New Wine of the Week – quirky deliciousness from the Loire Valley

Vines in Saumur, photo courtesy of Bouvet-Ladubay.

Vines in Saumur, photo courtesy of

I love quirky wine. I love talking about quirky wine and encouraging others to try quirky wine too. So many wines are so dull, I wish more people would open their minds and try many more different things – remember to click ALL the links.

Well recently I tried a wine that is far from dull. In fact it is really quite odd, to us in the UK anyway. It is a sparkling red made by the famous firm of Bouvet-Ladubay and I enjoyed it so much and found it so different that I made it my Wine of the Week. Sparkling reds are often regarded with a bit of suspicion, which is a great shame as they can often be delicious whether they are from Australia, France, Spain, or Italy in the form of real Lambrusco.

Vines at Château de Saumur, photo courtesy of Bouvet-Ladubay.

Vines at Château de Saumur, photo courtesy of Bouvet-Ladubay.

The tuffeau cellars, photo courtesy of Bouvet-Ladubay.

The tuffeau cellars, photo courtesy of Bouvet-Ladubay.

Bouvet RubisBouvet Rubis Demi-Sec
Vin Mousseux
Bouvet-Ladubay
St Hilaire St Florent, Saumur, Loire Valley
France

Bouvet-Ladubay were founded near Saumur in 1851 and has been owned and run by Monmousseau since 1932 except for a, relatively, brief interlude from 1974 to 2015 when it was owned by Champagne Taittinger and then Diagio. 

Saumur has long been known for quality sparkling wine production, as the climate is pretty cool. The soils are chalky and the bedrock is tuffeau which was mined for centuries to use as a building material. As a consequence the whole region has a warren of deep caves where the excavations happened. Some of them have been turned into troglodyte villages, some into mushroom farms and many into wine cellars, as the rock keeps them at a constant temperature. Bouvet-Ladubay age their sparkling wines in some of these tuffeau cellars.

This wine is simply labelled as a humble Vin Mousseux, or sparkling wine, but it is made using the traditional method and from a local noble grape variety – Cabernet Franc. It is possible that it does not have an appellation because it is not aged in the cellars on the lees for long enough, as the makers want the fruit to dominate – which it does.

One of the great things about sparkling reds is the lovely ruby coloured froth and that is just as you would hope from a wine called Rubis, or ruby in English. The nose has wonderful crushed raspberry and cherry notes and it is yeasty too, in fact it sort of smells a bit like a winery. The palate is richly fruity with black and red cherry, enlivened by some of the freshness of raspberry and strawberry and some cleansing acidity, together with a little sweetness. It is also enriched by some chocolate-like characters and a touch of bitter cherry stone flavours that help balance the sweetness too. In some ways this seems a weird wine, until you drink it anyway and then you realise what a very drinkable and delicious wine it is, so embrace the weird – 88/100 points.

Bouvet recommend having this with Raspberry Sorbet Macaroons, while I think it would go splendidly with duck and a wide array of cheeses. I actually enjoyed mine with a curry though, so it lives up to its cockney-rhyming slang name.

Available in the UK at £13.49 per bottle from Majestic Wine Warehouses – currently on offer at £11.99 and at £9.99 as part of 6 mixed bottles.

Wine of the Week 50 – a fine, delicious and complex Chenin

I cannot really claim to be a fan of Chenin Blanc, there I’ve said it and many of my friends will be shocked that I could make that statement. I have, of course, had some Chenins that I appreciate and a few that I even liked a lot, but by and large it is a grape variety that does not move me, which is strange as I really like acidity, one of Chenins most important attributes. For me the inherent flavours of the grape lack purity, which is something I really like in my white wines.

Well, I like to keep an open mind and so this week when I tasted an absolutely superb Chenin, I made it my Wine of the Week.

Château de Fesles, photo courtesy of Grandes Caves St Roch / Les Grandes Caves de France.

Château de Fesles, photo courtesy of Grandes Caves St Roch / Les Grandes Caves de France.

Chenin2011 Château de Fesles Chenin Sec ‘La Chapelle’ Vielles Vignes
Château de Fesles
A.C. Anjou, Loire Valley, France
Château de Fesles is in Thouarcé near the village of Bonnezeaux in France’s Loire Valley and it is very old, in fact the original bits were built as long ago as 1070. Bonnezeaux is famous for its botrytised dessert wines made from Chenin Blanc. They farm 19 hectares  to make  Anjou Rouge from Cabernet Franc (here is a former Wine of the Week made from Cabernet Franc and another, do try them if you can) and Cabernet Sauvignon and Anjou Blanc from Chenin. Another 14 hectares fall within the Bonnezeaux appellation which is famous for making botrytised dessert wines, again from Chenin. The  Château overlooks the Layon River which often causes fogs  and misty mornings which cause the humidity which allows the noble rot / botrytis to set in.

