It's the bubbles, y'see

That's what makes champagne special. Watching the tiny specks rising slowly up through glass (as plain as possible, please. Crystal just gets in the way) is mesmerising; a gentle, slow, soothing pleasure.

Tonight's fizz was a very fine example, with plentiful tiny bubbles continuing to rise even as the glass was emptied.

It smelled very fresh, like fresh sea air, followed by the classic champagne nose of wet stones and plain bread.

To taste it was dry, full-bodied and delicious. I was starting to wonder where the sweetness was when it slipped in at the end, along with a nice woody note, but then both sweetness and wood sidled off again leaving a brisk refreshing minerality somewhere between sherbet and aspirin.

Altogether a very fine wine, and a lovely way to kick off the Festive season.

Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2000, 4++.


Garnacha Peluda, Sin Filtrar

I'm sorry to keep banging on about typicity, but I do think it ought to matter. You see, I really rather like this wine, with its dark, burnt earth and licorice flavours, but it just doesn't seem very Grenache-y.

Monte La Sarda Garnacha 2009 is a Vino de la Tierra de Bajo Aragon, from near Zaragoza; somewhere in between Rioja territory and the likes of Priorat, in a region where it ought to be too hot and too dry for wine. It's a collaboration between Bodegas Leceranas and Joan Mila, dating to 2005. By only using fruit from vines that are 45 years or older, and consequently having yields restricted to 3.7 tons per hectare, they have arrived at a wine of great concentration.

This is a fairly straightforward wine, which I think ought to be drunk young. It smells dark dry and rich, with lots of fruit which has been generously sprinkled with black pepper and then grilled. To taste, it is darkly fruity, and there's a real big chunk of earthy licorice right in the middle. It gets a little bitter in the finish, but that's probably just the 14.5%ABV. Looking round the web it seems lots of people like it a lot, but I rate it, because it doesn't seem very Grenache-y, sort of good, -3.

I suppose I ought to stop thinking about typicity (of the grape variety), and start wondering about terroir (of Bajo Aragon). There's an interesting project: to drink only wines from Bajo Aragon, and see what it makes of its grapes.


A lovely Porcupine

A full bodied, oily, rich wine from Boekenhoutskloof, the Porcupine Ridge Viognier / Grenache Blanc 08 only comes over to the UK in limited parcels, which is a bit of a shame, as I do believe I could drink a lot of this.

South Africa these days seems to do just as well with Rhône grapes as with the Bordeaux varieties; Marc Kent and Boekenhoutskloof are at the forefront of this trend.

There's a strong spiciness to the nose of this one, along with an oily, mineral character and tropical fruit which is, I think, mango. The palate is full-bodied, not quite dry (as so many ostensibly dry New World wines are), nutty, lemony, and woody. The wine is a very good example of the way producers outside of the Northern Rhône handle Viognier, given that they can never hope to achieve the delicate, vaporous strength of Condrieu.

Porcupine Ridge Viognier / Grenache Blanc 08: somewhere between Very Good and Lovely, 3+ - 4.


Fresh and Tasty and Formerly Fashionable

Yes indeed, it can only be Beaujolais Nouveau. Not quite the first French wine from the 2010 vintage - that would be something white and primeur from Gascogny, I should think - but the first red, and a lovely, traditional, refreshing, all too drinkable glass it is too.

This particular bottling comes from Domaine Brossette, based at Theize, in a district called the Golden Stones. It's a fantastic fresh wine, starting out with loads of bubblegum and banana aromas, although with a little air it becomes more red fruit-y, cherries and raspberries.

Almost without tannins, and decently sharp, it has a lovely flavour of bubblegum, pink Edinburgh rock, and fresh red fruit. Altogether excellent.

Brossette Domaine des Coteaux de Cruix Beaujolais Nouveau 2010. Altogether Excellent = 4(+?).


Glasgow's Whisky Festival

A lovely afternoon, spent in the Arches, sampling my way around some very fine whiskies. The inaugural Glasgow's Whisky Festival was a great opportunity to taste some obscure, rare, hard to get or, frankly, unaffordable drams (fifty year old Speyside anyone?).

