Monday, 30 July 2012

Mas Coutelou

Mas Coutelou Wines

A range of wines from Mas Coutelou, a producer based Puimisson in the Languedoc region, just north of the town of Beziers. They are organic-certified since 1987, which their website helpfully points out is way before the whole 'Organic' viticulture theme became fashionable / the 'in' thing, now also bio-dynamic. Minimal intervention in the vineyard and during vinification (probably means no cultured yeasts too), no filtration and minimal use of sulphur at bottling. In the words of Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister fame, its 'brave' winemaking.

The sole UK importer and retailer (as far as I know) is Roberson Wine, and retail prices are indicated. I thought I gave the Mas Coutelou range a try since last year they received such good press in the UK particularly from Jancis Robinson (here) and Decanter magazine, so much so that I couldn't get my hands on any of them. Roberson's current offer for the Mas Coutelou wines can be found here, pictures were taken from their website.

2011 7, Rue de la Pompe

£9.95 | A-

The nose, in one word, is funky; so much secondary characters showing, its meaty and gamey, cured meat / bacon savoury notes showing too, alongside kelp and seaweed (hints of the old Islay malts here); plenty of rustic / farmyard notes too; the not insignificant fruit is unfortunately hidden behind this mass of aromas. Bright fruit on the palate, blackberries and dark plums; some balsamic acidity to this, also a grainy sensation on the finish; feels fresh and bright, but perhaps a touch volatile. I'd love to see this settle down with age, drink now - 2016+.
This probably wont be for everyone, theres enough funkiness going on to suggest that the wine isnt 'clean' but  the palate bears out the fruit.

2011 Les Vin des Amis
£12.95 | A-

Bright fruit on the nose, bags of red plums and berries, some jammy compote / coulis / cooked fruit there too; bags of fruit, really quite voluptuous, with hints of violets too. On the palate, its got a fresh fruity acidity; oodles of dark plums and blackberries; quite extracted, theres a noticeable texture and heft on the palate, doesnt make it heavy, has gravitas shall we say. I'd prefer it as a food wine, I think; bit too big for drinking on its own; lovely bright flavours though. Should be able to age with ease, drink now - 2016+.
To me, a more mainstream, clean fruit-driven wine; bold flavours.

2001 Ouest
£14.95 | A-

On opening, lots of savoury notes of cured meats / game, also of smoky bacon; slowly evolving into prunes, stewed plums and currants, along with sweet spice; earthy notes with anise too. On the palate, its very smooth and settled; you can taste the maturity on the mouthfeel; fruit is still there but isnt bold anymore; prunes and stewed plums dominate. Fresh fruit acidity still running through it, with fine grained tannins on the finish; drinking very nicely now, but should still develop; drink now - 2016+.
Very surprised that a minimally-sulphured wine hasnt fallen apart with bottle age; quite the contrary, its drinking very nicely.

2001 Sud
£14.95 | B+

Stewed fruit on the nose, red plums and some spice; theres a port-like, almost hot / alcoholic nose to this, makes you think its quite sweet. On the palate, the fruit is still prominent but settled, decent acidity too; mouthfeel not as generous as the Ouest. Feels like a mature claret thats perhaps just past its best, felt the Ouest was a little bit more interesting. Still drinks very nicely, if anything it lacks some of the funkiness; drink now.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Sauvignon Blanc

Thursday, 26 July 2012.

A tasting of Sauvignon Blancs for the Fellows of Downing College, Cambridge; led by Mr Richard Stibbs, President and Fellow Steward of the College. Stockist and retail prices are indicated where known.

NV Lindauer Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
Waitrose £9.49 | B+

Clean citrus fruit, slight hints of greenness, limes perhaps - rather surprised that the green leafy varietal note from the Sauvignon Blanc hasnt come through at all. Feels well made, cheerful wine; bright acidity and fresh mousse (as all Lindauers are), but was expecting more varietal note to come through.

2010 Domaine de Rablais Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine
Cambridge Wine £8.99 | faulty, not rated

The nose wasnt clean or bright, quite ashen and stalky, smells musty and no fruit - pretty sure its a dodgy bottle.

2011 Caliterra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Curico Valley
Cambridge Wine £7.99 | B+

Green nose - asparagus and leaves, with ripe gooseberry and tropical notes too - lively, overtly fruity and unmistakably new world Sauvignon Blanc. Ripe fruit on the palate, citrus abounds; gentle and fat acidity; easy drinking / gluggable wine. Not the most complex, but it does what it says on the tin, wont be disappointed.

