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Wine of the Week: Côtes du Rhone Guigal 2007

Some wines are so familiar that I ignore them when shopping. There’s an element of snobbery at work here; it feels so much cooler (do people still say cool?) to be drinking something obscure. When I worked at Oddbins we never touched the Moët, the Jacob’s Creek or the Campo Viejo; we even used to be snobbish about which lager we drank after work insisting that Superbok was vastly superior to Beck’s. Guigal’s Côtes du Rhone was just such a wine. I don’t remember any fellow Oddbinites drinking it or recommending it to customers. When people used to buy it, to my shame, I looked down my prominent nose at them.

Well more fool me because year in, year out, it’s one of the best value wines in existence. It’s made by one of the most lauded names in the Rhone, Marcel Guigal, a hero to most though not of course to Kermit Lynch who describes Guigal’s heavily oaked Côte-Rôties as ‘Freak Wines.’ These single vineyard wines cost ££££ but there is another side to his business producing wines from bought-in grapes. The Cotes du Rhone is his cheapest and it is made in vast quantities: over 3.5 million bottles of this latest vintage. It’s made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre and is a masterpiece of the blender’s art with Guigal buying in grapes from dozens of growers across the Southern Rhone. Unusually for a mass market wine, it’s also matured for at least 18 months before release.

It may be my memory playing tricks on me but the 07 seems even more delicious than previous vintages. It has more structure and so opens up after decanting or being left open overnight. There a lot of fruit – blackcurrants, figs, something red perhaps – but also some lovely mellow woody flavours owing to maturity with a very long finish. I ‘tested’ it against another 07 Côtes-du-Rhone from a legendary Northern Rhone producer, in this case JL Chave with his ‘Mon Coeur‘. The Chave tasted classier, cooler, more Northern Rhone whereas the Guigal is defiantly Southern but none the worse for it. Where the Guigal wins out is that it still tastes young & robust, in comparison the Chave is at its peak and starts to fall apart when left open overnight.

There’s an element of urgency to this post because not only is the Guigal only £7.99 at Waitrose until 20th March but they have the 07 whereas most other people are on to the 09. I’m sure the new vintage is good but 2007 was one of the great years in the Rhone and this wine does love a bit of age.

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The Southwold invasion

On my visits to the seaside town of Southwold, I often heard complaints that the town was being taken over by Londoners (much of the time it was  Londoners doing the complaining). Now the people of Southwold have decided to fight back. Adnams, the brewery that dominates the little Suffolk town, is taking over London. They started stealthily with a shop in Stamford, Lincolnshire, then one opened in Spitalfields market and now another has appeared near where I work in Bloomsbury.

Adnams’ advertising may be a little hit-and-miss but their beer is lovely and they are a first-rate wine merchant. Their shops also do a nice line in up-market kitchenware: I have my eye on some spatulas that will be ideal for my mother’s birthday present. Whilst nosing around the Bloomsbury shop, I was grabbed by a member of staff and marched down the basement where they were conducting a wine tasting.

One wine in particular grabbed my attention Juniper Estate Shiraz from Margaret River in Australia. Adnams describe it like this:

‘You’ll want to save this whopper Western Australian Shiraz, with its chocolate-rich, blackberry fruit, vanilla oak and spice for folks you want to impress.’

Sounds pretty grim doesn’t it? Happily it tasted nothing like this description. In fact it was miles away from the clichéd image of good old boy Australian Shiraz, a wine described by Roger Scruton in I Drink, Therefore I am as ‘a wine for hooligans.’ The first impression was lively and fresh: this wine has a lot of acidity. Not that you would mistake it for Beaujolais, however, it’s full of sweet, bright optimistically New World fruit with some vanilla. I detected a floral flavour that I normally describe as violets but having never eaten a violet, I don’t know why I call it that. Must try to eliminate wine jargon!  It smells spicy. A 2005, it carries its age gracefully. The fruit is still very much to the fore though there’s also some woodiness and meat. I’d describe it as an Australian take on the Northern Rhone. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had chosen to label it Syrah rather than Shiraz. I wrote in a previous post that one of my wine prejudices was Australian Shiraz. The Juniper Estate made me realise that they don’t all have to be 15% monsters.

On leaving the Store Street shop I noticed that the pub opposite, the College Arms, is now an Adnams pub. Quietly, inexorably, the Southwold invasion has begun; London is theirs for the taking. If it means good wine, beer and quality fish & chips, then I shan’t be putting up a fight.

