Ageing gracefully

Puddleglum very kindly offered me a glass of Smith Woodhouse '85, which I accepted with alacrity bordering on haste. I have such a weakness for old wine.

It was quite sherried, but still very rich and fruity, with a hint of salty pungency about it. To taste, it was fairly tannic, and of course rich and sweet. It reminded me why Christmas Eve is so much fun, with spicy food, rich warming drinks, and a roaring fire to chase away the winter. Living in Britain requires something like port. If only it could always be something as good as this.


What will they think of next?

I mean really, Pinot Noir in Sicily? Yes I know they have mountains and all, but still, think of the sunshine.

But then, looking at their web page, they really are very high up, and it says it's a Vineyard of Cold Terrain, so that's all right then.

And the wine, Maurigi Terre di Ottavia Pinot Noir 02, is indeed excellent. Clean fresh raspberry juice, which still smells faintly of the flinty earth it comes from, and laced with aromas of the sweet oak which has held it for two years. At five years old it remains rather sharp, but in a way which nicely complements a dish of garlicky beans in olive oil. Excellent, 4+.


Petaluma Frostline

Two amazing rieslings, in hugely different styles: Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2006; and Jack & Knox Frostline Riesling 2004.

Petaluma is one of the leading producers of Eden Valley riesling, and this bottle was a great example. Intensely limey (both fruit and blossom) and quite weighty, verging on oily, it finishes with a big big hit of mineralic, kerosene, petrolly notes, despite being only eighteen months old. Superb.

The Frostline is an experimental bottling by South African innovators Bruce Jack and Graham Knox, using grapes from a vineyard at some 1200 metres above sea level. Here vitis vinifera struggles to ripen, but the resulting flavours are absolutely worth it. Light, delicate floral notes, fresh intense acidity, and great minerality in the finish, but without any of the petrol notes found in the Petaluma. Frostline seems to me to be much closer in style to Germany. I think we drank this one too young, so it wasn't quite up to the superb standard of the Petaluma, but still excellent.


Remember the Alamo Berrio?

I mean the '02 vintage of the Berrio, the first. Ever since the altogether mellower Berrio '03 appeared I've been looking for another sauvignon blanc with that mix of rasping acidity and intense green-ness; capsicums, green beans and sherbet all intertwangling on the tongue to wake up your hind brain and set it dancing the Fandango of Vinous Tastitude. Well, it might just have arrived.

The Lands End Cape Agulhas Sauvignon Blanc ('06, stelvin) is the new contender for the title of Best Sauvignon of the Year. Apparently it gets better with a little bottle age, which is promising, since right now it's a blooming 4+, truly excellent.

The nose is green, clean and sour, with sherbety hints. It tastes, well, truly excellent. Mouth watering sour green-ness, beans or capsicums, and sherbety-stony. It doesn't quite have the gingery warmth in the finish that I really enjoy from sauvignon, preferring instead to gently fade out on a long lemon-lime sherbet note. Green, green, green. If you had taste/sight synaesthesia, then this wine would taste the colour of brand new just unfurled beech leaves.

Elim, the John O' Groats of South Africa, where both this wine and The Berrio come from, might just be the next Marlborough, the next Leyda Valley. All my extremities are crossed.


Do I know The Kangarooster? No, but if you hum it I'll try to join in the chorus...

Truth is, there's no such beastie, which is why you need to go to Bordeaux rather than Australia for a truly elegant, balanced Cabernet / Merlot blend (I know that doesn't make sense, but bear with me).

At this tasting, "Cabernet/Merlot blends of Aquitaine", we had eight such wines.

First up was the Tour de Mirambeau '05, bringing early news of the good things to come from what is said to be 'the vintage of the century'. Ever so fresh and fruity, light and easy to drink. If Georges Duboeuf uppped sticks and settled in Entre-Deux-Mers (where Mirambeau are based, although the wine is classed as AC Bordeaux, since Entre-Deux-Mers is a white wine appellation) he would likely be very pleased to make this sort of wine.

The Chateau Coucy '02, from a Saint Emilion satellite, seemed rather less complex than last year, and perhaps a little sweeter, but still very good value at £11.

Ch Troplong-Mondot '99, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, was very fine. A slightly sweet sandalwood perfume-y nose, just exactly as it should be, then on the palate a poised dry medium-bodied savoury red wine. For claret it is markedly stand-alone, as opposed to being a food wine.

l'Arrivet Haut-Brion '99 is a wonderful example of wine which expresses place. There is a distinct mineral stony element to the palate, just as one would hope for in a Pessac-Leognan.

