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Beautiful Bordeaux

Beautiful Bordeaux!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Despite the explosion of New World wines out there, no one country or region has managed to snatch the title of “World’s Most Emminent Wine Region” that Bordeaux holds tightly in its grasp. It is the red wines of Bordeaux, (formerly called “Claret” by the poms for centuries), that have set the standards for quality wine the world over.

That’s not to say that all of them are exciting … there are the vin ordinaires for the princely sum of a few euros, and only the backpackers are thankful for those … But the true Bordeaux red rewards those with patience, and offers a challenge not for the feint-hearted. Opening these wines too early is a waste, as is opening them in the middle of their maturity, or too late.

Big Bordeaux are tannic and tight for the first 5 or 6 years, holding back the blackcurrant or plum flavours of the signature Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Then strangely, they seem to slump – becoming flat and lifeless for the next few years, before taking on a new depth of complexity, aromas and fruit.

Probably Bordeaux’ biggest enemy is itself. It’s out of control in terms of … err, control.

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

In an area of 123,000ha under vine, there are 10,200 growers, 35,000 Chateaux, 400 Distributors and 100 Brokers. One out of every six people in Bordeaux work in the wine industry.

Stats (at time of my visit – late 2006) held that 790,000 bottles are produced every year to reach a market value of €3,000,000,000. 90% of these are red – Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and 10% white – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Colombard.

Harvest in Bordeaux is determined by chemical analysis. What they’re looking for from grapes is 220 g/ltr sugar, 12.5 Baume – min level as per AOC. Bordeaux reds must be fermented dry, and the use of tartaric acid addition is prohibited.

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

There are a whopping 57 appellations within this region, telling growers what to grow, how to grow it, how much to grow …

In 2007, a new appellation “Côtes de Bordeaux” was introduced. This encompasses an area of the right bank of the Garonne river, from Saint Maixant and Cadillac to the city of Bordeaux, and in short paves the way for lower value wines to use oak chips during production. All these sub-regions are located on the right bank, and all currently produce easy-gowing, fruit-driven, primarily Merlot-based wines, 85% of which are reportedly consumed locally.

Bordeaux wines reflect terroir

Beautiful Bordeaux city

Beautiful Bordeaux city

They’re not allowed to irrigate in Bordeaux. Underground water supplies keep them alive, but also provide sediment to feed the vines – which helps the grapes and resulting wines take on the characters of the soils, which are actually quite poor.

Bordeaux wines are named after their location. So you won’t see the names of the grapes used in a wine on the label.

They divide the Bordeaux region between the left and right banks of the Gironde Estuary, which continues divided between the Garonne and Dordogne tributaries.

On the hilly right bank the soil is primarily clay and limestone – suitable for fruit-forward, lower tannin Merlot. These cooler soils slow down the ripening stage (avoiding August heat and rain), and budburst (avoiding April frosts).

The right bank encompasses Côtes de Blaye and Bourg to the north, and St Emilion, Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Côtes de Castillon and Francs divided from Entre-deux-Mers by the Dordogne.

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux.  Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux. Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

The left bank is more sandy, and has pebbles to absorb heat during the day, for distribution during the nights. It is a continuation of the sedimentary Acquitaine Basin; lowlands boundaried by Gironde Arch, the Pyrenean mountain chain, and the Bay of Biscal. This is big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon territory, producing wines with pronounced blackcurrant and cassis flavours.

The left bank is home to five major communes of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Graves. Located here are the five esteemed First Growth Chateaux: Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion. Further north we find the Médoc, and in the hinterland we find the Haut-Médoc. Alas, poor Médoc doesn’t get a mention on Grand Cru labels, however Haut-Médoc does.

I must add here that the above is not an exhaustive list of all vignobles Bordelais but quite frankly this page is getting too long, and I haven’t talked about Cellar Door visiting yet … such is the complexity of Bordeaux!

