All posts filed under: Review

zombie nights

Three everyday olfactory workers were in the mood for something spikier. After a tasting that upheld the status quo in international Pinot Noir we wandered the back streets of Charing Cross like a trio of lost souls with crazed laughter and in the mood to push past Official Judgement. During the blind tasting I heard a few times, “I nailed it”, said with all the gusto of a funeral director. If you work on the coal face with customers, then it is hard to be zealous about natural wine, but pretty easy to be disillusioned by wine media, with this heady combination of funk and abandon we stumbled into Terroirs. We were in a funk. Time for something to mirror our mood.

2003 Dom Perignon: Dark Revelations

If fine wine can be defined by how much it develops in the glass over time, prestige Champagne is by how well it stops time. Only Dom Perignon could make the District Line in winter peak hour feel as alive as being on a yacht in the Midi sunshine. It is a long time since I felt that beautiful. I have been asked a few times since the tasting, “Is 2003 better than the 2002?” Compared to the 2002, which had powerful white florals and laser-like lightness (and I love love love), the 2003 had a different richness and density. Chef de Caves Richard Geoffroy persuaded me not to use the word broad – not that Dom Perignon could ever be a rugby player wine –  but perhaps a better word would be darker (I found out later there is a higher percentage of Pinot Noir in 2003). It is certainly a different animal to the 2002. From the first moment of candy nougat that brightly swirls to an austrian bakery character and stripes of hazelnuts it dazzled like a fun fair alley at night. The cinammon and …

Urban Riesling

Then you become a beginner all over again. When the next step is a falter after having already reached the landing. The ghost step at the end of the escalator. If I could give only one piece of advice for new people to wine it would be: try to taste with people more experienced than you. Grand Cru Riesling is a challenge in all its decadence. It is all on the aromatic plane and quickly lapses into metaphor. There are no hard facts of flavour. This is the attraction. It’s a fairytale. But an urban fairytale with a backbone made of steel. With Riesling at this level flavours are not SOLID. Forget your W SET lessons. Up to a level you think you know how “pineapple” tastes but what about pineapple slipping into cherry into kirsch with a sprinkle of crunchy icing sugar like a hot-baked Austrian pastry. It is the closest thing to poetry. And in a little of group of tasters this is the closest thing to a communal experience. I don’t think it should …

The Truth About Mac Forbes

Let’s try to forget Mac Forbes is rather attractive. I don’t want this to influence my perception of the wine in any way. Of course. That’d be completely unprofessional. Hands up – I had written about his wine before I met him: “Supersonic”. But, for the sake of objectivity, let’s get this out of the way… and he is married. So, I said it. There. What about the wine? Mac was in London between visiting Austria and Portugal. In itself, this is a very Australian idea of Europe and her wine. The island of Australia covers from St Petersburg to Dublin. Yet this is the key to understanding it. Let me explain.

Bespoke Craggy Range NZ

It has been said the finest tailors dress simply. It is all about the cut and the cloth. I was thinking about this as walked down Savile Row after tasting Craggy Range wines from New Zealand. The brightness of the sky and the clean rocks are the good basic materials for these wines. What marks Craggy Range as unique is the clean taste on the tongue after tasting. Like licking a pebble from a stream. I don’t mean “clean” as opposed to “dirty”; this is clean as in freshness and vitality. And I don’t mean “simple” as in “dull”; I mean simple as in expert tailoring.

Wine Fetish and the Edge of Taste

Because I like my ankles, I learned quickly stilettos are not practical on the cobbled streets of central London. Some shoes are not made for walking. The only sensible place to wear them is in bed. That said, some wines are not made for drinking. I have noticed over the years, people who become fixated on wine long enough, begin coveting the bizarre tastes, the hard-to-find, the wine-beyond-price. For the everyday olfactory worker, this fetish for strangeness can not be talked about in polite company. You can not admit too much to your own personal preferences. To the outside world, if you talk about wine, you are supposed to be objective arbiters of quality who can communicate to the largest audience possible; it is better to supress your boredom with the clean, choc-berry matrix and the desire for new kingdoms of taste by hiding the key in the cellar. The other reason is the blank look given to people who don’t understand. No one wants to be elitist. What I am talking about is a …

