Monday, 31 March 2008

General, 30 March 2008

Ch de l’Engarran Gres de Montpellier 2004, Coteaux de Languedoc
Oddbins £9 [B]

A blend of 39% Syrah, 28% Grenache, 28% Carignan & 5% Mourvèdre, this wine has a rather cool feel unlike most Languedoc wines of this price range; the 14% of alcohol is masked behind the burst of fruit flavours dominated by cherries, plums and sour prunes. There is also a nice smokiness to it, perhaps even a touch of licorice. The tannins could do with some softening out, but overall, this wine has got a nice body and structure to go with food. I had it with a meaty pizza and it went well, I would imagine pork or lamb in some gravy would be fine too. It could be kept to see whether it’ll develop, but its drinking well now.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Northern Italy - CWM Mill Rd

Northern Italy Tasting
Cambridge Wine Merchants - Mill Rd
27 March 2008

Tasting run by the Cambridge Wine Merchant team at Mill Rd, must say that the new tasting room / cellar in their branch is kinda cramped for 30 people in a tasting; ventilation wasnt very good either. Wine wise, there was a nice mix. Prices indicated are retail prices in the shop, insofar as I know, correct at time of tasting. Lets start.

Prosecco Extra Dry, Cantina Beato Bartolomeo £9 [B]

Lightly sparkling wine, with a nose of apple. grape juice and sweet pears, generally fruity and pleasant. This is a light-bodied, quite sweet, very drinkable wine; its a simple, uncomplicated, cheerful drink. Chill it for the summer months to drink on its own or with any light dishes.

Soave Superiore Classico 2005, Vigneto Montegrande £8 [B]

Nice nose of white peaches, nectarines, and the tang of grapefruits too. The acidity in this wine is quite pronounced, gives it an interesting zing and crispness to the wine on the fore of the palate, giving way to some tartness at the end. There is also a slight hint of creaminess, most probably from some oak treatment. Body wise, this wine was fairly two dimensional and just didnt have much to offer. Drinkable but not memorable.

Vinnae Servus Cella 2006, Jermann £18 [B+]

There is an unusual earthy / yeasty nose to this, a smell normally more associated with Champagne; also reminds me of burnt matchstick / sulphur and stony minerality. This feels like a cool wine grown in temperate areas, flavours are restrained and composed. The oak treatment enhances the wine, gives an extra complexity to it. The fruit, acidity and tartness is not integrated at this point, perhaps could do with a few years to see how it develops. I think its a good wine, but at the moment, not worth the price tag and not presenting itself well either.

Gavi di Gavi 2006, Fontanafredda £11 [B-]

Struggled to get any aromas out of this, taste wise, its fresh, crisp and leaves a drying sensation at the finish. Again, there is oak in this which lends some oaky / woody / vanilla touches. The body is understandably lean; flavour wise, its not giving up very much. I do apologise for the sparse tasting note, I really struggled with this one.

Barbera d'Asti 2002, Ca' Del Matt £7 [B]

Nice fruity nose, with a dash of sweet spices (cinnamon etc), there is also a sourish nose, like that of a berry compote (cherries, raspberries). This too feels like a cool wine, though rather dilute; the body is slender to weak, lacks structure. Dont get me wrong, I do think that this wine is well made, just that its rather too light and cheerful for my liking. Food wise, lightly / simply cooked game meats or even lamb might work well.

Barbera d'Asti Superiore Tere Caude 2003, Ca' Del Matt £11.75 [B+(+)]

Theres a nice warmth to this wine, its quite alcoholic on the nose, some burnt clay and earthy notes. Curiously, this wine has what I consider to be a hot nose but a cool feel / palate; fruit flavours include dary cherry, plums and chocolates, its quite exotic in a way that I cant quite pin down. The tannins needs time to soften and develop, coupled with the relatively high alcohol and balanced acidity, this will pobably age well.(~5yrs).

Dolcetto d'Alba Boschi de Berri 2005, Marcarini £11.75 [B-(+)]

Flavours here are very much dominated by the unripe, green and very astringent tannins; there are touches of licorice, perhaps prunes and dark cherries, but its quite hard to get beyond the tannins. This wine needs food and above all else, time to soften the tannins out. From the balance and intensity, I think there is more to this wine to be had, but not at the moment. Its like tasting a decent but very tannic Bordeaux.

