Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Wines from Sardinia, with Peter McCombie, MW

Wines from Sardinia are well known to sommeliers, but a dedicated masterclass in London is always a good surprise. Eloquently led by Peter mcCombie MW, who told us how most grapes Spanish origin: cannonau carignano vermentino. Which is not surprising in light of Spain's long rule of the island and its relative geographical proximity. Sardinia only joined Savoy in 1762, a century before Italy as a unitary state even existed. 

Vermentino di Gallura is the only docg, yet the most amazing surprises from today came from the red bottles.

Here below my tasting notes. Scores were given blind, we were only shown the labels at the end of the masterclass.

1. White Melio campidano
20yo vines
Steel on lees
Intense nose Fresh savory skin, contact produces structure. 
Score 90

2.White Ver

mentino di Sardegna 
5mos Steel on lees
3k out of 4k total hectares planted in Italy 
 Intense nose fresh complex 
Score 90

3.White Vermentino Gallura docg
Fresh complex long, texture bites, 14.5abv
35yo vines 
Score 88

4. Red 2021
Bovale grande di Spagna, carignano, rosso igt
Tends to be a little rough, old vines better 
Tannins need a little bit of time 
Score 86

5. Red
Carignano del sulcis 
Intense nose, balance, mod complex and long
Score 92

6. Red
Garnacha cannonau di Sardegna 
Full open complex and long, perfect balance 
White pepper, 
Score 95

7. Red
Mandrolisal doc
Intense perfect balance, complex and very long 
Score 96

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Vernatsch of South Tyrol / Alto Adige

Walter Speller introduces vernatsch from Alto Adige/South Tyrol, Italy

Unusual tasting today for an often neglected grape variety from the northernmost part of Italy. I used to buy schiava in the past for easy drinking, maybe with a pizza, or at a garden party to pair with finger food. Cheap and (usually) cheerful, not more. No longer. Things have changed for the better, as we learned from the introduction by Walter Speller of Hunt and Speller and Italy editor for Jancis Robinson. 

Vernatsch is the German name for what Italians call "schiava", but the difference is more than just a name. Schiava was for a long time a pale, cheap wine that did not age well. Bunches were big because of irrigation and no one was really fond of the result.  As people shifted from drinking more wine to drinking better wine, schiava fell out of favor. In 1973 there were 3500+ hectares of vineyards planted with schiava, while in 2020 only 667 remained. 

That began to change over the last decade or so. More and more producers started to pay attention to quality instead of quantity. We now have much less or no irrigation, smaller bunches, smaller berries and more complex, structured wines that are meant to age.

Following are my tasting notes from this event,

Hoamet 2019 Mitterberg
Fruity and structured, slight prevalence of hard sensations.
Score 87

Hoamet 2021
A much better vintage than the preceding wine. Balanced, smooth even.
Score 92

Vigna Bischofsleiten 2019
60yo pergola vines. 90% aged in steel, 10% in large oak to keep freshness high
Perfect balance, long.
Score 89

Vigna Bischofsleiten 2013
Fruit and structure. Amazingly, tannins still require a bit more time in the bottle.
Score 90

Vineyards on poor soil slopes, old vines. Little or no fertilizers used.

Donà rouge vernatsch 2019 Mitterberg
Intense fruit in the nose, structure and powerful tannins that need more time.
Score 88.

Donà rouge vernatsch 2021 Mitterberg
Structured, long and complex.
Score 92.

It is a 101-year-old cooperative with 200 members. In all 240 hectares at roughly 450 meters above sea level. Vines are 80-100 year old.

Gschleier Alte Reben vernatsch 2022
Fresh nose, more balanced on the palate, long.
Score 91.

Gschleier Alte Reben vernatsch 2019
Perfect balance, moderate complexity and length.
Score 91.

Ackerle 2021 Isarcus 2019 St Magdalener Klassisch Südtirol
No fertilizers produce smaller berries, and they prefer pergola training to protect bunches from excessive Summer heat and keep freshness high. Half the grapes were harvested late to allow higher sugar content. A smooth, long wine.
Score 90.

Ackerle 2021 St Magdalener Klassisch Südtirol
Intense aromas, red fruits, freshness but complexity and length.
Score 91.

St Anna vernatsch 2019 Weinberg Dolomiten
Still a bit rough on the tongue, tannins aggressive, perhaps because it was left up to 3 weeks on skins with 50% stems. Two years in big oak. Probably needs a bit of time in the bottle. It could be a demonstration that vernatsch can age, we'll see.
Score 85.

St Anna vernatsch 2012 Weinberg Dolomiten
A mature wine at its peak, or even past it. Full body and complexity with hard sensations prevailing.
Score 88.

