Stuart George

Archive for the ‘Tastings’ Category

Atlantean Scion

In Tastings on January 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm


There were a lot of tastings in London last week, with some pretty interesting stuff available.

Among much else, I tasted Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 (very good), Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin 1986 (à point, though very acidulous), Meerlust Rubicon 1986 (holding on) and a mini-vertical of Château Branaire-Ducru 2009-1998 (2005 was probably the best).

But one wine stood out for its exceptional rarity, quality and – admittedly – its price.

Taylor’s Scion is a Tawny Port that was released onto the market in October 2010. Two pipes (barrels) of a a Tawny that was apparently made in 1855 were discovered by Taylor’s winemaker David Guimaraens. A third barrel is alleged to have been bought by Winston Churchill.

About 1,400 bottles have been produced. They sell in the UK at £2,500 each, making this the most expensive Port ever offered.

Its colour has been distained by age. As one might expect, it was a tawny-brown colour but had a tinge of green at the rim, which is something that I have seen before only with old Madeiras. It was as bright as a smile, though.

I have had 150-year old Sherries and Madeiras and they tend to smell “old”, hinting at decay and fading elegance. But the Scion was remarkably fresh and lively. It smelled “old” of course but there was no hint at all of disintegration or senescence.

What really distinguished this wine for me was its perfect pitch acidity, which rippled across the palate like a naughty teenager rather than a 155-year old. The overall intensity was like – well, like life itself. The finish glowed like the streetlamps by the Thames at Somerset House, where this tasting was held.

Taylor’s MD Adrian Bridge said that this was “the best old Port I’ve ever had”. I tried to get another glass of this precious stuff from him but he wouldn’t have it. I might never try this wonderful wine again…

Wine and chocolate

In Tastings on January 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm


In the wine writing world one often hears about wines that taste a bit like chocolate – some Barossa Shirazes, for example – or how difficult it is to find a wine that goes with chocolate. But at The France Show held at Earls Court today and over the weekend, I found the apotheosis of this challenge – VinoCacao®, a wine with chocolate flavouring.

The wine, available in both red and white, comes from Bordeaux. The chocolate is from Ivory Caast.

The wine must have been utterly foul in the first place for them to want, or at least intend, to add chocolate to it. But with the chocolate it becomes about as appealing as drinking from a public dunny cistern in Soho.

I’m impressed that VinoCacao® has been able to get away with producing this chemical weapon in Bordeaux. But it does the image of Bordeaux and its wines no favours at all.

Christmas drinks

In Tastings on December 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm


I didn’t drink as many bottles as usual this Christmas. I was only at my parents, where my wine is kept, for a couple of days before returning back to my desk in London. However, one bottle stood out as about the best, or certainly most enjoyable, wine that I’ve had this year.

In November 2003 I went on a two-week glory tour of Australia as part of my Young Wine Writer of the Year Award prize. I spent a few days in Victoria, including a visit to Shadowfax in Geelong, about 50 miles southwest of Melbourne. I was hosted by Matt Harrap, a Kiwi-born larrikin whose brother Steve I had befriended when I was in New Zealand earlier that year. Matt is what I’d call a “proper” winemaker – he’s scruffy, dirty and extremely foul-mouthed. A hands-on winemaker, I suppose you’d call him.  I recall that the drive back to Melbourne was horrendous – I’ve rarely seen such a downpour, and it was dark. I was still recovering from a fractured foot.

Anyway, I was given a bottle of 2003 Shadowfax Pinot Noir on that visit, which had been tucked away safely since then. I looked at my cellar list and decided that this would probably need drinking up.

Coming straight of the cellar (or rather, cupboard in the garage), it was very cold and needed to warm up. Perhaps there was some reduction at first but that might have been because the wine was so cold.

Once it was at a suitable temperature (i.e. cool rather than warm, despite my parents’ suffocatingly hot central heating), it really showed its paces. It was dawn-pale in colour, entirely appropriate to Pinot Noir, and as bright as a smile. The nose and palate reminded me more of Côte de Beaune than Côte de Nuits red wines, foursquare rather than lissom, but still elegant and smooth. The tannins have faded like pencil marks on a page and the acidity remains at concert pitch. It was totally delicious and I drank the bottle over several hours on Christmas Eve. I wish that I had another bottle.

