Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Basic Guide To Sherry

Don't give up now - you've already come so far...!

Before we start let’s erase all preconceptions and distant memories.  Forget the crystal decanters on the set of Yes Minister, and the dusty bottle in Grandma’s cupboard and let’s also delete any recollections of bottles labelled with the word “sherry” but also bearing the words “British”, “Cyprus” or “South African”.  Thankfully these horror stories are consigned to ancient history. They are not, and never were, Sherry and labelling such wines in this way is now illegal.  When I say “Sherry” I’m talking about the wines made in a corner of Andalucia (southern Spain) in what is known as the “Sherry Triangle” based on the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria.

Sherries tend to be aged in a Solera System where new wines from each vintage are added to the start of a series of barrels and a proportion of the contents is moved, each year, to the next barrel in the sequence (each level is called a "criadera") with up to one third of the contents of the final barrel removed for bottling and sale.  No barrel is ever emptied and the new wine which is added takes on the properties of the wine it joins thus creating a consistent style and ironing out any vintage variation.  It’s why styles of sherry are so stable.

Sherry Styles

Let’s bowl out the exceptions first in the form of Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez (PX).  These are the only naturally sweet styles of sherry and also the names of the grape varieties that produce them.  Moscatel is grapey, sweet and a bit like a big pudding wine.  PX is made from sun-dried PX grapes and is dark and intensely sweet – sort of  alcoholic liquid raisins.

With Moscatel and PX out of the way I can generalise a bit and tell you that all other sherries are made from the Palomino grape and they are all naturally dry.  Got that?  I say again, all naturally dry.  Yep, unlike port where the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirit (thus leaving unfermented sugars, resulting in a sweet wine) the fermentation of sherry is allowed to finish before the spirit is added (this is called fortification) and the wine is already dry with all the natural sugars having been turned to alcohol.  It’s only after fortification that the real magic begins! Any sweet or medium sherries you therefore encounter were originally dry and have been adjusted with sweetening wines made from our old chums Moscatel and PX.

The magic then… Unique to this particular area of Spain (apart from the Jura in eastern France and a tiny bit of Hungary, or so I’m led to believe) is a naturally-occurring film of yeast which settles on the surface of some (but not all – and nobody knows why) casks of sherry.  This film of yeast is called Flor and does the double job of lending its own particular flavour to the wine and, where it completely covers the surface of the wine, protecting the wine from oxidising through contact with the air.  Sometimes the flor isn’t complete and air starts to oxidise the wine, sometimes the flor forms, but then dies off and sometimes it doesn’t form at all and the wine begins to oxidise straight away.  All of these variants produce different styles of sherry as set out below – and all because of a quirk of nature!

Fino – produced in Jerez de la Frontera and Puerto de Santa Maria where a flor covering has remained protecting the wine throughout its ageing in the solera.  The result is a very pale, dry and fresh sherry which is the perfect aperitif though the Spanish drink it with food too (so we should as well).  Think big white wine – serve chilled.  It’s not seen any oxygen whilst ageing though so will oxidise once opened thus a bottle is best consumed within days (or in our house hours) of opening.  Better still, buy 2 halves and keep the second one unopened to retain its freshness until the first one has gone.  Click here to browse our range of Sherries.

Manzanilla – a style of Fino made in Sanlucar de Barrameda which, being by the sea, inherits a salty tang whilst ageing and is lighter, crisper and even drier than other Finos.  The same rules apply about keeping it fresh, buying halves to assist if appropriate, and serving chilled.  Warning – this stuff is dangerously addictive!  Look out for Manzanilla Pasada which is an older Manzanilla (about 7 years) where the veil of flor starts to fade and the wine takes on a richer style.  Some Bodegas stop short of Pasada status but still produce an older Manzanilla which has a bit more concentration and depth than the regular version. Click here to browse our range of Sherries.
Amontillado – started life as a Fino (or Manzanilla) with flor influence but then also began to oxidise because the flor didn’t form properly or has died off (which may have been encouraged to occur by the level of fortification) thus allowing a degree of oxidation.  Still crisp and fresh in their natural form and also naturally dry.  Quite complex and rich with a nuttiness to their flavour.  All Amontillados are naturally dry (because all such sherries are dry remember?) but often those sold on the UK market have had sweetening wines added to make them “medium”.  Best check with the retailer to see whether you’re buying a naturally dry version or one that’s been “mediumised”.  I’d still be serving these chilled incidentally. Click here to browse our range of Sherries.

Fino/Amontillado – quite rare but a halfway house between the two styles where there has been less oxidation than a full Amontillado but the wine still has the obvious flor character of a Fino.  Well worth seeking out.  Serve as Fino. Click here to browse our range of Sherries.

Oloroso – these are what results when no flor formed in the first place, largely because they were fortified to a higher booze level to prevent flor forming.  The wine therefore began to oxidise from day 1 and has continued to do so.  Dry again of course though UK versions are sweetened up so again it’s best to check.  The Spanish still serve these chilled (so I would too) but it’s up to you.  They can be complex and flavoursome wines. Click here to browse our range of Sherries.
Palo Cortado – this style is pretty rare and sits between Amontillado and Oloroso in terms of flavour.  It begins life as a Fino or Amontillado but then wakes up one morning and decides it actually leans the other way and starts to age as an Oloroso.  Nobody knows why but winemakers get very excited when this happens.  Though rare this change seems to produce the best of both worlds and sherries of intense flavour and complexity.  Fantastic stuff! Click here to browse our range of Sherries.