Wine map of the Loire Valley – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Wine map of the Loire Valley – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

These sweet wines have long been hard to sell and so the property was struggling and changed hands several times before the mighty Les Grands Chais de France bought it in 2008, although the previous owner – Bernard Germain – had renovated the winery and vineyards. More importantly M. Germain had also started focussing on producing fine dry white Chenin and the new owners have kept this policy going.

The trick is to use old vines – which give more concentrated flavours – and the parcel here consists of 55 year old vines. They conduct a very careful selection of the fruit to make sure only the best grapes go in, oh and they really work hard to ensure those grapes are perfectly ripe in the first place – something that has traditionally been a problem in the cool northern climate of the Loire Valley. In fact they have focussed on the vineyard just as much as the winery and the new owners have started using organic methods.

The wine is then fermented in big – 400 litre – old oak barrels, between 1 and 4 years old – the use of bigger oak – the standard barrel is 225 litre – and older wood gives more subtle oak characters than newer and smaller barrels would. The wine is then aged in barrel for a further 6 months on the lees.

The colour is a rich straw with touches of gold.
On the nose there is lots of baled apple, honey, leafy herbaceous notes, gentle smoke and vanilla and even a touch of light pineapple and quince.
The palate has high acidity cutting through opulent apricot and pineapple fruit and the rich creamy quality. There is a touch of  spicy oak, that leafy quality from the nose, some minerality and a ripe sweetness of fruit (although the wine is dry) reminiscent of membrillo or quince jelly.

The attention to detail, the ripeness, the concentration and the subtle use of has all lifted this Chenin Blanc to a new level of sophistication, elegance and layered complexity too. I should also add that it is really delicious and nice to drink. Some people say it should be aged in order to develop more complexity, but I personally like a wine like this in its youth with freshness there too – 90/100 points.

Drink it with white meats and fish dishes, even those with a creamy sauce. It is also very good with cheese, very, very good in fact. I loved it with some superbly tangy, nutty and somewhat soft and creamy Godminster Organic Cheddar which was a perfect foil for the creamy texture of the wine and its refreshing acidity. Godminster Organic Cheddar is available here, here and here.

Available in the UK for £14 per bottle from Waitrose, Waitrose Cellar.

If you want to taste an exciting white wine that offers some creamy richness and real complexity, then I really do recommend this, give it a try and let us know what you think.

 

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Style

Chinese New Year is looming and so it’s always fun to celebrate with a good Chinese meal. I have already had mine, because the nice people who promote wine from the Loire Valley’s Central Vineyards area, or Centre-Loire as they call it, sent me some bottles to judge for myself how well they go with Chinese food.

Loire Map QS 2015 watermarked

Wine map of the Loire Valley – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This sub-region of the Loire Valley is very beautiful and is a cool climate area that is most famous for producing crisp white wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, which is supposed to come from around here. In fact though, there are 7 appellations here – 8 if you count Pouilly-sur-Loire separately (these white wines are made from Chassellas grapes) – and only 2 of them are just for white wines: Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy both only use Sauvignon Blanc, while Menetou-Salon, Sancerre and Reuilly also use Pinot Noir to make red and rosé too. The Coteaux du Giennois also makes Sauvignon Blanc whites, but can also use Gamay in its red and rosé wines, while the more obscure Châteaumeillant only makes reds from Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Sancerre.

Sancerre.

The line up of wines was really interesting, with a Pouilly-Fumé, a red Sancerre and a Rosé Sancerre as well as a pair of whites from 2 slightly lesser known appellations; Reuilly and Coteaux du Giennois. The 3 Sauvignons showed differences too, which made for some interesting interaction with my Chinese take away.

Which brings me to the food. I ordered the meal from an excellent Noodle place I know and I stuck to really traditional dishes too – traditional British Chinese food that is, whether it’s authentic Chinese food or not, I have no idea. The starters were Peking Dumplings complete with their vinegar dip, Crispy Prawn Dumplings with sweet chilli dip and Chicken Satay in the classic spicy peanut sauce – I know that isn’t really chinese, but all Chinese restaurants seem to do it nowadays. Then there was a course of Crispy Aromatic Duck complete with pancakes, spring onions and Hoi-Sin sauce. The mains were very traditional, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Szechuan King Prawns – in a spicy sauce – and Sweet and Sour Pork which I ordered for nostalgic reasons as well as to see how it went with the wines. There was also a spicy Singapore Noodle and some Egg Fried Rice.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

The food was very good actually, the first Chinese food I have had in a long, long time and it reminded me how much I can like this cuisine. What’s more I was pleased with the selection as I had ordered a good cross section of flavours and styles, some of which I suspected would challenge any wine.

