Happy Christmas and a great 2016 to all plus a review of my year

Wow another Christmas is upon us and I have barely achieved a fraction of the things that I wanted to this year.

However, it was a great year for me for learning about amazing wines and visiting beautiful wine regions, so I can’t really complain. Here a few of my highlights of the year, I hope you enjoy them.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Naples fishing harbour with Capri in the background.

Back in March I visited Campania for the first time, seeing Naples and Pompeii as well as the wine regions of Taurasi, Greco di Tufo, Sannio and many more. It was a great experience full of wonderful wines and interesting stories. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Dobrovo perched on top of a terraced vineyard slope in Brda, Slovenia.

One of my favourite photographs of Slovenian vineyards.

Italy was very much the theme of the year for me as I visited four times in all. The first one was actually an amazing trip to study the wines produced in the north east edge of Italy and over the frontier in neighbouring Slovenia – the tour was called Wine Without Borders. That whole part of the world is very beautiful and produces some stunning wines too and you can read all about it by clicking here.

Typical transport in the countryside.

Typical transport in the Romanian countryside.

One of my most exciting trips of 2015 was to Romania. I had never been to the country at all before and had no idea what to expect from the wines. It turned out to be a beautiful country full of lovely people and some astonishing wines. I did not taste a single terrible wines and was very excited about the quality of most of them. You can read all about it by clicking here.

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

I toured the vineyards of Chablis by 2CV!

In June I was thrilled to go on my first dedicated trip to Chablis and I learned ever such a lot about what makes these wines quite so important. Ever since I have enjoyed talking about Chablis to all my students, but have yet to write about the visit – watch this space.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux on Lake Geneva’s north shore.

In the same month I was honoured to be invited to be a judge at the Mondial du Chasselas wine competition in Switzerland. Chasselas is a real speciality grape in Switzerland, but comes close to being unloved almost anywhere else. Well I think the breadth of wines that I tasted and the sheer quality of most them proves the Swiss are right to love the grape and I loved the trip, as well as the big trip I made to Switzerland’s wine regions in late 2014. You can read all about my Swiss adventures by clicking here.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

The beautiful Neckar Valley is like a mini-Mosel.

New discoveries and experiences continued with a terrific trip to Germany in September. Excitingly I visited Württemberg and the Neckar Valley as well as the amazing Stuttgart Wine Festival. This part of Germany is slightly off the beaten track wine-wise, certainly when compared to the Mosel or Rheingau, but it is well worth seeing as the landscape is very beautiful and some of the wines are stunning. Weingut Wöhrwag‘s 2013 Pinot Noir Untertürkheimer Herzogenberg Großes Gewächs was certainly the best Pinot I tasted in 2015 and one of the very best red wines that I drank all year. I aim to write all about it soon.

Piazza Duomo, Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento, the beautiful capital of Trentino.

My Italian adventures continued in October with an enjoyable trip to Trentino in the north of the country. It is a fascinating and beautiful region that has only been part of Italy since 199, so is steeped in history. The wines were pretty good too, but then so was the beer – you can real all about it by clicking here.

Verona's amazing Roman Arena.

Verona’s amazing Roman Arena.

One added bonus of this trip was that I managed to stay an extra night in Verona and so saw that wonderful little city and was able to experience the delights of Lugana, a white wine from the southern shore of Lake Garda – it might well be my favourite Italian white right now and this delicious example is my Christmas white wine.

As well as overseas visits I have tasted some amazing wines over here too. I was particularly thrilled to meet the charming David Mazza who farms a tiny estate in Western Australia, but makes an amazing range of wines from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties – you can read about him by clicking here.

The new discoveries kept coming too, new grapes like Tibouren from Provence and Cserszegi Fűszeres from Hungary, exciting old vine blends from Chile, a light red or a deep rosé from Tuscany, made from Tempranillo at that! Try as I might I simply could not leave Spain alone, I kept finding amazing Spanish wines that moved and excited me and that offered great value for money too – have a look here, here, here and here.

Along the way too I tasted a superb Albariño from California and another from New Zealand – Albariño is on the march it seems and you can read about them by clicking here.

Just the other day I presented my favourite sparkling wine of the year and I would urge you to try it if you can. It’s rather modestly called Apogee Deluxe Brut and is handmade by the great Andrew Pirie from fruit grown on a  2 hectare vineyard in northern Tasmania. I have long admired what Andrew does and if there is a better Australian fizz than this – indeed any non-Champagne fizz, although it had stiff opposition from Gramona’s amazing 2006 111 Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava – then I have yet to try it. It is certainly a rich style of sparkling wine, but it never gets too serious, the fruit, freshness and frivolity dominate the palate and made me just want to drink more.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

