Whisky! Arrrr!

An Ardbeg tasting, hosted by Stuart Thomson, distillery manager.

Having braved the gauntlet which is First Rail, I managed to arrive at more or less the critical point in this tasting, Ardbeg Kildalton 1981. This astonishing whisky made me laugh out loud, a reaction which few whiskies (or wines for that matter) engender. Kildalton, to explain, is a more or less unpeated Ardbeg (!). What's more, you can't buy it, because they have pretty much run out. So why am I writing about it? To annoy you, of course. No, no, no, I don't mean that. That would be bad. I have to talk about it because it is such a good product. And Ardbeg might make something of its ilk again - y'never know. If ever you hear someone saying,"this is just like Kildalton 1981", bloomin grab it while you can.

Imagine, if you will, a gentle Ardbeg - yes, yes, yes, noisy boys at the back, I know, oxymoron, military intelligence, etc, etc, but that is what it is. The nose is gentle, sweet, a powerful blast of chocolate coated cherries, then becoming very mealy, with the salt finally coming through, and then more chocolate. The texture of the nose (nose feel?) reminded me of Port Ellen 24 y.o.

On the palate it is salty AND sweet, very mellow for an Ardbeg, with the charred wood / smoke character coming in on the long gentle finish. 17/20 (No really)

Having started with such a good whisky it was a little tricky to give the others a fair go. The Ardbeg 17yo was very stinky - fishy, in fact - at first, but then the smokiness came in, followed by dried fruit, saltiness, perhaps a hint of chocolate, and just a wee further touch of salt at the end. 16+/20

I was very taken, too, by the Uigeadail. This is blended from 10yo, 13yo, and some 1975 fino sherry cask, and the complex nose reflects this. It starts off metallic and seaside-y, there is a wee burning nip to it, then the fruity aromas, the smoke, more of the metallic character and a strong mealy note come through. These elements swirl round, first one then another coming to the fore, never settling on a single note. 16/20

A very fine tasting. I'm only sorry I missed some of it, since Stuart Thomson very evidently knows his stuff, and can talk about it most entertainingly.


Gosh! Isn't it dusty around here!

Four months since my last post. Which means I failed to tell you about Amayna Pinot Noir, Bonnefond Côte Rôtie, Cirsion, Cline small berry Mourvèdre, Château Talbot, and a load of other goodies. Ah well.

It' s not often that I find myself in complete agreement with what a label says about a wine, but here's one now. La Otra Vida Tempranillo ('04, cork) from the Mendoza region of Argentina did indeed hint at raspberries, and it did go very well with spicy food. In this case, a bean and vegetable stew with fresh green chillies. This is the perfect £5 quaffer to take if you are going to a mate's for supper. A solid 14 pointer.


History in a Glass - Ancient History...

As I was saying, one fishtank emergency, one unexpected visit from the ELF (featuring cremant du Jura, prosecco, much beer, and amaretto), one trip to Edinburgh (featuring a wine tasting, a three hour lunch, Greyfriars Bobby, and the Scott monument, as viewed from the top), one visit to A&E, one car service, one two-cousin sleepover with pizza and four part harmony, one broadband installation, a very thin chianti and a wholly atypical muscadet later, here is the rest of last Thursday.

Château de la Garde `La Tulipe` Rosé ('04, cork) is a deep dark merlot based rosé, drier and more flavoursome than most. I served it up chilled, but since I was rashly asserting that it can be compared to what was called 'clairet' in the dim and distant past (say around 1400AD), maybe it should have been room temperature. My favourite rosé wine this year - 15/20.

Carillon Mercurey rouge ('02, under cork). The Carillon family have been making burgundy since 1520, and I like to imagine that this one is very similar to the glass you would have been offered 500 years ago. It's dark, earthy, a rather rough and ready wine, and should you happen to have some big flat mushrooms, or better yet, some random wild fungi, then flash fry them in olive oil and butter (for forty-five seconds) pile them on toast, and eat accompanied by a glass of this. Bliss. Bliss to the tune of 16+/20.

