- In Bordeaux for Vinexpo, some highlights
- What do I look for in Pinot Noir?
- Helix, a new cork-based closure solution
- A rarity, a Portuguese Chenin Blanc
- A really good, affordable Bordeaux – amazing value
- Hoffmann & Rathbone, a new English Sparkling wine
- Differences in taste and smell, and their effect on wine tasting
- Harry Haddon’s new video blogging, live from South Africa
- Four impressive Loire Sauvignons
- The Flower and the Bee, a wonderful Treixadura from Ribeiro
Just on my way home from Bordeaux, and a quick one-night stay for Vinexpo, the huge bi-annual wine trade fair.
These Castel girls were unloading a palette of gift bags every few hours, which - inexplicably - punters seemed keen to snaffle. But what was in them worth snaffling?The scale of Vinexpo, with it's multitiered stands and kilometre long exhibition hall, is quite daunting. It's not really a place for journalists to come to taste wine; it's more about doing business. I was here to present a masterclass on Loire Sauvignon. I can't comment on my own performance, but the wines that were on show - 14 of them - were really good, and showed just how high-quality and diverse Loire Sauvignon is these days. I also spent some time tasting wines - mainly Portuguese and Austrian. An impressive Blaufrankisch from Weninger. Just beautiful: rich yet quite elegant. A new producer to me: Malat from the Kremstal. Amazing freshness and precision in the wines. The wines of J Reinisch, from the Thermenregion, were a nice surprise. Loved this Northern Rhone-style St Laurent. Striking stuff. Tried through a large range of sweet wines from Tschida. This was the best: just beautiful complexity and balance. Remarkable. Great German Riesling: such pure wines from Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau. A really great wine from Joao Portugal Ramos. Ripe but very fresh, with great definition. This is seriously good. Also from JPR, this Foz d'Arouce Vinas Velhas 2009 is a remarkable Baga. A paradox of a wine: ripe, sweet fruit, but also amazing structure and precision. I'd never tried the wines of Pocas before, so I put that right today. This, their Simbolo 2010, is really striking. It's quite savoury, with a bit of sternness, but there's good fruit here too. It's a proper wine, I reckon, and could age well. And, finally, last night I dined at Brasserie Bordelaise with Ben Smith, previously of Enotria, now of Concha y Toro UK, along with a couple of Ben's colleagues. We had a great time, and ended up in a pub drinking weissbier, served by an Aussie bartender who is related in some way to Amelia Jukes.
What do I like in Pinot Noir? I look for a few things in a great Pinot. First of all, that indefinable quality of elegance. I wish I could define elegance in a wine, but I can't. I know it when I see it, though. I want to be charmed and seduced by a wine that has beauty. It can have power, but that power has to be reined in and balanced by subtlety, too. I look for detail. I don't just want a wall of sweet fruit, but I want there to be details in the wine: points of interest. Complexity, I guess. Texture is so important. Pinot Noir should have a smooth mouthfeel, and a bit of mid-palate weight. I have heard it suggested that one of the effects of Brettanomyces (the spoilage yeast that affects too many red wines) is to use up the little bit of sugar left after fermentation that Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the main wine yeast) can't metabolize. This trace of sugar helps give texture, and when it is stripped out, Pinot Noir suffers. This is aside from the sensory impact of Brettanomyces. Brett is a disaster in Pinot Noir, and so I prefer not to have any, even though some people like the way it makes a wine more savoury. Definition and freshness are important in Pinot. There needs to be a brightness to the wine. Non-fruit complexity is important. Fruit alone is not enough to make a truly compelling wine. But that non-fruit character needs to be appropriate: you don't want your Pinot to be angular or rustic. I don't like noticeable new oak in Pinot Noir, especially when it gives that spicy, roast coffee character. It removes elegance. In terms of fruit, I like fresh, bright fruit characters, not over-ripe jammy ones. In terms of colour, I would rather not have a deep coloured Pinot. Pale colour can be a good thing. One of Pinot's virtues is that it can be pale-coloured, light bodied, and yet complex, full, aromatic and ethereal. I love perfumed Pinots, especially when fruit characters are joined by floral and even subtle meaty notes. Although my preference is for more elegant, lighter Pinots, sometimes big ones can work well. So I am open minded. Rich Pinot can taste like cool-climate Syrah, and I love cool-climate Syrah. Lighter, very cool-climate Syrah shares a resemblance with Pinot Noir. The two seem to have something in common. It is all about balance. The wine is a whole. And it's really difficult to write tasting notes that are holistic rather than reductionist in nature. A list of exotic fruits and spices is no use at all. That's why the use of metaphor and even metonymy is important in describing wine.
