Chateauneuf du Poop

What exactly is that smell you find in expensive red wine which seems to be some kind of animal crap? And why is it so lovely?

Mont Thabor Châteauneuf-du-Pape '06 was promising from the outset, long before the odour of poop raised its ugly yet curiously attractive head. Smelling intensely of very expensive leather, this evolved through spice, cherry, and a whiff of pampered pets into the aforementioned animal crap. But delicious animal crap.

Yes, I know, it's nonsense, but there doesn't seem to be another more accurate comparison to make, so there it is. Mont Thabor '06, expensive, lovely, and poop, 4-5.

(no website, but a bit more info here)


Excitable Spanish Fun

Two spiffing Spaniards provoked me into a flurry of exclamation points today.

First off was the Torresilo Ribera del Duero 06, an intense wine which immediately seduces with sweet soft spice aromas under a distictive gunpowder note and velvet licorice (I know, I know, pseuds corner. I don't care).

The palate is soft sweet juicy licorice, followed by long lasting expensive sizzled herb butter. Mmmmmm, expensive butter. The finish is long and elegant. Profound and Excellent, 5.

Next was the Geol 06, a dense purple looking wine with a nose of mint chocolate and cat fur, which evolves into the expensive barrel treatment afforded to a top-end Speyside. It's a little young for maximum pleasure, but not by much. Very good, -4.

As I say, a flurry of exclamation points. It's because of wines like these that I love my job. Try either of them and you'll be more than satisfied.


Small But Sullen Horn

Then the lucciola, the fire-fly of Tuscany, was seen to flash its sudden sparks among the foliage, while the cicala, with its shrill note became more clamorous then even during the noon-day heat, loving best the hour when the English beetle, with less offensive sound, winds his small but sullen horn.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, Anne Radcliffe

Lucciolaio is a super-Tuscan from mid-level Chianti producer Torraccia di Presura. Fermented in steel, given 18 months in French oak, and with a healthy 20% dose of Cabernet Sauvignon to complement the Sangiovese.

It's poshly expressive, without being any sort of fruit bomb. Heavyweight when compared to Chianti, it still offers the full range of Tuscan delights. There's a very fine dark floral note on the nose, along with something mushroomy or earthy or undergrowthy.

The palate is dry, full and still quite tannic (which isn't really surprising; the producers suggest it will age 15 to 20 years). It tastes rich and lovely, with clear cut cherry fruit, and a mineral note which - I don't know why - reminds me specifically of obsidian.

When I manage at last to lift my nose from the glass I can see that tonight's tasting group are enjoying this one much more than the too-young Barolo. The flashing of the firefly has truly entranced them all.

A tannic, rich, and lovely 4++, Lucciolaio is one of the brighter stars in the Sangioverse.


Sweet Roses and Sunshine

Comparisons to fruit, vegetables, animals, minerals or what have you are all very well, but it's illuminating to compare more directly, so as to see what is really going on.

This thought was triggered by a glass of Trimbach Gewürztraminer '06 (truly excellent wine, 4+), since it bore a strong scent of rose petals and lychees, along with an interesting mealy, cooked grain character which for me is very typical of Alsace. And by a handy coincidence, the next day I was in a lovely garden with several varieties of rose. None of them bethought me of Gewürz. In fact, the more I sniffed, the more I found other, un-flowery scents. One had a definite lemon sherbet edge and something of milk, while another was very rose-y, but in an expensive talc sort of way. A third was green and fresh, but also, surprisingly, buttery.

I suppose Gewürz will still remind me of roses, but perhaps now the memory will be more vivid, and precise. Or perhaps not, but it was a lovely way to spend twenty minutes on a sunny summer day.


Buy this before it's gone. Really

The other night someone remarked, "this smells like a good cheap wine - the sort of thing you give people and tell them to rush out and buy some". I'm not going to say what that wine was, since it cost £9. Instead let me tell you about a different, eight quid, wine which you really should rush out and buy.

Les Tourelles de Sipian 2004 smells, well, wonderful. It has that aroma of posh about it which usually means you are way past the £20 mark. The bouquet is a delicate floral back-and-forth between violets and hyacinths, with the true earthy undertone of the Northern Médoc. The true claret nose.

Sadly, the palate can only disappoint. Oh, it's by no means bad (my notes say delicious, savoury, tangy, mineral) if a little short in the finish - but after that wonderful nose it is very hard not to be let down.