Juniper Estate Shiraz 2005, Margaret River, Australia – available from Adnams £15.99

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Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: Lirac ‘Les Queyrades’ 05

Jane McQuitty, the Times wine writer and disco enthusiast, wrote an article a few years back where she wondered what the point of decanting was:

“Decanting all white wines and the majority of red wines is a waste of time. . . Air is the enemy of wine and decanting exposes it to air air unnecesarily, because the minute you pull the cork the deterioration and oxidation process starts. Venerable reds can fade in seconds and even decade-old reds start to soften alarmingly swiftly, so decanter fans have to move fast and open these wines no more than half an hour before drinking. The only bottles that merit decanting are those grand reds and vintage ports that throw a bitter, flaky sediment that muddies the taste.” 

Now I don’t want to start a wine war with someone as experienced as Ms McQuitty but I beg to differ. She sees the oxidative process as purely destructive but with certain wines it is vital for softening tannins and bringing out flavour. I noticed this with the Brunello I bought for my father a few years back – straight of the bottle it was undrinkable. Decanted and left for two hours it was one of the best wines I’ve ever had.

This Lirac was similarly difficult. I had been invited back by the House of Townend to their Xmas tasting despite mistaking some of their customers for prostitutes the previous year. The first sip was a mixture of vinegar and very dry tannin which coated my mouth and made my tastebuds curl up like hedgehogs under attack. I was with the writer Toby Clements and he was all for telling our hosts that there was something wrong with it. Having tried this wine before, albeit it an earlier vintage, the ’89, I was wise to its shy nature. After a good swirl to expose it to oxygen, it gradually started to come out of its shell with glimpses of spice and dried fruit. By the end of the night, it was positively vivacious. It’s a cliché to compare Lirac to Chateauneuf-du-Pape but this one really merits the comparison. It’s hot, ripe and delicious but also elegant and never overblown.

Lirac ‘Les Queyrades’, Domaine André Méjan costs £10 which is much too cheap. You’ll need to buy a case for House of Townend to deliver. I’d recommend you get a few bottles this one also:

Pigeoulet de Brunier, Vin De Pays de Vaucluse 09 – another beauty from the Southern Rhone. This one is made by Chateauneuf-du-Pape legends Vieux Telegraphe £8.95

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Wine of the Week: Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010

Edinburgh is often described as the Athens of the North. Something to do with philosophy, I think, rather than a love of  columns and naked athletics. Beirut is the Paris of the East but the most popular city to be compared to is Venice with Amstersdam, St Petersberg, Bruges, Manchester and, of course, Birmingham all claiming to be Venices of the North. Well pinot noir is the Venice of the wine world; it is the most popular comparison with many grapes claiming to be the pinot noir of: insert point on the compass. Candidates for this honour include Rioja’s tempranillo, if you’ve ever tried a Vina Ardanza then you will know the comparison can be justified, st laurent from Austria, grenache and even burly syrah, not so odd if you’ve ever had a mature Cote Rotie. I’m never quite sure exactly what wine writers mean when they say this but I think it refers to wines that tend towards perfume, freshness, a certain (unjammy) sweetness and a lack of tannin. Wines to fall in love with rather than admire.  I would also add that like pinot noir all these grapes lose this perfume if the alcohol levels are too high, they are over-cropped or smothered in oak.

Which brings us onto poor unloved cinsault (Benjamin Lewin MW in his Wine Myths and Reality refers to it as a no-name variety – cover your ears cinsault!). It’s best known for making rosé but was also my USP (excuse the marketing jargon) to bring Lebanon’s wines to the attention of the world. I thought it would work better in a blend but it turns out I didn’t really know what I was talking about as there are some varietals cinsaults. The Domergues of Minervois produce a noted age-worthy red Capitelle de Centeilles made solely from this ugly duckling. Whilst I was in the Languedoc not far from Minervois I came across much enthusiasm for cinsault though no one seemed ready to abandon syrah quite yet for their serious reds.

Here’s a delightfully simple version from South Africa where they have large quantities of unloved old vines hence the astonishing cheapness of this version. On the nose it smells of confected raspeberries. It’s not unpleasant but it really does smell like raspberry flavour Mr Freeze ice pops. On the palate I found it spicy, light-bodied and refreshing. Quite nice. I popped it in the fridge and came back to it the next day. The chilling really brought out the fruit and the spice as well as giving it a little structure. Did it taste like pinot noir? Not really but it did do all the things that I would want in a simple Pinot such as a Cono Sur. The more I drink this, the more I like it, my wife likes it too – it’s very quickly on its way to being a house favourite. I can’t wait to try some more serious versions of this unfairly maligned variety. Remember readers, cinsault is for red not just for rosé.

Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010, Western Cape, South Africa – widely available. I paid £5.99 from the Wine Society. D. Byrne & Co in Clitheroe have it for only £5.79 – there’s canny Lancastrian buying.

