Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Wines of the Year

2012 Year in Review

A list of my memorable wines for 2012. My first of such lists, inspired by the number of truly great wines I have had the opportunity to try this year. Most of them would have had more detailed reviews in other posts. Here, I detail the context in which the wines were tasted and why they make the cut. Its divided into four sections: bubbly, whites, reds and sweets/fortifieds, otherwise its in no particular order.


NV Champagne Tarlant Cuvee Louis
Where: Charles Taylor tasting for Cambridge University
Why: In two words, complexity and presence. This would have made the list for still white wine, the fact that its bubbly just makes it better. I adore the Tarlant range at the moment, particularly the Cuvee Louis at its pinnacle.

1982 Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Vintage (disgorged 2011)
Where: Joseph Perrier tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants
Why: Incredible freshness and power even at this age, integrated feel and very long finish. Astonishingly good.


2011 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux
Where: Chateau Margaux, Bordeaux en primeur campaign April 2012
Why: Even at this stage, this was one stunning wine. Power, length and freshness, not to mention complexity. Absolutely smitten. One of the very few times I didnt spit during the Bordeaux en primeur campaign. I look forward to enjoying this when its bottled.

2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
Where: Early evening in the gardens, bought from The Wine Society
Why: Outrageously good value and drinking so wonderfully now but I wager it will keep another 5 years with ease.

2003 Penfolds Yattarna
Where: Penfolds tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Rich and voluptuous with good intensity of flavours. Their '07 and '08 are also excellent but I feel they need a bit more time to unfurl; the '03 on the other hand is ready to go.


2005 Cote Rotie, Chateau d'Ampuis, Guigal
Where: Guigal tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Depth, power and concentration yet without losing balance and sense of focus. First growth quality and aging potential, this is a magnificent effort from Guigal.

2003 Chateau Bahans de Haut Brion
Where: Bistro du Vin Cambridge, enjoyed with a rare Chateaubriand.
Why: Very well knit together, bags of fruit and ripe tannins, doesnt at all reflect the extreme heat of the vintage. Seamless, and with the food, it just melded together. Bordeaux and steak, so simple, yet when you get right, there is nothing quite like it.

1994 Vega Sicilia Unico
Where: Vega Sicilia tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: I remember this being very voluptuous on the nose and on the palate, it yielded different flavours with every sip. Such beauty and complexity, truly a majestic wine - I dare say one of the best wines I have ever tasted. I had the privilege of tasting three vintages of Vega Sicilia  ('02, '96 and '94) any one of which could have made this list

1980 Opus One 
Where: 2012 Annual Dinner of the Cambridge University Blind Wine Tasting Society
Why: A rare treat, I'm told this bottle of the second vintage of Opus One came straight from their cellars in Napa. Cant be too many of this knocking around anymore.

1971 Chateau Cos d'Estournel
Where: Formal Hall, bottle purchased at auction
Why: Incredible freshness and life, theres still quite a bit of fruit in this. Must admit I didnt expect much, but this bottle definitely over delivered.

1989 Hermitage 'La Chapelle', Jaboulet
Where: Formal Hall, kindly given a small tasting sample bya  friend
Why: Powerful yet seductive, classic mature Hermitage, such a shame I was only given a tasting sample.

2010 Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional
Where: Quinta do Mouro tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Quite possibly the best single varietal, non-fortified Touriga Nacional I've ever tasted - great perfume on the nose, plenty of stuffing on the palate. No doubt it'll age for decades.

2003 Penfolds Grange (in magnums)
Where: Christmas Dinner with Penfolds, Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Sometimes you wonder why these 'iconic' wines get so much hype, I think this Grange justifies all the hype it gets.

Sweets / Fortifieds

1963 Avery's Special Reserve Vintage Port
Where: After Formal Hall, this bottle was purchased at auction
Why: Freshness for its age, still very good sweet fruit on the core, along with finesse and elegance - everything a mature vintage port ought to be. Very classy.

1963 Fonseca Vintage Port
Where: Vintage Port Tasting, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Why: Somewhat of an iconic wine, I was expecting a life changing experience which didnt quite materialise, but its still a very good mature vintage port, though I wouldnt recommend keeping it much longer.

1976 Terrantez, Blandy's
Where: Madeira Wine Institute tasting, Berkeley Hotel, London
Why: Someone described it as 'bottled electricity' which I think is an apt description for this high voltage, high octane of a madeira - would probably wake the dead.

NV Gonzalez Byass Cuatro Palmas Amontillado Sherry
Where: 2012 London launch event of the Gonzalez Byass Palmas Sherries
Why: Vivacity, verve and poise; complex flavours that linger for minutes, such a magnificent sherry. Sadly very rare.

1984 Moulin Touchais,Coteaux du Layon
Where: Bistro du Vin, Cambridge, enjoyed with crepe suzette; this bottle is ex cellars via their UK importer
Why: Compelling concentration of flavours, still so much acidity and vivacity about it; finish lingers on for a good long while. Liquid marmalade.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cambridge Wine Merchants

A selection of wines stocked by Cambridge Wine Merchants which I've tasted recently and am very happy to recommend. Prices are retail to their Cambridge shops - Kings Parade, Bridge Street, Mill Road and Cherry Hinton. Some of them will be excellent wines for Christmas too.


2010 Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc, IGP d'Oc
B+ | £12.99

White fruits, peaches and ripe grapefruit on the nose; fleshy on the palate, its not your run off the mill white wine. Has character and presence on the palate, good mouthfeel. Drinks nicely on its own, will complement food too.  

2011 Les Eminades 'Montmajou' Blanc, AOC Saint Chinian
B+ | £13.99

Initially peachy fruit again, quite forward, then after some time in the glass, some hints of fennel and even sweet ginger developing, rather interesting nose. Nice texture on the palate, mostly white fruits, medium acidity but with good minerality. Interesting stuff, a food wine.

2011 Domaine Pellehaut Blanc, IGP Cotes de Gascogne
B+ | £6.99

Mostly citrus nose, with some white fruits too; flavours are simple but clean, good fruit and plush acidity. Very easy to drink, a perennial good value favourite from Cambridge Wine.

2011 Lagar de Bouza Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain
B+ | £11.99

Lemon peel and citrus oils coming through, lots of high notes, very bright. High acidity but still balanced, very refreshing lemony flavours coming through; bottled sunshine thats crying out for oysters and seafood. Perfect to wake you up on Boxing day. 


2011 Domaine Combe Blanche l'Incompris Cinsault, IGP Cotes de Brian
B+ | £7.99

Dark fruit nose with hints of sweet spices and truffles, theres inviting warmth there. Fruit on the palate is bright, dark cherry but isnt at all heavy; lovely flavours, easy to drink. Label's a bit naff but you wont miss it on the shelves. Would pair well with cold leftover ham / turkey on Boxing Day.

2010 Domaine Danjou-Banessy Roboul, Cotes de Roussillon Villages
B+ | £17.99

Dark fruit, with prunes and dark plums; also mulled spices, theres more fragrance coming through on the nose. Nice concentration of fruit, isnt quite as brooding as the Chandeliere, but still has good length on the palate.

2009 Domaine Combe Blanche La Chandeliere, Minervois la Laviniere
B+(+) | £14.99

Dark fruit complete with sweet licorice notes, some cooked dark plums too, quite brooding. All components are balanced and expressive: good fruit density on the palate, theres concentration of flavour, good acidity and ripe tannins; needs food and preferably an hour or so in a decanter. Would be superb with roast beef or even guinea fowl. The 2004 vintage is still in stock and has developed nicely, more leather, truffle and undergrowth notes there, fruit wont be as intense though. 

2011 Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc, IGP d'Oc
A- | £15.99

Plums and red cherries, with a hint of leafy / stalky notes thats characteristic of Cab Franc, some woody notes too. Lovely plump red fruit on the palate, quite fresh and rounded with a hint of greenness; not heavy. Very charming and playful, not to mention unusual, would rival many a good Cab Franc from the Loire. Another one for leftover cold turkey / ham. 