Barolo Brunate 2003, Marcarini £25 [B(+)]

This pale-coloured wine has a strawberry, unripe cherry and cooked berries nose; a fellow taster commented that there was a sweet spices here too, like that of cinnamon and licorice perhaps. The alcohol levels can't be hidden, and neither can the unripe and harsh tannins; it is actually a rather powerful wine, with a good structure, balance and lingering finish to it. I have no doubts that this will improve with age, perhaps it'll open up more in 3-5 yrs. Excellent with hearty meat dishes, I suppose the kind you find in Northern Italy? Just a guess...

Bosan Ripasso 2004, Cesari £15 [B+(+)]

There is a red fruits, sour cherry and berry nose to this; on the palate there is a most satisfying burst of flavour on the fore, quite juicy in a way. The tannins again need to flesh out a little, but even now, there is a hint of sweetness peeking through. I think with time his could be a good maybe even great wine, theres just something about it that I personally like. Try game meats with this; keep ~5yrs.

Amarone della Valpolicella 2004, Cesari £22.50 [B+(+)]

Attractive nose to this wine: exotic spices, white pepper, maybe even a hint of incense? This wine is intensely-flavoured, concentrated whole flavours, something I really approve of in a traditionally styled and made Amarone. Ripe cherries, strawberry and plums are apparent fruit-wise; at the moment, sweetness is masked by the alcohol (not light at 15%) and the tannins, which need time to ripen and mellow out. Already, this wine displays excellent balance and smoothness; it just seems poised, ready to impress. I'm sure this wine will age supremely, developing complexity and layers of flavour as it goes along. 5yrs minimum to open up, perhaps peaking at 10-15yrs. If you have dark meats with cranberry sauce, this will fit like a glove.

Recioto della Valpolicella 2003, Cesari £18 (50cl) [A-]

Sweet desert wine, unfortified. Unsurprisingly, nose of dried fruits (the ones you sprinkle on cakes etc) and some raisins. Flavours are integrated and smooth; chocolate, cassis and dark grape juice Its drinking well now, there arent that much tannins that need time to flesh out, so I have no reservations drinking this young. The sweetness is not cloying, its balanced by the fruitiness and acidity, again, obviously well made. Mind you, this wine is not light (because of the sugar) but will go wonderfully with berry-containing desert dishes or chocolates (as was served during the tasting).

Overall report

An interesting tasting but quite disappointing in a way too. The whites didnt impress me, it just tasted rather bland and unremarkable; lets just say I wont be buying any of them for future personal consumption, bar the Vinnae Servus Cella perhaps. The reds were largely still very tannic, needing time to develop and just soften out; still, a couple of gems in there, particulrly the Bosan Ripasso and the Amarone, its a shame that they are just out of my budget for normal consumption.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

AXA Millesimes Tasting

Cambridge University Wine Society
AXA MIllesimes Tasting, 4 March 2008
Robert Gardner Rm, Emmanuel College

A tasting run by the Cambridge University Wine Society (CUWS), led by the Managing Director of the AXA MIllesimes group, Christian Seely. The group itself is owned by the insurance giant AXA, but they do have a significant wine branch, if you will; the MD did say that the insurance group sees it more like investment in property, very much long term and the actual running of the wineries are left to people who love and know their wine. The portfolio of AXA MIllesimes is quite diverse, as evident from the variety of the wines tasted on this occasion. The wines are presented in the order they were served during the tasting, on specific instruction of Mr Seely himself. Here we go.

Mas Belles Eaux Coteaux du Languedoc 2005 B-

A blend of 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. There is the hot, burnt clay, alcoholic nose that I normally associate with Languedoc Syrahs. There is a rather large burst of red fruits on the palate, but this quickly disappears. Very drinkable, cheerful style of wine, but nothing much worth remembering.

Mas Belles Eaux St Helene 2005 B

80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% old vine Carignan. This is the reserve wine of Mas Belles, mostly sourced from older vines; it has a similar hot, alcoholic nose due to the large proportion of Syrah, with more spice and pepper on the nose. Its slightly fuller in flavour, more civilised, with some tannins that might allow a few years of aging.

Ch Pibran 2004, Pauillac Cru Bourgeois B

60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. This Chateau borders illustrious neighbours such as Mouton-Rothschild, Lynch-Bages and Pontet Canet; the wine itself is vinified in Ch Pichon Longueville Baron, another one of AXA's property, and made under the guidance of a Bordeaux big-name Jean-Michel Cazes of Ch Lynch Bages. All of which provde good recipe for success, I must say. Tasting wise, it has a fruity and fresh nose (though not completely opened up yet), not so much of the traditional earthy/musty/rustic Bordeaux nose. What stuck with me is the softness on the palate, though feels rather hollow; the Merlot is really doing the talking right now. The tannins are there, but it doesnt have the structure or body to age long term. Drink now to 5 years.