2011 Mirror Lake Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
Cambridge Wine £8.99 | B+

Again, unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to me - very green, cut asparagus and freshly mowed grass, blackcurrant leaves; theres fruit too, guava and the like. Higher acidity, fruit isnt as opulent / ripe; feels more linear, perhaps a hint of minerality showing.

2010 Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch
Cambridge Wine £10.99 | A-

Green varietal characters showing, with a more earthy and stalky edge (as oppposed to leafy), almost sappy nose to it; also some sulphur compounds thrown in, hints of burnt rubber - may not sounds very positive, but I do like this wine. More assertive and big on the palate, good load of fruit; ripe aciddity and minerality too, all leading to filling mouthfeel and texture. Persistent finish, very well made wine.

2010 Sancerre, Domaine Sautereau
Cambridge Wine £14.99 | B+

Flinty and chalky nose, almost no Sauvignon Blanc varietal characters showing; wet pebbles and stony nose. On the palate, searing high acidity with minerality; very nervy, cutting and lean; fruit is hidden behind the acidity, not sure thats the best way around.

2006 Sancerre, Domaine Jean-Paul Balland

Mid gold in colour, almost honeyed and floral nose, also mature Burgundy like nose of slight oxidation, sweet oak and straw. On the palate, the acidity is muted; felt far more rounded and generous, no edges on the palate, very yielding; fruit is fading away, the finish is a bit short. Very interesting to taste a more 'mature' Sancerre.

2010 Pouilly Fume, Domaine de Bel Air
Cambridge Wine £14.99 | B+

Quite fragrant on the nose - lime zest and pineapples, with hints of green guava and leafiness, very nice aromatics, suggestive of ripe fruit. On the palate the acidity is searingly high, very linear and mouth contorting; unfortunately not backed up by fruit. Felt disjointed, the nose promised much but the palate disappoints.

2011 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
Cambridge Wine £15.99 | A-

Voluptuous fruit on the nose - tropical fruit of mangoes, passionfruit and guava; then comes the 'green' tinge of blackcurrant leaves and asparagus, very attractive nose. Bags of ripe fruit on the palate, tropical passionfruit with citrus too; fat acidity; structured on the palate, flavour persists on the finish. Great stuff, worth every penny.

2011 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
Waitrose Wine £18.99 | A-

Good fruit on the nose, its showing more green edges (leafiness and grassy) as opposed to the sweet tropical fruits. Very clean on the palate, slightly more minerality showing; fruit is restrained, isnt quite as generous. I somewhat get the feeling that they held back with this wine.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Moelleux, Rene Favre et Fils. Chamoson, Switzerland.
For the Love of Wine (UK importer) rrp ~£20 | A-

Sweet floral on the nose, tinned pineapples and sweet apples. Not much acidity on the palate but the sugar isnt that high either; feels clean and fleeting on the mid palate but does linger on the finish. A novelty of a wine.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tour de Belfort

I got to hear of these Tour de Belfort wines from the Cambridge Wine Blogger aka Tom Lewis, who was very enthusiastic in recommending these wines. They are an organic producer and vigneron, based in the regional park of Causses du Quercy in South West France in the winemaking region of Cahors. The wines aren't bottled under AOC Cahors but under IGP du Lot - a lesser, more generic appellation, presumably because they make whites and roses in addition to the red.

Tour de Belfort dont sell their wines through the 'traditional' channels, that is, appointing a UK importer who distributes the wines to merchants / shops / restaurants throughout the UK. They prefer instead to sell directly, via internet / email orders through their website and in wine shows such as the Three Wine Men tasting events throughout the country. The advantage of direct selling is clear - they cut out the middle men (distributors and wine merchants), so theoretically the consumers would get better value for money. Also, getting a distributor to list your product isnt exactly straightforward, especially if (i) you dont make that much wine (ii) nobody knows about your wine. The downside is equally clear - its a lot of work, you have to somehow promote your wines and hope that people will like them enough to part their cash for it. Well, based on Tom Lewis' recommendation, I bought myself a mixed half case and gave the wines a try and these are my thoughts on them.

The 2010 Tour de Belfort White was by far the most interesting. Nice aromatics, stone fruits and citrus on the nose, with a hint of candlewax and leafiness to this. On the palate it was textured, lemony fruit and stone fruit was there, but there was also a nice minerality. This isnt your normal quaffing wine, yes it drinks very easily but theres complexity and length on the mid palate too. To me, its more of a food wine than a drink on your own wine, and should be very versatile. If I were buying for a restaurant, I'd certainly be happy to include this on the wine menu.

