Tag Archives: travel

Serendipity and Long Lost Friends

According to Wikipedia, Serendipity means a ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’. I think it’s about being in the right place at the right time or under the right circumstances and good things will come to you. Wine can be a pleasant surprise and I’m sure there are plenty of winemakers who have stories about a wine that turned out to be a happy accident. Prior to visiting Turkey for the EWBC I had already tasted a few Turkish wines and realised they could make some pretty decent stuff. But having been immersed (not quite literally) in the wines of Turkey for a few days the country has proven itself to be a very pleasant surprise.

Fresh air and dry Muscat at Urlice

After a few intense days of workshops, speeches and tasting countless wines, many with unpronounceable names, we were let off our leashes and released into the wilds of Izmir’s countryside. It was refreshing to feel the wind in your hair and the first winery we visited gave me an instant holiday feel. It is a small, but perfectly formed boutique winery and the owners couldn’t have been more welcoming. It’s the kind of place you feel at home immediately. Reha and Bilge Bengisu Öğünlü are a Turkish couple who lived in America for a while before deciding to settle back in Turkey and make wine. Reha’s twitter bio reads “wine, vineyards, guitars, windsurfing, cooking, slowfood, travelling” and he comes across as thoughtful and well-travelled. The kind of guy Billy Connolly would call ‘windswept and interesting’.

Our first taste is of a local version of Muscat. It is fresh, dry and racy and just what we need to wake us up. None of us had much sleep I suspect, as the visit comes hot on the heels of a sumptuous gala dinner and party the previous night. Spittoons are nowhere to be seen so needs must, but it’s no punishment, particularly as the sun is out and we are amongst the vines.

The winery itself is tiny and we cram ourselves in-between the fermentation tanks and into the small barrel cellar. It’s a romantic place, dimly lit, with barely enough room for a dozen or so barrels and lined on either side with bottle bins filled with the maturing wines. I think this is the kind of place most people have in mind when they think about a lifestyle business, a romantic notion of winemaking, away from the stresses and strains of life. The ‘when we win the lottery’ kind of place. The whole production is around 1000 cases with still a little room to grow.

Urlice Reserve Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon

Inside we taste more wines, a range of red wines made from international varieties. Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. Urlice is a member of the ‘Slow Food’ movement and grape growing techniques hark back to ancient times without recourse to chemicals. Reha’s vineyards are not certified organic though. It isn’t about the marketing for him, he sees it more as a way of life rather than a label to stick on a bottle. The wines are actually very accomplished. They certainly aren’t shy. Structured wines with quite a bit of tannin means they show best with some hearty food and they have put on quite a spread for us. I particularly liked their Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah Reserve, which has a wonderful richness to it.

Serendipity has another surprise in store for us. Macit, who is our guide for the day, was meant to take a trip out to Ephesus but was moved onto our outing at the last minute. Fortunately he likes wine so he’s quite happy. When we arrive at Urlice, Macit and Reha look at each other stunned as they recognise each other. They were old friends who lived across from one another in Izmir more than 30 years ago and haven’t seen each other in all that time. It was serendipity that brought them together. Or maybe it was the wine.

#EWBC12 Macit & Reha Urlice Vineyard
Reha and Macit catching up on old times.
Photograph by Winesagasu

 

