Tag Archives: Red wine

Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my Rhone)

December is upon us, nights are long and temperatures low, and by my reckoning that makes it Southern Rhone o’clock. I don’t think I’m alone here, even if Grenache, the region’s dominant grape, is not the trendiest, which you can tell because it’s largely ignored by ambitious new world producers (nearly 90% of all the world’s Grenache comes from France or Spain). But it is capable of producing wines of genuine greatness as well as wines that sit in that sweetest of spots, giving great pleasure to the consumer without causing significant pain to their wallet.

Take, for example, Rasteau. I literally took an example of Rasteau a couple of weeks back, having been offered a bottle as part of the celebrations of the region’s 10th anniversary as a full-blown Rhône cru – at the top of the local hierarchy, above Côtes du Rhône Villages, which itself sits above the common-or-garden Côtes du Rhônes. Rasteau is a name to remember, as you will generally find it to be a phenomenal hunting ground for generous, fruity, warming (fairly alcoholic, in other words) and good value reds, though it is also true that you will not generally find it at all.

Let’s take a quick look at the current selection available to Britain’s Rasteau-hunters. Here’s what you can find at Tesco:

Meanwhile at Sainsbury’s, there’s this:

Marks and Spencer offer this:

And at Waitrose not only is there no Rasteau, but customers looking for some are told they might like to just skip straight to the spirit aisle:

As for the wine specialists, the Wine Society currently lists one (at £13.95), as do Majestic (£14.99/6), Laithwaite’s (£14.79/12), Slurp (the same one as the Wine Society, but at £14.95), Lay & Wheeler (£14.95 in bond, and they only had four bottles of that at the time of writing) and even Rhone-focused Yapp Brothers (£14.50). The homogeneity of their pricing is just one of the remarkable things about this list; most obviously it is surprising that there is so little of this stuff about, given that Rasteau produces about the same amount of wine as Gigondas (33,494 hectolitres in 2016, compared to 36,832 in Gigondas), and everyone*’s got loads of that. Clearly the fine folk of Rasteau are also puzzled about this, which is why they are sending bottles to the likes of me (there is also a Rasteau vin doux naturel, which is considerably harder to find).

For a general idea of Rasteau’s stylings, the Wine Society have a Côtes du Rhône made entirely from Rasteau-grown grapes for just £9.50, from the reliably good Romaine des Escaravailles (also available at Cambridge Wine Merchants for £12.10). Further up the same producer’s ladder, the Wine Society normally list their Rasteau La Ponce in their Rhone en primeur offers, most recently at £95 in bond for 12, or about £12 a bottle once you factor in duty and tax, and it is reliably excellent value at that price. Cambridge Wine Merchants have La Ponce 2018 available for £19.99 (or £16.62 if you buy 12), and Escaravailles’ top-of-the-range Rasteau Heritage 1924 2016 for £29.99/£27.50

As for the bottle I got, it was Les Adrès 2016 from Domaine du Trapadis, which is made by a man called Helen. It was a full-throttle bottle, bursting with fruit and energy, impressive freshness for its 14% ABV, and velvety smooth, still young but raring to go. In the UK the 2013 is available from Natural Vine for £21.25 (as well as the same producer’s Rasteau Tradition 2013 for £17). It was an absolute pleasure to drink, though (obviously) it is much better value in France, where it costs around €15. Curiously, Trapadis are sufficiently environmentally concerned to be certified biodynamic but nevertheless bottle their wines with an Ardeaseal, a cork substitute made using “highly technological synthetic materials” (plastic, in other words) and “an avant-garde manufacturing process”. My trusty Le Creuset corkscrew took one look at the Ardaseal and snapped in two, but thankfully the contents of the bottle made the sacrifice worthwhile. I look forward to bottles of Rasteau being easier to get hold of, and easier to get into.

* Nearly


Château Angélus gold label: a terrible disappointment (in a good way)

Chateau Angelus gold label

A while ago I received an invitation from Château Angélus, the famous estate from Bordeaux’s Saint-Emillion. The invitation specified that, should I accept, I would witness with my own extremely lucky eyes “the launch of … a remarkable bottle for a remarkable vintage”, the vintage in question being not the much-hyped 2009 or the possibly-even-more-hyped 2010, but the 2012, a year that inspired relatively few superlatives. The mind boggled, it spent a while boggling, and then it conjured the image of the Penfold’s Ampoule, the £120,000-a-pop hand-blown lesson in unintentional ludicrousness that had sullied the name of a once-proud Australian winery (while bringing quite a lot of bonus publicity, it had to be said). This new bottle would surely be a) idiotically expensive, and b) idiotic, and c) full of properly delicious liquid. I accepted immediately.