The 2010 Tour de Belfort Red was pretty much what I expected - lots of dark fruit showing on the nose, quite hot and jammy, cooked fruit and licorice there. On the palate, the fruit was bright and sweet and in abundance, flavours were clean and with a good balancing acidity; feels rounded and easy drinking. I expected a bit more bite on this wine, but the tannins were lush and ripe.

The 2011 Tour de Belfort Rose showed characteristic red fruit and hints of bubblegum and sweet floral touches on the nose; nice fruit profile on the palate, bright strawberries and currants, cleansing acidity; very refreshing and certainly would make a great picnic wine. Its a well made wine, but I prefer my roses to have a bit more bite to them, but thats a stylistic thing.

The 2009 Tour de Belfort Red, of which they dont have much left, had a funkier nose - sweaty leather, cedar and spice mingling with dark cherries and red plums. On the palate there was bright fruit showing, red cherries and plums, but it felt more tempered, tamed almost; well rounded flavours with greater length. Its lost a bit of the initial fruit hit, but gained more length and I far prefer this to the 2010 red. I think the extra year has been kind to it, and I'd be interested to stick half a case of this in the cellar and see how it develops year on year.

You can find Tom Lewis' review of the wines in his blog: the white, the '10 & '09 reds and the rose. Additionally, he's arranged for a special offer for readers of his blog for these Tour de Belfort wines, the details can be found here. Dont trust our word for it, buy a mixed half case and see for yourself!

Downing MCR - Taste of Europe

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A selection of European wines shown at a tasting for Downing College MCR. Retail price and stockists are indicated where known.

2009 Ridgeview Estate Bloomsbury. England. 
Waitrose £22 | B+ 

Citrus and some green apples on the nose, with slight signs of yeasty development. On the palate, its taut and nervy, plenty of acidity going on without being uncomfortable. Tending towards primary flavours as opposed to secondary / more bready characters. Clean and lively, well made stuff, does open up in the glass too - I enjoyed this more after the mousse has died down a bit. 

2004 Nyetimber Classic Cuvee. England
Cambridge Wine £29.99 | A-

Secondary characters to the fore, bready and biscuity, with lees and yeastiness all coming through; touch of the old sock and oxidation about it too; behind all this lingers some citrus fruits. Feels ripe and generous on the palate, time has been kind to this wine, the acidity has fleshed out and developed nicely. Very together, its drinking nicely at the moment though I wouldn't chance it for much longer (specially if its on the shelves and not in a proper cellar). 

NV Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier. France.
Cambridge Wine £38.99 | A- 

Always the reliable performer; this has all the flavours in harmony. A more detailed tasting note can be found here, though I must say the bottle then tasted somewhat fresher than the one now. Still very impressive and the favourite of all the bubblies tonight (by some distance too).

2011 Monte Alina Verdejo Viura. Rueda, Spain.
Cambridge Wine £9.49 | B+ 

Green apples and pears on the nose, quite aromatic & high toned, this is what I imagine walking through an apple orchard would smell like; some spritz and floral nose too. On the palate its clean and refreshing, white stone fruits, low in acidity; just runs through nicely, with some minerality on the mid palate. Thoroughly enjoyable though perhaps rather ordinary.

2010 Belisario Verdicchio di Matelica ‘Terra di Valbona’. Italy
Cambridge Wine £8.99 | B+ 

Distinctly sweeter nose: ripe peaches and nectarines, with acacia and floral elements too, very pretty and even hinting at sweetness in the wine. Bone dry on the palate, with clean citrus fruit; fleshy mid palate, good acidity and width; the palate maybe pretty ordinary but I'd buy another bottle if only for the nose. 

2006 Saint Veran ‘La Roche’ Chateau de Beauregard. France.
The Wine Society (en primeur) | B+ 

Sweet oak and vanilla, creamy and buttery notes also showing; ripe and opulent on the nose without being showy. Palate is rounded and generous, soft yielding acidity; sweet ripe fruit hanging on; this just melts in your mouth; integrated flavours, everything you could ask for in a mature entry level Burgundy. Just past its peak, still drinking wonderfully though.