2006 Simonelli-Santi 'Malintoppo', DOC Orcia, Tuscany
A- | £13.99

Dark fruit with sweet licorice and woody aromas (tobacco and cigarbox), some polished oak use here, lots of floral elements are showing too - violets and roses; the aromatics are really appealing. Lots of fruit on the palate but isnt over done, nice balancing acidity, ripe and yielding tannins; its aged well, feels elegant and sophisticated, very well put together. Its bigger brother 'Antonio' (pretty much the same label but in red, £16.99) packs slightly more oomph and is worth a punt too.

2009 Clos de los Siete, Mendoza, Argentina
A- | £13.99

Blackberry and blackcurrant compote, quite sweet and jammy, with some vanilla and floral fragrance; does smell sweet. This Malbec based blend is packed with dark fruit, sweet and plush with enough acidity to keep it from feeling too heavy; ripe tannins on the finish. I like the presence on the palate, powerful yet velvety, seriously good wine.

2009 Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve, Bordeaux Superieur
A- | £12.50

Classic but modern claret - cassis, blackberry, some sweet spice / licorice and cedar notes. On the palate, bags of dark fruit, fully extracted; very ripe and plush, the mid palate is filled in; the fruit really is to the fore; still somewhat chunky but ripe tannins A couple of hours in the decanter with food, or cellar for a good few years. A classic roast beef wine.


2007 Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal, Portugal
A- | £9.99

A fortified Moscatel from Portugal. Smells of raisins and sultana, also caramel and golden syrup, unabashedly sweet. Luscious on the palate; raisins, molasses, marmalade and a hint of cinnamon spice there; though it is quite luscious and thick, it never feels cloying. Sweet and big enough to pair with mince pies and christmas pudding. Has a stopper cork, so you dont have to finish it in one sitting (though its so delicious, I really dont see why not), just pop the cork back in and leave in the fridge, will last for months.

2001 Warre's Bottle Aged LBV Port, Portugal
A-(+) | £22.99

A leap up from your basic LBV port, this offering from Warre's is bottled unfiltered, so decanting would be advisable. Cassis, jammy dark fruit, with hints of dark chocolate and coffee and warming spice; sweet fruit on the palate, with good sustained flavours, doesnt just hit and run like most LBV ports. Rich and filling mouthfeel, not far off Vintage port in quality.

Henriques & Henriques 15 year old Bual, Madeira
A | £25 (50cl)

Candied orange peel, marmalade, spicy fruit chutney; oxidised nose to this. On the palate, despite the age, theres still so much life, acidity and verve; like drinking spiced clementine juice; high acidity with good dose of sugar; dried oranges and marmalade again, nutty and spicy too; feels luscious but nimble. Flavours persists on the palate for minutes; makes you yearn for more. Really delicious.
Alternatives: the 10 year old Bual is a cheaper at £18.99 for 50cl; the 5 year old Medium Rich is cheaper still at £11.50 for 50cl, neither will have the length and presence but should give a good idea what Bual Madeira is all about. Then again its Christmas, go on, indulge ...  


Thursday, 6 December 2012

CUWS M12 - Opus One

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A tasting of Opus One wines for the Cambridge University Wine Society, led by David Pearson, CEO of Opus One. I had the good fortune of being seated opposite David Pearson at this tasting, and I must say he was both generous and thoughtful in all his answers to my questions; we only tasted five wines on the night, which left plenty of time for discussions. I'll try to summarise what I have learnt about Opus One in a few paragraphs below (feel free to jump straight to the tasting notes...).

Started in 1979 (first vintage) as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi (of Napa fame) and Baron Phillippe de Rothschild (of Ch Mouton Rothschild fame), Opus One was conceived with the aim of creating the best red wine that reflected California. To this day, Opus One only makes one wine, a blend of the classical Bordeaux varietals dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (80-90%), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. They also produce a small amount of second wine called 'Overture' which is only available for purchase at their cellar door or through their website. Out of the annual production of approximately 20,000 cases, half of Opus One production is exported - unusually high for premium US wines.

In terms of of winemaking, Opus One has been gradually shifting away from the know-how initially gained from both Ch Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. David Pearson likens this to a child growing up, whilst appreciating and undoubtedly learning from and listening to the advice from both parents, is nevertheless forging its own character and its own way of doing things. An example he cited was in water management in the vineyard. Typical US wineries would irrigate often but in small volumes (basically drip irrigation), keeping the vines relatively stress-free and resulting in roots which have no need to dig deep into the soil. Opus One irrigates less often but in larger volumes, ensuring that the water percolates through the soil and in effect makes the roots chase after the water (more akin to the huge showers you get in Bordeaux, followed by long periods of dryness). While this might stress the vines, it would force the roots to dig deeper into the soil and in turn yield much better grapes.

Given the Californian climate, Opus has no problems in achieving the sugar ripeness in the grapes, so the aim has been to get the phenolic ripeness right without letting the alcohol levels go unchecked. The wines are aged in 100% new French oak for approximately 18 months with several rackings. An interesting, though admittedly not unique, feature of Opus One is that their wines can seem rather closed and lean in its adolescence (between 5-10 years), so the insider's scoop would be to enjoy Opus rather young (pretty much on release, which I would personally advise against) or wait after its awkward adolescence (much more sensible).

Five wines were tasted on the night and they are presented here in the order they were tasted. The 1980 (as it were, ex-chateau) was tasted at a separate event.

1996 Opus One (en magnum)
A | drink now - 2020+

Green bell pepper, leafy / stalky notes was rather dominant (but it blew away with some time in the glass), mingling with some leather and tobacco, smoky / baked earth notes too. The fruit was sweet, dark and very ripe, with some hints of vanilla. On the palate, the fruit was distinctly sweet and ripe; blackberries and dark plums; very plush and generous; tannins were sweet and yielding, perfectly integrated into the wine; enough acidity to keep things going. Incredibly composed and well knit, a beautiful wine with much life ahead. To be perfectly honest, served blind, I would have guessed it as a high quality aged claret (perhaps St Julien or Pauillac) from a very ripe year.

2000 Opus One
A-(+) | drink now - 2020+

Sweet cassis on the nose; opulent and forward, jammy and cooked dark fruit compote, incredible port-like nose; framboise and cherry liquer too, with vanilla, some mint and hints of truffley undergrowth. Very interesting aromas indeed. Fruit on the palate is generous and large; a heady concoction of ripe dark fruits again; notable length and persistence on the palate; it doesnt feel overly extracted yet has good power; tannins are ripe and needs a bit more time to resolve. Perhaps lacks the finesse and precision of the '96, but still very good; more Californian blockbuster in style.

2004 Opus One
A-(+) | drink 2015 - 2025+

Dark fruit compote on the nose, with cassis and port / liquer like nose; theres a sweetness, even confected note here, wine gums and sweet licorice, with a hint of mint - almost makes me think this is an Australian. On the palate, lots of dark fruit, blackberry dominates; quite a lot of extraction, the tannins are ripe but still muscular and does grip on the finish; flavours do last, feels quite hefty and alcoholic on the palate. Low acidity, plenty of fruit, bold, forward fruity style - even more unmistakably new world.

2008 Opus One
A-(++) | drink 2018 - 2030+

Dark fruit, even more brooding than the previous ones, with some hints of floral notes of violets and roses. On the palate, everything is masked by the huge fruit; properly thick and extracted, this is a fruit bomb, quite explosive on entry; dark berries all the way, almost port-like spice on the finish. Whilst the fruit is very juicy, the tannins are also untempered; needs time to resolve. A big wine that could do with a few years.

