Wine Blog

GAME CHANGER: CHILEAN CAB SAV CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

Founded in 1883, Viña Concha y Toro is Latin America’s leading producer, producing wine from 8,800 hectares. They produce a multitude of grape varieties from Chile and Argentina.

It’s really likely that you’ve drunk one of their wines at some point: probably most notably their Casillero del Diablo, (see below). You can find these wines everywhere, and they’re of impeccable quality-price ratio.

Matthew Jukes, wine critic, states that the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013 is one of the the world’s finest value Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s pretty much impossible to disagree; it’s an outstanding quality for only £8.

Marcelo Papa is the genius behind it all, and the wine I want to focus on isn’t Casillero, but from the Marques de Casa Concha range.

NEW VINTAGE: Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Sainsbury’s – £12

The new vintage of Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet 2013 is now in Sainsbury’s.  Marcelo Papa, winemaker, has been experimenting with larger oak casks and earlier picking over the past few years and this is the first vintage released that is testament to these experiments.

His wines are moving away from the “blockbuster” style of the 90s and returning to an elegant style with lower alcohol that demonstrates the terroir of Puente Alto. Marcelo said he wanted to drink a wine that he himself would always choose to drink, and hence with these changes, we see a fresh and expressive wine. The little bit of extra money really goes a long way.

In short, the way I would describe this – this means we have a fresh wine that has notes more focused on blackcurrants and fresh blackberries like the ones you can pick right off the bush, instead of the ones that have been sitting in a supermarket box and a bit squished. This is done through picking dates (see below).

Here’s a visual that makes it all a bit clearer to understand: (from left – earlier picking – to right, later picking) The earlier the grape is picked, the fresher flavours it retains.

aromatics.jpg

How has Marcelo done this?

There’s been big change for the first time between vintages.  I’ve put them in a graph below to make things simpler…

What does it mean?

  • Using different varietals is up to the winemaker and what he feels will make that specific vintage stand out. Different varietals give the wine specific characteristics: for example here the addition of Petit Verdot adds tannin, colour and a boost of flavour. It’s a great blending grape.
  • The region/vineyard is up to the winemaker; which region has succeeded best during that vintage and hence stays true to the wine.
  • Picking dates! = Marcelo is creating a whole wave of difference in winemaking. Later picking means more opulent fruit, but less acidity. Earlier picking gives you fruit forward notes but with a much fresher style.
  • Barrels and casks used = in 2011, Marcelo got new 5000l casks from Italy. Chile naturally has a warmer climate than Bordeaux, so already gets sweetness from the climate, without the need for using lots of toasty oak. Hence, the use of these big botti mean that the resulting wine really demonstrates terroir with a much less oak-heavy presence.

Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Sainsbury’s, £12

Vintage20122013

Alcohol14.6%14.2%

Varietal blend98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot

Region85% Puente Alto, 14% Marchigue, 1% Pirque85% Puente Alto, 15% Pirque

Picking dates & maturity100% mature fruit, first – third week of April (slightly earlier than previous vintages due to hot temperatures)50% fresh fruit (picked March 20th – March 31st) , 50% mature fruit (picked 15thApril – 25th April)

Barrels/casks used

2012:

35% new French barrels (225l)

65% max second fill barrels (225l)

2013:

20% new French barrels

60% max second fill barrels

20% large cask Botti (5000l)

The final resulting wine? Delicious, and – (again) – fresh.

Food pairing? A good steak, or a winter stew. Also goes well with strong game flavours or as your red for a cheeseboard.

Cherry, cedar and blackberry notes with a smoky edge with a tar presence. Tight and focused with a deep concentration of flavours framed by firm tannins.

WEINGUT ANDREAS TSCHEPPE - CHARDONNAY

In December, I came across a wine that is still on my mind at The Three Wine Men.

Austria: In a nutshell

Austria is a country that has only recently come onto the UK’s radar when it comes to wine. You may have heard of its wine glass brand, Riedel – one of the best in the world, but it’s probably not a country that you would immediately choose your bottle from. However, it is producing more and more wines of a very high quality. The only problem is, they have fairly difficult names. So take a pause, and give the pronunciation your all with a bit of gusto…

White: In terms of grapes, Grüner Veltliner is the dominant varietal for white wines: a little bit like a slightly spicier/exotic Sauvignon. It also produces Welschriesling, which produces quality wines in the South, and as it is susceptible to botrytis, also excellent dessert wines.

To make things complicated, Austria also produces some Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, but under the local names of Ruländer and Weißburgunder (yes – why can things never be easy…) It also makes a lot of high quality Riesling, and as we will come onto, Chardonnay.

Red: The country also produces lots of lesser known varietals of its own such as Zweigelt (deep, soft tannins and bramble fruit aromas), Blaufränkisch Blauberger (hybrid of Portugieser and Blaufränkisch – intense colour, berry fruit), Blauer Portugieser (soft and easy drinking) and St Laurent (similar to Pinot Noir).

