Category: Wine

#HOTGV: On Sciacchetrà with Terra di Bargòn

For the third episode of Heard on the Grape Vine podcast, I travelled to Liguria, in northern Italy, to learn more about Sciacchetrà, a passito wine unique to the Cinque Terre.

View out to sea from Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

You’ve probably seen the word passito on bottles of sweet wine from all around Italy so let me begin by explaining what that is. Passito is the Italian name for a type of sweet wine made from the juice of grapes that have been allowed to dry before being pressed. The drying process concentrates the sugar in the grapes so that sweet wines can be produced. The residual sugar, left at the end of the fermentation process, is what you can taste on your palate.

In the Cinque Terre, a special type of passito is produced and it goes by the name of Sciacchetrà. It is made by fermenting the juice of the raisined grapes with the must (grape skin, pips and all) to produce a concentrated, tannic sweet wine.

In Riomaggiore, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre, I met Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra De Cugis. They are the husband and wife team behind Terra di Bargòn, a cantina which produces only Sciacchetrà. Alessandra and Roberto welcomed me to their home somewhere half way up the Ligurian hills. Surrounding it were gnarly vines of some 25 years, trained in a high pergola. There, looking out over the Cinque Terre, they talked about their Sciacchetrà.

Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra de Cugis at Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

For me, it was incredibly awe-inspiring to learn that the couple, now in their 60s, are producing this passito wine which the younger generation has abandoned because they deemed it too hard. But I’ll let them explain their own wine.

The wine we tasted was the Terra di Bargòn Reserva 2009, a concentrated wine with notes of bruised apple, prune, dried apricots and a nutty tang. It’s far from the lusciousness typical of passito so if you’re not a big fan of sugar, this could be the sweet wine for you.

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Ramos Pinto, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ramos Pinto was one of the last port houses to be established in Vila Nova de Gaia. The original owner, Adriano Ramos Pinto, was clearly a visionary from the beginning.

Entrance, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

While most of the port houses at the time shipped to England, Pinto targeted Brazil from the start. With this liberal market came the romanticised, almost cinematic, posters and, at times, slightly racy advertising campaigns, which did wonders to promote the Ramos Pinto brand. It became an instant success. These days, the port house’s colourful history can be garnered from the lively museum and cellars on Vila Nova de Gaia.

In terms of wines and ports, Ramos Pinto produces a sizeable selection. For ports, mixing into cocktails seem to be highly encouraged though we didn’t try any. Instead, we tasted a selection of their wines and ports unadultered.

Tasting bench, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

Duas Quintas Reserva Branco 2011, a foot-tread white wine, was very savoury with lots of citrus and a little smokiness. The Duas Quintas Reserva Especial Tinto 2007 had a truffled tinge to its leafy tannins and fruit.

Moving on to the port, we started with a white port, the Adriano White Reserva, which was fairly heavy though simple in its style. It would have been great on top a rum and raisin ice cream.

On the vintage front, the RP Late Bottled Vintage 2009, an unfiltered port, was woody with violet and prune notes. The Quinta de Ervamoira Porto Vintage 2007, a single Quinta port, was rich in its chocolate notes though still youthful.

We also tried three tawny ports. The 10 year old RP10 Quinta de Ervamoira had rich caramel and raisin notes but lacked a little acidity. The 20 year old RP20 Quinta do Bom Retiro is slightly more floral with a long, nutty finish. The 30 year old RP30, made with wines from a blend of estates, had an oloroso sherry character in its nuttiness alongside caramel and dried fruit notes.

Inside the Ramos Pinto museum at Vila Nova de Gaia

www.ramospinto.pt

Tricolour: wines from Côteaux du Giennois

I mentioned briefly in the post about wine and technology that there would be a vlog coming up… Well, you didn’t have to wait too long for that because here it is:

Côteaux du Giennois

For this first vlog, I tasted a trio of wines from the French wine region of Côteaux du Giennois.