As it happens, my favourite whisky of the day was neither old or ridiculously expensive.

The Creative Whisky Company's 4-year old Bunnahabhain was the kind of drink which makes me laugh out loud when I smell it. This doesn't happen often, but it's one of the reasons why booze remains so endlessly fascinating.

Matured in a bourbon cask from 2005 to 2010, this malt is powerful, natural cask strength stuff. The initial nose smells exactly like the dentists, but then a well balanced range of citrus, brine, and spicy wood notes come through.

I had to add water to be able to taste it (57.7% alcohol you see), but when I did I found it to be a lovely smooth salty whisky, with a strong nutty note, like brazil nut toffee. The finish was long and salty. Altogether a fantastic Islay malt, probably the best Bunnahabhain I've yet tasted, and my malt of the Festival.

(Malt of the Festival = 4-5)


Does Typicity Matter?

At a WSET blind tasting tonight three of the wines tasted did not seem to have a clear sense of place about them.

One of them, the Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montmain 05, seemed so far removed from Burgundy I was reaching for Sicily or Sud-Tirol as a place to park it.

For sure, it was a fine glass of wine. A mature nose of vegetal notes, earthy minerality, and a little toffeed sweetness led onto a medium bodied, bone-dry, balanced palate with plenty of green fruit, and a definite sharp stony character.

But, it just didn't seem like Chablis. However I tried, I couldn't find steeliness. Nothing green in the colour. It was perhaps a little unfair to look for raciness in a five year old white wine, but I did look. Alas, in vain.

Later I was complaining about lack of typicity to a non-wine drinking whisky buff, who asked, "does typicity matter as long as it tastes good?".

"Well of course it does", is what I ought to have said. "You wouldn't want me to hold up Benriach Curiositas as a canonical Speyside Malt". Failing to be even remotely as snappy as that, I mumbled something about authenticity and expectations.

But, l'esprit de l'escalier aside, typicity does matter. Which is why this lovely wine scores a rather measly -3.


Ridgeview Merret Fitzrovia 2007

All the best bits of Cremola Foam.

I'm now going to use another 150 words to justify those seven, but really,I ought to just write them out another 21 times.

To start with, I have to deal with the age thing. If you aren't old or Scottish enough to have enjoyed the sharp, pungent fizz and sweet squishy raspberry (ersatz raspberry, I know, but still delicious) of a freshly stirred glass of Cremola on a hot summer's day, well - that doesn't matter, because you can have this.

And then, I wouldn't want Ridgeview to think I was suggesting there was anything artificial or saccharine about this lovely wine. That's why I say, "All the best bits".

And there's more. I found a definite spicy edge to it, which I suppose comes from the one third Pinot Noir. This particular bottle seemed slightly reductive, but that actually added to the impression that I was drinking Cremola, so it's hardly a criticism.

So, 155 words later, let me recommend the Ridgeview Merret Fitvrovia 2007, because it offers all the best bits of Cremola Foam. (All the best bits = -4)


Aberlour a Go-go

Another entertaining tasting at the Bothy, this time, a Sunday afternoon whisky school, with some very interesting food matching going on.

Dalwhinnie 15yo was rather excellent tasted with honeycomb nougat. Ardbeg 10yo went surprisingly well with a mildish remoulade; the horseradish wasn't overly fiery, and the creamy dressing pulled everything together nicely. But the culinary star of the day was Aberlour A'Bunadh batch 31.

A'Bunadh is a true sherry monster, in the best way possible. This batch seems particularly wine-y and fresh - it reminds you that sherry is a wine, and sometimes a rather fruity one. But more than that, and always, A'Bunadh tastes of cherries; sweet red cherries, not the black ones.

So served with a big fat cherry that had been dipped in dark chocolate, the Aberlour was very heaven (very heaven = 5).


Trifecta, apparently

Or what you or I might call a Rhône blend, but to be fair, the quality of the wine is sufficiently high to bear such high-flown winemaker's language.

