Noble Rot

Volcanic Wine

‘Volcanic Wine’ is hot topic and a buzz word in the wine world. Not to be left behind, the Society is holding no less than three tastings of wines of volcanic origin in the new Academic Year

 

Wine producers and trade are not slow to exploit the symbolic power of volcanoes. Minoans were selling wine made on the volcanic island of Santorini 4000 years ago. The Volcanic Wines International Forum was established in Soave last year. Bodegas de Volcanes was set up to explore the winemaking possibilities of volcanic soils in Chile. Canadian Master Sommelier John Szabo published Volcanic Wine: Salt, Grit & Power last year. Pietradolce on Mount Etna calls their wines ‘Volcanic.’ Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Nopi restaurant in London has a ‘Volcanic Wines’ section in the wine list.

Do wines from volcanic soils have unique features? Some use terms such as ‘sulphurous’ and ‘lava-like’ to describe these wines – like ‘chalkiness’ in Chablis and ‘flintiness’ in the Mosel. Geisenheim Institute in Germany has found high concentrations of minerality-linked compounds in wines of volcanic origin. Alsace winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW says: “The same grape grown on different soil types and grown the same way will consistently develop the same flavour profiles on each soil type year after year, and yes, volcanic soils do have this distinctive flinty, smoky, salty character.”

Despite the widely accepted views on ‘terroir,’ there is no scientific evidence that minerals in soil can impart specific flavours to a wine. Geological minerals are different from the nutrient minerals that vines absorb. The 14 nutrient minerals needed by the vine are required only in trace quantities and tend to come from organic matter and not rocks. Volcanic soils are rich in Potassium, Manganese and Iron but according to Alex Maltman, Professor of Geology at University of Aberystwyth, “Higher concentrations of minerals in soil by no means equates to greater mineral uptake by the vine – vine roots do not passively accept whatever minerals the water in the soil has dissolved, but act as self-regulating filters.”

It is interesting that mycorrhizal fungi, which can live in symbiosis with the vine roots, can extract certain elements from the surface of the rock directly and yield them to the vine in exchange for carbon. It is well established that the sugar free dry extract of volcanic wines is significantly higher than that of non-volcanic wines. They also have a slightly higher pH giving a sense of ‘saltiness’ on the palate. Being poor in clay, volcanic soils are phylloxera free and support ancient ungrafted vines which express ‘minerality’ best. Assyrtiko wines from Santorini however have very high acidity (pH 2.92 – 2.93!) but it is possible that the very high sulphur content in the soil and possibly on fruit, trigger reductive reactions in the wine, consuming oxygen and thus casing changes in taste and acidity.

There is little doubt that ‘Volcanic Wines’ form an interesting sub-goup in the wine spectrum and a closer look at them would be of great interest to all wine-lovers. The Society has put together no less than three tastings of wines of volcanic origin, starting with Yarra Valley Wines of Mac Forbes – probably the least expressive volcanic terroir of the three, High-Grade Greeks featuring Assyrtiko from Santorini and finally, the most volcanic of all – Volcanic Wines of Pietradolce, from the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna.

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NOBLE ROT

SUNDAY 14 APRIL 2019

Life In Sri Lanka

Today Sri Lankans celebrate the nation’s traditional New Year. Families reunite, relatives and friends are visited, gifts are exchanged, traditional meals are cooked and eaten and ancient and traditional New Year games are played at auspicious times predetermined by astrologers.

Weddings in Sri Lanka are huge, elaborate and expensive affairs, still steeped in tradition, cultural and religious aspects,  It would not be deemed a ‘proper’ wedding if the guest list is under 200. (A prominent politician invited over 5000 to his son’s wedding the other day!). Such guest numbers make it impossible to hold a wedding at one’s own home, as it used to be in the days gone by. Luxury hotels are the norm but ordinary folks are forced to resort to ‘Reception Halls’ that have sprung up most towns and villages.

My niece got married last Wednesday. There were less that 100 guests and it was held al fresco at her patents lagoon-side holiday home without any religious or traditional mambo-jumbo. We ate spicy food and drank Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec. It was a hot and humid evening but singing and dancing continued late into the night.

 

SUNDAY 7 APRIL 2019

Travel

This week, two HMWS members are visiting Athens and two others are on a wine tour of Rioja visiting Bilbao, Logroño and Tarragona.

Life In Sri Lanka

Biryani is a mixed rice dish made with Indian spices, rice, meat (chicken, goat, beef, prawn, or fish), vegetables and eggs. with its origins among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. In Sri Lanka, it is a popular ‘Special Occassion’ dish. Biryani with goat and chicken was on the menu when I went to lunch with my eldest sister last Sunday. (Click here for a recipe for Biryani with goat meat). It was followed by a Muslim dessert called “Watalappam’ – a pudding made of coconut milk, palm sugar, cashew nuts and eggs spiced with cardamoms and cloves.