2009 Opus One
A-(++) | drink 2017 - 2030+

Dark fruit, quite brooding; theres licorice and some woody aromas; the toasty fragrant oak still comes through on the nose, vanilla pods; also some undergrowth notes too. On the palate, blueberries and blackberries are the dominant characters; feels quite edgy on the palate, theres fruit and concentration but it really isnt fully expressing itself. Ripe and muscular tannins too with good length on the palate. Needs time to integrate.

1980 Opus One
A- | drink now

The second vintage ever of Opus One, this bottle came straight from their cellars. On the nose, some green varietal characters, leafy and bellpepper along with some stalky and woody notes, also hints of leather and undergrowth truffle notes. On the palate, the fruit is just about hanging on, boysenberry and blueberry, but its more faded than bright; decent acidity, tannins have faded away. Still drinking nicely, but I'd class it as 'faded glory'; such a rare treat though. Again, reminded me of an aged but very fine Pauillac / St Julien. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hedonism Wines

Friday, 09 November 2012

Yes, I know, I'm a little bit late on the Hedonism bandwagon - after seeing countless blog posts / reviews / tweets from various astounded wine folk, I've finally made the trip to Hedonism to see what the fuss is all about. If you've been reading my blog, you'll know I typically only publish tasting notes, I've never reviewed a wine shop, yet I feel Hedonism is more than just a wine shop. I went in with very high expectations - all the wine folk I know have been singing the same tune, they cant all be wrong, can they?

Tucked in Mayfair, this wine shop is truly a treasure trove; the ground floor holds assortments of Champagne, Burgundies, as well as their entire spirits section. It took all of ten seonds of browsing before I had to politely decline one of the staff member's offers of assistance. The whisky section is comprehensive, with plenty of recognisable names - for a high end retailer, I would have liked to see more single vintage expressions of Scotch, as opposed to just their age-statement bottlings. But thats nit picking really.

For any wine fan, most of the treasure you want to drool over is located downstairs. Where shall we start? Perhaps the d'Yquem display (pictured above) which stands imperiously as you reach the basement, step closer to the display and the lighting kicks in and the whole thing gleams like gold before your very eyes. Dazed, you move on to the shelving holding quite a few vintages of the first growths, accompanied  by Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Angelus and even some Le Pin - as far as I can tell, the bottles weren't secured to the shelving, so you could pick any one of them up and hold it in your hands, if thats your thing. By this time, one of the staff had accopanied me around and we were happily chatting away - his previous job was in the two-Michelin starred Midsummer House in Cambridge. Their Rhone collection include multiple vintages of Jaboulet's Hermitage and Chateau Grillet, as well as your more usual Chateauneuf du Pape fare of Janasse, Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraphe. Big names of Spain were represented by Vega Sicilia and Pingus, I moved quickly though to the American section where a display of Sine Qua Non wines greeted me - I was told its the largest selection of SQN wines outside the US. Who am I to argue?

The next stop is the famed Mouton Rothschild vertical collection (pictured above), housed in its own enclave - a complete vertical from 1945 to 2004, including some larger formats. Seeing the bottles laid out and displayed together like this suddenly makes sense of the art labels - I felt as if I was in a strange existential combination of a wine shop, a cellar and an art gallery. Takes you a while to snap yourself back to reality. The children's play area with cushions and iPads is a caring and shrewd move. The enomatic machines near the children's play area is a welcome feature - I would have indulged if I didnt have a cold. Selection was well put together, blending the interesting, the reliable and the eclectic; prices seemed relatively reasonable. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a whole wall of vintage ports - admittedly, most were from the 90s onwards and are far from ready. Again, nit picking.

Finally, the crown jewels of their collection, kept behind bars protected by a huge padlock, is a selection of Romanee-Conti, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. I call it the DRC dungeon. Even with my surname, they let me in to marvel inside and take some pictures. Its not a complete vertical, but theres a fair few in there, alongside other luminaries - I spotted a 63 Quinta do Noval Nacional in there too. As I headed back to the ground floor (it was close to closing time), I got chatting to one of their staff, the resident Sake specialist and fellow IWC Judge - no surprise therefore, that Hedonism stocks a good range of Sakes and Japanese whiskies.

The last thing I must comment on is the staff. Retail outlets live and die by their staff. The staff I met and spoke to at Hedonism struck me as being enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly and not the least bit condescending. Its clear I wasnt there to buy the Mouton vertical or the magnum of DRC Romanee-Conti, nor did I tell them I was writing this piece, yet for the forty minutes or so I was there, they treated me with warmth and respect. From their website, its encouraging to see that many have aspirations to complete the WSET Diploma / further wine study - I hope Hedonism supports their studies and I wish them well.

I like browsing wine shops, its my version of retail therapy. But walking around Hedonism does more than that, sure you turn slightly green with envy. Although I have tasted a fair few of the wines they stock (both great and not so great wines), I couldnt possibly afford them. And the sheer value of the wines they have on display makes me shudder at the thought of their insurance premiums. But it still lifts the soul and brings a smile to my face. You leave feeling happier than when you went in. For that reason alone, any wine fan really ought to visit this place at least once. I have a sneaky feeling I'll be back there before long.
Before I left, I challenged one their staff to pick me a bottle around £20 which he could particularly recommend. Normally when I do this to other wine shops, the range is £10-15, but I fear if I imposed that range on Hedonism, I would leave empty handed. When I've tried the wine, I'll post the tasting note below. Even their tills arent really tills, it was a table with plush chairs, like check in desks in posh hotels. I was tempted to pay in cash just to see what happens. I genuinely did not see a till. I guess no one pays for Lafite in cash.

I went with high expectations - did they meet it? Yes, and with room to spare.


Hedonism Wines
3-7 Davies Street, London W1K 3LD
Mon-Sat: 10am-9pm
Sun: 12-6pm

All pictures were taken by kind permission of the staff at Hedonism.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Gonzalez Byass Palmas Sherry

Tuesday, 23 October 2012.

It was a great pelasure to attend this years' launch of the Gonzalez Byass Palmas Sherries; the masterclass / tasting for this years' launch event was with Gonzalez Byass Master Blender, Antonio Flores, who talked through the current release of four sherries.

 A short introduction to the Palmas range. Its a special limited edition bottling, released once a year after selection in Autumn or 'Saca de Otono'. Each year Gonzalez Byass invites a wine professional to help in the selection of casks that will eventually go into the Palmas sherries, their first release in 2011 was graced by Jancis Robinson. This year's release was helped by Anthony Rose of The Wine Gang. The name 'Palmas' originates from the system used to classify the casks in the Bodega, with only the highest quality casks getting the 'Palmas' marking. The youngest casks gets one markiing (hence the name Una Palma) whereas the oldest and rarest ones gets four markings (hence Cuatro Palmas).

The Una, Dos and Tres Palmas Finos started their life in the Tio Pepe solera system before being set aside for the Palmas releases. The Cuatro Palmas Amontillado is drawn from six unique barrels that are in excess of 40 years old - each year one barrel is bottled as Cuatro Palmas. Given that there has been two releases of Cuatro Palmas (in 2011 and 2012), there can only be four more future bottlings of this rather special sherry. All the Palmas sherries are bottled unfiltered, unclarified and unstabilised - 'au naturel' as it were.  

These Palmas sherries will hit shop shelves soon - this post will be updated once I hear of merchants stocking them.

Una Palma Fino

Technical note: 6 year old Fino with higher than usual acetaldehyde content of 450mg/l (usual Tio Pepe Fino hovers around 350mg/l). These finos still have a full layer of flor covering the surface. 3 barrels released.

Tasting note: Intense nutty flor notes here; green olives and green almonds, plenty of bready / yeasty characters too, also some brine notes (more specifically the brine that olives normally comes in); very forward and pungent nose, it almost feels like an 'en rama' bottling. On the palate its textbook Fino - zingy and lively, green olives and almonds carries through with focused acidity and bags of savoury notes; very refreshing and clean finish, makes you want more ...