Coteaux du Giennoise wines

Côteaux du Giennois is right in the middle of France, quite close to Sancerre, and lies between the towns of Gien and Cosne sur Loire by the Loire River. As an appellation, it’s relatively new, AOC since 1998, but grape pips have been found in archaeological digs in Cosne sur Loire which suggests that wine has been made there since the 2nd century.

As in other parts of the Loire Valley, the soil in the area is a mix of flint and limestone which suggests good potential for the white wines. These are made from Sauvignon Blanc. They also make rosé and red wines from Pinot Noir, Gamay or a blend of the two.

Anyway, here are the tasting notes for the three wines:

Domaine de Villargeau Sauvignon Blanc Coteaux du Giennois 2012 Domaine de Villargeau Sauvignon Blanc Côteaux du Giennois 2012. A medium bodied wine with intense nose of lychee, pear, apple and citrus. Some stony minerality. A little floral note too. Don’t serve this too cold as acidity will prevail. To have with a creamy seafood dish. RRP£9.99 available from Marks & Spencer.
 Les Aupières Coteaux du Giennois Rose 2013 Les Aupières Rosé Côteaux du Giennois 2013. Light red berry nose with a little hawthorne, perhaps even rose. Slight bitterness at the end. A delicate red-style rosé wine. Enjoy with a chicken and pomegranate salad or something similarly light from the Middle East. RRP£10.99 available from Laithwaites.
 Clement et Florian Berthier Rouge Coteaux du Giennois 2012 Clement et Florian Berthier Rouge Côteaux du Giennois 2012. A little vanilla coming through followed by strawberries. Overpowering farm-yardy aromas. Not one for me. RRP£12.99 available from Laithwaites.

Quinta do Seixo, Cima-Corgo

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ports, Quinta do Seixo, Douro Valley

Quinta do Seixo (pronounced Saycho) is perhaps more readily recognisable as the winery where Sandeman port is produced. It’s owned by Sogrape Vinhas, the same parent company which owns Mateus. Knowing this, I think, contributed towards the corporate feel of the Quinta.

Incredibly well organised and decorated, it’s very much geared to receiving a large number of visitors. Case in point, three or four coaches, filled with Douro cruise visitors, made their way up the winding road, through the vineyards, to the Quinta while we were there. Then, like us, they would have received a video introduction followed by the Sandeman tour with a guide who’s dressed as the Don.

This is just the visitor centre in the Douro Valley. There’s another one at the Lodge on Vila Nova de Gaia.

Our tasting was more extended than an average consumer tasting but it began with a round of cocktails. Some intriguing and interesting combinations, which, while occasionally on the sweet side, was actually really rather good.

The first port we had was the Sandeman Apitiv White, a brownish amber off-dry port that’s slightly oxidised, though not quite nutty, with notes of dried prunes. This, with an icy lemon sorbet, was dessert in a glass. The Sandeman Founder’s Reserve, a reserve ruby style port, was an easy, fruity wine with a very dry finish. Refreshing though, in a citrusy wine cocktail.

On to the more serious ports, we had a Late Bottled Vintage 2009, a fruity and youthful wine with notes of blackberry and raisin. The Sandeman Vau Vintage 2000, with two years in the bottle, was much more fruity and complex, with orange peel and citric bittterness. And finally, the Sandeman Vintage 2011, a seriously intense wine with mouth puckering acidity and laden with smooth tannins, showed highlights of prune and raisin.

www.sograpevinhos.com

Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout: When wine goes high tech

For a drink that’s been much the same for thousands of years, wine, or at least how it’s consumed, has become increasingly high tech in the last few years.

For instance, this website lives entirely in the digital age. As well as numerous images, the recently launched Heard on the Grape Vine podcast makes sure that there’s a good multimedia mix. Amateur Wine is plugged into social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. And then there’s apps like Vivino

All of this digital talk can feel a bit lonesome (and no one wants to drink on their own), until a couple of weeks ago when I took part in my first Google Hangout with Côtes du Rhône wines.

The Hangout was hosted by Dr Jamie Goode, wine blogger turned wine journalist and fellow IWC wine judge, and as well as Amateur Wine, there were also eight other wine enthusiasts. Over the course of an hour and half, we tasted six red wines from the Côtes du Rhône appellation.

