Stuart George

Archive for the ‘Tastings’ Category

Living on the edge: Wines of the Volcanoes

In Tastings on October 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

On 12 October at The Dorchester, Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viticulture at Milan Univiersity, and Peter McCombie, a likeable Kiwi MW based in London, presented the “Wines of the Volcanoes” tasting.

Italy has more volcanoes than any other country, which perhaps explains something about the national temperament. The four dry white, three red and one sweet white wine tasted were all made from vineyards on or near volcanoes, or on volcanic soils – which is not the quite the same thing!

Some of the wines had a mineral note but otherwise it would be hard to discern a volcanic influence.

2009 La Vis Muller Thurgau Maso Roncador Trentino DOC

Good acidity for a MT. Stone fruit character on the nose.

2009 Cantine del Vermentino Funtanaliras Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

Softer, richer nose than the first wine. Lower acid. No oak.

2009 Coffele Cà Visco Soave Classico DOC

Imported by my friend Nick Belfrage so it must be good! Brighter gold than before. Honeysuckle nose. Fatter than the previous wines but finishes clean.

2009 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOC

An attempt at a “serious” Frascati, the 14% alcohol perhaps creates the weight of this wine. Peter McCombie spoke of its “phenolic grip” – that’s bitterness to us non-MWs – which “some people might find a bit of a challenge.” Cheesy flavours in the middle and smoke on the finish – interesting for a Frascati. Probably fine with a risotto or something.

2004 Villa Matilde Camarato Falerno del Massico DOC

Mainly Aglianico. Tinged by garnet, with some volatile acidity on the nose but Peter was “pretty relaxed about that!” Porty, raisiny fruit and tannins like Lennie Small – big and rustic; powerful but gentle. Those tannins are balanced by good acidity.

2004 Vinicola Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC

Now this is a real volcano wine, made on the slopes of Etna. Lighter colour than before. Cherry fruit, surprisingly soft, but some spice too. Lots of acid – 450 meters altitude. Big, sweet tannins on the finish. Sicilian wine in excelsis.

2006 Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi DOCG

Aglianico again. Deepest colour yet. Some oak on the nose. Very dry tannins but not hard – there are some nice fruit tannins to counter the brutal wood tannins. Plenty of acid too. Try to 2015?

2008 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria DOC

The island of Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia than to Italy, pointed out Professor Scienza. The colour of a Sicilian sunset. Gorgeous nose of marmalade and apricots. Very rich and sweet but not sticky. Yum. Outstanding. Very unique. I drank my glass.


Barbera and Barbarians

In Tastings on October 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Further to my previous posts on Barbera, I decided to show just how much I care about my friends by offering them Barbera d’Asti from Isolabella. I am still traumatised from my previous experiences with these wines – or chemical weapons, as perhaps they should be described.

Happily, they were not as painful as last time. But strange things happened to my friends Paul and Angela Raymonde after they had sampled the bottles.

Paul turned into something that would terrify even the inhabitants of Middle Earth (or South London).

Angela tried to… Well, I’m not exactly sure what she was trying to do but I enjoyed it all the same.

Ridge Vineyards dinner in aid of the Pebbles Project

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on October 7, 2010 at 11:53 am

Brighton resident and fine wine consultant David Wainwright has established a series of producer-focused fine wine dinners with all proceeds going to the Pebbles Project ( in South Africa.

On 23 November, David will be hosting a dinner at The Square with Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards. David describes it as ” THE event of the year and is a once in a life-time event that Paul Draper, Ridge’s winemaker since 1969, is flying over to London to host.”

There will be, astonishingly, over 120 wines to taste that evening. “The wines have never been released in the UK and most are winery only releases, some only made in a single year,” says David. ” These are not only very rare but are sublime examples of Paul Draper’s masterful talent as one of the world’s leading winemakers.”

The Pebble Project’s purpose is to enrich the lives of disadvantaged children who have special educational needs, especially those whose lives are affected by alcohol, by providing support and training to local wine farm and township créches and establishing after-school provision for older children living in the Winelands.