2005 Riesling Kabinett ‘Armand’ Reichsrat von Buhl. Pfalz, Germany
Cambridge Wine £9.99 | A-

Ripe lemons and orange zest, touch of petrol too, theres a slightly sweet and citrusy confected nose, like orange  squash but in an attractive way. Off dry, I'm guessing around the 15g/l mark, but theres so much acidity (almost wincing) that its balanced out; juicy lemony and generous mid palate, coats the mouth. The finish could be longer but thats nitpicking; very high quality, silly price    

2010 Gyotaku Gentil, Domaine Mittnacht Freres. France.
Cambridge Wine £12.99 | A-

Been a fan of this blend since they brought it out. Lemon with tropical fruit, passionfruit and apples on the nose; again off dry in the region of 10g/l residual sugar but without the searing acidity of the Riesling; makes this feel much rounder and softer, think white flesh nectarines. Made to go with sashimi and sushi, and i think they've nailed it (again); lovely style, very drinkable and I think its organic too. 

 2005 Baga Encontro. Portugal.
Noel Young | B+

Got this from Noel Young in one of his bin-end sales some time ago. Warming nose, like mulled wine; sweet spices and jammy compote, blackberry jam. On the palate, its rounded with red cherry fruit; ripe and jammy, perhaps even on the hot side; good dose of acidity still, doesnt feel heavy. Its probably mellowed out, hardly any tannic grip; drinking nicely now. 

1996 Ch√Ęteau Smith Haut Lafitte, Grand Cru Classe de Graves. France.

Old school nose - slightly burnt green capsicum, leafy and stalky, with hints of smoke and licorice; then an earthy, truffled undergrowth nose. Velvety mouthfeel; fruit is rounded and ripe (blueberry and red berries) but isnt to the fore, theres an earthy note too; acidity higher than I expected; feels fresh and resolved, integrated feel to it all. Some fine grained tannins towards the finish, but you have to look hard for it, I think its just entering its optimum drinking window and should last a while there; drink now - 2020+.

2009 Valpolicella-Valpantena Ripasso, Secco-Bertani. Italy.

Sweet prune juice on the nose, with a heady aromatic scent, like port / cherry liquer, smells big and sweet. Palate shows black plums and balckberry, with some cherries too; good acididty running through it, but the fruit feels a bit hollow; theres bold flavours but not the fruit to back it up, maybe its a stylistic thing. Uncomplicated, drinks well.  

2008 Venta del Puerto no. 12 Seleccion Especial. Spain.
Naked Wines £14.99 / £10.99 (Angel price) | B+

Black cherries and plums, some smoky / toasted oak there, sweet vanilla and also licorice, some cooked jammy fruit too. Palate is big, or trying to be big anyway; lots of dark fruit, blackberries and plums, feels extracted and overdone; the oak is just about supported by the fruit; bit brash and showy for my liking. Not much tannins, spicy finish; not quite balanced. Insanely heavy bottle - absolutely mindless ...

NV Downing College Ruby Port, 

A basic ruby port - sweet red fruit abounds, but the fortification is very obvious; tastes quite disjointed, especially next to the vintage port. A correct but unexciting commercial wine.

1991 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port
Bibendum £40 | A-(+)

style="font-family: inherit;">Wine gums and pastilles, with rosewater and turkish delights, theres a nice floral element to the nose, violets and rose petals; lifted and fragrant. Sweet fruit on the palate, very rounded and generous; a ripe, fruit forward style with a spicy kick on the midpalate; sweet and resolved tannins on the finish. I fear it tastes rather older than it should, it feels a bit too mature; perhaps its just entering its drinking window but I'd keep an eye out for it; drink now - 2020+

Sunday, 1 July 2012

American Wines

Wednesday, 27 June 2012.

A selection of wines from the USA tasted at the Leckhampton Wine Club of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Retail prices and retailers are indicated, where known; apologies for the sub-standard picture quality.

2010 Clay Station Unoaked Viognier. Lodi, California.
Bibendum £11.52 | B+

Peach skins, thick white fruits and apricots; some sweet floral and sweet tropical notes too, along with a ester / sweet chemical nose; smells quite heady. On the palate, plenty of ripe fruit, ripe sweet peaches, decent acidity and generous mouthfeel without being too flabby. Good, very drinkable.

2010 Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr. Loosen 'Eroica' Riesling. Columbia Valley, Washington.
Noel Young £19.49 | B+

Neutral nose, some lime zest, hints of lime air freshener and lime cordial, somewhat confected nose. Palate again shows ripe limes, high acidity with a balancing touch of residual sugar (~10g/l maybe), some lime sherbet in there. Interesting interpretation of riesling.

