Friday, 15 March 2019

Two wine tastings in a day? Challenge accepted...!


Last Thursday I had the day off from my day-job, which was exceedingly fortunate as I had received invites to two prestigious wine tastings that day. They were very different affairs, but I enjoyed both tremendously and as is always the way with these kinds of tastings, I learned a heck of a lot (plus I got to drink some delicious wine!).

Côtes du Rhône Tasting


The first tasting of the day was held in the rather splendid H Club in London’s Soho. H Club is a private members’ club that specialises in catering for members of the creative arts industries. As you would expect the building is stylishly laid out and features a number of rather lovely looking bars and restaurants for people to wine and dine customers and hold business lunches. The tasting that I was there for was held in the “Forest Room”, which was a rather attractive looking room with a forest motif around it and tables set up which contained 92 different wines to taste from the Côtes du Rhône (CdR) appellation. This includes both wines that feature the CdR general designation and also some wines from named villages within the Cotes du Rhône area.

I love these kinds of tastings. They are free-pour, which allows you to choose what you want to taste and you get to work your way around at whatever speed you see fit. Obviously, if you are going to taste your way methodically around these wines you will need to spit, which means that you often find yourself in a queue at a spittoon - although fortunately there were plenty around for the tasters to use.

The whites 


I started with the whites and was really impressed with the quality. I was (unwisely) a little wary of whites at this level of designation, but I knew that at the mid- and top-level Rhône whites can be fabulous; so I was intrigued to see what these wines would offer. Overall these wines were priced between £5 and £15 and represented tremendous value, they were a real joy, particularly at the price point. Lovely acidity and fruit flavours (mainly juicy lemon and apricot), with some real weight to the wines. Not particularly seeing much evidence of oak and buttery flavours, but more with a depth and balance of flavour.

The rosés


After the whites, I moved onto the rosés - there were only a few on show and I found them to be rather pleasant and rather serious wines. There are some rosés that are a little wispy, dainty and thin; designed to be quaffed in a pub by the bucket-load. These weren’t that kind of wine, they had a bit of presence and style and would have gone nicely with food.

And now... time for the reds!


It was time to move on to the reds - there were much more of these on show over a couple of vintages. One of the things I quite like about these kinds of tastings is that it allows the relatively uninitiated (like me) the chance to learn a bit more about the wine world and one of the main things I was able to do was look at trends within my assessments of the wines. What became quickly apparent was that I was favouring the 2017 vintage over the 2016; I found the 2017s to possess well integrated tannins with nice, dark fruit notes but a savoury profile that gave the wines real structure and depth. In comparison the 2016s were a little shorter, sharper and more acidic; lacking a bit in depth and nuance. The other thing that really stood out is that in the (relatively) small number of wines at a higher price-point (in this case £15+) I found that there weren’t really any wines that stood out from some of the excellent wines that were being sold for £10 - £15. In terms of value for money, you were better off staying at the lower end - in my opinion.

I must confess that my notes above lack any reference to specific wines as I misplaced my notes from the tasting on the way home. Fortunately I had written up some general musings on my ‘phone though!

I must offer many thanks to Alexandra Gerolami who organised this event and kindly invited me along to.

Wines from Spain Tasting


Next up was a trip to the very definition of a bar with a view - the Skygarden in the infamous “Walkie-Talkie” building for one of my favourite wine events of the year - Wines from Spain. The line up of producers that come and exhibit at this event gets better and larger every year and the organisers do a wonderful job. This is the first time, however, that they have held the event in Skygarden and it was also my first visit to this bar. I know that tall buildings in London are not everyone’s cup of tea, but once I was up there and looking out over the Thames and around London’s skyline it really is a breathtaking sight. What better place to enjoy a nice glass of something?

Some highlights


I didn’t spend a huge amount of time wandering around the producers, but I did enjoy discovering some wines from Marques de Murrieta - one of the most historic Rioja producers. Their 2009 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva was an excellent example of a Gran Reserva that is just entering its drinking window, but has years ahead of it. I was also intrigued by their 2014 Dalmau which contains predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and is their attempt to create a “super-Rioja” in the vein of “super Tuscans”. 

I also enjoyed spending a bit of time with Altanza Bodegas, another Rioja producer but this time sampling their sherries made in collaboration with Roberto Amillo (Jerez). I particularly enjoyed their Colección R. Amillo Olorosoand Palo Cortado both of which were rich, vibrant and balanced. I also particularly liked the bottle designs that they used, which gave the wines a very distinctive look.