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Wine of the Week: Vinho Verde, Quinta de Azevedo, 2010

Until very recently on my parents’ fridge was a piece of schoolwork by my younger brother from when he was very little. I think the assignment was to describe his father. All I can remember about it is the line ‘my Daddy likes drinking Vinho Verde.’ It wasn’t his best piece of work and I’m not sure why it stayed on the fridge for so long when better works such as my poem about a psychotic tin of Del Monte peaches were consigned to the bin.

Perhaps it was because my Dad and indeed my mother really did love drinking Vinho Verde. Thanks to annual holidays in the Algarve, this was the first particular kind of wine that I was aware of. I once asked my father why he only drank it in Portugal, he muttered something about it not travelling which I didn’t understand at the time. What he meant was that the green wine – green because it is young not because of its colour – needs to be drunk as soon after vintage as possible. In fact it is probably best unbottled still fizzing with carbon dioxide like traditional Frascati or Heuriger wine in Austria.

This particular Vinho Verde is a breath of fresh air if you’re sick of tarted-up attention-seeking wines. It’s low in alcohol and gently lemony rather than bursting with tropical fruits. That’s not to say that it is bland: there is an electric almost Riesling-esque crackle of acidity and a slight fizz. Its cousin, Rias Baixas, over the border in Galicia is madly fashionable, expensive and often disappointing whereas Vinho Verde is free of all pretence. It’s the perfect thing to drink in large quantities with lots of seafood.

Currently on offer at Majestic for £4.99 when you buy two. Even at £6.99 it’s good value.

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Wine of the Week: Mezzomondo Negromaro Salento 2009

First an apology to regular readers: I’ve been on the gravy train. I have been wined, dined, flattered and pampered, and as such have been writing about bottles that are outside the remit of the impecunious amateur. From now on I am going to write about wines I can afford*; there aren’t many, I am so poor at the moment that I tried to borrow money off my little brother (if you have met my little brother you would realise quite what desperate straits I’m in.)

Which brings me onto my wine of the week, I was meeting some old friends at Adams Café in Shepherds Bush – this does good and, more importantly, cheap Tunisian food and, more importantly still, lets you bring your own wine. One of my friends writes a food blog so I was worried that she would spend the whole time photographing the food rather than listening to my woes. Thankfully she had not brought her camera with her and sat spellbound as I regaled her with complaints about publishers who had rejected my book.

The wine I brought was a Negromaro from Salento in the far South of Italy. Negromaro is the name of the grape variety and means black and bitter. It costs £5.50. This is a crazily small amount for such a good wine. It’s full-bodied but not in any way soupy or porty – some Southern Italians can be clumsy. There is some taste of vanilla that suggest the wine has been aged in oak, some nice fruit and a zingy vein of acidity that went well with the rustic North African food. This is a grown-up wine; so much more interesting than anything from the New World at this price. I am sure I’ll say it again but Southern Europe really is the best hunting ground for the impecunious amateur.

Waitrose are offering 25% of 6 or more bottles until 28th June.

*PR people – don’t worry I am very weak-willed. If you give me something deliciously expensive to drink and say that you like my blog, I am sure that I’ll write something.

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Wines of the Week: two Corsicans

2011 looked like being Corsica’s year for the first time since 1769. The French entry to the Eurovision song contest was heavily tipped to win and it was to be sung in Corsican. This was a significant moment. Previously the centralising French state did their best to stamp out regional tongues. Now the beautiful Corsican language would have its moment in the sun representing France in the greatest song contest on earth. Sadly they came last or very near the bottom. I don’t know which as we got bored and went to bed before the end. Happily it’s not all doom and gloom for Corsican pride a white and a red from the island are joint wines of the week on Henry’s World of Booze.

Clos Paggiale Blanc, Skalli, Vin de Corse 2009 – like the language, Corsican wines are more Italian than French. This one is made from Vermentino and my God it’s distinctive. It’s  perfumed, full-bodied and sort-of lemony too – those fragrant lemons that you get in Sicily. My father didn’t like it and I was in two minds until  minutes after trying the taste lingered like a haunting refrain. I had to try it again and this time was bowled over.

Clos Paggiale, Skalli, Vin de Corse 2007 – This is a blend of Niellucio (or Sangiovese as it’s known in Tuscany) and Syrah. It smells spicy and tastes herby and sweet but with a completely dry finish. It reminds me a little of a very good wine from the Rhone perhaps a Chateauneuf-du-pape but it is completely its own thing.

Both these wines are about £15 depending on where you buy them. So not cheap then but less than wines of equivalent quality from the Rhone or Burgundy and much cheaper than a trip to Corsica. Viva la Corse! or whatever it is in Corsican.