Here are the wines and an idea of how they worked with the food:

PF2013 Pouilly-Fumé Champalouettes
Caves de Pouilly-sur-Loire
A.C. Pouilly-Fumé
This was the most traditional style on show and reminded me of how Pouilly-Fumé used to be.
The colour was very pale, but very bright too, a silvery lime in a way that most modern wines are not – they are usually deeper.
The nose was stony and mineral with some lime, hints of orange and wafts of stone fruit too. There was also some green pepper and herbaceous notes too.
The palate was taut and very lemony, with very high acid, grapefruit and elderflower. It was overwhelmingly green and quite nicely mineral, but just a little bit dilute, but then it was a tricky vintage. All in all a nice wine, but lacking a little depth – 84/100 points

With the food: Because this was a very light style, it suited the lighter dishes very well indeed. It was perfect with the Chicken and Cashew Nuts for instance and it was also very good with the dumplings. It even coped with the acidity of the vinegar dip – acid with acid always seems to work. It came a little unstuck with the richer flavours of the sweet chilli dip, the satay sauce and the Hoi-Sin of the duck, as well as the tangy sweetness of the sweet and sour, it seemed to me that it just did not have enough weight of fruit to cope well with these dishes. It was lovely with the prawn crackers though.

Conclusion, keep this for the aperitif, with fried things, crisps, scampi, fish and chips, but best of all delicate fish dishes and the local Loire Valley cheese.

Available in the UK from Sainsbury’s at £13.00 per bottle.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

MS_FD_F23A_00902823_NC_X_EC_02012 Domaine de Villargeau Sauvignon Blanc
Domaine de Villargeau
A.C. Coteaux du Giennois
Strangely, although this wine was older, it was more lifted and aromatic, with rich lemon and lime citrus aromas.
The palate has good weight, with some orchard fruit and even a touch of cream and then refreshing, but not tart high acidity and citrus. It came over as being lovely, cleansing and pure, but with very attractive richness and good concentration of fruit. The finish was very long and I thought this was a very good wine – 89/100 points.

With the food: Because this was a richer style with more succulence and concentration of fruit giving that sort of fruit sweetness to the wine, it went very well with everything, even the sweet chilli and Hoi-Sin – to my surprise.

Conclusion, a perfect wine to go with a wide array of dishes, just as you get in a Chinese meal.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencer at £9.99 per bottle.

Nathalie2014 Nathalie Reuilly 
Domaine Claude Lafond
A.C. Reuilly
This is the Lafond’s top cuvée and is named for Claude Lafond’s daughter Nathalie, who is the winemaker of the operation. It’s a lovely wine too, very much at the mineral end of the spectrum though. The colour is that pale silvery lemon and the nose is very gooseberry and nettle – I think, I’m not actually sure that I’ve ever eaten any, but you get the picture. The palate is very refreshing with gooseberry, lemon, elderflower and the sensation of sucking pebbles. There is just a touch of blackcurrant leaf too. All in all a very good and elegant, mineral wine – 88/100 points.

With the food: Because this was lighter than the previous wine, it did not go with everything so well, but it was  little richer than the first wine and was just able to cope with the sweet chilli, so it was perfect with three quarters of dishes.

Conclusion, if this was my only bottle I would have selected lighter, fresher tasting dishes, but it was still good with most of the meal.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouse at £11.99 per bottle.

Sancerre rose etienne de Loury2013 Sancerre Rosé 
Domaine Etienne de Loury
A.C. Sancerre
This wine showed me that I just do not drink enough Sancerre Rose. The colour was a delicate strawberry and rose petal hue that was very enticing, while the nose of delicate red fruits, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, with the merest touch of red jelly sweets and rose petal jam. The palate was overwhelmingly red cherry and delicate strawberry, with very good, refreshing acidity keeping it all in check. A lovely wine that feels both casual and sophisticated – 88/100 points.

With the food: That little touch of sweetness of fruit was enough to make this a perfect partner with all the dishes, even the sweet and sour and the Hoi-Sin sauce with the duck, while its refreshing acidity made it a good foil to the fried stuff too.

Conclusion, a good all rounder, enjoy it with everything or just on its own as an aperitif.

Available in the UK from Oddbins at £17.00 per bottle.

Sancerre rouge2013 Sancerre Rouge au Bois de l’Épine 
Maison Foucher Lebrun
A.C. Sancerre
A light and delicate red wine that is very attractive indeed. The nose is of soft red fruit with a touch of fresh earth and minerality too. The palate is smooth and quite light, with very soft tannins, but really nice plump, soft, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit.  There is just a touch of chalky tannin on the finish, which makes it more structured and elegant than if it was just all about fruit, as does the fresh acidity – 88/100 points.

