Category Archives: Tasting Notes

GUBU IV Good/Unlovable/Brilliant/Undrinkable

January 17th ushered in the Year of The Monkey which we celebrated with a Chinese Banquet chez moi, cooked by the esteemed Chung Yin who formulates all those tangy and entirely authentic Chinese sauces for Sharwoods. Chung is an amazing guy, a great chef too and produced a menu to die for including duck, beef, succulent scallops, fat muscly king prawns and a whole steamed sea bass, not to mention a dessert.
I’ll put the recipes on stove slave as soon as I have them to hand.
Six of us consumed all the above, plus ten wines (but not necessarily in the order listed below) viz:-

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 1999, Alsace.
Lovely, beautifully bottle aged wine of some style and class. I’d like to get some more of this.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich Reserve 1996
An older style of Champagne, a last minute dosage giving a richly sumptuous brew that you couldn’t call sweet, more lush and decadent. I could have drunk this all through the meal.

Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne Chardonnay 2002
Thank god I’ve got another bottle, I want to let it lie. Impressive now, I suspect there’s bags of keeping in this fullsome eminently stylish and beautifully balanced Chard. One of the superstars of a stellar evening. One guest said “If you’d told me this was 70 quidsworth of Puligny Montrachet I wouldn’t have demurred!”

Vasse Felix 2002 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River W.Aust
A hard act to follow, the Methode Ancienne, but this buttery expansive Aussie from one of WA’s best producers held up nicely.

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2002
Decent , different drinking with some (American?) barrel age lending a touch of distinction. A bit lost by this stage, but would have made a very decent warm up – alternative to the Trimbach above

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
Very decent gear, flavoursome, dry, crisp, slight tayberry fruit flavours with a little herby kick. I like these guys.

Cordoba Crescendo 2000 Helderberg, Stellenbosch SA
A brilliantly balanced Bordeaux Blend varying from year to year but always majoring on Cabernet Franc, another huge hit on the night. Complex, intense figgy fruit, herbal and flowering current fragrance, lovely powdery aftertaste, massive length, everything you could wish for in a wine and for the price charged (well under e20) fantastic value for money.

Albet Y Noya Col Leccio 1999 Penedes Spain
Brilliant stuff from Spain’s kings of organic wine. Mint on the nose, blackcurrant, plums and all sorts of nice things on the palate and again, huge length.

Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz/Cabernet 1997
The “baby Grange”, always a class act, a darling of a red wine from the guys who’ve forgotten more about Shiraz than most New World wine makers know. Elegant, dark, brooding, plummy with black coffee overtones and a fine white pepper nose this is one joyful wine.

Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2000
Middle of the road NZ Pinot. Clear evidence that they are getting to grips with this difficult grape the French call “The Black Bitch.” Some way to go before it gets desirable, though. For me, Felton Road leads by miles.

Also tasted recently

Springfield Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2003
I seem to keep plugging this but with every bottle I drink it seems to shout “World Class” in fact Springfield are making some of the best wines to come out of South Africa so I’m entirerly unabashed. Pristine SB, with that killer so-refreshing mineral zip – for me you can keep most of the Kiwi gooseberryfests if I could drink this. Bloody brilliant and only e15-ish a bottle.

Nugan Third Generation Chardonnay 2002. South East Australia.
Decent stuff, quite civilized for Aussie. Nice melon notes without diving into mango & pineapple overload. This should do very well for SuperValu

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2000
Like the above only more so, mellowed with two year’s extra bottle age. Lovely stuff, deep gold, honeyed, subtle, great melon and marzipan flavour

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre – first bottle of this I’ve had since GUBU II so maybe time for a bit of a rethink as it’s mellowing out nicely, plummy and dark morello flavours, good long finish and still quite a bit of keeping in there.

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South African Wines


Stopped quite a few wines from going bad on our trip, and sniffed, slurped, spat many more. Here are a few random musings on a country where the quality’s getting better year by year.