The day before the event, news leaked online that the bottle would feature a label made of genuine gold. The mind boggled, spent a while boggling, and then conjured the images of some other alcohol-related gold labels, very much a mixed bag but certainly less exalted company than that which Château Angélus is used to keeping:

Gold Label

Wolf Blass Gold Label

Johnnie Walker Gold Label

It seemed obvious to me, inevitable even, that the bottle was going to be expensive, tasteless and gaudy, and would give me a lot of entertaining blog-fuel. I could scarcely conceal a grin throughout the previous day. I was going to be given lunch, wine and the opportunity for unlimited savage mickey-taking, all of it compressed into a couple of wondrous hours on a Friday afternoon.

Things took a turn for the worse when I found myself sitting next to Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal, the frustratingly charming young deputy managing director of Château Angélus, and seventh generation of the Bouard de Laforest family to work at the estate since they took it over in 1909. The new bottle, still hidden underneath a golden cloth at that stage, had been her brainchild, intended to mark the château’s promotion to Premier Grand Cru Classé A status, the completion of building work on the château itself, and the birth of her sister’s baby, signifying the coming of an eighth generation. The poor infant has no idea that its destiny is already mapped out, a destiny that will involve a lot of travel, smart clothes, nice hotels and delicious wine.

Chateau Angelus 2012, the gold labelAnd then the cloth was removed with a fanfare – literally, while an actual fanfare was played, a genuine moment of ludicrousness that prompted guffaws from the assembled winos. For the first time we saw the bottle, and – curses – it was not hideous. Indeed, it was really quite elegant, as understated as a bottle can be when it’s encrusted with 21.7-carat gold, the metallic lustre contrasting with the dark bottle in a really quite appealingly dramatic way, the craftsmanship truly impressive. I took a sample bottle, sadly empty, and scratched at it with my thumbnail, hoping to see the gold flake away and give me something to complain about, but there was no shifting the stuff.

We also drunk some of the wine – not the 2012, which hasn’t been bottled yet, but the 2011, 2007 and 2006. The most interesting comparison was between the 2007, which was overwhelmingly fragrant and delicious, and the 2006, which was tighter and broodier. In time, the 2006 will unfurl and relax and become every bit as (figuratively) intoxicating as it’s younger sibling, perhaps more so. Everyone around me agreed that because it didn’t currently taste anywhere near as good as the 2007, the 2006 was certainly the better wine. Wine appreciation can be a counterintuitive business sometimes.

There is only so much gold buried in our planet, and to stick some on a bottle that sooner or later will find itself at a recycling plant or buried in a landfill site, its precious cargo lost forever, is a bit sad. But having said that, it’s not very much gold in the scheme of things, it looks good, and what’s inside will almost certainly taste excellent. For all the event’s rich promise, I found nothing to laugh about here. Except, perhaps, the price, but if you’ve got a spare £1200 or so to spend on six bottles of wine, you go right ahead. They’ll look great.

Kangarilla Road Shiraz-Viognier 2006

Moving house is supposed to be stressful, so I guess I can’t complain too much. The problem with the one I’ve just completed was a loft conversion that we’d done in 2007, while my wife was pregnant with our first child. In the end the builders were still there when she popped out (the child, not the wife – she’s still around), and we basically told them to finish off and get out. It made sense at the time. Fast forward four years, though, and we’ve got a new loft conversion and no completion certificate*.

In the end everything depended on me organising said completion certificate before completion. Fail in that apparently simple task and everything would collapse, leaving me at fault and out of pocket to an almost six-figure tune. As anyone who has had the great misfortune to deal with a council’s building regulations department will know (and I’m tarring them all with a very similar brush here, so I apologise if yours is full of cheery, sensible, easy-to-relate-to regular party-invitees), this was a long and trying road that more than once drove me to the very brink of, if not a total breakdown, at least a hearty and fulsome yell.

To cut a very long story pretty short, it was confirmed to me that we had been awarded a completion certificate approximately 45 minutes before we were due to sell our house, and buy another one.

After that, the move itself was a breeze. Just a load of boxes and bubble wrap. And there’s been a vinous bonus as well, as all the wine that was previously in my long-term storage (a cupboard under the stairs) was disgorged and vomited out into the new house, in a big old jumble. Suddenly, things that I’d all but forgotten about started to catch my eye. This is one, and it’s a stonker.