Cream – Oloroso base wine with Moscatel and PX added to produce a sweet style popular in the UK but almost unheard of in Spain.  This is what Mothers-in-Law and elderly maiden aunts run on and is probably the bottle that ought to be in Grandma’s cupboard that we mentioned at the beginning…

Sherry is one of the finest experiences that they world of wine has to offer.  Some people claim they don’t like Sherry; they’re wrong.  They just haven’t tasted the right one yet. Click here to browse our range of Sherries - you must be ready for a glass now, and if you're not ready just have a look at this picture for a while...


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Domaine Charles Baur, Eguisheim

We estimate that for every wine we eventually include in our range we taste over 30 samples; most are rejected because either they not good enough, or not interesting enough, or simply because they are too expensive for what they are.  A few areas of our list present us with a different sort of challenge however, namely that we are spoilt for choice and it is difficult to know what to leave out rather than what to include; it’s a nice problem to have!  One such area is Alsace, which presents the further challenge for us of how to connect UK wine lovers with these fascinating and original wines which seem so often to be overlooked, or at least misunderstood.

Overall quality and consistency in Alsace is excellent.  Certainly there are producers that are less good, or make wine on a more commercial scale than one would ideally like, and vintages vary of course.  As ever, we try to sniff out producers whose wines offer that little bit extra.
The narrow streets of Eguisheim are full of
flowers and charming buildings.
Domaine Charles Baur in Eguisheim first came to our attention last year when a sample of their award-winning 2010 Pinot Blanc landed in front of us.  On the strength of the sample we dipped our commercial toe in the shallow end and bought a few cases.  There was an initial surge of interest and when we highlighted the wine again we could have sold twice our remaining stocks!  My annual family holiday this year saw us spend a week in the Vosges Mountains – within striking distance of Alsace – and I arranged to pay Domaine Charles Baur a visit.  The day was blisteringly hot and we were all glad to find that the water in the village fountain was icy cold and, along with many others, stood around it dangling our hands in the water in an attempt to keep cool!

Arnaud Baur looks too young to be such a talented winemaker.  He has excellent pedigree however, having obtained a Masters Degree in agricultural engineering specialising in winegrowing and oenology.  Both his father (Amand) and his grandfather (Charles) made wine at the estate and in 2009 Arnaud and Amand made the decision to begin the transition to fully organic production in all of their 57 vineyard sites and they have been fully organic since 2011.  The 3 year qualification process means that from 2014 they will be able to publicise their organic status on their labels, but you can rest assured that their wines are already made with organically grown grapes.
Arnaud Baur checks a bottle of his Cremant d'Alsace
undergoing its secondary fermentation in bottle.
Arnaud very kindly showed us round his immaculate winery which included both large and small oak casks.  Arnaud explained that he matures some of his wines in oak though the barrels are so old that they do not impart any flavour to the wines, he simply uses them because experience has proved that they make wines that are more “open” with their flavours than those fermented and aged in stainless steel.  Arnaud is also investing in a new bottling line.  It’s quite usual for winemakers to take huge pride in their bottling lines, mostly because it represents their single biggest item of expenditure, but Arnaud explained that he is replacing his not because it needs it but because a more modern line will enable him to reduce his already low sulphite levels further still.  He is tremendously keen to make wines as naturally as possible and his care extends to every part of the process from the vineyard to the glass.
The serious (mostly) business of tasting
When we taste there is a similar attention to detail, with Arnaud tasting each wine himself first to ensure he is completely happy before he lets us anywhere near the sample!  We begin with his Cremant and progress through the noble white grapes of Alsace; Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, with Grand Cru versions introduced at strategic points and finally we taste a couple of Grand Cru Vendages Tarvives (2009 Pinot-Gris from Eichberg and 2009 Gewurztraminer from Pfersigberg).  The common theme that runs throughout all the wines is purity of fruit and a degree of restraint.  Each wine is not only a textbook version of its grape variety but also shows a delicacy not often seen in Alsace.  Wines from this region can be made in a blousy and extrovert style (Pinot-Gris and Gewurztraminer especially) yet Baur’s are fine and pure.  There is still plenty of flavour in the more aromatic varieties, but it’s nicely managed so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  Is it the neutral oak casks?  Is it the organic grapes? Or is it Arnaud’s obsessive attention to detail in every part of the process?  In truth it’s probably all of these and more factors besides, but these wines have that extra note of class that marks them out from their peers.  I would encourage you to explore these wines further yourself; I’m sure you will be impressed!
JW and Arnaud Baur
We have shipped 4 wines;

Drier than medium, rich and rounded with floral scents and white fruit aromas.  Perfect with fish, seafood, shellfish and white meats or as an aperitif.  So often Pinot Blanc can be unremarkable, or at least be overshaddowed by the more extrovert grape varieties, but this is ripe and pure and is an excellent illustration of just how good Pinot Blanc can be.

Made from 25 year old vines this is deep yellow-gold colour with light green tints. The bouquet has a floral and citrus fruit character. The palate is fresh and crisp with keen lime and grapefruit flavors. The wine is dry, well balanced and bodied, with a long finish.  Textboox Riesling; fine, elegant and long.