I nearly forgot, all right I did forget and had to come back and add this, the most exciting wine that I drank all year. There was lots of competition from the delicious 2011 Chêne Bleu Aliot, the sublime 1978 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from California and the downright amazing 2001 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes, but my stand out wine was from my own collection and it was a beautifully mature Merlot-Cabernet blend from Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch 19891989 Rozendal
Rozendal Farm
Stellenbosch
South Africa
I was very nervous about opening this. For South Africa it is very old, Nelson Mandela was still in prison when this was made and I know nothing about it. The estate seems to have disappeared. Frankly the wine seemed older and looked older than it was – even the label seems ancient. the nose was classic mature wine, smoky, cedar, earthy and overwhelmingly savoury with some balsamic notes and a touch of dried fruit too. The palate was extraordinary, still all there with that hallmark savoury fragility of very mature wine. Good acidity kept it fresh and provided the secret of its longevity. the tannins were almost totally faded, but for me the big revelation was a solid core of ripe sweet fruit that made it a joy to drink despite its venerable age.

Tasting this was a great moment and one worth recording as mature wine from anywhere other than the classic regions – I include California here – is pretty rare, especially of this quality. If anyone knows anything about Rozendal please let me know, I tried to contact them, but to no avail.

All in all 2015 went too fast, but it was good fun – despite me turning 50 in January – so let’s hope for even more excitement in 2016.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year and thank you so much for reading my wine page.

 

Wine of the Week 71 – a warming and delicious Spanish red

I do try you know. I try very hard to mix things up on these pages, but I do seem to keep returning to Spanish wine. Obviously I write about other things too, but Spain often delivers such great quality and value that I keep finding new and exciting Spanish wines to tell you about – well my new Wine of the Week is another one.

So often when we talk about Spanish wine, we mean northern Spain. This is simply because up until the late twentieth century the south was just too hot to make anything that was considered worthwhile, so the good wines, the wines with a reputation, came from the cooler zones with Atlantic influence. Chief amongst those of course was Rioja. Most of Spain’s other wines were relegated to making local wines for local people.

Well much has changed in Spain over the last 30 years or so and modern wine making technology is now reaching into every corner of this exciting wine producing country. As a result good wines are now being made in regions that were once regarded as bywords for bad wine. Jumilla is probably the most important of these and a real indicator of what Spain can do in the most unlikely places.

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east - click for a larger view

Wine map of Spain, see Jumilla a little way inland from Alicante – click for a larger view.

Jumilla is an up and coming region in the south of Spain. It’s a little inland from Alicante so can be searingly hot in the summer during the growing season, but cool nights and altitudes up to 900 metres above sea level can give some relief. Most producers have a range of grape varieties including Tempranillo, Syrah, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, but the region’s principal grape is Monastrell – which can also be called Mourvèdre and Mataro.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Jumilla (pronounced Who-meeya) really is producing delicious wines right now – see the wines of Juan Gil, especially his Silver Label – and one that I tasted recently impressed me very much indeed, so I made it my Wine of the Week.

monastrell2012 Casa Castillo Monastrell
Bodegas Casa Castillo
D.O. Jumilla
Spain

This terrific estate was at the forefront of the wine revolution in Jumilla as in 1985 the Vicente family completely renovated and renewed the winery they had owned since 1941 in order to concentrate on producing the best wines they could. Until that point it had mainly just produced grapes for the local bulk wine that I remember as being particularly nasty in my early days. The winery had originally been started by some Frenchmen in 1870 who were seeking a new start after the ravages of phylloxera back home. Phylloxera never really got a hold here in the very stony, arid clay-less soils and as a consequence the estate has some plantings of very old vines, many of them on their own roots.

This is Casa Castillo’s second tier wine. Their entry level Vendimia is a Monastrell-Tempranillo blend whilst they also produce Las Gravas – a blend of old vine Monastrell with Cabernet and Syrah aged for 12 months in new French oak – and Pie Franco – 100% Monastrell from ungrafted vines planted in 1941 which spends 14 months in a mix of new French and American barrels.

The Monastrell actually has a little – uncredited – Syrah too just to soften the tannins. It is macerated on the skins for colour and cold fermented in stainless steel. This has revolutionised Jumilla’s wines, it was not so long ago they fermented in earthenware tinajas – often called amphorae nowadays (incorrectly in my opinion) – buried in the ground, which were impossible to clean. The modern ways are scrupulously clean and produce far better – and fruitier – results. It get a few months in neutral French and American oak barrels, but oak does not dominate, it just makes the wine a little more rounded, smooth and more complex.

The colour is dense and opaque, like squashed blackberries, while the nose is richly fruity – blueberry and blackberry – with liquorice spice and earthy, savoury and herbal notes. Fresh blue-black fruit dominates the palate with a rich, almost creamy texture and something inky too. Smooth, supple tannins, some surprising freshness and a dusting of spice add to the structure and complexity. The wine is pretty full bodied and very full flavoured, enjoy it with something heart, meaty and warming – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from The Wine Society for £8.50 per bottle.
For US stockist information click HERE.

