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.