What is vintage wine? A mini vintage effect tasting with Casa Real, Chile.

What is ‘vintage wine’? It is the year written on the bottle; the year that the grapes were grown. The climatic conditions during that year will dictate whether the vintage is a good one or not. 

Casa RealOne of last week’s wine experiences was short, but very sweet: I got do a little experiment to see the effect that different vintages had on what was otherwise exactly the same wine. Now, when I say the same wine, what I mean is the same vines, one single grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon), the same vineyard, the same winemaker and just about the same winemaking techniques.

In my recent video explaining what ‘vintage wine’ means, I mention briefly that vintage is considered to be more important in countries where the climate is marginal as there is more variation from year to year; places like Bordeaux and Burgundy, for example. While this is true, vintage variation in the New World cannot be ignored. The variations I found when tasting four wines from Santa Rita’s stunning flagship Casa Real range were really interesting.

Casa Real is all about one grape: Cabernet Sauvignon and the vineyard is situated in the gravelly Upper Maipo Valley which the locals describes as the ‘Haut Medoc’ of the Maipo Valley. Here, Cecilia Torres, the winemaker for the past 25 years, manages to coax out a cedary, elegant Cabernet from her vines that is much more like the left bank Bordeaux lovelies than the Ribena berry fruit bombs that much of Chile produces. Using the ‘ideal vintage’ of the 2010 as a benchmark which was elegant and mineral cool as if wearing a silky, cassis smoking jacket, I took a tour of three other, quite different vintages:Casa Real

1998: Cold and wet vintage.

2008: Frost at first, then good, warm conditions.

2010: Ideal conditions all year.

2011: Cool, but not wet.

What is clear the world over is that cold, wet conditions make for light and very leafy, autumnal red wines and the 1998 was exactly that. The tertiary aromas that come from age were to be amplified to the max! At a lower 13.5% alcohol too, this had the most different personality to the other wines.

Casa RealThe 2008 showed what happens when yields are lowered because of the early frost, but then the sun comes out. This was a wine that was still very elegant for a Cabernet but had much more of a concentrated, blackcurrant kick thanks in part to the lower yields (less grapes) and a warmer, minty finish taking the alcohol up to 14.5%, thanks largely to the later addition of sunshine.

The 2011 was cool but not wet and the wine, while still young to taste, was concentrated and fine with more stringent tannin. Less voluptuous in fruit and slightly lower in alcohol (14%) as there has been less sun. Time will soften this big boy up!

There’s nothing like tasting wine together for the differences to really pop out, so thank you Caroline Park and Helen Chesshire for the tasting opportunity.

For a little more information on Casa Real, I liked this article by Will Lyons. See also their website here. The 2011 vintage is currently on sale at Majestic Wine for £30 a bottle. Bargain.

WBx

What is Beaujolais day?

Tomorrow is Beaujolais day. Huzzah! Sounds like a fantastic excuse to drink wine, but what does it actually mean? Let me explain…

isla7The third Thursday of November every year is known in the industry as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau day’: the day that the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released. There was traditionally a race to get your hands on the stuff and drink it as quickly as possible because when it’s gone, it’s gone!

What is Beaujolais anyway? Beaujolais is a light-bodied, French, red wine made from the Gamay grape and hailing from the region of Beaujolais, immediately south of Burgundy proper. Beaujolais Nouveau however has its own very specific style, not to be confused with the others (Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Beaujolais ‘Cru’) despite all being made from Gamay. Beaujolais Nouveau, meaning literally ‘new Beaujolais’ is not a wine made for ageing. In fact, you want to drink it almost as soon as it’s bottled to get the most out of its strawberry bubblegum juiciness. Even after a year, it feels tired and unfresh. Beajoulais Nouveau is not for everyone, but it’s a great style of wine to be familiar with. Look around town and you’ll find plenty of places offering Beaujolais breakfasts next week. Craziness!lily-cole

If Gamay were a person, she’d be a cheerful red head. A finer Beaujolais may be more like Lily Cole… See my video guide to the Gamay grape and Beaujolais below:

Enjoy your Bojo Novo!