4 Kilos from Mallorca

Can you judge a wine by its label? Yes, in this case, yes. Call me deeply superficial, but this wine from Mallorca matches the quality of the label: smooth dark chocolate, black juicy fruit, mysterious dry garrigue and an unexpected bang of freshness, which I can only guess comes from 50% use of the native grape, Callet, rather than the 40% Cabernet Sauvignon or 10% Merlot. Who are Vino de la Tierra de Mallorca and what are they doing making great wine with great labels by local artists? Their quirky website tells me the winemaker Francesc Grimalt is known for reviving the use of the local Callet grape and has partnered up with owner Sergio Caballero, a musician and founder of Barcelona’s Sonar Festival of advanced music and multi media arts. 4 kilos refers to the 4 million pesatas used to start up the adventure, which is still a micro-winery and mostly made in the garage. The label is by artist known as Marti. And if you want to know more about the label, here is a coolly …

Raving with Clos Ste Hune (Trimbach)

  The signature taste of Clos Ste Hune Riesling is pine needles but this is no tranquil afternoon in the Black Forest; more like non-stop “pine needle” green strobe light action at a rave. Trying to describe it is like waving your hand through laser light; the complex flavours meld and disappear in a green light of spicy lime and steely tang. Let the music lift you up. It would have been fortunate to have only one Clos Ste Hune, but at yesterday’s Enotria tasting with Jean Trimbach at Bistro du Vin Soho, we were treated to three vintages. Everybody raves about Clos Ste Hune Riesling from Trimbach; and happily, this wine lives up to the hype.

The wine was Chambertin

I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin” – Hillaire Belloc Tasting Grand Cru Chambertin next to other wines is like seeing a film featuring Anouk Aimée after an all-day marathon of Friends. It has such a different affect on the senses it makes you wonder whether all winemakers are using the same key ingredients of grapes, soil, sky and cellar. The last time I tasted 2008 and 2009 Grand Cru Domaine Rossignol-Trapet they were in an embryonic En Primeur state in London; now the wines had formed a clear personality. Rossignol-Trapet’s Gevrey-Chambertin villages red was a go-to wine for me for a couple of years, so it was a thrill to meet Nicholas at the Domaine. 

Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)

  The state of Vermentino is pure pleasure. So I raised my eyebrows to the challenge to show there were different styles of the vermentino grape. To me it is obvious: all vermentino seems to show a wave of glamourous flavour which ends in a quiet shhhh of reaching the shore. Whether the Vermentino is from Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia or the emerging areas in Australia. But there are differences.    Solosole, Poggio al Tessoro, from Maremma is quite simply the taste of licking warm, bronzed skin after a swim in the ocean ending in the quiet of an acidic kiss. Australian vermentino, from Chalmers in Mildura in Australia, also shows the very lean, citrus mineral style after an exciting display of flavours (smoky, herbs, orange/lemon). If you know the superb Rieslings from Eden Valley you will know what I mean by the eventual leaness.   But it is Sardinia that takes the award for pure fabulous beach style; but, is it really surprising? There’s no other way of saying it – this is rich for …

New Moët & Chandon Imperial Ice Champagne

As Miles Davis put it, “If I don’t like what they write, I get into my Ferrari and I drive away”. Moët Imperial Ice is the new Champagne from Moët & Chandon, and like Miles Davis’ late experimental phase in the 1970s, the adding of ice in Champagne is more Bitches Brew than standard Kind of Blue. Personally, I start screaming if ice is anywhere near my Champagne, I am not joking, so it was with great trepidation I arrived on a sunny afternoon in May at a hotel rooftop in Mayfair for the launch.