It was intended to be a mix of educational and fun, although we were relying on all our internet connections so there were times when it cut out and times when it was slow (You can watch an edited version of the video here.), but as a way of bringing wines to an audience, it was a very innovative approach. We had some great wines of course.

More than anything though, it showed that wine, as a sensory object, can be shared from just about anywhere. Which, in a round about way, leads me to think about vlogs. In the world of beauty and fashion, vlogs are incredibly popular so why not for wine?

Well, watch this space.

The Côtes du Rhône wines

Here’s the wines we tasted, in order, for the Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout (the tasting notes are mine from the night):

 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013. A grenache dominant blend. Light and fruity. Strawberry forward with gentle oak. Simple but effective. RRP£6 available from Sainsbury’s.
 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012. A little hot on the palate. A touch of funkiness with a sourness on the finish. Possible fault. Not very attractivec. RRP£9.99 available from Majestic.
 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012. Biodynamic. Lots of fruit, very fruit forward and expressive. Wine to drink with after-dinner conversation. RRP£12.25 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012. Noticeably more alcoholic though balanced considering high ABV. Dark fruits much more prominent. RRP£16.75 available from H2Vin.
 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012. From Northern Rhône, a cooler climate wine. Rubber and maybe thyme notes. Almost minty with a touch of black pepper. Light cherry. Elegant. RRP£19.95 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012. A lot of sweetness and fruit coming through. A hint of development with gentle tannins. Needs time to open up. RRP£16.63 available from The Little Big Wine company.

Quinta do Tedo, Folgosa

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta do Tedo rests on the converging point of the river Tedo and the river Douro; a picturesque little winery owned by Vincent Bouchard. Bouchard, some might recognise, as in Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy.

Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

While the owner might be French, the winemaking is very much traditional. The grapes produced on the 14 hectare estate, entirely red and harvested with the help of horses, are foot trodden and fermented in the lagare before resting and being fortified in concrete tanks.

Wines, Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

We tried a small selection of their dry wines and ports starting with the Reserva 2010, a reserved wine with violet overtones, dull fruit, of blackcurrant and sour cherry, and grainy tannins. The Grande Reserva Savedra 2009 was comparatively warmer in its fruits, of cherry and black plum, with considerably more spice.

We also tried a small selection of their ports.

The Fine Tawny, with its hint of sugary caramel and boiled sweets, was a smooth drinking tipple with nice acidity. The Late Bottled Vintage 2007 was floral with intense notes of blackcurrant, prunes and grainy tannins.

On the vintage front, the Vintage 2003 had a relatively closed nose but showed a nice balance of sweetness and acidity as well as lots of prune and fig and a slight hint of rose. The final wine, a Vintage 2007, had a much more fruity nose, showing the same floral quality as well as prunes and a touch of mint tea leaf herbaceousness.

www.quintadotedo.com

Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione tastings 2014, Florence

This time last year I was in Florence for the launch of the new Chianti Classico classification, the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It was part of the Anteprima di Toscana where several other appellations were also celebrated. As the wines are becoming more widely available, and indeed starting to be ready to drink (albeit only a small handful), I thought I would put down a few thoughts.

Black rooster, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

A short note on Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a Tuscan appellation situated within the wider region of Chianti. It’s worth clarifying that all Chianti Classico wines can also be classified as Chianti (though the former generally commands a higher price) but not all Chianti wines are Chianti Classico. There are also other Chianti sub-regions, falling under Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rùfina, which are separate and distinct from Chianti Classico.

 

Until last year, there were two Chianti Classico appellations – Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, both requiring at least 80% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 20% Canaiolo grapes in the final blend. It’s only since 1995 that 100% Sangiovese-based wines could be classed as Chianti Classico. And in the interest of quality, and style, Chianti Classico wines cannot be released until the 1st of October of the year following the harvest, while Chianti Classico Riserva must be aged for at least 24 months, including at least three months in bottle, prior to release.