Campill 2019 Vino
Biodynamic. Fermented with 40% stems, no temperature control and spontaneous fermentation.
Intense nose, good structure even if alcohol makes its presence felt, hard sensations prevail.
Score 85.

Campill 2014 Mitterberg
Fruit is there, but alcohol is too dominant, a bit rough.
Score 83.

Sea 2019 Kaltersee Klassisch
Their oldest vines are 100+ yo, which probably explains the elegance of this wine. Harvest is delayed as long as possible and fermentation is in large oak barrels with "lots of" stems.
Perfect balance, complex wine and ready now.
A fully developed expression of the best vernatsch.
Score 93.

Sea 2016 Kaltersee Klassisch
Similar to wine above.
Score 93.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Moscatel de Setubal with Sarah Ahmed

You think of Portuguese fortified wines and immediately port comes to mind. If you are a lover or fortified then you will probably know madeira wine with its magic heating process. No one I ever met, even among sommeliers, including myself!, ever mentioned Moscatel de Setúbal. 

A masterclass by Sarah Ahmed, The Wine Detective, organized by The Big Fortified Tasting plugged this unjustified hole in my knowledge base and I hope it will do the same for my readers. This is some of the main takeaways from her talk.

More info on the Setúbal Peninsula wines website.

Image courtesy of Setúbal peninsula Wines

Image courtesy of Setúbal peninsula Wines

The area is of course by the sea and enjoys a maritime climate. Vines are often planted facing north up to several hundred meters of altitude to moderate exposure to heat and preserve freshness. There is also a planting area at 50-80 meters and it is mostly flat, and this produces richer wines. Soil is mostly clay and limestone.

Total area planted for Moscatel de Setúbal is 634 hectares and 62 additional hectares for roxo.

Denomination of Origin established as far back as 1908 for Moscatel de Setúbal (1989 for Pamela). Wines must be made with at least 85% Moscatel de Setúbal grapes or the red variant Roxo. Moscatel de Setúbal is known as Muscat of Alexandria, or Zibibbo in southern Italy and specifically in Pantelleria.

The grapes are destemmed before being crushed, then left to ferment with the skins. Fermentation is stopped with fortification and maceration continues for over three months. Skins are pressed for further extraction and aging is at least 18 months in steel (resulting in a "young" fresher wine, up to 5 years of aging) or oak barrels (resulting in a "classic" velvety and nutty wine, 5+ years of aging).

Vintage wines must hold at least 85% of the same year  in the bottle and Reserva is given by a tasting panel without any additional aging, while Superior requires 5 more years.

Sarah Ahmed

Tasting notes from the masterclass:

1. Adega de Palmela 2021
Moscatel 100%
Floral aromas, fresh of orange blossoms, nutty and slightly astringent.
RRP £12. Score 84.

2.Adega de Pegoes NV
Moscatel 100%
Nutty, orange peel, spices, and good structure. Slight bitterness but it does not disturb a complex wine.
RRP £11. Score 88

3. Quinta do Piloto 2021 Anforas
Moscatel 100%
Fresh and fruity, hard sensations prevail. 
RRP £18. Score 86

4. Trois Flor de Trois moscatel Roxo 2017
Moscatel Roxo 100%
Strong nutty flavor, round and complex.
RRP £20. Score 89

5. Domingo Soares Franco Private Collection Armagnac 2008
Moscatel 100%, Fortified with Armagnac
Fresh and smoky, long.
RRP £15. Score 88

6. Doming Soares Franco Private Collection Cognac 1998
Moscatel 100%, fortified with Cognac
Strong nutty notes, complex and perfectly balanced.
RRP £15. Score 92

7. Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setúbal Superior 20 Anos 2000
Moscatel 100%
Very fresh. Intense nose then complex and long palate. Smoky. Produced with heating of the wine, trying to reproduce the effect of shipping in old days like for Madeira.
RRP £87. Score 93.

All these wines were paired, unsurprisingly well!, with Portuguese pastel de nata and dark chocolate. The amazing freshness of most of the samples contrasted perfectly with the sweet and mellow texture of the pastel and the chocolate.

I look forward to pair some of the smoother wines above with a good cigar!

pairing Moscatel de Setubal with pastel de nata and chocolate

Port in the 21st Century with the School of Port

At the Big Fortified Tasting

Port is part of culture in the UK has been a primary market for centuries. It is widely available and a solid bridge between the two countries. 