My younger sister who returned to Sri Lanka last week after six months in Australia, came to dinner on Monday. We ate homemade ‘String Hoppers‘ – a rice noodle dish from South India, with coconut chutney, potatoes in coconut milk and spicy fish curry. Usually, String Hoppers are served at breakfast but are equally good in the evening with good well chilled beer.

Another week of feating starts in Sri Lanka today for the traditional New Year on the 14th of April. Schools are closed and workmen have downed tools to return to their families in the country. Today, some of our neighbours will be joining us for lunch and the menu will be, you guessed right, Mutton Biryani!

SUNDAY 31 MARCH 2019

Life In Sri Lanka

March and April are hot months in Colombo. It is the time to flee the city and spend time in the cooler hills where spring flowers are in bloom and the air is soft and fragrant. The major issue here this week has been the imposed twice daily power cuts. The heat is intense with the prevailing drought and it is hard to get through the day without electric fans and air conditioning. Small businesses without emergency power generators are facing bankruptcy. The Government offers only empty talk. To make matters worse, the Water Board started imposing water cuts on a daily basis. Isn’t it enough to make you want to flee the city but the whole country!

SUNDAY 17 MARCH 2019

Life In Sri Lanka

It is 5.30 in the morning. I am sitting in the dinning room of Wasgamuwa Safari Hotel sipping black coffee and watching the sun rise. Yesterday I left Colombo very early in the morning to drive up here and there was no time write and publish the Hedonist. The safari at Wasgamuwa National Park was enormously rewarding with large herds of elephants seen at close quarters and sightings of nearly 100 bird specie . Again, I am spending the whole day today in the jungle.

It has been a week of renovation at Westbury Gardens.

Our house in Colombo is one of seven in a cul-de-sac named Westbury Gardens at the end of a private road. The other day, we decided that the road needs re-surfacing. As the Urban Council will not do it, we had to look for an expensive private contractor. However, the Council’s road resurfacing team offered to do the work for a ‘consideration.’ Twelve men – some worked and others watched, took three half days to complete the work. We provided them with tea, lunch (chicken & rice) four bottles of Arrack and a ‘gift’ of £50. The whole enterprise cost each household the princely sum of £15!

All the houses in our complex have CCTV cameras. Falling in line, I have adorned ours with the same.

Men from gas & electricity boards have to visit consumers’ premises every month to read meters. If they are unable to gain access, estimated bills are presented. As my gate is closed 8 months of the year, the utility companies have a problem. This week I employed private contractors to move my meters to the outside wall. This involved digging a trench through the front lawn for the electricity cables and a large hole in the wall for the new steel box with meters. The whole procedure took two weeks with three different teams of workers but my bills in future will not be based on guess work!

Towards the end of the week, a man came to cane weave  – a disappearing art, one of the two reclining chairs I have on the patio. It had developed a large hole in the middle and it took me two months to find a craftsman who could do the repair work!

SUNDAY 10 MARCH 2019

Wine

The Cattin Order is gaining momentum. So far, five Members have ordered 15 cases of Cremant D’Alsace and Steinbach Pinot Noir

Travel

The change in group size for the Society’s Spring Wine Tour of Sicily was accepted by Arianna Occhipinti and Planeta without financial repercussions. Response from the ground agent and Regaleali is awaited.

Life In Sri Lanka

Jack – a tropical ocean fish is considered a delicacy in Sri Lanka. Those who were on the Society’s Sri Lanka tour in year 2000 will remember the small mountain of Jack netted by a small band of fisherman during our stay at Blue Water Hotel. The fisherman sustained numerous lacerations to their hand and legs from the sharp dorsal fins of the Jack and most  medical members of the group were involved in treating them. In gratitude, the fisherman gave us two large fish which the beach restaurant baked for an alfresco lunch for us. Lsat Sunday I barbecued a couple of Jack, much smaller than the ones we had at Blue Water and washed them down with 2016 Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay. They tasted almost as good as the ones from 2000. I scored the Chardonnay 15/20. Below are two images showing fisherman at Blue Water hotel, taken by Drs. Alisdair & Elma Stewart in 2000.

