Wines! England and Australia
I thought I would have a crack at writing about wine. If you’ve been following me on Twitter you will have seen more posts of various bottles and tastings I have been to. I have also been doing some qualifications, I’m planning to do my level 3 in the Autumn which is where it starts to get serious! In talking about wine I have found that many people are interested in what I have been drinking, enjoying and might recommend. I have spoken to a lot of people that say “well I like X wine but I’m not sure why or what it is about it that I like”. This, along with the fact there is so much out there to get your head around, means even people who want to expand their knowledge can struggle to do so. Hopefully my musings will be of interest whatever level you are coming from.
I thought I would write up summaries of the tastings I got to with my thoughts, highlights, lowlights and perhaps what I learnt. The opportunity to attend these came about after a connection made the mistake of inviting me to the group via Twitter and I’ve been almost every week since! Over the Summer months themes are set with people bringing a wine or two meeting the criteria for the group to taste blind and share thoughts. Learning is a big part of this, particularly for me to learn from experienced wine lovers, several of whom are in the industry. In fact someone often says “don’t forget we are here to learn”, though this often coincides with him putting out a bottle that’s less than palatable.
Onto the wine. As the title suggests the most recent week was “The Ashes” and we started off with England’s most famous wine export, the sparkling stuff. On this occasion a 2013 Brut from South Ridge made in the traditional method. Immediately plenty to unpack with regard to terminology. Firstly you will notice no grapes listed, the chap who bought it confirmed it was a chardonnay blend. This is likely to try and produce something similar to a champagne blend; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Brut is simply a dry wine as opposed to Sec or Demi-Sec which denote sweeter wines. The “traditional method” is a reference to the method of making champagne where the final fermentation happens in the bottle creating those toasty notes compared to, say, a prosecco (which isn’t made in this way hence the retention of more fruity characteristics). It was enjoyable, retaining good citrus notes and acidity despite those toasty characteristics. Traditional method sparkling has never been my favourite so not one I would rush out to buy. At £24 it isn’t cheap but for English wine and by comparison to Champagne it doesn’t represent a bad value for money at all.
Wine enjoyment: 5/10 – personal preference here taking it down a couple of points to where it should really be
Value for money: 7/10 – good by comparison to similar Champagne
Uniqueness: 7/10 – it’s still English Sparkling with a decent amount of age
Pair with: seafood, rich buttery or cheesy dishes
The next bottle divided the room with the majority (including me) thinking it may have been Australian. The reason for that was that it was an oaked Chardonnay, to my knowledge (and experience) a pretty uncommon wine for England to produce as we’re typically a climate on the cool side. The wine had also spent time “on lees” which means prolonged contact with yeast (used in fermentation), similar to the champagne traditional method. That process, as well as the wine being aged in french oak for 9 months, produced a wine rather different from your typical English bottle that would be dominated by citrus and green fruits. On the reveal that it’s £30 a bottle a murmur went round the room about it being too much. It is expensive but still the best example of this sort of wine that most of us had had.
Wine enjoyment: 6/10 – again I prefer a light style of wine and not, in general, fan of lees contact wines
Value for money: 5/10 – not one for shoppers on a budget, had to rate value though
Uniqueness: 9/10 – English Chardonnay a new one on me
Pair with: savoury pastry dishes, grilled or smoked foods, fattier fish
I bought 3 wines to this evenings proceedings. Two of which I shall gloss over which were from a vineyard tour I went to near Wales and they didn’t show well however one bottle was supermarket procured. A much more classic example of an English still white wine. It is a blend of 6 grapes that I won’t bore you with but the most ones common found in English white wine. The palate that verged on too sharp and acidic but just about carried with enough citrus and green fruits. There was a background hit of elderflower if you looked hard enough. I expected a little more finesse as it came highly recommended from a few publications from the Aldi Signature Collection. At £10 its still relative value for an English wine but it didn’t show as well as I thought.
Wine enjoyment: 6/10 – just too mean, approaching the bad characteristics of a cool climate wine for me
Value for money: 7/10 – can’t complain but I am not rushing out to buy more
Uniqueness: 8/10 – cheap English wine from a supermarket means it scores well
Pair with: fresh seafood, savoury dishes with citrus
Few wines are as easy identifiable as Riesling. This example was no exception with the floral and petrol notes on the nose quickly giving the game away, even to me. It was also displaying the telltale signs of being from the land down under, namely lots on lime on the finish. I prefer old world (mostly German) Riesling but this was a subtle off-dry style by Australia’s standards and I very much liked it. At roughly £15 I was strongly considering buying some myself.
Wine enjoyment: 8.5/10 – just my sort of thing
Value for money: 7/10 – a good example for that price but you can get better from Germany still
Uniqueness: 6/10 – a lot of Riesling coming out of Aus / NZ now
Pair with: spicy foods, fish
On to Reds, the youngest was fairly easily to spot though with a purple colour in the glass (this typically moves to ruby and then garnet and brown through the years), a big fruity Aussie Shiraz but quite short in the finish. This turned out to be £25 from Waitrose which seemed pretty punchy. It should soften and develop with age but really nowhere to hide at that price point.
Wine enjoyment: 7/10 – certainly drinkable enough
Value for money: 5/10 – can’t work out where that price tag is coming from with this one
Uniqueness: 5/10 – not quite ten a penny but a lot of similar stuff in supermarkets
Pair with: roast beef, a stew, I’d say BBQ if younger Shiraz like this
This group don’t often get flummoxed for too long unless its something really unique but this one was a bit of a revelation for all of us. Nebbiolo usually hails from the North of Italy, most famously in Barolo. Here though, just East of Melbourne in the well-known Yarra Valley was an Australian example from De Bortoli, a producer with Italian heritage. It did drink like an Italian wine which suited me with its ripe red fruits and refined tannins. The price wasn’t known at the time, it appears to be about £25 a bottle with limited availability in the UK. I was much more likely to spend the money on this rather than the Waitrose number.
Wine enjoyment: 8/10 – refined, good red fruit flavour
Value for money: 7/10 – expensive but uniqueness AND strong wine making do make a good case for it
Uniqueness: 9/10 – it’s Australian Nebbiolo!
Pair with: something that works with high tannins, salty or fatty foods. Charcuterie
I’m going to highlight a couple more at once, mostly due to age at the likelihood of people getting hold of any is pretty slim. A 1993 Australian Bannockburn Shiraz had held up much better than we thought it might, perhaps a touch better than the Rosemount Estate Balmoral Shiraz from 1999 that actually showed more signs of oxidisation than the older bottle. Both were showing pretty well though, the classic pepper warm from the Syrah / Shiraz there even if a little of the best fruit on the palate had been lost with age. Both very drinkable and enjoyable, though the price tag would be significant given how tricky they are to get hold of now (£50+).
There were a number of other wines across the evening that for various reasons I haven’t included. I hadn’t planned to write this blog so will take more notes in future! As my first attempt keen to hear feedback on whether I have pitched this at the right level for whoever may be reading. What else you would like to know too perhaps. This coming week our theme is wines/grapes of the Loire region of France.