WB x

Wine gift ideas for Christmas

I’ve come across a few things lately that I think would make great wine-related gifts for Christmas, so I thought I’d put them all in one place to be helpful. Please not that I am not being paid to ‘advertise’ them, nor have I received free samples of them unless explicitly stated. This post will be updated as I find new toys!

Vinoa: Wine tasting, delivered.

vinoa2I only discovered Vinoa via Twitter yesterday and I love the concept: every month, receive four, 50ml wine samples from a famous wine region to give you a fantastic overview of the styles of wine they produce there. It’s like a deliciously simple wine club that teaches you something along the way! Prices start at £29.95 for three months, then go up to £54.95 for six months and £109.99 for a year. Given the wines they show you that they’ve sent in the past on the website (Achaval Ferrer Malbec? Yes please!), I personally think these prices are pretty darn good. See more here.

Corkers: The Wine Game.

corkersThis is quite a geeky game for wine novices and enthusiasts alike. It’s a bit like Monopoly, but with grapes and vineyards where you can test your wine knowledge and build vinous empires. Questions are ‘EASY’ such as “Is wine made in the Canary Islands?” or ‘DIFFICULT’, such as “Where would you locate the Famatina Valley and Cafayate wine regions?”. It definitely appeals the the wine geek in me! £27.50 +P&P from their website here.

Corkcicle: Maintain the ideal temperature of wine.

Simple but effective,CORKCICLE_CLASSIC_XRAY keep this in your freezer and use it to cool down reds that are too warm or maintain the chill of a bottle of white. At around £19 from many kitchen shops, it’s a good price point for a gift too. Corksicle also now make other products for cooling whisky and beer among other things! See more here.

Coravin: “Enjoy wine by the glass without committing to the whole bottle”

coravinI recently met Greg Lambrecht, the inventor of Coravin and heard him speak about its benefits. It’s now on my very own Christmas want list! This product is for you if you fancy a glass (or lots of different glasses) of wine but don’t want to waste a whole bottle by actually pulling the cork. You can use it to taste fine wines from your cellar, then go back to them months or even years later. Greg is a wine-loving surgeon from the US who was ‘good at needles’ and he developed the system whereby a hollow needle pierces the cork and pressurises the bottle using inert, argon gas. This pressure then forces wine back up the needle, allowing you to pour it into a glass. The oxygen in the bottle is replaced with the argon gas so there is no wine spoilage and the cork reseals itself because the needle so fine. Clever, eh? It’s still pretty pricey at £269, but would be a great little gift for the serious wine lover. Available in the UK at Harrods.

Happy shopping!

WBx

Chasselas: Blank canvas of wine grapes! Or is it…?

Montreux

Stunning Montreux: home to the DWCC 2014

Having just returned from Switzerland and the fantastic weekend that was the Digital Wine Communications Conference 2014 (more on that later), it seems apt to post a Vinalogy for the country’s flagship white grape variety: Chasselas. I asked many people over in Montreux what its Vinalogy would be and got some interesting answers:

Pic from tyrannyoftradition.com

Pic from tyrannyoftradition.com

“It’s the watchmaker” said Steven (whose full name will appear when I find it!). “Quintessentially Swiss and humble without an overbearing personality, yet capable of real complexity”.

“It’s a writer” said Joelle of Alpine Wines. “It’s got understated complexity and isn’t flashy”.

“An actress?” suggested Robert McIntosh, one of the organisers of the conference. “One who has delivered stunning, mesmerising, performances, but at the same time having played quite ‘ordinary’ characters as well”. Helen Mirren perhaps? I thought maybe Tilda Swinton or a simple blank canvas myself… even a painted canvas by William turner? Aaargh!

Then Twitter got involved:

But HM is gorgeous and amazing and talented and a national treasure. Chasselas couldn’t *really* be described thus.
Tilda too hard, Blanc Canvas too non-commital, William Turner too flouncey. How about ‘Alan Davies’ of grapes?
How about Belgium? Reputation for being dull and lifeless but dig around and there is something to talk about. in a very unflashy, unflustered kind of way.
Sean Connery? Foreign, smooth, always identifiable, perfect with melted cheese.
fendant, fresh, green tinged, Mountains, slightly effervesence, …Julie Andrews?
The conclusion? Vinalogy by committee is hard! If I had to pick one thing though, it would be the ‘Blank Canvas’. Here’s why:

Chasselas is the Blank Canvas of wine grapes

Picture courtesy of socialmediaexplorer.com

Picture courtesy of socialmediaexplorer.com

Neutral, but full of promise. Will the canvas be used by a master of the arts or by a three year-old wielding a brush? In the right hands and location, the result could be something complex, subtle and enduring. In the wrong hands, it’s just a bit simplistic and uninteresting. Everything hangs on where exactly you find it and who has been handling it.