Ch Brillette (bottle 2) ((bottle 1 was actually Ch Old Socks)) is a cracking bargain. £16 for a rounded, mellow, chocolate and plums style of claret. It's a mere Cru Bourgeois Superior, but that's only because the 1855 classification moves more slowly than Lord Kelvin's Pitch and Cork Experiment.

l'Ermitage de Chasse-Spleen (second wine of Ch Chasse-Spleen) was very well liked by most everyone else at the tasting, but I took against it because the wine had a whiff of brimstone or maybe cabbage when opened.

Wine #7 was tonight's shiny bauble: Ch Leoville-las-Cases, Saint-Julien 2eme Cru. Even with five hours of airing it remained dark and tight. I could find hints of the mocha and unlit cigar aromas that top notch Bordeaux can provide, but mainly the Little Genie was saying, 'let me sleep for another five years, or ten'. Perhaps I'll have made my million by then.

Tour de Pez, like Brillette, is a Cru Bourgeois which deserves higher ranking. Spicy and a little sour on the nose (but in a good way. Not volatile acidity or any such malarky), the palate seemed rather closed to me. not ready yet, or in need of lengthy decanting.

To sum up. l'Arrivet is the one to drink right now. If the France vs Australia tussle were a rugby match, then l'Arrivet is the Rooster the Gauls would release onto the pitch to strut about crowing, leaving the poor kangaroo hopping sadly in its wake, dropping oak staves from its pouch and dripping the juice of squished currants from its boxing gloves.


Tonight's Tasting Brought to you by the Letter B

Small Island Boy was up to his tricks again, this time with some brilliant whisky. He gave us two Balvenies versus two Bruichladdichs (kind of) and then finished off with that ne plus ultra for whisky-twitchers, a bottling from a deceased distillery.

It was a hellish cold night in Partick, but after the tasting I found myself to be quite comfortable sans jacket. More to the point, all the next day I was clad two layers lighter than usual saying to myself from within my cereal glow, "uisge beatha truly is the water of life" - I really have to tell you, whisky fires you up and gets you going, it fires and inspires me, all hail the acrospire!

Whoops... slightly carried away there. For your convenience: acrospire defined. Things not any clearer? Just ask SIB, for he is the Man Who Knows.

The whiskies:

Bruichladdich 1993 recioto cask finish versus Balvenie 1993 Port wood
I liked the nosefeel of the Laddie - kinda velvety - but the Balvenie won this bout, by virtue of its relaxed mellowtude and digestive biscuit finish.

Port Charlotte 5 year old versus Balvenie 14 year old roasted malt
I suppose the malt one might imagine regularly sipping, of all tonight's offerings, would be this Balvenie, for its easy character, and especially for the hint of honey-dipped cigars it occasionally offers. Yet the winner here was the PC5. Freshness, that full on Islay Wow! character that first drew me to malt whisky, or just the complexity in the glass. Or all three...

the Brora 30 year old scored highest for the night (4 - 5: excellent - astonishing) and brought me a new organoleptic experience : the scent of lilies. Only once, and fleetingly, but lilies. From malt whisky. There were other things, perhaps less desirable. Cowbyres. Sunwarmed animals. Seabirds. Leaves - mouldering ones. Caboc (also know as 'Here, this butter is past the sell by date. I know! Let's repackage it as cheese')

A great night. Thanks, SIB. Thanks, 'B'.


Chalk and Cheese

SmallIslandBoy hosted a tasting of wines from the Chalk Hill winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia - not to be confused with the other Chalk Hill. SIB is very keen on having a relaxed atmosphere for his tastings - this one featured an interesting variant on the Australian Philosophers Rules ("Rule 1: No Not Drinking") - and I fear I relaxed too much because I came at the first wine, the only white of the night, from quite the wrong angle.

Chalk Hill The Procrastinator Sauvignon Blanc (02006, stelvin) is bang on target if you think of it as an Italian aperitif wine. As an Ozzy SB it sucks. It's fairly neutral, you see, rather than being green grass and wet pebbles. I should have been nibbling the tasty cheeses along with this one. As it was, cheeseless winegeek that I am, I made a face and scored it as 1-2 (crap - ordinaire). Sorry SIB, I promise to try it again, this time with a selection of antipasti.