Onto this wine in particular…

WEINGUT ANDREAS TSCHEPPE, Steirerland – Biodynamic

SALAMANDER: £28.20, Caves de Pyrene

 

 

I’m obsessed. So much so, that (I still haven’t had time to) I’m insisting on going to Les Caves de Pyrene in Guildford to get some.

It’s from the Southern region of Steirerland, also known as Styria (which used to be also known as Steiermark – again, huh?)

What you need to know about it:

  • it’s biodynamic! – (what does this mean?) – Biodynamic wines are made using the principles of biodynamic viticulture. In essence, its a more “spiritual” version of organic farming. It takes into account for example, the lunar system (and even astrological influence), the vineyard as a specific ecosystem. Also, the wine isn’t manipulated – e.g. acidity isn’t adjusted.
  • It’s a Chardonnay. I don’t discriminate between grapes, but it’s one of my favourite grape varieties. And this is an outstanding example.
  • It ferments with indigenous yeasts (the yeasts that naturally sit on the berry)
  • It’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

About the producer:

Andreas is one of a group of five winemakers who work in the same spirit, the others being Franz Strohmeier, his brother Ewald, Sepp Muster & Roland Tauss. Together they form “Schmecke das Leb.”

Andreas has beautiful vineyards bursting with life – I haven’t personally been but he says you can feel the energy with the riot of plants, herbs and flowers growing amongst the vines. The vines are trained up and down slopes, but also unusually for this region, on terraces across the slopes.

MY TASTING NOTES:

The reason I love this wine so much is that it has a highly unusual quality that I have never before come across. It has a sense of “garrigue”. This normally refers to the lavender/rosemary plants of the South of France which transfer to red wine, but in this case, also shows itself in this Chardonnay.

A gold shimmering colour. Gentle yet bold flavours on the nose of orange citrus fruit, blossom and wheat and rich toasted almost honey-ed brioche. In the mouth it is full, buttery and creamy with an exceptionally long finish.

SAUVIGNON BLANC: GRAPEFACT

A while ago, I went to New Zealand house for a tasting of a wide range of New Zealand Sauvignons to celebrate NZ Sauvignon Blanc Day. I was looking forward to seeing the full capacity of the grape because aside from one (the Spy Valley Envoy which I love), at the time I had only tried sub £15 sauvignons, easy drinking everyday wines that have seen such popularity lately.   It’s a grape whose winemaking is seeing some exciting experimentation, and I think the future will hold an interesting development for it.

The tasting view was incredible, 17 floors up overlooking the big smoke with a glass in hand made for a pretty great Friday afternoon. I tried some outstanding wines, and it showed the potential for the varietal, which caused me to reflect…

…Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the UK’s most popular grape. But what exactly is it?

It’s a green skinned grape that originates from the South of France, and in more recent years has hopped overseas to Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California. You may have heard of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé – the South of France home to Sauvignon, a region that is famous for its excellent dry white wines. It also has its heart in Bordeaux, where it produces good white table wines that are pretty great value.

It’s also important to remember its role in many of the finest dessert wines; for example Chateau d’Yquem, the world’s most famous one, which is produced of a blend of Semillon/Sauvignon blanc. In this form, the wines can fetch enormous prices. In a sense, it’s the pride and joy for the capacity of the grape. In 2011, a bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem became the most expensive bottle of white wine ever sold, with the hammer going down at auction at £75,000. You could buy a house with that.

In its white wine form, the grape produces very fruit forward, green and ready-to-drink wines that have particularly high acidity. Its unique characteristics are the grass-forward, gooseberry and green vegetable aromas, which interestingly also reflects in the wine’s often green-shimmery appearance. It was one of the first grapes to be vinified using screw tops, for immediate drinking. (Generally) speaking, the wine does not particularly suit ageing, however in recent years some producers have been vinifying some interesting wines that show the potential for age. It’s a grape that really suits cool climates, hence its success in New Zealand and Chile.

In terms of aromas, when tasting sauvignon you can come across a lot of different hints and notes. New world unoaked sauvignons will demonstrate very fruity flavours of lime, kiwi, passionfruit and tropical fruits, with a heady, powerful edge. Meanwhile, French sauvignons will tend to focus more on the flinty, zesty, citrus-sy notes.

Tasting notes are a great opportunity to gauge whether the Sauvignon in question will be your style. It’s also a good idea to buy two very different ones, so you can taste and compare (preferably with some friends so you don’t end up finishing both on your own….)

Here are my two tasting notes of different styles:

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, (New Zealand)  – £10.99 in Waitrose
Zesty, with intense green grass notes on the nose. In the mouth, aromas of lime fruit, gooseberries and pineapple develop, with lingering herbaceous character.

Domaine Naudet Sancerre (France) – £12.99 in Waitrose
Flinty, mineral attack with citrus and hints of fresh grass. On the palate, vegetal aromas develop including bell pepper and asparagus notes.

