Friday, 8 February 2013

Moving And Improving

I'd like to thank you all for reading my blog over the last eighteen months here on Blogger and I very much hope you'll continue to read my scribblings in the future. If you'd like to keep reading, I've moved my blog to WordPress, hopefully improving it in the process. WordPress is certainly a better platform to use and I think my new-look blog is really worth following.

Please click on this link to see my new blog:

Whilst you are there, it would be great if you could click on the option to follow my blog via email.

If you are unsure whether or not to make the move with me, here's a glimpse of the future:

Harry J Morris Wine Blog, now on Wordpress
I'm very much looking forward to welcoming you to and to welcoming all of you new followers.

Thank you very much for your time and please keep reading.


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Festive Cheers

As usual, the run-up to Christmas was a prolonged period of pandemonium at work and so, by the time the holidays eventually arrived, all plans of elaborate meals and fine wines had been abandoned in favour of simpler family favourites. That’s not to say I didn’t open a couple of reasonable bottles, but only so I had something to write about, you understand.

Felton Road, Bannockburn
Pinot Noir 2009
Served with a pre-Christmas bird, a magnum of Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2009 (14.0% ABV) certainly helped me to start to unwind and to get into the spirit of the season. Youthfully deep ruby in colour, its well-defined legs lined my glass. Red cherry fruit and freshly ground coffee and cocoa aromas on the nose were rounded off with hints of cassia and clove spice that resulted in a gently medicinal character. At the fuller end of medium bodied, bright cherry fruit carried through to the palate complemented by a soft creaminess and gentle toastiness from the oak. Moderate tannins and firm acidity balanced the richness; the ground coffee and medicinal spice flavours lent a savoury note to the long finish. I’d have liked a touch less alcohol - there was a hint of warmth to the nose and to the finish - but I was probably being hyper critical as there was certainly no lack of poise and balance. Although the most junior ranking Pinot Noir in the Felton Road hierarchy, Bannockburn gives many premier cru Burgundies a run for their money in the quality stakes. Overall it was a very lovely wine, possibly a touch awkward as it was beginning to shrug off its youthful primary flavours, although it will be lovely to drink over the next three to five years as it matures.

Arnaldo Caprai,
Sagrantino Di Montefalco
25 Anni 1997
(cellar damaged label)
The other noteworthy wine of the holidays was a bottle of Arnaldo Caprai’s Sagrantino Di Montefalco 25 Anni DOCG 1997 (13.5% ABV) from a case whose particularly badly cellar damaged labels meant that I picked it up for a great price at auction. Even at its full retail price this is a really undervalued wine; a well-cellared example from a great vintage at substantially less than half that price was my equivalent of wine auction catnip. Its still deep blood red colour was streaked with a tawniness of maturity on the rim. The nose was rich, effusive and savoury, displaying dark berry fruit, darkly roasted coffee and warm, wild herb scents. These same savoury coffee, wild herb and berry fruit flavours mingled with a gentle oak creaminess and offset the firm acidity and the meaty, chewy tannins. The long, savoury finish was smoky and a touch bitter, more liquorice and charcoal than fruit and spice. At fifteen years old this was just starting to dry out, but it was still a beautiful, harmonious and complex drink that certainly had a year or two in hand.

Sophisticated, elegant and supremely well crafted, Umbria's often rustic Sagrantino was here sculpted into a truly great wine. Were this one of the bigger names in the canon of Italy's wine grapes, I would normally eschew a modern and rather atypical style such as this in favour of its more traditional brethren. However, as with Malbec in Cahors or with Tannat in Madiran over the last ten or fifteen years, passion and unshakeable belief have been paired with skilful winemaking and judicious use of new oak to tame an unruly local variety whilst highlighting its world class potential. It is wine that I never fail to enjoy. This was no exception, and what better way to round off the holidays, and the year, with a bottle that undoubtedly ranked as one of 2012’s finest?

A merry Christmas to you, dear reader, and my very best wishes for a happy, healthy new year.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

It Was Worth A Shot

You may have noticed from my last post (An Indescribable Folly) that I was really rather incensed to learn of the recommencement of building work for the B50 Neu road which will cut a swathe through a large tract of the world’s finest Riesling terroir.

Because my anger, and my feeling of utter impotence, would not subside, I racked my brain to see what, if anything, I could do to help. Politicians weren’t going to be interested in any argument I could make, especially given that the Green party had already endorsed the construction project, and I couldn’t think of any A-list celebrities who would either accept my letter or who would wish to become involved in the campaign. Who else could I ask to lend their support to the Pro-Mosel group with a sufficiently high profile to effect a change of policy at a regional government level?