But still I say toddle along to your local Oddbins and try a bottle. It truly is worth £7.99 just for the bouquet.


Avast ye scurvy Costermongers!

I've never been much persuaded by the fruit-salad approach to wine descriptions. I sometimes like to taste fruit alongside the wine it's compared to, just to see what's what (For example, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is often said to taste of passionfruit, lacks a certain earthy, leafmold character I find in the fruit itself).

The wine I tried today only made me more suspicious of those wine critics who one might take for moonlighting greengrocers.

Selvanova 'Vigne del Sasso' Aglianico 2006 is a fresh herby and fruity red, with a touch of ripe sweetness and nicely mellow tannins. Loads of fruit (cherries and currants and rhubarb, is what I wrote), tasty, and Excellent.

But look at this. The Decanter list of Ten Best Wines from Oddbins says, "blackberry and plum flavours". So does that mean cherries and currants and rhubarb and blackberry and plum? Or do you have to shake you head and just backtrack to plain old fruity?

I don't know, but I do urge you to dig out some fruit next time you find the flavour of it in a wine, just to see for yourself how similar and different they are.


Indefinable Pleasure

The best, most enjoyable wine experiences, say I, are the ineffable ones. The tasting where your notes are non-existent, or contradictory, or mainly consist of splash marks, but you have an urgent memory of a delicious, complicated something which makes you grin as you recall it.

So it is with the Verget Saint-Véran 'Terroirs de Davayé' 06. There are better white Burgundies, but Verget has long been a favourite producer of mine. The ambiguous number I arbitrarily attached to my notes(4++(-5?))summarises the battle between objective analysis and hedonistic pleasure. Plainly described, this is a medium bodied dry Chardonnay with some oaky character. Huh. Babblingly described, it's a back and forth, constantly evolving range of flavours, from white flowers to smoke to cooked grains to almonds to hazelnuts to brazil nuts to cashews to varnish to sharp metal.

Sharp metal. I don't know what I meant when I wrote that. But I know I liked it a good deal.


Sweet Wine Wednesday #5

After our Rieslingfest last time, we opted for a mixed bag - very mixed, as it turned out; we finished the evening with a curious basil flavoured sweet white wine called Longo Maï!, which did indeed, as promised, go very well with Crème Brulée.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Tonight's ampeloleptic treat, courtesy of the Tall Guy, was a blend of Merwah and Obaideh, but it might as well have been Viura, so much did the Château Musar White 01 resemble an old Rioja. I certainly don't recognise it from the description the Musar website gives, but nevertheless it was lovely. Mushroom soup and buttered toast on the nose, accompanied by a hard acrid note, led onto a palate of surpassing concentration, refreshing, light bodied and distinctly salty. A very fine 4+.


TN: Terra Andina Altos Carmenère / Carignan 07

As I may have mentioned before, Carignan is nectar to me, so I was excited to see this bottle. The Terra Andina Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc have gone down well with customers, and I rather rate them myself. High expectations then.

The first thing that hits your nostrils is intense blackcurrant, so much so that one is looking for Cabernet on the label, but then comes a herbaceous note, not the green-ness so common in Chilean wine, but rather some savoury herbs. The palate is intense, concentrated and very acid, and finishes slightly sticky.

After twenty-four hours of ventilation, the acidity has calmed down somewhat. Now there is a delicious aroma of coffee cake, and the metallic or bloody element which was there has strengthened. Add in notes of green tea and smoke, and you have a delightful and complex wine. It is definitely too young, except perhaps as a half-time refreshment for rugby players, if you see what I mean, but the rest of us can buy three, put two away for a couple of years, open the other and then drink it the day after tomorrow. Yum. Terra Andina 'Altos' Carmenère / Carignan 07: excellent (rugby players), very very good (the rest of us), 3++-4.


Tea! And Fruit! But Mainly Tea!

And I don't particularly mean that the wine smells tannic. Rather it has the fragrance of tea, some sort of dark leafiness. Then there is some more leafiness, of the tobacco sort, and then interestingly, braised red cabbage, and then finally a bit of smoke.

By contrast the palate has lots of bright fruit, and indeed it isn't all that tannic. It's fresh and medium bodied (viz, that means light for a Malbec), and really rather tasty.