A Verdejo Masterclass with Sarah Jane Evans MW


The main reason, though, I didn’t spend much time walking around the various producers is because I was very keen to attend one of Wines from Spain’s ever-excellent and informative masterclasses - this time from the inimitable Sarah Jane Evans MW on the wines of Rueda. I first met Sarah Jane when I went to Rioja last year for the Cata Estación last year and I knew that I’d be in for a treat with her masterclass. Rueda is an area that not too many people outside the wine trade will know too well - however it is the spiritual home of one of Spain’s greatest contributions to the wine world - the Verdejo grape. The people from Verdejo are on a bit of a mission to get their wines better recognised in the UK and it seems to be working as sales are up year on year for the last couple of years. 

We tried our way through five different DO (Denominción de Origen) wines from Rueda but I want to focus on my two favourites. The first was a 2017 Belondrade y Lurton(100% Verdejo) which had a supremely expressive and floral nose that exuded class. This wine had been aged in French oak and had a beautiful buttery characteristic (which contrasted some of the other, slightly more angular wines in the tasting). This wine will develop and evolve over the next couple of years - I certainly plan on getting hold of a few to see how they go! Now for something completely different (as they say…) with a NV Carrasviñas Dorado Ruedafrom Félix Lorenzo Cachazo which was largely Verdejo but importantly possessed 20% Palomino Fino which gave the wine a lovely oxidative nose that I adored as a sherry-lover. For me this was a wine that will divide crowds; I loved it as it felt like a half-way house between a traditional Verdejo and a Fino sherry - it would go beautifully with food, some nice olives or even some salted almonds. Mmmm…!

Sarah Jane was as interesting and amiable a host as ever and I really enjoyed this tasting of some lovely wines.

There you have it - two wine tastings done in a day. Lots learned, many lovely wines tasted. A reminder of why I love living in London so much.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Open That Bottle Night 2019 - what did you open?


For some people the last weekend in February is a rather special time. I am one of those people. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a wine-based concept that I fell in love with - Open That Bottle Night. Briefly the premise is that February is a dreary month and people need something to brighten it up. Two wine lovers who wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher decided that they wanted to find a reason to open that special bottle of wine that you’ve been saving for a while. They told of stories of people who have been holding onto that bottle of ‘45 Haut-Brion and agonising over when was the right time to open this majestic wine and too often people held on to the wine too long only to find that it hadn’t been stored properly or that it had some kind of fault. Instead, to Gaiter and Brecher they felt that the bottle of wine that you have in your cellar should be the occasion; invite friends and family round to enjoy that bottle of wine in great company! I love the idea of this and have now done this for the last few years.

In 2016 I opened a bottle of 2012 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett (Mosel, Germany).













In 2017 I opened a bottle of 2012 Tignanello (Tuscany, Italy).













In 2018 I opened a bottle of 2011 Clos Mogador (Priorat, Spain)













So, what did I open in 2019 I hear you ask?

I went back to Italy for my wine this year. I had a lovely bottle of 2005 Muga Reserva that I was severely tempted by and a bottle of 2006 Pichon-Longeuville Baron that I was eying up, but I was surprised to find that I was instead drawn to a 2009 Casanova Di Nero Tenuta Nuova (Brunello Di Montalcino, Italy). This was a wine that I picked up direct from the winery when I visited it in October as part of a walking holiday I went on through Tuscany - something that I can highly recommend (the photo on the left is on the way to the winery as you walk up the drive!). Very few places in the world truly excite the senses like Tuscany does, the food, the wines and the scenery are all absolutely phenomenal. We walked through the countryside that gives you Brunello di Montalcino (one of the very best red wines in the world, in my opinion) and that gives you Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I wrote a piece for Vinspire on my experiences in Tuscany that you can read about by following this LINK if you are interested.

So, enough of the trip down memory lane - tell us about the wine! I decided to give it about an hour in the decanter as I wanted to coax it back to life; it had been sleeping for ten years after all. In the glass it had an interestingly murky appearance, with a kind of damson red to it. On the nose it was all I could have hoped for and more; it was fragrant and evocative. I noted primary aromas of "fruits of the forest" with blackberries and blueberries coming through particularly strongly. There was also definitely some deeper and more interesting notes of cedar, marzipan and tobacco that gave the wine a real majesty in the glass. When I tasted it I admired the beautiful freshness and cleanliness to the wine, which had a real poise about it. The tannins were nice, smooth and well-integrated, as one would expect from a ten year old wine of this type. There were lovely dark fruit flavours with a nice lick of savouriness and smokiness to the wine that I enjoyed thoroughly. All in all this was a truly wonderful wine and one that was perfect for "Open That Bottle Night". We paired it, appropriately, I think, with a Tuscan Sausage Stew and the wine was a great match for it.

Did you drink anything special for "Open That Bottle Night"? If so, what did you drink? If not, do you fancy doing it in 2020? Start thinking about what that special bottle of wine could be and who you could share it with...!