Fine Wine. But not as we know it…

I was working with one of my clients at the Cross Stobs Bottle Shop last night. Surely being surrounded by wine should be enough to provide plenty of inspiration. I wanted to pick out a couple of wines I will be using in a tasting next week and decided to go for a new wine, the La Multa Blanca, Old Vine Garnacha.

The red version of this wine has been one of my longstanding favourites and so far I’ve had a very enthusiastic response to the white as well.

It smells peachy with a blossom-like character. Fairly full-bodied, peachy flavour, slightly honeyed and pretty complex, particularly for the money (just under £8). The finish is dry and fresh, leaving you craving the next sip.

La Multa is Spanish for ‘the fine’ and the label has that semi-official look of one too many parking fines, acquired by Scottish winemaker Norrel Robertson in the course of his winemaker travels. He is known as ‘El Escoces Volante’ (Flying Scotsman) and has found his niche with old vine Garnacha in Spain, particularly in Calatayud. His wines all have that sumptuous and smooth, easy-going character and at the upper end the El Puño is worth looking out for.

Give it a go, you’ll not be disappointed. Get your hands on it here. Anyway, must run, ahem, literally!

 

Hoping for a Miracle

As I struggle to get going on my next run for the 5×50 Challenge (and it’s only day 4!) I’m looking for a wine that can provide a real ‘pick-me-up’. Something with a spring-like aroma and a fresh, zesty taste. I opt for wine I often use in the Wine Unearthed workshops as the opening gambit.

The Amalaya Torrontes from Argentina has a wonderful balance. Torrontes can get a bit big and blowsy but this one is all ripe citrus with a subtle elderflower scent. The grapes are grown at altitude in an area called Salta, and the vineyards are amongst the highest in the world. This has quite a dramatic effect on the climate and does wonders for the resulting grapes. Dry, desert-like conditions and a big variation between day and night temperatures lengthen the ripening season giving real depth of character to the grapes. The other reason this wine has such a delicate balance of ripe grapefruit and zesty freshness is the addition of about 15% Riesling to the blend, giving it a wonderfully fresh finish.

The word Amalaya comes from an old indigenous Andean language and means ‘hope for a miracle’. That seems very appropriate under the circumstances and I keep hoping for a miracle to see me through 46 more days of keeping the legs as well as the inspiration going.

Find your local stockist here and expect to pay around £9.

Finding Value

Day 3 of the 5×50 challenge and I’m feeling the excesses of the Easter weekend as I complete my run slightly more sluggish than I should. Last night’s tasting with the Cafe Gandolfi wine club gives me plenty to choose from but the red wine that won the day reminds me of a piece of advice I regularly give to wine consumers at my tastings, how to find value in your wine purchases.

Image courtesy of BBR

The winning wine is a rather beautiful bottle of Cotes du Rhone Villages. It may not sound that special at first but this is one of those wines that reinforces my advice. It centres around paying a bit more for a lesser name. This wine retails around £12-£15 which is quite steep for a Cotes du Rhone. It is an indication we are dealing with a wine that is likely to deliver more than your basic plonk. Now think about spending £10 or £15 on a Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s a very popular wine from the appellation that finds itself right in the middle of the Cotes du Rhone area. However, with its elevated name it attracts a considerable premium, so your Chateauneuf is at the bottom end of the price range. In short, unless you’re willing to pay a decent price for Chateauneuf, you’re much better spending your £12 on a good Cotes du Rhone. It means you’re paying top end for that name and that should give you a cracking wine.

The proof was definitely in the tasting with this wine and if you want to try it for yourself, Domaine de la Renjarde, Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux 2010 is all ripe fruit and spice and quite structured, which makes it very food friendly. A nice hearty stew or a juicy steak. It is available from BBR or, if you’re in Glasgow, the wine is April’s wine of the month in Cafe Gandolfi.

A is for Albariño

As I’m making my way through a sunny Glasgow Green on my second day of the 5×50 Challenge, thoughts turn to the next wine to review. I’m out in shorts and t-shirt, the sun seemed quite warm enough when I was indoors, but now I wish I put on an extra layer as the wind is quite a bit colder than I had anticipated. The fact everyone else seems to be wearing polar outfits should have been a hint.

Albariño on the vine. Image courtesy of Bodegas Fillaboa.

