Sunday, 17 July 2011

A splendid tasting

Back at work on Monday, from the two superlative weeks in Le Marche, and I remembered that I had agreed to run a tasting for 12 of the team at work. One of the guys had managed to organise a room in a local hotel, so we had a suitable venue for a bit of 'oenophilic activity'.

I had billed the tasting as 'the best from John's cellar', and so I picked a representative selection of the great wines of the world, most with a bit of bottle age as well, and thus not that is widely available. One of my 'fears' when presenting a selection of high quality wines is that you can get a bit blasé about what you are paying for. So, by way of setting the tone, and also to establish the 'quality factor', we kicked off with an unexceptional bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja, a fiver from Asda. Not a bad wine, however, once you take tax off, it is a £2.50 bottle. This allowed me then to talk about what you get when you do 'choose up the list' - lower yields, grape selection, winemaking techniques, barrel ageing etc etc - as well as demonstrate the key elements of tasting

We kicked off with a bottle of a lovely Californian, Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir 2007. This is all you'd expect from classy Pinot - blackberry, raspberry and black currant. Lots of depth of flavour, and a stylishness as well. Definitely new world in inclination, but with more than a nod to the Burgundian. Think Kevin Spacey and you'd be about right.

The comparison was with a Volnay PC Clos de la Chapelle Nicolas Potel 2002. This came through with the traditional silkiness so often lacking in Volnay - not today! Lovely strawberry fruit, real length and depth of flavour, and just the right amount of tannin. We had grissini and a few cheeses to try with the wines, and as always, just nibbling a small piece of Keen's Cheddar will make a whole heap of difference to the way you experience the wine.

By now the assembled crowd had started to get into the swing of things. I was delighted that everyone could really like one or the other (always a relief when everyone likes at least something!) and we started to get a bit of 'old vs new world' banter going.

So, onwards now to the cabernet-dominated wines. Firstly a Château Batailley 2002, 5th growth Medoc, from an 'all-right' year. As a side story I can remember being in the Loire valley when buying this wine, strangely! Anyway, on to the wine. Worth noting first of all that this was double-decanted at about 4pm, and drunk at about 7.30. It really responded very well to that opening out of flavour, no question. Yet again, this reminded me why good claret in particular benefits from several hours exposed to air. Batailley is from Pauilliac, home of ripe, blackcurranty cabernet sauvignon, with a good wedge of merlot (and, no doubt, small dollops of some or all of Cabernet-Franc, Carmenère, Petit Verdot and Cot or Malbec). This had developed lovely violet and meaty flavours, and really demonstrated the great length you get with well-produced wine.

As a total contrast, Grosset, Gaia, Cabernet, 2003, from the cooler parts of Australia's Clare Valley. A blend of cabernet sauvignon (75%), cabernet franc (15%) and merlot (10%), this is a perfect contrast to the Bordeaux. Even though the wine has now spent over 6 years in bottle after 16 months in oak, it still felt young and fresh, with life ahead of ti. But..ah, how lovely the fruit tempting not to wait! The nose was an intense dark berry, meaty, earthy concoction, and on the palate, a taste that was substantial, well-knitted together, and with a finish into the middle of next week.  Again, decanting helped. Also pleasingly, a split in the group along similar lines to before - yet again proving that Oz doesn't have it all its own way!

The final pair showcased Shiraz - or should have done. Alas the Chateauneuf du Papes Vieux Telegraphe 2001 was not at its best. Not corked, just that the fruit had faded and this wine was, perhaps, 'overcellared'. A real surprise to me, I must say, as I thought VT would go on much beyond this. The fruit was still there, and, like an old gentleman, you could see its former elegance, but now it was tiring. I have subsequently tried another from the cellar and had a similar bottle. So, it has turned very quickly, as this was fine last year. The old saving is true, " is much less of a tragedy to drink a wine too young than too old..."

We moved swiftly on to the final red, d'Arenbergs top wine, the Dead Arm Shiraz 2001. Curiously names, apparently 'Dead Arm' is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often vines affected are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity. Anyway, this was the biggest, hugest, chompiest, mouth-fillingist whoosh of plums, berries, spice, soft tannins and flavour! All told, a true hero of Oz Shiraz, and to my mind one of the best I have tried. I shall relish my final bottle!

So, there you have it. A most enjoyable experience, yet again showing me how much I love doing this sort of thing, and when it is with an interested group, so much the better.

I'd better start planning the next one..

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Week 2 and it's all still lovely!

I shall refrain from waxing too lyrical about how lovely Le Marche still is (following last week's post) or I fear that I will totally lose your spirit! Suffice it to say that there was one very rainy day, so let that act as proof that balance in everything makes you realise how nice the good bits are.