The Italian Red varietals, on the other hand, were absolutely top notch. The Barbera in particular is well worth trying. For £12.99 you get an excellent glassful, with a complex nose, full of earthy, olive-y and green pepper notes. The palate is mellow, smooth and savoury, with remarkably good balance for such a strong wine - 15.5%. Chalk Hill Barbera (02005, stelvin): 4 (excellent).

Chalk Hill sponsor the Glossy Black Cockatoo Project, to the tune of 12 acres of drooping sheoaks every year. I wonder if they ever pause to consider the effects of the Australian-led move from corks to screwtops on the habitat of birds like the Iberian Eagle.


Brilliant. Bonkers, but Brilliant.

To the rather posh Hotel du Vin for a tasting of Mas de Daumas Gassac, presented - by Samuel Guibert - very informatively, and with almost no smoke or mirrors. He told us we would have had the product of forty five varieties of grape by the evening's end. This in itself excited my inner list-ticker, and I was not disappointed.

There were several lesser wines, all very tasty and pretty much accurately priced, but reaching the Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc (02005, cork) was something of a two or three level power-up.

As the Big Egg says, the Blanc is bonkers. A blend of Viognier, Chenin, Chardonnay, Manseng, with other varietals for seasoning, this one utterly bamboozled me. Here's my initial tasting note.

"over-ripe fruit, fish, smoke, animals, bananas, more smoke, Lagavulin, sherry fish. Then green. celery juice, then nutty."

Over the evening it evolved into a brilliant full viognier dominated blend, although without the wonderful downy billowing texture of Condrieu. Rather there was a soft oiliness, like good white Chateauneuf. Whatever that note means, the wine certainly deserves its score of 5 (astonishing).

The Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge ('04, '03, '02, cork) were all very good to excellent (score 3-4), complex and fascinating. The technical note says they are currently in their 'Period of Youth'. I should very much like to try them when they have reached their Period of Plenitude, aged between 14 and 21 years. Fingers crossed. Anyway, here is - just to persuade you to rush out and buy some - my tasting note for the Rouge '03.

"strong cow poo and warm fur. chocolate melted on the hands of a toddler who urgently needs changed. chocolate bananas"

Ahhh! Lovely.

The Small Egg raised a very interesting point. Can a wine which varies so much over three consecutive vintages be said to have its own character? He asserted that all great and/or unique wines have their own recognisable character. Can one say this of Mas de Daumas Gassac? I don't know. After all, 02003 was an odd year, and '04 was kind of the rebound from that, in terms of vine growth / production, so you might argue that these three vintages are not a typical vertical tasting.

Update: a bit of rummaging has resulted in this partial list of grape varieties used at Daumas: Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Chenin, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Muscat de Alexandria, Sercial, and Cabernet Franc. Nineteen, which is some way short of the promised forty-five. Any information you might have would be very useful as a comment.


A Wee Australian Sweetie

Ha! Gotcha.

(Sorry. just trying to bring more traffic here by sucking in the Kylie fans. My bad. But hey!, now that you're here, stay for a bit. The Dots are very restful)

I've had some delightful Sweet Wine Saturdays, but this time SmallFierceGlasses had the genius idea of Sweet Wine SundayMonday: tasting de Bortoli Noble One Botrytised Semillon (02001, cork) over two days, to see how it evolves with a touch of air.

We were a little concerned about the colour of the wine - as a dark as a well-sherried malt whisky - but the first sniff chased that concern away like a gentle spring breeze clearing out the chilly remnants of winter.

Fresh and leafy, and somehow the air in my glass was cleaner than the surrounding air, with perhaps a touch of salt, as if there were ozone or sea air to it. Then marmalade, and later, a hint of soy or five spice powder. Lovely!

The palate was crisp lime marmalade, with a buttery feel. The finish was very, very sticky. An excellent 4++.

Day two was where it really got interesting. The nose now had added a very fleeting floral perfume, and perhaps a wee earthy note, but as to the palate and mouthfeel...


If you could shrink-wrap a lime around a gooseberry, spray it with barley sugar crystals and then make it spin on the back of your tongue, you would get a notion of what the Little Genie in the Bottle was doing to me with this wine. Rarely have I tasted a wine which seemed so alive, tingling, moving. It didn't last long, perhaps only half a minute or so, but this is what the whole blooming wine thing is all about, these moments of pure sensory pleasure.

Re-reading this post, I'd be inclined to rate the wine as a 5, but my tasting notes say 4-5. Probably just churlishness.