“THE CONNOISSEUR’S DREAM”: MASTERCLASS 28.02.15 AT ROBERT PARKER’S A MATTER OF TASTE

Any viti-minded person would have been in wine heaven at this event; a showcase of some of the best wines in the world and a multitude of masterclasses. Dad and I had decided to go a long time ago, and we had tickets to the Premum Familiae Vini masterclass too. Needless to say, despite the early hour (and hence the oh-crap running-late taxi) I couldn’t wait.

We got our wristbands at the Saatchi Gallery and were shown to the room in which our class was to be held. The Saatchi Gallery was an excellent venue for a tasting of this calibre. Open, white spaces really intensified the tasting experience for me; maybe to do with the idea that my senses weren’t distracted. In addition, there were some really outstanding modern art pieces on display which ameliorated the whole thing too; sometimes a break from tasting is really needed and these pieces were excellent.

mot.jpg

Sitting contemplating the 11 glasses in front of me, I couldn’t decide which of the wines I was most looking forward to. The Primum Familiae Vini is an international association of some of the world’s finest wine producing families. The PFV was created in 1992 and promote and continue traditions, ideals and values within family owned wineries. Hence, it’s safe to say I’ve never had 11 glasses like that in front of me.

Each winery had a speaker and presented one wine. This was a fantastic way to gain insight into the complex and longstanding traditions and history of such prestigious wineries.

 

1) CHAMPAGNE POL ROGER – speaker: Hubert de Billy.  Champagne: Churchill 2002
Hubert is  of the 5th generation of the Maison’s family; Pol Roger was his great great grandfather. Pol Roger first produced champagne for himself, and then for other negociants, creating the brand in 1849. The first ever bottle sold was sold in London. It is no secret that Pol Roger was the great favourite of Sir Winston Churchill. He adored champagne, being renowned for stating, “remember gentlemen, it is not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” as well as “in success, you deserve it, and in defeat, you need it.” Hence, after his death, the cuvee Winston Churchill was born, with the aim to create a champagne with all the qualities he so enjoyed.

Tasting note: Amazing complexity with a nose of almond and biscotti. In the mouth, toasted brioche becomes apparent and slight jasmine notes appear too. Power, yet with light minerality.

2) JOSEPH DROUHIN – speaker: Veronique Drouhin.  Wine: Beaune Clos des Mouches blanc 2010
Aaaa – this is perhaps the wine I was anticipating the most. Burgundy Chardonnay will forever be (well – probably, I’m indecisive) my favourite wine. More specifically, Beaune wines really catch my interest. Having worked with Latour, Beaune aux Cras has always been one of my favs. In addition, the Clos de Mouches from Drouhin is renowned for its outstanding quality. Veronique began by explaining a bit about the family history. The Maison was founded in 1921, and Joseph loved Clos de Mouches, which at the time only produced pinot noir. Hence, he decided to also plant Chardonnay and the wine was born. Originally, Maximes in Paris was the only place you could buy it! This gives the wine such an unbeatable old school Parisian glamour.

Tasting note: Incredibly rich and plush nose of white flowers, peach and that signature woody scent. In the mouth, stone fruits develop, with the appearance of apricot. Incredibly round and moreish.

3) TORRES – speaker: Miguel Torres Maczasek. Wine: Mas La Plana 2007
Of the fifth generation.  Miguel focused on the difficulties the winery has had to experience. In the Spanish civil war, the winery was bombed, but his grandfather persisted and started making wine again. In 1956 he planted Cabernet Sauvignon on very deep clay calcareous soils.

Tasting note: First of noteworthiness are the incredibly thick legs of the wine. On the nose, tobacco and smoky notes are prominent. Bold on  the nose but with a certain subtly in the mouth, with slightly sweet, rich chocolate hints.

4) TENUTA SAN GUIDO – speaker: Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta. Wine: Sassicaia 2006
The Super Tuscan. This wine was born from experimentation with Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy. Her grandfather loved Bordeaux and desired to create a wine he could make for himself and enjoy at home  in this style. It is a world-renowned wine that has been dubbed a “fairy tale” by Luigi Veronelli.

Tasting note: Suble, deep, spicy nose with very ripe cherry notes. Pleasant hints of leather, smoke and menthol and incredibly soft tannins.

5) ANTINORI – speaker: Alessia Antinori. Wine: Solaia 2004
An incredibly old wine company that can trace its steps back to 1385. Their innovations also played a huge part in the 70s Super Tuscans. Blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Franc. They wanted to aim for high quality and hence had to face declassification because of high percentage used of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was seen as one of the wines of the Renaissance of Italian wines.

Tasting note: Delicious dark fruits with earthy, undergrowth, mossy notes. Round, precise, silky tannins that will only continue to evolve.

