Monday, 31 October 2011

A Moan And A Wine

I always try my best to support tastings up here in the north west, even if I have to pay for a ticket so to do! A recent, and rather high profile, event caught my eye and I thought that I should pop along to see what it was all about. This was the second in a series of three tastings hosted by the Three Wine Men: Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin MW and Olly Smith, all of whom are perfectly charming and frighteningly knowledgeable.

After perusing the online catalogue from September’s London event, it seemed that a little organisation was called for. With 587 examples on offer from 51 exhibitors, it would have been easy to spend a couple of days tasting my way through them. A list of the tables and the wines that I wanted to make a beeline for hopefully meant that I wouldn’t miss anything exciting in Manchester.

Saturday duly rolled around, I wound my way to the Museum of Science and Industry and I bought my ticket. It would be something of an understatement to say I was a bit disappointed when I opened the Manchester brochure to see only 284 wines listed from 26 exhibitors. Although a reasonable showing by anyone’s standards, nigh on all of the more esoteric and higher quality wines, not to mention a significant number of exhibitors, from the London show were all absent.

As I’ve said, I’m always happy to support any of the all too infrequent tastings that take place in Manchester, but I can’t help feeling that it was misleading and unfair to advertise this as the same event as the two London versions, to charge the same price for tickets and yet to offer only half the number of wines and exhibitors. Was it a lack of space at the Manchester venue or are London wine merchants simply not bothered about the fifty million or so people who live outside the capital who might like to try, and who might want to buy, their wines? Or are they just so London-centric in their focus that the rest of the country doesn’t even register on their radars? Maybe I should move to Hong Kong…

I hoped to be writing about thirty or forty thrilling and new (to me) wines that I had had the chance to try, but absenteeism severely whittled this number down. Fortunately, I had the chance to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen for quite a while, so the afternoon wasn’t a total write off. Of the wines I did try, there were some great new finds and some welcome old friends, plus a couple of really fine beers that impressed me so much I bought some there and then.

Dönnhoff, Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl
Riesling Kabinett 2009
The best way to start any tasting is with a page full of German Rieslings, so naturally my first stop was the Tanners table. Seven Rieslings in a kaleidoscope of styles were an ideal way to fire up my tastebuds. From a toasty, slatey, bone dry 2008 Bürklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Trocken, via a lovely dryish, white fruit and citrussy 2009 Feinherb (the new name for Halbtrocken) by Weiser-Künstler that just made me smile, to a surprisingly youthful 1998 Hochheimer Kirchenstück Auslese from Domdechant Werner with its honeyed nose and its citrus and spice, stewed apple palate. How can anyone not like this grape? It’s an always too rare pleasure to taste a genuine Piesporter (Einzellage, never Grosslage), and Kurt Hain’s 2007 Goldtröpfchen Kabinett was a grapefruit scented, off dry gem that made the oceans of filth that share its name even more lamentable. The outright star for me was Dönnhoff’s 2009 Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Kabinett which was restrained and structured, just off dry, with beautiful green apple fruit, complex minerality, excellent acidity and a long, long finish. Brilliant and food friendly, only 8.5% ABV and just £15.

Marqués De Murrieta, Capellanía Rioja
Blanco Reserva 2006 (right) and Castillo Ygay,
Rioja Gran Reserva Especial 2004 (left)
Conveniently, the table next door was that of Marqués De Murrieta, one of my favourite Rioja producers, which meant that I didn’t even have to walk very far for my next set of treats. An unexpected and interesting 2010 Albariño (13% ABV) from Murrieta’s Pazo De Barrantes estate in Galicia kicked things off. Full and rich but fresh, lemon and grapefruit citrus was countered by a floral and white fruit character with whiff of peppery spice on the top. This was a lovely precursor to my wine of the day, Murrieta’s own 2006 Capellanía Blanco Reserva (13.5% ABV), a 100% Viura wine that filled me with hope for white Rioja generally. Matured for 15 months in new French oak barriques, this was bone dry, just a touch oxidised (in a good way), citrussy yet creamily textured and with a long, lemon and vanilla finish. At a time when so many white Riojas are being dumbed down with Chardonnay or are eschewing lengthy oak ageing, this was a fantastic wine that I will be actively seeking out.

The reds on show were more of a mixed bag for me. A 2005 Marqués De Murrieta Rioja Tinto Reserva (14% ABV) had fine tannins, bright strawberry and red berry fruit with a toasty edge, but it just lacked a little soul. Time might be what it needs. The 2004 Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva Especial (14% ABV) was also still a baby, showing rich berry fruit and plenty of savoury oak influence. Complex, balanced and well structured, definitely an iron fist in a velvet glove; there will be plenty more to come from this wine. Buy it now, drink it in a decade or two.

Yalumba, The Virgilius
Viognier 2008
Yalumba is a producer that stands out for several reasons, one of the most commendable of which is their long standing commitment to the left field Viognier instead of to the ubiquitous Chardonnay. Their 2010 Eden Valley Viognier (13.5% ABV) had a huge jasmine and ginger scented nose which led into a dry and elegant apricot and ginger palate. Not at all blousey, the alcohol was held firmly in check and the creaminess imparted by the oak aged portion was balanced by fresh acidity. Its big brother, the 2008 The Virgilius (14% ABV), had a less obvious nose and was less flamboyant overall, concentrating on the savoury and spicy aspects over the floral and white fruit. Toasty, minerally and multi-faceted, gingery spice was more the focus than apricot fruit. A great and a great value wine, although this vintage is reaching the end of its useful life, enjoy it now with food.

Innis & Gunn: Blonde, Original
and Rum Cask (left to right)
The one table I definitely wanted to visit was that of brewer Innis & Gunn. They began by brewing beer to season barrels for a William Grant ale cask conditioned whisky, but the resulting beer was too good to throw away. I knew of their oak aged beers, but I had never had the chance to try them. I wasn’t let down.

The Original (6.6% ABV) was mellow, complex and had a great depth of flavour after its 77 day maturation period. It had a sweet toffee and vanilla oak character that countered the fruity, gently bitter hoppy notes in a very easy to drink fashion. The dark Rum Cask bottling (7.4% ABV) was richer, sweeter and softer than the Original, with a sprinkle of Christmas spice from the navy rum casks. The Blonde (6.0% ABV) was the lightest and freshest of the three regular bottlings, crisp and hoppy with a delicate vanilla character.

Innis & Gunn, Highland Cask
Limited Edition
These three were all very good, but the two limited editions were the ones that well and truly took my fancy. The slightly mysterious Triple Matured beer (7.2% ABV) was another darker offering, with delicious treacle toffee flavours and a dusting of bitter cocoa. The Highland Cask (7.1% ABV) was my favourite, having been finished in casks used to mature an 18 year old Highland single malt. It had a firm, warming backbone and was a touch drier the other bottlings, the definite spirity, fruity and smokey/oaky character I assume came from the whisky. The Original, the Rum Cask and the Blonde are all widely available, but I haven’t managed to find the limited editions anywhere yet.