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More Mighty Marselan please!

My inner wine geek is in a happy place this week.

Not only have I added Turkish grape varieties to my Wine Century Club list (see previous piece).  But also I have made another new grape find, courtesy of Kelli at The Wine Shop Winscombe. It is a crossing of two of my favourite red wine varieties: the legend that is Cabernet Sauvignon with the red fruit high alcohol powerhouse that is Grenache Noir.  It is called Marselan.

img_05451Marselan was created by the French INRA (L’Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), or agronomical research institute, in 1961.  Its name comes from the nearby commune of Marseillan.  The scientist credited with creating it is Paul Truel.

The Oxford Companion to Wine calls Marselan a “particularly successful” crossing. It was created specifically for the Languedoc.  It has small berries (like Cabernet Sauvignon) and very good levels of colour and flavour.  Despite its large bunches and high yields, its small berries initially meant it was shelved for decades in the belief that it would not succeed commercially.  However, it was resurrected due to its disease resistance and high quality, and officially registered as a variety in 1990.

Marselan is now on the march, although like many new grape varieties, it has not made huge inroads in France due to the established limits on which grapes may be grown.  It is, nevertheless, made into varietal wine in Languedoc as an IGP wine.  It has also spread into the southern Rhone, where it is permitted in Côte du Rhone AOC, although it may be no more than 10% of the blend.

The march of Marselan seems to be more rapid beyond France, where the flexibility of New World winemaking and its ability to withstand heat and disease combine to enable experimentation.  Marselan now grows in Spain, California, Arizona, Brazil, Argentina, and China.  Although only a small percentage of China’s huge vineyard area is devoted to Marselan, several Chinese wines made from it have won awards, including Tasya’s Reserve Marselan 2015 made by Grace Vineyard of Shanxi province.  This wine won Platinum Best in Show in Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2017.   Marselan is increasingly referred to with optimism as China’s potential signature grape (like Malbec has become for Argentina).  So watch this space.  As China improves its wines and starts to ramp up its export effort, we may see much more Marselan.

Marselan is blended with Merlot, which in view of its structure and ancestry is no surprise.  This too might be something we see more of in future years – though Merlot is usually relatively high in alcohol, so as my example below is a heady 14.5% abv, that could be a formidable combination.

The Wine

Calmel & Joseph’s Villa Blanche IGP Pays d’Oc example is 100% Marselan.  Their approach is take grapes from different plots with different maturity levels at harvest, vinify them, and thereby create different varietal profiles which are then blended.

Calmel & Joseph have been going since 1995, and have embraced environmentally friendly chemical free grape growing as well as wine tourism – you can stay on the estate in one of four gîtes, which are handy for nearby Carcassonne.

img_05471So back to the wine….here we have a lovely example of a deep ruby core.  No chance of reading anything through this!  When I had almost finished my tasting sample, there was still loads of colour.

img_0549My small tasting glass (smaller than an ISO), revealed defined and enticing aromas ranging from fresh ripe black cherry, very ripe blackberry, dark chocolate, marzipan, clove, cardamom, vanilla, pencil shavings, and a herbal element mostly akin to thyme.  An aromatic wine.

img_0546Nosing with my oversized glass (we are greedy in my house!!) the same aromas were there but seemed less focused, and more inky and dusty.  Alcohol was more noticeable.  It is certainly “deep” when viewed through this glass!

Tasting from my small glass, the wine had juicy acidity.  Very high dusty tannins gradually soften, and balance out with the high alcohol and powerful black fruit flavours which are much more of cooked fruit (I call to mind my father cooking blackberries to make bramble jelly) than they were on sniffing.  The marzipan is still there and there is a tar element going on. This is a full bodied wine with a medium length finish of vanilla, chocolate and cherry.  Very tasty!

My oversized glass produced a different tasting experience.  There was an initial sweetness, and the wine seemed even more balanced.  The flavours evolved into a smoky spicy savoury food friendly profile which was very appetising.

So I got the cheese out (within seconds Arthur was at my side…).  Forget parmesan with this wine (the wine decimated the cheese).   The better pairing was a strong cheddar, which tasted sweeter and creamier with the wine, and when the wine was sipped again, I enjoyed a lingering fruit and nut chocolate/ coffee finish.  Not Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut – think instead top grade high cocoa solid chocolate.  So: wine, cheese, chocolate and coffee but without the calories of chocolate or the caffeine of coffee!

But what about the Tannin Haters?

I would expect anyone with a sensitive “super taster” palate to spit this wine out in disgust.  But my sensitive husband (a tannin hater) says this wine is “very nice”.  I think this is because of its balance and fruitiness, despite the tannins in it.

I would still say this wine could be daunting for anyone who usually prefers sweet and/or light juicy wines.  But for the wine explorer who likes a structured deep powerhouse of a wine, with plenty of juicy black fruit, the might of Marselan might be just what they need.

Food match

I suspect a rich venison stew would benefit from the fruit and backbone of Marselan.  I wonder what a slow cooked beef rendang or lamb curry would be like with it.  But beware – high alcohol and chilli only works if you like it very very hot!

Conclusion

Marselan is good stuff.  The Villa Blanche example is a very good wine and a veritable bargain.  I look forward to tasting more of it.

Postscript

My husband has just shuffled in sniffing out more Marselan – and he has decided to have it with biscuits.  Not savoury cheese ones, sweet ones!!!!  Shortbread if you please.  He said they are not sweet.  I advised him that they contain sugar and plenty of it.  He has been warned that the sugar will boost the tannins and take away the lovely fruit flavours, but he says he “knows his pairings”.  He has shuffled out again, wine and shortbread in hand.  Shake of head, sigh…..someone please book him on WSET Level 1, preferably when I am not teaching it……!