This question sent my mind racing off in several tangential directions. To try to explain my thought process, the person I was looking for needed to be a passionate environmentalist, a keen defender of traditional forms of agriculture and be held in high enough regard that the local policy makers could not help but sit up and take note at what he or she had to say. Oh, and a connection to Germany wouldn’t hurt their credibility either.

Suddenly, I had a something of a brainwave. There was one person that I was sure would be keen to pick up the baton and run with it in some way, shape or form. His name ticked all of the relevant boxes but I could see no mention of him in any of the earlier articles I had read. The only major stumbling block I could see was the location of the cause in question on foreign soil. Who is this potential saviour, you ask? Well, my bright idea (my only idea) was to write to HRH Prince Charles. There was certainly nothing lose, I just needed some help with the practicalities and the protocols of writing to the heir to throne. Fortunately, the prince’s own website supplied contact details; Debrett’s Online provided all of the necessary advice on the associated etiquette.

I then spent the weekend composing a letter, printing a hard copy of my blog post and printing copies of the articles quoted therein to send to the Prince of Wales for his consideration. I certainly make no claims of brilliance or efficacy, but here is the letter I sent to Clarence House with my hopes attached:

“Your Royal Highness

Please forgive my impertinence in writing to you; I do so with the best of intentions and I wonder if I might beg your indulgence and ask if you might read the proceeding pages? With your passion for defending the environment and your championing of traditional forms of agriculture, I write to ask if there is any way you could consider lending your support to a campaign to save some of the most important vineyards in the world. I must point out that I write to you entirely of my own accord, I have no affiliation with any of the individuals, publications or groups mentioned henceforward.

I do not know how familiar you are with the wines of Germany’s Mosel river valley, but I cannot overemphasise the unique nature and incredible quality of the Rieslings produced there. Sir, if you have ever been fortunate enough to enjoy wines from vineyards such as Wehlener Sonnenuhr or Ürziger Wurzgarten, I hope that you will not need any further persuasion to read on because these and many other of the region’s finest and most distinctive vineyards are in immediate danger of having their hydrology and geology irreversibly damaged by a long disputed and easily relocated civil engineering project.

Whilst I fully appreciate that this is not a British issue specifically, I sincerely hope this will not dissuade you from reading on. Protecting against cultural and ecological barbarism on a scale such as this is the responsibility of everyone, but unfortunately matters have reached a point where I believe that only someone of your importance and prominence might now be able to exert sufficient influence over the relevant policy makers to encourage them to re-examine the impact of this particularly ill-conceived project.

As several more prestigious and better-qualified writers have done, I have outlined the situation in my recent blog post, a copy of which is printed overleaf ( I have also included printed copies of the articles linked to in my blog post, arranged chronologically.

I thank you very much for taking the time to read this correspondence and I can only hope that I have managed to interest you in this campaign and in offering your support to the small band of people trying their hardest to preserve such precious natural resources.”

Approximately five weeks after I sent this, a letter arrived at my house with a Buckingham Palace postmark on the front and the Prince of Wales’s heraldic feathers on the back. Rather than retype its contents, I’ve scanned the reply I received to post it online (please click on the image to enlarge it):

A royal response
Whilst it was a genuine pleasure to receive such a polite and well written letter, and whilst I realistically couldn’t have expected a different response, I had hoped for something that suggested His Royal Highness had even been made aware of the issue and for something a little less formulaic in its construction (I, too, had the mantra ”always quote the source material” repeatedly drilled into me at school).

Once again I find myself bitterly disappointed in the short sightedness of modern politics and incredibly frustrated by the inability of a highly intelligent and rational group of people to persuade policy makers to re-examine their decisions in the face of inarguably damning evidence. I can only apologise for this being the sole new course of action I could think of, but all of the more direct approaches to solving this problem appear to have been attempted.

It is ironic that the date on which I received my reply was 21st December, 2012, the day supposedly foretold by the Mayan calendar as that on which the world would end and the day on which I truly felt that the world of wine faced a catastrophic loss.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

An Indescribable Folly

This may not be the finest piece of writing on my blog, primarily because I haven't written most of it, but even voices as eloquent as those of Jancis Robinson MW and Hugh Johnson OBE barely begin to convey the concentration of narrow minded, short sighted and thoughtless decision making involved in the €270 million folly that is the Hochmoselübergang (Upper Mosel Crossing).

The concept of forcing a highway, a tunnel and a 1.7km, 160m high bridge through what are unquestionably the world’s finest Riesling vineyards is surely the apogee of cultural vandalism. There would be an international outcry if a similar road building project were suggested to cross the Gironde and plough right through Pauillac, but, because the enjoyment of German Riesling tends to be the preserve of the wine enthusiast, its imminent plight has barely raised a murmur in the media.