With the food: The sweetness of the fruit made it work very well with the duck and the richer dishes, but the intensity of the wine, light though it was, was not so perfect with the lighter dishes. Chilling it made it much more versatile though.

Conclusion, best with the richer dishes, but a good all rounder once chilled.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencers at £15.00 per bottle.

So in conclusion here, the combination of Chinese food and the wines of the Loire’s Central Vineyards seems to work very well and give enjoyable combinations.

What’s more, if you are still hungry after all that Chinese food, you could try some cheese from the Loire with the wines too. There are 6 appellation controlée cheeses in the Loire and they are all made from goats milk; Valençay, Crottin de Chevignol, Chabichou du Poutou, Pouligny St. Pierre, Selles-sur-Cher and Sainte-Maure de Touraine. Legend has it that when the invading Arabs were defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732 they left their goats behind. Whether that is true or not the cheeses are perfect with the local wines and guess what year it is is after 19 February? Yup, you’ve guessed it, The Year of the Goat, so you see, so it all ties in quite nicely and shows just how versatile food and wine pairings can be.

Wine of the Week 30 – a great Cabernet Franc from South Africa

Stellenbosch vineyard with Table Mountain in the distance.

Stellenbosch vineyard with Table Mountain in the distance.

Cabernet Franc is a grape whose charms have seduced me more and more over the years. When I was younger I usually found it green, hard and dusty, but growers seem to really know how to manage this tricky grape nowadays to produce wines that are smooth, rich and ripe. Of course Cabernet Franc originates in France’s Loire Valley region where it makes the lovely red wines of Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, Anjou Rouge, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, but it is increasingly grown all around the world and superb examples are starting to emerge from many new world countries, notably this lovely wine from Valdivieso in Chile, or this one from Lagarde in Argentina. It is also one of the parents of the more widely seen Cabernet Sauvignon grape, the other parent being Sauvignon Blanc.

Well the other day I presented a tasting of wines to Verulam Wine Tasting Club, which is a wine society in St Albans that I love visiting. The theme was wines that I had found on my travels that would be great for Christmas.  I showed them all sorts of delights, most of which I will write about soon, but 2 of the red wines seem to have gone down especially well – as did the sparkling, the 3 amazing white wines and the sumptuous sweet wine too. One of the reds was the Domaine Lupier El Terroir, which was my second Wine of the Week all those months ago. The other wine was KWV The Mentors Cabernet Franc.

This is a wine that means quite a lot to me. I first tasted it – the 2010 vintage anyway – in South Africa while judging in the Michelangelo International Wine Awards. Obviously we tasted it blind, but it totally thrilled the whole panel and we gave it a Grand Gold Medal and because I loved it so much I took note of the sample number so that I could find out what the wine was once the results had been released. And blow me down if it didn’t turn out to be a Cabernet Franc from KWV.

The KWV is very famous in the context of South African wine. It was a cooperative created by the government in 1918 to regulate the production of South African wine and many UK wine drinkers remembers their Roodeberg and Pinotages from the late 1970s with affection. In addition to table wines they have always produced excellent brandy and delicious fortified wines – this superb KWV Tawny from Marks & Spencer is well worth trying. In truth after democracy came to South Africa, KWV lost its way somewhat and the wines were a shadow of their former selves for quite a while. So, this tasting was my first inkling that things had begun to turn around. The second chance I had to see how KWV had changed was when I enjoyed a memorable tasting and dinner there hosted by Richard Rowe, their head wine maker, at the Laborie Wine Farm in Paarl.

It was a great experience with superb food – including my first taste of Bunny Chow – and a wonderful setting, but it was the wines that thrilled me the most. We tasted a wide range of their new Mentors range which was created from 2006 onwards with its own purpose built cellar and winery to create small production wines from parcels of outstanding fruit. As a consequence the Mentors range comes from different appellations and locations and the range varies from year to year, for instance there was no Cabernet Franc in 2011, all of which helps to make it really interesting.

The KWV Mentors range includes one of my favourite Pinotages, excellent Shiraz, superb Grenache Blanc and a first rate Petit Verdot, as well as a couple of fascinating blends; The Orchestra is a classic Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec blend, while the Canvas is a more unusual blend of Shiraz, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir.

It was the KWV Mentors Cabernet Franc that first wowed me though and it was what I showed at the tasting and so I have made it my new Wine of the Week.

P1050024

KWV’s Laborie Wine Farm in Paarl.