Donnafugata Dress Code Black

The skills for making handmade lace are nearly all replaced by the factory. Except in Sicily. Donnafugata Mille e una Notte is a red wine from Contessa Entellina DOC that has a tight grip on its joyous Nero d’Avola fruit like a short, sharp slap from a woman in mourning. Unashamed Italian austerity, with deep balsamic herbs and black-lace tannins with round Nero d’Avola berries saved from complete voluptuousness by cool harvesting the grapes in the middle of the night. If your idea of black is easy-wearing, wash n’ go then you may not be ready for the young widow with eyes of coal dressed in black lace; this is a traditional wine, yet made in a highly technological way, that seethes tension and speaks the vocabulary of the volcano. Brava.   Tasted at London International Wine Fair, 18 May at Nero d’Avola Qualita masterclass. Image: Michael Roberts

The World Upside Down

Victorian Allsorts Tasting, Wine Australia at 2011 London International Wine Fair hosted by Steve Webber and Kate McIntyre MW, 17 May 2011 The Victorian wines shown today want to break free from the notion that Australian wines are pristine and wholesome, with exciting discordant and dirty notes that urged one not to delay tasting (the forbidden). These wines had pulled a thread in the tightly-knit world of expectation of

Outside the law: Burgundians Anne Gros and Jean-Paul Tollot’s “Table Wine” from Minervois

It’s as if these two winemakers from Burgundy have run away to the South of France and created something great for the village party. The name of the wine, La 50/50, refers to the winemakers partnership rather than the blend and Anne Gros asks on her website, “Is it love at first sight? Absolutely!” There’s a sunny joyousness about this wine from the Languedoc and a sort of recklessness

Leap into Luxury: Super-Tuscan 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole

Some Super-Tuscans scream luxury but the 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole is a quiet wine that opens before you as you taste it, to give the feeling of falling forward into space: like a confident step from a plane into silent velvet-dark below, the fruit billows outwards on the palate like a slow-glide on a silk parachute. Afterwards the tongue is literally left frozen in shock from hundreds of tiny pin-pricks of acidity, which may sound bad, but tasting at this very young stage (en primeur/anteprima), it is only the tingle of expectation for a profound experience in the long-term.   The 2007 is considered a “tropical vintage” in Tuscany, which may explain the richness in the fruit, but this Merlot from Bolgheri has all the hallmarks of developing well and is completely and smoothly in balance. I long to see this wine, or any

Languedoc Seduction: Domaine Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes 2002

Winemaker Marlene Soria has achieved a grand clandestine moment with 2002 Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this wine is not the dramatic Mediterranean garrigue character, nor the resolutely non-berry style of the dark rose and golden figs, leather and slight bay-leaf menthol. It is the fleshiness given to this powerful, idiosyncratic voice from the South of France: a region where a lot of voices have yet to find out what they exactly want to say. Compelled to find out more, I learned Soria stopped shipping to the US soon after gaining recognition in Wine Spectator as well as dumping the three previous vintages (1999, 2000, 2001) with the local wine co-operative due to taint from faulty enamel tanks. This, for a wine that easily commands over £60 a bottle. I questioned whether I should write about the vinous equivalent of a one-night stand, one that you and I may never see again (it is found in the UK in seriously low quantities). Yet, weeks later, its mysterious voice and …

Late Night Sessions: Pic St Loup, Bergerie de l’Hortus, Languedoc 2008

Home: Wolf Mountain, Mediterranean Translation: Pic-St-Loup, South of France Sound: Pick the Wolf, Howling Honest: yes Satisfying: yes Traditional: A little Need to eat: No Not for: Thin Merlot lovers Ideal with: Those born too late for cheap Rhone Or: Poor Man’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape Or: Who cares? This is good. Nerdy Fact: Leading AOC for quality in Languedoc S France More: here MORE Late Night Sessions notes and music here: www.wwslatenightsessions.tumblr.com UK Stockist Berry Bros & Rudd Image: Rene Gruau

Valentine’s Day: wine for the cynical and jaded

Saying pink champagne is romantic is as delusional as saying Paris is feminine when one look at a map shows the city is a continuous paean to military conquests. The best Rose Champagne is not hearts and fluffy toys, it usually has a strong Pinot Noir constitution that can withstand many different food assaults. So if you must buy into the most commercial of days etc etc… What do you do?