Coffee arrived in Ceylon before tea. The first arabica coffee plants were probably brought here from Yemen by Muslim pilgrims in the early 17th century. Coffee plantations thrived under the Dutch and then the British until the fungal disease ‘coffee leaf rust’ decimated the plantations in the 18th century, making way for the introduction of tea. Coffee production in Sri Lanka is seeing signs of revival. I remember as a child my mother supervising the harvesting and preparation of coffee beans from plants that grew in our garden. She used to add a little butter and brown sugar to the beans when roasting them giving the brew a rich, creamy flavour. Today, the most exclusive brand of coffee in Sri Lanka is Hansa but most people drink ‘Island’ which costs almost 50% less. I drink both but the other day, I brewed a pot of York Coffee a pack of which I brought here from Harrogate in February. It tasted as good as the Hansa.

Mango Season is round the corner and the trees in my front garden are full of fruit. For the troupe of Western Purple Face Leaf monkeys – a threatened species that lives in the area, this is an annual feast. I watch them from my front veranda every day as I sip my morning coffee. Despite their urban lifestyle, the monkeys are camera shy and difficult to photograph.

Yesterday I was taken to dinner by an executive of the Dilmah Tea Company to a restaurant in Colombo called Tuna Paha, which serves traditional Sri Lankan food accompanied by traditional dancers, drummers and ‘fire-eaters’. Each table at the lake-side open air restaurant has its own buffet and waiters. We drank Lion beer, ate spicy food and watched the dancers. My host told me about the high-end “Tea-trails” tea estate bungalows in the hills the Company runs, providing a glimpse of the privileged life tea-planters enjoyed during Colonial times and offered to arrange a stay at one of them. If you ever visit Sri Lanka, this is an experience that should not be missed!

Next weekend I will be off on another birding/wildlife trip, this time to three dry zone national parks. My target list includes two endemic birds – Sri Lanka Spur Fowl and Red-faced Malkoha, the rare Dollar Bird, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Golden Palm Civet and the seldom seen Sri Lanka Sloth bear.

SUNDAY 3 MARCH 2019

Travel

The late withdrawal from the Sicily tour party by two members was a major blow from which we are struggling to recover. The ground agent will be told on Monday and there could be a price to pay. The free flight offer valid up to Monday morning is an attempt to attract two new faces and thus avoid a possible financial penalty.

Some say HMWS tours are dead and I should now bury the corpse and just cherish past glory. May be it is foolish but there is still hope of a unique spring trip to the Rheingau next year and accommodation at Hotel Zwei Mohren in Assmannshausen is reserved. Peter Hofman too was informed. (Click here for the provisional itinerary).

Life In Sri Lanka

My first trip to Gal Oya National Park last week was full of elephant sightings. Of the 150 or so bird species found in the park, 58 were seen and recorded using eBird – an on and offline bird recording system from Cornell University. The smart phone and iPad apps are free to download and easy to use. A pair of Greater Racket Tailed Drongos and an Indian Darter, both with unusual flight patterns, were the two star birds of the trip. Another safari to three more national parks in the North Central Province in search of elusive Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, endemic Sri Lanka Spurfowl and nocturnal Golden Palm Civit is planned for the third week of the month.

Veddas are the original ‘aboriginal’ hunter-gatherer inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Today, they are confined to the Wanni region of the Island and are under threat of extinction. Over the years, I have visited their ‘village’ of Dambana a number of times and grabbed the opportunity to visit them again during my recent trip to Gal Oya. It was sad and in away, shocking to see how tourism has had a negative and corruptive impact on the Vedda way of life. However, they are still using and now, selling Gammalu, a potent ancient remedy for Diabetes. Gammalu (Pterocarpus marsupium) ia a large tree the wood and bark of which is soaked in water overnight to produce a dark, amber coloured liquid, drunk in small quantities three times a week to lower blood sugar and lipids. (Click here to read about Veddas and here for a scientific paper from the University of Sri Lanka on Gammalu).

 

Capt. Elmo Jayawardena, an ex-pilot with Singapore Airlines, is an award-winning Sri Lankan novelist. His latest title is “Kakiyan” – a tongue-in-cheek account of the life of a crow. The narrator, Kakiyan, is the son of Alice and Stanley Crow and brother to Lucille and Rodney. They live in a Jacaranda Condominium and fly about living a carefree life. Elmo invited me to his special book-reading on Friday at the British Council Library in Colombo. As always, his presentation was scintillating and arrangements and catering at the Council were immaculate.

