Thursday, September 22, 2011
FOR the first day of Autumn, a last of the summer wine from Compo, Clegg and Foggy country (Holmfirth, Yorkshire):
A refreshing and enjoyable white made from Seyval* and Solaris**
* an important hybrid in English winemaking, created in France by the Seyve/Villard son/father-in-law partnership (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seyval)
** hybrid with Muscat, Reisling and Pinot Blanc ancestry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solaris) developed in Freiburg, Germany.
Starts sweetly, with medium acidity, and a fresh, dry finish. Notes of elderflower, citrus, banana and hazelnut.
Holmfirth Vineyard Solaris Seyval White is available on-line for 9.99 GBP (holmfirthvineyard.com).
Monday, September 5, 2011
IN THE SPIRIT of la rentrée scolaire, let me serve you a fresher’s class of wine. Pick a bottle, any bottle. Inspect the label. If a year isn’t indicated, the wine was blended from a number of vintages; which is typical for non-vintage Champagne – the blend is intended to convey a ‘house’ style – only superior ‘vintage’ Champagne is made from one year’s crop. However, it’s not good news if it’s a bottle of still wine – a still wine blended from different years is not designed to embody a ‘house-style’, it’s meant to be cheap. Pick another bottle.
Now, look again at the label. Who made, bottled and/or commercialised the wine: a merchant (négociant), a cooperative (cave coopérative), or an artisan (vigneron indépendant)? Preferably, the same person should make, bottle and commercialise a wine. While merchants blend wines from many producers (including cooperatives), and cooperatives produce wines with grapes from hundreds of growers, only artisans make, bottle and commercialise their own wines. Such wines aren’t automatically better, but there’s a good chance they will be. And they’ll be more individual and expressive of terroir.
If opening the bottle means untwisting a screwcap or sliding a plastic cork out of the neck, make sure the wine is not more than a year old; otherwise there may be problems with reduced sulphur aromas (like bad eggs or burned matches) from the screwcap’s hermetic closure, or problems with oxidation from the insufficiently airtight plastic cork. In either case, the closure was probably chosen for its cheapness, not its effectiveness, so choose a bottle with a real cork. But don’t bother sniffing corks: their vinegary smell communicates nothing important about wine.
If your wine’s red, consider decanting it. While decanting does nothing to soften up tannins, it does help to dissipate aromas associated with the addition of sulphur as a preservative. Contrary to popular belief, you’ll want to decant a young wine longer than an old wine: by virtue of their age, older wines have already lost much added sulphur and so the risk with decanting them is that they’ll collapse into a vinegary necrosis long before a younger wine.
Next, pour the wine into a glass big enough to plunge your nose into and in which you can later swirl the wine.
Now, inspect the wine against a white background. Its clarity will tell you how it’s been filtered: the more heavily filtered, the duller the lustre, the poorer the wine. Colour tells you about age and style: red and white wines go brown with age (a bad sign), while concentrated colours equal low yields and long macerations (a good sign), pale can be good, too. Viscosity tells you about sugar and alcohol content, though little about quality: the longer and slower the ‘legs’, the sweeter and more alcoholic the wine (in fact, alcohol tastes faintly sweet).
Before you swirl, sniff. You’ll want to know what the wine smells like before swirling because it’s at this point you’ll notice if there’s a fault (like dank hamster cage, vinegar or bad egg smells). Swirling aerates the wine and provokes the release of the things you really want to smell: the aromas associated with the fruit and how the wine’s been made and matured – these aromas may mask faults, so sniff before your first swirl.
Aromas can be ‘primary’ – associated with grape varieties (e.g. fruity, floral, vegetal, animal); ‘secondary’ – associated with vinification methods (e.g. buttery, toasted, vanilla); and ‘tertiary’ – associated with time spent in the bottle (e.g. nutty, gamey). Wines possessing all three categories of aroma are said to possess a ‘bouquet’. Such wines have a correspondingly complex ‘mouthfeel’.
‘Mouthfeel’ refers to flavours, body, balance and length. ‘Flavours’ are non-volatile elements of taste and usually confirm impressions gleaned from sniffing the volatile aromas. ‘Body’ refers to your impression of the wine’s weight (light, full-bodied) and texture (coarse, silky). ‘Balance’ refers to how the first two criteria interact: the greater the harmony between ‘flavours’ and ‘body’, the better the ‘balance’. ‘Length’ refers to the taste’s longevity after swallowing or spitting – the longer the better (provided it’s pleasant).
For homework, pour another glass, look, sniff, drink and feel free to do a Jilly. School’s out!
First published in The Connexion (September 2011)
Thursday, September 1, 2011
DOMAINE du Tariquet - France's largest family-owned estate - sent me a selection of wines including this excellent Bas-Armagnac that I enjoyed on the rocks this summer.
The youngest of the brandies in the Bas-Armagnac XO was aged in oak barrels for at least 15 years. It's made from Baco 40% and Ugni Blanc 60%.
What it's like:
An intense bouquet, steeped with the aromas of freshly baked bread, toast and underlying candied fruit. Fresh, supple and well-rounded on the palate, revealing a subtle union of vanilla oak and fruit. Good length, with the aromas of dried fruit and toast on the finish.
I also enjoyed their Ugni Blanc & Colombard white Classic (floral, citrus and tropical fruit aromas), minerally Sauvignon Blanc and rich Chardonnay.