Agusta Chardonnay 2001. Franschhoek.
Smart, quite classy Chard with lime and grapefruit notes and sensitive use of oak; still developing. Rated: VERY GOOD

Backsberg Estate Chardonnay 2002 Paarl
Sensitively-oaked example, with marzipan and toast flavours contrasting with lemony notes. Rated: GOOD

Bartho Eksteen Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Hermanus
Rich, dessert gooseberry on the palate, almost NZ-ish in its intensity. One of SA’s best. Would have liked to have tasted the Premier Choix but alas couldn’t find it. Rated: VERY GOOD

Beaumont Chardonnay 2001
Fat grassy Chard of some class from unfashionable Bot River. Though it carries a punch at 14% there are no heavy vulgar tropical fruit flavours. Good winemaking. Rated: VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT

Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2001
Nicely ageing example of what’s rated as one of SA’s classier “Steens”. Herby, lemony flavours with a slight hint of marzipan. Not Savennieres but very nice. Rated; GOOD, WELL MADE

Bellingham Chardonnay Spitz series 2002 Wellington
Smart stuff from this modern winery; oaked, natural ferment, keen attention to acid balance so while its opulent with marzipan and oriiental spices it’s in no way fatiguing to drink Rated: EXCELLENT

Bloemendal Estate Semillon 2002
Quite liked this, especially as a change from SB and Chard. Rich and refined, pointed up by zippy acid that I’m sure will soften over time Rated: INTERESTING

Bon Courage Chardonnay Prestige Cuvee 2002 Robertson
Worthy attempt at a Euro-styled chard with great attention paid to acid balance and a certain mineral elan.Rated: EXTREMELY LIKEABLE, SOME CLASS

Ambeloui Miranda MCC 2001/2/3 Hout Bay
MCC stands for “Method Cape Classique” the approved term for what was called “Method Champenoise” until those stern lads from France came in with their big boots. This absolute pearl, from a tiny property just outside Cape Town gets my vote for one of SA’s top three fizzers – lovely full bouquet, bubbles to burn and that lovely toasted fresh bread taste you get from sparklers where the fruit (pinot and chard) has been generously bestowed. Increasing the percentage of new oak each year means it should get even better. Yum! Rated: BRILLIANT

Avondale Les Pleurs Merlot 2000 Paarl
Class act with a good deal of subtlety, tannins relaxing nicely, well endowed with full, soft fruit but enough acid to prevent it from getting lush and OTT. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bartho Ekstein Shiraz 2001 Hermanus
Liked this a good deal – perfumed, spicy, whopping wine, amazed to find it was only 13.5 ABV – a huge mouthful, still developing. Rated: GREAT POTENTIAL

Beamont Shiraz 2001
Hefty, muscular Shiraz with smoky bacon overtones coupled with the paprika-based spiciness of authentic goulash. Interesting stuff. Rated: EXCELLENT

Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 & 2002
Amazing Pinotage/CS/Merlot blend and even a bit of Shiraz sneaks into the 02. Straightforward, honest wine of some complexity from Beyers Truter, king of Pinotage. )I felt the 02 was already much more approachable than its elder brother. Rated: INTERESTING

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2002 If you have to drink Pinotage this is the one. Not for me, though, I can get the same buzz from licking newly tarmacked roads on a hot summer’s day. Rated: OF ITS KIND, GREAT

Bloemendal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Durbanville. Hinted at qual but still very hard and green. Will it soften? Dunno but apparently Bloemendal have a reputation for slow-burners. Rated: MAYBE

Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2001 Franschhoek.
Like the name, a big mouthful at 14.2%, packed with dark plummy fruit and the sweaty saddle thing – my god how I hate that description. Rated: HUGE BUT LACKS CLASS

Bon Courage Syrah Inkara 2001 Robertson
Going to be great I think, but heavy going as of now. Cold steel feel, like young Cote Rotie. But did enough to hint at potential. Rated: VERY PROMISING, INTERESTING

Bon Courage Shiraz 2002
Curiously the one that’s matured only in French oak is called “Shiraz”. Lighter style, more approachable now. Smart stuff. Rated: GOOD, WELL MADE

Bon Courage Cabernet Sauvignon Inkara 2000 Limited release.
Middle of the road Cab Sauv of no particular distinction. Rated: FAIRLY ORDINARY

Bonnievale Shiraz 2002 Bonnievale, Robertson
Easy drinker of no particular distinction. Muted nose. Rated: AVERAGE

Avontuur Above Royalty Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2001 Stellenbosch/Helderburg
The excellence of the stickies came as a major surprise on this trip and this was one of the best. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage Noble Late Harvest 2002. Lightweight (10%) classy Riesling sticky already showing luscious dried fruits, apricots and figs, great balance. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage White Muscadel 2002 Really interesting and weighty sticky with floral aromatics. Liked this a lot. Really good winemaking with added pizzazz from fruit acids. Rated: EXCELLENT, ORIGINAL


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GUBU III Good/Unloveable/Brilliant'Undrinkable

Drinking quite a lot of Burgundy recently, probably in the wake of my trip and must say the quality is far less patchy than it was five years ago.
Still in love with NZ Sauv B but like to drink it as fresh as possible, most of the 2003s are in now but you still have the odd bottle of 2001 knocking about and they are mostly a bit spent.