I’ve been following this saga for the last couple of years, feeling ever more impotent and angry as time has progressed. Setting aside selfish motives to protect what are amongst my favourite vineyards anywhere, I cannot comprehend how such environmental brutality can be imposed upon so fragile and unique an ecosystem that has been carefully tended and nurtured for well over one thousand years.

My apologies, but rather than rehash the work of others, I’m going to provide links to concise and well-written pieces from other authors and wine makers listed chronologically.

The background:

From Rebecca Gibb:

From Ernst Loosen:

From Hugh Johnson:

A stirringly poignant criticism of the project in a speech given by Hugh Johnson:

From the highly informative website of the Pro-Mosel Action Group (, this webpage displays series of pictures showing the affected areas before and after the construction of the bridge, just roll your cursor over the arrows below each image:

A map showing the route of the B50 Neu road and
bridge, showing the vineyards which will be affected
by the pollution and by the inevitable, irreversible
damage to their hydrology and geology.

From the articles listed below, you can clearly see the on again, off again nature of the project over the last two years (with thanks to, Jancis Robinson and Sarah Washington):

And then came the news of the last few days:

As I wrote in my recent post (Prüm And Proper), wines from this exact area are some of the finest produced anywhere; this latest news makes my heart feel leaden and makes my stomach churn. I really wish I knew of some meaningful action to take to counter this shameful violation of winemaking history.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Floyd On Food

“Greetings, fellow gastronauts.”

That was the familiar salutation of the much-missed Francophile gourmet, Keith Floyd. Whilst he undoubtedly had his demons to face, his knowledge and love of food and wine were an inspiration to me when I was young and his straight talking approach was a blessed relief from the insipid inanity of most other television cooks of the time.

I couldn’t help but think of him over dinner last night – a long-aged côte du bœuf rôti, cross sliced and served in the French manner, paired with a really lovely bottle of red Burgundy. Everything worked so harmoniously together, in such an enjoyable and memorable fashion, that I began to think about how a love and appreciation of wine is inseparable from a love and appreciation of food. The French, of course, know this instinctively and Keith Floyd tried to impart a little of the joy of this union to a largely unaware British public. Unfortunately, most people only remember his penchant for a quick slurp during cooking segments.

As something of an œnophile and a gourmet (or at least a gourmand), I really don’t believe that it is possible to enjoy great wine or great food in isolation, each has been refined over time to perfectly complement the other. Although fermented drinks have been used for millennia as libations, as relief from the toil of everyday life and as celebratory toasts, wine, like the food on your plate, is an agricultural product and the two have always been enjoyed together. Along with good company, naturally.

Aged for well over eight weeks, cooked to just under medium rare in a smoking hot, cast iron skillet, rested for ten minutes and then sliced; I ate my steak on its own, seasoned only with the salt and pepper I added before I cooked it. The flavour was incredible and it was a perfect foil for the Burgundy. After I had finished my steak and my wine, and after I had spent a few minutes in post-prandial rapture, some grilled chicory and a green salad were the vegetable elements I needed to round things off properly.

The bottle in question was a 1988 Corton-Pougets by Louis Jadot (13.5% ABV). I bought three bottles of this lesser known grand cru from D. Byrne & Co. back in the early noughties for the princely sum of £29 each, mainly because the shelf talker proclaimed its recent triumph over the same year’s La Tâche in a recent blind tasting. The previous two bottles were pleasant but not outstanding; this one, however, made me wish I’d bought more. 

Louis Jadot, Corton-Pougets 1988
I always find it difficult to adequately describe a mature wine: all of the primary, recognisable aromas and flavours of youth have mellowed and melded over time and the whole has become greater than the sum of its parts. This especially true of the finest red Burgundy, where the seemingly ephemeral and delicate fruit of Pinot Noir can so often show surprising fortitude and longevity.

At twenty-four years old, it was a fading, brick-tinged garnet colour, obviously mature but still lively looking. The nose was soft, warm, sweet with perfumed red fruit and woodland notes, gently spiced and alluring. Initially, the palate showed some age: drying out but still sweetly fruited, the acidity highlighted tarter cherry and redcurrant flavours which were offset by the silkiness of a gentle touch of oak. Half an hour in the glass worked wonders, though; it opened and sweetened, becoming even more fragrant and vivacious. Very fine tannins gave balance, but it was the fruit and acidity that lent it its joie de vivre. The hauntingly beautiful fragrance persisted right through the long, long finish. This bottle was an absolute delight; it might have kept for a while longer still, but there would have been no reason so to do.