SUNDAY 27 JANUARY 2019

WINE

  • Uncorked: The first bottle uncorked this week was a Chateau Musar 1995 – a gift from a good friend. The wine, despite age, was magnificent and brightened a bleak, cold evening. Tony Coral commented via Facebook: Sure it does! Even the lower price Hochar from the same maker is mighty warming!” Torres Purgatori 2014 – a blend of Cariñena, Garnacha and Syrah from Costers del Segre oak aged for 18 months, was another rich, wonderful and warming wine that should be in every wine lover’s cellar. It brought back very pleasant memories of an HMWS trip to the little visited Costers del Segre many years ago to taste at the then new Raimat winery
  • Offers: 27 cases of wine were delivered to the Society this week – 8 cases from The Wine Society, 13 cases from Enotria&Coe and 6 cases from Fells. Mixed tasting cases from these wines are on offer to Members. I think the Fells Fizz & Port case is an absolute bargain and am pleased at least one Member bought the Schafer case. I have cellared stocks of all the wines on offer and am looking forward to enjoying them in the spring on my return from a  relatively wine-starved stay in Sri Lanka!

TRAVEL

  • Sicily: The Sicily Tour this spring is on course. Twelve Members of the 24 who first registered interest are on the tour and the ground agent in Sicily is keen to go ahead. Details are being sorted out
  • China: I am booked in to visit China this September, which is said to be the best month to visit the country. My 18-day “Ancient China” trip is with Wendy Wu Tours. Click here  if you would like to see the itinerary. I will be away most of the autumn as I plan to have a four-week break in Sri Lanka on my way back from China. HMWS work except a tasting in September will be uninterrupted thanks to the Internet
  • Germany: I spoke to Peter Hofman the other day about our proposed return visit to the Rheingau in the spring of 2020. He thinks it would be best to make a provisional reservation at Hotel Zwei Mohren now. I have written to Sandra at the hotel asking her to pencil in 10 double rooms for us. I have already spoken to Britannia Travel re coach hire. It would be good if 20 Members (at least!) register interest in the tour now
  • Australia: I have asked a tour operator in Australia, recommended by my Australian contacts, to arrange a tour focussing on Sydney, Hunter Valley, Blue Mountains, Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, Catherine Gorge, Ghan Train, Ayres Rock, Adelaide with the wine region, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne and Tasmania for February/March 2020. I wonder whether such a tour would be of interest to any HMWS members

SUNDAY 3 JUNE 2018

Wines Of The Week

The following wines, sourced either by the Society or bought at cellar door during HMWS tours, were two of the wines of the week.

  1. Murgers des Dents de Chien 2011, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru, Domaine Gérard Thomas: Pale yellow in colour. The characteristic intense acidity has softened. Quite pleasing but unlikely to get better. Drink up, if you have any left
  2. Chakana Estate Selection Malbec 2015: Dark and full of black fruit and soft tannins. Very approachable now but will continue to improve. I would try a second bottle only in 12 months

SUNDAY 22 APRIL 2018

It has been a remarkable week in many ways.

It started with a Member’s 80th Birthday Lunch on Sunday at Pannal Golf Club, attended by many members of the Society. Wine orders went out to Fells and deliveries came at crack of dawn from London City Bond twice – on Monday and Thursday. Spring finally arrived, the temperature on Wednesday reaching 20 degrees C in Harrogate, the highest recorded in April for 70 years. A Member celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday. Two Members flew to Budapest to sail down the Danube to Bucharest.

There were many interesting wines but the most remarkable this week was a Goulbern Valley Marssanne from Mitchelton in Victoria. The vintage was 1997. Yes, 1997! It was golden in colour, highly aromatic, had wonderful texture and immensely drinkable. There wasn’t even an hint of oxidation. (16.5). It brought back fond memories of yearly wine dinners in Sheffield decades ago, when late Don Lewis – the then winemaker of Michelton, came over with his chef to present his wines over a fabulous dinner to invited guests. I still remember the trout from his backyard river, kangaroo, ‘botrytis’ ice cream and endless bottles of  wonderful Mitchelton…

SUNDAY 7 APRIL 2018

Wines Of The Week

Niepoort Rotulo, Dao: The fruit is from 30 to 60 years old vines in Gouveia and Vila Nova de Tázem in Dao with granite soils. The main varietals are Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Touriga Nacional. The hand picked grapes were vinified in stainless steel vats, aged for 12 months in cement vats and bottled with minimum clarification. A medium bodied, ruby coloured wine with an aroma of black fruit and spices which is common in all Dão classic wines. Ageing in cement vats provides a fresh and elegant finish. (16)

FMC 2014, Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch: The top white of the Ken Forrester ‘Icon’ range made mainly with Chennin Blanc. It has 5.8g/l of residual sugar but fresh acidity masks the sweetness to a great extent. It is still young for FMC (the 2010 is golden yellow, sweeter and immensely appealing) but perfectly drinkable.