Ducru-Beaucaillou ('97, cork). "Not a good year". "For early drinking". Pshaw! This is a fantastic wine. Savoury, concentrated blackcurrant juice, meaty and dense, with notes of coffee, even mocha, and a gentle woody spiciness. In the 1855 classification Ducru was classed as a second growth, but these days the consensus seems to be that it rivals the first growths. Certainly the consensus amongst Thursday night's tasters was that it was equal first wine of the night. The consensus amongst me was 17/20, just for the bouquet.

The disappointment of the evening was Masi Costasera Amarone ('01, cork), although of course it did have to follow on from the Ducru. Very rich, like chocolate-dipped cherries which have lain cheek by jowl with crystallised figs, but for a twenty quid wine I would expect flavours that lingered rather longer. Sad to say, only 14/20. Made from partly dried grapes, the Recioto wines of the Veneto date back to the fifth century...

...whereas the last red of the evening, Glaetzer Bishop shiraz ('01, cork) only just dates back to the twentieth. It is the vinous equivalent of a fruit smoothie: powerful, fully fruity Barossa shiraz, but with tannins more akin to butterflies kisses than rasping lions tongues. This is the kind of red wine that converts white wine drinkers, and Thursday's tasters ranked it top alongside the Ducru. 16/20.

And finally, a dessert wine. In the seventeenth century tokaji was the wine of kings. It's a style of wine that could never develop today, given that two kinds of microbes insinuate themselves into to the winemaking cycle, and both contribute to the unique flavour of tokaji. We sampled Disznókő Tokaji Aszu 5 Putts ('95, cork). This one definitely divided us: some of us were put off by the somewhat sherried character (I wasn't one of them! I love sherry, In fact, I 'm just going to go and have a glass right now) whereas others loved the rich complexity of it. 15+/20.

We rounded off the evening with a couple of historical oddities. Take white wine, honey and seawater, mix them thoroughly, and you have a delicacy of the Roman Empire. One person compared it to a dirty martini. Most of the commentary was less kind. Our other experiment was sour, unhopped beer - just as a reminder of what booze was probably like for the majority of the inhabitants of Britain for much of the country's history (and prehistory!). Not surprisingly, the vote was Three Cheers For Wine.


History in a Glass

Last night I hosted a tasting which looked at eight wines and the accidents of history which gave us them. It was great fun to discuss, not just the wines, but also their stories.

First off was Gaia Ritinis Nobilis ('04, under cork), a modern twist on retsina, a style of wine which is at least three thousand years old. Light and aromatic - pine! of course - this would make a good aperitif, or else the clean pungency of the pine would very nicely contrast spicy or oily foods. But not many of the tasters liked it: I suppose it's too far out of the mainstream of modern taste. I rated it at 13/20, but I guess the consensus was more like 11/20.

Jumping forward almost the whole three thousand years, we had Wither Hills sauvignon blanc ('04, screwcap). Just about the purest, greenest, freshest expression of sauvignon I know, it is a canonical example of the World's newest Classic Wine Style. Imagine, less than thirty years ago there was no such thing as Marlborough Sauvignon. And now you can get this 15+/20 beaut from Oddbins for £8.99.

Yikes! Fishtank emergency! I'll finish this post later - come back and look again tomorrow.


Summertime, dum-dee-dum-dum-dee-deeeeee-dum

What a glorious day. Ideal weather for sitting outside, enjoying a glass of fizz and some asparagus tips & hollandaise. So we did.

Asparagus needs no garnish. Sizzled butter or perhaps - the decadence of it! - truffle oil would be the height of luxury, but classic dishes exert a kind of gravity. To do otherwise goes against a law of nature.

The Champenois assert that champagne will pair any food. Certainly our bottle of Canard-Duchêne brut (non-vintage, under cork) was a fair match, the dryness and acidity of the wine contrasting with the rich sauce, but other wines would better match the flavour of the asparagus.

Canard-Duchêne has just a hint of pinkness in the depths. The nose is wet gravel (translation: classic champagne style minerality; aka fish tanks), and on the palate I find the same mineral quality. It is very dry, full bodied, and showing just a touch of richness. No real toastiness, tho, which is a little disappointing. I have found it better previously. 13(+)/20.


Swiss wine, by golly!

Yup, courtesy of the Big Egg, a bottle of Jean-René Germanier Dôle Balavaud Grand Cru '03, under cork. Never tasted Swiss wine before, hey-hey. Apparently they keep it all for themselves. This stuff is good. It puts me in mind of bojo, or passetoutgrains, which isn't a great surprise, since the grape blend is pretty much the same; pinot noir and gamay.