The Baur family bought their vineyard in the Grand Cru Brand in 2008, it lies 5km to the north of Eguisheim on a sand and granite soil which Arnaud regards as the best terroir for Riesling where the natural steel and minerality of the variety really shine. 
Made from 30 year old vines this is medium intensity golden yellow colour. The nose is composed of white flower and intense grapefruit flavours. The palate is fresh, rich and crisp. Remarkable harmony between grapefruit, white flower flavours and an intense but silky minerality.  You will struggle to find a finer example.

The Grand Cru Pfersigberg is on the outskirts of Eguisheim where the soil is clay & limestone which retains the warmth of the sun very well and this, along with the south-east facing aspect, usually ensures early and full ripening of the grapes.  The Baur family have 1 hectare of 25 year old Gewurztraminer vines in Pfersigberg.
This is a generous wine with spicy hints and an aroma of wilted rose petals evolving with time into grilled almonds and candied apricots. The wine has finesse and freshness.  Gewurztraminer can so often be overpowering, but not this one.  Sure, it has plenty of flavour but it has balance and elegance too.  A very fine example indeed.

Buy wine online - click here to browse our full range of wines from Alsace
Most of Eguisheim looks like this...
Cooling down at the village fountain...

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Overheard Conversation

There was hard-nosed Australian lady, a shiny-suited English bloke – senior manager or director I’d guess – and another woman of indeterminate rank who wore a business suit and smiled a lot.  This is not the opening line of a joke (not entirely anyway), but the little crew who sat behind us at a break during a tasting.  Williamson and I had repaired to the rest area with a modest pop-up café to revive ourselves with a face full of sandwiches while we mulled over the morning’s successes and mapped out the afternoon’s work. 

Their conversational volume was indiscreet, especially the Aussie (yes, really) and it was much more interesting than ours so we tuned in.  We identified them as a team from a vastly larger player than us, possibly a supermarket or maybe a national distributor, from the volumes they were discussing.  They spoke in gobbldegook – corporate jargon, acronyms and technobabble – but what really struck a nerve was the dispassionate way that they viewed the subject of wine and how they planned to interfere in a, currently, independent producer’s business.

“I’m going to get the head maker to change his fining régime, make him use a vegan-friendly material,” said Aussie.  “Why?” asked Smiler naively, “Is it any better?” “I doubt it, but it ticks another box; it makes it more attractive to the veggie market,” said Aussie.  “Will it improve the finished liquid?” persisted Smiler.  “Dunno, but as I said, it will help to grow the market.  It’s that sort of detail that can pump up sales; we’ve gotta get the man to think outside the box and embrace our marketing ethos.”

Hang on a mo, we thought, this is somebody else’s business here; we should all welcome a little advice from time to time, but the wholesale imposition of different cellar management under the threat of withdrawing a huge chunk of business seemed rather unfriendly.  “Well, he has to see it from our point of view and that’s that,” barked Bloke in a Suit, “Can he manage the volumes we’re gonna need?”  Aussie jumped in, “Birmingham predicts over a quarter of a mil SKU’s in year two of the Charddie alone, factor in the other two varietals and we’re talking big biccies.  I think he can manage, but I guess we’ll have to cuddle him a bit to bring him across our line.”

“Any other problems?” Bloke in a Suit ventured.  “Well, the first sample of Merlot showed a little tannin; Joe Public can’t get on with that, but we can have that rounded out and then it’ll do.  I’m experimenting with oak levels in the Charddie; we can have him knock out anything from no oak to loaded with the stuff so whatever we think will sell best – as long as the lab likes it – gets the gig.  Once we establish the formula, consistency will follow,” Aussie assured him.  I think we can take it that “the lab” is not the office dog.

This is just a snippet of a debate that continued for fully forty minutes in the same vein.
As a couple of suit-free geezers who fell into the wine trade at different times and bumbled into business together with our respective wives because of a passion for the stuff, we found this discussion at first laughable, then very quickly chilling.  There was not one soul between the three of them.  Nobody cared about the quality of the wine; nobody had any respect for the hard working guy who had, unwisely, hitched himself to this cold triumvirate and nobody cared about the paying consumer.  Apart, of course, from the money, about which they were all very keen indeed.

These are the sort of people who invent spurious “half-price deals” and congratulate themselves on them because they fancy that they are so much cleverer than the rest of us.  They are the sort of people who create meritless, anodyne styles of the lowest common denominator from the cheapest old wampo they can find.  These are the sort of people who, in the face of a duty increase in the budget, turn to their suppliers and threaten to remove their business unless the supplier makes up the difference.  Clearly they cannot afford to do either, but do these guys care?

So, while we started by tittering at the language and the evident moral-free nature of their approach, eventually their disrespect for pretty much everyone except themselves, their collective lack of product knowledge apart from what the technical printouts told them and their obvious disinterest in wine as a wonderful aesthetic experience, seriously began to worry us.

Smaller independent merchants like Wines of Interest are the engine room of the wine trade.  What we all have in common, apart from our quirks and specialist enthusiasms, is that we care about you, our interested customers, and we care about the wonderful wines that we are lucky enough to work with.  Those two factors alone make all of us infinitely more qualified in our field than any of the tossers who shared our lunch space.

