Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blend your way out of a corner

First things first. Don't try this at home. On the assumption that you follow the Huckleberry Finn principle and do the opposite of what I suggest, let's proceed. Am off to Spain tomorrow for a trip around Galicia - I'm expecting a version of Catalonia but with more in-breeding and more drinkable wines...

As a farewell meal, and to celebrate the two bairns receiving especially complimentary school reports, we spent an afternoon trudging around for a new curtain pole and then going to watch Kung Fu Panda - 5/10, some funny bits but very crap philosophically in that you-have-the-power-within-you type of way. On return Chez De Bois, it was already early evening, so I hastily bunged some chicken bits, chopped onions, garlic, herbs etc. into a very hot oven - OK, as hot as a built-in Whirlpool will manage - before proceeding to mount the curtain pole - desist with your fnarr, fnarr's. An hour later, the pole and the chook were both ready, but I'd forgotten to get something to drink. First port of call was Elio Grasso Gavarini Langhe Nebbiolo 2006. Unoaked quasi-Barolo, from one of Piedmont's top estates. Sadly not the right choice, at least for the occasion. With a little more persuasion, it began to show lovely wild, ferrous yet shy flavours, and the promise of further pleasures for the patient, but straight from the cellar, it was a sulky adolescent.

Next try, South Australia, and Noon Eclipse 1998. I know, a massive change of tack. But I remember visiting McLaren Vale in 1999 when I was the guest judge at the regional show there and being very impressed by Master of Wine Drew Noon's rich yet subtle reds. He even featured in my speech at the judge's dinner - I'm afraid I sang, 'Drew Noon, you saw me standing alone...' On return to blighty, bought a mixed case of 1998 Noon reds (Isabella's birth year) and I think this is the first I've uncorked (and yes, I bought them before Parker showered them with points). And a lovely wine it is too, rich, but not one of those fruit bombs, lush in the right places, but with genuine terroir characters emerging. Full of those slightly ever-so-minty, tar-like edges that many beefier Aussie reds acquire with time, and very much fighting fit on its 10th birthday. And yet... I don't know what was the problem, but it just didn't Do The Do with the chicken.

And so the blend was born. The Nebbiolo was young, perfumed, and gawky, the Eclipse more bumptious, yet still with fine bone structure beneath it's larger exterior. Both had a tar-like edge, neither was a bimbo. And the blend? The 50-50 mix that is fuelling this post seems to extract all the fine points of each wine. It has the vigour, perfume and ferrous edge of the Grasso, plus the earthier, plusher liquorice edges of the Noon. A lovely combination that tonight at least - and this is after giving both constituents a chance to open up and show more of their true colours - is better than the sum of the parts.

But as I said at the start, DON'T try this at home

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brazil - promising wine, shame about the name...

Brazil, or for those of a Latino bent Brasil. Land of carnival, poetic football and strange body hair arrangements. Winewise, it's so far not made the same degree of splash as its fellow South Americans Chile and Argentina. Even Uruguayan wines are easier to track down. But Pele's homeland offers some surprisingly good grog. 'No we don't do two harvests a year,' I was told in no uncertain terms at the recent London Wine Fair by one of the country's many impossibly gorgeous, doe-eyed beauties. 'They only do that in the north.' And it's true. The climate is such in the tropical reaches of northern Brazil that there's not much difference between the seasons. Clever farmers can irrigate their vines in such a way that they do get two crops a year - five in two years, if they really go for it.

But further south, grape growing is far more conventional, and there are a number of producers whose wines are seriously tasty. Names to look out for are Salton (not to be confused with Boots' sun-tan lotion...), Lidio Carraro and Miolo. And it's a Miolo wine that's in the glass in front of me. No, it's not the Merlot, which could compete with some rather more rarefied Merlots from other parts of the world. Nor is it the elegant Bordeaux lookalike RAR. And it's not the Quinta do Seival, made from the Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz. But this 2005 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat is still very attractive, with juicy berry fruit and something of the cherry and chocolate dryness of Tannat lurking in the background. The only carp I have about it is the name. You want a name something that speaks of a dynamic, passionate young country, a name as sexy and svelte as Gisele Bundchen, as lively as the Mardi Gras, a name like....Gran. That's right, Gran. GRAN?!? Never mind Gisele, Gran puts you more in mind of Liz Smith.... So Miolo, tasty wine, fully deserving a wider audience, but as far as the moniker is concerned, you need to go back to the drawing board.

And for the rest of you, the place to find some of the excellent Miolo reds in the UK is through Coe Vintners.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Coo-ee Pouilly

'Would your mum like this?'

Jill's mum is lovely, but where wine is concerned, she doesn't stray too far beyond the safe haven of cheap new World Chardonnay. But New World Chardonnay isn't what it was. Where once it could be caricatured as the juice from tinned fruit cocktail (the sort that had ONE oddly coloured, peculiarly small cherry in it) infused with a couple of 2-by-4's, today there seems to be a welcome move towards wines that are lighter and fresher, less oaky but more drinkable. The sort of wine I was supping tonight, in fact. Only this wasn't New World Chardonnay, it was a white Burgundy in the shape of the 2007 Domaine Cordier Mâcon Terroir de Charnay (as you'd pronounce 'Chardonnay' after a few glasses too many). Delicious, moreish wine, lively and zesty, and with a bit of a story to tell beyond the 'I'm a lovely apple-y wine' intro. Under a tenner at Majestic - a good price for a tasty wine from a star producer.

For me the Mâconnais is a happy-hunting ground for those looking for a halfway house between stereotypical New World and Old World Chardonnay. When the winemaker gets it right - and increasing numbers do - it's ripe, but it doesn't stray into overripeness, it's fruity but it's not JUST fruity, and it's complex without being too bookish. Spurred on by the Cordier wine, I delived in the cellar and found a Château des Rontets 2000 Pouilly-Fuissé Clos Varambon. This is where Mâconnais Chardonnay - and Pouilly-Fuissé is the top spot in the Mâconnais - differs from most New World Chardonnay. The wine was approaching its eighth birthday in vigorous middle age, still fruity, but with more interesting nutty notes on top of the classic apple crumble and quince flavours, and with an almost briny edge - the fact that the last glass tasted better than the first suggested that it still had plenty of life ahead of it. The excellent Vine Trail stocks younger vintages

I have a strong feeling that my mother in law would have loved both wines, probably the zippier Cordier before the ever-so-slightly louche Rontets, but she wasn't here, and the assembled company haven't even leave her any dregs to try tomorrow. Sorry Beryl, have to save your conversion to the Burgundian cause for another day.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


The Alexei Sayle line is, 'Is it me, or is it bald, fat and Scouse in here?'

The Simon Woods line is, 'Is it me, or are people missing the point in giving info on wines to normal people?'

Let's transfer a typical spiel into a different genre...

'This hand-crafted cheese comes from Daisy and Annabel, two five-year-old Fresians who graze on south-west facing slopes of rye, vetch and wheatgrass at altitudes between 1000m and 1200m in the French Alps. They are milked in the state-of-the-art dairy at 5am and their milk is then stirred for ten minutes anti-clockwise before rennet (sourced from from the stomach of Daisy's now-deceased daughter Buttercup) and the juice of two organic Valencian limes is added. The mixture is then stored in a new Italian stainless steel bucket for two hours etc. etc.'

Is it any wonder that many people just flit past the wine coverage in mags and newspapers?