All posts by Pieter

Fairtrade Fortnight Tasting

When I started thinking about a Fairtrade tasting, the idea was to get as much wine from the Fairtrade ranges as possible, but it even surprised me how extensive this range has become. So for the purpose of this post I only looked at what supermarkets are offering as part of their own labels. The Coop, always a bit of a front runner when it comes to Fairtrade, still has a very extensive range, with particularly strong offerings from Argentina and South Africa. Sainsbury’s was another retailer with a pretty good selection of Fairtrade wines under their own label, particularly from South Africa. At Tesco I only found one white and one red wine in their own label range both of which were from Argentina and Asda didn’t have any. Both supermarkets do offer Fairtrade wines from a variety of producers such as Stellar Organics, Fairhills and Six Hats though.

Ultimately the proof is in the wine and having tasted through a large selection, By and large I am quite impressed with the offering from the Coop. The wines are dependable, particularly those from Argentina. Sainsbury’s is also offering a fairly extensive selection with more of a focus on South Africa. The premium products in the ‘Taste The Difference’ range in particular are very good. I think these wines are really worth their price tag so pick one up with your coffee and chocolates in the next couple of weeks, and support a worthwhile cause.


 

Coop Fairtrade Torrontes-Chardonnay 2010 – Famatina Valley, Argentina (Coop – £4.49)

Coop’s Fairtrade offering from Argentina is pretty strong with all wines produced by the La Riojana cooperative. I quite liked this very drinkable number. I thought it was a very characterful wine for what is the lowest priced one in the range. A fresh, light floral nose with some peach and elderflower. Melon and zesty lemony freshness on the palate. Don’t expect a complex wine but for the price, I can’t fault it.

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Fairtrade Wild Valley Chenin Blanc 2010 Wellington, South Africa(Sainsbury’s – £7.99 reduced to £5.99 until 22nd March)

New to Sainsbury’s list is this expressive Chenin Blanc produced by the Bosman Family Vineyards. A ripe, tropical nose showing pineapple and guava. Lovely and clean on the palate with zesty citrus fruit and fresh apples. Very refreshing and lively. Particularly at £5.99 this is a great value white. The same producer is also behind the Cabernet Sauvignon in this range. It’s a couple of pounds more expensive but it is a good, expressive red wine.

Coop Fairtrade Organic Malbec Reserve 2009 – Famatina Valley, Argentina (Coop – £6.99)

Lovely deep, glossy colour. Blackberry, vanilla and chocolates, with a slight smokiness on the nose. A full bodied wine with velvety tannins. Intense blackberry, cherry and spicy warmth owing to a bit of oak ageing, with a satisfying length. A nice winter warmer while it is still cold outside. I tasted this against Tesco’s Fairtrade Malbec 2010, which is 50 pence cheaper and also nice, but I found the Coop one to be a bit more complex and warming. Perhaps keep Tesco’s Malbec for the warmer days and the barbecue

Disney and Champagne

It is mid-October and we are spending a mid-week in northern France with the family. To be more specific, we’re staying in the the Davey Crockett Lodge about 10 minutes drive away from Disneyland Paris. The playful set-up of the ‘log cabins’ dotted around the woodlands take you away from the hustle and bustle of the parks itself and is a great alternative for families who want to go self-catering. Having a car with you is an absolute necessity, but taking the car is no punishment when you realise the other ‘big attraction’ on the doorstep; the city of Reims, heart of the Champagne region.

A few of us adults took an afternoon out of the frantic pace that is Disneyland and lavished in an altogether more sedate pace of talking and tasting ‘Champagne’.

The set for the afternoon was the medium-sized house of Henriot and our lovely host, Béatrice made us feel instantly welcome. She talked through the intricacies of the house and its history (unsurprisingly this involves a widow, a given in Champagne it seems) and she introduced us to three of the Champagnes. First up was the Henriot Rosé Brut, an unbelievably soft and elegant wine. The dosage is a bit higher than with the whites at around 10 grams per litre but it accentuates the strawberry fruitiness and balsamic notes.

Next up was the Henriot Brut Souverain. This is an almost 50/50 split of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Henriot tends to use very little or no Pinot Meunier, preferring the more slowly maturing Pinot Noir instead. The wine is fresh and lemony, yet creamy, very mineral, making it pure and clean. But it has richness all the same.

