Tesco wine marathon
Tuesday 20 October
Expect to be reading about Tesco’s autumn press tasting in the nationals in the coming weeks – the big names had turned up to taste through some of the 150 wines at the tasting.
What will be their verdict? Well, I can’t predict that but take it from me, Tim Atkin MW will not be enthusing about the £3.74 White Merlot.
Personally, I struggled to find any gems in the pack. I admit I didn’t taste all 150 wines as fatigue kicked in and my enthusiasm waned half way through the reds but my black teeth are proof that I put my time in today.
The whites were generally of a good standard – you get what you pay for. I’d be happy to drink most of them and they are varietally correct but there was nothing that I would rave about. Picks of the bunch would include Tesco’s Finest 2008 Gavi (£7.49), Finest Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.98) and Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2008 (£8.99).
Unfortunately the reds I tasted didn’t leave me feeling very cheery either. Its Finest Hermitage 2005 costing a cool £19.99 was not up to scratch in my opinion nor was its 2004 Rioja Reserva from Vina Mara. I think I would feel rather cheated if I had paid £8.98 for this brett-central Tempranillo.
Anyway enough doom and gloom. On a positive note, I must be turning into a bargain basement wine taster because its Finest Mendoza Malbec 2008, made by Catena, and costing just £4.24 was a bit of a stand out. This inky purple wine has classic Malbec flavours – ripe blueberry, blackberry and a lick of dairy vanilla on the palate. The concentration’s pretty good at this price. Ok, the tannins are pretty drying and the alcohol’s a little warm but I can forgive that at under a fiver.
Oz Clarke speaks his mind at IWC awards
Thursday 3 September
The International Wine Challenge Personality of the Year is Oz Clarke and James May.
Clarke collected his award last night at the awards dinner and made an impassioned – and off the cuff - speech on the alcohol debate. I don’t know whether it was booze-fuelled but it certainly got the crowd going after a turgid powerpoint presentation at the start of the night. With the wine and drinks industry increasingly targeted by the government, Oz spoke out about the majority of the moderate wine drinking public being penalised by a binge drinking minority. He also made a plea to get out and find a new wine audience.
‘I think that alcohol is about people being happier not being covered in your own vomit,’ he declared.
‘Drinking wine is about feeling good about yourself’.
‘We need to find new consumers - people who like to drink well - and James and I are trying to do that. We were getting six million people to watch Oz & James at prime time and I think we found that new audience.’
While they were filming Oz admitted ‘We would get gormless young people turning up and we’d have to tell them it wasn’t Top Gear and we weren’t going to blow up the caravan. I would like to think of our new consumers are a higher level than that.’
James was in France and so couldn’t defend himself when Oz called him an ‘irritating old sod’.
On my way out of the awards, I met Australian Peter Lehmann who had won Lifetime Achievement Award and deservedly had a standing ovation. He had his trophy in his hand but said it was a long way to come for a bit of metal.
South African whites and beef butties
Friday 3 July
I’m focusing on South African Sauvignon Blancs and Chenins in my blog today after a comprehensive tasting organised by Wines of South Africa yesterday.
There’s been a lot of hype re South African Sauvignon lately, so expectations were high. The style is definitely not European as it has often has pungent gooseberry and grassy fruit, and the alcohol levels are too high to be from the Loire. But it’s quite different to New Zealand too: it doesn’t have that tropicality or pyrazine character of Marlborough (here comes the science, drop down to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know! Pyrazines are flavour compounds with a green capsicum/canned asparagus or leafy character and are commonly found in Cab Sauv and Sauv Blanc. The character, in Jancis’ words, ‘drops markedly during ripening, as does the herbaceous character, and more so with increased sun exposure…concentrations are higher for grapes grown in cooler climates’).
The style was varied in quality and character with Jordan’s in Stellenbosch even making an oaked SB. Why you’d want to put Sauvignon Blanc in oak I don’t know, but the Jordan’s are decent winemakers so there must be a good reason (I will email to ask and let you know…). Typically the gooseberry and grassy character came through on the better wines with some apple sauce too. Mmmm, apple sauce. If I had to make a couple of criticisms, it would be that on a number of wines, the acid was too high – almost abrasive – giving my teeth a real bruising. A few had excessive alcohol levels too. I don’t want a 14%+ Sauvignon Blanc thank you. Screwcaps were out in force and I have to admit there were struck match/rotten egg aromas on some of the wines (more science: hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans with those egg aromas tend to form under screwcap’s anaerobic conditions).
Generally the standard was quite good. I doled out quite a lot of bronze and silver marks but the only gold-medal worthy wine was the 2008 Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc (£12.15, sawinesonline) which also took a regional trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards this year. It had a lovely concentrated core of grassy and spicy gooseberry fruit with mouthwatering acidity and, unlike some of its fellow Sauvignon Blancs, the alcohol was beautifully integrated.
This was another mixed bag from unoaked light styles to full-on oak dominant. Chenin Blanc generally has racy acidity and a Chardonnay-like weight and texture in the mouth, and this came through on many wines. Those retailing around the £6-7 mark were rather dull and a bit dilute. Once you get above £10, quality inevitably gets better. These higher quality wines had quite a lot of toasty and nutty oak on them as well as peach and apple skin fruit, slightly warm alcohol, and tight acid on the finish. They also showed good concentration of fruit and a long finish.