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Viticulture for Virgins Part II: Grape Expectations

I’ve already mentioned in ‘Viticulture for Virgins Part I’ that the varietal of grape grown in any region is determined by the location.  Let’s look into this further …

Horses for Courses

Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)
Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)

Although grape vines are weeds, you can’t just throw any old variety in the ground and expect to make great wine from it. The realisation that certain varieties grow better in certain regions didn’t happen overnight. The Europeans discovered this more by trial and error – over hundreds of years – than by scientific research.

There are a handful of considerations you need to mull through when choosing your grape:

Ripening – is there enough sun and warmth to ripen Shiraz? Is it cool enough to maintain desirable acidity in Sauvignon Blanc? If not, there’s a myriad of varieties to choose from that will be more suitable to a region. If all else fails, modern science just creates new varieties to suit growing conditions.

Tolerance to Climatic Hiccups – some regions are prone to drought, or Spring frosts. These factors can have horrific affect on new buds, or fruit setting. It’s important that the varieties chosen for a particular region can hold up in times of adverse conditions.

Jerez, Spain

Jerez, Spain

But the world is a constantly changing place …

Advances in viticultural practices (trellising, harvesting) and modern technology (eg refrigeration) may mean that ideal grape type may have changed, however -probably because of traditional planting restrictions in Europe – implementation of this change has been slow, if at all.

And then there’s …

Market Demand – obviously there’s no point in increasing plantations of Chardonnay in Australia at the moment. No-one wants it. Consumers are looking for more interesting whites. [Originally written in 2006 … update in 2012 is that Chardonnay is making comeback … I rest my case …]  Here again the New World boasts supremacy. Without appellation contols, they can plant whatever they want!  But can they keep up with consumer demand?  New vines take up to 7 years to produce a decent yield. The consumer has changed his mind 15 times by then. Nature takes a little longer to respond to consumer demand than man does.

Old World Tradition -v- New World Innovation?

Siena, Chianti, Italy

Siena, Chianti, Italy

If I may digress into my marketing head for a moment … Interestingly enough, the New World criticizes the Old World for adhering to planting restrictions – particularly in France, where not only type of grape but yield (quantity harvested/hectare) is limited by appellation controllée laws.

At the same time, repeated articles I saw in wine press during the late 90’s/early 00’s, claimed the New World [particularly Australia] has revolutionised the wine industry globally with its “brand-building discipline“.

Building brands is exactly what the French have been doing all the time. Just because they don’t do jingles, fluoro-coloured labels and tacky merchandising to go with it, we all know that a ‘Bordeaux’ is not just a region, likewise a ‘Burgundy’, ‘Champagne’, or a ‘Rhone Blend’. The wine world knows what to expect in terms of taste and quality from these brands … oops, wines.

Early to Ripen:Early to Harvest

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Grape varieties don’t all ripen at once, so they can be split into different maturity groups. This is important when laying out the vineyards and determining which grapes are to be planted. Obviously if all grapes ripened at the same time, by the time you have harvested the fruit from the whole property, the last ones may be a bit worse for wear!

Thus, large vineyards often have different varieties growing in different sections which mature at different times.

Those grape varieties that need less heat or sun to mature are called ‘Early Ripeners‘. As the amount of sunlight has a direct bearing on the colour of a grape’s skin, it’s not difficult to understand that most early ripeners are white grapes: eg, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sultana, Traminer, Verdelho.

What? – you say – Pinot Noir is a red grape! True, but the colour in a wine comes from the skin, [flesh of all grapes is white] and when Pinot Noir is used in Sparklings or Champagnes, the colour of the skin is not needed – and neither is a high level of sugar. So, for this purpose, they are early ripeners.  You see, wine is not all red and white – there are pink areas!

Mid-season ripeners are the next to mature and be harvested. This group includes all the regulars, eg: Cabernets (Franc, Sauvignon, Ruby …), Shiraz, Merlot and whites that need a little more sugar, like Savignon Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Semillon.

Finally the late ripeners, which by now I’m sure you realise are those varietals which need more sugar: Grenache, Muscats, etc.