“A bit of a comedian for an English bloke”

In Cricket, Tastings on December 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm


During my travels in South Australia last week I visited Yalumba for the third (or fourth or fifth?) time since December 2003. As usual I was hosted by the ebullient Jane Ferrari, a wonderful lady who is a great ambassador for Yalumba and Australian wine as a whole.

Yalumba has an impeccable portfolio of wines. The Scribbler 2008 and The Signature 2008 were delicious. Jane was surprised that I thought it was the best tasting that I had had chez Yalumba – it must have been because I was in such a good mood.

Jane has written a very characteristic entry on her blog about my visit to the Eden Valley – which, after all the recent rain, was looking greener and lusher and lovelier than I’ve ever seen it. No wonder they called it Eden.

Weingut K+K Kirnbauer at Galvin La Chapelle

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on November 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Having been the sole UK representative at the Austrian Wine Challenge in Vienna for the last two years, I’ve become increasingly familiar with and interested in Austrian wines. On 24 November I was invited to taste the wines of Weingut K+K Kirnbauer from Burgenland in east Austria. Markus Kirnbauer presented 11 of his family estate’s wines at Galvin La Chapelle restaurant in Spital Square, near Liverpool Street station.

This was my first visit to Galvin La Chapelle. The restaurant is in a marvellous high-ceilinged Victorian hall (chapel?) with a good 100 covers. Apparently the kitchen has a two-ton Bonnet oven that cost £100,000. It’s big and busy.

We started with a lasagne of Dorset crab and velouté of chanterelle mushrooms. It was a crab mousse with slices of pasta, I suppose, and technically brilliant. It tasted divine – especially the sauce – but I wasn’t keen on the rubbery texture.  It made the 2008 Chardonnay Barrique Zwickl, which was quite fat and opulent when sampled beforehand, taste bitter.

The main course was one of the most gorgeous-looking dishes I’ve seen in a long time, as full of vegetables and colour as an Arcimboldo portrait. The Assiette of Cornish lamb “Provençale” (sic) with roast lamb juices was really good. It came with liver, sweetbreads, peppers, spinach, courgette and intensely sweet tomatoes.

We found space for some dessert. The tarte tatin had nice pastry and was very sweet but no problem for the 2008 Welschriesling Eiswein, which was harvested just after Christmas 2008. It was pressed gently (for 15 hours) so as not to compress the ice. The result was a wine with 140-150 g/ltr sugar, which is relatively low for this style of wine.

We also tasted the unoaked and plump 2008 Blaufränkisch Mittelburgenland, which for me was about as good an example of this type of wine as I’ve had.

The 2007 Blaufränkisch Vitikult spent 18 months in used barrels. This has given it a more polished texture than the previous wine. Indeed, as one moves through the range Kirnbauer’s reds become evermore, dare I say it, Super Tuscan in style – polished to a glassy smoothness.

Das Phantom is an adventurous blend of Blaufränkisch, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The 2008 was bottled in May 2010 and I thought at first that it might be reduced. It opened up with aeration and smelled not dissimilar to Vitikult, though it had much firmer tannins.

The ’06 Das Phantom was rather austere and bitter for me. The 2000, though, was à point. Maybe the 2006 needs longer.

The oaked red wines continued with the 2003 Blaufränkisch Goldberg Reserve. Perhaps seeing the vintage made me smell what I wanted to smell but this did seem a little bit raisiny. By contrast, the 2002, from a much cooler and more typical year, was lighter-hued and had better, more bracing acidity.

Forever is a Cabernet/Merlot made in 2000 to commemorate Markus’s graduation from university. It was left in barrels for as long as he was a student, which in the end was 38 months, though the wine’s name commemorates what it might have been. Age has made it leathery. I found this less appealing than some of the other wines.

Markus told me that he has submitted his wines to the AWC in previous years. I do hope he does so in 2011.

Wendouree Darling

In Tastings on November 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I can only recall having tasted Wendouree wines twice before – at a Langton’s/Wine Australia tasting four or five years ago in London and with some friends in Clare a couple of years ago. Of course Wendouree is in Clare – I remember driving past its entrance, with a forbidding sign that discouraged visits. The wine drunk in Clare – I forget which one –  was very raisiny.

