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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Big Fortified Tasting

Three fortified wines from Marks & Spencer and Waitrose

Defined by their production methods, these fortified wines have flavours that are not of fruit, but something more nutty, roasted and tangy.

Dry Old Amontillado Sherry (£7.49, 35cl M&S) fragrant, tangy and savoury with roasted nuts, spices and freshness. Good and excellent value.

Fresh enough to drink as an aperitif with roasted almonds, or match with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Blandy's Sercial 10-Year-Old Madeira (£19.49, 50cl, Waitrose) the driest of the four Madeira styles, amber mahogany, fragrant with roasted nuts, spices and fruitcake. Sweet-savoury and fresh. Good.

Drink as an aperitif with olives and roasted almonds.

5 Year Old Finest Medium Rich Madeira (£13, 50cl M&S) Rich deep treacly brown; figs, roasted nuts and butterscotch-caramel with an intense freshness. Pleasing entry level sweet Madeira.

Drink as an after dinner dessert or match with Christmas pudding.

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Madeira - A Guide

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Stars of The Loire

Stars of the Loire dinner and tasting at New Street Wine Shop and Grill

Think of the Loire and what most easily comes to mind are inexpensive Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc.

Beyond these, of course, the Loire does fizz, red and sweet wines, as well as rosé - all with a characteristic lightness and freshness.

Anyone looking for alternatives to big, ripe pantechnicons that retain a pretty fruit elegance could do a lot worse than look at the Loire's alluringly fresh and versatile, food-friendly wines.

What impressed me most from this tasting was the consistency of quality, but it was also interesting to see some more ambitious wines on show.
Cremant de Loire, Domain Penet, Chateau de la Presle NV (Gerrard Steele £13.50) fresh, elegant orchard fruit

Vouvray Francois Chidane Les Argiles 2014 (Majestic, £25) linear, precise, mineral

Savennieres Domaine des Baumard, Clos du Papillon 2007 (Majestic, £25) complex, waxy, substantial

Saumur Champigny, Domaine des Roches Neuves, Terres Chaudes 2013 (Excel, £19.80) fresh, berry-fruited, elegant

Coteaux du Layon, Philippe Delesvaux, Selection de Grains Nobles 2014 (F&R, £18.60, 50cl) complex, rich, honeycombed
Match the lighter (and less expensive) whites with seafood, the more structured examples with ham hock terrine or crab.
Reds will stand up to a rare steak.
Sweet wines need a simple classic: Eton mess or creme brulee.

Stars of the Loire

The Stars of the Loire festival, which runs from 21 September to 25 October, will see Loire Valley Wines as the guests of honour at a range of D&D London restaurants across the capital. Throughout the five week festival, over a dozen top restaurants and three wine shops across the D&D group will be offering a variety of different Stars of the Loire events.

There will also be a number of pop-up events and tastings including special dinners hosted by BBC Saturday Kitchen’s Jane Parkinson; Channel 4’s Four Rooms art dealer Wendy Meakin; and Daily Telegraph wine correspondent Victoria Moore.

Further information about the Stars of the Loire festival can be found on at http://www.danddwine.com/campaigns-and-partnerships/loirestars/.

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Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett
Loire Masterclass at Berry's

Friday, 2 October 2015

Crus Bourgeois 2013

A tasting of the newly released Crus Bourgeois 2013 with Frédérique de Lamothe

Frédérique de Lamothe has two priorities for the revived Cru Bourgeois; improved quality for the wines and greater awareness by consumers.

Quality is a simple, controllable matter - in theory at least.

Awareness is the more open-ended challenge. But Cru Bourgeois is focusing on influencing the key influencers in key markets - that means wine writers, buyers, educators and sommeliers in the UK and US. And occasional top university wine societies as well.

It is no understatement to say that 2013 was not the easiest of years in Bordeaux - cold and wet with hail, it was merely the worst in a series of increasingly difficult vintages.

Good winemakers understand that balance is key and you can't put in what God left out; the best wines from 2013 have a light, almost Burgundian freshness and will be early drinkers, even if they are still quite chewy now.

Quick facts

- Crus Bourgeois wines are from the Medoc and are selected by blind tasting two years after the harvest.

- There are currently 251 chateaux with Cru Bourgeois status, around a quarter of the total.

- They are generally priced from £10 to £25.

The wines I tried and liked were (in alphabetical order):
Ch Bournac
Ch La Branne (Walkers)
Ch Les Grands Chenes
Ch Preuillac (Freixenet)

Ch Barreyres (Sainsbury's)
Ch Beaumont (Wine Society)
Ch Belle-Vue (Millesma)
Ch Bernadotte
Ch Cissac (Wine Society, Averys)
Ch du Retout

Ch La Garricq (F&R, Lea and Sandman)

Ch Paveil de Luze (Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis)

Ch la Fleur Peyrabon (F&R, Millesma)
Ch Fontbadet

Ch le Boscq (Thienot)

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Crus Bourgeois 2010 At The Cambridge Tasting
Crus Bourgeois Panel Discussion
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Thursday, 1 October 2015

D'Oliveiras - The Tasting

A tasting of D'Oliveiras wines with Luis D'Oliveiras

From my interview with Luis D'Oliveiras, I established that he is a focused, intense individual with a self-assured presence and an Old School attention to detail.

I find much the same character in his wines.


