Friday, March 22, 2024

Meet the producer: Francisco Gomez, Alicante, Spain

A most intriguing selection that offered by Francisco Gomez for our review. Rare monastrell achievements and unique sauvignon blanc for southern Europe. Here are my tastig notes.

Vina de Mateo Red 2022
Slightly tingly, medium body. Paired with Roman porchetta, structured wine and structured food. Score 86.

Vina de Mateo white, 2022
Sauvignon Blanc
Lots of white fruits in this complex, round sauvignon, with a smooth ending. I paired with with slightly spicy Chinese oily tofu and it was an excellent experiment with the roundness of the wine contrasting the moderately spicy flavor of the tofu. Score 90

Sauvignon blanc organic

A very significant sauvignon. It retains the typical freshness of a sauvignon but it also sports a round complexity that raises it up a notch and makes it a good pair for more structured food. For example it went very well with sauteed mackerel.
Score 92

Queen of Kings brut, NV
Next on my list of Francisco Gomez wines was this bottle of bubbles, a first for me: 100% monastrell grapes, so a blanc de noir. A huge surprise, this is a perfectly balanced wine, smooth, fragrant and complex of floral and honey notes. It is ready now but 1 or 2 years longer in the bottle might add another twist of roundness.

I paired it with escargot starter and then with tiger prawns sauteed with spring onions. Both matches turned out to be excellent, the acidity and sapidity of the wine contrasted the sweet tendency and unctuousness of the food (butter in the snails!). Score 93

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Trade tasting of Cirò, Calabria, Italy

For the first time ever in the UK, 11 producers were assembled in London to showcase the best known wine from Calabria. Cirò has long been well known, at least in Italy, but only after the turn of the century it has begun to attract international attention in light of the markedly improving quality of the products available in the market.

The Greeks were the first to plant vines in Calabria, then part of the Magna Graecia, and called their red wine Krimisa. The Greeks also introduced the "alberello" training which is well known in Sicily and notably in Pantelleria, and established wine as a staple production. 

As always, it fell to the Romans to learn from Greece and take things a step forward. They organized and legislated so as to bring viticulture to a higher level of economic significance. 

Later invasions from the French and the Spanish also contributed to further development while the Arabs inhibited the consumption of alcohol. 

In modern times, quantity ruled over quality and too often wine from Calabria was shipped north in bulk, to offer its high alcohol content in blends with northern Italian as well as French weaker wines.

In an attempt to make Calabrian wines more widely appreciated, in 2008 laws were passed to allow for international varieties to be planted in the Cirò region. Some producers, however, opposed what they considered a betrayal of tradition and refused to follow the widespread fashion of using barriques as well. This resulted in a renaissance of pure gaglioppo wines, this time with renewed commitment to quality and greater investments in know-how and equipment.

The result could be seen at this tasting, with a number of high quality bottles that are sure to establish a new reputation for Cirò around the world.

Below are my tasting notes of what in my opinion were the best wines from this stimulating afternoon that turned out to be full of surprises.

Caraconessa Melissa Rosso Superiore 2019
75% gaglioppo, 25% greco nero
Organic production of 15,000 bottles since 2014. A relatively smooth wine, relatively to the structures of today's tasting that were on average quite powerful. Slight alcohol sensation. RRP £20. Score 89.

Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore Riserva Brinifé 2016
Red fruits and tertiary notes of leather and tobacco. A powerful and complex wine with a long finish. Ready now. You are lucky if you can get a hold of one of only 7,000 bottles produced.
RRP £44. Score 94.

Old vines planted in 1948 are the protagonists of this vineyard. Organic production for 25,000 bottles.

Liberaisensi Calabria bianco 2022
Made from guardavalle grape, a structured wine with toasted notes.. RRP £22. Score88

Il Marinetto Rosato 2022
An "orange" wine (only a few hours on the skin of gaglioppo grapes) then cement, no wood. A balanced and long wine. RRP £28. Score 90.

Cirò rosso classico superiore riserva 2020
A perfect balance and good complexity, surprising length.
RRP £ 28. Score 91.