Grapes can move between these maturity groups depending on climate. Riesling, for example, is able to reach adequate flavour ripeness at relatively low sugar levels in very cold regions. This is one of the reasons it is one of the most important grapes in Germany.

Early-Picked v Early Ripening

Don’t confuse ‘early-picked‘ with ‘early ripening‘.  Early-picked refers to grapes picked at an earlier time than optimum ripening requires.  This is done to reduce the sugar level in a wine.  Of course, ‘late-picked‘ means the opposite – ie picked late to increase sugar levels.

A Sea of Varieties

Rudesheim, Germany

Rudesheim, Germany

There are literally hundreds of different grape varieties used for wine-making around the world, and research (particularly in New World countries) is resulting in new clones, custom-made for specific regions all the time.

Commercial wines from all over the world are mostly grown from grapes of the Vitis vinifera family. Originating in Asia, this species will die in freezing temperatures, and is prone to mildews and other bugs. The viticulturalist monitors these problems closely as they can be devastating not just to one vintage, but to the survival of the vineyard.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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Viticulture for Virgins Part I: Location, Location, Location!

Vineyards in Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

This is my first blog in a series I will post about viticultural practices in the vineyards, and how they have direct influence on the type and style of wine that can be produced from any area.

The aim of this post is to give you an overview of each viticultural topic so that you understand how and why a wine tastes the way it does.

I’ll try not to get too technical, but the teacher in me kicks in when I start talking specifics … sorry in advance.  You can always drop me a “reply” with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

It’s not rocket-science …

Grape vines are basically weeds.  They’ll grow anywhere with a bit of sunlight and little water, let alone any pruning.  They’re resilient, persistent and can survive in most places without a lot of care or attention – much the same as any other weed.

However, before the viticulturalists reach for their bug spray to silence me, remember there’s a lot more to viticulture than you need to understand for the purpose of choosing or enjoying a great wine. What we’ll discuss here is just the basics:

Wine grapes are ‘picky’ about location …

Table grapes can grow in most places quite successfully. However, not everywhere is suitable for growing wine grapes.

Wine grapes require a balanced combination of colour, acidity and sugar, so they don’t make the best wines when exposed to temperature extremes. Too much cold = too much acid, and too much heat = too much sugar. Table grapes on the other hand are not so discerning – the more heat, the more sugar for them.

VitiLocatMapThere are specific regions in the northern and southern hemispheres where the weather and climate are favourable for growing wine grapes. The bands on this map show generally where these optimum wine grape growing regions are on the globe.  In the northern hemisphere, the best regions lie between latitude 30º and latitude 50º [around Tunisia to Germany]. In the southern hemisphere, between latitude 23º to 45º [half-way down Australia to New Zealand].

And they like their creature comforts …

Within these quite defined climate bands there are optimum levels of sunlight, temperature, rainfall and humidity required to develop desirable sugar and acid levels in wine grapes to make particular styles of wine.

When wine grapes check in, they come with a hefty rider …

  • Avg temp coldest month must be greater than -1ºC;
  • Avg temp warmest month must be greater than 17ºC;
  • Lowest temp in any 20 year period must not drop below -20ºC more than once;
  • More than 180 frost-free days;
  • Minimum 1200 hours sunshine during the growing season;
  • Rainfall greater than 450mm annually [750mm in hotter regions] … although irrigation can make up shortfalls.

… and this is just for starters. There are many more technical specifications determined by the type of grape grown.

The red soils of Coonawarra, South Australia

The red soils of Coonawarra, South Australia

As the sun travels along the line of the equator, there is too much light and heat in the areas between the optimum climate bands to grow fine wine grapes. Best leave those areas for sugar cane and rum distilleries.

The sun’s equatorial path also has a bearing on vineyard sites situated on hillsides. To make the most of available sunlight in the optimum regions the correct aspect has to be considered: southern hillsides in the northern hemisphere, and northern hillsides in the southern hemisphere – particularly in cooler areas.