An old bottle of red Burgundy would more traditionally be served with a fine game bird such as a woodcock whereas a rare steak would usually be a good excuse for the firmer tannic structure of red Bordeaux, but the gaminess and tenderness of this piece of meat resulted in a wonderful marriage with the Corton-Pougets. I think that Keith would have approved.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Far From A Fiasco

The importance of Marchesi Piero Antinori’s contribution to Tuscan wine specifically, to Italian wine generally and to the standing of both in the wider world of wine cannot easily be overstated. The figures make impressive enough reading on their own: Piero is the 26th generation of a family whose unbroken winemaking provenance dates back to 1385; today the family owned company owns nearly 2500 hectares of vineyards in Italy and abroad, it produces around 20 million bottles for a turnover in excess of €115 million annually and it exports over 60% of its production to more than 100 different countries (I have even seen Antinori's bottles on the wine list of the restaurant in the Yak & Yeti hotel in downtown Kathmandu).

Impressive statistics aside, it is Antinori’s list of wines that has always spoken most persuasively in favour of the way Piero has chosen to run his family’s estate. A fervent champion of the inherent value of his native Chianti, and of that of all of the other Italian wine regions, he has worked long and hard to improve and modernise the techniques and regulations that traditionally favoured quantity over quality. Across the board, the standards to which Antinori consistently holds itself are even more impressive when you consider that it is one of the larger wine producers in a country of seriously large, and often seriously mediocre, wine producers.

A recent tasting of a cross section of Antinori’s wines, in the company of UK brand ambassador Alex Canetti, confirmed their quality to be as high as ever just as their names become even longer than ever!

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso,
Scalabrone Bolgheri
Rosato 2010
1. Tenuta Guado Al Tasso, Scalabrone Bolgheri Rosato DOC 2010 (12% ABV, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Syrah). A reasonably deeply coloured, peony tinged, rosé with grapefruit citrus notes, white pepper, strawberry sweets and a whiff of Cabernet earthiness to its nose. Bright strawberry and raspberry fruit on the palate with a pleasing level of lemony citrus acidity and a hint of herbaceousness. A more serious wine than many a rosé, but it always puts a smile on my face and it’s great with food.

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso,
Guado Al Tasso
Vermentino 2011
2. Tenuta Guado Al Tasso, Guado Al Tasso Vermentino Bolgheri DOC 2011 (12.5% ABV, 100% Vermentino). More usually found in Corsica, in Sardinia and across the South of France, this racy Mediterranean variety retains it acidity in warmer regions giving racy, refreshing wines. Ripe, gently honeyed, Sauvignon-esque nose with suggestions of tomato leaf and greengage. Dry, but not austere; fresh and limey fruit was balanced by an almost salty minerality and the finish was surprisingly long for a light white.

Castello Della Sala,
San Giovanni Della Sala
Orvieto Classico
Superiore 2011
3. Castello Della Sala, San Giovanni Della Sala Orvieto DOC Classico Superiore 2011 (12.5% ABV, 50% Grechetto, 25% Procanico and 25% Pinot Bianco and Viognier). Along with Soave and Frascati, Orvieto is a wine whose reputation has been almost irreversibly tarnished by oceans of industrially produced, personality-free plonk and I find that a terrible shame. This is Antinori’s top Orvieto and its quality shows. A light, white fruit and blossom nose; the gently spiced, long, ripe palate echoes the white fruit and blossom from the nose paired with a fresh, citrusy acidity. The Pinot Bianco and Viognier add weight without overwhelming. Very good indeed.

Castello Della Sala,
Cervaro Della Sala 2009
4. Castello Della Sala, Cervaro Della Sala Umbria IGT 2009 (85% Chardonnay and 15% Grechetto). There are many great Chardonnays from all corners of the world, but, unlike those, this Umbrian take on Meursault benefitted from the freshness provided by the Grechetto. Whiffs of vanilla and toasty new oak – it was fermented and matured sur lie for six months in French oak barriques – wafted over lemon zest scented Chardonnay fruit. The palate, too, was dry and zesty, if a little oaky at present, although this will integrate and harmonise in time. Complex, smokey, toasty and full bodied, the richness was balanced by a streak of minerality. The finish was long, elegant and refined. An excellent wine, as always, although it needs another year or two in bottle to develop before you serve it with a poached lobster.