Fast Movers: 3 Popular Wines in London Today

Perhaps deep down I’ve always subscribed to the Oscar Wilde school of thought that Everything Popular is Wrong. So imagine my surprise when I asked my friends in wine shops to tell me what is popular. What wines are making people crazy with excitement? Having some time on my hands this month, I also witnessed the frenzy first hand. These wines’ popularity defy the prescription that wine has to be cheap, boring and of the same-same grape variety. If these styles are popular, then I am sure Oscar Wilde would approve my longing to be wrong:

Take a bite: Aglianico del Vulture DOC

Aglianico del Vulture dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2007 The first taste of Aglianico is like a volcanic eruption in rewind: a hundred blasts, shreds of mineral rock followed by a fierce lava cooling down into black smoke puffing backwards into the top of the mountain, overgrown with herbs, cool as graphite and purring, velvet and deep, as if nothing had happened.

How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. A fabulous wine yet with an honest country heart: violet, roses after rain, stewed cherry, and fresh-smelling wet forest twigs and gun shop, the expansive feeling of the perfume slowed down by refined tannins, like stopping on a mountain path to take photos of a richly-coloured sunset with a super-sharp lens.

Grey Free State: Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris

“….(it was) a spectral grey, as if all the colour has been sucked out by the sun.” – Bruce Chatwin in “Anatomy of Restlessness“ There is a concept in philosophy called the grey area which is a concept for which one is unsure which category in which to place it. As it so happens, the development of the Pinot Gris variety in Australia has coincided with my career in wine and I’ve watched it change from being a marginal variety, unsure about what it even should be called in Australia (whether Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio), to now: where the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show stopped accepting Pinot Grigio wine entries as it no longer considered it an alternative variety. Firstly, I have to admit I have never been a fan of the grape, as my post The Problem with Pinot Grigio UK attests. That said, I don’t like to be too black and white in my ideas about anything, especially when I hear Pinot Gris is doing so well in the exciting cool-climate region …

Primal Genius: Protero Adelaide Hils Merlot and S.C.Pannell

This is a story that starts 2.6 billion years ago. When oxygen first gathered in the atmosphere and single-cell mitochondria ruled the planet, the landscape of Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills was formed. When the volcanoes stopped spewing poisonous gases and the single-cell animals and algae could start to get on with the process of reproduction. Glaciers melted. Fish got legs. Dinosaurs died out. A mere 60 million years ago the Kimmedgian soils of Chablis formed. Humans started fires. It’s been a long way, baby. Until 2000, when the Baldarasso family called in two of Australia’s finest winemakers Paul Drogemuller and S.C.Pannell to see what they could do. The incredible S.C. Pannell What I wanted to taste here on my trip to Australia was a Nebbiolo from Adelaide Hills. If anyone could make a Nebbiolo outside of Piedmonte, which seems almost an impossible feat, then it would have to be S.C.Pannell: his training includes vintages at G.D. Vajra in Barolo, Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy and Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. He is also …

October Wine Likes in Three Words

1996 Malescot St-Exupery, Margaux: Violet Cuban Nights 2008 Phelan Segur: Perfumed Mathematical Elegance 2003 Lynch Bages: Polished Bannister – Fun! 2004 Chateau Beaumont: Monday Medoc Method 2008 Pichon-Longueville Baron: Future Claret, Indeed 2007 Plantagenet Cabernet Sauvignon: Smart Berry Brogues 2008 La Bastide Blanche Bandol: Provençal Siesta Interrupted 2010 Whale Caller Shiraz-Cab, Sth Africa: Price Shock. Really. 2009 Falanghina Via Collina: Matte Italian Exuberance Moscato d’Asti, Ca’ ed Balos: Fluroescent Highlighter Scribble 2009 Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina, Lageder: Try This, Imitators! 09Luis Canas Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco: Spray Paint Oak