Dark red, the nose is still developing - it's a good balance of bright fruitiness and a more mature savoury (maybe potato?) character. On the palate the wine is dry, light-bodied, and markedly spicy, with perhaps a hint of licorice. It's distinctly warming.

I want to be drinking this wine somewhere in France, with a chunk of Tomme des Pyrénées, one of those skinny baguettes they call a flute, and the sun on my back. Thank you, your Eggness.

Whoops, the score... (14)-15/20.


Wine Bloggin' W*****day #11 - "Off Dry"

"Off Dry". Hmmn... tricky, that. In these days of mass-produced wine juice, the boundaries of dry have rather spread sugar-wards. Aha!, here's something which certainly isn't dry, but wouldn't (I reckon), make a good dessert wine. Is that a good definition for off-dry, do you think?

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 02004, under cork, comes in a lovely old fashioned blue flute. It's a light wine from the banks of the Saar, a (very!) cool-climate region tucked into the corner of Germany next to Luxembourg and France.

At only 8.5% alcohol, and palest green, this would make a fine mid-afternoon refresher. It's ever so slightly pétillant, with a fresh mixed salad leaves nose. On the palate it has fairly high apparent acidity, and a moderate degree of sweetness. It is very lime-y, and very-very-very refreshing. The finish is clean but not long. A solid 15/20.

NB 1: I say apparent acidity because I suspect that this is one of those clever German wines which skilfully balances very high acidity against very high residual sugar.

NB 2: Reichsgraf von Kesselstat is the producer (website: www.kesselstatt.de), Ockfener Bockstein is the vineyard, Riesling is the grape variety, and Kabinett is the quality level.

NB 3: I daren't mention W*****days in case it sparks off another fine wine débacle.

NB 4: I bought this in the Co-op. As far as they could tell it didn't exist, so they sold it to me (after much conferring) for £3.99. I reckon it's more like six quid, so if you like the sound of it get in there quick.

NB 5: Thanks to Beau of Basic Juice for hosting Wine Blogging Wed***day no 11.


TN: The Boulders Petite Syrah '03

Stelvin closure, produced by McManis Family Vineyards.

Appearance: very dark, opaque purple.

Nose: strong and well developed, fruity and alcoholic. ?!vinegar? Something green. Wet privet hedge?

Palate: dry and fairly soft, full bodied with some velvety tannin. Dark berries. A long finish of fruit acid and Spangles, with a vegetal quality.

Conclusion: a good mid-quality wine, drinking now or keeping for a year or two or three. (14)-15/20.


Rully in a hot year

Les Champs-Lins, vielles vignes AC Rully. Vinifié, élevé et mis en bouteille par Vincent Girardin à Meursault, Côte d'Or, under cork.

In other words, full on chardonnay from one of the top producers, but not necessarily all his own grapes. Rully is in the Côte Chalonnais, the disparate here and there vineyards between the Côte de Beaune and the Mâcon region.

Rully has for long been a favourite wine appellation, a little bit more expensive than the Mâcon which I usually go for, but with a worthwhile steeliness. This bottle is distinctly richer than other Rullys I have tasted. There's oilcloth, hot toasted wood, even a mild allspice character to the nose, surely all signs of the extreme nature of the '03 growing season. The palate is immediately rewarding, full and ever so slightly sweet, then with the steeliness coming through. The finish gets a slightly bitter twist in, and lasts for ages. Woohoo, top white bourgogne for not quite top prices. Actually, I don't know the price of this un, but I'm still giving it 16/20.


Hallucinatory grass and home made lemonade

Hey, it looks very green... Oh no, hang on, that's the bottle, it's actually fairly yellow, albeit going watery at the rim. And the nose is big, aromatic, but I'm over the sauvignon blanc-a-like notion I had about this wine last year, so it's becoming clear that any grassiness is psychosomatic grassiness. So what is that nose? TallAsAVan does bang on about white pepper, but that isn't quite it, or it isn't all of it. Never mind, let's taste it and come back to the nose.