I'm talking about the McHenry Hohnen 3 Amigos Red 2007, a Western Australian blend of Shiraz, Grenache, and Mataro. It smells like fruit leather, or even fruity leather - really concentrated fruit juice, but with something deeper to back it up. The palate is dry, mid to full bodied and noticeably spicy. This spiciness grows stronger, so that after a few minutes you have a rather delicious mix of dark fruit purée and chilli, with subtle, but grippy, tannins. After being open for a few hours the chili pepper calmed down and the wine was much more balanced, reminding me of Priorat somewhat.

It really is very very moreish indeed, which is a definite good thing. Lately most of the new world reds I've tried have been hard work, what with their biting youthful acidity and overly concentrated fruit, but 3 Amigos is much more civilised, a very tasty 4+.

Three cheers for 3 Amigos, and a fourth cheer for Margaret River.


Taleggio and Grappa

A man who knows about these things suggested to me that Taleggio ought to go well with Grappa. By a handy coincidence, I happened to have both these items to hand.

Now, Taleggio, (which I believe must be the Italian word for Athlete's Foot), is a washed rind cheese made in the region of Milan, and as is typical of such cheeses, the aroma is pretty powerful, sharp, and sweaty, while the taste is mild, very creamy, and nutty. With this particular sample I also noticed a wee fresh green note in the nose, celery or cucumber.

The Grappa, Brotto Grappa di Moscato d'Asti nelle Dolci Colline Astigiane, is made from grapes from hills rather to the West of Milan, but Brotto are based over to the East, in the Veneto. It's a lovely sweet Grappa, not aged, and thus perfectly clear and full of a fine blend of grapey perfume (from the Moscato), quintessence of bitter cloves, a new make spirit character (solvents, nail polish), and a generous dose of what I take to be tannins, from the grape skins and pips, finishing with a touch of camphor. An excellent 4.

Taken together, the sharpness of the cheese's aroma is balanced by the solvent character in the Grappa, and in turn the Grappa is softened by the cheese, so the combined taste is fantastic. But texturally they don't meet at all, remaining completely separate in the mouth. So for flavour, Grappa and Taleggio do very well, but texture lets them down: fairly good, 3+.


Where's the Sherry?

Well who'd have thought it? Mortlach is a fruity whisky.

I tasted this particular bottling (Cadenhead Mortlach 14yo 1992/2006, 46%) blind, and never in a decade would I have picked Mortlach as the source, because, to repeat my initial question, where's the sherry?

Actually, no, don't tell me. Leave it in Spain. Mortlach without sherry influence is a lovely dram, all green apples and highland toffee and angelica and very, very fresh. Also, light and watery - not lacking intensity of flavour, I mean the texture is watery. A breakfast Mortlach, or, (for the more puritanical) an aperitif.

It does say on the bottle that this whisky has been matured in sherry casks, but they must have been very old, for there really isn't any sort of influence on the flavour. And a good thing too, say I. Mortlach 14yo, a very good thing indeed, 4+.


Whither Cragganmore?

I'm not the only one, I think, who has the idea that Cragganmore isn't what it was ten years ago.

My - admittedly not very systematic - impression was that the spirit had become lighter and less intense. Obviously, this called for a taste test, so I rummaged about the interwebs and came up with a Gordon & MacPhail 1969 Cragganmore from the old brown label Connoiseurs Choice series. Conveniently this was bottled at the same 40% as the Official 12 Year Old I compared it with (which was bottled around 2010).

Neither of these is an outstanding dram, although they are both good single malts. The two were pretty similar, unsurprisingly, but I did find that the older bottling had a little more complexity. It seemed to have rather more woody notes, in an elegant sort of a way, and I was pretty sure that there was a touch of smoke about it (although this could be a barrel effect I suppose). On the whole, there wasn't a great deal between them.

In conclusion, I have to say case not proven. And I hereby resolve to drink whisky with a little less cynicism in future.


Comfort Food

If you got into wine when the Australians were selling us bottled sunshine for not much money, then this will probably take you back most beautifully. (Apart from the money bit. Sadly the Australians will require fourteen of your Pommie pounds if you care to try this one, although they will give you a penny back)

Heggies Chardonnay 2008 is a big buttery whoosh of mushroom cream and lemony zing. It's dry, mid-bodied, and not remotely oily, as the nose had implied might be the case. Not a complex wine, but what it offers, it expresses most charmingly. Nearly excellent.