A Tempting & Tasty Trio – from Turkey

The Turkish wine industry is at a crossroads.  Increasingly strict Muslim derived rules limiting alcohol consumption and advertising, coupled with lack of government assistance mean that now is not a good time to be making wine in Turkey.  But despite the odds being stacked against them, Turkish winemakers have been investing and developing their operations at a rapid pace, with quality advancement evident for both international and indigenous grape varieties.  Factors in their favour include rules on alcohol sale and consumption locally being honoured more in the breach than the observance, and the development of a thriving wine tourism industry.

So it was high time that Bristol Tasting Circle got to taste some samples, which we did with guidance from Tim Johnson, Judith Tyler, and Tugba Altinoz (in her absence) on 11 June 2018 at The Clifton Club.  (Tugba has to be careful how she provides her input, since it would be easy to fall foul of the rules prohibiting advertising of wine.)  We were joined by the West of England Wine & Spirit Association for this event.

img_0521We enjoyed 10 wines (some in this photo, some in the photo further down) in a range of styles made from local and international grape varieties, coming from very different (unofficial) wine regions.  Retail prices ranged from £9 – 28.  Some represented astonishing value for money, while others were, in my view at least, over priced. We all had our favourites, and there didn’t seem to be a consensus as to a standout stunner. My picks were all made from indigenous grapes.  So here they are.

Vinkara Yasasin 2014 12%

https://i1.wp.com/www.winesofturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/vinkara-bag300.jpgThis sparkling white wine by Vinkara (vineyard photo courtesy of Wines of Turkey) was first produced in 2009, and is the first traditional method wine made in Turkey.  It is a blanc de noir, i.e. a white wine made from black skinned grapes.  But rather than Pinot Noir and Meunier, the grapes are the indigenous Kalecik Karasi variety which is the most important red wine grape variety in Central Anatolia.  It originates from an area near Ankara (termed “mid-Northern Anatolia” by Wines of Turkey, there being no officially defined wine regions in Turkey), and means either “black of Kalecik” or “black from small castle”.  It was almost wiped out by phylloxera in the 1960’s, but thanks to research, clones of it were saved.  Better quality grapes come from steep slopes beside the river Kizilirmak but in more recent times higher yields from valley floor sites have resulted in lower quality wines – which might account for the example I tried before (see below!).

This sparkling example is highly regarded, and some would say this is still Turkey’s best sparkling wine.  This wine has more colour than most sparkling whites, and it has plenty of character on the palate.  Aromas of stewed apple, honey and toast on the nose, and flavours of red apple peel, straw and brioche balanced with high acidity and a steely quality.  The finish is long and the mousse feels fine.  A classy glass and a cracking start to the evening.  It retails for £26.99.

Vivino reviews of this vintage seem in tune with mine – though a review of 2013 mentions “blue raspberry” three times – not sure what that is….maybe I need to taste it to find out.

Doluca DLC 2013 13.5%

This still white wine was very welcome, its two predecessors having proved a tad underwhelming.  The grape variety is Narince, meaning “delicate” or “fragile”.  It is indigenous to the Tokat region classified by Wines of Turkey as “mid-eastern Anatolia”.  Tokat is one of two areas in this zone, and is close to the Black Sea.

Narince is the most widely planted white wine grape in Turkey, and is reputed to respond well to oak maturation.  It is probably the only white variety which has ageing potential.  Wines are generally dry or off-dry with fresh fruity character.

img_0523img_0524The wine has a medium lemon colour, and pronounced and complex aromas.  I identified butter, papaya, mango, baked apple, ripe banana, apricot and honey.  To taste, the wine has highish acidity, highish alcohol, and dairy hints, all in balance with the very appealing ripe tropical fruit character.  I enjoyed the long finish and in doing so noticed murmurs of appreciation from around the room – which turned to exclamations when Tim advised us not only that Tugba had warned that this wine would probably be past its best, but also that it was on offer – usual price £10.49, now reduced to £6.49!!!!!  Mug that I am, I would have coughed up £15 for this (see notes in the photo)!  So Cheshire Cat smiley face award for this little number.

A 2015 Vivino review of this vintage was not glowing.  It mentions the buttery flavour but found little else.  A bit harsh methinks.

Kayra Versus Alpagut Öküzgözü 2013 14.5%

Now this wine, a red, was really interesting (below, 3rd from left at the front).

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Kayra is the winery,  Alpagut is the name of the vineyard, and Versus is the cuvée.  The region is Elazig, again in “Mid-Eastern Anatolia” but this area is some way south east of Tokat, where the influence of Muslim culture is stronger than in more westerly regions.

https://i2.wp.com/www.winesofturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/kayra_bagbozumu2.jpgThe grape variety is Öküzgözü, meaning “bullseye” due to its large black berries.  It is a fleshy grape with large compact bunches.  The photo (courtesy of Wines of Turkey) is from a Kayra vineyard – not sure if these are Öküzgözü but they fit the description nicely!

The wine was deep ruby in colour with a hint of purple – interesting in itself given its age.

However, my nose went into overdrive with pronounced banana leaf, raisin, ink and pencil box aromas which morphed into fruity black cherry and blackberry and a slightly floral perfume.

There were high gritty tannin and spirity alcohol levels, but these were in balance with ripe, punchy and velvety blackberry, black cherry and cedar wood flavours which lingered long and evolved into a more gamey savoury character.  I thought it might benefit from being aged to develop more tertiary character.