Chasselas is the terroir grape. Simply made, it’s often described as non-descript and flabby; nothing more than a table grape over in France and Italy. It’s almost neutral in flavour and low in acid, but what it does do is suck up the terroir like a sponge so you can tell quite clearly sometimes where exactly in Switzerland the Chasselas has come from. I was told by Joelle from Alpine Wines that it even used be a popular game for young Swiss to blind taste test each other to see if they could ‘spot the terroir’. The best Chasselas are slightly floral and minerally with a teeny prickle of Co2 for freshness and can age really nicely, like white Burgundy. They can be subtle and complex and are never, ever flashy; very easy to drink and the perfect match for cheese fondue!
Fact: Chasselas is the sweetheart of the Swiss canton Vaud where it takes up 67% of vine space.
Fact: Just like in Burgundy, wines are labelled by village or vineyard, especially in Vaud.
Fact: Even in Switzerland, Chasselas has several synonyms. Fendant and Gudetel are the most popular.
What’s your Vinalogy for Chasselas and how the hell am I going to dress up as a blank canvas for the video?!
WB x

Cabernet Franc: Old professor of wine grapes

Think of a bookish, old school professor sweeping autumn leaves from his pathway or gathering redcurrants. He is dressed in a worn, red cardigan flecked with pencil shavings. And while he’s of elegant stature, the man is quietly confident: rights to his textbooks have recently been sold, so his reputation is spreading worldwide!

It took a while, but you can now find delicious wines made with Cabernet Franc in regions around the world where you might least expect them! As far as the classics go however, Cabernet Franc is a well known feature in France’s Loire Valley (as well in red Bordeaux blends), where it makes light to medium-bodied red wines that sing with crunchy, redcurrant flavours and autumnalleafy notes. These are earthy, old school wines with a slight whiff of lead pencil. Lighter and leafier than Cabernet Sauvignon*, you can glug Cabernet Franc for lunch (chilled can be quiet nice) or dinner as the nights start to close in. Come to Mr. Franc for Autumn in a glass!

*FACT 1: Cabernet Franc is father to the beefy, international ‘rugby star’ grape: Cabernet Sauvignon.

FACT 2: Synonyms for Cabernet Franc include ‘Bouchy’ and ‘Breton’ in France, ‘Bordo’ and ‘Cabernet Frank’ in Italy.

CABERNET FRANC TASTING TOUR

Cabernet Franc tops the bill in France’s Loire Valley and you’ll find doses of it in ‘Meritage’ or ‘Bordeaux Blends’ around the world. Here are three styles to try:

croixsauchampLoire Valley – Start with a classic from Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Anjou or Bourgueil. This Saumur-Champigny below is light with crunchy cranberry flavours and herbal, earthy notes. If you fancy something with more concentrated, darker fruit and a cool, saline lick however, then try the Anjou-Villages:

Croix de Chaintres Saumur-Champigny, Loire Valley, France. £11.99 Waitrose.

Domaine des Rochelles, Anjou-Villages Brissac 2012. £16.75, Stone, Vine & Sun.

 

cabfranctunellaNorth East Italy – The Italian region of Friuli does particularly well with Cabernet Franc. I love this one: classic leafiness and redcurrant with a few extra curves and a soft, mineral tang. Try:

Cabernet Franc, La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy, 2011. £11.25 (Corneyandbarrow.com)

 

valcabfrancChileA bit of sun can actually work wonders for this grape as the wine below shows: Fuller-bodied again with spicy red fruit, chocolate and tobacco leaf flavours. It’s soft, easy drinking and tangy. Try:

Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Valdivieso, Central Valley, Chile, 2009. £11.75 ndjohn.co.uk

 

 

Food Match

The lighter styles from France or Italy work particularly well with vegetables, but are also often served with roast chicken, turkey, ham and even steak frites. Heavier styles such as those from Hungary, Chile, Australia and California will do well with mushrooms and heavier meat dishes, like stews.