Fine Wine and a Wee Bit of Fudge

In a constant quest to find new wines that will go down well with the wine loving enthusiasts I hosted a tasting at the Cross Stobs Bottle Shop in Barrhead, just outside Glasgow. And it was a very good run too as most of the wines were worthy of being included in the ever growing selection.
We kicked off proceedings with the Caruso and Minini, Terre di Giumara Inzolia. I had meant to use the Grecanico instead as I think it is a perfect wine to replace the omnipresent Pinot Grigios. I hadn’t tried the Inzolia before but it was equally good and the refreshing citrus flavours are perfect for what little summer we may have left. Next up it was a trade off between the Clos Henri – Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It was either this one or its cheaper sibling the Petit Clos. We went for the big one and it proved a massive hit. The estate is owned by French wine domain Henri Bourgeois and they have deliberately moved to make a less aromatic and tropical version of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. There is a ripeness of fruit that gives away its new world characteristic with with a distinct old world elegance and charm. Is this as close as Marlborough gets to Sancerre? Judging by the reaction it was worth its £18 price tag.
For a mid-summer tasting we had to take the opportunity to bring in a new rose too. The Carteron Cuvee Elegance Cotes de Provence is a gorgeous dusty pink. A dry rose with a beautiful red fruit character that is light and elegant. Don’t expect a sweet, jammy new world pink here, but a wonderfully refreshing clean rose that would make a lovely match to a tuna nicoise salad
A wine that has proven consistently popular is the Familia Pacheco Roble, Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah-Monastrell from Spanish wine region Jumilla, just inland from Alicante. Known for its main grape variety Monastrell (Mourvedre) the blend of three varieties gives a wine that is modern in style. Lots of dark fruit and a bit of spiciness from the oak this drinks much easier than you would think at first. And that’s the danger, it’s dangerously good. Our quest continues with the Domaine de Moulines Merlot, Vin de Pays de l’Herault. The Cabernet Sauvignon from the same estate has been a hit for a while so it was time to put the Merlot through its paces. There is a distinct plum and sweet spice flavour here that should work well with things like casseroles or beef stew. Maybe one to stock up on for the winter.

Finally there is a red wine from the same region, Mas des Amours, Côteaux du Languedoc. Predominantly from the Grenache grape this is a very generous red with lots of dark fruits. Black cherry and blackberry come to mind and something called garrigue, which is the scent of the Languedoc region and is best described as a combination of lavender and provencal herbs.
Smooth and lively this wine took me completely by surprise with its great character and would make a perfect match to roast lamb.
As a bonus we had lined up a sweet wine, the Zuccardi Torrontes Tardio a late harvest wine from Argentina. Fortunately Joyce Brady from the Wee Fudge Company didn’t take too much persuading to come along and bring some of her amazing fudge that we could taste alongside the wine. The Raspberry and white chocolate fudge in particular made for a spectacular combination judged by the reaction of the assembled tasters. A wonderful sugar rush to finish the evening on
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Wine doesn’t travel

Are you all dreaming of jetting off to sunnier climes over the summer? No wonder with this continuous drip-drip-drip effect we seem to be having up and down the country. I’m getting ready to spend a week on the beach of a Croatian island soon. The phone will be loaded up with my favourite music and plenty of books. Other than that I’m taking Speedos. Holiday destinations for me are about that peace and quiet but also a little discovery of the wonder of the local food and wines.

The other day I was discussing the reason why wine seems to have become so popular over the past 30 or so years. My view is that the advent of foreign travel, and cheaper air travel in particular, have opened people’s eyes to a continental lifestyle. Being exposed to the local wines and relaxed lifestyle made people want to recapture some of that magic when they got home. Usually with pretty mixed success, it has to be said. We all have stories of that wine which tasted so wonderful on the Spanish costas or the Greek islands. Once we got home to the British autumn it turned out to be less than pleasant and recaptured little more than a headache the next day. I’ve had it myself.

The local wine of Naples and the surrounding Amalfi Coast is a semi-sparkling light red wine called Gragnano. It is served in pitchers, perfectly chilled and very refreshing. Naples is well-known for its pizza and this wine just works far too well with the huge stone baked pizzas served all over Naples. Not long after the trip, I managed to track a bottle of it down in Scotland and thought I’d give it a try. I knew the producer and their wines are generally very good. There was nothing wrong with their Gragnano either, to be fair, but it just felt totally out of place up here in the cold Scottish autumn. More often than not, context is crucial to how a wine is experienced and it gives rise to the phrase ‘wine doesn’t travel’.

Sometimes it works though and I’m excited about the Croatia trip because the wines of Croatia are starting to make some waves here too, up until now largely in the independent sector but the quality absolutely warrants a wider distribution. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise with its proximity to wine superpower Italy. The great thing will be to continue the journey of discovery over the odd glass or two once back home.

If you want to have a go with Croatian wines yourself, here is one to try. It is made from the local variety Grasevina, which gives fresh, fruity white wines, perfect for sunny afternoons. Good on Marks & Spencer for being one of the first retailers to include a couple of Croatian wines in their portfolio.