Ch Pichon-Longueville (Pichon Baron) 2004, Pauillac 2nd growth A-(++)

Probably the flagship of the AXA Millesimes group (with Ch Suduiraut). An underrated vintage I think, somewhat lost after 2003 and forgotten after the hype of 2005. Nice aromatic nose, fruity, with rustic/earthy notes; expressive even at this very young stage, a touch exotic with the spices perhaps? The palate is big, well-rounded and surprisingly smooth; hints of cherry, dark berries and even dark plums. The poised tannins and structured body is still quite lean, almost chewy, very much needs time to soften and open up. The low notes of the wine will develop with time but the wonderful balance can be seen even now. Verdict: impressive and well worthy of classification and dare I say it, price. Will keep for serious lengths of time +10yrs.

Ch Petit Village 2004, Pomerol A-(+)

This one really has an expressive nose, fruity, fresh, and lifted, with hints of woodchips, herbs and smokiness (like that of smoky bacon). It is Merlot dominated (~70%), which gives it a plump and rounded feel on the palate; it is also quite sweet and creamy in a strange way, dont know where that came from to be honest. Style wise, its probably softer and more seductive compared to a traditional Pauillac. The tannins will allow keeping, but I doubt it has the structure for long term cellaring, 5-10yrs.

Quinta do Noval 2004, Douro DOC B+(++)

Quinta do Noval is traditionally a Port house, but this wine is an unfortified, still red which was made in very small quantities (therefore not commercially available) as a fun experiment by the good people at AXA Millesimes. This wine is predominantly (~70%) Touriga National, with other varieties traditionally associated with Port. This wine has a wonderful tannic structure; fruit is still masked, dark berries and almost quite woody. There is an interesting juiciness and shows great potential, but needs lots of time, just like vintage Port, we're talking +10yrs here. Such a shame they dont make this commercially. Comparison and parallels with vintage Port cannot be ignored.

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2004 A-(++)

Small quantities made, not a general vintage declaration. Raisin, sultana dominated nose, some alcohol too. There is a strong tannic structure, perhaps with touches of cigars and old leather. The purity of flavour is extraordinary here, they really picked the best grapes to go into this Port; no doubt will age sublimely and will gain complexity. Nothing much to be gained palate wise at this point in time, still way too young for appreciation. Keep 20+ years, 10 yrs just to give it justice.

Ch Suduiraut 2004, Sauternes Premier Cru A(+)

Rapidly considered to be among the top four or five in Sauternes and justifiedly so, I think. This vintage is supposed to be one of the greats for Suduiraut. The nose is nutty, with caramel and some saltiness, like cocktail nuts. The acidity and tang on this wine very much balances and complements the sweetness, which is never cloying; I always think that balance is the thing to strive for in Sauternes; anyone can make sweet wines, but getting the balance right is the difficult bit. The body reminds me of sweet marmalades, citrus fruits, white peach and sweet nectarines, quite exotic actually. There is a layered structure, with waves of flavour lasting quite long. Make no mistake, this is a very good Sauternes which will please now or for the next 20 years. If you are thinking of getting this but cant afford the price tag, the Berry's Own Sauternes sold from Berry Bros & Rudd is made by Suduiraut from the crop that didnt make it into the Grand Vin; I've had it before and it gives a good glimpse of what Suduiraut tastes like at a fraction of the price.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1999, Hungary A(+)

Nose reminds me of the chemistry laboratories, there is the organic chemistry nose, turpentine and organic solvents; smells quite heavy. The palate is really unique to Tokaji, with sweet grapefruits, tart sour apples perhaps. I expect the sugar level in this wine to be well in excess of 100g/l but there is a cutting acidity (lime/citrus) which is counteracted with tartness, again this balance provides a unique freshness to Tokaji and therefore doesnt feel cloying. Balance is supreme, and lingering acidity just holds everything together. This wine will age very well if given the opportunity and will develop further complexity. This represents the pinnacle of winemaking from Disznoko.