Tickets cost £295. For all enquiries and bookings, please contact David Wainwright at


Crash Landelin

In Tastings on October 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

Last night (5 OCtober) I met with some friends at a charity quiz held in Pimlico.

Food and wine is BYO so I took a bottle of René Muré’s 2005 Sylvaner Cuvée Oscar Clos St Landelin.

I have only been to Alsace once and that was nearly ten years ago. I drank Alsacienne wines quite often when I worked in retail but hardly ever these days.

Anyway, I’d had this bottle lying around for a while and thought that its sweetness would appeal to my mates’s palates. It has 62 g/ltr sugar, though it didn’t taste all that sweet.

Clos Saint Landelin is a 15-hectare vineyard owned entirely by the Muré family. Cuvée Oscar is an old vine version of the basic Sylvaner and to me it tasted of grapefruit. I drank most of the bottle myself, so it must have been alright.

The handsome young couple in the background is Ruth and Patrick Kidd. Ruth is due to give birth to their first child next week, hence her slightly concerned look!

Highs and Lows: Beronia Gran Reserva 2001-1973

In Tastings on October 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I love old Rioja. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to a vertical tasting of Beronia Gran Reserva, held in the West End on 29 September.

I went with some trepidation, though. I had not tasted Beronia before but these wines surely would not match some of the golden oldies that I’ve had in recent years – 1962 and 1959 CVNE Viña Real Gran Reserva, for example, and Marqués de Riscal 1945 and 1900. (Smug? Moi?)

Based at Ollauri, just south of Haro in Rioja Alta, Beronia was established in 1973 and bought by the Sherry firm González Byass in 1982.

The viticultural and winemaking blurb is pretty standard (i.e. boring) but Beronia does do something novel with its barrels.  For the top wines – like the Gran Reserva – “mixed wood” is used, with the barrels’ covers made of French oak and the staves of American oak. This equates to about 1/3 French and 2/3 American in terms of surface area. A fellow taster remarked that it would probably be easier and less expensive (these hybrid barrels cost 25% more than “monovarietal” barrels) to age the wine in separate French and American barrels and then blend it together.

The wines were consistent in style, with a distinctive saline note in several vintages, but that is not to suggest that they were particularly good. Perhaps I’m being hard on Beronia but I do think that old Rioja is, or certainly can be, one of the greatest wines in the world.

Then again, the 1995, 1994 and 1987 were all corked. I cannot recall ever attending a tasting with such a high rate of corked bottles. Even more depressingly, the corked 1994 and 1987 seemed to pass most people by. Maybe they had different bottles to my table, where only the gentleman opposite me had also noticed the cork taint.

The youngest wine and the current release, the 2001 was turning to garnet. A bit of oak “dust” at the end of the nose at first. The saline taste was really quite odd at first – I’ve never noticed it so much in a wine before. Other tasters might call it minerality. The ’01had a typical Rioja structure – some tannin, plenty of acidity and a bit of oak flavour. It was nothing special but this could easily go to 2020 and beyond.

At first the 1985 seemed ill at ease – I though it might be another TCA victim. It got better with aeration but that brought a Band-Aid Brett note to the surface! This was a hot year, apparently, which has manifested itself in a slightly raisiny nose, though the acidity is good. Beronia’s winemaker Matías Calleja called this wine “brusco” (brusque). It’s good for another five years at least.

Depending on your view, the 1982 was either spicy or Brett-tainted! Like the ’85, it still had plenty of acidity but it was drying out on the finish. Drink up before 2015.

The 1981 Gran Reserva was similar styled to the 1982 but had less of the waspish acidity. The nose was brighter and less veiled by Brett (or whatever it was with the ’82). It finished with a punch of grippy old fruit rather than the whimper of the previous wine. I think this will keep going a bit longer than the 1982.

The slightly deeper colour of the 1978 was a promising sign. Depressingly, the sweet fruit at the front of the palate was followed by something a bit murky in the middle. But it got its act together on the rich and smooth finish. This authoritative Rioja will outlive some of its younger relations, I think.