Tenuta Tignanello,
Marchesi Antinori Chianti
Classico Riserva 2007
5. Tenuta Tignanello, Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2007 (13.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and other complementary varieties). Whilst I really enjoy Antinori’s modern take on local white wines and its wholly atypical Cervaro, somewhat hypocritically I’m far less keen on its internationally influenced reds. Don’t get me wrong, they are in no way bad wines, quite the opposite in fact, it’s just that my traditional (old fashioned?) palate prefers a Chianti to be a Chianti. This wine was a case in point: a Chianti Classico, from the heart of the historic region, made from grapes grown in the renowned Pèppoli, Badia A Passignano and Tignanello vineyards, yet given a modern twist by fourteen months of ageing in barriques and by the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.

If ever an Italian wine and a grape variety were synonymous with one another, then it must surely be Chianti and Sangiovese. I suppose my argument is with the Chianti DOC for not having sufficient faith in the heritage and quality of its wines rather than with any individual producer per se, but adding Cabernet Sauvignon and new oak will substantially alter the nature of any wine. Whilst the standard of Chianti has improved immeasurably over recent years, and certainly there were many aspects of the old production methods that needed to be improved upon, it has now become very difficult to find a traditionally styled wine that tells of its origins. To me, trying to market centuries of winemaking history and an inimitable terroir that is the apogee of cooler climate Sangiovese production with modern, Bordeaux-influenced, oak flavoured wines sends out something of a mixed message. Is the unique identity and timeless appeal of an important and renowned wine-producing region being sacrificed on the altar of current trends? Similarly radical reforms were roundly rejected down the road in Montalcino and I can only wonder if the Chianti region will come to regret its decision in the future. I don’t say stop making these internationally influenced wines; just devise a new and more appropriate nomenclature.

Anyway, back to the wine that was in my glass. Earthy and blackcurrant leaf Cabernet notes gave an edge to the tobacco, cherry and sweet, new oak nose. Minerally, earthy suggestions from the Cabernet also balanced the new oak on the palate, leaving the subtler cherry and leather flavours of the Sangiovese to linger underneath. Rounded, soft and with a long finish, it was undoubtedly an enjoyable and well-made wine. Modern? Certainly. Appealing? Definitely. But is it really Chianti?

Tenuta Tignanello,
Tignanello 2009
6. Tenuta Tignanello, Tignanello Toscana IGT 2009 (80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc). Although the Bolgheri Bordeaux blend Sassicaia was the first, it is Tignanello that has some claim to being the first genuine Super Tuscan, made as it is predominantly from Sangiovese. It is a modern take on Chianti and it was embarrassment over the price, the quality and the humble vino da tavola status of wines such as this that led, some would say inexorably, to the creation of the experimental IGT classification.

A smoky, toasty, brooding black fruit nose was dark and alluring if rather youthful. The palate was dry with firm, but very finely textured, tannins and complemented by a fresh, fruity acidity. The higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and the small but influential proportion of Cabernet Franc gave more of a black fruit character than was evident in the Chianti Classico above and the oak was more deftly integrated. Dark, velvety and rich with a hugely long finish, the Sangiovese character was somewhat masked at present but experience of some older vintages suggests that this will be remedied over time. This release is still something of a baby and has plenty to offer in the future.

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso,
Il Bruciato 2009
7. Tenuta Guado Al Tasso, Il Bruciato Bolgheri DOC 2009 (13.5% ABV, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah with other red grape varieties). This is the newish second wine of Guado Al Tasso that I have only tasted once before, my abiding memory of this sole previous encounter being the pronounced level of alcohol (14% if I remember correctly). Black fruit, a hint of oak and a hint of smokiness characterised the rather simple nose, whereas the rather simple palate had a slightly burnt quality to it, possibly from the Syrah. Much less obviously alcoholic than before, unfortunately it still did nothing for me, although it may well have suffered in comparison to the Tignanello that it immediately followed.

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso,
Guado Al Tasso 2007
 8. Tenuta Guado Al Tasso, Guado Al Tasso Bolgheri DOC Superiore 2007 (14% ABV, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot). Bordeaux varieties certainly have an affinity with Bolgheri, the region seems to imbue them with a spark of Italian soul. So much so that it was granted its own DOC back in 1994. Guado Al Tasso is one of the trinity of the region’s top wines each created by a different member of the Antinori family.

An herbaceous, blackcurranty, savoury nose led seamlessly into complex, well-structured palate that delivered different facets of flavour in the same way that a well cut gemstone reflects the light. One moment came the leafy, blackcurrant flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon, then came the softer, plummier character of Merlot. The next moment capsicum-tinged Cabernet Franc was highlighted, before the focus switched to the firmer, tannic Petit Verdot, all rounded off by beautifully integrated new oak. Beguilingly textured, harmonious and expertly crafted, the finish lasted and lasted. Bordeaux in inspiration, Italian in execution.