 

KWV The Mentors Cabernet Franc 20122012 KWV Mentors Cabernet Franc
W.O. Stellenbosch
South Africa
The 2012 comes from Stellenbosch, whereas the 2010 was from W.O. Coastal Region and certainly the difference shows, as there is much more fruit intensity here. The wine is all about fruit selection, choosing the best parcels and blocks in their best vineyards, fruit that shows optimum ripeness and expression. After the initial selection, there is a further hand selection in the winery to ensure only perfect grapes get in. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with regular pump overs to extract colour, flavour and tannins from the skins. Malolactic took place in barrel before 18 months ageing in French oak barrels, of which 70% were new.
The colour is intense, opaque, vivid and youthful – it looks like a blackcurrant coulis.
The nose is aromatic, earthy and vibrantly fruity with raspberry, cherry, truffles, cedar and cinnamon.
The palate is lusciously textured with creamy ripe fruit, coffee and cocoa. There are firm, fine grippy tannins balanced by the wonderfully rich fruit and a nice refreshing cut of acidity.
This is deeply impressive, rich, intensely concentrated and quite delicious. If you prefer less tannin or less obvious fruit then age it  for a few years, as the oak is certainly dominating to some degree at the moment, but it works really well and the fruit is big enough to just about hold its own. Age it for 4-5 years, or open it early and serve with something hearty like a casserole or rib of beef – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £15.49 a bottle from SAWines onlineFoods 4U, and Edgmond Wines.

This wine is tremendously good and deserves a wider audience, so do try it if you get the chance. It would certainly impress your guests over the festive season and grace any dinner party perfectly. It really would be superb with a casserole or a pie, shepherd’s pie – anything meaty really and it goes superbly with hard cheeses too.

 

Wine of the Week 20 – a lovely, honest, great value red wine & a bit of a rant

Chinon with Chinon Castle above. This where Joan of Arc met the dauphin of France. "Château Chinon" by Touriste - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ch%C3%A2teau_Chinon.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Ch%C3%A2teau_Chinon.JPG

Chinon nestling below the walls of Chinon Castle. This where Joan of Arc met the dauphin of France. “Château Chinon” by Touriste – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A bit of a rant
Sometimes I despair about how wine is sold in the UK – by many of the supermarkets anyway. At the cheaper end of the price spectrum it is getting harder and harder to find a wine that is not some sort of own label product. Therefore it is getting harder to buy wines that are made by the producer without input from the UK stockist. Most cheaper wines are tweaked to some degree to make the style more palatable to the UK drinker. I suppose there is nothing terrible about making wine more palatable to certain tastes, but it does sort of fly in the face of what wine has traditionally been about.

Call me an old romantic, but somewhere in the back of my mind I still cling to the thought that wine should at its heart be all about where and how the vines are grown. Where the style of a wine comes about from the balance between the climate and traditions of an area together with the skills of the winemaker, rather than customer research saying what people want.

After all there are so many possibilities in wines and so many options that no one can possibly know every style, grape, blend or flavour that is possible. So if supermarkets only offer people what they think they want, which will by definition be based on their, possibly, limited experience, then the range of wines people are offered the chance to experience will become narrower and narrower. And that is most definitely happening already.

What then happens to all the grapes people have never heard of? Or the styles of wine people have never tried? They will slowly wither and stop being produced, which will be an absolute tragedy as there are still so many wonderful wines out there just waiting to be tasted by the adventurous.

I think that supermarkets and wine merchants should try to lead the market. To some degree they should offer their customers some idea of the diversity of wines that is possible and not just stick to a narrow range of wines that they know sells and that focus groups tell them their customers want. Remember what Henry Ford is supposed to have said about his early days, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’

It’s just as relavent when applied to wine, if consumers are led to believe that there are only about 6 different grapes, they will say they want more Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Shiraz.

I am also tired of those fake discounts which make out a wine is half price when it is merely discounted to the price it should have been in the first place. So I am delighted to tell you that lurking on Sainsbury’s shelves there is still a wine that fits my criteria for a traditional and honest wine, what’s more it sits there year after year, never being promoted, so it is at a sensible price to start with – it’s something of a bargain actually.

My Wine of the Week
It is a red wine from France’s Loire Valley made from Cabernet Franc grapes in Chinon. Back in my youth Loire Valley reds were pretty problematic and usually underripe with green tannins. Not anymore, I have become more and more keen on the reds from this part of the world in recent years and think they can offer delicious drinking.

Domaine du Colombier - by kind permission Domaine du Colombier.

Domaine du Colombier – by kind permission Domaine du Colombier.

The cellar at Domaine du Colombier

The cellar at Domaine du Colombier – by kind permission Domaine du Colombier.