Watery, medium bodied, very very refreshing. Like home made lemonade - icy-fresh-water-&-lemon-juice-refreshing. But by golly, there is a wee bit of white pepper in there, especially in the finish, which is long and very satisfying. This is a good one. Back to the nose. It remains hard to pin down. Maybe a touch of caramelised sugar. It's a good un. Salomon Groovey gruner veltliner 02004, under cork, 15/20, from the Kremstal region of Austria to you via Oddbins for £6.49.

PS after a full glass of this the pepperiness comes through more clearly. Nice one, TallAsAVan.


PG Tips

  • drink it well chilled
  • goes nicely with various pasta dishes
  • very good party wine, as it is medium in all respects, hence has wide appeal
  • perfect for summer evenings

We have evolved a mildly complicated system for eating pasta here. In the past some of us have had strong prejudices against certain pasta sauces and in favour of certain others. Owing to stubbornness, or habit, and despite losing those prejudices, we continue to have our pasta in at least four different finishes whenever we do eat pasta. Whilst not entirely convenient, it does allow me to report that Prima Gusto pinot grigio / trebbiano 02004(synthetic closure) goes fairly well with a blue cheese and sweet pepper sauce, rather better with a basic olive oil, black pepper and parmesan, better again with a tomato and green olive (but mainly tomato, the olives are a token presence) sauce, and is only passable against strong cheddar / white sauce. All sauces were served over penne (thank goodness we don't have any more than four hobs on the cooker).

The Prima Gusto is a light to medium bodied dry white wine, with a lime-y, citrussy nose,and wet-pebbles, minerally palate, from the north east of Italy, and is mainly made from pinot grigio, which is called pinot gris in France, grauburgunder or ruländer in Germany, malvoisie in Switzerland (also in parts of France, although that hardly counts since the French also use malvoisie as a synonym for maccabéo, bourboulenc, clairette, torbato, and vermentino), pinot beurot in Burgundy, szürkebarát in Hungary, and cabernet sauvignon in Scotland. The EU has finally stamped out the Alsatian practise of calling it Tokay Pinot Gris, which was itself a retreat from Tokay d'Alsace. Not that anybody was ever likely to confuse Alsatian pinot gris (not even vendange tardive) with the Tokaj of Hungary, but thus do we erase history, the better to remistake things.

Aaaanyway, to get back to the wine, it was a good match for the food, but really it went best with the beautiful summer evening. In fact I think it got an extra point because of it. Prima Gusto: 14-15/20.

This is my contribution to Wine Blogging Wednesday #10. You can read all about it here, thanks to Alice of My Adventures in the Breadbox.


There's a whole world of sweet wines out there,

and we aim to try them all, seeing as a continuous diet of Yquem would doubtless prove tedious. As Trollope says, "It may be said that nothing in the world is charming unless it be achieved at some trouble. If it rained '64 Leoville - which I regard as the most divine of nectars - I feel sure that I should never raise it to my lips."

So to the Texas High Plains, the somewhat implausible source of Two Sisters late harvest Chardonnay (01998, technical cork) from the Fredricksburg Winery.

It looked wonderful, an intense greenish gold, like old brass lying on a sunlit streambed, but thereafter, ah me.

The nose was very strong, cloying, heavy, old. It smelt of cloves. The palate was clean, very sweet, and empty. Sad to say, the wine was gone: the little genie had fled the bottle. This wine could not be scored. But there will be others. Onwards and upwards!


Gavi Bricco Battistina

B was in Edinburgh yesterday, and the call of Valvona and Crolla was irresistable. In amongst the other tasties was a bottle of Gavi Bricco Battistina, from Araldica Vini Piemontesi. (02003, cork)

A very shiny pale gold, the wine had a mature nose faintly reminiscent of champagne - stony, watery, slightly spicy. The palate was dry and full, very satisfying and with a good bitter finish. The flavours were, initially, green apple, then stoniness and something woody or stalky. I caught a hint of oxidation or sherrying, so I certainly wouldn't want to keep this one. But then, it's a fifteen pointer right now, so I'll just go and polish off the last of it. Chin chin...



What is it about Wednesdays and fine wine?

Not that I'm complaining, mind. This time it was Pelorus and Rijckaert Saint Veran.

