add much to the dish and frankly, you’d be better served taking the bottle back to the store where you bought it for a replacement or a refund.

Social Media

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

Blog: winecuentista.com

Facebook: Wine Cuentista

Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista

Instagram: wine_cuentista

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

Fintan Kerr

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