All posts filed under: Wine Reviews

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

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: 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 …

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

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 my favourites is from Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vigne NV, but other excellent Blanc de Noirs are Pommery Wintertime and the very special vintage Bollinger, Ay Vieilles Vignes Francaises Blanc de Noirs. One enjoyed recently is 100% Pinot Noir Secondé-Collard Blanc de Noirs Brut NV. It has the nose of a much more expensive Champagne, although one third the price of the Egly-Ouriet, with crunchy biscuity characters. The name is also appropriate, for it’s the right way to see divorce, or any significant relationship ending – as a second chance at your life. This is not the end; it is white from black, it’s a light at the …

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 …

Bird in Space

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, …

supersonic: Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir

  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 …

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 …

Diary of a Riesling Lover

Riesling Redux: April 3 – July 5, 2010 Riesling is something to turn to when the world gets too busy and crazy. Riesling, especially German Riesling, is not easy, outside of the common push and shove of the marketplace, a tonic to the mad prices of Bordeaux En Primeur this year, which has been the background machine-hum to the following notes. Over the past two months there has been some tragedy as well as great moments for me. In fact, Riesling has been my vino da meditazione. A moment to reflect. After the blandness of the day, it’s good to enjoy difficult things. Each Riesling here was like capturing raindrops.  

Arthouse Loire 2009

Skillfully made but distinctly low budget, 2009 Loire is an excellent remedy to the high madness of 2009 Bordeaux primeurs. Forget Bordeaux. Everything under £10 in Loire in 2009 is good value. More than good, excellent value. These are never big budget blockbusters in any vintage, instead, they are closer to art-house films. Under £10, these are low-budget masterpieces. This year, it’s the precision acidity, the depth of fruit and the deep resonating notes driving the wine. It’s half-way through this year, and there’s been excellent 2009 Saumur-Champigny, Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, Sancerre, Cabernet d’Anjou Rose and a Touraine Sauvignon. When Loire gets it right, they are so so right.   Even though most times, or most vintages, it’s just as likely to walk away frustrated and cursing the price of the ticket. In a good vintage such as 2009, it’s as if the wines take the classic twists and make it something cool. But can you get it? If under £10, I recommend you get it while you can.

2010 Wish List #1: Essencia

If extreme desire is a pathology, Essencia ticks all the boxes for my diagnosis: spoken about in hushed tones, it is extremely rare (nearly disappearing altogether under Communism), a half bottle starts at least £300, and has more myths about it than even Champagne. Some bottles, nearly 400 years old, have been found in ancient cellars of lost Polish aristocrats and said to be still as fresh as if they had invented screwcap. Catherine the Great was one of its first investors and protected the vineyards with her own personal guards. Only produced in Hungary in random vintages, the last ones being 2000, 1999, 1993 and 1972. The 1972 vintage is only just drinking now. Older bottles look like gold treasure found at the bottom of the ocean. Some people don’t even consider Essencia a wine at all because it is so sweet it is almost impossible to ferment. “So different from other wines,” said one critic, “it’s like seeing a new primary colour.” It is off the sweet richter scale compared to the other …

2010 Wish List #2: Cheval des Andes, Argentina

  When the great St-Emilon Chateau, Cheval Blanc makes a wine in Argentina, is it the vinous equivalent to buying a “Gucci handbag” in Shanghai? Nothing fake (nor cheap) about Cheval des Andes. Cheval des Andes is created from a strong partnership between Pierre Lurton (Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) and Roberto de la Mota (Terrazas De Los Andes, Mendoza) combining Bordeaux expertise and the cool, elevated vineyards of Mendoza in Argentina. Cheval Blanc partnering with a winery in Mendoza marks a turning point in the debate about New World vs Old World and the whole concept of terroir in wine winemaking. Cheval Blanc is not the only big-name from Bordeaux to lend its expertise in Argentina – there’s also the Rothschilds and flying visits from Michel Rolland – but Cheval Blanc, with its high price and exclusivity, is the one that really opens up the debate about terroir. I can’t help but wonder how much influence can Cheval Blanc have on the style of wine made in Argentina if it is not on its …

Cinematic Wines – Pt 6: A Space Odyssey via Astralis (and Sun Ra)

The final Cinematic Wine Series ends with a bang, a BIG BANG: Clarendon Hills Astralis 2002. The tagline for the original Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey can equally apply to this amazing red wine from South Australia, Astralis: Let the Awe and Mystery of a Journey Unlike Any Other Begin Valued at £200 in London, this is an intense drinking experience now until 2050. Yes, you read right. Best drinking around 2025 – 2035, my friends. What were you doing in 1988? Not reading a blog on the internet, I bet. What do you think you will be doing in 2028?? Hopefully drinking Astralis (well, that is my wish for you anyway). Kubrick’s idea of the future in 2001: A Space Odyssey has many hopes and fears about the future, and now, long after 2001, the film is beguiling for its foresight and ability to even imagine such ideas in 1968. The same applies with Astralis. Astralis is a lot more than Science Fiction. Like all the great wines, this is time and space …