Murane Syrah 2001 Vin de Pays d’Oc
One of Aldi’s more expensive importations – 9 euro something. First sniff sent my chum Bangles with whom I shared the bottle into an uncontrollable sneezing fit. This continued as we drank the wine. Next day I woke up with a banging sinus headache the like of which I’ve not had for ten years.
That said, I thought this wine was horrid – syrup-sweet and unsubtle. Best avoided.

Santa Rita Medalla Real 2000 cabernet sauvignon, Chile
Less of a fruit bomb than other Chilean cabs. Likeable wine of some class.

Beaune du Chateeau, Bouchard Pere et Fils, 2000
Classic, mainstream Burgundy, all the famyard smell and cherry flavour you’d like. With precise fruit/acid balance you always get from people whoi know what they’re doing. Good gear.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1997, Champy.
I’ve always found Savigny reliable and this one is no exception. Quite hefty, in the old style and ageing gracefully.

Lupe Cholet, Cote de Beaune Villages 1998
This wine produced a split decision. Two diners thought it the nicest of the three on the night, I thought it lacked the class of the Bouchard and the weight of the Champy. A wee bit characterless, somehow, but decent enough

Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2002, Martinborough, New Zealand
One of the pack that’s chasing Cloudy Bay very hard. Lovely rich but not cloying well-balanced stuff, the product of people who are thinking hard about what they do and getting it right. This wine would be absolutely perfect for the “getting a wee bit tired of Chardonnay ” brigade.

Chateau de Seuil Graves Sec 1998
Friends and fellow tasters have raved about this wine but after 2 bottles I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. Well made but dull and a bit characterless IMO.

Brilliant Red Wine

I make no apologies for singing the praises of this wine, one of the top five reds I’ve driunk this year so far.
Mas Igneus 2000 comes from Priorat in NE Spain – from a local cooperative lent a hand by stylish producers Albet y Noya.
The wine is a joyous, singing, complex red – brilliant stuff – Garnacha/Carinena with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to lend backbone and keeping quality.
It’s organic, too and costs around euro 18 from importer Mary Pawle and other suppliers I’ll add in as soon as I have them. Recommended

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Good Stuff from Spain

To understand Spanish wine it’s necessary to understand two things. One is that near everyone in the country, North to South, East to West drinks it. By the mid 1980s it had more land under vines than any other country in the world yet in production terms it only ranked fourth, trailing behind France, Italy and what was then The Soviet Union. So, lowish yields then, which in itself is no bad thing. The second is that the viticultural tradition goes back a long way – to the Phoenicians and Greeks of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
The region most familiar to us is Rioja and for this we have to thank, if that’s the word, the phylloxera bug that devastated French vineyards in the 1860s. As Bordeaux became infested, so winemakers moved south and re-established themselves in Rioja, introducing their winemaking methods and, in particular, maturation in oak barrels.
The great heyday of Rioja came in the 1970s when French wines became expensive and drinkers, particularly in UK and USA sought an alternative with some class for less money. Then as Rioja itself got expensive and as over-production led, with some honourable exceptions, to a lowering of standards, other regions of Spain came to prominence.
Today names such as La Mancha, Valdepenas, Penedes and Navarra are common on wine labels. They have recently been joined by the like of Priorato, Ribiero del Duero, Rias Baixas and others, offering excellent wines for reasonable money and even the odd superstar.

The label’s pretty austere. Just a small golden key and the words Cabernet Finca Antigua 2001 surrounded by “white space”.
On the reverse, you are told that the wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, from La Mancha and that it matured in stainless tanks before getting treated to 6 months in new American oak. Where’s the aromas of mint and blackcurrant, where’s the fresh’n’fruity I hear you say. Well, don’t worry the lack of verbose crap on the label is no barrier to enjoyment because, quite the reverse, this wine speaks for itself. One of the best reds I’ve had for ages, it’s abundantly joyful, with background tannins evident but not destructive. Morello cherry and plum flavours, a midweight polished mouthfeel and a stayer’s finish make for a decent drop indeed and I’d venture to suggest it will get better if you can keep your hands off it for a year or two.
Cabernet Finca Antigua 2001. Brechin Watchorn, Claudios and other good independents, real value at e11.49

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GUBU II – Good, Unlovable, Brilliant, Undrinkable

Domaine de Champ-Brulee, Vincent, Macon Villages 2001
A really together wine. Chardonnay with manners! Beautifully crafted with distinctive mineral tints that talk of terroir rather than the crushed fruit factory. Don’t say pineapples, melons or mangoes, say “wine” – this is complex and enjoyable and superb value for money.
e13.95 O’Briens