6) Chateau Mouton Rothschild – speaker: Julien Beaumarchais de Rothschild. Wine: Mouton Rothschild 2003
Eek. My dad was pretty much cross eyed with excitement – a Bordeaux man through and through. Julien, of the 6th generation, highlighted that Mouton is the wedding of art and wine.  A blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 8% Cabernet France and 2% Petit Verdot.

Tasting note: Warm, leathery and plump nose with undertones of blackcurrant and spice. Delicious, round and supple tannins – lives up to its reputation (and more) in every way.

7) Vega Sicilia – speaker: Pablo Alvarez. Wine:  Unico 1994
This was one of the wines I was most excited to try. One of most renowned wines to come from Spain, of a Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon blend – normally the wines from Ribera del Duero are solely Tempranillo based. They only produce Unico every 2 out of 3 years. This Gran Reserva wine is taken from some of the oldest vines in Ribera del Duero, approximately 8)% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tasting note: Tobaccoey and rich fruit nose, really coming into its own and demonstrating black cherry and liquorice on the nose. Textured and velvety tannins. Exceptional.

8) Famille Perrin – speaker: Marc Perrin. Wine: Hommage Jacques Perrin 2007
Made from majority of very old Mouvedre vines. From one of the leading estates in Châteauneuf du Pape, and a wine that is renowned wording as one of Rhone’s stars.

Tasting note: Possibly the meatiest nose I have ever experienced on a wine: fleshy, undergrowth tones, that in the mouth turned into sweet black fruits. Softest and most pleasant tannins out of any of the wines in my opinion.

9) Egon Muller Scharzhof – speaker: Egon Muller. Wine: Wiltinger braune Kupp Auslese 1993
A vineyard that used to belong to a monastery, which was bought by his great great grandfather from the French Republic. He was a monk, and when he died the estate was divided between 7 children.

Tasting note: Delicious almond and vanilla nose, with chlorine, sweet undertones. A mature Riesling, this was a very unusual wine and wonderfully rich. A certain smokiness on the finish and a real treat.

10) Hugel & Fils – speaker: Jean Frederic Hugel. Wine: Pinot Gris SGN 2007 *S*
Wow. I’ve never tried anything like this before. Jean was also a wonderful speaker and highlighted how as a 16 year old nobody really dreams of going into wine, until they gradually become smitten and it becomes a passion. This is definitely the case for me, and he emphasised this is what the Primum Familiae Vini aim to do; instill this passion from generation to generation. He described people who are into wine as open minded, friendly people – the best kind.

Tasting note:  Such a beautiful dark golden hue – literally liquid gold. It tasted like liquid gold too. Figgy candied fruits on the nose, followed by such a roundness with orange and acacia. Possibly my favourite wine of the day, although it is so hard to decide!

11) Symington – speaker: Paul Symington. Wine: Graham’s 2011 vintage
Vintage port… Something I would love to learn more about, and this was a great place to start! His great, great grandfather left Scotland and moved to Portugal and the rest is history. It is arguable that perhaps 2011 will be the best vintage ever in port (we will have to wait and see). It is the first time since 1963 that they returned to 100% lagares. If laid down, this wine will work its magic and age exceptionally.

Tasting note: Exceptional depth, and wow this wine will age amazingly. Such power on the nose with dark chocolate and cherry shining through. Plums and violets appear in the mouth and this wine would just make the best pudding ever, whether alone or with a dish.

GOLD PIZZAS AND GLAMBURGERS… THE WORLD DESCENDS INTO MADNESS…

Pizza GoGo launches a £500 gold pizza

Apparently it arrives via red carpet delivery, with a butler.

Seeing this earlier today really irked me.

PR stunt or no PR stunt on their part, it’s moronic. This crazy gold food trend has to stop.

A couple of years ago, it was the glamburger from Honky Tonk in Chelsea. £1,100 for a burger. Yes, it included lobster, Kobe beef and black truffle, but how can anybody justify that sort of expenditure? Ironically, since then the restaurant has shut.

The Pizza Gogo irritates me even more. In the crazy world of pizza where the profit can be close to 900%, isn’t that ripping off the consumer enough already? I’d pay for the lobster, beluga caviar and the prawns as ingredients (I wonder how much is even on there), but what justifies the remaining approximate £450? I can assure you it isn’t the gold leaf… You can buy 25 lovely sheets on Amazon for just £4.85.

…That would probably decorate 25 pizzas.If you’re going to ask me to pay £500 for a pizza, it should at least come with gold earrings.

I’m not against spending money on good food or, obviously if you know me, good wine. However, it’s about spending money where there’s direct correlation to quality.

Gold Wine

For the about 2/3 of the price that £500 that Pizza Gogo is charging for its idiotic pizza, you could buy a whole bottle of the world’s finest dessert wineChateau d’Yquem (in this case the excellent 1990 vintage). It costs £387 via Gourmet Hunters, £493 via Uvinum and £500 via Fortnum & Mason.