Dos Palmas Fino

Technical note: 8 year old Fino. The flor still covers most of the fino surface but there are some small pockets of exposed Fino allowing for a small amount of oxidation. The acetaldehyde levels are back to approximately 360mg/l as the acetaldehyde is beginning to be consumed by the aging flor. 2 barrels released.

Tasting note: Similar nose to the Una Palmas, but with a slightly nuttier / toasted tang. The green almonds nose are now beginning to show hints of being toasted; still very intense aromas coming through. On the palate its a bit wider and more generous than the Una Palmas; slightly less linear and zingy, its beginning to develop some width on the palate.

Tres Palmas Fino

Technical note: 10 year old Fino. Little / no flor coverage, leaving large areas of Fino exposed to the air for oxidation. Alcohol is at 16.3%, which, in addition to the shortage of nutrients makes it a rather inhospitable place for flor growth, which is why most of them has died away. 1 barrel released.

Tasting note: Nutty aromas are showing; towates almonds and hazelnuts; the green olives and brine notes are mostly gone. Oxidative nose of walnuts, and some vanilla and spice (from the barrels) are coming to the fore. The savoury bite of fino youth replaced by nutty tones and more acidity; really coats well, very settled on the palate, just lingers on and on. Seriously good.

Cuatro Palmas Amontillado

Technical note: 46 year old Amontillado (all of it in barrel). Flor has gone many many years ago, this has undergone a very long period of oxidative barrel aging in the Bodega.

Tasting note: Very complex nose, dried fruits (figs and raisins), polished wood lacquer or old furnitures (presumably from the extensive barrel contact), also vanilla and plenty of nutty oxidative aromas; very intriguing and gives something new each time you go back to it. On the palate theres still a good amount of acidity keeping things fresh and surprisingly youthful; nutty flavours dominate with some wood tannins and spicy floavours towards the finish; coats the palate so well and linger on forever (the finish on this isnt measured in seconds, its minutes). I'm gobsmacked by its freshness and vitality, coupled with so much elegance and poise. Utterly compelling, a great wine by any measure.

Antonio Flores calls the Cuatro Palmas a 'wine for meditation' which should be enjoyed on its own or with very good company. Can't agree more, though it'll have to some very good company for me to want to share this sherry ...     

Saturday, 20 October 2012

TWE Whisky Show 2012

The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2012
Monday, 08 October 2012 in Vinopolis, London.

Some notable whiskies I tasted during the Press/Trade session of The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2012. I deliberately only tasted whiskies which were new or those not previously tasted.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Having tasted through their entire offering at The Whisky Lounge London Fair earlier this April (no notes unfortunately, too busy tasting whiskies), I have made a more conscious effort to take down some tasting notes for their whiskies this time. I must say that there wasnt a bad (or even ordinary) whisky out of the seven I tasted, but these two beauties particularly stood out.

SMWS 35.60
Glenmoray. Distilled 1971, bottled 2010. 42.3% abv, 91 bottles made.

Very delicate nose - sweet vanilla with hints of sweet wood / incense / sandalwood nose, then some dried fruits, peach liquer and candied oranges; complex and alluring. Palate is gentle; very smooth; its not feisty, but very settled and lingering; still quite fruity on the palate. Very pretty stuff, lasting flavours, so drinkable.

SMWS 127.1
Port Charlotte. Distilled 2001, bottled 2010. 66.5% abv, 235 bottles made.

The name 'harbourside barbecue' is apt (normally these SMWS descriptions require some imagination, more fiction than fact) - iodine, kelp, salty sea breeze with a slightly burnt edge to it all. Understandably quite fiery on the palate, but also notable citrus streak running through it; the slightly burnt / barbecued flavours also persist on the palate. Very intriguing.

Other SMWS whiskies tasted: 128.2, 116.17, 66.36, 33.117, 29.124.

Compass Box

An inovative bunch really making waves and ruffling feathers in the Scotch industry. You never know what might come next from them, except that you can be fairly certain that it'll be high quality and enjoyable. I've reviewed their other wares elsewhere in this blog, the three I havent previously tasted are detailed below.

Great King Street Artist's Blend
Blended Scotch, 43% abv.

Rather unusual in that they've used a large proportion of first fill (or in wine speak, new oak) barrels which is virtually unheard of in the whisky industry. The oak characters really come through on the nose with sweet vanilla, spicy and toasty characters also showing. On the palate, its very smooth; sweetness and lightness of the grain whisky comes through. So drinkable.

All Grain, 43% abv.
£52.75 (The Whisky Exchange)

Vanilla and coconut / even rum like nose; with treacle, fudge and caramel coming through; actually smells sweet. Very smooth, its creamy and rich in flavour yet still feels light and nimble; sweet flavours still coming through. Finessed and delicate, incredibly charming. Whoever said grain whiskies cant be high quality?

Flaming Heart
Blended Malt, 4th release. Bottled August 2012, 9147 bottles, 48.9% abv.
£77.95 (The Whisky Exchange)

Rich nose, the sherry comes though alongside some of the smoky peat / iodine / sea breeze, some toasty sweet vanilla there too; full on aromas. Mouthfeel is quite spicy initially, some kick despite being only 48.9%, the fruity citrus and sweet sherry notes then comes through with the smoky characters; really rather strange and at the same time rather delightful. Nicely poised, drinks far too easily.

Berry Bros & Rudd

Another stand that I always look out for in whisky fairs is that of Berry Brothers - their selection of own bottlings are constantly changing (so you really never get bored) and always impresses. You can be assured that if it has a Berry's label it has been chosen with great expertise and care - though I must say I prefer the old label design, as opposed to the ones you see pictured below (the new ones just lack charm and gravitas). And the Spirits Room in their St James' Street premises is also worth a visit if you're in the area. I tried through five of their wares during the day and the three that stood out are below; prices are for 70cl bottles retail at unless otherwise stated.

1997 Clynelish (cask 6864)
Bottled 2012, aged 14 years. 54.8% abv. £49.95

Touch of smoke with sweet sherry notes, with touches of sweet spices. On the palate it feels quite light, citrus notes showing with a sweet spicy overtones; mostly fruit flavours but then a slightly fiery / peppery touch towards the end. For a lightish whisky, this packs some power.

1992 Aberlour (cask 3919)
Bottled 2012, aged 19 years. 55.5% abv. £67.95

Vanilla and woody overtone son the nose, the time spent in the barrels really comes through; touch of sweet malt too. Lively fruity flavours on the palate; sweetish tones, dried fruits (maybe apricots and sultanas); the woody feel caries on the palate. Lengthy finish, flavours linger.

1973 Glenlivet (cask 10822)
Bottled 2012, aged 38 years. 47.6% abv. £130 (The Whisky Exchange)

Wonderful nose of citrus peel, candied oranges, sweet clementines being peeled; lively yet delicate. Palate is soft, theres a sweet core of citrus fruit again but it isnt explosive; it gently rolls around, coating the palate with its slightly oily texture; plenty of flavour that never overwhelms but keeps on giving. Some nutty wood spice and drying grip on the finish. Very appealing.

Also tasted: Blue Hanger 6th Edition (45.6% abv, £71.50), 1984 Benrinnes (56.5% abv, £83)


I've seen these guys at whisky fairs before but have never thought to drop by and try their whiskies. Their stand was rather quiet when I got around to them, so I decided to call in and try their stuff, and I'm very glad I did too. These guys release two kinds of whiskies - the regular aged expressions (12, 15, 18 and 21 year olds) as well as a small selection of single cask expressions, which are released twice a year. Some cracking whiskies in their range, the two that stood out are detailed below, but their entire range is well worth drinking.