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Venturing out

‘I wandered out in the world for years, and you just stayed in your room. I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.’ The Waterboys

When it comes to creative inspiration, people fall into two camps,  they can be like Prince, about whom this song was written  – tucked away on his own – and the chap from the Waterboys – venturing out soaking up experiences. I know which one I am and so far for the blog I have pretty much stayed locked up with my books, bottles and a laptop. I was becoming a bit peculiar and my seclusion had not produced anything nearly as good as Sign o’ the Times. It was time to sally forth, meet people and maybe I’d create the Fishermoon’s Blues of wine writing.

My wife and I decided to go to France. Initially we stayed at my auntie’s in Pomerols. Note the S, we were in the Languedoc not Bordeaux. Later we stayed in more luxurious surrounding at Le Grand Hermitage. The next few posts will be from vineyards that we visited on our trip. I’d like to thank Barbara and Richard at La Pause Parfaite who introduced us to some incredible producers and showed us such warm hospitality.

For the first post I’m going to resurrect my much-neglected Wine of the Week slot.

Wine of the Week:

Merlot 2008, Domaine de Montazellis, Vin De Pays Des Côtes De Thongue – £7.69 from C2C wines. Less from the cellar door. Also available at Planet of the Grapes in London and at their bar in the City by the glass.

The first things to say about this wine is what it is not. It is not full of rich, ripe plummy fruit. In fact it does not taste like merlot in the New World varietal sense at all. There is no oak. It’s not heavy. It smells floral and tastes spicy. Wines like this make me think what a pointless activity variety spotting is. More important is where the vines are grown and this wine tastes of the Languedoc. It’s not fancy but it is delicious.

Appropriately enough for my introduction, one half of the partnership who made this wine is a Parisian musician called Dhanya (hippy parents I think) Collette. He lived in London for many years – the local refer to him as le anglais – where he met the other half, his wife Nova. Five years ago they uprooted from city life and bought this domaine. Together they make up the most glamorous couple in wine. It’s been bloody hard work by all accounts but thankfully the wines are good and their gamble seems to be paying off.

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Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: Deutschland über alles

I love German whites above all others but I can understand why they are not more popular. There’s the long baffling labels to put off the average buyer and then it is hard to think of the right time to drink them. They tend to be too sweet to go with savoury food but not sweet enough to have with puddings. In fact the wines of the Moselle (the ones in the green bottles) can be so ethereal that they are best consumed on their own. The Germans, perhaps looking at the success of their cousins in Austria, have started making their wines drier and drier. In a bad vintage, I am not sure that this is a good idea as the wines can end up raspingly sour but in a good year like 03, 05 and now 09 they are amazing.

My wine of the week is just such a wine. Schieferberg by Ernst Loosen Dry Riesling 2009. Note the un-Teutonically concise name (relatively concise that is). That’s a clue that this is going to be a bit different. Schieferberg refers to a specific vineyard.  The second clue is the high alcohol (again relatively – 12% is a lot in Germany). This means that all the sugar has turned into alcohol. It still has all the fragrance and beauty you would expect from the region but with the body that brings to mind Austria or Alsace. I’d love to try it with something fatty like pork or duck. Like many German Rieslings it will probably age into something quite wonderful. If I had the money and the patience, I would buy two cases: one to drink this year and one to keep for ten.

It is only available from Laithwaite’s. They are the biggest supplier of mail order wine in the country and I’ve always found their wines to be dull and overpriced. Well this year their German range is spectacular and this wine at £9.49 is a steal. You would never get a wine this good from Alsace or Austria let only Burgundy for so little money. All I can say is buy and then buy some more

You can buy the standard Dr Loosen Riesling 2009 from Oddbins for £8.49. It’s a little sweeter and a little more classically German. I like both these wines very much and love that Dr Loosen is producing the old and the new alongside each other.

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Wine of the week

Wine of the week: an Australian original

I said I wasn’t going to tell readers what they should be drinking but I’ve changed my mind. From now on I’m going to recommend one wine each week which I will call my ‘wine of the week.’

This week it is the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005.  This is a great wine to give those who think that all Australian wines are clumsy over-oaked monsters. A lot of them are but Australia also has a unique style of white where the grapes are picked slightly underripe and then bottled with no oak treatment. Initially they don’t taste of very much but after a few years in bottle start to blossom magnificently. The semillons from the Hunter valley have this property as well as the marsannes from Tahbilk in Victoria.

Normally you have to do this ageing yourself or pay a large premium to buy them mature but Mount Pleasant have done all the work for you and at £8.99 from Sainsburys it is a bargain. The wine is just beginning to bloom with nutty toasty flavours contrasting with a nice limey acidity. We drank it with our Thanksgiving turkey last week but this will just get better if you have the patience to keep it.

The wine was named in honour of our Queen’s marriage to Philip; there is also a shiraz named after him. I doubt that anyone will come up with anything as elegant to commemorate the forthcoming royal nuptials.