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000
Well, you know what you are getting from one of the Cape’s best! Deliberately French-styled elegant wine, but florally perfumed and with a great weight of fruit which – though carefully balanced – seems to want to break out. Like a big, muscular guy stuffed into a tux but dying to rip the bloody thing off and have a game of rugby!
e25 approx. various outlets.
RATING: EXCELLENT but a lot of competition for the money

St.Hallet Riesling 2001
Pleasant enough, but a little bit ‘obvious’. Lemony, with a curious hint of toasted sunflower seeds on the palate, it was sort of “riesling with a sun tan”, over-cooked and maybe a tad lacking in character. A bit surprising because St Hallet make some really nice wines. Not my fave Aussie Riesling.
e11.99 O/Briens

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2002
Very intense and upfront, and a bit unrestrained, it got quite cloying towards the end of the bottle. Wouldn’t rave, especially as there’s a lot of competition.
e?? James Nicholson

Torres Vina Sol 2002
Spain’s answer to Sauv B, Parellada is the grape that makes up this dull-but-worthy white. Decent winemaking but low on Wow! Factor.
e11 widely available

Mas D’Espanet Eolienne 2001 Vin de pays d’Oc
Wonderful characterful complex white. As is common in S France, no back label, so no idea about cepage except there has got to be some Marsanne in there and possibly a little Chard (guessing). I suspect there’s great keeping quality here.
Around e18, French Paradox

Bonterra Chardonnay 2001
Bonterra are getting such a profile there could be a tendency to diss their products which would be a shame for this is very nice winemaking and much more complex and interesting than a lot of the Chard coming out of Chile, Australia and South Africa for around the same money. And it’s organic and should be encouraged.
e15.79 widely available

Bourgogne Kimmeridgien Chardonnay. J.M. Brocard 2000
A beauty from a good producer. Complex, interesting, with that laid back but ‘developed’ feel that makes Burgundian whites so interesting when much of the new world stuff starts to pall. Clever winemaking.
e12 approx, O’Briens.

Villard Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Well received by dinner party guests. Surprising class and in a blind tasting we’d have marked it as a good Kiwi. Long finish.
e13 approx

D’Arenberg 2002 The Money Spider Roussane
Here they go again! The Aussie Rhone Rangers turn in a classy performance with a white. Real joyous, vibrant stuff. I don’t think there’s a deal of keeping in this but just the job for a change from Chard or SB.
Around e12

Ice Wine Vidal 2000 Lakeview Cellars, Ontario
Opened in error! Needed a sticky in a hurry to wash down some far aux pruneaux (see recipes) and plucked this out of The Hole. Miles too young, all you got was a peachy syrupy sweetness without much character. Will it develop? Dunno?
Price ???

Rosé de Landoc Frisant Moulin de Gassac
Pleasing petillance from a good producer. Nothing serious, garden wine really but skilfully made

Marques de Casa Concha 2000 Merlot
I have to say I really love this wine. it drinks big in the best possible sense. It’s, huge but soft and lovely and very complex, I think it could be mistaken for a Pomerol if met in a blind tasting. Killed two bottles a couple of days apart and the second was no less impressive. Huge violets and chocolate nose and v.long finish. Chilean winemaking at its best. Contemplative, doesn’t need food but would be great with lamb and lashings of garlicy things.
Around e14 widely available

Gigondas Domaine Raspail-Ay 2000
Saw this Gigondas, which I’d enjoyed in earlier vintages had fallen a bit flat in Raymond Blake’s FOOD & WINE Magazine tasting, so couldn’t wait to try it. Hmm, yes, tasters got it right, it’s curiously flat and unwelcoming. Grenache with its terrible unstructured elements, flabby puffy fruit and none of its unbridled joy and no backbone. Such a pity, still many a good producer makes a cock-up now and again. here’s to a return to form.

La Vielle Ferme 2001
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Mourvedre – all the sunny south of France in a bottle that’s the little brother of the Perrin Nature of GUBU I fame. Uncomplicated enjoyable wine made by guys who really know their business and great value for money at under e10.
Widely available

Mas Mouris Coteaux de Languedoc 2001
Stylish, steely red that’s worth opening a few hours ahead of drinking time. Small Languedoc producers are still a bit hit-and-miss, but this one’s a winner.
Around e18 French Paradox

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre
Decant, decant, decant. When first opened it seemed a bit flabby and characterless. After an hour or so the plums on the palate and pepper on the nose really came through.
Around e18