Cirò rosso classico superiore riserva "Più Vite" 2016
A powerful wine, almost explosive, complex and long. Ready now no point waiting any longer. RRP £38. Score 93.

The house of Vumbaca was founded in 1984, there are now about 13 hectares of organically farmed vines, with a special project devoted to recuperating old vines by restoring them as saplings. The best overall producer of today.

Cirò bianco 2022
Greco bianco 100%
Very intense to the nose, balanced and long. Some vanilla notes reminescent of chardonnay.
RRP £ 20. Score 92.

Cirò rosato 2022
Gaglioppo 100%
Soft pressing of gaglioppo grapes, then just 3 hours on the skins.
As complex as roé wines will go, fruity and long.
RRP £20. Score 90.

Cirò rosso classico superiore 2022
gaglioppo 100%
A powerful nose gives way to a round palate and a long finish, very balanced.
RRP £22 Score 92.

Cirò rosso classico superiore riserva 2020
gaglioppo 100%
Full body, balanced, long and complex, this wine reaches the threshold of exceptional quality. Smooth and velvety secondary and incipient tertiary flavors that made me think it might be worthwhile to wait a few years to enjoy this wine at its peak.
RRP £39. Score 95.


On one side of the tasting room participants were presented with a table lined up with old vintages. The verdict is that some Cirò wines are now capable of aging very well indeed, which could perhaps be the most significant take away from this event.

’A Vita, Cirò rosso classico superiore riserva 2014
Good tannins, balanced structure, ready with 1-2 more years ahead. Score 90

Cataldo Calabretta, Cirò rosso classico superiore riserva 2013
Light garnet color denotes a mature wine, alcohol is predominant. Score 86

Cote di Franze, Cirò rosso superiore classico 2011
Balanced and long, moderate complexity. Score 91

Fezzigna Vignaioli, Melissa rosso superiore 2016
A complex with with a few years ahead. Score 91

Fratelli dell'Aquila, Cirò rosso classico superiore 2016
An intense nose, balanced and long. Score 92

Sergio Arcuri Cirò classico superiore riserva Più vite 2013
A bit astringent, alcohol sensation, probably past its peak. Score 86

Tenuta del Conte, Cirò rosso classico superiore 2012
A balanced wine with a thin ending. Score 86

Vigneti Vumbaca, Cirò rosso classico superiore 2019
Strong tannins give good structure which is partially disturbed by a strong alcohol sensation. Score 85

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Welsh Wine in London

There is always a first time for everything and today is my first time at a Welsh wine tasting event. In fact it is probably the first time that any Welsh wine is going to pass through my lips and land on my curious taste buds.

Welcome to the Welsh Centre of London for an event organized by Levercliff.

There are some 50 vineyards in Wales, more than I would ever have imagined given the fact that this part of the UK lies at a very peripheral region of wine making, around 50 degrees north of latitude. 

Yet over 20 varieties are grown and some £10 million worth of wine are produced each year, and rising.

Below are my tasting notes for today. In general, I found these Welsh wines tend to be ready to drink rather young. This of course could be an advantage for both producers and consumers, but on the other hand it might mean less potential for evolution in the bottle.

I am surprised because at these cold latitudes I would have expected more acidity and dryer wines.

Maybe less surprisingly, and more similarly to what happens in England, whites were generally better than reds. And quite a few good bubbles.

Another point to note is that prices are not cheap. Good news for the producers that they can command mid-range prices for most of their wines and decidedly high prices for some, as I indicated below.

Finally, many wines had very low abv. I can only suppose the scarcity of sugar in the berries means less alcohol could be produced before fermentation stopped, for whatever reason.

Seyval blanc sparkling
seyval 100%
A fragrant and balanced bubbly, perhaps because of its 18 months on lees. RRP £ 35. Score 89

Pinot noir and seyval blanc 2022
Only 11% abv, a smooth velvety wine. RRP 21. Score 89

Seyval blanc/pinot noir 2022
18 months on lees produce an intense and long bubbly, very balanced with a touch of sweet at the end. RRP £35, Score 88

seyval blanc/pinot noir 2021
A complex and long sparkling wine, 24 months on lees. RRP £42. Score 91

seyval blanc 2022
Natural fermentation and lees stirring, no filtering and no fining make for an opaque wine with an intriguing bitter touch. RRP 25. Score 90

White Still Gwin Gwyn 2023
Phoenix (80) and seyval blanc (20)
An intense wine with moderate complexity, good balance and length. RRP 24. Score 89

White still 2023
Siegerrebe 100%
Complex, long, balanced. RRP 24. Score 88.