That feeling of spring in the air, with a bracing grip of the remnants of winter makes me think of Albariño. The grape variety is largely grown in Galicia in North West Spain (and in Northern Portugal as Alvarinho), a corner of the world where you might perhaps expect grapes to be super ripe with intense, tropical flavours. Not so Albariño. Galicia is heavily influenced by the Atlantic and that can give a chill to the weather that makes the ripening season longer. Albariño has that bracing character of high acidity, a good dose of ripe, yet fresh citrus fruit, can have a distinct floral edge and a crisp, dry finish, which can sometimes be a little on the bitter side. It’s those characters that make it a perfect seafood wine, particularly scallops and oysters or something like a ceviche.

A couple of weeks ago I managed to taste a dozen or so different Albariños, most of them pretty good. That makes it easy for me to recommend them. Pay around a tenner and you’ll more than likely get a decent one. The one that stood out for me is a bit more expensive but then I did write down ‘delicious’ as my tasting note. The Fillaboa 2011 is made by Gonzalez Byass and retails for around £15, although it doesn’t seem widely available in the UK (yet?).

Coming Home to Port

Happy Easter! I’ve just completed my first 5k of many more to come over the next 50 days. After a rather late night it was quite refreshing to get out in the spring sun even though the temperature still isn’t exactly warm. Yesterday involved a lot of fruit wine tasting at the Cairn O’Mohr winery in Perthshire. Quite a baffling range of different fruits, leaves and flowers get turned into the varying concoctions and the place just oozes quirkiness and fun. Ron, the founder and owner took us round and showed us where he grows the elderflowers and berries. He’s full of great stories and I will do a more detailed blog on this soon.

If you ever find yourself in Perthshire, between Perth and Dundee, go and see them.

We then popped into Gleneagles where I used to work back in the days, longer ago than I care to admit! A very juicy ribeye was washed down with a taster of Primitivo and a delicious Cannonau from Sardinia before heading home to some cheese and Port. And it’s that Port I’m choosing as my wine for today. The Fonseca ‘Terra Prima’ is an utterly delicious reserve Port made using organic grapes. The fruit is juicy, concentrated and jammy. And at around £16 a bottle it is amazing value too. You’ll probably need to head to your independent specialist for this one. If you’re in Glasgow go to the Good Spirits Co in Bath Street.

Keep on Running

At the risk of everyone starting to call me Forrest, I’ve yet again signed up for the 5×50 Challenge. I love running and love this challenge because it encourages everyone to get off the sofa, join and resolve to run, walk, jog, cycle 5 kilometres per day for 50 days. I did it back in the autumn last year and can’t wait to get started on the next instalment on Easter Sunday.

Trusty trainers ready for another challenge.
Trainers might need a polish.

On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like that much but when you’re doing this every day it makes a huge difference, but it’s also a tough challenge. I had quite a few days on the previous one where my body just didn’t want to go anymore but, mind over matter, you get out and get going and come back feeling better for it.

One of my other challenges is sharing some of the wonderful wines I taste on a weekly basis online, on this blog. Sometimes I just lack the motivation to write or say something meaningful, so in tandem with the running challenge I’m going to review 50 wines over the course of the 50 days right here. Hopefully they are going to span the weird and wonderful, the great and, perhaps, the not so great.

Wine Trade folks, if you want to help and you want me to review your wine, please get in touch! But at the very least, if you’re reading this, why not sign up for the challenge yourself? It may just change your life!

And please, drink responsibly!

 

Update 28 March:

I’ve decided the wine review challenge will now also have to cover 50 grape varieties. That should make for a very varied bunch.

 

Corked Wine and Cling Film

Opening a bottle of wine and finding it is corked is hugely frustrating. The smell of damp cardboard, or as they like to say in Scotland, that ‘fusty’ smell is horrible and ruins the wine. I know a lot of effort has gone in trying to eradicate this problem, but I still come across it far too often.

Over the past few months a number of different people mentioned on Twitter that you can ‘save’ a bottle of wine by decanting it and stuffing cling film into the decanter. The cling film somehow is supposed to absorb the cork taint and leave the wine clean as a whistle. When I came across a corked bottle the other day I was about to angrily pour the foul-smelling contents down the drain, but just then it came to me that cling film could be my saviour.

Want to know what happened?

Wines of Rhone Valley – Paul Jaboulet

There are some names in the world of wine that everyone seems to know. I’m never quite sure if that is because they are very well-known or because I experienced the wines very early on in my career. Paul Jaboulet is one such name. I remember studying the wines of the northern Rhone valley at the Hotelschool and some of the Jaboulet wines ended up being tasted as benchmark wines of the style. I don’t think we had ‘La Chapelle’, more likely a Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle has always been expensive, one of those top of the range, luxury wines, coming from the best sites on the hill of Hermitage. That’s no different today. In fact, each bottle comes with a special card containing a code which allows access to a VIP part of the website to enhance the exclusive experience. I bet they didn’t have that back in 1834 when Antoine Jaboulet established the first vineyards on the slopes of the Hermitage.