Librarians love 01 Les Pagodes de Cos

The 01 Pagodes de Cos, the second wine of Cos d’Estournel, is reckless, obstinate and from all accounts of previous vintages, annoying. The initial brett farmyard characters will either delight or disgust you depending on whether worn leather smells like the promise of sitting in a new car or crusty old boots. But to me, it’s not that simple. I started tasting this wine and for a full half-hour still no fruit but only a durm und strang chord of leather and farmyard (the Cos style). Was it corked? I left it, but then got caught up in a party of bubbles at work for a couple of hours; I came home, and found another party in the kitchen drinking Caprihinas. Dang and argh, said the grumpy worker in me, I just want some peace to understand this wine! Pagodes longed for a library and a cigar and a serious conversation. So did I. It asked for the luxury of quiet that is so hard to find in London. So did I. Thankfully while I …

Piedmont Songs in Australia: La Violetta

It is rare for a Syrah to call Piedmonte its spiritual home, let alone a Syrah from Australia. La Violetta’s Ciornia has the freshness, restrained fruit, a light frame of oak and depth of earth expected from a Barbaresco; yet, this Syrah hails from a vineyard surrounded by virgin forest in Denmark, Western Australia, one of Australia’s most isolated wine regions. Spices, fleshiness, weight and colour suggest Syrah but the elegance, floral notes and restraint in extraction suggest the wine has been treated as gently in the vineyard as if old Nebbiolo vines. Not many new world winemakers would put their wines up against wines from the Old World. But after tasting his wines, the winemaker Andrew Hoadley pulled out a few hidden bottles from his private stash of Piedmonte’s rebel grape, Freisa – also one of my favourite wines in the world. We tasted a vivace and still Freisa (2001 Vajra Kye´) admiring the savoury, non-fruit characters that are so astounding about this wine unique to Piedmonte. Aside from his time spent working in …

Champagne, darkly: Blanc de Noirs

(Or, How to Have a Good Divorce Party. Advice to a Friend.) “Dry your eyes, my friend. It’s over. The white wedding may have been nice, the dress nice, all that money you spent on champagne on the day, sure, nice. But nothing, I repeat, nothing quickens the senses than pain. That’s why divorce parties can be the best parties: it’s a time to drink with INTENT and purpose. See those vintage wines over there you were both investing for the future. They are good enough to drink now; there’s no need to wait. What else has been hidden in the cellar? Time to open up all these boxes… This is the time to pull out the Blanc de Noirs Champange. Blanc de Noirs literally means white from black, which, even metaphorically, seems appropriate. Generally NV Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. A Blanc de Noirs is 100% Pinot Noir. It has a red fruit depth, sometimes described as a meatiness, somewhat similar in taste to vintage Champagne. One of …

Cabernet by Stealth: Chinon, by Alliet

The 2006 Chinon Vieilles Vignes from Phillipe Alliet may start out as a typical 100% Cabernet Franc from Chinon: pale ruby, fresh and light dominated by raspberry characters, but this Cabernet Franc can not be simply described as Cabernet Sauvignon without the heavy cape. The lightness soon drops an octave lower into darker territory; perfumes of black fruits, aniseed and game. The tannins have a firm grip on the fruit as if being stopped by a request for a password (TENREBAC) before being allowed to move on to the next taste; in effect, slowing down the slideshow of Cabernet Franc perfume on an almost blank fruit palate that is taut, clear and mineral. There is nothing green and dry about it, the fruit and tannins are skillfully integrated with jewel-thief precision. Phillipe Alliet has created the ultimate stealth wine moving through the night with extreme care and quietness. Working with at least 50-year-old vines, this serious Chinon from one of the greats in the Loire is unique, and resists category across all the Cabernet family, …

The Self-Assembler: Hofstätter Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige

Alongside a glass of champagne or a cab ride in the rain, a good bottle of wine is one of life’s affordable luxuries. Yet low-key, easy luxury is the most difficult thing to achieve; partly because it involves an element of effortlessness. That is why I was interested to try the Pinot Bianco by Hofstatter, from Alto Adige in North East Italy. From my observations of people whom I consider have good taste in wine, a group with a fine balance between open-mindedness and discriminating taste, this was one they all kept returning (at £22 per bottle). At first, the luxury was not as effortless as I expected. Had I been delivered a wine as an IKEA furniture kit? I found a flat-pack of minerals, sheets of white fruit and a spray can of pale oak, each individual component of tremendous quality but all in separate boxes, leaving me at a loss how to put it all together. After a few hours it began to reassemble itself into something solid yet ethereal. The original crystalline …

dark sunglasses required: sexy Sicilian wine

There’s a stuffy image to the wine industry. It’s where middle-aged men with cigars who imagine themselves out every night patting strippers on the bum between glugs of Bordeaux as they discuss wine like stock prices. Sicilian wines are not for them. There’s also the people who go to the supermarket on the way home from work, get home and perfunctorily open a bottle to watch television for a few hours before going to sleep to do it all again the next day. Sicilian wines are not for them, either. Sicilian wines are TROPPOOOO BUONNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! For the first time in ages, I had the Planeta Cometa Fiano and I felt about it exactly as I always did: affable, over-the-top glamorous, completely unpretentious and overall just delicious. If Dolce & Gabbana had a wine then it would be close to this. This is effortless Sicilian style. On a grey London day, I wanted to reach for my dark sunglasses to pour it. The colour is golden straw like mid-afternoon sunshine by the beach. It had a …

New Wave: Kooyong Estate Farrago Chardonnay

In the same way as the sculptor Constantin Brancusi sculpted this piece in 1910, the Farrago Chardonnay from Kooyong Estate is spectacularly modern. Kooyong Estate winemaker Sandro Mosele has been peacefuly innovating on the Morninton Peninsula near Melbourne under the radar and turning out classic modern masterpieces. To say this wine is defined by its minerality is like saying the above sculpture of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse is only defined by its smoothness. It has a linear feel like Brancusi’s Bird in Space, yet has layers and texture, “quiet” fruit like pear and grapefruit, with very light touch of French oak (only 30% new). The name “Farrago” comes from the name of the corner of the cool-climate vineyard with motley soil of high sand and clay (farrago means assortment, medley) giving the wine its mineral core. There is nothing else like it and what I like about it is that I find no references to French wines. This is the second time in two weeks I have been jolted out of my complacency. First, Mac Forbes’ …

supersonic: Mac Forbes’ 2006 Woori Yallock Pinot Noir

Terroir A good friend from Australia told me a story. After the Hospice de Beaune Auction in Burgundy he had driven down to the Rhone Valley. While there, he managed to cajole the reluctant Rhone winemakers to take a quick drive with him to Piemonte as it was “only a few hours drive over the mountains”. At first, the idea shocked the Rhone winemakers. Italy?! For my Australian friend, it was nothing, not even the distance from one Australian capital city to the next. They did it; and to this day, the winemakers from Rhone, Piemonte and Australia laugh about it and are all still friends. Like many young Australians living abroad, the winemaker Mac Forbes has effortlessly worked in many countries and cultures: in his case, Burgundy, Gallic, Narbonne, Duoro and Sicily. Recently back in the Yarra Valley from consulting in Austria, he has successfully imported Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch to the cool Yarra Valley (after 3 years in quarantine). In Mac’s own words: “It is important to keep the mind open especially with …

Controversial Freisa

“They can be fussy, unreconstructed; most of them don’t want to go along to get along. They have an attitude, an edge.” – Randall Grahm, Preface to Wines of Italy, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology   There comes an evolution in the taste buds when tasting wine and that can be summed up in one word: bitterness. Bitterness is an acquired taste. A five year old does not like bitterness. Did you ever mistake a cold bottle of Indian Tonic Water with Schweppes Lemonade on a hot summers day as a child? Ha! It is a shock. That is perhaps why Freisa d’Asti from Piedmonte in North-West Italy divided the critics. Hugh Johnson described Freisa d’Asti as being “immensely appetizing” to Robert M Parker Jr described Freisa as producing “totally repugnant wines”. But I defy you to come to a firm conclusion on it from a simple sip-and-spit basis. This is never going to be a mainstream wine. Not because it’s not a good wine, it is an excellent wine, but because …