Very interested by this new development, which was launched today at Vinexpo. It's the Helix closure, which is the result of a partnership between cork company Amorim and glass manufacturer O-I (Owens-Illinois). The idea is very clever. By using a special bottle, with grooves inside the neck, it makes it possible to remove the cork without using a tool. The cork in question is the same as Amorim's Neutrocork in terms of its composition. Neutrocork is a microagglomerate cork, formed by glueing together small fragments of cork that have been cleaned by Amorim's ROSA steam-based process. It has been very successful in the marketplace already, and has many of the properties of natural cork, plus the consistency that comes from the manufacturing process. When the Helix cork is inserted into the bottle, the natural elasticity of the cork means that it forms helical grooves in contact with the internal thread in the bottle neck. This means that you can release it simply by twisting it. It also means that the cork can be inserted with a standard bottling line, after just a few modifications. It doesn't need to be 'screwed' in. However, the helix corks do need to be oriented the correct way for insertion. In terms of performance, Amorim and O-I data show that there's no difference detectable by sensory analysis after 26 months from a control, which suggests that it's fit for purpose: this is being advertised as a closure for fast turnaround and popular premium wines. It certainly looks pretty striking. A key issue will be whether or not it is adopted by leading wine brands, which could help launch it in the eyes of consumers (who are traditionally quite cautious about wine packaging), and of course whether it is affordable enough for a tight-margin wine market. Also, will it need a capsule to make it tamper-evident? Without a capsule, it looks really good. Website: www.helixconcept.com
I enjoyed this: it's the first time I've had a Portuguese Chenin Blanc. Now Portugal is blessed with a wide array of its own varieties, so you might ask why any serious Portuguese wine grower would look elsewhere for foreign varieties to play with. But Chenin could be a worthy exception to this rule, because it is such a wonderful variety. This wine hasn't been universally well received (just commended at both Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine Challenge), but I think it's pretty good, in an understated sort of way. It actually tastes of Chenin, which is a good thing. RIBAFREIXO CONNECTIONS CHENIN BLANC 2012 PORTUGAL From the Alentejo, Paulo Laureano is the consultant winemaker here. Citrussy, fresh and subtly herbal with a hint of honey, as well as some apple and pear. Very good acidity and lovely presence, this is an attractive crisp dry white with some marked varietal character. 89/100 Find this wine with wine-searcher.com
I'd just come back from a long run, and was tucking into some lunch. Fiona suggested setting me a blind tasting challenge. This is dangerous. In the blind tasting challenge, she picks a wine at random from my racks (I have about 400 bottles in the home, ranging from fairly serious to cheap samples) and serves it to me. I have to guess where it is from, and what it is - a task made more difficult by the fact that I don't have a clear idea of what I have stashed away. And she doesn't have any idea of whether the wines are cheap or expensive, so this sort of game can end up badly if something serious gets opened before its time, but the risk sort of adds to the excitement. Well, the wine she brought out in a glass was red. It smelled very elegant, and quite ripe. Serious, actually. I said old world, I said France, I said Bordeaux. Correct. This is where I got a bit worried, because this was really supple and elegant, and tasted expensive. Could it be a special bottle? This is why blind tasting is so fun. The wine in question was a £7.25 claret from The Wine Society. Alas, this vintage, the 2010, is now out of stock, or I would have bought a case. It's a really good supple, elegant, ripe Bordeaux showing great balance. I am not surprised that it sold out. However, if I had known in advance that this was a £7.25 Bordeaux, I am pretty sure I would have rated it lower. Information matters so much: it affects how we process sensory information, even at a subconscious level. This is one of the wines that suffers from preconceptions, because people don't expect cheap claret to be much good.