When buyers don’t care about you or take a pride in their products you wind up with horsemeat.  If you are happy with crap, buy crap with my blessing.  If you want to avoid it, your local independent wine merchant offers you the best chance of cutting that risk to a minimum.  And does it with heart.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Champagne - Rasselet & Lallier

There’s nothing quite like Champagne.  Sure, there are plenty of fizzy wines out there, but sometimes only Champagne will do.  As Lily Bollinger once famously said "I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty".

You have to be careful though because it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of being blinded by branding.  Champagne is dominated by several big names (which will no doubt be familiar) yet a drive through the Montagne de Reims or a short detour off the main D3 along the Vallée de la Marne will reveal dozens of smaller producers making Champagne on a much smaller scale.  Hidden from view are also hundreds of simple grape growers who do nothing else than concentrate on the viticulture of their land and who sell their entire harvest to larger players.

It’s worth seeking out the producers who see the whole process through from start to finish.  They tend their own land, grow their own grapes and make their own wines.  Look for the letters “RM” in front of some numbers on the bottom of the label, they stand for Recoltant Manipulant and mean that the chap who grew the grapes also made the wine.  “NM” stands for Negiociant Manipulant, where the grapes have largely been bought in from smaller growers.

I passed through the Champagne region a couple of years ago on the way back from a family holiday in the Dordogne for a pre-arranged visit to Champagne Lallier in the village of Ay – a small set up employing about a dozen people.  Though they buy some grapes in from other growers, Lallier only make Champagnes from grapes grown on Premier Cru and Grand Cru designated vineyard sites.  Their quality is exceptional.

JW and son at Champagne Lallier in 2011

More recently I visited Rasselet Pere et Fils based in the tiny village of Oeuilly (say it as if you’re The Fonz and you’ll be pretty close) a small family firm run by Joel Rasselet and his wife Edwige whose Champagnes we have shipped direct for many years.   

Joel & Edwige Rasselet with JW in May 2013
Sue and I were well looked after and following a tour, tasting and lunch Joel and Edwige dropped us off back in Epernay at the cellars of Mercier where we did the Mercier cellar tour and tasting.  At Mercier you pay for this of course; such tours are big business.  The experience itself is worthwhile – a video presentation, a descent by panoramic lift into their 18km of cellars followed by a tour on a laser-guided train, all accompanied by a succession of multi-lingual fashion models….  The trouble is that after all that the tasting at the end is a bit of a let down.  Certainly Mercier Champagne is acceptable enough, but there is no depth of flavour, no concentration and just a hint that you’re tasting something that’s been rather rushed to market.  To be fair, you could claim that this is in keeping with the aspirations of their founder, Eugene Mercier, whose dream it was to make Champagne accessible to a wider audience.  Fair enough I suppose, but unless the drink is as memorable as the tour, why would they buy it again?

This is where the smaller producers like Lallier and Rasselet win.  They don’t put you on laser-guided trains, or try and sell you tea towels and baseball caps so you can advertise their brand for them, they simply put a quality product, made with skill and dedication, in a glass in front of you and let you make up your own mind.  The care and dedication to quality always shows through.  The only variable is you of course, and whether you are able to see beyond the brand names… 

The good news is that if you are able to recognise the similarity between the Emperor’s New Clothes and the big branded champagnes it will save you some money too.  On our recent trip to Epernay my wife and I paid more for a bottle of one of the well-known brands in a slightly scruffy bar (all they had and it was €57 – acceptable “mais rien especial”, the frites were free….) than we did for a bottle of Lallier Grande Reserve Grand Cru (€45) in a small local restaurant that served up one of the best meals we have had in recent years (if you want to know more about this restaurant just ask me and I’ll give you the details). 

Equally, wandering round the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais on our return journey I spotted Veuve Clicquot NV at about the same price as the multiples offer it in the UK (free of duty perhaps, but not free of big fat greedy profit margin it would seem).  For about a fiver less (more if the Clicquot isn’t on offer – though it usually is – draw your own conclusions…) Rasselet Brut Reserve sits on our shelves at £27 which makes it both cheaper and better than the celebrity labels and, if entertaining or giving it as a present, also shows a degree of effort on your part too since you have unearthed something relatively unfamiliar rather than lazily bought the one that gets sprayed over Sebasian Vettel every couple of weeks…

Joel Rasselet doesn’t make vast quantities of Champagne but what he does make is great value for money.  He has customers in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Italy though we are the only people bringing his Champagne into the UK.  Last year he sold his surplus production to Veuve Clicquot which may tell you all you need to know.  After all, that’s the bit he didn’t want…

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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Recent Additions From The New World


With the Soldier’s Block lines creeping up in price, and the Shiraz going through the £8 barrier (thanks mostly to George Osborne and a terrible exchange rate) we have looked again at our straight Chardonnay and Shiraz options from Australia and returned to a couple of lines we featured at our pre-Christmas tasting last year from Murphy’s in the Murray River.  The Shiraz is deep in colour with characteristic red fruit notes and the Chardonnay is unoaked, fresh and clean.

In due course these will be joined by The Black Craft Shiraz from Magpie Estate in the Barossa (when the ship eventually gets here in July sometime) which is fat and rich and we are sure will win many friends!