Enjoy!

WBx

Sunday Brunch Shopping List: Malbec (28th September)

sundaybrunchLast Sunday’s Drinkypoos session on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch with Tim Lovejoy, Simon Rimmer and me was all about Malbec: the polo player of wine grapes! Here’s what we talked about and what we drank…

What is Malbec? Malbec is the name of a wine grape, originally from South West France but flourishing in Argentina where it is now their flagship grape.

What’s the Vinalogy for Malbec? A Vinalogy (wine-based analogy) is a memorable  image that ties in all the classic characteristics of a wine grape to make it easier to remember and Malbec is the Polo Player: Smooth and athletic rather than rugby player chunky. Think of them with lustrous, chocolate brown hair and raspberry pink team shirts as the lomo steaks sizzle on the BBQ, because that’s Malbec: rich and chocolatey with raspberry flavours and notes of grilled meat.

What are we tasting? Three styles of Malbec from the three regions most famous for it: Cahors in South West France, Mendoza in Argentina and France’s Loire Valley.

Wine 1: ‘Chatons du Cedre’ Cahors, Malbec 2012. Oddbins £9.50 (12.5% abv)

chatonsThough most people probably think of Argentina for Malbec these days, the grape originated in this part of the world. The region of Cahors in South West France is famous for Malbec-based wines in a particular style i.e. inky black, super dry and almost dusty, with dark, mulberry spice. Remember that in France, wines are often named after region rather than grape. Think Cahors, think Malbec; though it’s often also called Auxerrois (amongst other things). It’s a great example of ‘old world’, Malbec. Eat with Cassoulet and stews. Vinalogy: retired polo player – more savoury and dusty! Stockist: Oddbins

Wine 2: FABRE ET MONTMAYOU, ANTIGUOS VIÑEDOS MALBEC,MENDOZA, ARGENTINA 2011 (14.5% ABV). £11.50

fabre malbecYou can’t do Malbec without going to Argentina, and this one is everything you’d want from your Polo Player: Rich and chocalately, but with lots of blueberry and raspberry fruit. Slightly meaty but there’s freshness too. Brilliant value. This one also show’s one of Malbec’s signature traits really well: pink tears dripping down the glass. You can guess what it is by looking at it! It’s been oaked for 12 months in French oak which gives it that spicy, structure (dryness). It’s a proper wine but not too serious. Vinalogy: Classic polo player with all the above notes thrown in! Stockist: The Wine Society

Wine 3: Thierry Puzelat-Bonhomme, Touraine KO “In Cot We Trust”, 2011. £16 approx

incotThe Loire Valley is a lesser known region for Malbec, but one that wine lovers should know about nonetheless. The style is always much lighter in body and alcohol thanks to the cooler climate of the Loire and it offers something a bit different. Normally I’d show a Loire red first as it’s lighter, but this has taken ‘different’ and run with it. It’s a bit of a legend in the wine trade. Vinalogy: like an elegant polo playing lady who’s been taken for a wild night out in Essex, she’s spoliing for a fight, her hair is everywhere and she’s been rolling in horse poo, but she’s still really rather moreish. One to drink with funky game dishes. Note: It’s funky because it is a ‘natural wine': nothing has been added and nothing removed including Sulphur which normally acts as an antioxidant and antiseptic. Stockist: Winebear.com

Want a little more information on the polo player of wine grapes? Here’s my video!

Carmenère: Smoky sorceress of wine grapes!

Introducing Carmenère: a smoky sorceress in a deep purple bustier, throwing herbs into a cauldron as the Autumn leaves fall around her. She is dark, powerful and brooding, yet still smooth and fruity. She’s definitely a lady!

Smoky blackcurrant and leaves are what the Carmenère grape is all about. Powerful and rich in flavour, yet smooth and fruity rather than dry and tannic. It’s like a cartoon version of Cabernet Sauvignon. Originally from Bordeaux where it was used as a blending grape much like Malbec, Chile has taken Carmenère  to its heart and run with it. Nowadays, most versions of this grape you will find will be from Chile.