Overall very interesting, very good, and a wine which took no prisoners.  Vivino reviews give a range of descriptors which vary from mine but reflect the same overall character and quality.  Retail price £24.99 – a fair reflection of the quality in my view.

A number of the wines we sampled had noticeably high levels of alcohol, a further feed into the contradictions inherent in the Turkish wine industry.  While this wine was among them, the powerful flavours, full but rounded body and hefty tannins meant that in this wine, the alcohol did not seem out of balance.

According to Wine Grapes, varietal Öküzgözü is not ageworthy, and is often blended with rougher Bogazkere as it is a relatively light, juicy acidic wine on its own which is best without much oak character.  I therefore wondered whether this wine had a backbone of some sort to bolster it.  However Kayra’s comprehensive technical sheet does not mention any other grapes, while giving details about the oak ageing of the wine (19 months, 20% in new barrels, both French and American oak).  The winemaker is apparently a consultant from the USA who likes an oaky style.  It may therefore simply be that this is particularly high quality concentrated Öküzgözü.

Conclusions

Prior to this event, my only record of tasting a wine from Turkey related to a lightweight fruity but short red wine made from Kalecik Karasi, which did nothing to ignite my interest.

It was therefore a revelation to taste fascinating and quality examples from producers who are battling against ever more unfavourable circumstances.  What a shame it would be if these quality wines and grape varieties were to disappear.

Only time will tell what will happen to Turkey’s wines.  Perhaps now is the time to seek them out – whether to chart their progress, or to experience them before they are outlawed.  The place to go, if you are curious, is http://www.tasteturkey.com – or Turkey!

Huge thanks to Tim, Judith and Tugba – I can now update my geeky list of wine grapes tasted.  Already a member of the Wine Century Club, I might get my 200 certificate one day…..

Also, thank you to “Wine Grapes” (Harding/Robinson) for the information about the grape varieties, and to Wines of Turkey, Vivino reviewers and the producers’ websites.

 

Flying Pig and other delights: a sneaky peek at Aldwick Estate’s latest releases

It has all been happening at Aldwick Estate (formerly Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard – so three cheers for a shorter name!).

img_0519Aside from the re-brand, their eagerly awaited unfiltered Pinot Noir 2015 (a still red!) hit the shelves on 4 June 2018.  This wine won a silver medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018 (this is a competition aimed at finding wines for clued up wine consumers).  That is a considerable achievement for an English red wine, but we all knew it was good – see my blog The Judgement of Winscombe.  Classy wine, classy label.

Aldwick Estate wines are also finding new friends locally and beyond.  They are now to be found in Robinsons Brewery establishments in the north, and in Butcombe Brewery establishments closer to home.

This has happily coincided with a marked increase in yield.  In 2016 18 tons of grapes were harvested.  In 2017 this went up to a whopping 30 tons!

However, what I as an “esteemed picker” wanted to know was what they have done with the precious grapes I so carefully snipped in the 2017 harvest.  In other words, what wine would become my wages??

img_0512When I finally made it to the annual harvest supper (our car broke down in Weston so I eventually arrived by taxi and my poor husband made the journey via tow truck and our trusty X registered Ford Focus), Elizabeth the vineyard manager steered me to a table and offered me samples of a trio of wines.  I was fed too as you can see.

BUTEO 2017

A white wine with a pale lemon green hue which is delicate and light bodied.  The acidity level is medium, not the rather bracingly refreshing acidity level normally associated with English wines, suggesting well ripened fruit.   There are plenty of appealing fruit aromas and flavours to enjoy, including lemon and grapefruit, gooseberry, passionfruit, ripe lemon, ripe pear, and hints of stone fruits, as well as floral notes of elderflower and freesia.   All of these balance out nicely.  The finish may be delicate, but it is also long.  A very good wine.  It reminded me in some ways of the Greenhill Estate Chardonnay 2017 I recently wrote about.

img_2148Elizabeth insisted that I work out what grapes were in the blend.  I thought there was Bacchus in there, since some of the greener, citric zesty flavours seemed in keeping with what I would expect from it.  However the riper stone fruit character must come from something else, and having harvested very ripe sticky Madeleine Angevine in September (see photo), I guessed that there must be some of my grapes in there.  This was very early even for Madeleine, as I recall.

Correct thus far, Elizabeth told me that the third element was Seyval Blanc, the three varieties being blended in roughly equal parts.  Sadly the Bacchus was not deemed to be of good enough quality to make a single varietal wine with it this year (I helped harvest these, and we selected only the best grapes which took a long time due to a mould issue), which is why it was blended instead.

MARY’S ROSE 2017

I always enjoy this pretty pale salmon pink wine and have written about it before.  The  2017 has pronounced inviting aromas of strawberries, redcurrants and apricot with an extra oat biscuit dimension.  As with Buteo, the acidity was nearer to medium than high, but it is still fresh and well balanced with redcurrant and strawberry flavours and a mineral edge.  The finish is of medium length.  A good wine which is easy to drink and which will appeal to many a dry rosé lover.

FLYING PIG

Pale ruby in colour, this wine delivers fresh aromas of cherries, plums, damsons, loganberries, and rose hips, with hints of strawberries, and a soft floral violet scent.  I could not detect any obvious oak ageing flavours, but I suspected oak had been used to mature the wine because its light tannins were very soft and rounded.  The acidity was on the high side of medium, which with the juicy fruit flavours created an elegant balance.  The fruity finish was medium.  A good wine which I thought would appeal to lovers of quality Beaujolais – and so it proved when my husband (a Beaujolaisphile) turned up.  It also held up very well to the rare beef and horseradish sauce!

