News and reviews

It’s been a fortnight since my last post, but it’s all right – I’ve got excuses. Or rather one big excuse, in the shape of the WSET advanced course, which ate up the whole of last week and involved a lot a lot of nose-to-the-textbook graft and not a lot of fingers-to-the-keyboard downtime. More of that later, but in the meantime here’s something that I haven’t done for a while – genuine old-fashioned wine recommendations.

At some point, shortly after I realised that a few people were reading this blog who weren’t me, I decided to cut back on my wine reviews. Quite a long way back. Lots of other people are very good at reviewing wines, after all, and most of them taste a lot more of them than I do. But the fact is that I’ve tasted a lot of wines recently, and as you’ll soon see I’m not exactly sticking my neck out, so what the heck.

Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador/Bella Vista/Altamira 2007

I’ve never had malbec this good before, and will be surprised and frankly delighted if I find anything better. I’m not sure they represent brilliant value for money – you can get a lot of wine for £50 – but they could be the answer if you’re looking for a meat-friendly big-hitter to splurge on and consider the imminentish start of the annual festival of officially-sanctioned Christmas-themed excess a decent excuse. The three single-vineyard wines are vinified identically, the sole difference being the terroir: Mirador from the Medrano Region is 2,400 feet above sea level, Bella Vista from the Perdriel District sits at 3,100 feet and Altamira (pictured above) from La Consulta tops the lot at 3,400 feet. The fact-packed data sheets alone are intoxicating enough for the wine-obsessive anorak, but the drinks speak loudly enough on their own. Bella Vista produces the darkest, fullest, most harmonious wine of the three, but margins are extremely tight. At £51.99 a bottle it’s not for the faint of heart or wallet, though I’m happy to say that the Quimera, a blend of 38% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 14% Cabernet Franc that comes in at a relatively bargainous £23.99, is another blackfruited beauty and that Oz Clarke (see below) considers their basic malbec, at just £13.99, the 58th-best wine for 2011. (All will be sold at some point by Corney and Barrow, though they’ve only got the cheaper two listed online at the moment)

Juliénas, Esprit de Marius Sangouard, Trenel, 2009

At under a tenner this is excellent value. Everone’s very excited about this vintage in Beaujolais, and though I don’t honestly know enough about previous ones to comment I think this is worth £9.50 of anyone’s money (from The Wine Society). Of all the wines I tasted on last week’s course (18 a day with a few bonus extras, so a little shy of 100), some of which really were very good indeed, this one stuck out with its particularly high reading on the valueformoneyometer. It’s got all the black cherry juiciness that you’d expect and there’s enough going on to convince our class at least that it could benefit from further ageing.

Book review: Oz Clarke 250 Best Wines 2011

Basically an expanded, glorified newspaper wine column, full of things I will probably never try however much Oz likes them. It’s not that I don’t trust his judgement, it’s just a bit impractical. I’m not sure what to do with all this information he’s giving me. It might help if the wines were indexed by retailer, so if I were heading for Majestic, say, or about to put an order in with the Wine Society, I could quickly and easily see which of their wines Oz considers worth checking out while I’m at it. As it is, it’s just a list of wines with tasting notes. Do people really buy this book and then just hunt down the entries wherever they are, like bounty-hunters chasing fugitives? Surely enjoying wine involves a certain amount of experimentation and exploration, rather than slavish dedication to a glorified shopping list?

There is, to be fair, more to this book than that, with bonus sections on how to drink, store and buy wine and a very good directory of retailers, listed alphabetically and by region, with a short summary of their particular strengths. And hard as it may be to find a genuine practical use for the list of 250 wines that makes up the meat of the book (though someone’s got to find it useful: after all these years you’d imagine his publishers would have worked it out by now if nobody’s buying it) the enterprise is even harder to dislike: Oz writes clearly and, most importantly and impressively, without pretension, and makes interesting choices clearly without tokenism – there are four Tim Adams wines in his overall top 20, including the No1, a situation so ludicrous and avoidable it can only have come about through genuine enthusiasm. I can’t really encourage you to buy it, but I’d certainly suggest you flick through it next time you’re in a bookshop.

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