Thursday, 28 January 2016

Playing with my new CORAVIN!

So there I was unwrapping my presents from my wife at Christmas. I had made my way through all but one of my presents and was looking eagerly at the last one. I think we probably all know that people usually save the best present until last, so I had high expectations. I remember thinking that my wife seemed particularly pleased with herself as she passed me the last one, "I think you'll like this one", she said. Cue a gasp of amazement when I opened it and found a Coravin inside! AMAZING!!

Now, I'm guessing that some of you will probably be aware of Coravins, whereas others will be wondering what all the fuss is about. A few years ago I visited a wine shop on behalf of Vinspire called The Sampler, which has made famous the Oenomatic wine vending machines where you can buy wine in small samples as the wine is kept in an inert atmosphere, allowing the wine to be enjoyed gradually without worrying about prolonged exposure to air. Well, the Coravin is a mobile form of the Oenomatic machine, applying the same principle on a much smaller scale. AMAZING!!

Why use Coravin?

So, what are the benefits of the Coravin? There are plenty really. One of my resolutions this year has been to drink less, but drink better. There can be that worry when you open that bottle of wine that you've been looking forward to and think, "hmmm... I fancy a glass (or two) tonight, but then I'm not in again for the next couple of evenings. If I leave the wine bottle half empty for that long it will spoil, I really better finish that wine then..." Coravin can sort out exactly that scenario for you.

The other use that I have found from it has been in restaurants. Coravins are such small and convenient units that it has allowed restaurants to serve very expensive bottles of wine by the glass without worrying about them spoiling, which allows a wine lover like me to sample a glass of wine from a bottle that would normally cost several hundred pounds. I recently tried this out in The Glasshouse in Kew where I tried a glass of 2002 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Domaine Bonneau du Martray (Burgundy, France) which was simply sublime. You can read about this experience on my personal blog here.

So, how does it work?

It's a very neat system really. The Coravin unit contains a cannister of Argon gas in it, which is the inert gas that it uses. You affix it to the neck of your bottle of wine and then it pushes a very thin needle through the wine's cork (note: this only works with a natural cork; screw caps and plastic corks do not work - nor do bottles of sparkling wine!). 

As you pour the wine into your glass, the Coravin device replaces the wine with the Argon gas, which prevents any air getting into the bottle and reacting with the wine. As the needle draws out of the cork, the cork naturally seals back up stopping any air getting in, allowing you to enjoy your glass of wine without worrying about the rest of the bottle!

I should point out that the people at Coravin also give you a sleeve to put your wine bottle in as you use it. The reason being that in some of the early versions there were a few reports of exploding bottles(!). The tell you that they have sorted that slight issue out now, but the sleeve is there, you know, just in case...  

Putting the Coravin through its paces...

I thought it only fair that I put the Coravin through its paces so that I could report back to you, dear readers. So, on New Year's Eve I cooked a nice meal for my wife and I, which featured a rather magnificent (if I do say so myself) salt-baked Arctic Char. To go with this I had picked a bottle of 2013 Domaine Poulleau Père et Fils "La Grande Châtelaine (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy). We only really wanted to have a glass each of the wine as we were going to move onto Champagne after dinner to see in the New Year; it seemed the perfect opportunity to try out the Coravin. The Coravin itself worked fine, it wasn't particularly hard to use - but the effectiveness of the system was really going to be tested when we tried the wine again...

Fast forward to Wednesday this week. About four weeks have passed since New Year's Eve and I fancied a nice glass of wine for #winewednesday. I had put the wine in the 'fridge in the morning (after use on New Year's I had put the wine back on the wine rack) and by evening I was really looking forward to a nice glass. Once again the wine poured well, but would it have suffered any ill effects over the intervening four weeks? A quick sniff was very encouraging, vigorous fruit and a hint of buttery oak to it. As I tasted the wine I was amazed - lively, crisp acidity balanced with an oaky depth were apparent; it really was as if this wine had been opened for the very first time. 