My good friend TallAsAVan, Malbecista Supremo, observes that Malbec always says blue fruit to him, which I don't find. What I do often find is fishy. I've never even seen one, but that sort of dried fish called Bombay Duck (Why is it called Bombay Duck? It's been around too long to blame the name on Google Translate. Perhaps it's another case of Your Finger You Fool?) often pops into my head on tasting the bigger, more full bodied kinds of Malbec.

So it is an interesting change to find this lighter example of the grape. Well done chaps.

(Whoops – the details: Viu Manent Malbec 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile, 14%, £7 from Oddbins. really rather tasty = 3++)


Sweet Wine Wednesday #4

Another SWW, another new flavour. This time it was dill (the herb, not the dog), found in a very lively eighteen-year old Riesling from the Pfalz region of Germany, the delicious (delicious = 5, before I forget) Dr Bürklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Rechbächel Riesling Auslese '90. But dill was only one of the flavours. There was a ton-load of buttery goodness, another herbaceous note which I think was nettles, definite popcorn, and a wee bit of rubber.

All that was just the nose. The taste was intense lime-lemon meringue pie, and then a tiny hit of mushrooms at the tail end. An absolutely delicious wine, and well worth keeping for decades yet, I would guess.


Blanc, Sec, and Foursquare

Hugh Johnson uses the term 'Plain Wine' in describing Gaillac in his 1983 Companion to Wine. I don't supppose he meant to compliment the wine, but here I am drinking a Gaillac Blanc Sec and finding that Plain Wine sums it up very well, and that plain wine suits me very nicely please-and-thank-you.

Lions Lamartine Gaillac Blanc Sec 07 is made with Mauzac and Loin de l'Oeil, grape varieties found in no other part of the world. Mauzac is said to impart a flavour of apple peel, but instead I find a strong taste of honey in this old-fashioned wine. It's very, very refreshing, (very very refreshing = 3+),but in a style which is a thousand miles away from Kiwi Sauv Blanc refreshing.

Update : After I decided I liked Johnson's term 'plain wine', I found another wine that falls into the category. Le Monache Bianco is a Cortese / Sauvignon Blanc / Chardonnay blend made by Michele Chiarlo in Monferrato, in Piemonte, Italia. On tastings, people find it uninteresting, but with certain foods it sings. Less fashionable, but nonetheless a useful style of wine, long may it continue.


It Cos how much?

I'm lost in thought, drinking Cos d'Estournel'99, from a magnum. It's like being in a conservatory full of fresh cut flowers. A sunny conservatory, where the warmth has made the earth in all the pots come alive and breathe, so that the air is full of leafy foliage scents intermixed with a powerful whiff of humus, maybe with mushrooms in there somewhere, a crazy mix of freshness and mouldering earth. And the texture!

Silky, but more delicate than silk - say, perhaps, lace made from silk, or spider silk - and tougher too, the tannic strength of the wine a basso counterpoint to the delicate contralto freshness; a refreshing freshness, even as the tannins coat your tongue. A kind of paradoxical watery toughness. It is difficult to figure it out, but who needs to anyway. It's enough to enjoy the pleasure.

And then I refocus and see that there are a lot of faces being pulled, noses being wrinkled. Tonight's tasters are decidedly not Francophiles, or at least, they are not keen on youthful, dark, tannic, earthy, Bordeaux. It is quite startling to me how much dislike the Cos engenders, so that I need to taste it again, in case there is a problem, but it's lovely. Tannic, yes, earthy, decidely, but also fresh and powerful and delicious (delicious = 4-5, while I remember). Like all good Claret, it is of course priced at a point which brings general expressions of disbelief from the room.


Sweet Wine Wednesday #3

To kick off SWW3, Puddleglum, a fellow singularly obsessed, provided us with a very fine Very Old Reserve Sherry (officially, it is designated VFVORS... all right, that's a lie, but it ought to be true).

As ever, it begged the question of why such fine wine is not more popular. My notes on the Sacristia de Romate VORS Oloroso are full of question marks - always the mark of a good wine - but the flavours I've noted are dry, leafy, chocolate, struck flint, salty - no fruit y'see, which probably explains why it's not the trendy drink de nos jours. A crying shame, as it would make the perfect apéritif with a handful of almonds, and is decidedly excellent, 4+.


The Next Big Thing?

