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".)