I couldn’t find a gold winner in the pack but there were plenty of silvers: 2008 Cederberg (£10.90, sawinesonline), 2008 Beaumont Hope Marguerite (£11.99, Forth Wines), 2007 Jordan (£8.99, sawinesonline; Noel Young Wines), 2007 Bellingham’s The Bernard Series (£9.99, Majestic) and, probably my top wine was 2007 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chene Blanc (£11.99, sawinesonline).
Pinotage and Shiraz was also shown but by that time fatigue and hunger had kicked in, and the beef butties at the tasting ended up being more appealing!
I’m not a tasting muppet after all…
Judging update from my last post: we got our results back from our judging day with the AWRI today. And I’m happy to report there were only three out of 30 people at the tasting that were more reliable than me at the day – and with more than six MWs in the room – I’ll take that and run. (Reliability, in the words of the AWRI is a measure of scoring consistency, or the ability of a judge to reproduce results on different occasions. A value close to +1 indicates good consistency, a score close to 0 indicates a random scoring pattern, and a score close to –1 indicates that the score given on one occasion was the opposite of that given on another. I got 0.60).
Wine judging highs and lows
Tuesday 30 June
I took up the offer from the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) to attend a one-day version of its Advanced Wine Assessment Course for budding show judges yesterday.
A mixed bag of journalists, wine buyers, and sommeliers turned up to the event looking slightly anxious and were presented with two flights of 20 wines to judge during the day. The variation in marks from gold down to commended for virtually every wine (and, often the disparity with the medals they won at the International Wine Challenge) was an eye-opener.
To throw a spanner in the works it turned out all the wines in each flight were duplicated, and one national journalist, who shall remain unnamed, admitted they gave the same wine both a bronze and a gold. I think we probably need to go on the four-day version of the course.
While I did pretty well in the main with consistent marking and in line with the majority, I am prepared to confess I gave the 2008 Nottage Hill Riesling a gold medal, writing it had kerosene and lime notes, lovely concentration, was well defined with fresh acidity on the finish. Never did I think I would say this, but… Go Nottage Hill!! Fortunately, one other person thought it was worthy of a gold too – none other than Jancis Robinson MW, OBE would you believe (big sigh of relief that I’m not a complete tasting muppet)! In the International Wine Challenge, it managed a lowly commended. Oh dear.
Another wine had way too much brettanomyces leatheriness for me. The guidelines stated faulty wines shouldn’t be given an award, so it didn’t get one. But others loved its ‘farmyardy’ character, and it won a gold at the IWC. What does this tell you?
So, we all have different palates and, as any wine judge will admit, there are flaws to the process.
The AWRI has already put 800 people through the full course in Oz and it will probably be held in the UK again next year. Do it, if you can get an invite.
Off to dinner with Groote Post tonight. More on that later…
Henschke whites hit the spot
Sunday 28 June
The Eden Valley’s Henschke family is best known for its red wines but the whites were the biggest surprise when I met up with owners Prue and Stephen last week.
The couple’s icon wine, Hill of Grace, and its Mount Edelstone (both 100% Shiraz from 90 year old plus vines) usually take the headlines. Yes, they were both fabulous wines – but with all the hype surrounding them, you’d expect that.
Its 2006 Eden Valley Riesling a.k.a Julius and 2007 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc ‘Coralinga’ were deeee-licious. Both were very European in style – delicate and restrained - with fresh acidity and a very reasonable 12.5% alcohol.
It would have been difficult to guess where they were from – and Australia wouldn’t immediately spring to mind. I asked others where they would have placed the Sauvignon Blanc if they’d tasted it blind - Observer columnist Tim Atkin MW suggested northern Italy while Decanter’s Tina Gellie said Austria.
Its noble rot Riesling was also delicious with just 11% alcohol and zesty acidity, making an unusually refreshing sweetie.
Next year, Prue and Stephen should get their organic certification. They are also working biodynamically but I’m not convinced by some of its tenets, so I ask viticulturalist Prue: isn’t it a load of mumbo-jumbo? Her response? “It’s the best-ever composting system created.” In her view, biodynamics is mainly about improving the organic matter of the soil with the compost she makes using cow manure, grape skins and green waste. She also uses biodynamic preparations but admits she isn’t sure what they do – but it works. So, forget the lunar phases, it’s all about what comes out the rear end of a cow!
Screwcap and the next big thing…
In 2002, Stephen put the Hill of Grace under screwcap. An icon red wine under screwcap? Few would be so brave. Stephen said: “We are convinced by screwcap and we could not justify putting a wine under cork when you have so much product recall. When you have Hill of Grace the complaint situation is really serious because it is a treasure. But I admit screwcap isn’t pretty.”
Unlike many producers, Stephen is not convinced screwcap is the be-all and end-all of closures. I get the impression that many Kiwi and Aussie producers have converted to screwcap and see it as the ultimate closure. However, Henschke trialled its 2004 Henry’s Seven under glass closure Vino Lok for the first time. Its 2005 Hill of Roses and 2005 Tappa Pass Shiraz have since been sealed under Vino Lok. Unfortunately the Vino Lok is prohibitively expensive and at the London Wine Fair, the Vino Lok team admitted it would always be a premium closure. I mention this to Stephen, who agrees but argues if enough Aussie producers adopted it, economy of scale would bring down those prices.