Mr Symington recommended to drink port cool, "room temperature" today is likely to be quite a bit higher than in the past

Tasting notes:

Malvasia, moscato
Primary flavors, fresh, zesty even and yet with a touch of sweet at the end.
Score 90

Freshness is gone, nutty.
Score 88

3.  Graham 20 YO
Big bottle going around the room for this wine. Full body, round structure, good balance. Jammy even.
Score 86

Freshness lingers on yet tannins make themselves felt. Like the previous wine this is a bit jammy, a bit too much perhaps. Nutty flavors.
Score 89

Vintage (less than 1% of production of port). Deep ruby color, tannins still too powerful.
Score 87

Ripe red fruits, complex, jammy.
Score 88

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Meet the producer: Alcardet, Toledo, Spain

A family company founded in 1972, Alcardet is an up and coming vineyard that focuses on organic wines. Located in the region  of Toledo, south-west of Madrid, it combines some interesting experiments with more classic production associated with the region.

Cepas Viejas 2019

Almost extinct Moravia and Tinto Velasco grapes, very limited edition aged in oak for 6 months. A rare gem from Castilla.

A fruity, balanced wine with medium body. Smooth tannins. Ready now. I paired with pasta that I had prepared with a sweet tendency sauce. I also tried roasted chicken and peas, and would not recommend a steak as red meat would have too much structure for this delicate wine. 

Score 90

371+52 =323 Correcto

Verdejo 100%

A floral nose with latent white peach and a smooth unpretentious wine. Moderate length. An easy drink to pair with a salade niçoise or mozzarella. Score 86

Correcto red wine

tempranillo 199%

A simple tempranillo, with fruity notes and moderate complexity and length, produced with the same "randomness" philosophy as the previous wine. 
Score 86

Natura Brut

Chardonnay, macabeo and airén

This organic brut presented an intense fruity nose and a moderately complex, balanced palate with fragrant notes. We paired it with a hearty English lamb pie. 

Score 89

Riesling Sescueras

Riesling 100%

This can be considered an interesting experiment, one does not find many riesling in southern Spain. This is an easy entry level wine, perhaps the warm climate prevents the full development of this variety. 
Score 80.

Real Gana brut Reserva 

Airén 100%

Their top of the line bubbly, this traditional method from Alcardet in Spain is very fresh without being aggressive, pleasant lemon zest. Moderate complexity and length. I paired it with mushroom ravioli, the acidity contrasted perfectly with the filling and fatty sauce. Score 89

Friday, April 12, 2024

Trade tasting of Monastrell wines from Spain

Thanks to the UK Sommelier Association and Monastrell Spain (a non profit dedicated to promoting this variety) for a unique masterclass on this relatively unknown grape from southern Spain. It is known elsewhere as Mourvedre, but here in Spain it finds a terroir that results in wines that are markedly different from those in France.

Spanish Monastrell sold about 16m liters of wine in 2022, the last year for which data is available. Of this, roughly one third is red, 25% is white and the rest is split between rosé, sparkling and liquor.

Four bottles out of five are consumed domestically in Spain, with a bit less than 20% exported, mainly to Germany, United States, Poland, the Netherlands and the UK. China's thirst is growing for this like for many European wines and it is already importing well over 100k liters.

In Spain Monastrell is the 6th most planted variety, with some 4% of total vined area, a percentage which rises to almost 8% if only red grapes are considered.

In terms of geographical distribution, Monastrell is planted mostly in the south-east of the country. Murcia captures almost half with 16k hectares, followed by Castilla-La Mancha (40%) and Comunidad Valenciana (15%). It used to be more widespread across the country before the phylloxera plague of the XIX century, but during the XX century it fell out of favor in the central and northern parts of the country. The reason for this is that this variety has turned out to be particularly well suited to hot and dry climates as one is likely to find in southern Spain.

Over the last one hundred years or so, it has been planted in considerable amounts in Australia and in the US.

The name Monastrell comes from the Latin and it indicates the important role played by monasteries in the development of viticulture especially after the definitive eviction of the Arab invaders from the Iberian peninsula.

We tasted recent vintages and in my opinion all these wines are ready to drink now with limited aging potential.

The masterclass was let by well known Master of Wine Peter McCrombie with his usual verve.

Ready, set, go Monastrell!

Here below are my tasting notes of the wines proposed to us in this masterclass:

Seven months in French oak.
A fruity wine with moderate intensity. Rough corners that may be smoothed out with a few years in the bottle. Score 85

Similar to the previous wine, red fruits and herbs organic production. Score 85

Biodynamic production. An intense start gives way to a balanced and long wine. High altitude (900+ masl) and calcareous soil. 14 months in old wood. Score 89

Fifty-seven-year-old vines produce a complex, perfectly balanced wine with a long, smooth ending. Twelve months in old and new Allier barrels help as well. Sore 90.