The (newish) Gran Selezione

On 17th of February 2014, a new tier in the Chianti Classico appellation was announced – the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione press conference, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

This new appellation builds on the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva appellations but with additional quality requirements. In particular, the grapes used for the wines must come from the estate and ageing must be at least 30 months, with three of those in bottle. In 2014, 34 wines were unveiled in Florence, some with availability of just a few hundred bottles and others with hundreds of thousands.

An even better Chianti Classico?

Needless to say, the wines unveiled at the launch last year came from some of the region’s best wineries though whether they are better wines for it is another question.

Unveiling Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

At the time, a few of the producers I spoke to weren’t overly enthusiastic about the new appellation. Applying for Gran Selezione and marketing it would cost more money but the potential gains were yet to be seen. That said, many did welcome the additional recognition for quality and some of the producers were already making wines under the requirements prior to its introduction. Of course, you can be sure that the Gran Selezione will come with a higher price tag.

For consumers, there’s always the worry that, while trying to achieve a defined terroir style, the wines are being funnelled down the same route to produce basically the same wines. The result might be very “correct” wines but, potentially, ultimately uninteresting. Meanwhile, the results remains to be seen.

Comestible interlude at Chianti Classico tasting:

Quinta do Portal, Celeirós

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

The winery at Quinta do Portal is impressively large (it’s capable of producing some 1.2 million bottles of wine a year) considering that the estate itself is only around 15 hectares. But that’s because the family owned estate is also part of the group that owns Quinta do Confradeiro, Quinta dos Muros and Quinta da Abelheira. Between all those Quintas, the area under vine is more like 105 hectares.

Winery, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

The man in charge of creating all those wines is Paulo Coutinho, who has been at Quinta do Portal for more than 20 years. You get the sense that he is very self-assured as he claims to be able to make any wine that he wants to.

The considerable creative flexibility that he’s been afforded has allowed him to experiment with wines that you probably won’t find on many other estates in the Douro Valley like a sparkling rosé. That rosé, incidentally, was the Super Reserva Rosé Espumante do Douro 2008, which, while a little too tart on the palate, had a nice strawberry nose with a slightly savoury finish. It’s a one-off, however.

Moscatel is the other grape that Coutinho liked to play with. We tried a Moscatel Galego Branco 2013, a slightly tart and savoury wine that’s otherwise classic in the moscatel category. Quinta do Portal also had a Colheita rosé, the Colheita Douro Rosé 2013, which was fresh, aromatic and crisp with plenty of strawberry notes and a very dry finish.

The aforementioned three “fun wines” were what Coutinho later introduced into cocktails. In fact, he was one of the strongest advocates for wine cocktails that we met on the trip.

Wines, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

To more serious wines, we started with a Douro Branco 2006, a well rounded wine with notes of honey, melon, lychee and a fresh, creamy finish.

Switching to one of the few sweet wines (that’s not port) in the Douro Valley, we tried the Late Harvest 2009 – honeyed nose, white fruits and a hint of Botrytis on the finish. A second sweet wine, which we tried later, was the Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, a floral but nutty and raisined wine that’s slightly oxidised.

With the reds, we started with a Grande Reserva 2007, a fresh, violet-forward wine that’s backed with blackcurrant and a little taste of iron. The still-evolving Touriga Nacional 2001 had a hint of mushroom and leathery overtones though there was still plenty of fruit.

Finally, finishing with a small round of port, we started with a 20 year old tawny. It felt a little one-dimensional but had good acidity to counter the sweetness. The 1999 vintage port, meanwhile, had developed with mushroom notes, a hint of chocolate and a smoky savouriness.

www.quintadoportal.com

Quinta de São José, Ervedosa do Douro

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Barrels, Quinta de Sao José, Douro Valley

Quinta de São José, a small, family run estate of just 10 hectares, lies in the heart of the Douro Valley, a short boat ride up from Pinhão. Although accessible by road, it’s much easier to get to the Quinta from the river.

Most of the wines produced at the estate are dry Douro wines but there’s also a small amount of port produced owing to the family heritage – João Brito e Cunha, owner and winemaker, is a direct descendant of Dona Antónia Ferreira, the doyenne of port.