Do you want to practice your Welsh?

Monday, March 4, 2024

Thracian Lowlands, Bulgaria, presented by Ray O'Connor MW

With Ray O'Connor
Unusual opportunity offered to us today by Westbury Communication in London: Bulgarian wines from the lowlands of Thracia. Excellent introduction by Ray O'Connor, MW. Here are the main takeaways.

The Greeks cultivated vines first in this region, but it was the Romans, as so often everywhere in Europe, that brought a systematic organization of wine production, with rules and laws about what to grow, how and how much.

The subsequent Ottoman rule all but quashed the wine industry and it was only in the 1870s, the Russia liberated Bulgaria from the Turks that wine production picked up once more. During the communist times, from 1945 to 1989, Bulgarian wine thrived because in the socialist planning the country was designated as a wine producing region. It was supposed to bottle wine for other countries of the socialist bloc that did not have the same comparative advantage in terms of climate and tradition. Because of the lack of a market economy wine was sometimes bartered instead of sold, even with western companies like Pepsi Cola, which unlike Coca Cola always had a good business relationship with the Soviet Union and its satellite countries: socialist wine for capitalist Pepsi!

With the return to market economy in the 1990s there was a huge task to be completed before production could restart on a new basis: return to the legitimate owners the land that had been expropriated by the Communist Party. Thereafter, the new/old owners started to stress quality over quantity, reduced bulk wine production and began to address the demand of the rising middle class, as well as of the export market.

Uniquely in Europe, and contrary to the old traditions that dated back to the Romans, Bulgaria decided to establish very loose rules for its denominations, and instead let the producers use their imagination to make pretty much whatever wine they wanted.

Here are my tasting notes:

Burgozone Via Istrum Tamyanka 2022, Danubian plain
tamyanka 100%
Intense,  aromatic, fresh with a citrus peel finish.
RRP £ 18. Score 86

Bononia Estate Vrachanski Misket 2022
Vrachanski misket 100%
Marked texture, fresh, citrus, sapid end
RRP 16. Score 86

Chateau Copsa Cuvée blanc 2022
50% chardonnay, 40% misket, 10% sauvignon
Intense and complex, fresh, floral.
RRP 16. Score 88

Vinex Slaviantsi reseerve Chardonnay 2021
Chardonnay 100%
Intense, complex, balanced and long.
RRP 12. Score 90

Aya Estate melnik 2021
Broadleaved melnik (Ranna Melnishka Loza) 100%
Spices, herbal, dry, a bit astringent. Might benefit from more time in the bottle.
RRP £20. Score 85

Rupel Gramatik Rubin Barrique 2020 from Struma valley
Rubin 100%
A structured wine, tobacco, herbal, definitely needs more time in the bottle to round corners.
RRP 20. Score 87

Domaine Boyar Korten Natura Mavrud & Rubin 2021
mavrud 68% and rubin 32% French oak barrels
Good structure yet lots of fruit, ready now with some potential for evolution.
RRP £ 10.50 Score 87

Katarzyna Estate Seven Grapes 2021
Cab sauvignon, merlot, syrah, malbec, tempranillo, cab franc, mavrud
Fresh, coffee, spices, structure, good length.
RRP £13.50. Score 89

Minkov Brothers Oak Tree 2016, Thracian Lowlands
cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot
Complex, balanced and long.
RRP 29. Score 92

Slaten Rozhen Sycagy 2017, Struma valley
Syrah 33%, cab franc 33% and sangiovese 33%
Amazingly fruity and flowery, spices, tannins need some rounding.
RRP 30. Score 88

Bulgarian wines overview. Courtesy of Ray O'Connor