Nearly everything one would want to know about wine

Tasting notes November 2013.

Rosado Cava Prestige - Spain - Non vintage, alcohol 12%

Cava is the name for Spanish sparkling wine. It can be made from a range of grapes (not as restricted as in Champagne). Most Cava is produced near Barcelona. The tasting wine is made for M&S from three red grape varieties…Trepat, Monastrell and Garnacha. It is made using the Champagne method but legal restrictions prevent the use of the term. “Traditional Method” means the Champagne method. It matures in the barrel for 9 months before disgorging. As the name suggests, it is a pink sparkler. Notes of summer berries. Cava is almost always relatively inexpensive and often heavily price promoted. Leading brands are Codorniu and Flexenet. In the UK we drink more Cava than Champagne.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand - 2012, alcohol 12%

Sauvignon Blanc is often chosen as “the dry wine”. It is almost always unoaked, crisp and refreshing. Historically, most UK Sauvignon Blanc came from the Loire Valley of France . A basic Touraine de Sauvignon is still widely available together with the more expensive Sauvignons from the Upper Loire (eg Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé). Nowadays, Sauvignon Blanc is produced in many countries but those from New Zealand and Chile are generally the most popular. Styles vary with New Zealand Sauvignons typically the most expressive often with notes of gooseberry and freshly mown grass. Chilean Sauvignon is generally more rounded with some softer, less green notes . The tasting wine is a Waitrose own label and produced from grapes grown in the Marlborough region of the south island, the major centre for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The cool climate of Marlborough favours Sauvignon Blanc. Around 60% of all New Zealand wine is Sauvignon Blanc. The best known and most widely available New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is Oyster Bay…reliable and often on price promotion. Sauvignon Blanc goes well with a wide range of seafoods and lighter, salad based dishes.

Caves des Vignerons Chablis - Burgundy, France - 2012, alcohol 12.5%

The Chardonnay grape is perhaps the most consumed white grape in the UK and is made in most wine producing countries. Prices range from low to very expensive and styles vary considerably. Unfortunately, these factors can lead to disappointment and it is not unusual to hear people say that they would not buy Chardonnay (ABC: Anything But Chardonnay). Many would argue that Burgundy produces the “best” Chardonnay and certainly white Burgundies such as Meursault and Puligny Montrachet can cost several hundred pounds a bottle. The Chardonnay grape tends not to have a distinctive character and relies instead on either the soil or the use of oak to impart distinctive flavours. Tastes can therefore range from the slate/mineral notes of many Chablis to the oaked notes traditionally associated with the New World. Nowadays, the oak effect tends to polarise…some like it, others dislike it. Unfortunately, when choosing a Chardonnay it is often far from clear whether the wine is oaked or unoaked. In many parts of the New World producers are reducing or minimizing the oak effect. Origin is therefore no longer a guaranteed indicator. It is therefore often important to read the back label. Words like “tropical” generally indicate a marked oak effect. “Subtle, oak impact” suggests a low level oak effect. Words like “mineral”, “crispness” suggest minimal/no oak. The tasting wine is produced for Waitrose. It is unoaked. Importantly, about half of Chablis might be classified as having noticeable oak . It is crisp, dry with predominant citrus notes. A wine that goes well with seafoods.

Hardy’s Nottage Hill Chardonnay - South east Australia - 2012, alcohol 13.5%

The tasting wine is produced by one of Australia’s biggest wine producers. The label description “full bodied , rich tropical and melon flavours with subtle oak characters” suggest a different wine to the previous one. Note also that the wine is produced from grapes grown from the region rather than from a single estate or vineyard. Most of the big Australian producers buy in grapes rather than rely on their own vineyards.. The richer notes suggest a wine that would go well with richer, creamier chicken and fish dishes.

Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc - Stellenbosch, South Africa - 2013, alcohol 13.5%

Chenin Blanc remains the most planted grape in South Africa although in recent years its preeminence has been reduced by increased plantings of Chardonnay and red grapes. Historically, the main source of Chenin Blanc was the Loire Valley of France where still today it produces a range of styles. Sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire can last for 30+ years. In South Africa most Chenin Blanc is dry. It is a grape that has naturally rich, fruit flavours. These are often added to by late harvesting and botrytis (noble rot) which can produce honey notes. The tasting wine has pineapple and peach notes with a hint of honey. The grapes natural high acidity helps to give a good balance, crispness and a long finish. The grapes are grown on bush wines…a method that tends to produce fewer grapes than trellis managed vines. Bush vines are being replaced by more productive methods.. Therefore, bush vines tend to be older vines ….which produce fewer but more concentrated grapes. Chenin Blanc is a grape that many believe deserves better attention. More expensive Chenin Blanc can be very complex. Ken Forrester is a reliable producer of South African Chenin Blanc. A versatile wine that would serve as an aperitif or with a range of fish and white meat dishes.

Finest Alsace Gewurztraminer - Alsace, France - 2012, alcohol 13%

Gewurztraminer (the name means spicy) is one of the major grapes of Alsace. The typical notes are lychees, rose petal and grapefruit underpinned with spice. Although Gewurztraminer is now produced around the world, the cool, protected valleys of Alsace provide arguably the most balanced Gewurztraminer. ie balanced between the rich notes and the restraining acidity. The tasting wine is part of the Tesco Finest range. Gewurztraminer goes well with mildly spiced dishes and other oriental foods as well as with stronger cheese.