Australian wine - click here to browse our full selection of wines online

New Zealand

The ripe tropical fruitiness of The Cloud Factory Sauvignon Blanc was such a hit that we have now added this to our New Zealand section.  It means that we now carry two Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs with the Bascand providing the crisp, green gooseberry flavours as a foil to Cloud Factory’s riper style.  We have also added two wines from Waipara Springs in the form of their 2010 Dry Riesling and 2010 Chardonnay.  Two new Pinot Noirs are also included; the 2011 from Bascand Estate in Marlborough and, after extensive tasting, we settled on the superb 2010 Beetle Juice (great name eh?) Pinot Noir from The Wooing Tree in Central Otago.

New Zealand wine - click here to browse our full selection of wines online

South Africa

With the £ being clobbered against most other currencies at the moment South Africa (where the exchange rate has been less worse) has provided a rich seam of new faces this time around.

We have a couple of new entry level wines (a Merlot and a Sauvignon/Colombard blend) from Cape Heights in the Western Cape.  At £6.25 these are excellent value.  Tasting Pinotage is always a challenge for us but the False Bay version is clean and full of black cherry fruit and joins the ever popular Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz trio from the same producer.  We are still listing the fabulous Secateurs pair from Adi Badenhorst, though they have gone up in price, so we were delighted to discover a pair of wines called The Curator (a Chenin/Chardonnay/Semillon white blend and a Shiraz/Mourvedre/Cinsault/Viognier red blend) also made by Adi Badenhorst, which hit the list at £9.25 – you must try these, they are super!  Further up the tree is a deliciously smoky Mourvedre called The Spice Route and a deliciously rich straight Semillon from Swartland called “Mon Vieux”, there’s not much of it about though so be quick!
South African wines - click here to browse our full selection of wines online
What we love about our new flexible buying regime at Wines of Interest is the opportunities it provides us with to tune into wines like these as we find them rather than having to wait to include them in our annual printed list.  We can sniff out new discoveries and take advantage on suppliers' promotions as and when they appear by adding them to our website, where you can buy wine online and either have it delivered to your door, or collect it from our shop.  You can buy these wines online now - click here to start shopping!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

New French Wines

Where do we start with our new French wines to buy online?  We have several new Clarets ranging from the youthful and bouncy 2011 Ch.Tire Pe Diem to the more mature 2007 Ch.Noaillac - a Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc.  Then there’s the elegant roundness of 2009 Ch.Haut Rian, a 1er Cotes de Bordeaux and the 2009 Saint Jacques de Siran, which is effectively a “baby Margaux”.  There’s also a new Lalande de Pomerol in the form of the 2010 Plaisir de Siaurac joining Mme Riviere-Junqua’s 2009 Ch.Haut Chatain on the list.

Good French Wine – click here to browse our current selection

In the Rhone section we have added the 2011 La Chaussynette (effectively declassified Chateauneuf du Pape made for drinking young, and soon to move on to the 2012) as well as a 2010 Cairanne from Domaine des Escaravailles and a super 2009 Vacqueyras from Domaine Saint Pierre where the blend is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah with production of only 35hl per hectare which produces admirable concentration of flavour.  At a more modest level try the Vin de Pays de Vaucluse from Domaine des Pasquiers based in Sablet.

Good French Wine – click here to browse our current selection

We’ve also given the French Regional section a good working over this time, adding four new reds and two whites.  The Viognier and Syrah pair from Domaine de Vedilhan are May’s Sampling Club selection and have proved to be very popular.  The other new white is a deliciously clean, fresh Gros Manseng from Domaine Cambos which retains that characteristic hint of fresh pineapple.  The three remaining reds are a Cinsault dominated blend from Domaine de Boede near Narbonne, a super old vine Corbieres from Chateau La Bastide and a deep and rich Mourvedre/Syrah/Grenache blend called Domaine La Vista “Grains Meles” but made by Robert & Cathy Pouderoux.  Added to our range more recently on a "just visiting" basis are the Mourat wines (see previous blog) and another Corbieres that we simply could not resist.  This one comes from Chateau de Durfort and tasting the original sample was one of the highlights of our recent tasting sessions.  We have tiny quantities only and it's not in the printed list so grab some while you can - you will not regret it!

What we love about our new flexible buying regime at Wines of Interest is the opportunities it provides us with to tune into wines like these as we find them rather than having to wait to include them in our annual printed list.  We can sniff out new discoveries and take advantage on suppliers' promotions as and when they appear by adding them to our website, where you can buy wine online and either have it delivered to your door, or collect it from our shop.  You can buy these wines online now - click here to start shopping!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Mourat wines are back...!

In the spring of 2005 a trio of samples in curiously-shaped bottles with an owl on the label appeared on our tasting table.  They were a revelation; a crisp, aromatic white, a gentle lively rose and a juicy red.  They came from something of an unexpected source, a producer called Mourat located on the edge of a small town in the Vendée called Mareuil-sur-Lay.

The Mourat family are passionate about their wines and it would be fair to say that they alone have been responsible for raising the wines of the Fiefs Vendéens from virtual obscurity.  We first stocked their wines in 2004 and, after few years break, are delighted to welcome them back to our range.

Jeremie & Jean Mourat
My own annual family holiday has frequently taken us to France and my crew have come to expect me to include a couple of vineyard visits.  So it was that in 2007 we ventured to the Vendée (via Muscadet and back via Saumur in keeping with the holiday template) and paid a visit to the Mourat family in Mareuil-sur-Lay.  I have never before hired a rowing boat from the local hairdresser (he had two to choose from, but one was full of holes) and we had a pleasant hour rowing up and down the River Lay getting sunburn before our appointment. 
Getting too much sun on the river

(with apologies to Ben & Lucy who, 6 years on,
don't look like this anymore and who will lynch me for using this photo).