I organised a tasting last month for some folks who wanted a selection of "interesting" wines, rather than any regional or grape theme. We had a great discussion about wine in general, and afterwards one of them sent me a bottle from a producer I haven't tried. So I tried it, purely for the purpose of assessing the wine, of course, no actual hedonistic drinking involved.

The Bradgate Syrah 2007 is a densely purple wine, with the utterly characteristic South African nose of rubbery smoke - oh how I love it. Of course you can't say that when you are selling a wine, so let me add that it's sweetly fruity (plums, I think), a little savoury - like soy - and there's a touch of vanilla structure from the oak barrels.

On the palate it's rich and fairly sweet, again very South African, with smokey notes, a little herbal tobacco, and a touch of chocolate. It has a nicely drying finish, where the fine-grained tannins come through. Altogether good to excellent, 3-4, and by a happy coincidence, soon to be available from Oddbins.


Off to Alloa...

...for a charity fundraising whisky tasting. The six whiskies were all donated, so there was no theme, but some interesting contrasts arose anyway.

Tullibardine was mothballed in 1995 and did not produce whisky again until 2003, when they became independent. They have approached the problem of this gap in production (which leaves them unable to offer a ten year old whisky until 2013) and made a virtue of necessity by presenting the whisky as a Bourbon Cask Edition, which is rather like Hovis offering their bread as the Yeasted Edition. It's a light easy whisky which reminded me of Auchentoshan 10yo, being spirity and sweetly floral. Good, 3+.

Tormore 12yo and Dufftown 12yo (sorry Diageo, Singleton of Dufftown) were both very easy Speysides in the toffee-ish mode, although I did see an interesting herbaceous aftertaste in the Tormore. Bunnahabhain 12yo was also an easy malt, and tonight it seemed maltier than usual for an Islay whisky.

Lagavulin 16yo and Laphroaig Quarter Cask were a fine pairing. The Lagavulin (the oldest standard release of any malt?) is all smoke and brine and intense oily saltiness, but the Quarter Cask has reined in the usual Laphroaig TCP aroma somewhat, perhaps allowing the whisky to appeal to a wider audience. The texture, too, is easier -smoother- than the ten year old. Both these whiskies I rated as excellent, 4 to 4+.

The best description of the night, about the Lagavulin, was, "like a mixture of amyl nitrate, ether and methylated spirits", from a chap who claims that he fuels model airplanes with such a mixture.


Always read the small print... and then disregard it

Tasting the delicious Cuvée Amandine Chablis 08 my first thought was – well actually, my first thought was, “Mmm, this is intense, in an iodic, salty, fish stock way.” And my second thought was, “Ooh, there's an interesting flowery perfume in there, and that iodic element is almost verging on ammoniacal”.

My third thought was, “despite the dry fullish body, and long savoury aftertaste, this wine is not steely”. So it was actually my fourth thought which was, “Hey! the back label says steely”.

Then I looked at the bottle again and it seems the carefully pedantic Oddbins back label writers have in fact made a general observation that Chablis tends to be steely, without actually saying so about the Cuvée Amandine.

I suppose the consumer looks for the word 'steely' on a Chablis label, so you can't blame the labelista, but it's a tiny little bit of a shame, because this lovely wine has plenty going on without needing to be steely. (Delicious and lovely amounts to 4+, by the by).


Beer Night at the Market Gallery

Somehow Eric Steen persuaded everybody that his idea for a Beer Project ought to be part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, which is how I found myself at the Market Gallery on Duke Street, sampling some fine Alloa ales.

Williams Brothers work out of Alloa making a fine range of beers, including some historical oddities like Fraoch (Heather Ale), Ebulum (Elderberry), and Grozet, which is infused with Gooseberries. Made with lager yeast, it's a light soft beer, which seemed quite vegetal to me, as if there might secretly be parsnips in it. There was a nice touch of spice too. Good, -4.