Overall report

Very impressed with the AXA Millesimes holding and judging by its MD, it is in very capable hands with the right attitude to winemaking. The notable wines of this tasting were the still Quinta do Noval still red and the Pichon Baron; the Suduiraut is impressive as expected and the Tokaji is a good yardstick to judge other Tokajis by.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Downing College Wine Society - Bordeaux Tasting, Lent 2008

Downing College Wine Society - Bordeaux Tasting
Howard Building, Downing College, 13 March 2008

Whites (in reverse chronological order)

Les Clos de Reynon 2004, Cotes de Bordeaux [B-(+)]

Made by the Dubourdieu family, one of the great names in Bordeaux. This is a Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc blend in equal proportions, but feels rather Sauvignon Blanc-heavy. Crisp, fresh, nice limy tang to it; one can feel the minerality as well. Its a nice, very drinkable white with some white fruits/peachy flavours. The smoothness and stony feel to the wine is notable, but otherwise, nothing exceptional to remember it by. Its oaked (and feels so too) but not excessively. Drink up soon, maybe with light seafood, fishes and salads.

Ch Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 1997, Pessac-Leognan [B+(+)]

Deep golden colour is quite something to behold. This is a matured white Bordeaux from a very reputable Chateau and has developed accordingly. The nose is sweet, honeyed, perhaps even nectar, with a light touch of white pepper. At the moment, the oak is quite prominent, some has integrated into the wine, fruit is masked but is slowly released on the palate (sweet grapefruit, seville orange was mentioned in the tasting). Quite full and rich on the mouth, creamy smoothness and has, dare I say it, a fresh finish? This is good stuff, and will probably keep another 5-10 years.

Reds (in reverse chronological order)

Ch Tour de Beauregard 2004, St Emilion [B-(+)]

The nose was quite expressive, especially given the age, it was fuit-dominated and perhaps even floral. Licorice, cinnamon and spices can be detected, along with black cherry. Tannin is still very green, hence the woody and herby notes. At the moment, the body is not opening up, just feels very tightly coiled, not ready to reveal the flavours hiden within. On the palate, feels flat and somewhat dilute. Definitely needs some cellaring time, at least 5 yrs to even be able to appreciate the potential; just too young to drink now.

Ch Beau Site 2003, St Estephe[B(+)]

This is a good Bordeaux year and Beau Site didnt disappoint. Big, rather powerful and alcoholic nose, not quite as powerful as an Aussie Shiraz at 14.5%, but certainly unrefined by Bordeaux standards. The fruit-dominated palate include ripe cherries and blackberries, but its the largeness and power that is really notable. Tannin is there but is not integrated into the fruit wine: needs time, I would be interested in tasting this in 5 yrs time to see development. Think of large, hearty French food, or a big slab of meat, a barbecue even.

La Reserve de Leoville Barton 2000, St Julien [B(+)]

Stellar year supposedly, and from this wine, one would agree. The second wine of Ch Leoville-Barton, an example of which is tasted later, made from parcels which didnt make it into the Grand Vin. Proper Bordeaux nose: rustic, earthy, nutty. The body is still large, but not aggresively so; tannin has developed, less edgy, helping the wine to open up on the palate. Generous amounts of dark fruits, with a hint of smokiness (someone said smoky bacon, but I think thats going a bit too far). On the palate it is firm, yet quite mellow at the same time, you can tell the wine has good balance. Still has lots of life in it, another 5-10 yrs wont go amiss.

Les Bahans du Chateau Haut-Brion 1999, Pessac-Leognan [A(++)]

Second wine of the fabled Chateau Haut-Brion, again, from parcels which didnt make it into the Grand Vin. Nose is of a proper Bordeaux, with added herby/woody and white pepper characteristics. Some tannins has mellowed out, yielding a smooth settled body with good length; cassis, ripe cherries can be felt, along with aromas of cigar box and old leather. This is poised in terms of balance and structure, somehow I feel that it has not completely opened up yet, and will still develop with time. Lots of life left, about 10-15 yrs mark, I would venture. I dont know what the bigger brother tastes like, but this is seriously impressive and complex.

Chateau Palmer 1997, Margaux 3rd growth [B+]

Nose is leathery, smoky, with a touch of floralness (rosehip?), and those fragrant woods (sandalwood, not sure what wood exactly). Seductively large, with a smoothnes and elegance befitting of Margaux. Tannins have pretty much yielded to fruit and softness. However, this vintage doesnt have the power and firmness to carry it through. It saddens me to say that it wasnt impressive, tasted rather dilute and tired, like a wine on decline, past its best. I have heard very good things about Palmer and I feel this one didnt quite live up to it, perhaps it was a bad bottle, I dont know. Drink up.