Fashions run through wine, as through everything. In antiquity, the Romans drank wine saturated with honey and diluted with seawater (I offered this, or something like it, to a history-themed tasting. Nobody liked it save one taster, who compared it to a dirty martini). Dry champagne swept across Britain late in the nineteenth century, and so far shows no sign of leaving. More recently, there has been a fashion for enormously extracted, dense, heavy red wines. d'Arenberg's Dead Arm Shiraz is one such, but I am beginning to think that the spotlight is ready to move on.

There were many excellent wines at the Australia Day Tasting in Edinburgh, but one of the best I tasted was the Gemtree 'Obsidian' Shiraz ('05). It had the expected red fruitiness, and some fragrant smoke, but much more interesting was the savoury, herbaceous aspect. At three-and-a-half years old it is perfect right now, mellow and chocolate-y, with a brilliant balance between acidity and fruity sweetness. A fantastic 5 pointer, and definitely ready to step into the limelight.


Oh the oak! **swoons**

Tastings often throw up surprises. Once at a (red) Burgundy tasting, two people independantly suggested that one of the (red... RED) wines smelt like Sauvignon Blanc.

Tonight's oddity was Shelmerdine Chardonnay 05.

The Tall Guy immediately wondered if the wine was matured in American oak. Then another taster asked if it had been in ex-Sherry or -Bourbon casks, à la whisky, and another chimed in saying the wine reminded her of whisky.

These remarks make it sound like some sort of crazy wine, when in fact Shelmerdine is a straightforward oaked Ozzy Chardy (straightforward = 3++). But perhaps the barrel influence seemed rather too strong compared with the delicate, zingy, mineral-y Debavelaere Rully 'Les Cailloux' 06 (a very good 4), or the complex and strong - but in a much sweeter way - Scarbolo Friuli Chardonnay 07 (Don't take this to mean that the Scarbolo was anything but dry. Nevertheless, the oak was sweet. And I rated it a tangy 4)


Château La Roche '04

Château Lauduc is a forty hectare property just to the east of the city of Bordeaux, in Entre-Deux-Mers. Confusingly, one of their reserve wines is called Château La Roche (perhaps it alludes to some historical whatnot?). La Roche comes from just one hectare of the vineyard, and rather unusually for Bordeaux these days, it is half Malbec, half Merlot.

It's a tasty , light, juicy mouthful, not too fruity, but rather earthy and very claret-y, if that's useful. But it didn't call to mind any Malbec characteristics at all, nor Merlot. One of those wines where the whole is decidedly more than the sum of the parts. And a very, very good match for the Beetroot, Orange and Chocolate soup I made. Château La Roche Première Côtes de Bordeaux ('04, cork), very good (3++).


World Wide Wine - Syrah, Shiraz, Shyraz

Tonight's tasting was looking at the differences that terroir make to a grape variety but for me the similarities were much stronger.

There was a common thread of high-toned fresh foliage in the three wines, a much stronger similarity than the more obvious ones like chocolate or black pepper.

I liked the Paul Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage 'La Chapelle' ('01, cork) best, probably because I'm a Francophile, but ostensibly because of its silky texture, tobacco notes and a little hint of merde. Truly excellent, 4+++.

d'Arenberg 'Footbolt' Shiraz ('05, cork), from McLaren Vale in Australia, had the same whiff, along with great fruit concentration and real ripeness. Also excellent, (albeit not French, so it doesn't get the excitable plusses) 4.

The third red, Chono Reserva Syrah ('06, cork), from Geo Wines of Chile, excited me rather less than the others, perhaps because it's ultra-clean, but it did occur to me later that the interesting herby, sausage-y savouriness would probably make it the best partner for the Burns Night Haggis1 which you are no doubt already planning (only eleven days to go!). Still and all, another excellent wine, 4.

1: assuming you want syrah with your haggis. Far be it from me to counsel against Vendange Tardive Gewürztraminer or Grand Cru Chablis.


Four lovely corks...

...for four lovely wines. The Mendel is mentioned elsewhere. The Ollieux Romanis Corbières, was a fresh, bright carbonically macerated wine, delicious, and for early drinking, so it only needed a very temporary stopper. The Mandolás, from a bottle of Oremus Dry Tokaji, probably isn't meant to last, but still they gave it first rate cork, presumably because they are proud of their lovely steely, sharp refreshing wine. The Jaboulet, the poshest cork here, is from a bottle of 'Les Cèdres', which one might want to keep for perhaps a decade (Hugh Johnson says in his 1983 Wine Companion that the best Châteauneuf he ever drank was a 1937, tasted at 44 years of age)