Finally, the 1973 was the first Gran Reserva release from Beronia. The salinity was almost overwhelmed by the blistering acidity that lingered on the finish. A good wine but the 1978 just beat it.

Black Smith

In Tastings on September 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Further to my recent post on Charles Smith, I might have to tread more carefully in the future about my sometimes less than flattering comments on wines.

Mr Smith is apparently suing the wine blogger Blake Gray for anonymous comments posted on his site. The flamboyant Smith is not to everybody’s taste – nor indeed are his wines.

If a winemaker can sue a blogger for not liking his wines (or the winemaker), it sets a very bad precedent. I reserve the right to say what I like, even if said winemaker has bought me a nice lunch.

Cachaça me if you can

In Tastings on September 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Further to my recent post on a Cachaça tasting, my friend Jane Egginton has written about the same event on her blog at


Three times the charm: Cantina di Clavesana

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on September 22, 2010 at 9:49 am

How could I turn down an invitation to dine with three Italian ladies? Actually, one of them turned out to be French. Nobody’s perfect.

On Monday 20 September I went to Al Duca restaurant in St James’s to taste some wines from Cantina di Clavesana, one of the largest co-ops in northwest Italy. My hosts were Anna Bracco and Tessa Donnadieu of Clavesana and Marta Sobrino of Wellcom PR in Alba. I had some dealings with Marta in my previous day job but did not meet her until March this year at the Barbera Meeting 2010.

Like the Sputnik, Cantina di Clavesana was launched in 1959, just south of Dogliani in the Langhe. Production is mostly Dolcetto, with a bit of Barbera and Nebbiolo also made. In all, 15 wines are made but in theory it could make 340 wines! The co-operative has 340 growers spread across 500 hectares of vineyards, so the average holding is less than 1.5 hectares per grower. That is a lot of people and vineyards for Anna, who has been MD since 2002 but has worked at Clavesana since 1975, to oversee. It’s a big job and even tougher in the macho world of Italian winemaking: “It’s not easy to be a woman in a winery in Piemonte”, she admitted.

A whopping 1.5 million bottles are made of the basic Dolcetto di Dogliani. The 2009 was rustic, simple, unoaked and had the distinctive bitterness of an honest Italian red. It was less funky than the other wines, too – maybe there is some Brett lurking in Clavesana’s barrels. I liked this Dolcetto’s bucolic charms. It is sold ex-winery at €3 a bottle, which would equate to about £5 on the shelf in the UK – great value and very much my type of wine.

Il Clou 2008 is a more “structured” style of Dolcetto, coming from riper vineyards and spending six months in oak botti. The dry tannins were not very appealing but were far from the the horrors of so many overoaked wines at the Barbera Meeting. Nobody in their right mind would put Dolcetto into barriques: “It would kill the wine”, reckoned Tessa.

Clavesana’s 110 Dolcetto Dogliano “Dalle 3 giornate” is a single vineyard bottling from “3 giornate” (“3 days work”), the old measure of a vineyard’s size – one “giornata” is equivalent to a third of a hectare. There are coordinates on the back label of this and the other single vineyard wines for Google Earth so that people can see exactly where the wine comes from. Like Il Clou this spent six months in botti but has absorbed the wood flavours and tannins more effectively, retaining a rustic edge but with a smoother patina.

Domestic demand is falling so export markets must be found and cultivated. Clavesana is currently seeking UK representation and began to export to the USA in November 2009. The D’Oh bottling – not influenced by Homer Simpson, apparently – is a horses for courses drink made to appeal to the US palate. It is, of course, a bit sweet. Let the Yanks drink it.

Seña and sensibility

In Tastings on September 22, 2010 at 8:42 am

On Wednesday 15 September I went to the Autumn Portfolio Tasting of New Generation Wines, an affable bunch with some nice wines on their books – Schiopetto, for example.

