Tag Archives: malbec

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.

In Côt We Trust 2007

Several weeks ago I was walking past a local wine merchant, Wine of Course. It’s always seemed a decent place, and the buggy I was pushing contained a totally unconscious infant, so I went in, told the bloke there that he should give me a bottle of wine which would make me want to go back, bought it and left again. It was a fairly simple transaction, really.

And this was it. I was warned that it might stink a little bit of poo, a suggestion I accepted with rather more grace than many might, and that it would therefore benefit from a bit of decanting, which is exactly what it got. I also, while at the shop, ignored the comedy pun title, which would ordinarily have scared me off right away.

So côt = malbec, and I know malbec. It’s that big, brassy, bad-ass inky mother from Argentina. But this, and that, are not really the same. They’re only vaguely similar. “A veritable wilderness of yeasty madness,” says Les Caves de Pyrene, who import it. “This is Malbec sauvage, sans filtration and sans sulphur.” I think they’re overdoing it slightly. Sure, there’s a farmyard pong, but the wine itself, once you’ve fought your way to it, is really quite restrained. Much less full-bodied than the malbec I know. Really very smooth. Flavourful, but restrained at the same time. It’s a prince dressed as a pauper, Sir Ian McKellen playing Wurzel Gummidge.

A good wine, interesting. I paid, I think, £17 for it, which I think is probably a little bit more than I would expect, but then it’s from a small local merchant, deliberately selling the kind of stuff that Tesco’s don’t. Even if it does smell like manure.

The Ledbury

Yesterday I went for the first time to the Ledbury, a restaurant in the Notting Hill area and thus miles away from anywhere I ever am or might be. It does, however, have two Michelin stars, an extremely stellar reputation and a quite astonishing arrangement for hosting lunches organised by members of the wine-pages forum, of which this was one.

The theme was South America. I took the most valuable bottle in my little collection, a 2006 Viu Manent Viu 1, from Chile – bought from the Les Caves de Pyrene sale for £17 but worth somewhere around £45. I arrived to see two tables heaving with wine glasses, 10 per man, 90 per table. I handed over the bottle, and sat myself down.

For £50, all in, plus the cost of my wine, I got four courses plus bits and bobs at beginning and end, and a taste of everybody’s wines. The food had to strain against the weight of expectation, but did not fail. An amuse bouche of feather-light beetroot meringues stuck together with a foie gras cream was astonishingly wonderful. There followed roasted scallops with romanesque, garlic and brown shrimps, served with three chardonnays; poached pigeon with black pudding, smoked chocolate and pear – probably the finest pigeon dish I’ve ever had – with a couple of malbecs and my wine, a malbec/cabernet sauvignon blend; sika deer, lightly smoked, with beetroot, bone barrow, malt and oxtail – brilliant – served with three more malbecs, one blended with merlot, cab sauv and cab franc; and a creme brulee with dried apricots and cardamom, served with a noble semillon, also from Viu Manent.

The wines were all quite impressive, though I don’t think the malbecs went terribly well with the food, the wines being streetfighters and the food being artisans. I think my Viu 1 was the best red on our table, in fact, the cabernet sauvignon rounding out the harsh edges. The food, though, was brilliant. The company varied and, like the internet forum that spawned it, extremely generous and welcoming.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, a bargain, and I’ll certainly be back for more. And I probably stank worryingly of booze when I picked the kids up from nursery on my way home.