 

 

Wine of the Week 40 – a southern Spanish sensation

As some of you who read these pages regularly will be aware, I love Spanish wine. I think Spain is a great wine producing country that makes exciting wines in all styles. In truth I think Spain is underappreciated given the quality and value that it produces. It pains me that so many people still just think, if it’s Spanish it must be Rioja. Spain is so much more than just Rioja – great wine region though Rioja is and much as I love good Rioja wines.

I really enjoy introducing drinkers to new regions of Spain, as the wines always seem to go down well and it is always fun seeing someone taste and enjoy a wine for the first time – and often it isn’t only just a new wine, but new region and grape variety too!

Well the other day I showed a red that summed up exactly why I find Spain so exciting. It was a lovely, warming Winter wine that is so delicious to drink and such great value that I made it my Wine of the Week.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

mas-delmera-monastrell-reserva2008 Mas Delmera Monastrell Reserva
Bodegas Mas Delmera
D.O. Jumilla
Albacete, Spain
Historically the Spanish wines that became famous were all from the north where it is cooler and the conditions less wild. In the south the weather is so hot and the land so wild and rugged that in the past it was very hard to make good wine – the exception is Sherry of course which was fortified in order to preserve it. Other wines did not have the advantage of being fortified, so did not keep as well and were generally considered to be less fine than the wines from the north, especially Rioja. I well remember tasting a Jumilla red in the early 1970s, I was very young so my palate would not have been used to red wine at all, but it was foul. Even my father poured it away, and he drinks anything!

Jumilla is a hot region of southern Spain, midway between the city of Murcia and Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha – the wine region (Denominación de Origen / D.O.) straddles the border. In the past the wines tasted dirty and stewed, because the wineries were filthy places and bacteria got into the wine. It didn’t help that in this region of Spain they used to ferment in clay tinajas – these are often erroneously called amphorae and are making something of a comeback, especially in Chile and for natural wine. In Spain these were huge jars, usually buried in the ground and they were impossible to clean properly, so the bacteria in them would have made the wine unstable. The upshot of these problems, and many others, was that by the mid 1970s Jumilla was on its knees as a wine region, with only the locals drinking the wines. Clean, bright, fresh wine was freely available in Spain, usually from Rioja and Penedès – take a bow Miguel Torres, so consumers were put of the hot, brackish, stewed and often murky wine of Jumilla. In fact such were the region’s woes that it was only created as a D.O. in 1996, once the region’s potentially bright future had been glimpsed.

And what a bright future it is. Producers have worked so hard, replacing the aged tinajas with clean stainless steel tanks and making sure the wineries are so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor. The fermentations can now take place at low temperatures, so the wines are fresher and brighter and the clean winemaking ensures they stay vibrant and fruity too. What’s more the growers have worked hard too, by finding sheltered and high, cool places to plant the vines so that the grapes do not turn to raisins in the fierce sun. By doing this they turn the heat to their advantage. The place is so arid that the vines barely grow to any height above ground, but put down very deep roots below ground. This means the vine produces a tiny crop of concentrated, flavoursome grapes, so the finished wines are rich and full-flavoured.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

For me the key Jumilla producer is Bodegas Juan Gil who makes a dazzling range of wines with bright, vibrant fruit backed up by an elegant structure that makes them a real delight – do try some of them if you get the chance, UK stockist information is here, US here, but there are other producers too, as my Wine of the Week shows. 

This wine is made by the wonderful Pamela Geddes, who is a Brit with long experience of making wine in Spain. The blend is 90% Monastrell, which the French call Mourvèdre and the Aussies call Mataro, and there is 10% Tempranillo too, which spends 3 months in oak just to firm up the wine and give it a bit more elegance.

The colour shows it age with a little garnet around the edge, but is mainly a dark, opaque ruby.
The nose betrays the heat of Jumilla, you can smell hot rocks, wild herbs and rich, ripe fruit; blackberry, blueberry, rich strawberry and some deep plum too. The palate is full-bodied and very smooth, with loads of fruit, it has some age now so it isn’t the bright fruit of youth, but the broader flavours of older wine, plums and prunes as well as blackberry. There is some earthiness and leather from the ageing too, as well as some caramel, mocha and espresso from the touch of oak. All in all a lovely crowd pleaser of a wine, smooth, full-flavoured, full-bodied and with some nice maturity on it too, grab it while you can – 87/100 points.

 Available in the UK for £10.50 a bottle from Great Western Wine.

If you have never tasted a wine from Spain’s deep south, then this is a perfect place to start. You will really enjoy them if wines from the Rhône are your thing, or if you like Malbec, or Shiraz, or just good red wines. This delicious red wine would be perfect with roast lamb, a rich casserole or even a comforting shepherd’s pie or a burger.