I have been an admirer of Antinori’s wines for nearly thirty years (thanks Dad!) and I can trace my love of Italy’s fresh whites, light rosés and structured reds to those simpler times of Villa Antinori Bianco, Capsula Viola Rosato and Villa Antinori Rosso. It was not until later I realised that their freshness, approachability and food friendliness symbolised the exciting blend of modernity and tradition that is still an unmistakeable hallmark of Antinori.

As I have said above and will continue to say, the quality of Antinori’s wines is as inarguable as it is impressive, particularly given the scale of production. I admit that the traditionalist in me is less comfortable with the evolution of their increasingly international style, but this is not an indictment of the wines, simply a matter of personal taste.

In case you were wondering about the title of this post, a fiasco is the traditional round-based bottle or flask of the Chianti region. These bottles would not stand up on their own (hence the word's subsequent meaning) and they were placed in a wicker cradle to support them. Today, it is the wicker-wrapped Chianti bottles so beloved as candle holders that utilise the name, although it is usually the wine inside them that is more worthy of the description. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

Hit And Miss

I have a deep and abiding love for Château Musar, so much so that I’ll accept its myriad of idiosyncrasies any one of which would cause me to reject another wine outright. This Bordeaux inspired oddity, with its distinctive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, divides opinion more than any other wine I can think of. Some, like me, love its ferocious acidity and its feral flavours, whereas others criticise its volatility and its Brett infestation.

Although I have not yet really started to drink my vintages from the nineties, I have always found that the integrity of the corks in bottles of earlier vintages has been somewhat variable to say the least. Because the hardships that the Hochar family has faced, and overcome, in its desire to make one of the world’s great wines are so far beyond the usual trials of weather and vineyard disease, I can never understand why they would have chosen to seal their elixir with such moderate quality corks. I have to assume that it was the only option available during such a horrible period in Lebanese history.

The cork from this bottle of 1988 Château Musar
As you can see, the cork in this bottle of 1988 Château Musar was a case in point. It almost looked as though the upper quarter had been attacked by the cork equivalent of woodworm, whereas the remaining section had deteriorated as a result of seepage. This bottle had the lowest level of the twelve in the case and was ullaged to its mid-shoulder. Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes, but 1988 is my favourite vintage of Musar and I never pass up an opportunity to drink it.

Château Musar 1988
(you can clearly see the heavy
crusting inside the bottle)
Whilst Musar always needs to be decanted to allow it to open fully, I decided against it this time, despite the crust it had thrown, as the level suggested that oxygen already had had plenty of time to do its worst. The wine was a very mature looking medium brick red, and was as clear and bright as the large amount of colour compounds forming a heavy crust inside the bottle would lead you to expect. The nose showed warm, sweet spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper – along with volatile red currant and pomegranate fruit and a soft earthiness. The palate was initially sweet, with an almost chocolatey/cocoa richness, that lead into fresher pomegranate fruit and cinnamon and nutmeg spice flavours. Drying out certainly – the last vestiges of cherry fruit were fading into lighter, tarter pomegranate flavours - but it was still vibrant and long with a feisty warmth from the (14%) alcohol on the finish.  The usual huge Musar acidity and not insubstantial tannins were still pretty much balanced by bright red fruit.

Definitely not a great bottle, and I’ve had better examples of this vintage reasonably recently, but given the state of the cork and the degree of ullage I’m surprised that it was even drinkable, never mind worthy of writing about.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Prüm And Proper

This evening I opened a bottle of Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2009 (7.5% ABV) recently purchased from Howard Ripley, a specialist importer of truly great wines from the homes of some of my favourite wines: Germany and Burgundy. As you’d expect from one of the world’s greatest Riesling producers, this was a hugely enjoyable and particularly well-crafted bottle of wine.

The Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard,
with its sundial just below the summit
Now I can’t lay claim to having much more than a basic knowledge of the vineyards of the middle Mosel, but I have begun to build up an idea of those whose wines I prefer. For me, the structure and austerity bequeathed to Riesling by blue-grey slate just trumps the riper, tropical fruit characteristics offered by Riesling grown on red slate. Arguably the finest blue slate vineyard of the middle Mosel is Sonnenuhr (“Sundial”), across the river from the town of Wehlen.

The grey-blue
Devonian slate of
Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Named for its eponymous sundial, this feature also boasts of the vineyard’s southwest exposure, ideally located to best retain the warmth of both direct and reflected sunlight. This precipitous and rocky vineyard sits on pure blue Devonian slate, outcrops of which poke out between the vines, and the almost total lack of topsoil forces the vines to sink their roots between the broken and weathered shards of slate down into crevices in the bedrock. People can argue all day as to whether or not minerals are picked up by the roots of a vine and imparted into the finished wine, but the crystalline minerality of Wehlener Sonnenuhr’s wines cannot be disputed.