Colombier QS2011 Chinon Domaine du Colombier
Christine & Olivier Jouvault
A.C. Chinon, Loire, France
Domaine du Colombier has belonged to the Jouvault family for five generations. It comprises 24 hectares of vines in Beaumont-en-Véron, some 6 km northwest of Chinon itself. Cabernet Franc, for reds and rosés and Chenin Blanc, for whites are the only two grapes permitted in the Chinon appellation. Like so many of the producers around here they have wonderful cellars dug into the tufa rock below their winery and this is where they age their wines. Growing the Cabernet Franc on trellis systems, to maximise exposure to the sun, de-stemming, long fermentations on the skins and daily pump overs, to get the skins and juice in contact with each other, has improved wines like this beyond recognition. There is nothing green or harsh about this wine at all.
The colour is an attractive medium-deep cherry tinged ruby.
The nose is richly fruity, but it’s dry fruit, red fruit, plums and cherry with notes of fresh earth and brambles and some ripe green pepper too.
The palate is medium bodied with enough juiciness of cherry, plum and black cherry fruit to make it supple and the freshness – acidity – gives it a feeling of elegance. The tannins are very light, just a little chalky on the finish and there is a leafiness quite characteristic of French Cabernet Franc, in fact it is a textbook example of what a red Chinon should be.
The fresh acidity means it is very nice lightly chilled too, but be warned, it is very drinkable. A lovely honest wine, the sort of thing I would enjoy served by the pichet in a bistro with steak frîtes or confit du canard with dauphinoise potatoes.

Rather stupidly, I almost never drink Chinon except when I am in a French restaurant, preferably of the laid back brasserie / bistrot type, but then I am always drawn to it  because it just goes with the food so well. Having taken to this wine so much I have discovered that Chinon Rouge goes with pretty much anything else too, it is a very versatile food wine indeed.

This is one of those rarities from a major supermarket, a wine made by a proper vigneron exactly as they want and sold at the proper price without any fake promotions or anyone over branding it and it has become my house red of the moment – 88/100 points

Available in the UK from Sainsbury’s at £7.00 per bottle, which is pretty amazing considering it’s €6 from the winery – so you see, contrary to popular belief, wine is not stupidly expensive in the UK!

If you are unfamiliar with Loire Valley reds, then this wine would be a good place to start. If you already know them and love them, then this is a bargain that you should snap up.

Chinon is also a wonderful place to visit by the way. It’s steeped in history, has one of the most amazing castles in France, the local food is superb and the wine is a joy. It is very much the France of one’s imagination, so well worth a visit.

In praise of sparkling wine

I have been musing quite a bit about Sparkling wine over the festive period which seems so long ago now – where does time go?

I love Champagne, it is one of the greatest wine styles and wine regions in the world, but sadly I cannot often afford to drink it. Nor do I always want it as many other sparkling wines are wonderful wines that give a great deal of pleasure in their own right.

Which brings me on to my theme here – sparkling wine in restaurants. Very few eateries seem to want to sell me a bottle of sparkling wine, while they all want to sell me a bottle of Champagne, but of course never from the affordable end of the spectrum. It’s always big names and famous brands, which is all very nice, but a bit beyond most of us except for a special occasion. But here’s the thing – restauranteurs take note – my finances will not stretch to Champagne at restaurant prices very often, so on the very few occasions that I order Champagne I almost never order another bottle as well. If the restaurant listed a good quality sparkling wine at a fair price though I would almost certainly start with a bottle of that AND have a bottle of wine afterwards – surely I cannot be alone in that?

Few other sparkling wines quite reach that level of finesse or complexity that Champagne can reach. Few have that sensation of tension and utter purity that the chalky soils and cold climate of Champagne can achieve – even some very good value Champagnes, but there are many very good sparkling wines around that deliver all sorts of other pleasures and they deserve a fair hearing and not just to be dismissed as something ‘lesser’. In truth a good sparkling wine is different, not inferior and can make a lovely aperitif or partner the starter, fish dishes or Chinese and Thai food beautifully as well as many other dishes.