The best beer of the evening, for me, was the Williams Midnight Sun, a black porter style. It had an intense savoury nose, which also reminded me of seashells, warm attic dust, and toasted oats. The palate was dark and creamy, slightly sweet but balanced by good hoppiness, a drying finish, and a suggestion of saltiness. Excellent, 4+.

Gordon Gelsthorpe, brewer, and Des Mulcahy, PR, came along from Williams Bros to present the beers and field the questions from home brewers. A very interesting evening, and I'm looking forward to April 30th when the Beer Project will present a selection of home- and craft-brewed beers. The best of these will be made commercially for a small production run by Williams. I intend to vote with my palate.


Cut Stick Sherry

Palo Cortado is a bit of a rarity in sherry. Generally, once the solera master has set each wine on its course, towards fino or oloroso, that's it.

But occasionally a fino will up and change in some mysterious fashion. The layer of flor which keeps oxygen out and allows the fino to retain all of its initial fresh delicacy dies, and the wine begins to age oxidatively, like an oloroso. If all goes well, you end up with a wine which shows aspects of both fino and oloroso character.

I am happy to report that all has gone well, and the Lustau Dry Old Palo Cortado NV (Marks & Spencer) offers flavours and aromas across the dry sherry spectrum.

It has the intense pungency of a fresh fino - the aldehydic note, not the apples - but at the same time, and in a tidy fashion, the contrasting aromas not fighting each other, it also smells very nutty, with even a little dried fruit character.

Absolutely dry, and light in body, with a clear nutty character giving way to a strong mushroom streak, and finishing slightly salty. And there's a definite edge of aldehyde, too.

The wine really didn't agree with a piece of rocquefort, but nut cake (from Delizique, I think) was a beautiful match. An excellent wine, 4+.


Z is for Zinfandel (just don't mention the Primitivo)

Le Z de l'Arjolle is a mere table wine, not permitted to display its vintage date, obliged to skirt around the edges of Appellation Controllee rules, for it is a Zinfandel (officially Primitivo **ahem** (you have to ask, why, if all the vines are planted on American rootstocks, is it so wrong to have actual American vines?)).

So, Primitivo, from vines sourced from Italy, unofficially the 2007 vintage, and given the full-on Zin treatment by an acolyte of the canonical Californian grape.

So, Z. Is it worth it?

Oh boy yes, - 'tis excellent, 4 - and I drank it too young. It has a strong dark fruit nose, with a distinct rum and raisin element, along with the expected dried figs. It tastes somewhat mellow, but basically a bit sharp, since it could do with more time in bottle. There's a good suggestion of chocolate and orange oil, but I drank it too young. This is a slight problem, since there is but a single hectare in all of France, so there can't be more than, oooh, 5200 bottles left.

If you do obtain some Z, be sure and share it with a cinephile, just for the creaking wordplay that the finishing of the bottle will engender.


The Fox has changed his spots

There really is quite a lot of wine out there. You can't track every wine through every vintage. Sometimes this throws up surprises.

It's two years, and two vintages, since I have tasted d'Arenberg's Feral Fox Pinot Noir, and I was really rather surprised by the way it has changed. It is much, much lighter than in the past. I followed this wine from the 2002 to 2006 vintage without seeing any change from the rich, concentrated, McLaren Vale style - the anti-Burgundy, as it were.

Savoury - soy, minerals, stones - and also juicy like cherries, the 2008 vintage is still a straightforward sort of a Pinot, but much less concentrated than the 2006 was. I wasn't alone in this judgement, B said so too.

I don't think the wine is worse, or better, for the change (it's a relaxed juicy, 3+), but it is surprising, and I can imagine that people who liked it in the past might be disappointed by this year's version.


Where there's life...

... there's pleasure.

In this case, it was the second half of a bottle of d'Orschwihr Bollenberg Riesling '08 which I had left in the fridge for a couple of days. The life in it was expressed as a lovely tension, a pull back and forth between sweet and dry, from lime-splashed minerality to soft honey, an excellent 4.