10 years fresh, aromatic and complex with roasted bitter spices; long and intense

1989 darker mahogany, more complex and especially mellow; intense

1981 fragrant, soft, mellow and balanced with balsamic and tobacco

1969 fragrant, plump and mellow

1937 dark golden, soft and plump but with a muscular core as the intensity develops; roasted bitter spices, complex caramel and butterscotch; fresh with a long finish of roasted spices

Medium Dry

10 years rich fruitcake, sweetness, freshness

1994 Verdelho more mellow and complex

1985 Verdelho raisiny, complex roasted spices; mellow with lively acidity 

Terrantez 1971 near-extinct grape variety, less aromatic and more elegant, medium dry 

Bual 1968 his best seller over 40 years; very dark with golden hints; rich fruitcake, intense roasted nuts and spices. Complex

Bastardo 1927 blackish, medium sweet, complex roasted spices, fragrant, long and intense. This is absolutely bottled electricity; vibrant and athletic, it dances on the tongue. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hatch Mansfield Portfolio Tasting

A portfolio tasting of Hatch Mansfield wines

Portfolio tasting. Limited time. I headed over to the helpfully arranged medal winners table.

The whites were all clearly texturally superior and improved with price bracket.

Interesting wines here were (in ascending price order):

Vina Real Barrel Fermented Blanco 2014 fresh, good fruit, harmonious and versatile

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2014 fresh and crisp with herby cress

Joseph Mellot Pouilly-Fume Le Chant des Vignes 2014 fresh, aromatic and substantial

Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse 2013 rich, ripe, oatmealy and flawless - will be good to come back to it in 5-10 years

Vidal Legacy Chardonnay 2012 a full-on expressive intense Chardie with pungent smokey toastiness and ripe fruit

I was somewhat less convinced by the reds - too many seemed to have grippy rather than ripe tannins, even those with almost a decade's age.

Those that showed the most supple tannins were (again, in ascending price order):

Kleine Zalze Cleefs Reserve Shiraz / Mourvedre / Viognier 2013 ripe, supple and floral

Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulees dark fruit, cool mint, inky pencil shaving

Grant Burge Balthasar Shiraz 2012 ripe intense blackcurrant and mint

After the tasting, we were invited to try a few glasses of Taittinger's 2008 Brut Champagne.
My rule-of-thumb is to give vintage fizz a decade before opening; served from slower-aging magnums and slightly overchilled, this was fresh and elegant but still very tightly wound.

I couldn't help feeling I was participating in mass oenological infanticide.

Other related articles
Chenin Blanc Style Council with Kleine Zalze
#SauvBlancDay - Joseph Mellot Menetou-Salon Les Thureaux 2013
Jean-Luc Colombo Crozes Hermitage Les Gravieres 2010
Grant Burge Summers Chardonnay 2011‏, Australia

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lunch With Chris Blandy

Lunch with Chris Blandy of The Blandy Group at Dos Combatentes, Funchal

Blond, tanned and handsome with a born-in-duty-free air, thirty-something Chris Blandy is CEO of the hotel, shipping and wine divisions of the Blandy family empire.

We meet for a catch-up over a lunch (which he kindly pays for) at Dos Combatentes, an authentic and unpretentious restaurant next door to the Blandy's Wine Lodge in central Funchal.

Chris orders seared squid, his usual here so I follow suit, and a bottle of Monte Da Peceguina, a crisp, modern easy-drinker from Portugal that goes perfectly with the seafood.
After graduation from a UK university, Chris worked in hospitality outside the family business for several years - a pre-requisite to any senior position in the Blandy Group in order to bring in some independence of thought.

He has gradually taken on more responsibilities within the company and tells me that the wine side of the business is the smallest financially but where his emotional interest lies.

Madeira - once the wine of kings and conquest, victories and celebrations - is now little more than a footnote in the public consciousness of fortified wine. Blandy's is the largest producer of Madeira and Chris does not see the wine as ever regaining its former position; there is not the volume of vineyards and getting there would be too expensive, so he focuses instead on developing Madeira as a niche, hand-sold product, on pricing rather than volume.

This makes sense not just from a financial perspective but also because the canteiro process means that Madeira is indestructible and will last forever, so it is relatively easy to sit on stocks going up in value without the pressure to sell before they are past their peak.

Chris is the seventh-generation CEO of a family company that goes back 200 years; his father now runs a separate holiday rental company after developing the Palheiro Estate and his uncle is in overall charge.

The Blandy's were originally English, but Chris' ancestry now includes the US and South Africa and he is the first of the family to marry a local. He has a global outlook, citing such tourism megatrends as safety and the effect of the Arab spring on Madeira as a safe-haven destination.

His second megatrend is the demand for authenticity, a complete local experience of food, drink and culture; while this provides a synergy between the hotels and wine businesses, it is something of a challenge (or opportunity, depending on how you view it) for the island of Madeira which imports the vast majority of all its food.

If the food and drink on Madeira is surprisingly inexpensive, this is because it is subsidised heavily by Portugal and the EU. This also explains the lack of fresh milk on the island; it is all UHT shipped from Portugal. Even the sand on one of Madeira's few sandy beaches had to be shipped in by boat.

At Chris's recommendation, we later go to a restaurant on the far side of the island which is reviving local traditions - at Quinta Do Furao we sample the Madeiran menu (including limpets, a first for me) with a local table wine, Terras do Avo.

My experience of various parts of the Blandy's empire reveals that they have an attention to detail and a long-termism: the Palheiro Estate where we are staying has American levels of customer service, neat cleanliness and friendliness; the Blandy's Wine Lodge Tour is thorough and well-rehearsed, but has a humanity that never becomes too corporate or slick.
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Monday, 21 September 2015

Codorníu Cuvée Barcelona Brut

An elegant, traditional-method cava from Codorniu

This Cuvée Barcelona Brut from Codorniu is classy and elegant - and looks good too, with its Gaudi-influenced Art Nouveau design.

Green apple, white pear and citrus fruits with a fine mousse - elegant and fresh.

It works well both as an aperitif or with seafood starters.

£12.99 from Sainsbury's and Waitrose.

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Limited Edition Codorníu Brut NV