We hooked up with Jeremie Mourat at their small shop by the bridge over the river who took us on a trip to his vineyards and then onto the winery to meet his father, Jean.  Then it was back to Chateau Marie du Fou for a comprehensive tasting.

In the vineyards with Jeremie Mourat
Mourat's enchanting shop by the bridge over the River Lay
The wines from Chateau Marie du Fou and the small Clos Saint André vineyard nearby are their flagships, whilst the Collection range is their mainstay.  Whilst the more expensive wines were super, it was the purity and freshness of the Collection range that proved to be the irresistible attraction.  These are wines of modest alcohol levels and no oak, yet still with plenty of flavour, length and a delicacy of style which is becoming increasingly rare.

The red and the rose are both blends of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Cabernet Franc and 20% Negrette and the white is 50/50 Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.  We have debated long and hard about whether we should include these wines in our Loire section or include them as part of our French Regional range.  We have, almost certainly incorrectly, opted for the latter, largely on the basis of geography.  A quick look at a map will show you why.  In any case we felt they deserved special treatment rather than being lumped in with other, more famous names, from further north.

All three Mourat Collection wines will be available to taste at our forthcoming tasting in Ipswich on Thursday 6th June.

What we love about our new flexible buying regime at Wines of Interest is the opportunities it provides us with to tune into wines like these as we find them rather than having to wait to include them in our annual printed list.  We can sniff out new discoveries and take advantage on suppliers' promotions as and when they appear by adding them to our website, where you can buy wine online and either have it delivered to your door, or collect it from our shop.  You can buy these wines online now - click here to start shopping!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

2011 Vintage Port Offer

The 2011 vintage in the Douro began with a warm spring which led to early flowering and was followed by three very dry months where rainfall only reached 25mm compared to the average of 94mm.  Well timed rains then arrived on 21st August creating ideal conditions for ripening and harvest which were so perfect as to be almost unprecedented.  As a result 2011 was a vintage of exceptional quality and the resulting wines are expected to age superbly over the coming decades.

Despite an abundance of excellent quality fruit the selection process was rigorous.  The Graham’s 2011 Vintage, for example, amounts to 8,000 cases or just 9% of the total production from their five Graham vineyards.  Available quantities are tiny and these are wines which will be much sought after and should gain considerably in value over the coming years. 

2011 is a much smaller vintage than any of the previously declared vintages this century (2000, 2003 and 2007) and stocks will not be about for long.  We recently spotted the 2007 Dow being offered by one of the larger UK merchants for £450 per case of 6 bottles under bond; if you bought it from us when we issued our 2007 Vintage Port offer 4 years ago, you would have paid £186.00 for the same case.

Initially, we are offering sealed 6 bottle cases only, at discounted rates, up until 30th June 2013.  Any stocks remaining on 1st July will then be available to buy as individual bottles or mixed cases at discounted rates until 31st August.  From 1st September any remaining stocks will be added to our selection at the bottle prices advertised on our website.  Click here to view the offer.

The wines themselves should be available later this year.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

New Spanish Wines

The middle of March sees the annual Wines from Spain tasting in London.  We always make an effort to attend since past experience tells us that Spain consistently over-delivers when it comes to quality and value for money.  There are always new discoveries to unearth and this year was no exception.  However, the strength and depth of our Spanish range does mean that competition is fierce for space in the list and we have restricted ourselves to three additions this time.  However, we have more up our sleeves for the “just visiting” section of the shop so others will emerge from time to time.  To buy Spanish wine online click here

The three we simply couldn’t leave out were:

The new vintage of Albarino Gundian from Adega Valdes in Galicia.  Their 2011 is just delicious.  We looked hard at this grape variety and, whilst we found a couple which certainly stood alongside this wine, they were also significantly more expensive.  Some, with more concentration, also see some time in oak (though we think this misses the point of Albarino) so Gundian gets the nod.

Buy this wine online - click here

The 2011 Tarima Monastrell from Bodegas Volver in La Mancha is chunky and meaty and wonderfully individual.  It’s made from old vines which give it extra concentration and, if such things matter to you, Parker has been throwing his points around in Spain again and gave this 91 out of 100.

Buy this wine online - click here

Finally, we have added 2012 Venta Morales Tempranillo which is a Vino de la Tierra de Castilla which is dark and juicy and a super example of Tempranillo.  If you like the Mesta Tempranillo that we have listed for a while now, you’ll love this, and it doesn’t cost much more!

Buy this wine online - click here

What we love about our new flexible buying regime at Wines of Interest is the opportunities it provides us with to tune into new wines as we find them rather than having to wait to include them in our annual printed list.  We can sniff out new discoveries and take advantage on suppliers' promotions as, and when, they appear by adding them to our website where you can buy wine online and either have it delivered to your door, or collect it from our shop.  You can buy these wines online now - click here to start shopping!