Impressed by this new English sparkling wine from Hoffmann & Rathbone. Mine was bottle 84 of just 1500! It's predominantly Pinot Noir with a bit of barrel-fermented Chardonnay, and it's beautifully packaged. It comes from West Sussex. HOFFMANN & RATHBONE ROSE RESERVE 2010 SUSSEX, ENGLAND Bright pink in colour with a hint of orange. Lovely vivid cherry fruit with lively acidity and a hint of herbiness. It's an overtly fruity style but there's no clumsiness here: real finesse, lovely purity and freshness. Notes of strawberries, lemons and cranberry. Distinctive personality and real finesse. 91/100 Website: hoffmannandrathbone.co.uk
We're all different. So it's not surprising that we should have different tastes. Still, I'm fascinated by differences in flavour perception and appreciation. The really interesting question is how different our perceptions of flavour are, and whether these then lead on to preferences for certain wine styles. Perception of flavour is quite complicated, because we aren't measuring devices. It's a conscious event in our brains, and it follows quite a bit of brain processing that we aren't aware of, bringing together the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell, and adding in factors such as our knowledge and experience, and even our mood. Research has shown that there are some basic biological differences among people in terms of their taste and smell abilities. There's a large literature on marked differences in the ability to taste the bitter compounds PTC and PROP. Those who are very sensitive to PROP (hypertasters or supertasters) really don't like bitter tastes, and seem to be more sensitive overall to taste. Conversely, there's a group of people (non-tasters) who don't notice bitterness so much, and like their food and drink much stronger flavoured. There's also a new phenomenon called thermal taster status: people who 'taste' a change in temperature on their tongues. They seem to be more sensitive tasters. With smell, there is also variation, with many people having specific anosmias – the inability to detect certain smells. For example, around a fifth of people don't smell rotundone, the compound responsible for peppery smells (for example, the pepperiness of a northern Rhône Syrah). But aside from these biological differences, we have to factor in learning. With many of the flavours we love most, we have acquired a taste for them. I used to hate cheese; now I love it. I spent time trying it even if on a hedonic level I didn't like the taste. After a while, I gained a taste for it. Now, a strongly flavoured cheese s something I love. There's an evolutionary reason why we should have plastic preferences. There's a selective advantage to being able to exploit new food sources. Gaining a taste for novel flavours is a good thing, as long as you can remember the flavour of novel foods that made you sick. It is good if you can exploit new food sources. In our evolutionary history as hunter gatherers, there was a division of labour. The males were the hunters, and it would make sense for them to be more able to acquire novel tastes. Females would be less able to explore the flavour space, because of the possible adverse effects of toxic food exposure during pregnancy. This may explain why females generally have a more sensitive sense of taste (a higher proportion of females are supertasters). Wine is an aesthetic system. It's a system in which we benchmark, in order to learn what is good. So there's a strong element of learning involved in being able to appreciate fine wine. This learning – engaging with the culture of fine wine – to some measure is able to offset biological differences. Even if we are experiencing things differently, by being able to talk about them, we reach some sort of aesthetic convergence. So, while I think there are real differences in perception of flavour, and that this will influence wine preferences, to some extent the shared culture of fine wine will offset this. It makes it possible for us to discuss together the wines we taste, and reach some sort of consensus. All the time, though, we should remain humble in the face of wine. It is bigger than us, who all see in part.
Impressed by this. It's Harry Haddon's first video blog. I've met and drunk with him a few times in South Africa, and I reckon he's a great new voice. This is an engaging, accurate and brave approach to doing wine tasting on camera, with an authentic voice. I suspect certain US critics will take offence to it, but I reckon Harry is right about foreign condescension concerning South African wine. Anyway, see what you think. Coincedentally, just before I found this, I had posted a review of Davis Sadie's wines, here. His blog is: http://wineandi.wordpress.com/
Yesterday I tasted through 33 different Loire Sauvignons with a view to selecting 14 to present at Vinexpo next week. These had all won gold or above in competitions, so they were a good bunch. Here are four that stood out to me. HENRI BOURGEOIS SANCERRE 'LA CHAPELLE DES AUGUSTINS' 2011 LOIRE, FRANCE Complex, intense and powerful with great depth of flavour. There's melon, pear and citrus fruit, with a rich texture and great power. Seamless and mineral. 93/100 HENRI BOURGEOIS SANCERRE 'LA BARONNES' 2012 LOIRE, FRANCE Finely aromatic, fresh and expressive. Where Augustins is big, concentrated and rich, this is lighter and more mineral, with grapefruit freshness. Lovely focus with great balance. Lovely. 92/100 MISTER L 2011 VIN DE PAYS DU VAL DU LOIRE, FRANCE A Sauvignon Blanc, made from a single vineyard owned by David Levin. This is a dramatic wine: intense aromas of pear and quince lead to a rich palate showing pear and citrus fruit with some pithy, herbal notes. Rich, bold and concentrated. 91/100 RETHORE DAVY SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012 VAL DE LOIRE IGP, FRANCE Ripe passionfruit and pear aromatics. Lovely depth on the palate: intense with great balance, ripe fruit and fresh grapefruit notes. Lively and delicious. 91/100 Find these wines with wine-searcher.com
I love this wine. it's beautifully packaged, and its contents are great, too. From the northwest of Spain, and specifically the Ribeiro appellation, it's a varietal Treixadura (in neighbouring Vinho Verde region of Portugal, it is known as Trajadura). This wine has depth of flavour plus freshness, and it's quite distinctive. COTO DE GOMARIZ THE FLOWER AND THE BEE TREIXADURA 2011 RIBEIRO, SPAIN Deep yellow/gold colour, this is a lovely full-flavoured white wine. Powerful flavours of herbs, pears and white peach, with some apricot and spice notes. Real presence, but not at all heavy. Just lovely fruit intensity, and amazing freshness. Drink now. 92/100 UK agent: Indigo Wines Find this wine with wine-searcher.com