This is a multi-vintage wine, i.e. Rondo and Pinot Noir wine from 2016 blended with early Pinot Noir wine from 2017.  The wine had to be filtered because although the 2016 underwent malolactic fermentation (which might further account for the soft texture) the 2017 did not.  The 2016 wine was matured in four year old French oak barrels.  However the 2017 early Pinot Noir was matured for a few months only in new French oak barrels (two have been purchased, doubtless at considerable expense).  This is an exercise in maturation only, since overt oaky flavours such as vanilla or other spices could easily overwhelm the fruit.

So was 2017 a successful vintage at Aldwick?

img_0514Undoubtedly.  Even though this wasn’t a year to repeat the single varietal Pinot Noir still red wine success of 2015, or even create a varietal Bacchus, I would say that there is a delightful silver lining in the form of Buteo, which was very much appreciated amongst the other “esteemed pickers” present, and which was in my view the better quality wine.  It was also my favourite.  But all three wines are eminently drinkable.  Indeed, production of wine people want to drink is something which, year on year, Aldwick Estate is consistently good at.

The bad news for those of us who want to keep it to ourselves is that Sandy is embarking upon expansion of catering, tastings and tours – who can blame her with such a stunning location!  However this means demand can only grow.  So snap it up while you can.   Meanwhile, I plan to up my hours in the vineyard this autumn to make sure I get my fair share…

img_0515

Four Cheeses & a Wine: Aldwick Mary’s Rose 2016

img_0174Another English Wine Week special.

Following the marriage of Aldwick Estate’s Bacchus with Rachel goat’s cheese from Pylle, both from Somerset, the pairing of Aldwick Estate’s Mary’s Rose, a rosé made from Regent, Solaris and Pinot Noir grapes with a cheese had to be explored.  Forget Tinder.  This is Winder.  And this time I have upped the cheese options to four so our fair maiden has plenty of suitors to choose from.

The Wine

An attractive salmon pink still rosé with appetising defined aromas of fresh Somerset strawberries and red cherries, with a reviving crisp cranberry edge and a hint of fresh peach.  The wine is dry, but juicy.  Clean redcurrant and strawberry fruit flavours are balanced by a creamy mouthfeel and notes of oat biscuit.  The finish is delicate but persistent.    Not just a pink drink; this wine has both body and depth of flavour.  12.5% abv.  Lovely back label tribute to Mary Watts by wordsmith and vineyard manager Elizabeth Laver.

The Four Cheeses:

Gorwydd Caerphilly

An acidic textured cheese with lemony flavours made from unpasteurised cow’s milk near Cheddar by Trethowan’s dairy.  The cheese made the wine taste fruitier with much more strawberry and peach coming through, while an extra nutty mushroomy dimension was added to the wine on the finish.  However both the wine and the cheese are high in acidity so the overall effect might be too tart for some.  Though I can tell you I enjoyed it!

St Endellion

A vegetarian pasteurised Cornish Brie-style cow’s milk cheese made luxurious by addition of double cream by Trevilley Farm.  Sadly the wine and cheese combo was far from luxurious.  The cheese was rendered briny and tasteless by the wine, which in turn became somewhat briny and seaweedy.  Not good.

Capricorn

A brie-style unpasteurised goat’s cheese made by Lubborn Creamery, now owned by Lactalis McLelland. The rennet used is vegetarian.  The milk is sourced from farms near Cricket St Thomas in south Somerset.   The cheese smelt very oaty and tasted dreamily creamy, with hints of coffee, nuts and forest floor.  It had a slight sweetness to it.  Initially, after the cheese, I could not taste the wine.  But on the second taste, after really coating my mouth with wine, although the cheese persisted, the wine now added a delicious fruity dimension to the cheese, while the wine acquired depth and nuttiness. The wine lingered longer.  Overall, yummy!

Yarg

Cornish hard cheese with nettle rind.  The nettles attract moulds and impart mushroom flavours as the cheese matures.  A refreshing creamy cheese with herbal savoury flavours.  The cheese imparted a herbal mushroomy element to the wine, but there was slight bitterness on the finish, and neither the wine nor the yarg lingered.  Fine, but not the best.

Conclusion

img_0172Although I had to taste quickly before Arthur moved in (!), and although it needed a second taste (the second taste is always better, trust me!), the winner was Capricorn goat’s cheese – so just as for the Bacchus match, the goat’s cheese won again.  Not only did the wine and the cheese gain new flavours they lacked on their own, but also, the cheese lengthened the finish of the wine – which can only mean enhanced value for money.  I daresay Rachel, the goat’s cheese from Pylle, would be a lush match as well.

But don’t forget the Gorwydd Caerphilly – it might be a bit lively on the acidity but the flavours are great.  Caerphilly can be a tricky match so this was a happy find.

Both cheeses are from Somerset – so as with Bacchus, Mary’s Rose has not had to travel far to find her ideal matches.  Indeed, these cheeses, as before, were all sourced from Lye Cross Farm Shop, up the road from Aldwick Estate (formerly Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard, now rebranded).

A Special Site in Somerset: Greenhill Estate

img_0384What better way to celebrate English Wine Week 2018 than by letting you know about a small but quality Somerset vineyard – Greenhill Estate, on Stocklands Farm off the A39 between Bridgwater and Glastonbury.