Ungrafted very old vines, over sixty-year-old, and organic production at 800 masl. American oak helps make for a smooth wine with lingering fruity notes. Score 90

70% Monastrell, 30% cabernet sauvignon
Deep ruby red, high concentration, complex aromas and almost jammy at end. High abv (15.5%!) Twenty-four months in oak. Score 88

Biodynamic, 43yo vines at 850 masl. One year in new Allier oak. Intense, balanced and complex. The best wine today. Score 92

Fruit with a touch of sweet. Moderate structure and balance. Moderate length. Score 90

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Mountainous Macedonia, Epirus and Central Greece

Insightful masterclass delivered by Sofia Perpera for Westbury Communication. This has become a notable and pleasant tradition on the London wine scene. Here below are my main takeaway points. 

Greece did not make the oldest wines in the world, but Greek cities (there was no such things as "Greece") produced the first sophisticated culture of wine. The Symposium was a fundamental contribution to western culture: a social gathering following a banquet to pursue the pleasures of wine and music. A far cry from what we think today of a symposium: a gathering of experts to discuss a subject matter at a sophisticated or scientific level.

Greece also developed the first kind of "controlled denomination of origin" by legislating that producers had to use different kinds of amphoras depending on the type of wine. Heavy fines were imposed on rule breakers!

I mentioned there were older wines around the world (Georgia, Mesopotamia) but perhaps the oldest in Europe was indeed Greek, and the oldest known press is to be found near Knossos, on the island of Crete.

The Greeks drank their wine diluted in water, a habit that the Romans would later copy just like they copied (and often improved) on so much of Greek culture. Three parts of water to one part of wine was the accepted ratio, probably because it would make the wine more drinkable and hide its inevitable faults. (The Romans were known to mix wine and water also for the opposite reason: to allow alcohol to at least partially disinfect drinking water.)

Wine continued to develop in Greece long after the classic period but it suffered during the many centuries of Turkish occupation as it was perceived contrary to the precepts of islam.

One had to wait until the 1990s to finally see a revival of quality production. Greek winemakers went abroad to study, mainly in France but also in italy and the US, and vineyards invested in state of the art technology. A school of oenology has been active in Athens wince 1980.

Membership in the EU after 1981 also helped a lot, with the Common Agricultural Policy providing much needed funding to increase investment and the EU authorities regulating production to improve quality.

Today, some 65,000 hectares of land are planted with vines (though the exact number is now known, the cadastre is less than totally accurate) and this still not much, less than 2% of vines in the EU as a whole. Two thirds are devoted to produce white wine and one third red.

Germany and the USA are the main export markets.

The great news of recent years is that, while at the beginning of the quality revival in the 1990s producers preferred international grapes, mostly from France, now they devote special attention to plant local varieties, at least where this can be made to optimize quality.

Tasting notes:

1. Jima Winery, Super Girl 2022
Citrus, fresh and long, moderately complex.
No price given. Score 86.

2. Ktima Gerovassiliou, Malagousia 2023
Apricot, complex and long, perfect balance.
RRP £24. Score 89.

3. Ktima Pavlidis, Emphasis 2023
Structure, balance and length. Excellent value.
RRP £16. Score 90.

4. Wine Art Estate, Plano 2023
Similar to previous wine, slightly rounder.
RRP not given, Score 90.

5. Domaine Hatzimichalis, Alepotrypa Vineyard 2023
Round, soft sensations prevail.
RRP £ 16. Score 86.

6. Ktima Biblia Chora Areti White 2022
40% Assyrtiko 60% sauvignon blanc
Fresh, chalky like its land, zesty.
RRP £ 26. Score 88.

7. Nico Lazaridi Wines, Evil Eye Rosé 2022
Fresh, structured, slight bitter ending.
RRP £ 27. Score 90

8. Domaine Costa Lazaridi, Château Julia 2021
Strong tannins, a bit rough on the palate, maybe it needs more time.
RRP 15. Score 80.

9. Samartzis Estate, Papanikolas 2021
Fruity wine but alcohol predominates
RRP £ 37. Score 82.

10. Alpha Estate Ecosystem reserve vieilles vignes Barba Yannis 2020
Fruity, complexity, will improve with rounder tannins in a couple of years. 
RRP £37. Score 85

11. Noema Winery Invicta red 2020
Also fruity with alcohol too much front and center, a touch of sweet.
RRP not given. Score 82.

12. Diamantakos Winery, Naoussa 2020
Fruit and structure, moderate complexity and length.
RRP £ 30. Score 87.

13. Kir-Yanni Estate, Ramnista 2019
Fruit and structure, perfect balance and good length. Ready now.
RRP £25. Score 92

14. Boutari Wineries, Naoussa Grande Reserve 2013
Complex and long, balanced, the best wine today.
RRP £25. Score 93.

15. Kechris Winery, Tear of the Pine Retsina 2022
Good structure and balance, a typical new generation high quality retsina wine.
RRP not given. Score 89.