Not one location fits all, either …

Different grapes, and the different wine styles or types that can be made from them, need specific climatic elements to succeed. Old World viticulturalists go even further, referring to the terroir of a wine region when they characterise its suitability for particular grapes.

Windmill amongst vines, Swan Hill

Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia

There is no doubt that individual locations for vineyards have a great bearing on the grape type most suited to growing conditions available, and on the style of wines that can be made from the grapes.

Different macroclimates have varying rainfall and sunlight hours.  As mentioned above, heat = sugar. Thus grapes which receive lots of sunny days in which to ripen will have higher sugar levels, and grapes which receive too much water will bloat and have less flavour.

The lay of the land also has an effect on grape choice.

In Colmar [Alsace region, France/Germany border] Riesling grapes ripen very well, and make exquisite wines.

However a mere 40 km to the west, in Freiburg in the Baden region of Germany, they won’t even ripen.  Why is this so? Colmar is [slightly] warmer and has less rainfall due to its being in the rainshadow of the Vosges Mountains.

Style is influenced by environment …

There are many location-specific climatic influences that affect wine style.

Winter vines, Bendigo, Victoria

Winter vines, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

For example, take Shiraz grapes grown in higher temperature regions … The enzymes which produce anthocyanins [responsible for colour] in the skin of the grapes work less effectively over 26 degrees celsius.

Thus, hot climate Shiraz has much less colour.

Sugar levels on the other hand will be higher [as long as it doesn’t get too hot for transpiration]. The resulting wine style will likely be medium to full-bodied, with low to medium colour intensity.

Let’s consider Australia, where higher sugar levels attained in the Rutherglen region of north-east Victoria enable heavy bodied fortifieds [Port, Muscat, etc] to excel from red grapes.

On the other hand, Tasmania’s chilly seasons encourage higher levels of acidity in white grapes required for fine, dry sparklings, but lack enough warm days to ripen Shiraz with adequate sugar levels or skin colour to make medium-full bodied wine.

But there’s more … subtle differences between mesoclimates within a region will have varying effects on the varietals, and the style of wines which can be made from the ripe grapes.  This is one reason that all wines don’t taste the same.

But they can be manipulated …

So, if wine grapes are grown outside the optimum climate bands, does this mean they’ll make undrinkable wine?  Short answer – not necessarily.

Long answer – certain mesoclimates can create area pockets outside of the optimum climate band regions which have suitable temperatures and number of sunlight hours for the grapes to flourish.

Vineyards on the castle slopes, Rapperswil, Switzerland

Vineyards on the castle slopes, Rapperswil, Switzerland

Then there’s canopy management, which also facilitates successful winemaking from grapes by improving the microclimate of the vine canopy.

This is where the viticulturalist really earns his money – by maximising the available climatic conditions to encourage berry flavour development and ripening.

To do this, the vines are grown to shapes that allow sunlight to easily reach the leaves and fruit.

Trellising serves initially as a support for young vines to shape, and later as support for the mature vines. Exactly what form this trellis takes is determined by the expected vigour of the vine.

It’s common to see European vineyards using single poles to train vines. Sometimes they use nothing at all and train the vines as bushes. Modern viticulture, prominent in the New World wine regions, on the other hand, uses quite elaborate structures to train vines.

Apart from canopy management reasons, New World wineries also tend to use more mechanical pruning and harvesting – which most trellising readily enables. A more important factor for mechanical operations though is the spacing between the vines – which can be anything from 2.5m to 4m apart. This wide spacing allows maximum sunlight to reach the grapes as the rows don’t overshadow each other.

Old World vineyards are much older, often on steep slopes and have been pruned by hand for centuries. In many cases, their rows are much closer together – as little as 1m apart.

Shiraz Vines, McLarenVale, South Australia

Shiraz Vines, McLarenVale, South Australia

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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What is Chianti Classico?