I bought it, and five others very much like it, on the back of an emailed offer from Majestic at the start of 2010. When it came, I stuck it in my long-term wine storage (the cupboard under the stairs) and there it lay, for not that long really when you think about it, until the packers and movers disturbed it from its slumber, transported the few miles to my new house and dumped it, with all the rest of my wine, in the garage, where it sat, awoken, showing its figurative thigh at me like an incurable flirt until my resistance broke.

It’s brilliantly enjoyable stuff, one of my favourite wines of the year so far – despite being far from the most expensive. My nose loved getting thwacked about with its dazzling line-up of fruit-based aromas; it’s one of those wines where even if you’re not drinking you keep thrusting your nose back towards the glass for another sniff of its heady perfume. Never mind the alcohol – which at 15% is fairly intense – the smell alone is utterly intoxicating. It’s a social wine, worthy of company and would feel a little out of place, I think, if it were invited into a quiet night spent on the sofa. It doesn’t aspire to greatness, but it’s fairly classy and a hell of a lot of fun. Each bottle cost me £11.99, so it isn’t exactly cheap, but I certainly don’t feel shortchanged.

I’m not, as a rule, a fan of lower-end McLaren Vale shirazes – big, broody, burned beasts that they are – but this is a textbook example of what a bit of viognier can do to the stuff. It’s lively and beguiling, and I’d love to own a great deal more of it. And so, it appeared, would the friends I shared it with; I did my best to grab my camera as soon as I realised how exciting this wine was, but I still didn’t get to the bottle before it was empty. My only quibble was the slight alcohol burn that you get as the wine goes down, but go down it does, very well indeed.

I’ve now got some wine storage sorted in the new house. Whether the rest of this half-case will ever make it there, though, is very much in doubt.

So far as I can see the only place in the UK that stocks this (and even then it’s the 2004 vintage), is Last Drop Wines.

* For any confused non-Brits, a completion certificate is the dullest thing you could ever imagine desecrating some paper with, but lawyers seem to like them.

Chateau La Dournie Saint-Chinian 2007

Now, since we last met I’ve discovered cellartracker. This has left my poor blog with a bit of an identity crisis, there now being somewhere better to keep my tasting notes, such as they are. What is it now for? Stuff about wine that isn’t tasting notes, then. Interesting. I’m going to have to do some thinking about this one, at the end of which this blog will, I’d have thought, be either much better for a casual reader, or dead.

In the meantime, tonight I’m drinking a really delicious bargain French red, something though would make whoever puts the Society’s Full French Red together feel a little embarrassed, I’d have thought. Of course most of the country wouldn’t class a £6.99 wine as a bargain, but damn if it isn’t worth it and more. It’s a wine with intelligence, I’d say. Spicy, peppery, mouthwatering, smooth but by no means dull. Bought after a couple of recommendations on the winepages message boards, the first such wine and certainly not the last, I’d wager.

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2007

I’ve been living on scraps lately. I have a natural hoarding instinct. When I’m handed a plate of food, I’ll always leave the bits I don’t like, eat the bits I least like first and leave my favourite stuff until last. So it is with wine. I order a case of wine, the bulk of which usually costs a fiver or thereabouts, with a couple of bottles that might cost three times that. But then I drink the cheap stuff and then, finding my wine rack a little bare, order another case of extremely similar composition. So what I end up with is a lot of nice bottles of wine that I don’t really drink.

Today, though, I’ve opened a good ‘un. It’s been a long day, involving work, childcare and, I’ll admit, a little watching of tennis. The kids didn’t nap simultaneously – indeed one of them didn’t nap at all – so there was no pleasant middle-of-the-day downtime. Rachel and I are tired and a little bit ratty, and just had something of a minor falling out after I vetoed America’s Next Top Model, probably her favourite TV programme and almost certainly my least favourite. I know marriage is all about little compromises, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

So when I raided the wine cabinet, I was minded to give myself a treat. And I did. This costs a few pence short of £20 at Waitrose, or £15 in one of their occasional and delightful 25% off everything online sales, and is thus one of the most highly-valued wines in my little collection. At last week’s gigantic and excellent Bibendum tasting, which I haven’t written up yet but will soon promise, I conducted by and for myself an impromptu tasting of pinots, taking in Australia, New Zealand, America and Burgundy (and won, quite against my own expectations, by a Californian, the Marmesa Santa Lucia Highlands PN 2007). None of the Kiwi pinots I tasted there was a match for this one. Some can be a little watery, a bit too light-bodied, and while they could still go down very nicely on a summer’s day and after a couple of hours in the fridge, they’re not a match for me, in a mild funk, on a chilly January evening. This, though, looks serious. It is deep, dark, inky, not at all translucent away from the outermost edge. It smells of earth and capsicum compote. It tastes of plums and damsons and cherries and red cabbage. It is a little wild, a little angry. It is the right wine for me right now.