In recent months I have tried many excellent sparkling wines and I often wonder why so few of them are available on restaurant wine lists. I have tasted lovely examples from France, Sicily, Austria, Germany, New York, Chile, California, South Africa and Spain amongst many others, here are a few that really stand out, whether for sheer quality, drinkability or value for money, they are all are non vintage unless specified and all made by the traditional – or Champagne – method, so Prosecco will be covered another day:

prod_370121Perle Noire Crémant d’Alsace
Arthur MetzLes Grands Chais de France, Alsace, France

I am always drawn to Crémant d’Alsace, it seems to me that the region makes very good fizz, albeit very different from Champagne. Mostly I favour the ones made from Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but Chardonnay is allowed too, this super example is made from 100% Auxerrois, which being a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir shares the same parents as Chardonnay, but originates in Lorraine and is widely used in Alsace where it is normally blended into wine labelled as Pinot Blanc.
This wine has a lovely apricotty nose with the merest touch of richer raspberry and some brioche notes too. The palate is soft and the mousse slightly creamy and has nice orchard fruit characters. The wine is delicate and delicious and soft, rather than being elegant and poised, but is a very enjoyable bottle of fizz. I wish I could find this in the UK, I would love to buy it and order it in restaurants too – 87/100 points

B052241Benanti Brut Noblesse
Azienda Vinicola Benanti, Etna, Sicily, Italy
This is a delightful sparkling wine made from Carricante grapes, grown at between 950 and 1200 metres above sea level, plus some other local grapes to add a little richness to the acidic, taut and mineral citrus notes of Carricante. It was quite delicious and hit the spot rather well before climbing up into the vineyards. A small portion of the wine is barrel fermented and it is aged on the lees over the winter before the second fermentation takes place the following Spring. After bottling it was aged for 18 months on the lees before disgorging. An attractive and enjoyable sparkling wine of excellent quality and finesse, if not great complexity – 87/100 points.

brut_hd1Donnafugata Brut Metodo Classico
Donnafugata, Sicily, Italy
This fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend was my favourite Sicilian sparkling wine of my trip last year and interestingly the grapes are purposely grown on high north-east facing slopes which protect the grapes from the sun and so preserve the grape’s acids. It was nicely balanced with good fruit and acidity as well as complexity from 28 months ageing on the lees, a beautiful label too – 89/100 points.

WC_SparklingWine_PD5_ePhilippe Michel Crémant de Jura Brut
Jura, France

This pure Chardonnay sparkler is an easy and affordable way to try something from the tiny Jura region of eastern France and it is very good, much better than the modest price tag would lead you to think. It is pure Chardonnay and crisp with a lean apply structure, the merest hint of toast and tends towards the firm, taut texture of Champagne, although some flourishes of subtle tropical fruit soften the plate somewhat – 85/100 points
An amazing bargain from Aldi @ £6.99

bw_26661_49bec9c1be734a9e6e6be89610319ec0

Arestel Cava Brut
Cavas Arestel, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalunya, Spain

I know nothing about this producer at all except that they appear to be a proper Cava House, not just a label and they supply Lidl with their Cava and it seems really very good for anything like the asking price, certainly a cut above most cheap Cava and perfect when you just want to keep drinking fizz in quantity! It is soft, dry and apply  in flavour with a touch of pear too, but has a nice mouthfeel with none of that soapy quality cheap fizz can have – 84/100 points, this scores especially well for value, but really it is very well made.
Another amazing bargain this time from Lidl @ £4.79

brutMiguel Torres Pinot Noir Brut
Curicó Valley, Chile
I am always amazed by how little sparkling wine there is in Chile, most of the fizz drunk down there comes from Argentina, but there are a couple of stars, Cono Sur‘s delightful tank method sparkler and this beauty from Miguel Torres. This is a lovely traditional method wine with good depth of peachy orchard and raspberry red fruit, a lovely golden hue and fragrant brioche notes and flavours. Works very well and is the best Chilean fizz I have ever tasted – 88/100 points.

rmc_255x4542011 Codorníu Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs Brut
Bodegas Codorníu, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalunya, Spain
I have long been a fan of Codorníu, small bottles of their Cava – their Benjamin – were my first drink as a teenager in the discos of Spain. They invented Cava in 1872 and continue to make a wide range of delicious and high quality Cavas, but this is in a different league from most caves available in the UK. Recent vintages of this impressive wine have been pure Pinot Noir and it is that which gives the red fruit richness and depth to the palate, while floral freshness dominates the aromas. 15 months on the lees lend a touch of brioche and creaminess to the wine. If you have only tried cheap Cava in the past you owe it to yourself to give this a go – 91/100 points.
Great value for money from Majestic @ £14.99 – sometimes £9.99 when you buy 2

Sparkling-Pinot-Noir-Chardonnay-nv-150x464Grant Burge Pinot-Noir Chardonnay
Barossa Valley, Australia
I love showing this wine at tastings as it is really very good indeed, full of character and fruit, but also elegant. The fruit comes from vineyards in the cool Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley, so there is plenty of fresh acidity, while the ripeness and the 70% of Pinot Noir – there is even a dash of Pinot Meunier – gives it a lovely deep colour with hints of red fruit. Then 30 months or so on the lees gives a richness and biscuity character that is quite delicious. Not a cheap fizz by any means, but fine, tasty, elegant and drinkable too  – 90/100 points.