It was a rare privilege, then, to taste 14 Wendouree wines back to 1989 courtesy of those nice people at Find Wine. There were strong family resemblances between all the wines, which is not to suggest that the winemaking is heavy-handed; rather, it is to suggest that the vineyards have a particular character.

On the whole, I found the wines fleshy rather than extracted, with palpitating acidity and that distinctive Clare mintiness. The tannins were usually sociable – only the 1990 and 1998 Cabernet/Malbec and 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tougher than the rest, as hard as frozen ground. There was none of the raisiness that I found before, either, though the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon was close to it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about these wines was that they were all still going strong. Even the 1989 Shiraz/Mataro is good for at least another five years.

I will be in South Australia in December (hurrah!) and, despite that gruff sign, I hope to visit Wendouree.


The view from above

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on November 3, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Pictured below is my current workplace.

The terrace at the Hotel Gervasoni in Valparaiso is the setting for the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles Chile 2010 tasting. Not a bad place in which to work.

We tasted 49 wines this morning, with my group allocated 14 Sauvignon Blancs, 2 rosados, 14 Cabernet Sauvignons, 9 Merlots and 10 “assemblage” (blends). On the whole, the 2009 wines were better than the 2010s, which might be due more to earthquakes than the weather. For me, the Merlots were the most successful wines – the best ones showed good varietal character but also some New World generosity and sweetness.

The most egregious examples were unripe or reduced – or both.

This afternoon we were in Casablanca, the first of Chile’s “cool climate” wine regions. To prove how cool it is, we were given lunch al fresco at Casas del Bosque. It was so bracing that blankets were provided. It’s not as warm here as I was expecting. Further inland, over the other side of the Coastal Range, it can be very hot indeed – as it was when I arrived in Santiago yesterday. But towards the coast it is noticeably cooler.

Anyway, the lunch was very good. The starter was Ceviche de Pulpo, which is octopus, onions, peppers, lime juice and oil. Just the job with some Casablanca Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

For the main course we were given Codornices Asadas, quails with a basil-flavoured risotto, and Chuletas de Cordero, lamb with butternut squash. The Pinot Noirs that we tasted with this were too extracted for my taste.

To finish, there was a Parfait de Dulce de Leche, milk caramel with berries. This was served with an as yet unbottled Late Harvest Riesling by Casas del Bosque. Casablanca gets a lot of fog, which is ideal for cultivating botrytis for the production of sweet wines. I would never have known it unless I had been here.


Chile con carne

In Tastings, Travel on November 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Today (2 November) I arrived in Chile, my second visit to this marvellous country.

Despite overindulgence in the nightclubs of Valparaiso last year, my friend Sylvia Cava invited me to taste again at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles Chile, two days of tasting and awarding Chilean wines.

There are no direct flights from London to Chile so on Monday evening I flew to Madrid and then caught a midnight flight from there to Santiago. The journey from Europe to Santiago must be as far as it is possible for a plane to travel without refuelling – 14 hours I make it.

Jetlag necessitates that this will be a pithy blog entry – at the moment my eyes are a deeper red than a Chilean Cabernet – but I was keen to show some of the sights of Valparaiso that I saw this afternoon.

Santiago was a pleasant 30 degrees this morning. My fellow European arrivals and I were like lavender, desperate for the rays of the sun. We tried to get as much Vitamin D as possible before the drive south to Valparaiso, where the weather is much cooler and overcast, alas.

With most of my fellow Concours tasters, I am staying at the Gervasoni Hotel, which overlooks Valparaiso’s harbour. On the far left is a ship in a floating dry dock. The harbour seems busier than this time last year.

Valparaiso is a vertiginous city; like Monaco, it lies on a splendid coastline and then rises up into the landscape. Brightly coloured houses are scattered along the hillside roads like the balls on a snooker table.

Like Bucharest (in my experience), Valparaiso has a large stray dog population. But the people are a good deal friendlier.

On my first visit to Chile last year I was immediately struck by the amount of graffiti. I am assured that Mexico is even worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint).

Sola GratiaSola FideSolus Christus… Lutherans believe that God made the world, and some residents of Valparaiso believe that Lutherans made them. Like the Barossa Valley in South Australia, German settlers have left their mark here.