FACT 1: Carménère, Carmenère or Carmenere. Any spelling goes these days!

FACT 2: Carmenère blends beautifully with the firmer Cabernet Sauvignon so you get all the juicy blackcurrant fruit with some backbone!

Carmenère Tasting Tour (short one, this)

blackcurrantCarmenère 1: CHILE – You’re quite unlikely to find Carmenère from anywhere other than Chile in the UK at the moment, and it flourishes in the warmer, inland regions such as Colchagua.

Carmenère 2: FRANCE – They will be hard to find, but head to Bordeaux, France and you may yet find wines that are Carmenère heavy. More often than not however, they will be blended with larger amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Carmenère 3+:  There are tiny pockets of this grape to be found in the likes of California, Australia New Zealand, but at this stage, it’s more of a novelty…

Get hold of some grilled meat and you’ll be very happy with the smoky sorceress! Enjoy.

WB x

The Wine Society – Stock up on Christmas gems

The-Wine-SocietyI love The Wine Society. There, I’ve said it. Every time I go to their tastings, I am blown away by the strike rate of fabulous wines on offer. They’re classic and they’re quirky and  jewels are  to be had at every price level.  Here are my very top picks but really, you should just work your way through their whole list and buy everyone you know membership for Christmas. No, they are not paying me to say that…

Crazy value reds

The juicy, easy drinking Portuguese Almeida Garrett Entre Serras Beira Interior 2012 is a little bit different and unbelievable value at £5.95. How do they even do that?

If you love the garrigue flavours of silky, Rhone Syrah, you’ll love this fruity, dried herb and violety Grignan les Adhemar Delas 2012. You’ll like it even more when you realise it’s £6.95.

The luscious tannins and mocha fudge notes of classic Californain Cabernet Sauvignon are hard to find for under £10, but the Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley, Three Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 properly over- delivers for its £9.95 price tag.

Excellent classics

albarinoGet to know what certain grape varieties and wine styles are really supposed to taste like with these excellent examples of type:

Albarino is the Mermaid of wine grapes and the Pazo de Vallarei Albarino 2013 exudes all the right peach-skinned, lemon and sea spray flavours. £8.95

Riesling is the German Supermodel of wine grapes and the Scharzhofberger, Erste Lage, Von Kesselstatt Riesling 2008 is fabulously old school: leafy, balanced and dry. £14.95

Viognier is the voluptuous Sun Goddess of wine grapes and this Domaine Barrou Condrieu 2012 show it off at its best; all luscious and weighty with apricot and banana cream coolness. £29 but worth every penny.

Malbec is the Polo Player of wine grapes and the Fabre et Montmayou, Antiguos Vinedos Malbec 2011 is everything you could want from the grape: concentrated blueberry, chocolate and ozone with thick pink tears that drip down your glass. You can tell it’s Malbec by looking! £11.50

Different and delicious

greekFor something away from the norm, try the Greek Malagousia Tetramythos 2013 for floral, lemon cake aromas with a bone dry and zesty body. A knockout at £9.95.

If you like the tropical notes of the Fiano grape, you’ll love this orange and pineapple-scented, creamy white with floral notes. Made with Sicilian Grillo (the grape) and a splash of Viognier, the Dalia Bianco, Sicilia Feudo Arancio 2013 is excellent value at £7.75.

For a wine that’s super dry, herbal and incredibly refreshing, give some Carignan Gris a go with the Les Perles de Jones Carignan Gris, Cotes Catalanes, 2013. A proper food wine. £16

Fans of savoury reds will love the cool, saline, dark cherry and wild strawberry notes of the Lagrein grape found in spades in the Hofstatter Jospeh Lagrein 2012. Delicious! A foodie wine, for sure. £11.95.

Dinner party reds

riojaThe Lopez de Haro Reserva Rioja 2005 looks as elegant and classy as it tastes and for £8.25 a bottle, you can take two to the party!

quintaMore label, or rather bottle appeal with this stunning Portuguese red made from a blend of the same grapes that make Port. The Quinta Nova 250th Anniversary Douro red 2011 is figgy pudding all the way! A fabulous statement bottle with wine inside to match, punching well above its weight at £10.50.