Its wines, “whether a modest Kabinett or an opulent Beerenauslese, are the epitome of filigree elegance: light in body but intense in flavour, exquisitely balanced and precisely tuned, and capable of the most extra-ordinary longevity” (Stephen Brooks, The Wines Of Germany). The wines that Manfred and Katharina Prüm coax from Wehlener Sonnenuhr are probably the best illustrations of Stephen Brooks’ poetic prose.

Their ’09 Auslese was a very pale greenish gold colour, with tiny beads of CO2 which caught the light. Its delicate yet firm nose of lime and slate, plus aromas of green apple and honey, intertwined with the subtle whiff of kerosene so typical of a developing Riesling.

Joh. Jos. Prüm,
Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Auslese 2009
The palate had an initial green apple tartness, highlighted by a prickle of CO2, which promptly opened to display a rich, sweet kaleidoscope of flavours. Greener in character – apple, lime and chamomile – than the yellow/orange tropical fruit and spice of wines from neighbouring vineyards, its blossom and honey ripeness was tempered by mouth watering, quince-like acidity. Perfectly complementing the sweetness, a saline minerality to the finish dried and refreshed the mouth in readiness for the next sip.

A beautiful wine, with an ethereal lightness that belied its sugar level, this was a delicious treat today but will continue to develop for many years to come.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mosel Masterclass

I have to admit that the name of Weingut Staffelter Hof wasn’t one I was familiar with, until I was invited to a tasting of its wines at Hanging Ditch, that is. When I learned that it is one of the oldest vineyards in Germany, having celebrated its 1150th birthday just over two weeks ago, my ignorance was all the more embarrassing. Winemaker and current scion of the family that has owned the property since 1805, Jan Matthias Klein, was in England for a few days visiting several independent wine shops to present a selection of his wines.

Jan was a very engaging and interesting chap as well as a very generous host, pouring nine of his wines instead of the advertised seven for a large and appreciative audience.

Staffelter Hof, Mosecco
Perlwein Trocken 2009
First from this most historic of estates was a pair of sparkling wines, beginning with a modern Mosel take on Italian Prosecco, the punningly titled Mosecco Perlwein Trocken 2011 (11% ABV, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Sauvignon Blanc, £12.50). Its grapey, grapefruit and white pepper nose led into a fresh, fruity but dry palate that had a touch of apple and a gentle spritz. Carbonated rather than traditional method, the bubbles did start to fade in the glass but this pleasant and uncomplicated wine is ideal for enjoying now, should our summer ever arrive.

Staffelter Hof,
Riesling Sekt Brut 2009
The 2009 Staffelter Hof Riesling Sekt Brut (12.5% ABV, £15.00) was a different kettle of fish altogether. Made with the traditional method, it spent 20 months on its lees and a 2004 Auslese was used as dosage, resulting in a residual sugar level of 10g/l. The medium sized, persistent bead made it tingle and dance on the tongue and autolysis had given a fresh mushroom and bready character to the nose. The palate was dry and elegant, streaked with minerally apple, lime and peach Riesling fruit fading into a long, rich, pithy and slightly savoury finish. Just 2000 bottles were made, drink yours now or at any time over the next 3-4 years.

Staffelter Hof, Wolf
Casanova Rosé 2011
Medium hued, violet-tinged pink and somewhat inexpressive on the nose, the 2011 Wolf Casanova Rosé (11.5% ABV, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Regent, £12.50) had hints of candyfloss and gentle spice on its soft, dry and not aggressively acidic palate. More savoury than fruity, this was a very easy drink and was nothing like many of today’s overly sweet and alcoholic rosés. Drink now.

Staffelter Hof,
Wolf Magnus
Riesling Trocken 2011
The 2011 Wolf Magnus Riesling Trocken (12% ABV, £12.50) was partly matured in 1000 litre old oak barrels which gave a whisper of tannin to the wine, aiding its longevity. A spicy, green apple and slatey nose complemented the dryness of the fresh, firm, citrus fruited palate with a lick of honeyed white fruit to counter the austerity. Modern, dry and concentrated, this should be drunk over the next five years or so with a good fish pie.