Despite the recent appetite for English sparkling wines, and more recently English still white wines made from Bacchus, our reds have yet to prove as appealing.  Our northerly cool climate is not a happy place for red grapes to ripen as fully as they need to for quality red wines, and the most suitable international red grape,  Pinot Noir, is far too fickle for most to risk making still red wine with it as it only ripens enough in the very best years.  It is often earmarked instead for sparkling wine for economic reasons.  But as Aldwick have recently shown (see my Judgment of Winscombe piece), maybe it is high time that more producers took the risk.

Right on cue to prove my point, Kelli Coxhead very kindly let me join her in tasting a new potential wine for her shop, submitted by Mark Thorpe of Greenhill Estate – their Pinot Noir still red.

The Wine

img_0163 We tasted the 2016 vintage in January 2018.  Despite the winter chill, we noted a pronounced nose of red and blackcurrants, wild strawberries, violets, and a herbaceous blackcurrant leaf bite.  On tasting, although the wine had very light tannins and structure, it was balanced, with plenty of juicy currant and strawberry fruitiness to savour, as well as the herbaceous character we found on the nose.  We did not detect any oak derived flavours.  The finish was surprisingly and pleasantly long and it evolved from fruit to savoury flavours – indicating ripe and very good quality fruit, as well as skilful winemaking.  “Smiley face” award duly given.

The Vineyard

img_03781It seemed to us that not only must the grapes have been fully ripe indicating an excellent aspect in our northerly viticultural extremity, but also, the grapes must have been of very good quality, probably with a low yield, to produce such surprising and evolving length.  I therefore resolved that I would visit the vineyard to see what advantages it had.  My visit eventually happened on a chilly overcast windy day in May 2018.

Small is beautiful, and the vineyard at 1 hectare in size is indeed small.  But it has an outstanding view across the Somerset Levels, being sited on a southerly slope in the Polden Hills.   Tending the vines must be a pleasure (in fine weather) with such a vista to behold. Not only does the slope enjoy plenty of sunshine, it is also sheltered, which means that the grapes achieve enviable sugar levels at harvest.  For 2017, the sugar levels were 87 for Pinot Noir, and 76 for Chardonnay, with acidity of 9.5 and 10.8 respectively.

However, the rest of the secret here is the soil, which is clay over layers of limestone.  Limestone is a recurring theme in the world’s best vineyards.  It is apparently thought that the Romans grew grapes on the Polden Hills.  I don’t know what evidence there is for that assertion.  We do know that by Henry VIII’s era there were vineyards attached to monasteries, including one at Pilton Manor belonging to the abbey at Glastonbury (these largely vanished when Henry VIII got rid of the monasteries) but I have not found reference to any others as yet.

Whatever our ancestors got up to, as of today, this site seems to have bags of potential, and as the vines mature and the estate gains in experience, the quality of the wines can only increase.

The Story

Stocklands is owned by farmers Steve and Julie Larder, who planted the vineyard in 2008 having carefully researched the soil and the vines to plant on it.  A quarter of the vines are Chardonnay, the rest being Pinot Noir (late not early ripening), planted in vertical lines running up the slope towards the farm. Details of the clones used have been lost.

The vineyard made an imposing entrance to the farm from the A39, but soon absorbed rather more time than anticipated. The wine produced in the early years showed little promise, and the vineyard became neglected.

The Larders then came across Mark Thorpe, a retired dairy farmer and latter day fencing entrepreneur from North Petherton.  When he gave up his fencing business, the Larders persuaded Mark to take on the vineyard, which he did in January 2014.  Mark freely admits that apart from liking a drop or two of wine, he had little idea of what would be involved.  He has therefore had a very steep learning curve.  He set about instituting a very strict pruning and management programme to ensure as open a canopy as possible to combat his primary viticultural hazards, downy and powdery mildew.  The trunks had been allowed to grow too tall and had to be cut back down, and the cost of hiring labour to undertake the work involved put him in debt right from the start.

The vines are pruned using a single Guyot system as in Burgundy, the classical home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Yields are low, and although 3.5 tons was achieved in 2017, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir yields were equal – even though the vineyard area of Chardonnay is only a third of that devoted to Pinot Noir.  Mark therefore wonders whether his management regime might be a little too strict, noting ruefully that yields of at least 5 tons per hectare are said to be required in order to make a profit.

The path of true wine never runs smooth.  In 2014, Mark’s first vintage, both grapes were blended because no sane person makes red wines in England.  However, wine making sage Steve Brooksbank, who vinifies much if not all of Somerset’s grape output, persuaded Mark to keep a little Pinot Noir separate to test its potential.  The resultant still red won the Sunnybank Trophy for best red wine in the subsequent South West Vineyards Association competition, much to the chagrin of other larger more established producers.

A great start, but alas, in 2015, no still red wine was made.  The ancient sprayer borrowed from Steve which Mark had valiantly repaired, broke down at the vital juncture in mid May, so mildew ran riot.

In 2016, the grapes were vinified separately.  Sugar levels of 82 and 79 were achieved for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively.  The Chardonnay won bronze in the 2017 SWVA competition – although Mark suspects it might have fared better had he entered it in the dry, not the medium class!  The Pinot Noir Kelli and I tasted in January will be submitted for the 2018 competition, and also hopefully for Wine GB as well.  The cost and time involved in entering anything else such as the International Wine Challenge is prohibitive presently.  700 bottles of Pinot Noir and 1,500 bottles of Chardonnay were made.

In 2017, the yields were higher.  The Chardonnay is about to be released, and the Pinot Noir is still being matured.  It still needs to undergo malolactic fermentation, and in view of the cold weather thus far this year (despite odd bursts of record breaking warmth, such as the May Day Bank Holiday) this has been delayed.  Mark has yet to taste it but suspects it will be good as the grapes were even riper than 2016 (see above).  The wine won’t be released until August.