I am happy.

Les Cretes Fumin 2003

It’s, like, weeks since I last posted. This long lay-off coincided with my first ever bloggers’ event, at Bibendum. I had a very good time, tasted some interesting wines but I was, I think, slightly put off by the unwavering dedication to blogging exhibited by the capital’s top food and wine bloggers. They dedicate more time to their hobbies than I, a father of two little sleep-stealing time-eaters, can afford mine. Even though it only takes half an hour here and there, it’s either that or do a very small amount of genuine, computer-off relaxing. I did, though, take some very useful notes and didn’t throw them out so the good news is I’m still going to post!

In my time off I’ve still been drinking lots of wine. Highlights: Yali, Winemaker’s Selection Wetland Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Rapel Valley, a Chilean that was recommended by the venerable Jancis Robinson as her wine of the week, while Tesco’s had it in an opening offer at £3.99 a bottle (I didn’t like it quite so much as she did. I reckoned it was good value at that price but not amazing and, at its standard £5.99, probably pretty avoidable), and La Difference Carignan 2008, which I remembered enjoying last year and enjoyed again this – a superior, classy French vin de pays.

But it would take something special to force me to sit, on my own, in the living room after Rachel’s gone to bed, tip-tapping my way across the keyboard. And this is it: another Caves de Pyrene purchase and my first Fumin – not the most obscure Italian grape variety, certainly not if you drink lots of wine from the Valle d’Aosta, but I don’t and it’s obscure enough to impress me.

This could be my favourite Italian red – and I like Italian reds. It’s certainly up there. More approachable than their trademark top wines like Barolo and Brunello, and a much better partner for a full evening. It’s quite Syrah-like but it’s not as heavily oaked as they often are, and it’s a lot less fruity. It’s a very masculine wine. Tar, tobacco and leather. Tannins not overbearing. Alive, bright but serious. It’s really excellent. Note to self: keep an eye out for it in future.

EDIT: I found my receipt from Les Caves, and I’m going to tap it out here for future price-reference. For what it’s worth, this Fumin was an absolute steal.

Pis & Love 2003 – £7.82 / Pinocchio Saniovese 2003 8.70 / Pinot Noir Elio 2005 5.65 / Vaubois Pinot Noir 2005 3.91 / Viu 1 Viu Manent 2006 17.39 / Bartoli Sol e Vento 2007 6.52 / Close Du Tue Rouge La Guerrerie 2006 7.39 / Dom Alexandre Pouilly Fume 7.39 / Les Cretes Fumin 6.52 / Mount Maude Riesling 2004 3.48 / Viu Manent Malbec Blue Label 2007 3.91

Mont Tauch Fitou

So I picked this up in Tesco’s the other day, reduced from £5.99 to £3.99 in their wine festival promotion. I was a bit narked because I was after the Tesco’s Finest Fiano, but that one’s been recommended in too many newspapers and seems to have sold out – you can’t even buy it online. Anyway, I’d seen this one reviewed by Jamie Goode a couple of months back – not that I memorise everything he writes, but it has the kind of label you remember – so I thought I’d give it a go.

They say: Mont Tauch Fitou maintains all the character of Fitou with a fruit driven modern approach and a complexity derived from the mix of terroir and grape maturity. It’s made of carignan, grenache and a little syrah from the villages of Tuchan, Paziols and Villeneuve. They also suggest that it’s best served with a carpaccio of muntjac.

Sadly there were no diminutive deer passing, and it was 10pm when I unscrewed the bottle, so I had it on its own. Something of a mistake, I fear – this is a good, honest, simple wine that is crying out for some good, honest, simple food. If you’re planning to stew some beef or, yes, venison or eat anything with lots of rosemary I’d reckon this would be a bargain accompaniment. But it wasn’t quite assured enough to press my end-of-evening buttons on its own. A peasant wine for peasant food (which is by no means a criticism).

The Mont Tauch cooperative have got to be pretty busy – they say they supply Asda, Booths, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco, Waitrose, Majestic, Thresher and Shepherd Neame and Youngs pubs. They’re very popular with the wine critics; it would be interesting to try one of their more expensive Fitous by way of comparison – Majestic stock one at nearly three times the price, Fitou L’Exception 2005 (£10.99), and Waitrose have Fitou Les Quatre at £8.99. Two more for the shopping list…