2009 L'Ecole No 41 Semillon. Columbia Valley, Washington.  
Noel Young £16.49 | A-

83/17 blend of Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc, with barrel aging and lees contact.
Saboury nose, with nutty and bready characteristics showing, some toast and leesy nose. Fruit is good and ripe, good acidity giving freshness and backbone; the secondary notes of oak and lees is well integrated. I like the weight and texture on palate, some persistence on the finish too; opens up as it warms in the glass (becoming bit more savoury and toasty), which is always a good sign for a white wine; very French in style, in fact, it compares well with any classed growth white Pessac Leognans.

2011 Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc. Napa Valley, California.
Noel young £18.49 | B

Correct varietal nose - green capsicum, some leafy touches and ripe gooseberry. On the palate it predominantly feels thin and watery, theres some ripe gooseberry flavours and hints of acidity, but just isnt persistent enough; so reserved you have to hunt for flavour. Closed, linear and rather disappointing.

2008 Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay. Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California.
Noel Young £33.95 | A-

Savoury, buttered toast, biscuity and bready nose, then some creamy oak showing with some guava and tropical fruit; its Burgundian and then some. Palate is filled with ripe tropical fruits, passionfruit and ripe peaches and sweet vanilla too; textured mouthfeel, nice balancing acidity; slight savoury touch at the end. Theres a lot of oak here but theres enough fruit to support it; big wine, quite alcoholic, like an overcharged tropical Burgundy - best white of the night.

2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, California.
Noel Young £22.99 | B+

Warming sweet spice, some earthy and truflled notes too, red cherry and red currants there, perhaps even a hint of compote / stewed fruits there. Juicy red fruit, cherries and strawberries; ripe but rather simple and one dimensional, fruity acidity; hardly any tannins, smooth mouthfeel. A perfectly enoyable and correct, if rather unexciting Pinot Noir.

2010 Hartford Family Winery 'Russian River' Old Vine Zinfandel
Noel young £30.49 | B+

Dark fruit, black plums and dark cherries, balckberry / cherry liquer, cassis and brambly fruits with plenty of sweet vanilla too - big nose, voluptutous and heady. Dripping with sweet dark fruit on the palate, thick and dark fruits; big flavours, no holds barred style; warming and full mouthfeel, almost feels like port than red wine; spicy fruit on the finish, quite persistent. Just too big for me, still a good wine but drinking more than a glass will be a struggle.

2009 Shafer Vineyards Merlot. Napa Valley, California.
Noel Young £35.99 | B

Dark plummy fruit, mulberry and dark cassis, forward fruit on the nose; then theres some earthy and green leafy characters too; a correct varietal nose. Good amount of fruit, dark fleshy plums, some acidity there; fruit concentration just isnt there, ripe tannins. Overall theres fruit but nothing else, rather one dimensional and feels a bit clumsy, disappointing - maybe this bottle isnt showing particularly well?

2001 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. California.

Plenty going on in the nose - dark fruit compote and jammy blackberries, some green capsicum, anise and phenyl, and sweet vanilla from the oak; great perfume, expressive. Dark fruit, ripe blueberry and blackberry, the fruit is cool yet luscious; fresh acidity and grainy tannins towards the finish. Structured mouthfeel, feels very proper with persistent flavours, not flash in the pan; the finish is drying and fresh, beckons you for more. Drinking wonderfully now but has plenty of life ahead of it, best red of the night (by some distance too); drink now - 2025+

2005 L'Ecole No 41 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah. Walla Walla Valley, Washington.
Noel Young £29 | B+

Dark fruits but with lots of secondary notes - smoky and gamey, cured meats (bacon like), some savoury and rustic touches; blackcurrant fruit, quite fragrant; some sweet oak too. Ripe fruit on the palate, blackberry and blueberry with savoury notes; balancing acidity and smooth tannins; feels very balanced, could be easily mistaken for a good Crozes Hermitage. Drinking nicely now, drink now - 2015+

2009 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Noel Young £25.99 | B+

Sweet red fruit, red cherries and currants, with sweet spice and touch of star anise; some floral touches too, rosewater. The palate isnt quite as delicate as the nose suggests; ripe and dark fruits, black cherries, feels quite extracted and alcoholic. Some savoury touches; smooth and juicy mouthfeel, sweet ripe tannins; has a few years in it but showing well; drink now - 2015+