Winemaking

Mark modestly says he does not understand winemaking.  However, when I asked him whether the wines were chaptalised (i.e. sugar added) he firmly said no as that would be cheating – and the enviable sugar levels from these grapes surely make this intervention unnecessary.

When I asked Mark whether oak had been used, as regards the Chardonnay, he exclaimed that no oak whatsoever would be used while he drew breath!!

Likewise, no oak has been used for the Pinot Noir.  It was discussed, but for various reasons it was ruled out. The wine was therefore matured in stainless steel.

Sparkling wine is not made.  Why? Mark does not care for it.  Fair enough!

So – what about the Chardonnay?

img_0390I tasted the 2016 and 2017 against La Chablisienne Petit Chablis AOC 2016 – 12.5% abv as against 11.5% abv for the Greenhill Estate.  These grapes are grown on Portlandian clay and limestone, and as Chablis is a very northerly Chardonnay growing zone I thought this would make for the fairest classical comparison.

Greenhill Estate Chardonnay 2016

Pale lemon.  Delicate but defined aromas of very ripe and/or baked lemon (which I associate with Chardonnay), but also tropical fruits such as mango and papaya, and fresh apricot, elderflower and a whiff of straw. The palate is very dry, very clean and crisp, with light body, medium acidity (it seems more acidic due to dryness but on the “dribble test” this was medium plus at its highest to me), and a savoury saline character which makes it a perfect match with fish.  The finish was a little short.  Good quality overall. Delicate, so you have to concentrate to appreciate its range of aromas.

Greenhill Estate Chardonnay 2017

Very pale lemon with a little spritz on the glass.  Intense perfumed aromas of ripe peach, lychee, ripe yellow melon, lemon and lime, and elderflower with a steely mineral edge. Much more intense, fruity and perfumed than 2016.  The palate is balanced, dry, with more weight than 2016.  The flavours are intense and perfumed as per the nose, with the addition of honeysuckle, ripe pear, a balancing sharp citric bite and a white pepper kick. Overall an intriguing mix of tropical fruit salad, tanginess and crispness.  The acidity is medium.  The finish is long.  Very good quality, and one which can be happily sipped on its own – but I had in my mind’s eye a match with chicken salad containing some fruit such as mango or apricot – maybe even Coronation Chicken??

La Chablisienne Petit Chablis AOC 2016

Pale lemon but more colour than the Greenhills.  A “green” nose of lime marmalade, sawn wood, grapefruit, crisp pear, green pepper and a hint of mango.  The palate is dry with high acidity; a lean crisp light bodied wine with flavours of baked lemon and sawn wood with a saline sharp edge.  The finish is medium.  A food wine, but one in which for my taste the “wood” was a tad too dominant.  I am not sure why I could taste “wood” – Chablis is rarely oaked.  Good quality – as you would expect for Petit Chablis.

Chardonnay Conclusions

The alcohol levels and dryness of the Greenhills indicate cool climate grape growing, but the fruit flavour profile, especially for the 2017, indicate moderate climate Chardonnay – there was much more tropical fruit flavour with these than the Petit Chablis which tasted much more “green” and citric.  The acidity levels for the Somerset wines also seemed lower to me than the French example, so maybe the Somerset grapes were riper.

The style of the wines is very different.  The 2016 Greenhill and the Petit Chablis are lean crisp food friendly wines whereas the 2017 Greenhill has very perfumed stone and tropical fruit and floral aromas more akin to Viognier than non aromatic Chardonnay. While I think Mark was right to shun oak maturation for the 2016, I do wonder whether the 2017 might have benefitted from it.  The fruit could easily cope and for some palates subtle oak maturation might round off any tartness.  Maybe volumes are too low to enable an experiment with a vat, but in the right year, it would be interesting to see if oak conferred a benefit.

As for quality, when assessing these wines objectively using the WSET SAT, the 2017 Greenhill was the better wine, especially when it came to the finish.  Whether you like its tropical fruit salad/tanginess mix is another matter, but I certainly did; it was an enjoyable and fascinating variant quite distinct from other Chardonnays.

The future

Mark admits that he will continue to learn by experience, and he gains much support and knowledge from the committed grape growing community in Somerset and beyond.  He would like to explore whether yields can be increased while maintaining quality, and he would like to widen the market for the wines to secure the financial security and viability of the vineyard for future generations.

Mark tells me that a further 4 acres of adjacent land with similar viticultural advantages would be very suitable for Bacchus, the rising star of the UK still white wine scene.  As demand for Bacchus grows, this could be a useful additional revenue stream.

img_03821Mark also has an eye on succession planning.  He seemed very hale and hearty to me, but none of us are getting any younger, and vineyard work can be heavy going.  Mark won’t be able to carry on in the longer term and needs to find a younger kindred spirit to foster these young vines into maturity to realise their full potential.  The work involves pruning throughout February each year, which he and his friend Francis undertake.  Mark then works in the vineyard 3 days a week throughout spring and summer, any spare time being taken up with marketing and administrative tasks.  It would be a crying shame if a site of such potential was to fall into ruin; some of you will remember nearby Moorlynch vineyard which ceased to be when its owners felt they could no longer carry on.

So whether you are a wine lover or wine growing wannabe, do get hold of Greenhill Estate’s wines.  Mark and I would love to know what you think about them.

 

 

Strawberries & Anchovy anyone?? When Juhfark met Parmesan….