Yes, it’s still a serious amount of money, but here you are paying for very rare liquid gold that has been lying down in perfect conditions for16 years.

Why is it special?

Chateau d’Yquem is known worldwide for being one of the finest wines. The vineyard is located in Bordeaux, on the highest hill in Sauternes, with the best growing conditions in the region. It’s planted with 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

How’s it made?

The grapes are attacked by something we call Noble Rot (aka “botrytis”) which is a natural fungus. In this case, Sauternes provides the fungus with the perfect conditions for this to happen: mist famously consistently settles in the morning which promotes the spread of the fungus. By midday, the sun will have dissipated the mist and dried the grapes, getting rid of unwanted rot. Botrytis is very rare and has to occur naturally. It’s not something we can control.

The fungus makes tiny holes in the grape skins, through which water evaporates, thus concentrating both the acid and the sugars in the grape.

With Yquem, only fully botrytized fruit is picked by the 150 highly skilled pickers and yields are so low that each vine produces only one glass of wine (!!!)

The wine is then fermented in new oak barrels and left to mature for 36 months.

The wine will last for well over fifty years.

So, if you’re going to make me part with £500, I can guarantee it won’t be on a £500 Piza Gogo.

At least the burger had truffle.

ARE HEAVY CHILEAN WINES A THING OF THE PAST? – MARCELO PAPA TALKS MARQUES DE CASA CONCHA AT THE STRAND DINING ROOMS 2014

MARCELO PAPA, CHIEF WINEMAKER, CONCHA Y TORO, CAME TO LONDON TO EXPLAIN TO US HOW CHILEAN WINE IS PROGRESSING ALONG A SLOPE THAT WILL CONCENTRATE MORE ON TERROIR AND SELF-EXPRESSION OF THE CABERNET SAUVIGNON GRAPE VARIETY. HE SHOWED US HIS EXPERIMENTATION WITH OAK AGEING AND BARREL STYLES AND IN ADDITION, WE WERE INTRODUCED TO THE PAIS GRAPE, AN EXCITING PROSPECT FOR THE FUTURE OF CHILE.

The wines of Chile have always been full of character, however Marcelo explained to us that perhaps the maturity of the grapes has been pushed too far over recent years. Now, the fantastic Chilean winemaker is moving away from the “blockbuster wines” and instead concentrating on the importance of revealing the wines’ true characters. This brings us back to the notion of terroir; to create an exceptional wine, the winemaking process must bring out the best of the soil type in which the vines grow.

Marcelo revealed that he had become tired of the heady wines of the late 2000s with huge alcohol percentages, and began experimenting with his wines in 2010. He stated, “I began to ask myself why the wines I hadn’t been drinking my own wines at home” – and this was a revelation to himself. He realised that he did not agree with the idea that Chilean wines focus on richness, resulting in high alcohol percentages meaning that the wines have to some extent lost sense of where they come from. He argued that it was easy to be swept along with the fashion of wine – and for the past 10-15 years it has indeed been fashionable to have these bolder wines, however he feels it is now time to change this and allow Chilean wines to flourish in their own right.

First, we were introduced to a 2014 Chardonnay that had not yet been bottled. I always find it really intriguing trying young Chardonnays as they are still so far from the finished product with so many lees present; however although it had a strong nose of fruit, it was already evident that there was a good acidity and higher minerality than previous years. Marcelo’s main focus for the change in his wines is earlier picking in order to reduce the high sugar levels. This means that acidity and minerality is more prominent in this Chardonnay, creating a fresher, cleaner wine that in my opinion, better reflects the limestone soils of the region of Limari and its cooler climate. Furthermore, Marcelo has been experimenting with using less new oak; for this wine it was 30% new oak, 30% one year old oak, and 30% 2 year old oak, which means that the wine’s minerality is able to shine through. Finally, the alcohol percentage of this Chardonnay is 13.7% as opposed to its usual 14% – a big step forward to achieving a wine where acidity is more prominent.

We tried a really interesting tasting involving 3 wines – all the same early harvested Cabernet Sauvignon of 2013 but one having been aged in classic oak barrels of 1 year usage, one having been aged oak in casks of  5000l, and the final being a blend of the two. Marcelo emphasised that it is possible to pick Cabernet earlier and get a good acidity while avoiding greenness. Furthermore, he stressed that this Cabernet grows on sandy soils and hence benefits from earlier picking; inherently it is not meant to be as bold as it has previously been produced. On tasting, the first cabernet aged in the standard oak barrels appeared almost ready to be bottled; portraying roundness and fruit flavours with which Marcelo agreed, whereas the second cabernet aged in the large casks was incredibly interesting; a much greater minerality, freshness and more complex aromas were present. We all agreed that it would definitely need longer before bottling but that it would give a wine with a greater depth of flavours than the wine aged in the normal barrels. Marcelo explained that this was due to the lack of contact with air; the wine in the large casks are exposed to less air and hence are able to develop more complex flavours. He believes that this innovative method may be the way forward for Chilean wines; the normal barrels are toasted and hence give the sweet, heady oaky flavours to the wine whereas using the large casks would give him the chance to move away from this stereotype and return to the wine’s origin. He emphasised that people have always followed trends – but that just because Cabernet Sauvignon has typically always been produced in oak barrels does not mean that it should be! The final blend was a lovely combination of 10% casks, 90% barrels, 50% early harvest, 50% normal harvest that will ease Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon fans towards the new direction of the wine; mocha and vanilla flavours were still present but these were combined with a lovely freshness. This blend was 14.2% ABV; a whole 0.6% less than 4 years ago! This is a number that is only going to decrease; Marcelo hinted that the 2014 harvest was almost all early picking and hence alcohol levels will be around 13.6%.