I can safely say that I am very impressed with this gadget and am very thankful to my lovely wife for an excellent present. 

So, what do you make of it readers? Does this look like something that you'd be interested in? Could you see a use for it? Let me know your thoughts below or on Twitter (@timmilford).  

Friday, 15 January 2016

Virgin Wine's Winter Collection

(Photo taken from Conti di San Bonifacio under the CCL)

Welcome to 2016, dear readers!

If, like me, your Christmas and New Year fun seems like a rather distant memory and you're looking for something to brighten those long, cold Winter nights then you'll know that the answer is...WINE! 

Some of you may well be doing "dry January", but I believe that in the dreariest month of the year we should be looking to reward ourselves for making our way through another tough week with a glass or two of something delicious. That is why I was really pleased to be contacted by Virgin Wines regarding their collection of much-loved winter reds. After all, what could be more tempting at the end of another day when you haven't seen any sunlight than a glass of a big, bold, full-bodied red whilst reclining in front of your log fire (not that I have a fireplace in my flat...!)?

Scanning through their list I was pleased to see all of the classics that fall into this category: Chilean Cabernet (always good value in my opinion), GSM blends from the Languedoc, as examples. I was sent a few bottles to sample and have spent the last couple of weeks tasting my through them - it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it...!

I started with a 2013 "Retromarcia" Chianti Classico from Monte Bernardi (Chianti, Italy), which Virgin Wines sell for £17.99/bottle. In the glass it sat a moody-looking medium/deep purple, with a slightly inky quality to it. On the nose it had strong primary aromas of juicy strawberries, which were complimented by some sweet red cherry notes. On tasting however, the sweetness evaporated and the dominant profile was of a bright and acidic cranberry, with little secondary presence. I had this wine without food and think that it was crying out for a plump steak or a mighty Bolognese to let the wines acidity be counter-balanced. I have a slightly mixed relationship with Chianti, in that I love it when I am in Italy, but find that the experience does not quite translate when you're in cold, dank England. This wine hasn't changed my opinion about that. Quality: 6.0; Value: 4.5

Next up was a 2004 Gran Villa Gran Reserva (Navarra, Spain), which Virgin Wines are selling for £11.99/bottle (2005 vintage). Spain is one of the few countries where you can get quality aged wine for less than £20 a bottle. Most of you will be very familiar with this in the form of Rioja, but its often-overlooked neighbour Navarra also makes very approachable, surprisingly inexpensive wine too. It doesn't belie its age when you look at it in the glass - it is a very deep and full-bodied purple. On the nose it has a fragrant and heady aroma of black cherry and strawberry compote with that tell-tale oak-aged profile of cinnamon. On tasting the wine starts with a juicy black cherry flavour, before a sour cherry note takes over for the finish - which tells of the wine's decent level of acidity. The finish wasn't quite as long as I was hoping for and the complexity wasn't really there, however for an £11.99/bottle of wine, I thought this was pretty decent. Quality: 6.5; Value: 7.0

Lastly I tasted one of their more "premium" wines, the 2012 "The Prize" Black Pig Shiraz (Clare Valley, Australia), on sale with Virgin Wines for £19.99/bottle. In the glass this wine sat resplendent with a regal purple shimmer to it. On the nose it was full of ripe black fruit, blackberries and blueberries; followed by secondary notes of an herbaceous element (aniseed and menthol) and a sweet spice aroma with cinnamon and star anise. When tasted it was big and bold with blackcurrants and ripe red cherries. It was a little one dimensional and lacked a secondary profile on tasting, which may come with further ageing (but I doubt it), however this was a very good wine - a perfect winter warmer. Quality: 7.5; Value: 7.0

I recommend checking out Virgin Wines for their winter reds collection. They do some pre-selected mixed cases for the indecisive amongst you, or alternatively they have a choice of over 500 different bottles to choose from.

So, what are you reaching for to warm the cockles of your heart on these long, cold winter nights??

Disclaimer: I was sent these wines as samples by Virgin Wines and did not pay for them. All opinions contained within this post are my own.