IMG_0357.jpgThus far, and despite having recently become a Distinguished Member of The Wine Century Club, I have been unable to find a Hungarian wine I like (except for Tokai of course).  I have questioned whether it is just me and my boring west European palate, or the wines I have tried which are to blame.  Until now.  For I have now encountered the fiery, savoury, uncompromising delight of Juhfark (pronounced (very carefully please!) “you-fark”).

I produced the following note about this wine on a night when I was meant to be at Browns in Bristol attending a party with former legal colleagues, but my husband was back late from London, so Cinders had to stay at home.

The Wine

Little to deduce from the minimalist (and largely Hungarian) label, save for 13% abv so this is all my own work, uninfluenced by any prior knowledge of the grape or its origin.  I was totally clueless about both.

Firm and unusual aroma profile best described as straw, pineapple, hazelnut, mineral notes and woodiness.  The aromas made me think of an en rama fino sherry.  The wine is very dry and has tannic astringency.  It would make a good appetiser with its mouthwatering acidity.  The flavours are pronounced and varied.  There is fresh lime, pineapple, red apple peel, perfumed floral freesia notes, and also brazil nut character, with a mineral edge.  The flavours linger on the palate and evolve. Overall, my kind of wine.

The wine was savoury in character, had lots of attitude, and seemed to cry out for food.   Thai food, and in particular, Thai fishcakes sprang to mind.  But as I was meant to be eating out, all I had in the house to try it with was cheese (poor Cinders).  Now you know why Arthur is lurking in the photo.

Juhfark & Cheddar

Tasting cheddar after the wine made the cheese taste unusually fruity, sweet and lifted.  When tasting the wine after the cheddar, the wine was more full bodied, the tannins were softened, and the fruit and nut flavours were stronger.  The finish was longer as well.  There were no new flavours, but it was all good.

Juhfark & Parmesan shavings

Now this is where things got funky – albeit that I had to work at it.  Tasting the parmesan after the wine made the Juhfark vanish, and at first, when tasting the wine again, all I could taste was alcohol.  Not a promising start.  However – the wine then struck back with a vengeance.  There was a very long finish of what can only be described as a bizarre but amazingly satisfying mixture of strawberry, quince paste, farmyard and anchovy.  Yes, anchovy.  This delightfully quirky experience was best appreciated upon retro nasal exhalation (when you breathe out again with your mouth closed after swallowing the wine).  So bemused was I by this outcome that I repeated my parmesan/wine tasting several times.

So – what is Juhfark?

Juhfark (which means “ewe’s tail” because its distinctive grape clusters are longer than they are wide) is a vanishingly rare white grape variety which is almost exclusively grown on an isolated volcanic hill called Somló (pronounced Shomlo) in north east Hungary, north of Lake Balaton.  According to the World Atlas of Wine, Meinklang of Austria are among some of the top producers on this hill – they make one of my “go-to” whites from Gruner Veltliner so my wine-seeking antennae are now well and truly twitching!

This particular volcanic outcrop is comprised of basalt, and this is said to create distinctive mineral character in the wine.  The wines of Somló, whether Juhfark or not, are regarded locally as decidedly masculine – so much so that according to Wine Folly, aristocrats and monarchs sent fertile women to Somló to drink its wines in the expectation that this would result in provision of a male heir.  No comment is made as to whether this proved effective, and it would almost certainly be contrary to current guidelines for women planning pregnancy.

According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Juhfark needs to age in order to soften its otherwise uncompromising firmness.  Fortunately, it ages well.

This particular wine is made by the Tornai family who, according to Blue Danube Wines, began with 1 acre of vineyard in 1946 and now have 56 acres.  I could not translate the data sheet on the Tornai website.  However, Wine Anorak tasted two of their Juhfarks for a blog about 33 Somló wines, and the use of new oak is evidently one of their practices.  I certainly detected some oak in this wine, so I suspect oak, quite possibly new, has been used to mature this wine.  Maybe Hungarian oak was used.  Hungary was an important source of oak barrels for wine production prior to the communist era and is reappearing.

As for food pairing credentials, I note that Serious Eats describes Juhfark as smelling of apple cider, canteloupe, dried apple slices, yellow roses, mushrooms, and a slightly smoky, toasted almond finish – it made this blogger want to eat stinky cheese.  Again, the wine was crying out for food.  Others like Juhfark with South-East Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food.

I have since tasted another Tornai wine from Somló, made with Furmint, which is one of the grapes used to make Tokai, the famous Hungarian sweet wine.  If you enjoy a drop of Tokai, you can detect some similar flavours in this wine too.  I tasted lime, pea pods, jasmine, and on the long finish, stewed apple and honey.  Again, like the Juhfark, this wine also has a decidedly mineral edge.  Also, the wine is much more elegant in style than the rather musky, pungent furmints I have tasted previously.  A furmint first – I enjoyed it!

Wine Anorak concluded that Somló is one of the world’s great wine growing terriors.  He believes it deserves greater recognition.  He based his assessment upon a tasting of 33 Somló wines.  Although my sample size is modest in comparison, the two wines I have tried certainly support his opinion, and Juhfark in particular is something to seek out.  Next time I buy it I will get (or even make!) some Thai fish cakes to enjoy with it – as well as lashings of parmesan shavings.

PS I have checked my Wine Century Club list of grapes I have tasted – Juhfark was not there and has now been added.  I am therefore up to 166.

WSET tasting practice: six wines to help perfect your tasting notes

As I prepare for the spring 2018 WSET Level 2 Wines & Spirits course, I am conscious that our students frequently ask us how they can develop their tasting skills, and in particular, how they can practice identifying the various aromas, flavours and characteristics we find in the wines we taste on the course.