1971 Glendronach
Cask 1247. Bottled 2012, aged 41 years; 529 bottles made. 47.9% abv. Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon. 
£575 (The Whisky Exchange)  

Rather special stuff, deep colour. Dark sweet molasses, treacle, chocolate and caramel on the nose, with some toasted oats and woody notes; really quite sweet and more like rum than whisky. Theres sultanas and raisins on the palate, with some woody touches; nice concentration of flavours, isnt particularly powerful but it does linger for quite a while. A privilege to try.  

Glendronach 21 years old 'Parliament'
48% abv. £77.95 (The Whisky Exchange)

Again quite dark colour, rich fruit cake on the nose, with sweet sultanas and quite sweet sherry notes. On the palate, its large and quite overtly fruity; chocolate and christmas cake flavours are there (sweet dried fruits with some spice); lingering finish. Bold, sweet, fruity style; my pick for a Christmas-themed whisky.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Downing MCR Tasting

Monday, 08 October 2012

A wine tasting for Downing College MCR during fresher's week; retail prices are indicated where known.

Conde de Haro Extra Brut Cava, Bodegas Muga. Spain.
The Wine Society £11.95 | A-

Serious bubbly from The Wine Society, made by Bodegas Muga of Rioja fame. Slightly bready / yeasty nose, with citrus too. Mousse on the palate is refined, vibrant acidity; fruit is forward, yet not aggressive; nice txture on the palate, doesnt just wash away. Classy stuff. 

2010 The Society’s Exhibition Chablis Premier Cru ‘Vaillons’, Jean Marc Brocard. France.
The Wine Society £16 | A-

Richness comes through on the nose - ripe fruit with creamy / buttery notes, also the classic citrus verve. On the palate, minerality comes through underpinned by taut racy acidity yet the fruit is very ripe and yielding, bright lemony flavours; surprisingly generous flavours for a Chablis. Nice persistence of flavours too. Great value. 

2011 The Society’s Exhibition Tasmanian Chardonnay. Australia.
The Wine Society £14.95 | B+

Zesty, lime peel and citrus oils on the nose, with some floral characters. Plenty of racy acidity, piercing high notes on the wine, like sucking on a wedge of lemon; very bright and vibrant stuff, intensely focused, if perhaps a touch too piercing. Great example of cool climate (and I suspect very early picking) Oz Chardonnay. 

2011 Plantagenet Mount Barker Riesling. Australia.
Cambridge Wine £14.99 | B+

Again, very zesty, with lime peel and lime cordial on the nose, with lemony fragrance, very lively on the nose. Plenty of racy acidity, in a way only Riesling can achieve; rapier like, lemony flavours; eye watering. Just about stays balanced.

2005 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling. Germany.
Cellars of  Downing College | A-

Previously reviewed elsewhere - again showed wonderfully, just the perfect balance between fruit, sugar and acidity.  

2010 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Cuvee Reserve, Maison Roche de Bellene. Burgundy, France.
The Wine Society £10.95 | B+

red frui on the nose, with some sweet spice and woody licorice touches, feels polished and quite old school; fragrant and appealing. On the palate, bright acidity with some under-ripe raspberries and red currants; not the most complex of flavours, but its evidently well made and has great charm.

2011 Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir. Mornington Peninsula, Australia.
Cambridge Wine Merchants £19.99 | B+

Bright cherry fruit on the nose, hints of earthy notes with some aromatic mahogany / cedar / leather there, indicating some judicious oak use; feels very polished, sophisticated on the nose. The fruit is somewhat underwhelming,  under ripe raspberry and red cherries but on the tart side of things; feels like the fruit isnt properly ripe; nice crunchy acidity though. Just wished they had a bit more sweet fruit. 

2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza ‘Reserva Especial’. Rioja, Spain.
The Wine Society £18.50 | A-(+)

I've reviewed this wine some time back and thought it would be good to revisit. As good as I remembered it,  great concentration of flavour; textured and persistent on the palate. Drinking so nicely now, but will ag for another 10-20 years no problems.

1987 Contino Rioja Reserva. Rioja, Spain.
Personal collection | B+

Previously reviewed here

2008 Pauillac. Bordeaux, France.
The Wine Society £16.50 | B+(+)

Dark fruit, cassis with polished wood, cedar, tobacco and leather notes; theres hints of capsicum too; decent depth to the aromas, feels brooding and like a proper claret. Good fruit on the palate; dense, structured dark berries and dark plums with balancing; plenty of grainy tannins but feels ripe; texture is a bit sandy at the moment, but theres plenty of fruit to make sure it resolves with time. This feels like a proper Pauillac, wouldnt be surprised if it came from the Lafite stable; drink 2015-2023.

1996 Chateau Cantemerle, Haut Medoc 5eme Cru. Bordeaux, France.
Cellars of Downing College | A

Beautifully integrated, mature claret - noets of cigar box, pencil shavings and graphite, slightly smoky / leathery characters too, along with earthy even capsicum still. Refined on the palate, very smooth and yielding; fruit is ripe and soft and effuses everywhere; good dose of balancing acidity. Generous, so very drinkable, excellent claret; drink now - 2020.  

1982 Churchill’s Vintage Port
Cellars of  Downing College | A-

Bright red fruit shows here, along with framboise and cherry liquer; fragrant rose petal aromatics. On the palate, its mostly sweet red fruit, just enough acidity to keep it going; a lighter style vintage port that has matured well and isnt showing its age. Delicate, very pretty.

Sainsbury's Wine - Autumn/Winter Offers

Wednesday, 10 October 2012.

Having tasted 147 wines at the Sainsbury's Wine Winter Press Tasting, the following wines are those which I thought were interesting and represented good value. I have included the retail price for each of the wines, which are correct at time of writing. In addition, Sainsbury's are running their customary 25% off any 6 bottles offer between 19-28 October 2012 which would make some of these wines stunning value.

To keep things simple, no normal ratings for these wines, just a Recommended or Highly Recommended.

2011 Taste the Difference Sancerre
Recommended | £11.99

Under diam cork, this is a textbook Sancerre with lemony fruit, minerality and intensity on the palate. At 25% off, this will be just under a tenner and is good value stuff.

2011 Taste the Difference Pouilly Fume
Recommended | £11.99

Under diam cork, this is a riper style Pouilly Fume; some minerality but plenty of ripe fruit, hint of spritz on the palate. Lively, cheerful and very drinkable, quite un-Pouilly Fume like.

2011 Taste the Difference Riverblock Sauvignon Blanc
Highly Recommended | £9.99

Steely, mineral style of Marlborough Sauv Blanc; theres some of the green grassy notes, with gooseberry there too. Flavour intensity on the mid palate is notable, as is the texture; feels sophisticated, not just your average Sauv Blanc from Marlborough.

2010 Brancott Estate Renwick Sauvignon Gris
Recommended | £12.99

Quite aromatic, with some tropical and white fruits, hint of greenness; nice lemony and green pear flavours on the palate, pure and focused. An interesting alternative to the usual Sauv Blanc.

2011 Taste the Difference Fairtrade Chenin Blanc
Recommended | £8.99

Ripe citrus nose, good fruit on the palate; clean and pretty, decent finish too. Feels like a proper Chenin Blanc, very drinkable and fairtrade too - whats not to like? Good everyday drinking wine.

2010 Bellingham The Bernard Series Roussanne
Highly Recommended | £9.99

Very forward nose, the partial oak treatment very noticeable - savoury,  yeasty / biscuity nose, over ripe white fruits, touch alcoholic. Plenty of ripe white fruit on the palate, with some savoury touches; full bodied with a quite heavy texture. Big, serious wine - I'd buy this full priced.

2006 Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Semillon
Highly Recommended | £9.99 

Proper aged Semillon nose - plenty of savoury characters, nutty / sesame seeds; then toasted hazelnuts and sweet vanilla, also some biscuity notes. Palate is savoury and textured, fruit is ripe but is well integrated into the acidity and savoury characters; very balanced and showing lots of complexity. A wine lovers' wine - excellent stuff, I'd happily buy this full priced; should age well too. Made by the chaps at Mount Pleasant.