The running continued this week, and it is definitely suffering, from a combination of a) good food, b) excellent wine, c) the heat and d) just a general sense of laziness brought on by holiday. We still love the Abbadia, which is proving to be a real live wire of a place. Every morning it is full of walkers, runners, cyclists, smart suited architects holding a conference, and, occasionally, monks! No doubt in the literature it would be referred to as a ‘resource’, and I would wholeheartedly agree with that definition.

On Sunday we joined the rest of the holidaymakers and Dean and Lesley to go to the Mogliano Festival, an annual three day festival that involves all the usual Italian things - dressing up in historic clothing, races through the town carrying flags, and, strangely, turning the main piazza into a temporary garden with turf, shrubs, plants et al. That last one is strange to me. So, we found ourselves a table on the city walls, and joined in with the other townsfolk in eating huge amounts of pasta and fried food, all washed down with cheap and headache-inducing local red wine (€4 a litre I seem to recall). After quite a lot of this I was naturally up for anything, and so got caught up in some kind of ‘cirque du soleil’ demonstration in the aforementioned main piazza. This involved 5 men being plucked from the audience, and made to adopt a crouching position whilst tiny, highly strong young women clambered across us by gripping firmly with the thighs and hands! An experience, for sure, and one that my quads in particular took about 3 days to get over.

One other very enjoyable wine moment this week was when Lesley and Dean ran their pizza evening. How fabulous to have your own pizza oven in the garden! They had prepared the doughs, fired up the wood, and we got to stretch our own pizza bases, choose the toppings and watch the cooking! Before this, I took the opportunity to run a 'mini-tasting' of Rosso Conero, comprising:

Piantate Lunghe Rosso Conero 2008
Piantate Lunghe Rosso Conero 'Rossini' 2008
Moroder 'Dorico' 2005

The particularly special moment was that the 2008 is not on general release yet - we had to persuade Roberto to sell us a bottle, which he was only just sending out to journalists at the moment. Our commitment was that we would use is a) for a tasting and b) drink it within the week! So, Roberto, let me promise you that we did, and that it was much appreciated by the assembled crowd. It was great to be able to compare.

I am really getting into Rosso Conero wines...wonder where they can be bought back in the UK, eh?

And so, alas, the week draws to a close, and it’s time to return home.

Pip pip.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A glorious first week in Le Marche

Friends and readers,

At last, an opportunity to stop and put pen to paper (electronically speaking) as Janet and I are taking two weeks, staying in Le Marche in central Italy. The weather is mostly sunny, with the occasional bout of downpour - well, that's how it stays so green, I suppose!

The Abbadia
Runningwise, the agriturismo that we are staying at (quite excellent - Caserma Carina) was on a steep slope, so my first run out involved a 20 minute solid climb followed by a 20 minute downhill! This was really not going to be fun! However, Caserma's owners, Dean and Lesley, recommended the Abbadia di Fiastra, a nature reserve set in the grounds of a still-functioning Cistercian abbey. This was a great idea - so, after a short drive, we used a neatly marked 2.5 mile woodland trail, along with quite a few other Italians who clearly had this place marked out for their morning constitutional. As usual in temperatures above 30 degrees, any more than about 5 miles is impossible, so I went for two laps..frequently finishing just before 9am, to have my stretching greeted by the bell tolling for morning service. Once or twice we popped our head in to the Abbey to hear the monks chanting, probably just as has been done for 700 years. Very special.

Not the bottles we drank..!
The first week also brought two very enjoyable wine encounters. The first was a visit to the local vineyard, La Murola, which has only been in existence for a few years. It is a significant investment, stretching to 50+ hectares, planted with mostly local grapes such as Montepulciano and Ribonna, and then bringing in Verdicchio from Matelica. There is also a range with more international grapes such as Chardonnay and Merlot. I have to be honest, they are just not as good as the local wines! My favourite by far was the Vigna Monte 2008, a 100% Montepulciano wine, powerful and rich at 14.5% and a bargain at €5! What a delight to be able to taste these wines, sitting on a terrace overlooking the vineyards, with very generous samples, some lovely cuts of cheese and meats, and with someone else driving you home so you can get a little bit tickled! All in all a great experience.

John and Roberto at Moroder
The second was a visit to two wineries in Rosso Conero, both at the top of their game, but very different. The first was to Moroder where we met the wonderful winemaker Roberto, who tasted with us four of their wines, and took us on a tour of the cellar. Without doubt the special wine was Dorico 2005, which won tre bicchiere in the Gambero Rosso guide (much the same as 3 michelin stars). Rich, silky, powerful, integrated...very splendid. Then, on to Piantate Lunghe where the winemaker was also called Roberto, and where we spent a delightful time testing out his 2007, 2008 and a cask sample of Rossini 2010. the 2006 from here also won tre bicchiere. We were definitely going for the top!

Enough for this week...