I have always been taught that practice is the only way – music to my wine-hungry ears! – but some wines are much better to practice with than others.

WSET students learn that there are primary flavours which come from the grape, secondary flavours which come from the winery, and tertiary flavours which come from maturation.  But if you have only ever tasted young simple wines, however yummy and fruity they may be, you won’t have much experience of the wider range of flavours – which makes it hard to recognise and describe them.

The other limitation of simple fruity wines is that there is little to write about them.  There is nothing wrong with wines that can be described in relatively few words, but for the wine student, they don’t give much scope for learning how to write an accurate tasting note.

So here are six wines which deliver in terms of there being plenty to say about them.  These are complex wines with plenty going on, giving ample scope for eager students to sip, jot, sip some more, and create their very own vinous War & Peace.

Hayshed Hill Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia – £17.99

This is not the oak soaked Ozzie Shard of old.  It is elegant and complex with plenty of primary and secondary flavours to record – and a long evolving finish to savour.  Make sure you jot down not only the first few seconds of fruit hit – there should be a delicate enduring range of flavours.  Don’t over chill it!  Taste it from the fridge, then taste again having left it out for a bit.  Applying BLIC I rated this outstanding.  What do you think?

Vandal Gonzo Field Blend – Marlborough, New Zealand – £27.99

This wine has it all when it comes to fruit.  As it should – they have blended Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling and Pinot Gris!  Yes, this list does indeed include three red wine grape varieties, and yet this is a white wine.  The name of the game here is to see how many fruits you can find other than grape, as well as anything else.  This is also another great example of a long finish – again, keep counting in seconds past the initial fruit hit until there is absolutely nothing left.

Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé, Provence, France – £27.99

Rosé for grown ups sourced from the vineyards which created the reputation of sister wine Whispering Angel.  It raises the rosé bar – 10% Rolle has been added to Grenache Noir, and the wine has been partially vinified in 600 litre oak barrels.  It is called Rock Angel because you can taste the minerality from the soil.  Also look out for its texture, weight, buttery richness, and relatively grippy tannins.  Here is a link to the producer’s information sheet for you to peruse after you have done your own notes:

https://esclans.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/rock-angel-2016-sheet.pdf

The Ladybird Organic, Laibach Vineyards, Stellenbosch, South Africa – £14.99

Here we have a very ripe and well made expression of Bordeaux blend grapes led by Cabernet Sauvignon.  Think about how the classical Cabernet flavours present in this wine vary from the Bordeaux benchmark, how well-balanced the wine is, and make sure you record primary, secondary and tertiary flavours.  There is a long finish so you have plenty of time and opportunity to jot it all down!  Admire also the ladybird spotted capsule.

Fincas de Azabache Rioja Reserva 2012 – Rioja Baja, Spain – £13.99

Rioja is a happy hunting ground for tertiary flavour seekers.  The wines are released on to the market later than most other wines, which means they have often matured in bottle.  Go for Reserva, or better still Gran Reserva, from a decent producer.  I have picked Azabache as they have invested in their own winery rather than using a larger bodega, and when I tasted this at a trade fair in February 2018, it had not only fruit primary and oak derived secondary flavours, but also chocolate, coffee and even a hint of petrol emanating from maturation in bottle.  Use your SAT card to help dissect its many and varied components.  I think this is great value for money.

Ghost Corner Pinot Noir, Elim, South Africa – £21.99

Wine students of yore would have turned to the Cotes de Nuits for examples of complex Pinot Noir, but good value wines from this tiny enclave of Pinot Paradise are hard to find nowadays.  Luckily cool climate South African wines are emerging which deliver Burgundian style at affordable price points.  This one comes from a site 12 kms from the coast so the vines are cooled by the maritime influence.  The grapes therefore ripen slowly which means the wine is fresh, elegant and complex.  Look for the trademark red fruit and farmyard trademarks of the grape, the extra flavours and textures contributed by oak maturation, and tertiary chocolate, coffee and smokey hints.  Favourable exchange rates (a rarity at present) mean this comes at a relatively kind price.  A similar style of wine is Iona Pinot Noir from Elgin, another up and coming cool climate zone.

Some of these are pricier examples, due to their complexity – so make the most of these wines by doing the following:

  • Invest in a Vacuvin or similar wine saver, so you can keep the wine in decent condition.  This means you don’t have to glug it all at once.  If you buy more than one wine, buy extra plastic wine savers.  A great investment so you can enjoy quality wine at its best.
  • Try the wines at different temperatures to see how this affects the flavours you get.
  • Try the wines in different glasses to see how each glass affects the flavours.
  • Try the wines with friends to see what flavours they get and how they describe them.  If you are stumped for decent descriptors, they might just nail it for you!
  • Do your tasting note, then leave the wine in the glass to open up, say for half an hour.  Then try it again – often you get more from the wine when you go back to it.
  • Get some cheeses in and do the wine and cheese sandwich.  Taste the wine, then the cheese, and then the wine again.  Often new flavours are created by tasting the wine with cheese, or the cheese helps magnify or intensify flavours so you can identify them more easily.  Goat’s cheese in particular can be very wine friendly.  Just the cheese if you please – no fancy biscuits with powerful flavours!
  • Finally – use your WSET SAT card.  It’s a bit of a killjoy at first but you will soon get the hang of it and it gives you ideas for flavours to record, as well as a consistent structure for your observations, which is essential when assessing quality.

I am confident that if you dissect these wines using my various hints you will soon be producing tasting notes like a WSET trained professional.

Don’t forget to send me tasting notes of your favourites!