On the following night the wine was still there, if quieter, but very refreshing, suggestive of the moist smell of a damp but sunny glade early in the morning.

Another day later and there was only a one-dimensional grapefruity sourness - the genie had fled the bottle: no life, and pleasure only in using the last half glass to enhance a tomato sauce.

So, lesson learnt, I shan't leave Riesling any longer than three days. Or perhaps I shall. After all, to be entertained by the same wine for four days is pretty good value for money, don't you think?

( Interesting aside. d'Orschwihr's website says the 2007 Bollenberg Riesling is from a site of 1.5 hectares yielding 15 hectolitres per hectare. Assuming that the 2008 vintage is the same there were only, hmmm, 2800 bottles made. So if you like the sound of this one, the answer is probably, "tough cheese".)


Dill pickle is tasty...

... but it's even tastier when it's actually tequila which manages to smell of dill, and popcorn, and bubblegum, and grappa.

At a Bibendum tasting a very persuasive chap called Will was holding forth in barnstorming fashion about "the best tequila in the world". I was enjoying a senescent champagne (Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 95), but so persuasive was he that I tried the El Tesoro Silver, then the Reposado, then the Añejo, and lo, I was converted. Well, converted is too strong a word, since I already like grappa, but certainly I was mightily impressed.

These are complex spirits, with great depth of flavour, and some really quite unusual flavours at that. Dill I have already mentioned, but what about freshly toasted cumin, greenness, and even a muscat grape character? Quite lovely, and all wrapped up in a delicate texture, with no harshness. I wonder if they would go with gherkins....


Pink, Fizzy, and English. Yum

As I may have mentioned, TallAsAVan is no longer Malbecista-in-Chief. These days, it seems, he takes a wider view, if the bottles he left with us on his last visit are a guide.

And so to England, in the shape of Chapel Down Vintage Reserve English Rose (although I Swear I couldn't see a vintage date anywhere on the bottle)

It's a very pretty wine, pale salmon pink, with a slightly sweet nose which hints at sweet spices, in the same way that certain champagnes are spicy. I like the creamy mousse very much, and there is a lovely coppery or mineral flavour in there.

My rather disparaging tasting note says, "not quite the depth of good champagne but v good fizz". This is harsh; it is the best English fizz I've yet tasted, and a definite excellent, 4.


I'm a drink you don't meet every day

It's a malt whisky - except it ain't, yet. Abhainn Dearg, one of the new breed of craft distlleries (trans: small, hand-made, local), have just released a limited quantity of spirit. Legally, it won't be whisky until late in 2011.

I tasted it at McSorley's, straight from a 30 litre oloroso sherry cask. "Spirit of Lewis" is a complex malt, with an interesting back and forth of flavours. The texture is light and airy - not watery, but airy, like good Condrieu. It is also very like grappa, very spirity, but there is also a big whack of honey and nougat, and a little milk chocolate.

The palate is delicate. There's green leafy, cigar, seashells, and plenty of sweetness. With water it moves from grappa towards a malty whisky character. I couldn't find any peat in it. In conclusion it is a good one (good one = 4+), and already very drinkable, especially compared with other new make spirits I have tried.

I tried to describe it to someone, and they said, "so it's like Jura then", but I think a better comparison, assuming a few years in cask, would be to Abunadh.


Sweet Wine Wednesday # 11

Winemakers do some odd things, but occasionally you taste the result and wonder why everyone isn't doing likewise.

Larry Brooks at Marmesa Vineyards in the Central Coast region of California decided that, ahead of the main harvest, he would go through the Pinot Noir picking the botrytised grapes and then make them into a sweet wine.

Marmesa Red Harvest Dessert Pinot Noir 2006 is a beautiful dusky rose-pink colour. It smells fantastic - tea and roses and freshness, and tastes just as good. There's a buttery texture to it, and tangy oranges into orange/lime marmalade. The 18% residual sugar - that's more than many Tokays - is well balanced with acidity. Altogether a fantastic wine. (fantastic = 4++(-5?), by the by)

We also tasted a Spanish oddity. Tasted blind I took it for some sort of sherry but in fact the Reserva Especial de Rotllan Torra 12anys comes from the north-east of the country, from Priorat. It's made from Garnacha and Carignan, aged in ancient barrels for four years and then in glass bonbons for another eight, estufagem style ("changes in temerature rust and produce the mature wine"). Yes, it does say 'rust'.