Splashing out the £28 on the Demi-Sec Chenin Blanc will win you many friends. The toast and honey, marmalade tang of the Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec Huet Vouvray 2008 with its incredible freshness and unending length are what dreams are made of.

It’s worth noting that if you want to do tasting tours of Burgundy and Bordeaux, then the Wine Society is also a good place to start. There are many different styles to explore, all great examples of type. Just too many to mention here!

Enjoy. I know you will.

WB x

Grüner Veltliner: Spritely goatherd of wine grapes

♫♪ “High on a hill lived a lonely goatherd” ♪♫♪

This man of the mountain is feeling pretty Grü-V and who wouldn’t when they’re breathing alpine air all day surrounded by a carpet of pretty white flowers and fresh, green herbs? This spritely, bearded dude has a daily diet of grapefruit and mineral-rich stream water which has kept him young. It’s just the white peppery streaks in his ginger beard that give away his age!

fresh herbsGrüner Veltliner (pronounced Grooner Velt-leener) is usually drunk young when it exudes the freshness of a mountain stream with notes if  white flowers and green herbs, often with a sprinkling of white pepper and a kick of ginger on the finish for luck. Some of the better made versions can also age incredibly well; so much so that they have been likened to white Burgundy with their creamy texture, weight and pineapple- apricot complexity.Grü-V is also what those in the know drink in restaurants these days. Austria’s flagship white grape is gaining appeal thanks to its incredible versatility with food.

Grüner Veltliner TASTING TOUR

Grüner Veltliner 1: As its signature grape, there really is no other place to start other than Austria. For the very best, check out the regions of Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau in the North Eastern part of the country.

Grüner Veltliner 2: Stay in Austria, but for something different, look for a sparkling ‘Sekt’ wine with Grüner as base.

Grüner Veltliner 3: If you’re heading a little further afield, stop off in Hungary, The Czech Republic (Veltlinské zelené) or Slovakia (Veltlinske Zelené ) to try some of theirs. 

Grüner Veltliner 4: Cooler parts of the New world are doing really well with Gruber these days. Try some from New Zealand, especially The South Island.

In love with Lugana – a white wine to watch!

I admit it: the northern Italialuganawinen wine region known as Lugana DOC has managed to evade the Winebird gaze over the years, dismissed perhaps as a passion for all things Tuscan took over for a while. Now, thanks largely to Robert McIntosh from thirstforwine.co.uk, Carla Capalbo’s recent article in Decanter Magazine and my determination to nail some lesser known Italian grapes and regions over #100Days, I have fallen a little bit in love with Lugana. So should you! Here’s why:

1) It’s simple. Lugana DOC is all about white wine made (most of the time) with one grape: Turbiana. Turbiana is variation on a theme of Trebbiano (the grape) and some have also linked it to Verdicchio.

2) It’s beautiful. The Lugana region is located towards the southern end of Lake Garda and is surrounded by olive groves, almonds and lemon trees. Imagine sitting by the lake on a bed of ancient seashells inhaling those aromas as a cool breeze blows. That’s a vinalogy; it’s what the wine actually tastes like! The trend is to use little or no oak, so these whites are as fresh as newly washed linen.

Lugana from the top of the famous tower of San Martino della Battaglia. Photo by Robert Macintosh

Lugana from the top of the famous tower of San Martino della Battaglia. Photo by Robert McIntosh

3) It’s versatile. One grape, five styles. So, Lugana has a love affair with Turbiana, but you won’t get bored as it makes five styles of wine: Basic (from the current vintage), Superiore (1 year aging at least). Riserva (more aging), Sparkling and Sweet (late harvest, or ‘vendemmia tardiva’ in Italian).

4) The bottles look pretty cool.

Three producers to look for:

Cà dei Frati

Cà Maiol Molin

Selva Capuzzo

Want a little history of the region? Check out Robert McIntosh’s blog here.

So, next time you fancy a cool, crushed seashell white wine with a lemony tang and a savoury finish, try something new. Look out for a lovely Lugana.

WB x