Next we tried two Cabernet Sauvignons from Puente Alto – one standard 2010 harvest and one early harvest from 2011. Marcelo admitted himself that perhaps he had pushed the one from 2011 a little too far – it was harvested 25 days earlier than the wine from 2010 Hence, it had very high acidity, however it also showed promise; it was light and very fresh and demonstrated that a Cabernet Sauvignon can be vinifed in a way that does not produce such a heavy wine.

Finally, after tasting the Chardonnay we tasted a new wine from 2014 made from the Pais grape (but I wanted to wait to write about it until after the others as it is such a different and exciting concept). This is a grape variety that has been largely forgotten about over the recent years as it wrongly gained a reputation as inferior to the other varieties of Chile. Marcelo highlighted that this means we have lost an amazing part of Chilean history and viticulture; some of the Pais vines are up to 120 years old! He emphasised that it is a matter of repositioning the grape; by recreating the grape using carbonic maceration we can achieve a wonderful, fresh, summer wine almost comparable to some of the wines of Beaujolais generic appellation. We tried the wine chilled (it is 85% Pais and 15% Cinsault) and it revealed a lovely delicate fresh and fruity nose, a result of its vinification in stainless steel – it is a grape that does not need the addition of oak, instead flourishing from carbonic maceration hence resulting in a less tannic wine. Although very different in style to the other wines of Marques de Casa Concha, it is a lovely 12.5% ABV delicate and refreshing wine that is perfect for summer and one that I am sure will have a big market in the future.

All in all, it was a really interesting tasting – particularly for me as I have not known about Chilean wines for long and it was very eye opening and informing. Thanks to Marcelo Papa and I will be keeping my eyes open for the future wines of Marques de Casa Concha!

A TRIP TO THE LANGUEDOC

In October 2014 I was fortunate enough to have the chance to head down to the Languedoc region in France. Having interned in Burgundy for half a year, I had been spoilt for choice amongst the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world but I had never before had the chance to travel further down South to the vast vineyards of the Languedoc (NB: the Languedoc region is situated on the Mediterranean coastline). The Languedoc-Roussillon region has approximately 700,000 acres under vine (that’s 2,800km2) and thus is the largest wine producing region of the world.

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to taste something still very new to me; in particular the Grenache, Syrah,  Carignan, Mourvedre, Vermentino and  Roussanne varietals.  It still continues to fascinate me that it is possible to have such a stretch of varietals growing within one country, and my interest in wine continues to grow and grow – there is so much to learn and so much subjective opinion. Furthermore, it is equally incredible that essentially one type of fruit can exist in so many subspecies, and that those subspecies thrive with such different soil compositions and climates.

After having met with the other members of our group, we set off from Toulouse airport towards our destination for the 3 nights – Narbonne. Narbonne is a beautiful town that somehow weirdly reminded me of Beaune – both are towns with a rich wine history, a peripherique and striking, historic streets.

Our hotel was paradoxically modern and minimalist, however I found this to be the perfect match; its subtle appearance complimented its surroundings and flowers and plants were left to roam free throughout. On our first night we ate at Le Petit Comptoir where I had arguably my best meal of the holiday; chestnut and pumpkin puree for an amuse bouche, followed by a butternut squash soup, followed by beef cheek and chocolate melt for dessert (yes I was around 10 stone heavier when I got home). Exhausted, we all headed to bed after in preparation for the first day of tasting.

DAY ONE
Our first day was spent tasting AOC Languedoc wines at Mas de Saporta. Here, I tasted a variety of wines, both red, white and rose. I came across blends that I have never tried before and many vineyards practicing organic vinification. It was very interesting to see percentages of new oak used; the majority ranged between 20-30% new oak which meant that the varietals were very much free to express themselves. Two wines that particularly stood out to me were the red from Domaine Virgile Joly; an easy to drink red wine of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Cinsault, resulting in a full bodied wine with a good acidity but with the perfumed, fruity additions from the Grenache and Syrah. For me, this red was the ideal everyday wine that could suit a range of dishes, and I’m extremely envious of the people of Languedoc for having this wine at such convenience (and such low prices in comparison to back in the UK!).