Pelorus, the fizz from Cloudy Bay (02002, cork), seems not to command the same sort of premium that the sauvignon blanc gets. Which fact is utterly confusing to me, since while I do think that calling it 'the Krug of the Southern Hemisphere' is possibly slightly over the top, charging only sixteen pounds a bottle is an act of daylight charity.

So what is it then? Hah! It is the taste of your very own fresh made bread straight from the oven, smeared with honey and cunningly wrapped up in a light mousse to dance across your tongue leaving a memory of lemon and a huge grin on your face, that's what it is. It is a cunning balancing act of finesse and power. It is... 16/20.

The Rijckaert (02002, cork) is, by his standards, very restrained. Classy, balanced, complex, with none of the wilder funky things to be found in his Arbois. The nose is not particularly strong, (it gets stronger over the course of the evening). It's all green privet and oakiness. The palate is full and dry, slightly savoury and also slightly honeyed. I did briefly get struck flint, such as seems to turn up in Pouilly-Fuisse. This is big, for a St Veran, big, and powerful, and excellent value for money. Not one to keep tho, I would suggest, since the acidity is only middling. But, hey, there are at least thirty more Wednesdays before the year is out, so this probably isn't going to be problematic. Good lord, the bottle's empty already...

(aoop!, the score, the score: 16++/20)


Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage

Buying wine in Asda is generally a rather dispiriting experience, so I was chuffed to discover Ken Forrester petit pinotage (02004 vintage, synthetic closure). I've enjoyed his petit chenin on several occasions, and since the label design of this pinotage suggests it is the red counterpart to the chenin, I'm guessing this will be a bright, fresh wine for drinking right now.

It is a very dark wine, black cored with a purple rim. The nose is wonderful, very strong and fresh, fruity and smoky. So smoky, in fact, that it reminds me of Islay whisky - Laphroaig to be precise - before evolving into the smell of a smoked ham hough in lentil soup as my Mum used to make it. After I poured the first taste I let it stand while I and I went outside to play swingball in the dark. I mention this because on pouring the second taste both B and I noticed quite a pong about the wine - I thought sulphur, B said fertiliser. I suspect a lack of oxygen in the bottle. Not to worry, for the whiff soon cleared.

The palate is clean, slightly sweet and very fruity, but rather flabby. The label says the wine is soft, but that is too kind. More honestly, the lack of acid is a let down. There is a tasty savoury finish, with a wee core of peppery warmth, then a slightly metallic aftertaste. On balance, then, a fourteen pointer, but all for the nose. One to drink very soon, with spicy food. 14/20.


Excuses! Excuses?

Who needs an excuse to drink Observatory carignan / syrah? (02002, under cork) It was a Wednesday, OK? I would have been all right if I hadn't mentioned it in passing during the last wineblogging Wednesday.

However it happened, we found ourselves confronted by a bright purple, fresh-looking glassful - remember folks, this wine is three years old now, and didn't start out with the highest allocation of tannins in the first place - and still with that startling, powerful, zingy fresh herbs and dung nose. It doesn't sound appealing when I put it like that, but believe me, it is unutterably lovely.

On the palate it is just off-dry, but this is countered by that powerful fresh acidity, and the concentrated flavour of currants (maybe blaeberries?). We managed to save some til the next night, so that the acidity has calmed down enough to reveal that there is a reasonable streak of medium tannin in there. I hope I have the willpower to keep some of this til it's ten or twenty years old, but that is going to be hard, since it scores 18/20 right now.



It's odd, really, that there should be such a gulf between speech, and text, and the various sensations that these media are used to try to communicate, one human to another, when humans are so alike, one to another. Yet the differences seem to outweigh the similarities.

And so we resort to such devices as h!h!h! to convey the delightful sensation that comes from sipping Vignes des Deux Soleils Les Mattes 02001, under cork. Four years old, but darkly purple and still zingily acid, still tannic. It has developed an overtone of chocolate to complement the strong savoury nose, and when you taste it it really does make you go "h!h!h!h!h!".

If the onomatopoeia isn't working, listen to the live version of Machine Gun (on, for example, 'Voodoo Child' disc 2). At 9:04 to 9:14 minutes through the song you'll hear the sound of someone who has just tasted Les Mattes. Or you could go and buy some and utter the h!h!h!h!h! yourself, although I rather suspect you would need to settle for a later vintage and then go and hide it away for a couple of years. Les Mattes, under cork, 16/20.