Back in the early 1700’s, the original region known simply as “Chianti” centred around the towns of Radda, Greve, Gaiole and Castellina, in central Italy.  These these days Chianti has grown considerably and now consists of several subzones:

ItalySantAntimo2Chianti Rufina – east of Florence
Chianti Colli Fiorentini – north east Florence
Chianti Classico – between Florence & Siena
Chianti Colli Senesi – north to north west of Siena
Chianti Colli Aretini – east of Classico region
Chianti Montelbano – north west of Florence
Chianti Montespertoli – west of Florence
Chianti Colline Pisane – south of Pisa

ItalySantAntimo1Nestled in the Tuscan hills between Florence and Siena is the most reknowned, largest subzone, and probably the heart of the region – Chianti Classico.

Vineyards here are located at varying altitudes, ranging from around 250m to over 500m above sea level. It’s quite a challenge at this level to ripen red grapes to appropriate sugar and tannin levels.

That’s not the only problem they face either – downy mildew can be a killer for tight Sangiovese bunches when it rains during vintage.

It was surprising to me to find during my visit to the region, that Chianti Classico is not one huge expanse of vines rolling over the hilly landscape.   In fact, 75% of the environment is still woods, and you’ll come across as many olive groves as vineyards. The region resonates peasant village life from bygone eras, and cheesy romance films.

Siena0055Tiny Castellos sit atop hills – each with a maze of narrow streets lined with picture-book Tuscan houses. Yes, they really do exist – complete with terracotta pots of red flowers, tiny central squares dominated by an ornate church, and even the quintessential cat sleeping on the window ledge.

Today there are over 600 wineries in Chianti Classico. And one of the vineyards, west of Figline Valdarno, belongs to Sting, … so the locals say …

So, what exactly IS Chianti?

ItalyDalbola7It’s important that you know that not every Chianti is a Chianti Classico. Chianti as a style of wine can be, and is, made in other regions of Tuscany, in fact most of central Italy makes it, from all kinds of grapes.

However a Chianti Classico must come from the Chianti Classico region, is made from 75 to 100% Sangiovese grapes, and bears the pink neck tag as proof of its origin.

The original formula is attributed to Baron Ricasole- once Italy’s Prime Minister – in the 1870’s. He determined two different styles. The first was a drink-early style, which originally included white grapes the likes of Malvasia and Trebbiano to provide more up-front fruit for this style. The other was a high quality, well structured wine that could age for decades.

Over time the proportion of white grapes used in the cheaper quality wine started getting out of hand. Not only that, but red wines imported from other Italian wine regions began creeping into the mix. Chianti became insipid, unstable and boring.

The DOC, when setting up the Chianti region in the 1960’s, decided to limit the use of white grapes in Chianti to between 10 and 30%.

This wasn’t enough for serious Chianti producers near Florence [notably the Antinori family], who – by the mid 1970’s -began to produce their own style of Chianti – using primarily Sangiovese and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.

This new wine was much more refined, had better aging capacity, and exhibited higher quality character than any of the other Tuscans. However, as they hadn’t stuck to the DOC rules, they had to sell their wine as a Vino da Tavola [table wine]!

Thus Chianti Classico Reserva was born – a style which now carries the DOCG qualification, and is made from low-yeilding Sangiovese, aged in oak and able to be cellared around ten years plus.

If you want to read more about visiting this area, I have another couple of posts on this subject in the “Italy” folder of this blog.  If you’re a real wine buff, you’ll want to see this place.  If budget permits (mine certainly didn’t!) I strongly suggest hiring a car from Florence; venture down to Sienna and stay a few days to sleep and take in the Piazza before looking around.

ItalyMontefioralle2

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Italy, Wine Touring

 

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Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010

Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010Geez … you can tell I don’t blog for a living.  It’s been six months.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been drinking wine.  I have.  Unfortunately I also changed jobs six months ago, and have gone from alcohol retail to wholesale.   So, it’s back to 10 hour corporate days, punctuated by the occasional outing somewhere to visit clients.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of free evenings to write.

Today I went to see a client who runs a store filled with amazing wines;  some imports (his own), some local stuff.  It really is a wine-lover’s wonderland, and if you haven’t been to Nick’s Wine Merchants in Doncaster, Melbourne yet, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.  Doesn’t really matter, though, because he actually sends wines all over the world via his website – Vintage Direct.