2012 Yalumba Y Series Viognier
Recommended | £8.99

Fat white fruit, over-ripe slightly rotten peaches; palate is large without being flabby, nice generous fruit. Could do with a touch more acidity but this is still a very reliable new world Viognier.   

2011 Taste the Differene Proseco Conegliano Brut Superiore DOCG
Recommended | £10.99 (75cl), £19.99 (1.5l magnum), £2.99 (20cl)

Sweet, fragrant nose with ripe apples and pears on the nose. Off dry on the palate, very appley; simple, refreshing but proper Prosecco flavours. Go on, buy a magnum ....

NV Jacob's Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut
Recommended | £9.99

Citrus, with a bit of biscuity aromas. Palate is crisp, completely dry; its a clean refreshing drink, and certainly well made if not slightly commercial in style. Buy only when on offer.

2010 Taste the Difference Cotes du Rhone Villages
Recommended | £6.99

Lots of dark fruit, with woody, stalky notes and dark spices; quite heady. Palate is full of dark fruits, ripe and sweet, slight grip at the end; nice extraction, its a full bodied wine - needs food, perhaps a hearty stew? Good value too.

2009 Crozes Hermitage Les 3 Lys
Recommended | £9.99

Dark fruit on the nose with spice and sweet licorice, also some savoury / cured meat notes. Plenty of ripe extracted fruit on the palate, nice texture with balancing acidity, some depth too; feels balanced and very drinkable. IWC 2012 Gold medal winner.

2009 Taste the Difference St Emilion
Highly Recommended | £9.99

Dark plummy notes with sweet spice; also polished wood and touch of smoke. Dark plums and dark cherries on the palate; big and very plump, very ripe with some spice on the finish; tannins are there but not prominent. Feels sophisticated, in a bold, fruit forward kind of way.  

Two simple spanish wines, which can be recommended: the 2009 Liebre Tinto (£7.99) and the 2011 Pasico Old Vine Monastrell Shiraz (£5.99) both showing attractive ripe red fruit coulis, supple fruit on the palate. Neither are too complicated - they are well made, easy drinking wine.

2006 Sainsbury's DO Carinena Gran Reserva
Recommended | £5.99

Attractive red fruit with a sweet lick of oak on the nose, quite fragrant stuff. Palate is full of red fruits, sweet and vibrant; handled the oak treatment quite well, its soft and plump. Very drinkable stuff, good value too.

2007 Taste the Difference Rioja Reserva Cepa Alegro
Recommended | £9.99

The sweet oak and vanilla comes through alongside red fruit, feels very polished and sophisticated. Palate is filled with sweet red cherry and berries, soft fruity acidity; not the most complictaed, but its pretty and very drinkable.

2010 Bellingham The Bernard Series Syrah
Recommended | £10.99

Dark fruit on the nose, brooding depth; some spice and woody aromas, theres some burnt touches to this. Bags of fruit, its extracted and full blown in style; some savoury and licorice flavours too. Well made stuff, this wont disappoint.

2009 Mayu Syrah Reserva, Elqui Valey
Highly Recommended | £9.99 

Dark fruit, with hints of fresh mint leaves; theres savoury / cured meats aromas coming too, very attractive nose. Fruit is sweet, ripe and very big on the palate, quite grippy and chewy, this is a mouthful; maybe a touch over extracted but they carry off the style well. Big bold wine.

2010 Taste the Difference Barossa Shiraz 
Recommended | £9.49

Big, juicy blackcurrucant fruit on the nose, with cordial and a hint of mint; nose is lifted, doesnt feel overdone on the nose, quite pretty. On the palate, the fruit is overt but not overblown; fresh acidity running through it; well made stuff from the chaps at St Hallett, this is one very drinkable Oz Shiraz. Good value.

2010 Taste the Difference McLaren Vale Grenache
Recommended | £9.99      

Red fruit coulis notes on the nose, with red cherries and currants dominating. Palate is juicy, plenty of fruit with refreshing acidity and a hint of savoury notes; its a bit more than your basic fruity wine. Feels balanced and sophisticated; should go well with lighter meat based dishes.

And finally two dessert wines which, barring perhaps the Hunter Valley Semillon and the Roussanne mentioned above, represent the best value for money wines in the entire tasting. The labels may leave something to be desired but dont let them deter you, these are rather good wines.

NV House Dessert Wine
Highly Recommended | £3.99 (37.5cl)

A blend of Riesling, Rivaner and Silvaner; 9.5% alcohol. Attractive sweet fruit, with honey and acacia notes; theres tangerines and sweet clementines too, wonderful aromatics. Plenty of fruit on the palate; backed b fruity acidity; lots of sugar here, 120g/l to be precise, but all kept in check by the acidity; its like drinking clementine juice. Not the most complex wine but its drinking very nicely; with the offer its £3 a half bottle - unbeatable value!

NV Sainsbury's Muscat de St Jean de Minervois 
Highly Recommended | £4.99 (37.5 cl)  

100% Muscat Petit Grain, 15% alcohol. Tending towards sweeter apples and pears on the nose, with over ripe peaches too; its a more overtly sweet nose. Palate is fresh, good amount of acidity; palate is filled with sweet grapes and dried fruits. Well made, good value dessert wine.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Claret Tasting

Saturday, 22 September 2012.

A tasting of clarets from the cellars of Downing College, Cambridge led by Mr Richard Stibbs, President & Fellow Steward. This tasting was part of the Cambridge University Alumni Weekend, 21-23 September 2012. The wine are presented in the order they were tasted; again, some very brief notes on some of them; all were opened just before tasting.

2000 Chateau Lanessan, Haut Medoc

Old school nose, some blackberry and dark fruit showing, with pencil shavings and graphite, touch of polished wood too; proper, mature claret nose. On the palate, good fruit with balancing acidity; filling mouthfeel, good presence on midpalate; still lively, it has life ahead of it, tastes surprisingly youthful. Exceeded expectations.

2003 Chateau Terrefort Quancard, Bordeaux Superieur

Warming red fruit / compote, with some dusty / damp touches too. On the palate, the fruit is starting to fade away, its a lighter, 'luncheon' style wine; touch of drying tannins on the finish. Its not remarkable, but its drinking very nicely; an everyday wine.

2004 Chateau Langoa-Barton, St Julien 3eme Cru

Classic St Julien nose - plenty of dark fruit, woody notes with capsicum, tobacco / woody notes, baked earth / rusty / ashen notes, with pencil shavings & graphite; very open and generous nose. Wonderful concentration of flavours, plenty of ripe, dark fruit, with balancing fruity acidity; very generous mid palate, so juicy and yielding at the moment; ripe tannins at the end. Surprisingly accessible now, this will develop with time, drink now - 2025+.    

2002 Chateau Langoa-Barton, St Julien 3eme Cru

Again, textbook nose of dark fruit, with stalky / wooded aromas, bell peppers, and pencil shavings; in comparison, the '04 had a far more overtly fruity nose, this was more subdued and old school and a touch more evolved. On the palate, good amount of dark fruit but not as generous as the '04; feels more closed and hard going; fresh acidity, slightly gritty tannins towards the end. Its well structured, but not particularly accessible now, perhaps at an awkward phase? Drink 2015-2025+.

2000 Chateau Lascombes, Margaux 2eme Cru

Soft, fragrant red fruit coulis, with violets and roses; sweet polished wood like cedar / mahogany; lovely aromas, very inviting, sophisticated stuff. On the palate, the fruit is red cherries and ripe red currants and raspberries; very lush and sweet, with fruity acidity; feels very balanced and supple, ripe and melting tannins on the finish. Very seductive, this is showing so wonderfully now and will develop for another decade; drink now - 2020+. My favourite of the tasting.

2005 Chateau Patache d'Aux

Reviewed elsewhere.