To view our complete selection of wines for sale click here

New Italian Wines

Following their respective successes in our Sampling Club three wines have made it into the main list this spring and we’ve added in a couple of other new Italians for good measure.  They’re already on the website so you can buy wine online…

The 2011 OSA from Maremma in Tuscany is a Sangiovese dominated blend from the Fattoria Quercegrossa which is located between Magliano in Toscana and the sea of Talamone - a stretch of vineyards with two enormous oak trees at its centre from where you can glimpse the sea. Here, in Maremma, Bruna Baroncini produces a different expression of the Sangiovese grape with spicy fruit and soft tannins – a great Italian all-rounder. 

Buy this wine online - click here

Secondly, there’s the 2009 Crocera Barbera d’Asti Superiore which has authentic notes of damson, smoke and spices; a fantastic expression of Piemontese Barbera which was so popular with customers when we featured it last December.

Buy this wine online - click here
A more recent favourite on the Sampling Club is Cavit’s solution to the soaring price of Pinot Grigio grapes in the form of the Principato Pinot-Grigio/Chardonnay blend from Veneto which combines the fresh stone fruit characters of Pinot-Grigio with a touch of ripeness and comes in at a price significantly lower than the straight Pinot-Grigios we list.

Buy this wine online - click here
The two other additions to our Italian range are a superb Verdicchio from Monte Schiavo, a modern and dynamic producer in the heart of the region and the Nebbiolo d’Alba from Poderi Colla.  JH visited the Poderi Colla winery last year and was very taken with the wines he tasted.  We have featured their Barbera d’Alba recently but found space in the main list for their Nebbiolo which, at £15.50, is a fraction of the price of Barolo or Barbaresco yet the equal of many.  You can read more about JH’s visit to Poderi Colla here.

What we love about our new flexible buying regime at Wines of Interest is the opportunities it provides us with to tune into new wines as we find them rather than having to wait to include them in our annual printed list.  We can sniff out new discoveries and take advantage on suppliers' promotions as, and when, they appear by adding them to our website where you can buy wine online and either have it delivered to your door, or collect it from our shop.  You can buy these wines online now - click here to start shopping!

Buy wine online – click here to browse our full range

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cheers George...!

Well, that was interesting wasn’t it! George Osborne is apparently keen to support people who sell and drink beer, but not those who sell and drink wine.  The scrapping of the beer duty escalator in this week’s Budget, whilst very welcome, is only a job half done.  What about scrapping the escalator for the rest of our favourite tipples George?  Not yet it would seem, though I hope that the positive move on beer means that the days of the escalator are numbered.  The Chancellor has two more Budgets before the 2015 general election and any tax giveaways in 2015 will just look like an attempt to bribe the electorate (which I’m sure he’ll try) but to have any credibility the escalator surely has to be axed for good next time round?

Good old George also stressed how he expected the accompanying cut in beer duty to be passed on in full to customers, and presumably he therefore intends that the increase in Excise Duty on other alcohol to also be passed on in full to customers?  Actually, retailers of wine have 3 choices:

1. Pass on the increase.  Simple enough but it’s not just the increase in Excise of course, there’s VAT as well, and this is also the time of year when suppliers put their prices up.  Oh, and have you noticed the exchange rate recently, and the cost of transportation?  All wrapped up together these will combine to add more than the 10p a bottle increase announced in the Budget.

2. Absorb the increase.  The ability to do this largely depends on the variables mentioned in point 1, but we will certainly be looking to keep any increases down to a minimum, or simply look for new lines that offer better value for money.

3. Ask suppliers to absorb the increase in costs.  Actually, this is only really an option if you happen to have your suppliers over a barrel (so to speak) and care more about attractive looking price points than protecting the quality of the wine that goes in the bottle.  As discussed in a previous blog this way is fraught with danger and there cannot be many customers who have not hoisted the message in by now that if you pay peanuts you get horsemeat….

With costs (especially taxes) on the rise, customers have a simple choice: either pay the same for your wine as you always have done (in which case be prepared to drink less good wine each year) or pay a little more to protect the amount that goes on the wine itself from being eaten away by these increases.

Consider our handy illustration of “where your money goes” which we produced last year (with figures from the 2012 Budget).  You can see that there is about 11p worth of wine in a £5.00 bottle with Excise Duty at £1.90.  This year’s Budget makes two changes to these figures; add 10p to Excise Duty (making it £2.00 per bottle) and therefore deduct 10p from the wine element.  It doesn’t leave much wine in the £5 bottle does it!  It’s why you don’t see bottles for sale at £5.00 on our shelves.

If you shuffle that 10p from wine to Excise Duty in the other 3 bottles in the illustration there is still plenty left for the wine element of those.  On the 2012 Budget figures the wine element of 11p in a £5.00 bottle goes up to £1.78 in a bottle at £7.50 – an increase of 16 times.  However, the 2013 Budget leaves us with only 1p of wine in a £5.00 bottle but £1.68 of wine in the bottle at £7.50 – that’s now an increase of 168 times! You can reasonably expect £5 bottles of wine to be significantly inferior pretty quickly.  Some consumers won’t see the difference of course, and will keep buying their £5 bottles, but my bet is that since you’re reading this you probably won’t be one of them.

With the recent duty increase it has never been more important to understand the difference between “cheap” and “good value”.  Put another way, if the only aspect of your purchase that you understand is how much it costs you should beware of the pitfalls.  After all, you wouldn’t buy a car just on price would you? Or a holiday? Or a lasagne ready meal?  Well, not now anyway.  Time to be smart and buy the best wine you can for your budget, and that means that if your budget is £15 you’re better off with 2 bottles at £7.50 each rather than 3 bottles at £5.00 each. It’s just maths really and with 2 bottles instead of 3 your GP will be happy too...