Ch Chasse Spleen 1996, Moulis en Medoc [B]

There is a burnt nose to this, like freshly laid tar / coal / graphite leads, must be something to do with the toast of the barrels, quite different, if nothing else. Smoky bacon, oak and smoked cigar can be detected on the nose too, not sure if thats a good thing or not. Tannins still quite drying, hasn't integrated into the body yet, weirdly needs more time or perhaps this is as good as it'll go. The rather large and fruity body hits you on the palate then quickly disappears, like a hit and run. If I had a case of this, I wouldnt know whether to drink or keep or sell.

Ch Batailley 1995, Pauillac 5th growth [A-]

This producer is a favourite of the good people at Berry Bros & Rudd and I can see why, its not expensive but has hallmarks of good Pauillac. Exemplary year, and this Batailley has aged supremely well; tannin has mellowed out and settled, rendering to a palate that is fresh, quite lively and filled with soft red fruits (ripe cherries, raspberry and plums etc). The smoothness and balance is key here, everything is held together very well, there is not a single feature that you would highlight out as being great, its the package as a whole. Loved it. Will keep another 10yrs no problems.

Ch Lascombes 1990, Margaux 2nd growth [A]

Very smooth and seductive wine; Margaux are supposed to be the more feminine style of wine, but this one still has power and largesse to it. Light licorice, leather, some flowery nose too. Think of well ripened cherry and raspberry fruits. The tannins have almost given way to elegance and silky texture; how can I put it, its like drinking velvet silk. It is quite simply stunning, the large body and smooth texture just blends into each other. A wine well worthy of its classification.

Ch Leoville Barton 1982, St Julien 2nd growth [A-]
Ch Langoa Barton 1982, St Julien 3rd growth [A+]

One of the greatest vintages in the last half-century, must say I'm very privileged to be tatsing these wines. The tasting notes for these two wines are put together because in many ways they are similar. The purity of flavour and attractive floral nose is noted for both. There are touches of licorice, cherry, cigar box, leather as well. Tannins for both are very settled, have really gone out of the way, rendering to a smooth and elegant palate. This is where the similarity ends. The Langoa Barton, as reflected in the tasting mark was just more open, lively and vibrant; the Leoville on the other hand was quite tired, nervous and unsure, insipid if I'm being rude. These wines have spent all of their lives in the cellars of Downing College, Cambridge, so provenance and maintenance is undoubted. Still, it could have just been a bad botle of Leoville. The Langoa gave a layered palate, with waves of flavour coming quite slowly but surely, it was poised and ready to impress. I'm afraid the Leoville gave gratification at the beginning then went AWOL.

Desert Wine

Ch Doisy Daene 2000, Barsac 2nd growth [B]

From the Dubourdieu stable too. Nice honeyed palate, with some tartness and bitterness towards to back of the palate. In my humble opinion, not enough acidity / zest to keep it aging, and thus also lacks the balance. I always feel its important for Sauternes to maintain the acid/sugar balance right. If you are thinking of treacle tart or desert with lots of caramel in it, this would go well. By this time, already had a not insignificant quantity of wine, hence the short tasting note. Also because I had previosuly tasted this during a Dubourdieu wines tasting, and wasnt impressed there either.

Overall Report

As anyone would agree, a very diverse tour around Bordeaux and also from different vintages. The organisers simply tried to get the best bottles they could lay their hands on and I'm not complaining. The notable wines of the night were the Langoa Barton 1982 for its decadence; the Bahans de Haut Brion 1999 for the poised structure; the Lascombes 1990 for the seductiive silkiness and I feel the Batailley 1995 deserves a mention too for good balance and graceful aging. This is probably one of the best tastings I have ever had the pleasure to attend. More tasting notes from the past will be published here soon.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Inaugural Post

Testing 1 2 3. This is the first post at Vinoremus; must say that I've thought about blogging my adventures, wine-related and otherwise, in Cambridge for quite some time. Never had the will or intention to crystallise the issue, gotta start somewhere, I suppose. I've had the pleasure (long may it continue too) of tasting many great and not so great wines here, so in a spirit of public service, I've decided to make my humble tasting notes available to those who care to read them. First of all, I would say that wines are very personal matters; one winemaker during a tasting once commented that the configuration of our taste buds are as unique as our fingerprints. Now I don't know whether this is true or not, but you get the general drift. Should anyone feel the urge to comment on the tasting notes, please feel free to do so: agree or disagree to your hearts content.

The first tasting note will follow shortly.