2003 Chateau Haut Batailley, Pauillac 5eme Cru

Classical Pauillac with a hint of maturity - dark fruit with polished wood, rather masculine. On the palate, the fruit is showing nicely, beginning to open up; sweet cassis is there, with some grainy tannins on the finish; for a 2003, it feels very balanced, and doesnt show any ill effects from the very hot vintage. Just entering its drinking window, drink now - 2020+.

2006 Chateau Batailley, Pauillac 5eme Cru

Quite woody on the nose - stalky, with cedar and polished fragrant woody notes coming later. Good fruit on the palate but doesnt feel that concentrated, tastes youthful and but is quite closed at this stage. Its not particularly concentrated, so probably not going to be a great claret but the structure is all there; drink 2015-2025+.

2005 Cheateau Moulin Riche, St Julien

Second label of Ch. Leoville Poyferre. Soft nose; stewed red fruit and red plums, feels a tad hot / cooked. Good fruit on the palate, very accessible and juicy; cassis with fragrant wood, smooth mouthfeel and has a polished / sophisticated feel to it. Well balanced and showing nicely, though perhaps lacking concentration and length; drink now - 2020.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

German Riesling Tasting

Saturday, 22 September 2012.

A tasting of German Rieslings (with a single Pinot Blanc interloper) from the cellars of Downing College, Cambridge led by Mr Richard Stibbs, President & Fellow Steward. This tasting was part of the Cambridge University Alumni Weekend, 21-23 September 2012. Very brief notes on some of these, was rather busy opening bottles and serving the wines.

2005 Schloss Sarstein Pinot Blanc

Aromatic nose filled with lychee and guava, theres a sweet, tropical element to this. On the palate, its gently off dry; sweet apples and guava dominating, gentle acidity; theres a richness on the mid palate, quite generous mouthfeel, the wine has filled out nicely with age. Very attractive style, drinking nicely now.

2006 Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Auslese, Weingut Gottelmann

Forward nose - honey, acacia, sweet waxy oranges, some tropical notes as well as a hint of kerosene / petrol; quite pretty. Nice richness and generosity on the palate again, its off dry, with notes of candied orange peel and sweet clementines; plenty of sweet citrus fruit with balancing acidity. Characteristic Nahe richness, its lush and incredibly poised; joy to drink.

2001 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter

Clean nose, mostly waxy lemons with a touch of kerosene. Palate is more than off dry, but lacks richness or weight; good fruit but isnt showing brightly; felt a bit light and flabby compared to the Kabinett.

2001 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter

Nose is bright, zesty limes and citrus notes, theres an air freshener quality to this, lively stuff. Focused, rapier like acidity showing; zesty fruit, so much acidity here its like sucking on ripe lemons; feels a tad narrow and one dimensional but by God is it lively.

2002 Oestrich Lenchen Kabinett, Peter Jakob Kuhn Rheingau Riesling 

Nose is muted, as is the palate; fruit isnt showing at all well, its the dullest of the lot today; dodgy bottle?

2003 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter


Lime zest and kerosene dominates, shows it has developed with age; its overtly quite sweet on the nose. Palate is generous, plenty of fruit which coats the midpalate; lovely flavours, showing good balance and not tiring, another keeper.

2003 Riesling Spatlese Serriger Schloss Saarstein

Waxy lemons, with some kerosene touches, and lime zest too; lively nose. Citrus dominates on the palate, nice concentration of flavours just a bit short on the finish. Nicely balanced, will keep for a while yet.

2005 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg

Beautiful aromatics, the rinds of lemon and sweet oranges, hints of sweetness there too; its a bold nose, yet delicate at the same time. Sweet oranges on the palate, plenty of primary fruit and acidity; it feels focused, with concentrated flavours that linger. Great balance, its a perfectly poised wine. My favourite of the day.

2003 Oestrich Lenchen Riesling Auslese, Peter Jakob Kuhn

Half bottles in a crown (beer) cap - must admit I've never seen a German Pradikatswein under crown cap before. Amber gold with shimmering copper in colour, it flows rather reluctantly; acacia honey, fudge and caramel on the nose. On the palate, its thick and weighty, really sits on the palate, revealing its honeyed richness, its like drinking slightly diluted honey; acidity is still there but drowned by the 150-200 g/l or so of residual sugar left in, I've had Beerenausleses lighter than this. Bit too heavy for my liking, lacks balance.    

Weingut Hansruedi Adank

Wednesday, 03 October 2012

I was invited by Tom Lewis aka Cambridge Wine Blogger to meet Patrick Adank whose family owns Weingut Hansruedi Adank and who has kindly brought a bottle of the winery's flagship Pinot Noir for us to try. The tasting note can be found below and you can find Tom Lewis' take on the wine here.  

2010 Flascher Pinot Noir Barrique, Weingut Hansruedi Adank

Incredibly fragrant nose of sweet, polished oak, almost notes of sweet lacquer; vanilla, with a slight raspberry liqueur sweetness coming through, really leaping out of the glass, the oak is still so dominant at the moment (still pretty though). On the palate, good amount of fruit there, red raspberry and red cherries, but with a slightly unripe / tart tinge about it; fresh acidity, with some grainy tannic grip on the finish, nice filling mouthfeel; a food wine. In all, it feels very sophisticated & classy, a well made polished Pinot Noir; in style, more Central Otago than Burgundy.

After I had written this tasting note, we opened the 2010 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir (Cambridge Wine Merchants, £14.99) to compare; its a Decanter World Wine Awards 2012 Gold medal winner no less. And the styles couldnt be more contrasting - both were very polished, well made wine (and I can see how the latter won a Gold medal), but the Swiss Pinot was just prettier and more elegant than the Villa Maria, which in comparison, tasted like a big, punchy hello-look-at-me wine. And with a bit of charcuterie, cheese and bread on the table, the Swiss Pinot won hands down.  

Saturday, 29 September 2012

General - August 2012

Some noteworthy wines tasted in August 2012, retail prices indicated where known.

 2003 Chateau Bahans de Haut-Brion, Pessac Leognan

2nd label of first growth Chateau Haut-Brion. Nose was very lively, bramble fruit, though smells quite hot / cooked / baked earth initially, it blows off after some time in the glass to reveal a charming warmth with hints of sweet licorice, star anise and cedar. On the palate, the fruit is very rounded and yet persistent; velvety texture, very rounded, generous dark fruit and very juicy (unusually so for a claret); properly structured, the flavour doesnt just hit and run, it builds and sustains on the mid palate. Fine grained tannins towards the finish, so yielding and enjoyable now, but with lots of life ahead of it; drink now - 2020+.
Enjoyed with a rare Chateaubriand at Hotel du Vin, Cambridge - absolutely heavenly combination.

2011 Waitrose Sancerre 'La Franchotte' Joseph Mellot
Waitrose £10.79 | B+

Lemony nose, with hints of floral touches and some minerality. On the palate, it tastes like a classical Sancerre, with racy acidity and lemony fruit, but to me lacks a certain flinty quality that I look for in Sancerre. Very correct, a good example of a well made, if rather unexciting Sancerre.

2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
The Wine Society £10.95 | A

Waxy lemon peel, though quite sweet too (presumably the oak); hints of butter and slight nutty / oxidative character on the nose. Palate is quite rich and textured, lots of lemony acidity, the generosity and ripeness of fruit is remarkable, tempered slightly by the age. Integrated, properly 'together' feel to this, its reallly aged nicely, gained lots of width on the palate. Ridiculously priced they might just as well give them out for free, such great value (even by Wine Society standards), this would knock the socks off most Burgundies twice its price. I would recommend to buy this by the case but unfortunately its now out of stock.