The tasting was held in The Red Room of Les Ambassadeurs Club , just off the Hyde Park Corner end of Park Lane. “Les A” is supposedly the “most exclusive” gambling haunt in London, with a long history of catering to high rollers. The Red Room looked to me like one of those places that the vulgar rich enjoy – lots of mirrors (of course), hushed lighting, big sofas, gaudy decor and overpriced drinks. My former ladyfriend Alla – a stunning and thoroughly amoral creature from Moscow – would love it.

Aged Chilean wines are almost as rare as rich Russians with good taste. But New Generation had assembled a five-vintage vertical of Seña, the “icon” wine initiated by Viña Errázuriz and Robert Mondavi in the 1990s.

Seña 2000 was tasted from magnum. It was cedary and fleshy, though still rather taut on the finish. Good wine.

The 2001 was sweeter and richer – clearly a much warmer year – with more tannin to lose. But another good wine.

There was a change of pace with the 2002. It was much tougher, with tannins as rasping as a cough. But even those felt tender compared to the 2006 and 2007, which were very much in Chilean wine’s modernist style, all creamy oak flavours and scorching tannins to appeal to the US palate.

Will the recent vintages age as well as the 2000? I dunno. But I do know that Seña is an expensive wine – £39.80 ex-vat from New Generation.

Cachaça 22: Brazilian Cachaça Day

In Tastings on September 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Monday 13 September was “Brazilian Cachaça Day”. With my pal and esteemed travel writer Jane Egginton, I was invited to taste some cachaças and cocktails at The Langham in London’s West End. Of course Brazilian Cachaça Day is entirely different to International Cachaça Day held on 15 June this year.

I am not a big drinker of spirits and certainly not of Cachaça. In Brazil last September I cannot recall ever drinking it, though we were in Rio Grande do Sul, which is a very Un-Brazilian part of the country. Jane, who has written numerous guide books to the country, gave me some Cachaça (and chemical weapon wine from her local off licence) her flat a while ago and it was not a pleasant experience. But some of the stuff here was really quite good – smooth and flavoursome. On the whole, though, it is better mixed into a cocktail.

Some stats were thrown at us. Brazil produces 1.2 billion litres of Cachaça annually but only 1% is exported. Brazilians tend to drink it neat rather than in a fancy cocktail – crushed ice is a luxury in South America!

The delightful Fabrína Volpato was here to represent Autêntica, which we were told was “the first brand of Cachaça (to be) sold in Duty Free shops.” Not something I would boast about but I suppose it pays the bills. The “Autêntica Sunrise” cocktail was rather flabby – I prefer something a bit more lively.

Cachaça Batista’s “Casca d’Anta” was very sweet and sickly, with a spoon of sugar mixed in with Cassis and pineapple juice. Blurgh.

The “Passion” (™, no less) of Bossa was fruity, easy and mouth-watering – not dissimilar to Fab Louis, who presented Bossa. He would be a huge hit in the nightclubs of Vauxhall. Sorry boys – he’s not interested.

The coffee-flavoured “Iced Cinnamon Latte” by Flor do Vale was good, as was the medicinal-smelling Poções “Special”.

The 300,000 banana trees at Germana justify the use of a banana leaf cover on the bottle. The “Apple Daiquiri” was just too strong for me – Calvados and Cachaça is a combination as lethal as Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty.

Leblon is “the world’s first ultra-premium (i.e. expensive) Cachaça, combining the alluring culture of Brazil with the history of its national spirit while adding a touch of French refinement.” So there. I am often amused and bemused by wine PR bullshit but spirits take this dark art to a whole new level. PITÚ’s “New Key Visual” depicts “A good-looking Brazilian drummer (who) represents the Brazilian way of life”. The “PITÚmingu” cocktail was as red as my jumper and sickly – all that syrupy Grenadine.

Velho Barreiro has made Cachaça since 1873. Its “O Draque” was a “rustic” style of cocktail, which I liked, though it was very sweet.

I have not had a warm cocktail before but the charmingly named “Chocolate Dream” of Vila Pongó had a good slug of hot chocolate in it. The minty and dry Weber Haus cocktail was pleasing.

What is the “most respected national Cachaça ranking in Brazil”? The Playboy Magazine poll, according to Magnifica.