These days Paul Jaboulet Aîné, to give it its full name, is owned by the Frey family, who also make wine in Bordeaux and Champagne. Caroline Frey took over as winemaker in 2006 and she produces a wide range of wines, from both the Southern and Northern Rhone. Wines like the popular Parallèle 45 provide an introduction to Cotes du Rhone with a traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah for example. But the domaine’s history lies further north and with the Syrah variety in particular. And it was those wines we concentrated on during a tasting of the wines with Marie Cordonnier, Paul Jaboulet’s export director. I had a quick chat with her on video and asked her to pick one wine we could discuss. It may seem obvious to go for the luxury end and pick ‘La Chapelle’ but I wanted something a bit more down to earth. Marie picked the Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage 2007. The reason is quite simple, it’s a very tasty wine, silky smooth, ripe fruit and a bit of an earthy edge. But these are also the first vineyards the Jaboulet family ever owned, so in effect this is where it all started.

We managed to taste a few others as well though. I can’t say I have much experience of the white wines from the Northern Rhone. Typical grape varieties are Marsanne and Roussanne for the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage and Viognier for the Condrieu. For some reason I expected these wines to be bigger, but a couple of times I wrote down ‘delicate’. I liked the ‘delicate’, slightly floral Marsanne/Roussanne blend ‘Mule Blanche’ from Crozes-Hermitage. Mule Blanche means white ass (as in donkey!). It is another of the older vineyards so named because in the early days the hardy donkeys were regularly used as pack animals in the vineyards.

The other wine that really floated my boat was the Cornas Grandes Terrasses 2009. A lovely warm, spicy nose, tasting of sweet black fruit and cocoa powder. As I’m a cheapskate I would chose this wine or the Domaine de Thalabert over the Hermitage La Chapelle. At around about the thirty pound mark for these wines I could get almost six bottles for one of La Chapelle. Only thing is, I really wanted to see what’s going on in the VIP section of the website. I wonder if there is a dress code?

 

The Scottish Connection

Food, Fun & Fizz – Burns in Love!

Wedged firmly between Burns Night and Valentines, the twain did meet in a very special Scottish food & wine tasting in Glasgow on February 6th. In conjunction with Brenda Anderson from Tasting Scotland we showcased Scotland’s infinite variety of produce while matching this with some superb wines from around the world that can trace their proudly Scottish roots.

When I started researching this tasting I was amazed by the sheer amount of wine I could chose from. The Scots really do get out there, making wine from Spain, to New Zealand, from Australia to South Africa and even a little in Scotland itself.

Kicking off the love was a Scottish Sparkling Strawberry wine from the quirky Cairn O’Mohr winery, made using local Perthshire strawberries. The medium-sweet fruity character makes it very easy drinking, which means you can have it on its own or pair it with lighter, fruit-based desserts.

The seven-stage menu provided plenty of opportunity to sample Scotland’s produce.

 

Some hae (smoked) meat

A taste of Smoked Beef & Smoked Venison from the Rannoch Smokery

These cold smoked meats call for quite a powerful wine and I chose the white Huia Gewürztraminer, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, (£14) with its pungent nose and spicy character. It is rich and creamy enough to stand up to the food. The owners of the winery, Claire and Mike Allan make some very characterful wines and can trace their roots back to Scotland.

The La Multa Old Vine Garnacha (£8) is made by Scotsman Norrel Robertson MW. He is known as ‘El Escoces Volante’ or the Flying Scotsman. After starting his career with Oddbins he travelled the world, making wine in a variety of countries. He is now based in the Spanish Calatayud region where he makes a number of different wines, among which is this juicy, and far too easy drinking Garnacha.

 

The Rigs O’ Barley

Pearl Barley risotto served with Smoked Chicken & Smoked Duck from the Rannoch Smokery

The creaminess of the risotto and the different meats gave me an opportunity to experiment with two Australian wines. The Skillogalee Rose from Australia’s Clare Valley (£13) is a juicy blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. It really shows off the ripe fruit. The winery is owned by David and Diana Palmer who both originally came from Edinburgh and are now producing stunning wines in South Australia. Look out for their amazing wines from the Riesling grape as well.