26548-250x600-bouteille-domaine-vincent-careme-ancestrale-blanc--vouvray2011 Vouvray L’Ancestrale
Domaine Vincent Carême, Vouvray, Loire Valley
In truth I am not often an admirer of Vouvray’s charms and Chenin is far from a favourite of mine, but this is stunning, which is quite a feat given that Vincent created his domaine from nothing in 1999. He now farms 14 hectares of organically grown Chenin and his wines are always interesting and often delicious, and this might well be my favourite. It is from older vines and the second fermentation takes place without the addition of any sugar or yeast, so takes a long time – 18-24 months apparently, so the flavours build slowly. The palate is rich and appley, even apple pie at times and the finish has a touch of sweetness that blanches the acidity beautifully and adds to the feeling of richness. A real hedonists wine – 91/100 points.

domaine-saint-just-domaine-saint-just-cremant-de-loire-blanc-blanc-2056-994Crémant de Loire Brut
Domaine Saint Just, Saumur, Loire Valley
Wouldn’t you know it, in one breath I tell you how little I like Chenin Blanc and here I am telling you about another superb wine made from it – hey ho that is the beauty of wine I suppose – although in this case 40% Chardonnay adds more elegance I think. This wine is beautiful too, poised, elegant and refined with rich fruit, zesty citrus acidity and some delicately honeyed, biscuity, richness on the long classy finish. If we could prise some of this away from the French and Chinese I think it would prove very popular in the UK – 92/100 points.

IDShot_150x300Tesco Finest Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée 1531
Limoux, Languedoc-Roussillon
It isn’t always easy to try this wine in the UK, which is a shame as it can be very good indeed. Limoux is in cathar country near Carcassonne and claims to have been making sparkling wine longer than Champagne has. This Chardonnay, Chenin and Mauzac – aka Blanquette – blend is pretty classy and elegant with a herbaceous character, from the Mauzac and lovely citrus acidity, apply fruit and yes a bit of toast too. This example is just off-dry – 87/100 points.

0003BB761E64012008 Loridos Bruto
Bacalhoa Vinhos, Portugal
Portugal isn’t often seen as a good fizz producer, but really should be, the few I have tried have been very good indeed. Bacalhoa produce some very good examples at the beautiful Quinta de Loridos near the fabulous town of Obidos near Lisbon. The Chardonnay  Brut is very good too, but my favourite is this Castelão and Arinto blend. Castelao is a red grape, while Arinto is a superb high acid white grape and together they give a lovely taut red apple character and real depth. A very good wine – 90/100 points.

ImageWine.aspx2010 Villiera Brut Natural Chardonnay
Villiera, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a wine very dear to my heart, my good friends Dave and Lorna Hughes live right next to the vineyard these Chardonnay grapes come from and I have often enjoyed a few glasses with them while in Stellenbosch. It is very good, very elegant, very refined, delicate, mineral and crisp apple fruit. Again the second fermentation takes place without the addition of yeast or sugar and the wine is aged for  3 years on the lees – 91/100 points.
Superb value for money from Marks & Spencer @ £10.99

In Conclusion
Of course I could carry on, but you get the picture, there are lovely sparkling wines produced everywhere, so don’t get stuck in a rut, it does not have to be Champagne every time – restauranteurs take note, sommeliers please listen – nor does every alternative have to be Prosecco. Be adventurous, find something new and exciting.

Savennières – a rebooted classic?

Looking south from the Château des Vaults – Domaine du Closel

It seemed pretty hot for a cool wine growing region. Standing on top of the slope looking out at the stunning beauty of the countryside I felt enveloped in peace and drenched in the sun’s hot rays. Strangely the scene was made all the more peaceful for the birdsong and the peal of distant church bells as I looked at the vines and listened to the winemakers around me. I heard their passion and their commitment and I hoped that the wines I would soon taste were as good and as interesting as the story I was being told.

You see, I had come on this trip to Angers deliberately because I was pretty sure that I didn’t like these wines. All the books and many experts say that Savennières ranks as one of the greatest wines of France – certainly that country’s finest dry white made from Chenin Blanc. Personally though I have never been able to see what the fuss was about – much as I fail to find the pleasure in Condrieu. Savennières was certainly dry and had that typical Chenin high acid, but I could never see its charm. It was hard and unyielding and seemed reminiscent of sucking a pumice stone – austere might be the kindest word to use. We were always told that they needed to be old to show at their best, but frankly who wants old white wine nowadays?

So, I was here on this hill-top to confront my lack of knowledge and understanding – I wanted to see what I was missing and whether I should update my view. Continue reading