So, apart from some yummy-looking imports in the $20-$30 bracket, I asked Alex (seek him out if you venture there – Alex knows his wines) for a cheapie to scoff tonight with dinner.  He produced a bottle of Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz (2010).

Now, for the past four weeks, I haven’t drunk anything of note, purely due to a nose operation.  As much as I’d like to say I earn enough to chuck big dollars away on a cosmetic procedure, in my case it was to correct a seriously dislocated septum, and rebuild the sides of my nose that were collapsing.  (I know what you’re thinking … my nose doctor also asked several times if I have been doing drugs … but no, I have never snorted cocaine …).

So I have been having trouble even breathing through my nose, let alone really smelling anything complex. So, with my new nose, I dove into the glass.

Loads of rich, ripe dark plums, blackberries, licorice (Wow! The nose is really working!) are the immediate deliveries – however, after leaving the wine to breathe a little, I easily detected some milk chocolate nestling nicely above raspberry jam.

The first sips revealed the expected plums and blackberries, but also an amazing wallop of black peppery spice – the hallmark of McLarenVale Shiraz. In all honesty, I felt the spice actually overpowered the wine initially, but again, with a little air, this settled down, and I don’t know about the other reviewers, but I was left with a finish of Violet Crumble Bar.  That’s right … chocolate-coated honeycomb.

Tannins were modestly smooth and silky, leaving a dry finish with no coarseness.

Drinking this wine, you get a craving for char-grilled lamb cutlets, or a medium-rare barbecued steak.  Unfortunatley, none of these were available to me … so, after the third (small) glass, I settled for Old Gold dark chocolate mini Easter Eggs.  Hey, ’tis the season …

Overall, this is a sensational wine in the sub $20 category.  Even more amazing is that it only costs $9.99!!  My advice – get online and get some in your wine rack for the coming winter. I know I’ll be heading back there to stock up.  So, Alex, if you read this, put a case aside for me. 

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Wine Reviews

 

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The Kirche 2007 – Charles Melton

It’s not easy writing a wine review whilst watching Puberty Blues.  There’s a distinct conflict going on in my head.  One side of the brain is trying to concentrate on the wine, and the other – more juvenile – side is far too distracted from serious writing.

If you’re not Australian – Puberty Blues is a side-splitter of laugh-a-minute memories – from Apricot Chicken in Crock Pots to Baby Doll PJ’s and all the crochet bikinis, Sandman panel-vans and ‘You’re dropped!‘ crackers in between.  God bless the 70’s – the last teenage generation to know fun, political incorrectness and a diet rich in Pluto Pups and Redskins.

Nothing to do with wine. Particularly this one, I know. But if you understand my obsession with this series, you’re old enough to know a fine wine when you taste it.  So, here’s one you don’t want to miss out on.

I’ve always been a fan of Charles Melton’s wines.  Ever since I aged a bottle of his Rose of Virginia for seven years to test the theory that you can’t age rose.  Wasn’t that surprising …

The inspiration for this wine probably comes from the former Zum Kripplein Christi Lutheran Church on Krondorf Road, a stone’s throw from Tanunda – which  has been turned into a guest house by the Meltons.  From what I see on their website, it looks like a piece of heaven on earth. Gone are the hardwood pews, replaced by soft queen and king-sized beds draped in 1000 count cotton sheets.  Instead of just breaking bread, there are ‘welcome’ cheese platters and gourmet breakfast provisions.  But I’m willing to bet there’s an abundance of wine around to induce that spiritual feeling.

As for this particular gem from the Melton lineup – This sumptuous Shiraz glistens in deep papal scarlet, and offers gifts of vanilla, liquorice and spice, if not gold, frankincense and myrrh. Juicy flavours slide across your palate in waves, like the watered silkiness of the pope’s choir cassock.  Blackberries, plums, a touch of tar and spicy oak commune with smooth, round tannins.  (I think I’ve used enough corny catholic metaphors here, so I’ll refrain from using the papal belly as an indicator of the roundness of the tannins …)

Yep, another Charles Melton classic.  My apologies to him for crucifying this review with religious puns.