Der Klitzekleine Ring,
Bergrettung Riesling
Trocken 2011
Number five was both an interesting concept and an interesting wine. Named for a pun on the German for alpine rescue, The Bergrettung Riesling Trocken 2011 (12% ABV, £17.50) is one of the wines produced by an admirable collaboration of dedicated Mosel winemakers. The Klitzekleine Ring is a community of eleven wineries in and around the town of Traben-Trarbach, brought together by a mutual love of winemaking tradition and a desire to protect their region’s culture.Berg” means “Mountain”, in reference to the vertiginous character of Mosel’s finest vineyards, andRettung” is German for “Rescue”. Through the production of these wines, The Klitzekleine Ring is dedicated to the recovery, maintenance, and thus rescue, of some of the world’s steepest and most expressive vineyards which would otherwise be abandoned in favour of easier to cultivate land. Good, bad or indifferent, these are wines that deserve to be drunk.

The Klitzekleine Ring Members
This had a riper, more honeyed nose than the previous wine, more mango than peach in character with notes of quince and blossom over. Dry but with a fullness to its body, a firm, slatey acidity balanced the fruit on the palate. Touches of apricot, ginger and honeysuckle were reminiscent of a leaner, drier style of Viognier. Very good indeed and not just because of its provenance, although a year or two of bottle age wouldn’t go amiss.

Staffelter Hof,
Wolf Paradies
Riesling Feinherb 2011
The Wolf Paradies Feinherb 2011 (11% ABV, £12.50), grown on blue and grey slate soils, had an aromatic nose, redolent of apricot and lime. Just off dry and rather exotic on the palate – mango scented oolong tea, honeysuckle and sweet spices - balanced by slatey acidity and a refreshing minerality. Absolutely lovely and again definitely a food wine. It will probably keep for longer, but enjoy this in the prime of its life over the next couple of years.

Steffensberg is a west-facing vineyard situated on a bend in the river where it benefits from both direct and reflected sunlight as well as from beneficial humidity. The Heraldic Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Spätlese 2011 (9%, ABV, £15.00) had  a complex, honeyed ripe fruit and smokey/slatey nose. Peach and pineapple fruit, rich and medium sweet on the palate balanced by a firm, refreshing acidity and a mineral structure that was drying and almost tannic in its effect. An excellent wine, Jan declared that this will keep for twenty years or so, but it’s tough to resist enjoying it now.

The Kröver Steffensberg Vineyard
From the same vineyard, the Heraldic Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Auslese 2005 (9%, ABV, £22.50) showed both the extra degree of maturity and the extra richness that its vintage and its quality level would have you expect. A deeper yellow/green colour than the 2011 Spätlese, the nose was hugely aromatic, bursting with the kerosene and savoury toast aromas of a Riesling with a degree of bottle age plus quite a bit of botrytis character, too. The very complex palate was a fruit salad of fresh and dried yellow fruits with substantial acidity preventing the sweetness from becoming cloying. It was almost delicate despite its richness and viscosity. A beautiful wine that will keep some years yet, although I don’t know how much more it can improve.

Staffelter Hof, Kröver
Steffensberg Riesling
Trockenbeerenauslese 2006
The third wine from the Kröver Steffensberg vineyard, and the final wine of the evening, was the 2006 Trockenbeerenauslese (7.5% ABV, £95.00/37.5cl). The price reflects both the degree of patience and effort required to produce this style of wine and the scarcity of it. Even in the exemplary vintages when conditions permit the production of a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), only 50 – 100 litres can be made. German TBAs are unlike any other wines, and this one was no exception: golden in colour, syrupy in texture and with huge quantities of botrytis, raisin/sultana fruit and a nostril-tingling volatility to the nose; the palate was creamy, rich and sweet with such a high level of acidity that the finish was mouthwateringly dry. Whilst this was an unexpected and most generous treat from Jan, I must confess that it was the only wine he served that disappointed me slightly. The sweetness and acidity were beautifully balanced, I just felt that a degree of complexity was missing from the mid palate. Maybe I was being hyper critical, but I don’t think that I was being unreasonable in my expectations of a wine of this calibre.

Although I might not be rushing out to buy the Trockenbeerenauslese, in many ways that can only be a good thing as it leaves me with far more money to spend on the Bergrettung, the Paradies Feinherb and the Kröver Steffensberg Spätlese and Auslese which were all truly lovely wines. If you haven’t yet had the chance to try the wines of Staffelter Hof, head down to Hanging Ditch and educate yourself.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Stuff It

My latest toy
The fruits of my labour
I have a new toy and I’ve just spent the afternoon keeping myself amused with it. The results weren’t perfect, as usually happens when one makes up the rules as one goes along, but they don’t seem too bad for a first attempt. A batch of spicy sujuk and three coils of Italian fennel seed sausage now lurk in the freezer, just awaiting an upturn in the weather so that they can meet their fate over white hot charcoal.