After the morning’s tasting we headed to lunch at the Ferme Marine à Marseillan, which sits on the  Étang de Thau, a string of lagoons that runs through the South of France. The setting was so picturesque and the food was amazing, still dreaming about those prawns…

 

The photo you see in the middle of the collage above was the setting for our afternoon tasting; AOC Languedoc wines at the Abbaye de Valmagne. Again, we saw eight vignerons who each showed around 4 wines. Each vigneron was so passionate about their wines and would discuss in depth various aspects of winemaking. This really set in stone the notion of wine as art; this is something I strongly believe will never go away, despite some winemakers around the world mass-producing, the small, family-red winemakers of France will continue to gently and carefully vinify their wines with pride to produce something that is complex and full of promise.

One producer in particular really stood out to me – the Domaine le Conte des Floris. The first was “Arès Blanc 2012” – a blend of 60% Marsanne and 40% Carignan Blanc (a particularly rare grape that is difficult to come across – there are only 411 hectares of it). The wine was a nutty, full bodied, buttery white yet had a great acidity running through it with citrus notes on the finish. It baffled me when I first tasted it because it was so different to the grenache and vermentinos that the Languedoc is well known for, but it intrigued me and its oaky, buttery notes drew me to it. It only has an annual production of 5000 bottles and it isn’t distributed in the UK – if only! The winemaker studied in Burgundy and hence his wines have this Burgundian touch to them – indeed the Carignan reminded me a little of a Meursault in style. His red “Homo Habilis 2011” was a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre and 25% Grenache. This wine ages in older barrels from the Clos de Tart which he gets from his old professor. He emphasised to me the importance that these barrels are not new – he wants the grape varietals to speak for themselves and dislikes extraction and over-dominance of oak. A wine with blackcurrant and clove notes, its tannins were still quite firm, but this is a wine made to keep and I would be very excited to try it again in a few years’ time.

Another wine that has several doodled hearts next to it in my tasting booklet was a Grenache blanc/Vermentino (fairly atypical!) blend from the Chateau de Fourques, called the “Vigne de Madame 2011”. Also vilified in oak, this had a surprisingly high freshness with extremely aromatic notes. I’ve never tried a white like it before and I doubt I will! The perfumed aromas were intense and striking and it’s a wine I won’t forget. With only a production of 1500 bottles/year, I’m jealous of those that will get to enjoy it.

One final wine from this tasting that was also extremely interesting was the Meli Melo from Domaine de Roquemale, produced on 100% Alicante Bouschet (yep, Alicante!). A big wine of a super dark red colour (almost purple) with leathery, blackberry notes that would be the perfect match with the boudins of France.

After a quick beer (after a day of probably around 100 wines, a beer is the perfect choice!) we headed back to the hotel and had a lovely dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and a very good night’s sleep.

DAY TWO   
We got up to a large array of croissants and juices and then we were off to taste again – this time the Saint Chinians of Roquebrun.

I particularly enjoyed the wines of the Chateau Coujan (not only are their labels so pretty – but their wines were great too!)

Their Cuvee Bois Joli Blanc 2013 is a blend of Grenache, Rolle and Roussanne with  a pineappley, pear-y nose. Fresh with vanilla notes, it is a wine that can be drunk alone or ideal with a variety of fish or squid dishes. They also had a super red on Syrah and Mourvedre called the “Cuvee Gabrielle de Spinola 2013” expressing intense dark fruits with hints of tobacco.

Next, we drove to St Chinian Berlou, an adorable tiny-teeny town at the bottom of the vineyard valleys. It was baking hot and all of us were praying to make the most of the weather and eat outside – our wish was granted with a dreamy balcony style outside seating area on the banks of an old riverbed. Lunch was delicious and washed down with a slightly chilled Languedoc red. After, we had a tour of the terroir – beautiful stretching vineyards with pine forests running alongside. You can see sharp flinty stones everywhere – known as schists, which give the wines of Saint Chinian their quality. We even found a wild strawberry tree!

After our stroll we headed back to Narbonne for a tasting of IGP Sud de France wines. The wine of this tasting for me was a white from Chateau d’Angles; a blend of 50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache, 10% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. From La Clape, this is the only appellation that is based on Bourboulenc. The wine was of a pale lemon yellow colour with an elegant citrus nose with mineral, flinty notes. The other varietals help bear more fruit and give the wine a roundness and complexity. It has definitely made me want to seek out other Bourboulenc based wines.

After a quick turnaround at the hotel we headed to the Table du Chateau for dinner with the winemaker from the Abbaye de Fontfroide and some fantastic wines, among which was a delicious Muscat sec. The food was also amazing – butternut squash soup followed by beef cheeks and some of the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever had with our coffee. After, we went out for some beers in Narbonne and ended up at a bizarre “nightclub” which made for a hilarious night.