We went past Pablo Neruda’s house. In one of his poems Neruda wrote of “Day-coloured wine,/night-coloured wine,/wine with purple feet/or wine with topaz blood”. He must have been thinking of the Concours tasting.


Port Authorities: Noval LBV 1994-2004

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on October 29, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I have long been suspicious of Late Bottled Vintage Ports. When I first started in the wine trade 14 years ago (I’m older than I look) I tucked into a bottle of LBV with my colleagues after some tasting or other. It took me two days to recover from that hangover. Of course I blamed the Port and not the vast amount of Burgundy that came before it.

Even with a more cautious approach, I always found LBVs too heavy and sullen. Perhaps I was drinking the wrong wines. At any rate, I rarely touched them and certainly never considered ageing them.

But on 6 October I was a guest of AXA Millésimes for the second time in three days. This time it was to try the newly released 2004 Quinta do Noval LBV as well as some older LBV wines back to 1994. Lunch was at Prism Brasserie in the City.

Even Noval itself had rarely considered LBVs worthy of ageing. Christian Seeley explained that he had to buy some bottles of the 1994 from his mother, who liked it so much that she had bought 25 cases. There was no stock left at the Quinta itself.

The pre-2004 LBVs were labelled as “Noval” because many of the grapes were bought-in. The 2004 is made only from Noval’s own vineyards, hence “Quinta do Noval”. All the wines were unfiltered, which is highly unusual for a LBV Port. The whole point of LBV is that it has had longer in wood and doesn’t need decanting, non?

As at the Tokaji tasting, there were several wines to taste before lunch.

The 1994 was OK. It had a “burn” on the finish and was a bit spirity on the whole. It had plenty of life though – no problem to keep this for another ten years.

Although it was a bit woody in the middle, the 1996 was superior to the first wine, with a sweet and fleshy finish.

For me the 2000 was the best of the LBVs here. It was very generous and charming – what good LBV (good Port!) is all about. Its length was far superior to the ’96 and ’94.

The rude tannins of the 2001 were a stark contrast to the previous wine. It wasn’t a declared vintage and it showed.

The 2003 was much better, not dissimilar to the sweet fruit and chocolate flavours of the 2000, albeit with much more burly tannins.

The new 2004 was of course still a juvenile, very sweet and fruity. Its thick, rich fruit was appealing and uber-modern for Port.

A glass of 2009 Quinta da Romaneira rosé was very welcome after those six Ports. It was dry and simple but quite full for a pink ’un – “slightly too alcoholic”, thought Christian.

The Carpaccio of beef with truffle emulsion and shaved Parmesan was delicious – the meat melted in the mouth like a snowflake. It was very good with the Cedro do Noval 2007, the junior table wine of Noval. The nose was very cedary, to my mind recalling Right Bank claret. But there is not a drop of Cabernet or Merlot here – it is 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz and 30% Syrah, the latter “to round out the wine.” A good wine and now à point.

Quinta do Noval 2007 represents “a serious attempt to make great red wine in the Douro”, said Christian. This is a wine that has a Henrician structure – big and rich, ideal for a roasted rump of lamb. Two bottles were sampled. Christian felt that the first was not fresh enough, though nobody else complained. His conscientiousness spurred me to look more closely. Perhaps there was a bit of reduction.

The 2004 was tasted again at the end. It was particularly good with the blue cheeses, showing that some things can’t be improved.

Château Margaux 2010: You heard about it here first

In Tastings on October 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I just spoke on the phone with Paul Pontallier, the extremely charming Director of Château Margaux. Although the call was unconnected with the 2010 Bordeaux vintage, I couldn’t resist asking him about it.

He told me that Château Margaux 2010 is ““Wonderful. We are still in an extraordinary mood because the whole summer has been wonderful and the harvest conditions were superb. 2010 promises to be, will be, an extraordinary vintage, which is hard to believe after the wonderful 2009.  It’s hard to believe that it will be as great as 2009 but it’s a fact.”

I have an open invitation to visit Château Margaux, which I’ve been to once before. Doubtless the 2010 will be a lovely wine – but what about the price? The 2009 was sold en primeur in London at £9,000 ex-duty and VAT. M Pontallier’s comments lead me to believe that the price for the 2010 will not be less than that of the 2009.