While winemaking is the core business, they’re also beginning to develop a tourism aspect with vineyard tours and accommodation. At the top of the hill, where they do all the lab work, the view across the valley is truly spectacular.

We tasted through the small selection of wines (in a good year, they would make four reds, including reserves, two whites and one port) starting with the Flor de S José Branco 2013. It opened with a slight sulphur to the nose but had a light and refreshing palate of pear and citrus.

It’s relatively rare for a Quinta to produce a single varietal wine in the Douro Valley but S. José had a Touriga Nacional 2011. It’s the first vintage of this wine and is a vibrant red, tinged with purple, showing a smoky, cedar top note followed by cherry, blackberry, rose and a little vanilla on the finish. That vanilla was also obvious in their Reserva Douro Tinto 2011 which showed blackberry and herbaceousness of tomato vines, though it was also ripe with violet and rose.

We also tasted their vintage ports starting with the Single Quinta Vintage 2009, a fruity, approachable port, rich with cherry and obvious residual sweetness. The younger Single Quinta Vintage 2012, a tank sample, was fruity but still closed and a little woody with a much drier finish.

www.quintasjose.com

Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhão

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta de la Rosa, an impressive and imposing estate on the edge of the Douro river, was purchased as a Christening gift for Claire Bergqvist 1906. Actually, it would be more correct to say that, while the winery is sizeable (to include the family home, visitor centre and B&B accommodation), the estate itself has only 55 hectares under vine.

Logo, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

In the early days, all of the grapes produced on the estate were sold to large port producers such as Sandeman. Today, under the management of Claire’s grand daughter Sophie Bergqvist, the estate produces around 80% wine and 20% port from their grapes. And aside from the tourism aspects (they run winery tours as well as hosting visitors), they also produce olive oil.

The family owned estate is very much traditional in its wine production. Foot treading in the concrete lagares is still used for its ports, followed by ageing in French oak barrels. And there are some really excellent wines at the end of it.

After the winery visit, we had a taste of some of their core products at the small visitor centre.

Ports, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

We started with the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Tinto 2010. It was an intense red wine with a smoky, pungent nose, spicy palate and plenty of red fruit. Alongside grippy tannins, there was also blackberry, chocolate and a certain plumminess. The second wine, a joint venture between Quinta de la Rosa and its winemaker, Jorge Moreira, was the Passagem Reserva 2010, made at Quinta das Bandeiras. This, a more tart wine, was reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon and would definitely be interesting with some age. Right now, however, it’s holding on to a woody herbaceousness.

The ports in this basic tasting started with a 10 year old tawny. Alongside that oxidative character, there were lots of raisins and a little caramel and nut, making a smooth and elegant port with nice acidity and balance. Next came the Finest Reserve, a rich, ruby coloured port with lots of sweetness, fruit and acidity as well as a hint of liquorice. Finally, we tried the Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) 2010 which was only bottled two months prior to tasting. Beginning with a lightly floral nose, it showed delicate and complex nuances amongst the fine tannins. But, while there was plenty of fruit, there was perhaps not quite enough acidity for balance.

Over lunch, we had a rather more extended tasting.

For this, we started with a dry, white Douro wine, the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Branco 2013. Crisp and aromatic, it had notes of apple and lemony citrus. The other dry wine we tried, the Quinta de la Rosa Reserva Douro Tinto 2010, was where violets came out with blackberry and plummy fruit.

Moving back on to the port, we tried an older 20 year old tawny. Showing more caramel and dried fruits, there was also a hint of Turkish Delight about it.

Given the quality of the dry red wines, I think the vintage ports are really where Quinta de la Rosa has its strength and we tried two vintages. The Vintage 2011 was still very youthful (there was detectable tea leaf bitterness) with a floral nose in a decidedly sweet and fruity style. I actually acquired a bottle a few months later, which I’m intending to cellar for a good ten years. The Vintage 2000, visibly more aged, had caramel, prune, toffee and chocolate notes, backed by great acidity.

www.quintadelarosa.com

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