The second wine is produced by the third Baron of Glenguin, Robin Tedder MW. This means he has a direct connection with the Glengoyne distillery just outside Glasgow. Robin Tedder’s grandfather was the first baron of the land the Glengoyne distillery occupies and was an excise man. I’m told he had a hand in bringing about the law that Scottish Whisky should be aged in oak for three years and one day. Glenguin Old Broke Semillon (£15) from Australia’s Hunter Valley. The tasters loved this wine with the smoked duck in particular. Despite its age (it was 2005) the wine was still full of zippy lemon and lime flavours, the acidity providing a good balance to the duck. Also keep a look out for a Glengoyne malt whisky finished in Robin’s Shiraz barrels.

 

Bard’s Broth

A modern take on the traditional ‘Scotch Broth’

Urlar Sauvignon Blanc (£12). Urlar is New Zealand winery and is the Gaelic word for earth. The winery was established in 2004 by Angus and Davina Thomson after they left their farm in the Scottish Highlands. Organic viticulture and sustainability are their driving forces and they even have a herd of Highland cattle on the estate, providing that magic Scottish ingredient by way of organic fertiliser. Their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is pretty textbook. Fresh, a mix of gooseberry and tropical fruits and characteristically mouthwatering.

 

The Great Chieftain o’ the puddin’ race

Haggis from Ramsay of Carluke

Iona the Gunnar (£14) is made by Andrew Gunn, who traces his family roots back to Scotland and even has Viking roots. Not only is the name Iona very Scottish, it is situated in Elgin. The vineyards were planted in an old apple orchard and the Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding, but I’m a big fan of ‘The Gunnar’ a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a little Petit Verdot, like you get from Bordeaux. The proximity to the ocean lengthens the ripening season and it shows in the gorgeous ripe fruit.

 

The Poet’s Ploughman

Barwheys Cheese from Ayrshire

For the cheese I chose a classic southern French blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The Cotes du Roussillon Special Reserve Charles Rennie Mackintosh (£11.50) is an homage to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who spent the last few years of his life in Port Vendres in the Western Languedoc, the heartland for these vines. Many of his paintings depict Port Vendres, a small port near the Spanish border, and the nearby landscapes.

 

Cupid’s Dessert Cocktail

An adult and liquid version of Cranachan. Shaken not stirred by our good friend Richard Duffy

 

Luscious Lots of Chocolate Love

White, Rose & Vanilla, Milk, Dark and The Chieftain by the Chocolate Tree, Edinburgh & East Lothian

With the dark and Haggis flavoured ‘The Chieftain’ we had a taste of El Puño (£18), one of my favourite Garnachas made by El Escoces Volante, Norrel Robertson who also produces the La Multa. This is full bodied, full of flavour with a chocolatey feel on the finish. Although I would have this with big, meaty dishes normally (think Sunday roast) but the ripe blackberry and plum fruit and chocolate make it work with the dark, bitter chocolates.

 

The various wines were supplied by:

www.rose-wine.com

Bibendum Wine

Cross Stobs Wine

Great Western Wine

 

 

Address to a Haggis

It’s that time again, when anyone with even the merest link to Scotland celebrates Burns’ Night with the traditional Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, piped in with great ceremony by kilt-clad Scotsmen and addressed with a recital of Robert Burns’ famous poem, ‘To a Haggis’. As any self-respecting Haggis fan knows, this rarely seen, four-legged animal comes in two varieties. One has a longer set of right legs, the other a longer set of left legs. This allows them to run around the mountains of the Scottish Highlands without tumbling down the slopes, but clearly only in one direction, depending on which set of legs is longer.

When it comes to the question of what to drink when this ‘beastie’ finally makes it to the dining table the traditionalists opt for Whisky and it would clearly have to be a Scottish one at that. But I’ve been having a go at wine with haggis and there is plenty there that can work well. Youthful whites provide a refreshing balance to what is an earthy dish. I’ve had Australian Pinot Noir Rosé where gorgeous ripe red fruit characters and a little toastiness work beautifully with the richness of the dish. This makes me think that a Champagne could work well here too. Or is that just too decadent? Spanish and Italian reds made from Garnacha or Sangiovese seem to be some of the most popular matches. The earthiness combined with plenty of fruitiness in the wine means they combine well with the meatiness of the dish, but the slightly higher levels of acidity and juicy, ripe fruit give it plenty of freshness to add a lighter touch to it all.

I suppose what it comes down to is personal taste. Doesn’t it always? But it also shows that this ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!’ is actually very versatile and easy to match with your favourite wine or whisky. If you feel like a little experimentation yourself then the Food, Fun & Fizz evening – ‘Burns in Love’ is a great opportunity. We’ll be doing some food & wine matching (and it’s not all haggis!) with wines from all over the world, yet firmly rooted in Scotland. Intrigued? Come and join us on February 6th. Slainte!