2010 The Wine Society Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay
The Wine Society £12.50 | A

Made by the good folks at Kumeu River. Rich, buttery and toasty oak on the nose, quite sweet, overlain with ripe white fruits, very forward nose. Plenty of fruit on the palate, nice acidity running through; full, textured feel to this, the oak treatment is integrated, quite savoury. Very well made & great balance for my liking, such an immediately appealing and sophisticated style; a multiple award winner and deservedly so. Buy by the caseload!

2010 Domaine du Bosc Sauvignon Viognier Pays d'Oc
The Wine Society £5.95 | B+

Clean fruit, slight green notes to this (gooseberry and limes). Fresh acidity on the palate, ripe grapefruit with a touch of pith at the end; its not complicated, just honest well made wine. Very easy drinking.

2010 Toi Toi Reserve Riesling, Marlborough.
Flagship Wine £16.75 | A-

Waxy, ripe lemons here, touch of kerosense / petrol there, then ripe exotic fruits of mango and guava too; explosive, tropical, very aromatic, quite sweet nose. Bags of fruit on the palate, its off dry, perhaps 20-25 g/l residual sugar still there but lots of intense lemony acidity so the sugar doesnt feel out of place; good concentration of flavour, just carries on through the mid palate and beyond. Well balanced, classy stuff; award winner too.

2011 Moscato d'Asti DOCG, Elio Perrone.
The Wine Society | £6.50

Sweet green apples and pears here, very fruity nose, like Appletiser even. On the palate, its gently bubbly with plenty of sweet fruit, juicy with some acidity to keep it fresh and not cloying. Its a simple wine, but have this chilled with a nice fruit-based dessert and its a winner everytime. Characteristically great value from the Wine Society.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Vintage Port Tasting

Wednesday, 08 August 2012

A tasting of Vintage Ports held at Leckhampton, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and hosted by Mr Stuart Barton. All the ports, unless otherwise indicated, were sourced from the cellars of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

1977 Warre's

Bright nose, dominated by rose water and cherry liquer; theres lots of volatility here, quite spiritous, as if the alcohol is trying to escape, and quite sharp too, feisty one. Good ripe fruit on the palate, big and fleshy still, nominal streak of acidity; again feels a bit too aggressive for me, the fruit and the alcohol are not integrated enough, feels like they are pulling in different directions. Peppery spice at the end, feels quite thin and hollow on the mid palate, doesnt really coat the palate. I've had better '77 Warre's in the past.

1975 Graham's
| somewhat faulty

Light tawny orange in colour, having had '75 Grahams in the past, this is definitely not the colour it ought to be. On the nose,  theres a sherried, nutty and oxidative nose to this; put in a blind tasting, I probably would have guessed Oloroso, not vintage port. There is some sweet fruit, but its overwhelmed by the sherried nose; again, some piercing volatility on the nose too. On the palate, the fruit was more vibrant than the nose would suggest; some sweet red fruit, but also marmalade citrus, with a slight bitterness at the end; big spicy kick on the finish too; the fruit dies rather quickly on the palate though. Faulty perhaps, but still interesting.

1970 Cockburn
A-(+) | from a private cellar

Dark fruit here, cherry flavoured cough syrup, sweet fruit with some menthol whiffs, some turkish delight and floral characters too; quite brooding. On the palate, plenty of fruit; cherry syrup, with a hint of burnt treacle and some earthiness; sweet spice at the end; the fruit is still primary, very vivid and bright. Feels big, the components could integrate further and mellow out; this has life ahead of it; drink now - 2020+

1970 Warre's

More settled nose of turkish delight, rose water and violets; almost feminine and fragrant, the sweet fruit also shows without being brash or in your face. Fruit is very rounded on the palate; sweet and ripe but not bold, the mouthfeel has settled, so silky and lush as it lingers on the mid palate, decent length too. All the components are so very integrated and together; a study in balance, very sophisticated. At its peak now.

1970 Quinta do Noval

Dark fruit and sweet dark berries there, some fragrance, with molasses, burnt sugar and chocolate showing too. The initial fruit hit is bright and sweet; certainly plenty of it at the start (perhaps too much) such that it gives the impression of dying on the mid palate, doesnt quite carry the fruit all the way through, still quite feisty though. Peppery spice kick on the finish is notable, as is the fact that the finish felt rather closed and muted compared to the initial fruit hit. Drink now.

1970 Delaforce

Quite volatile, theres lots of 'organic chemistry' notes of solvents and the like, some mint too, like winegums. Fruit on the palate is feisty; ripe, sweet and spicy but all pulling in different directions, feels a bit all over the place actually in way that makes me wonder whether its quite literally fallen apart. Otherwise, its still bright and lively, decent spicy kick on the finish too. Drink now.

1963 Quinta do Noval

Quite volatile on the nose, some ethanol / spiritous nose; cherry liquer and dusted chocolate there, slight fragrance of menthol; some weird sappy, almost antiseptic touches too. Fruit is sweet, stewed / cooked fruit here; settled mouthfeel, isnt as feisty as the '70 Noval; feels fresh yet very mature and together. Gentle spice on the finish completes a fully integrated, well balanced port with a good lingering finish.

1963 Fonseca

Beautiful nose of turkish delight, framboise, rose petal and floral touches, with dried plums too; very vivid and fragrant. Plenty of fruit, red cherry and plums again, sweet and ripe, it feels very lush on the palate. Astonishingly for its age, its the first port tonight showing notable lively fruity acidity; still so bright despite the age. All the components are integrated and in balance, I only wished it had a slightly longer finish, this faded away rather too quickly. Probably at or just past its peak, drink now.
I must confess coming into this tasting expecting a life-changing experience with the 63 Fonseca, such is its reputation and the esteem its held at. Though it didnt quite manage this, I'm still very glad to have tried of this iconic vintage port.

1927 Vintage Port, Hankey Bannister

Kindly donated by Colonel Charles Delamain, in memory of his uncle Sir Kenneth Pickthorn, 1st Baronet, sometime Fellow, Dean, Tutor and President of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and MP for Cambridge University. This bottle had lain in the cellars of Corpus Christi College its entire life, presumably procured by Sir Kenneth during his time in Cambridge. It is the last bottle of its kind in the College's cellars.

Surprisingly still holding its colour, the rim has faded away but theres still a light purple core to this port, certainly not pale; probably would have guessed it as 60s or lighter 70s port. The nose is quite spicy / peppery, with plenty of floral elements of violets and bluebells; it doesnt last very long though, this was tasted straight after opening, and the exposure to air in the glass diminished the nose substantially with time. On the palate, the sweet fruit was still there with a slight acidic kick too; surprisingly quite lively at the start, but again it fades very quickly on the mid palate. With about half an hour in the glass, this had almost faded away completely. Certainly a novelty, though still of great interest and needless to say, an immense pleasure to be able to taste it.

I have tried contacting Hankey Bannister to ask for more details about this port - shipper / blend of shippers, how many pipes were made etc - but to no avail. If you know anything about this port, do drop me a line and I'll include it in the post.


There were twelve attendees at this tasting and each were asked to name their top three favourites excluding the 1927 and mine were, in descending order: 1963 Fonseca, 1970 Warre and 1963 Quinta do Noval. Tabulating the scores from everyone else, and awarding three points for first preference, two points for second and one point for third, the results are as follows:

1963 Quinta do Noval - 21pts (3x1st, 4x2nd, 4x3rd)
1963 Fonseca - 17pts (4x1st, 2x2nd, 1x3rd)
1970 Warre's - 17pts (1x1st, 6x2nd, 2x3rd)
1970 Quinta do Noval - 15pts (4x1st, 0x2nd, 3x3rd)

If you use an Olympics style table, then it would read:

1963 Fonseca - 4x1st, 2x2nd, 1x3rd
1970 Quinta do Noval - 4x1st, 0x2nd, 3x3rd
1963 Quinta do Noval - 3x1st, 4x2nd, 4x3rd 
1970 Warre's - 1x1st, 6x2nd, 2x3rd