Valpolicella Classico Zenato 1999
If you thought Valpol was the bottle you take to a party and leave on the table while you quaff the host’s St.Emilion, think again. This guy Zenato is hot, a winemaker on a roll and everything he does is worth drinking. Nice weight of fruit and absolutely perfect balance – the acidity isn’t used as a cop out to kill cloying fruit, everything’s in total harmony. Hugely recommended.
Around e12, fairly widely available

Sierra Cantabria 2001 Rioja
Fairly average stuff, not one of O’Brien’s better buys to my mind. Straight up and down Rioja, sort of cut-price Faustino (which means a lot of people in Ireland will like it) easy drinking but I found it wearying after a bit. Disappointing, especially after their dabbles in Borja and Abadia Retuerta have produced such exciting drinking.
e9.99 O’Briens

Montepulciano d”Abruzzo Vigna Corvino 2000
Stonking big wine with some style, almost like a ripasso wine. Great weight of dark morello fruit with unresolved tannins that tell me this might even be worth hanging on to.
Under e10, O’Briens

Gigondas Domaine Machotte Père Amadieu 1998
Another Gigondas that hid its charms until the second half. While I liked the fragrant, violet bouquet this wine didn’t really register on the palate. Guests preferred the humble CduR that preceded it. I went back to it when they’d gone and thought it was terrific. Long finish, very nice stuff indeed.
Around e19

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GUBU! Good, Unlovable, Brilliant, Undrinkable

Wonderful russet apple scent on nose. Substantial mouthfeel and weight of fruit. Seems to have awakened from usual Riesling dormant period and developed into something altogether vibrant and wonderful. Non-cloying, perfect fruit/acid balance, long long finish. Worth every penny and then some. Drunk 2 botts in 2 days and, like a good movie, I found everything I did the first time and a bit more. This wine should show the casual drinker what we wine scribes have been banging on about i.e. Riesling rules OK!
euro14.75 Bought in Cheers, Wicklow Arms, Delgany, so try Cheers Group offies.

Long time since I’ve found a white wine that benefited from decanting! Eclectic mix of grapes – spotted Roussane for deffo, maybe Chard, is there some Chenin in there too? Opened the bottle and the most prevailing impression was of a bitter almond flavour. An hour and a half later this had mellowed out to give an complex bouquet and a satisfying flavour, a mix of melons, apples and hazelnuts. Strange stuff, but v.interesting.
Around euro14. French Paradox, Ballsbridge

Big, big Shiraz/Grenache blend with some class made by guys who seem to specialise (at any rate that’s what they do best) in making what I call “old style” Aussie wines from Rhone grape varieties. Many (mainly younger wine writers) believe that it’s only wines that are fey and delicate that have class and have no time for their punchy and muscular counterparts. How they are missing out! Fortunately Joe and Joan Public won’t be deluded. They’ll love this.
Fairly widely available. Around euro15

Bouncy grenache with a dab of syrah, made from organically grown grapes from a top-notch producer.
Likable stuff. Lovely spicy bouquet and lots of silky fruit with a long, long finish that belies the price. Lots to admire and savour here, especially when you consider value for money.
euro13.95. Fairly widely available. Cheers outlets.
STOP PRESS: Just had another bottle of this – it really is excellent. We followed it with a more expensive Gigondas which wasn’t half as good.

From Lecce in Puglia, a dry, aromatic red from a producer well regarded in Southern Italy. Well balanced, these lads know what they’re at. Lashings of ripe blackcurrant fruit. Altogether soft, sunny, easy drinking that will refresh if you are suffering from Cabernet or Shiraz overload.
euro 11.95.Fairly widely available.

From pre-phylloxera vines. Trouble is with Chile no-one seems to know what “reserva” means – usually the equation has something to do with oak plus selected grapes – seems to vary from maker to maker. For years I had a blindspot about Cousino Macul –their wine always seemed too stalky, too heavily tannic as if made to drink on some unspecified date in the far future without actually having the class to warrant hanging on to the wine. Now either CM has changed or I have because I now think they’re one of Chile’s better producers. This one should please.
euro14.95. Fairly widely available inc McCabes, Londis, Superquinn.

This time a South African “Rhone Ranger”. Ken Forrester is a long time restaurateur, apparently, who “selects” rather than grows himself a range of wines, a new South African take on the negotiant, perhaps? For me it’s quite stylish and well put together – maturation in French oak, fruit/acid balance spot on but… There’s something lacking. It’s a bit dull. Maybe it’s because the bouquet doesn’t quite come on to you like the D’Arrys or the Perrin, maybe the finish ‘shuts down’ a bit quick, dunno Maybe it’s just ‘hiding’, it does happen.
No idea of price/availability as yet but I’ll find out.