Strangely, I don’t see this wine listed on the Meltons’ website.  So perhaps they aren’t making it anymore. Pity. Some sites out there stocking it recommend drinking to 2013, but my recommendation is get some and drink it now, while it appears to be at its best!  Heaven can wait

 (Sorry, couldn’t resist that last pun … it’s the 70’s frivolous influence …)

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Wine Reviews

 

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Visiting Cellar Door: Catalunya

Catalunya

Catalans consider themselves as such before they consider themselves Spaniards. They are fiercely proud of their region, and many speak Catalan language.

The picturesque, bustling city of Barcelona provides a ready market for their various styles of wine – not only to the locals but the the hoards of visitors that cram Las Ramblas to soak up the almost palpable atmosphere of excitement and all-year-round entertainment this wonderful city has to offer.

By far the most famous of thier wines is cava – Spains answer to France’s champagne.

Around 90-95% of Spanish Cava is made here in the Penedès DO to a similar traditional method as Champagne, usually from the grape varietals Parellada [preferably] or a nuetral Macabeo, with increasng amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals imported from France.

There’s also plenty of reds to try here from the likes of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha Tinta [Grenache].

As if Barcelona itself is not enough of a drawcard – with its magnificent Gaudi delights, street performers on Las Ramblas and La Sagrada Familia – you may be surprised to know that some of Spain’s most famous export brands are not far away.

By far the easiest way to see some bodegas in action is to jump on the train from Barcelona Sants station to Vilafranca del Penedès. Here you can find the wine museum, boasting a wide selection of antiquities to do with wine.  Cost of entry into the museum at time of writing this page is only a few Euro per person, and this includes tastings as well as your souvenir wine glass. Pretty good value. You’ll find the museum at Pl Jaume I. Check with the tourist offices in Barcelona for opening times first, as they vary during Summer and Winter.

Torres vineyardsAlso in Vilafranca is Bodegas Torres. This wine giant family have been operating in the area since the 17th century, however it wasn’t until 1870 that Don Jaime Torres established the company, on returning from making his fortune in oil and shipping in America.

These days the fifth generation of the family still runs the place, however it’s a long way from what would have been primitive beginnings. The staff here are obviously happy in their work, because they’re incredibly welcoming and helpful.

A tour of the vineyards and bodega usually starts with a 15 minute video about the company, followed by a mini-train ride around the property, passing through the vineyards, a guided tour through the caves [cellars] where the wines are stored meticulously for aging, and a look at the bodega operations along the way.

The tour is available in English, and is free, including the tasting at the end!   There’s also a phenomenal wine/gift shop. The downside is: the taxi fare from the train station to the Torres Bodegas will set you back around €9 each way.  Mind you, the taxi’s are clean, modern and airconditioned – the drivers very friendly, knowledgeable and they’ll try to speak to you in English.  All you need to say is ‘Bodegas Torres‘ … they’ll know where to take you.  No, there’s no bus.

To soak up the Cava story is even easier. Get back on the train and get off at Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. There right next to the station is the caves of Freixenet.

Freixenet claim to be the 9th largest wine company in the world; certainly most people will be familiar with their sparkling wines.

Again entry to Freixenet’s cavas is free, tours are in English, and you get to ride in a little train around the facility and climb deep underground to see their caves in action. There’s also a preliminary video to acquaint you with their company, the region and Cava.

The staff are incredibly friendly and accomodating – the tour really is a pleasure. Of course there’s the obligatory tasting a the end, and a gift shop so you can pick up the freshest stock on the way out.   You won’t need a booking – just drop in. But don’t get impatient if you have to wait a little while for others to come if you are alone or just a few of you.  If you have a group, they’re happy to take a forward booking. Check with the tourist office in Barcelona.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Wine Touring

 

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