Ha! Recherché is my middle name.

Or perhaps I mean Ricercare. Hmmmn. Anyway, thanks to my very good friend SF, I have found Wine Blogging Wednesdays just in time for number 7, Obscure Red Grape Varieties.

Salivating briefly at the prospect of tasting the blessed Observatory carignan/syrah again (previous tasting) , skipping lightly past dornfelder, chambourcin, and marzemino, I lingered over lacrima di morro d'alba and blaufränkisch, before settling on a blend of aragonez, trincadeira, and perequita, in the very fine form of Cortes de Cima 1999, under cork. It's a dark purple - five years old and no signs of ageing - with a big, big nose; figs to coffee to something green and woody (which I'll come back to) to ?saute potatoes? to faint hints of pepper. The palate feels silky, but also full bodied, with loads of berries and maybe cherries, and the finish is long. Also metallic, but, somehow, in a good way. A solid 16/20, and... oh blarst, aragonez is tempranillo. Curse these wayward Iberians with their eccentric grape taxonomies! Gosh, now I'll have to go and drink more wine...

In particular, Co-op big Baga 02001, under cork, to be precise. The nose is not atall strong - and there's that green woody note again. The palate is dry and very tannic, a bit thin, but refreshingly sour on the finish. Not much fruit mind you, but it would make a fantastic pizza wine. Still, only 12-13/20, and it is definitely an obscure grape variety.

I've tasted four Portugese reds over the last week, all different blends. They all showed the green/woody/privet hedge note on the nose. I wonder if this is the Portugese signature, in a similar way to the sun-baked clay I find in so many Spanish reds?


Outfoxed by a cunning Sicilian

A new wine to try, and blind (yipee). It is overchilled to start with, so the nose is rather reticent, but a touch of sweet vanilla oak comes through, and maybe sizzled butter. Let it warm in my hand and I get apricot or peach, then almond, so I'm starting to wonder if it might be a viognier. But the palate is only slightly oily, and there isn't really any bitter peach-pit. The style is distinctly Australian, but the wine ain't nearly big enough. By now I'm fairly sure of myself. It's a Chilean chardonnay, or just maybe a Pays d'Oc chardonnay.

Ha! Inycon fiano (IGT Sicilia) 02002. It's a distinctly modern style, which doesn't seem, well, Italian to me (says the man who has never tasted fiano before). I wonder, do you think it is reasonable to go from those flavours to chardonnay?

15/20 (just: marked up slightly for being blind, and interesting)


A Rosé in Winter

Ack thptt! The poisonous tabloidese continues to infect this blog, but I can't stop. What I can do is grovel, especially if you bring me fine wine to grovel with.

Before the rosé there was Domaines Virginie Marsanne 02003, under cork. A very tasty 14+/20 drop for the price, if lacking the weight that defines good marsanne. Made in the modern fashion to emphasise the fruit, and showing no signs of the oxidation (which I might not necessarily object to) that this variety is supposedly prone to. (Last night Bob and I tried the other good Rhône white grape, but in the form of d'Arenberg Money Spider Rousanne 02003, screwcapped. Now that's the business: oily, aromatic, d'Arenberg bigness - 15/20. Yum)

The pinky drinky was Antipodean Sangiovese 02004, screwcapped (Ha! Random Ozzy grape choice. Again). All very well, dry enough, plenty of strawberries once you get past the bubblegum - even some cherries, but I'm still not a rosé drinker. I know, it's a character flaw. This stuff gets 14/20, which is as high as I've ever rated any rosé.


Hugel Tokay

I was going to start by saying that this addiction to sweet wine has gone too far, but in fact the interesting thing about many such wines is that the sweetness is overshadowed by the other characteristics. Tonight's little beaut is a fine case in point. We thank you, SmallFierceGlasses.

Hugel "Hommage à Jean Hugel" Tokay Pinot Gris 1997 is a lovely, exemplary Alsatian PG, with a bitter orange note to it, and a wee hint of ginger in the finish. Slightly watery, seeming slightly sweet, and low acid, the balance was ideal. I don't think it would age much further - lack of acid, you see, and the fruit is fading rather - but right now it was spot on. 15-16/20