It has a complex nose, strongly sherried or rancio, with elements of cardamom spice alongside lanolin or Nivea. The palate is bone dry and sour green citrus, almost tamarind-sour. You might distinguish it from sherry by noting that it isn't quite as bracing. Not bracing, but still an excellent 4+.


Chile in Helensburgh

Off to a formal tasting for a very knowledgeable group, in the grand surroundings of the Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club.

It became apparent early on that they were really quite traditional in their tastes, falling into two camps, Classic French and Beefy Oz, with only one kindly soul declaring themselves in favour of the Terra Andina Carmenère Rosé, which is a shame, for it is a lovely wine really, refreshingly sharp, water-light, and showing the traditional strawbs-n-cream flavours.

The other Carmenère of the evening was from the De Martino Legado range, and red of hue rather than pink. It is such a Chilean wine, with an attractive green herb streak running under the sweet fruit and cedary woodiness. This was the leader in the Classic French camp.

The Beefy Oz brigade were made happy by the pouring of the Peñalolen Cabernet, from Quebrada de Macúl, which this year seems softer than previously, as if 2007, bruited by the Chileans as a perfect Cabernet year, was perhaps too kind to the Peñalolen grapes. Does it make sense to talk about a languid Cabernet?

Both groups enjoyed the Ocio Pinot Noir, the cream of the quintessence of Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Casablanca. The Beefy squad because of the sheer concentration to be found in the wine, and the Francophiles because it is clearly a classy, complex wine, well worth storing for the next ten years. And I enjoyed it because it has that shiny, expensive-marine-varnish aroma. A rare perfume, but always worth seeking out, oh yeah.


Another New Year,..

...another World of Wine. With a very enthusiastic group of tasters this time, and the relaxed surroundings of McPhabbs (comfy chairs already) really helps.

Tonight's star turn was the Ribbonwood Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand - everybody liked it. A soft, medium bodied wine with a nicely rounded array of cherryish fruit flavours and an interesting to and fro between savoury and sweet. There's a hint of smoke, which makes the sweetness resemble bacon, as well as occasional touches of vegetal stinkiness.

It is made by Framingham, a winery whose first vintage dates to 1994. You can find it in your local Oddbins, and is, I think, really rather good (-4).


The Best of 2009

After discovering, last time, that my memory of the year's best wines didn't quite match up to how I had scored them, I cast my net a little wider, paid less attention to scores, and came up with a list of about sixty wines from nine hundred tasting notes.

It is a fairly diverse selection, weighted towards France and Australia (the Oddbins bias, I suppose). So, passing by the Domaine d'Ardhuy Clos de Langres '05 and the Hiru 3 Racimos Rioja '03, fondly smiling at the memory of the Sizeranne '99, and pausing to be amazed once again by the flavours in the Dr Bürklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Rechbächel R Riesling '90, here are my top two for 2009.

Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut 1999. If I were a rich man I would drink champagne every day, and if I were still richer then I would drink vintage L-P. It has the intensity of flavour, the lightness of touch, the delicate rasping mousse so reminiscent of a gentle cat's tongue, and the sheer blooming deliciousness that, all taken together, discreetly scream, “Drink me. Here. Now”.

I was tipped off about my other choice, the Innocenti Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004, by a chap who, if he were a rich man, would drink classed growth claret every day (Mouton, if I recall correctly), with occasional forays into vino like this one, for indeed it is very claret-like. It has structure without being harshly tannic; there is complexity, with layers of flavour weaving back and forth; there is a strong fresh-earth-and-mushroom aroma; but best of all, it has the delicate dark floral top note I often see in, yes indeedy, classed growth clarets. Actually no, best of all is the price - only eighteen pounds in your local Oddbins. Assuming, of course, they haven't hidden it all away for themselves...