To make best use of your budget we would naturally suggest spending enough on the bit which you drink.  Visit the Wines of Interest website to browse our wide range of wines or visit the Wines of Interest shop and have a chat.  We are always happy to help at Wines of Interest. Buy wine online now - click here to start shopping.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Poderi Colla

I nearly died at Poderi Colla.  Perhaps I had better explain.  This estate is bang in the middle of absolutely prime Piemontese wine growing territory; diehard lovers of Italian wines point excitedly at the village names as they pass by.  Asti, Alba, Barbaresco and Barolo are all close and the vineyards surrounding them occupy hilltop sites, swirling down steep slopes in neat rows like green corduroy when viewed from the other side of a valley.  The hills provide many exposures in differing angles, sometimes ridging together to form natural amphitheatre structures with each sweeping face swathed in vines, verdant and vigorous in the June sun. 

At Poderi Colla they have rumbled that the astonishing views afforded by this dramatic landscape are all the more breathtaking to Brits.  Therefore part of the ritual when entertaining a small troupe of UK wine merchants involves encouraging them up to the highest point of the Poderi Colla vineyards to tune into the natural rhythm of this complex geography.  I was the oldest of the group and live in gentle Suffolk countryside; I simply do not encounter more than the occasional bump in the land and my stamina is not what it was.  “It’s only ten minutes,” lied our host convincingly and as we found ourselves at the base of a steepling dirt track that seemed to lose itself in the heat haze well before the summit could be revealed.  The path gave onto a vineyard of Dolcetto with embryonic grapes about the size of a lentil.  Mercifully, Pietro Colla stopped every now and again to explain a different property of the grape, allowing me to wheeze into listening distance just as he finished and scampered easily up to the next stop.

The view from the top of the hill - Poderi Colla

By the time we reached the top, with the temperature at about 35C and humidity that reminded me of my only and final visit to a Turkish bath, I was pretty much wiped out.  With heaving chest and shirt unpleasantly glued to my back, like an extra from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, I sank to the ground and listened for the eerie whistle of the Grim Reaper’s scythe but, happily, all I heard was the laughter of the others taking the piss.  Which I clearly deserved.  The view was worth every bead of perspiration.  Pietro explained about the prevailing wind and how some of the more tender varieties couldn’t take it, why this grape thrived up here, why that grape worked better lower down.  There were little stands of hazel wherever there was a patch of dirt that fell outside the symmetry of the vineyard.  It turns out to be a useful secondary crop for which Pietro and his fellow winemakers around the region find a ready market with local confectioners.

Pietro & Federica Colla

The only sound apart from the shuffle of tourists’ shoes in the dust was the agitated barking of a number of dogs, now alert to strangers nearing their territory.  Pietro pointed out a modest house much lower down with neat piles of dead, gnarled vines to either side of the door for winter firewood.  “That’s where the dogs live; we’ll walk past and meet them.  My neighbour is a truffle hunter and the dogs are trained to find them.”  They were a friendly bunch with a fresh puppy, widdling with excitement at such attention, being brought on to replace the oldest, now grey around the muzzle and too slow to work well.  I know how he feels.  However, the restorative properties of the announcement, “Well done my friends, we’ve earned a tasting now, I think,” verged on the miraculous.  We were ushered into the cool of a small, converted barn with a long refectory table and rows of glinting glasses and Pietro took us through the estate’s full range.

The puppy in training (The Dog Colla...?)

What became apparent very quickly was that the winemaking here follows strictly non-interventionist lines.  Some winemakers view nature as a force to be subjugated, to be constrained to deliver a style or hit a particular market or fit into a price point.  Poderi Colla act as mentors in the winemaking process, guiding the young juice towards its eventual completed state, allowing the vintage and the variety to express themselves naturally.  There’s little new oak - barrels here do a containing, resting job, not a flavour imparting one because the purity of the finished article is paramount.  There is no obvious house style; each vintage of each grape variety develops how it develops – there is no painting-by-numbers formula at work here.  If it is possible to be simultaneously sophisticated and unpolished (in the sense of not being overworked), these wines manage to do that.  They are made to be enjoyed with food; there is none of that ubiquitous dense, boozy, dark, over-wooded wine, forced into international, excessive style.  Rather there is balance and finesse, elegance and originality.

Poderi Colla Tasting Room

Poderi Colla produce perhaps a dozen wines from a juicy, evocative Dolcetto through to single vineyard Barbaresco and Barolo, via a thrilling Riesling, a tender Pinot Noir and a blend or two of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.  We have a small quantity of their Barbera “Costa Bruna” available which holds a full flavour in a lightly tannic shell, with juicy fruit and bouncy acidity.  It is classy and considered; a clever glassful that oozes great winemaking and doesn’t shout about it. 

Others from this range may appear from time to time as it is an impressive selection and I liked them all. 

Buy wine online now from Poderi Colla at Wines of Interest.  The range may vary from time to time but we will always have some great offerings to suit all budgets and tastes so whether you prefer to buy wine online or browse in our shop we are confident we will have lots of wine you will enjoy.  Buy wine online now - click here to start shopping.