The final wine in the trio was the Henriot Blanc de Blancs. As the name indicates this is 100% Chardonnay. The four years of maturation give it a rich complex nose that’s at once floral and honeyed. Toasted brioche with honey is what sprang to mind for me. The palate is lively and is showing a sweet fruitiness reminiscent of quince jelly. This has to be one of my favourite Blanc de Blancs wines. Before serving us the Blanc de Blancs Béatrice decanted the bottle into a chilled, smooth decanter, a first for me. It may have been pure suggestion but the Champagne seemed very happy.

Béatrice then suggested we go down into the cellars for a tour and had a treat in store once we were down there. A bottle of the Henriot ’98 vintage was waiting for us there and this is where taking the car became punishment for me, the driver, as I had to severely limit myself, while the others enjoyed the experience. Well, someone has to.

Pieter meets The Gunner

Probably not the world’s biggest Sauvignon Blanc fan, I often find it lacks the interest and complexity to get me really excited, but there are exceptions. And a few weeks ago at a dinner at Gandolfi Fish in Glasgow, I came across one of the best examples I have tasted in a long time. And it was neither Sancerre, nor Marlborough but hailed from Elgin in South Africa. Iona the wine in question is a winery owned by Andrew Gunn since the mid-90’s. 

Andrew “The Gunner” Gunn and Pieter.

Andrew, a very tall man who can trace his roots to Scotland, was looking for a change from his career as a medical engineer and found an old apple farm in Elgin. He realised quickly that the old apple orchard wasn’t going to sustain him and his family so he decided to plant vines instead. Having travelled extensively through the South African wine regions of the day, Andrew felt the slightly cooler climate of Elgin at an altitude of 450 metres was perfect for growing grapes and Sauvignon Blanc in particular. Around 70% of his production is made up of the grape, which achieves a perfect balance of ripeness and alcohol due to the long ripening season. Andrew calls this optimum physiological ripeness, and the balance this creates is what this wine is all about. It is closer in style to the mineral Sancerre than the abundance of tropical fruit flavours you might expect from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Mineral is a slightly woolly term but you get what I mean when you taste this. It is the aroma you get from soil, freshly rained on stones or even salt. The flinty character in Sauvignon Blanc is often mentioned as a mineral character. Together with the fairly brisk acidity it gives a distinctive and dry feel to the palate which is refreshing and lively at the same time as showing great purity of flavour.

The wine:

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Elgin, South Africa

So here we go with our mineral, flinty nose that has a floral character and slight herbaceousness along the Sancerre style. And then the ripe fruit takes over. Not tropical but more zesty citrus fruit, gooseberry and stonefruit characters. The wine is generously mouth filling with a lively, dry and pure finish. This superbly balanced wine was a joy to taste on its own but when it was paired with a Ballotine of Scottish Salmon with cucumber, horseradish creme and a beetroot reduction it really came to life. I’m sure a pairing with a goat’s cheese tartlet would be equally good but make it something creamy as it will find a perfect balance with the dry and zesty character of the wine.

Gandolfi have this wine on the list and sell all their listed wines retail as well, so even more excuse to pop in now.

Andrew’s other wines are pretty exciting too but are much more difficult to get hold off. Gandolfi Fish expertly matched various dishes to some of these extraordinary wines. The almost Burgundian 2009 Chardonnay was matched with a Confit of chicken, baby leek and black truffle terrine served with toasted spelt bread which was a gorgeous combination.

Pan roasted lamb chop with a potato millefeuille, wilted spinach, stilton and port sauce was matched to the Gunnar 2005, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. It had a deep smoky nose and lovely ripe fruit on the palate. Again, I couldn’t fault the combination with the food.

The next course had to match with the Syrah 2007, deliberately using the French spelling indicating a more old-world approach to Syrah. Still, it was a big wine with big flavours and exactly what was needed with the Slow braised shoulder of ‘Venison Wellington’ with fondant potato, Scottish girolles and juniper jus.

 

The finale was a Plum and frangipane upside down cake with crème anglaise which was paired with Andrew’s dessert wine a Noble Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Delicious hazelnut, orange and honey with plenty of zesty flavours to balance the sweetness of both the wine and dessert.

This was the first time I tasted any of the Iona wines but it certainly won’t be my last. Judging by the reactions on the night, I somehow doubt I am alone in this.