Torres Vina Sol Rosé -Catalunya, Spain - 2012, alcohol 13.5%

Rosé wine has grown significantly in recent years and now represents around 15% of all UK wine sales. Rosé wine is produced in all parts of the world. Styles vary with Californian Rosé more likely to be sweeter and Old World Rosé more likely to be drier. Rosé wine is made from (any) red grapes. To produce a Rosé (rather than a red) the squashed grapes remain in contact with the skins for a minimal amount of time. The colour from the skins is therefore not fully released. Rosé wines are usually best when drunk young when the fruit notes are at their freshest. The tasting wine is produced from Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) grapes. It is unoaked which helps to preserve the summer fruit notes. A wine that is particularly suitable for summer drinking and with cold meats, salads and (of course) tapas.

Ara single vineyard Pinot Noir - Marlborough, New Zealand - 2010, alcohol 12.5%

Pinot Noir has its home in Burgundy where it produces some of the world’s most expensive wines. Burgundy also produces less prestigious wines from Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir can be one of the most disappointing grapes. At usually high prices, many people expect a higher level of satisfaction. High priced Burgundies, however, can be sublime. On the downside, Pinot Noir can be noticeably acidic and lacking in “weight”. Arguably, better value and satisfaction can come from Pinot Noir increasingly produced in other parts of the world. New Zealand has developed a good reputation and prices in recent years have reduced. The tasting wine is from grapes grown on a single estate. The predominant notes are raspberry, cherry and a hint of spice. Cono Sur in Chile produces several good value Pinot Noir. As Pinot Noir ages it perhaps changes more than most grapes. The fruit notes are replaced by more earthy, farmyard notes. Pinot Noir can go well with roast duck and boeuf bourgignon.

Mont Gras Merlot - Colchagua Valley, Chile - 2012, alcohol 14%

Merlot is a major part of a Bordeaux blend where it is used to help soften the taste (less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon) and provide extra fruit notes. By itself, Merlot has typical plum notes, is low in tannins and (noticeable) acidity and is therefore usually regarded as easy drinking. In recent years, Chile has been producing good value Merlot. It is sometimes argued that Merlot can be too easy going and lacking depth/sophistication (the Sideways film caused a drop in Merlot sales). However, Merlot can be very versatile and characterful. The tasting wine is an example of a complex, ,characterful Merlot. Although not stated on the label it does have 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to give added structure. Wine regulations in most countries allow producers to declare a grape on the front label if the wine contains a minimum of 85% of that grape. There is no requirement to identify the remaining grapes in the blend. These days, the name “Carmenere” appears on many Chilean reds. Carmenere is a grape that used to be important in the nineteenth century in Bordeaux but practically died out there because in the Bordeaux climate it was susceptible to disease. Vines that had been shipped to Chile were assumed to be Merlot and labeled as such. In the early 1990s, however, DNA testing revealed that around two thirds of supposed Merlot vines were in fact Carmenere. Carmenere has since become a major wine for Chile. Carmenere ripens later than Merlot (and before Cabernet Sauvignon) and has the plum/softness of Merlot but the added structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenere can therefore be a good compromise for those who want a more powerful wine than many Merlot. Mont Gras has a worthwhile Carmenere. Merlot and Carmenere go well with red meats.

Vinalba Cabernet Sauvignon - Mendoza, Argentina - 2011, alcohol 14%

Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the classic grape of Bordeaux although in recent years Merlot has increased significantly. Cabernet Sauvignon is more tannic than Merlot (which helps long ageing) and in cooler climates can be quite astringent when young. In warmer climates, however, the tannins ripen and soften on the vine. The tasting wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are grown at 950 metres on the slopes of the Andes. The altitude gives a long ripening period, cool nights and high ultraviolet. All these contribute to the intensity of both colour and flavours. Blackcurrant , damson and dark cherry notes. This is Argentina and therefore the wine goes very well with beef. Cabernet Sauvignon also goes well with roast lamb.

The Hedonist Shiraz - McLaren Vale, Australia - 2011, alcohol14%

Australia has a reputation for powerful wines and Shiraz in particular. In the Rhone the grape is called Syrah. The tasting wine is produced biodynamically. 100% Shiraz. A powerful wine but one that is surprisingly silky smooth with a long finish It also has a spicy kick which is a characteristic of the grape . A wine that would go well with good red meats including game.

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora - Victoria, Australia - 2012, alcohol 10%

The tasting wine is probably the most popular sweet wine in the UK and is widely available. It is a blend of two grapes, the major one (80%) being Orange Muscat. Orange Muscat is part of the Muscat family and has characteristic spice, musk honey and lemon notes. Sweet wines are less popular today but are arguably better made. There are many types of sweet wine and these are covered in a separate note. Sweet wines have a higher level of residual sugar but also have higher levels of acidity to balance the sugar level. The result is that the wine has sweetness but not a cloying sweetness. Crispness is a mark of a good sweet wine. The tasting wine would go well with soft cheeses and desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port - Portugal - 2008, alcohol 20%

Sales of vintage Port have declined and the creation of LBV was largely to help rejuvenate the Port market. A separate note covers Port in more detail but in summary both vintage and LBV are the product of grapes harvested in a particular year. The major difference is that LBV is allowed to mature in the barrel whereas vintage Port matures in the bottle. LBV therefore remains in the barrel longer before bottling. Prior to bottling LBV is stabilized and filtered. Once bottled, LBV will not develop further. Advantages of LBV are that it does not require decanting, will last for several weeks after opening and is considerably cheaper. Of course, it does not have the depth and complexity of a well aged vintage Port. LBV goes well with mature cheddar and chocolate desserts.