DAY THREE

After another super breakfast (yep, confirmed, at this point I was definitely sure I was turning obese) we headed to our final tasting of Corbieres wines at the Chateau de Luc in Luc sur Orbieu. The Chateau is just wow – I would do anything to live there! The tasting was held in their living room with ancestral pictures looking down at us – definitely one of the most striking settings for a tasting imaginable.

The wines were all unique and very interesting; the Corbieres region is famous for its “garrigue” – low growing vegetation that is present throughout this area; plants such as thyme, juniper, lavender and rosemary that thrive on limestone soils with a hot climate. These notes are surprisingly present in the wines and give them a heady, intense presence.

The wines of the Famille Fabre (the family of the Chateau de Luc) were among my favourite; their red “Cuvee de Jumelles 2012” was a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre where the garrigue notion was clearly evident. The daughters of the winemaker are twins, hence the name of the wine “jumelles”. (If only a wine was named after me!) Their white was based on grenache blanc and marsanne, and had a lovely freshness yet was soft and not too acidic; the perfect summer wine.

In comparison to this, I also enjoyed the white from Chateau Beauregard Mirouze – “Lauzina 2012”; roussanne and marsanne. This was interesting as it was more on the aromatic side (from the roussanne), with butter and spices from its time in oak. Two completely different styles of white, but both equally pleasing and both demonstrating good length in mouth.

The Chateau had barrels in the courtyard with various types of herb growing in them to demonstrate the scents of the garrigue. It was so interesting and definitely made me pick up the aromas on the nose!

TASTING THE WINES OF TENERIFE

When holidaying with my mum in Tenerife, I decided to investigate whether much wine is produced out there. The answer was yes and throughout the holiday I managed to taste some really interesting and unique wines. Furthermore, I discovered that there is a wine tour that runs every week and so on Thursday morning, mum and I popped on the coach along with a few others.

Our first stop was Bodega El Lomo, in the Tegueste region, founded in 1989. They produce an average of 97,000 litres per year (they started with only 2000l!) 30% of their wine comes from their own grapes, and they also buy 70% from the same DO. The winery was modern and brilliantly constructed, using entirely vinification by gravity. On average their wines are 12-12.5% ABV, and the bodega produces joven red wine, barrel aged red wine, white wine and crianza. The fascinating thing about the wines of Tenerife is that they were never affected by phylloxera – all the wines are hence from pre-phylloxeric wines.

First we tasted their Blanco – made on 90% Listan Blanco and 10% Gual. It was fresh and fruity – sweeter than I had expected. Next was their red joven, a blend of Listan Negro, Negramoll and Listan Blanco. The winemaker explained to us that there are 21 varieties that are from Tenerife (I was so surprised – so many!) It was a delicious red for warm weather – almost a bit like a Beaujolais Nouveau, served slightly chilled with red fruit notes and strong aromas of pepper. Finally, we also tasted a 100% Merlot which was really interesting and complex on the nose with hints of plum and undergrowth. With the wine we also had a selection of yummy cheeses from Tenerife.

Next, we travelled to Bodega Monje, founded in 1956. Located in the Sauzal, the vineyards are 600 metres above sea level. There are 1500 vines per hectare and an average vine age of 50 years.

We ate a delcicious meal at the bodega – first we had a selection of spreads such as sausage and garlic and a butter with native spices. This was accompanied by the white “dragoblanco”; a white Listan Blanco vinified in stainless steel. It was light, fruity and fresh with good acidity.  After a lovely vegetable soup, we had some of the best pork belly I’ve had in ages (aaaah the crackling!), with a red wine called “tradicional”. A blend of Listan Negro and Negramoll, it was very comparable to the red from Bodega El Lomo, with slightly more spiced notes and some tobacco hints from its 4 months spent in oak. Finally, we had a creamy pudding made of eggs and spices – it tasted a bit like pain d’epices (similar cinammon/nutmeggy flavours). With this we had tinto-monje, Monje’s young wine that is 100% Listan Negro and created using carbonic maceration (when whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment before being crushed).

After a coffee we had a tour of the vineyard and its cellars and were shown their family collection of wine. It is a beautiful, traditional building with cellars of perfect ageing conditions.

Other wines I had the chance to taste while in Tenerife:

Vina Norte (Tacaronte Acentejo) – Tinto Joven – Listan Negro y Negramoll – a young wine with hints of cherry, raspberry and spices. Elegant tannins.

Brumas Dayosa (Valle de Guimar) – An unusual wine with a greatly perfumed nose focused on white flowers and especially camomile. In the mouth there are notes of tree sap, citrus fruits and honey with good freshness. Listan Blanco.

Flor de Chasna blanco afrutado – Pale yellow with green shimmers – a very pretty wine. A sweeter wine with specific notes of white peach, pineapple and even mango. Listan Blanco.