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SUNDAY 18 MARCH 2018

Wines of the week

  1. Fleurie La Salomine 2015, Chateau de Poncié: Fruit for this beauty is manually harvested and sorted and undergoes partial whole bunch fermentation. It is dark, fragrant, elegant and utterly delightful. 14%. Drinking window is now to 2021. Highly recommended! (16.5). (£15.33 Fells/HMWS)
  2. Vina Arana Reserva 2009, La Rioja AltaFine, reliable Rioja, though not as pleasing as the 2008. (15.5) Available to the HMWS from Armit Winres at £16.60 per 75cl bottle
  3. Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 2010, Trimbach: Golden, rich, full and almost dry fabulous Alsace Pinot Gris. Highly recommend. (18) The current vintage is available to the HMWS from Enotria&Co at £29.05 per 75cl bottle

SUNDAY 11 MARCH 2018

The Week’s Wines

The half bottles of Pierre-Gimonnet Cuis Premier Cru NV now makes it possible to enjoy a glass of good champagne more often. According to Tom Stevenson, magnums of champagne get more reserve wine than bottles – a concept vehemently denied by producers I have questioned. There is no doubt that smaller bottles age faster. The bubbles seem larger in the Gimonnet half bottles (did you hear that boffins are trying to develop an App to assess  the quality of a champagne by the sound of bursting bubbles?) and the wine itself tasted young (there is no date of disgorgement on the back label). Still it is quite delightful and satisfying. I e-mailed Didier Gimonnet to tell him so.

Torres Celeste 2009 – the last bottle from a case I bought a few years ago, sadly has not improved much with age. I think it is a poor example of a Ribera del Duero with harsh tannins and little fruit and it took me over three days to finish the bottle!

The first taste of Domaine Seguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume at the winery many years ago was impressive. The vineyard is at the western edge of Grand Cru Le Clos and the young winemaker showed talent. But it took only a few years for the wine to be spoilt with Premature Oxidation which at one time became almost a plague in Burgundy. My comments after the 6th bottle of his oxidized Chablis offended the wine maker who insisted that his wines never get oxidized. Sadly, the bottle this week, a 2007, was the same. Fortunately, it was the last of my stock.

Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2011 was an absolute delight, confirming my view that the wine takes six years to come of age. It is not a sipping wine but food makes it glorious! No wonder a savvy member of the Society bought four cases of the 2014 vintage this week.

Sherry & Tapas In Ripon

The silence is deafening and another event bites the dust! Sorry Ian, may be the two of us will hit the place when Tio Pepe En Rama is out next month.

Majestic Tasting

Most trade tastings are held on Flower or Fruit days according to the Biodynamic calendar but Majestic held theirs on Friday – a Leaf Day. The friendly staff worked hard to please. Sadly, most wines on offer failed to impress.  Cote Mas Pezenas 2016 (£12.99) is an insipid fizz. Domaine Saint Ferréol Viognier 2015 (£14.99) is aromatic, fruity with a hint of sweetness but too much to pay for a mediocre Pays d’Oc white. Nord Est Vermintino 2015, Cantina del Vermintino, Sardinia (£9.99) lacks structure and balance. Borghetti Valpolicella Ripasso 2015 (£13.99) is thin and gutless – a far cry from a true ripasso. Ramos Reserva 2015 (£8.99) from the Alentejo is pleasant with good fruit and acidity and quite drinkable. Vox Populi Bobal 2014 Utiel-Requena (£10.99) is an interesting wine from a grape little known outside its home in Valencia. It is in a bottle with an unusual shape and has a distinctive label. The wine has good fruit, structure and balance and I almost bought it for an HMWS tasting. At the end, I settled for a case of tried and tested Royal Tokaji Dry Tokaji Furmint 2015 (£11.99) – is crisp and light and beautifully poised.

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SUNDAY 4 MARCH 2018

Vina Ardanza 2009: The Hedonist published Armit Wines’ La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2009 offer (£172 per 12 bottle case or 6 magnums in Bond) earlier in the week. Yesterday Farr Vintners offered us the same wine at £202 per case of 12 in Bond. It is reassuring to see that Armit Wines gives the Society such favourable rates.

Wines of the Week

  1. Marimar Estate La Masia Pinot Noir 2009 from the Don Miguel in Sanoma’s Russian River Valley is in peak condition with a silky texture and loads of red fruit on the nose and palate. Drink now. (16.5). (2014 vintage is available from Fells at £27.74 a bottle)
  2. Corteaura Brut, Franciacorta: Produced near Milan in Lombardy, fashionable Franciacorta is Italy’s first wine to be produced in the classic “champagne” method. Made from Chardonnay, the wine spends two years on lees and is lemony, crisp, rich, dry and pleasing. Great with smoked salmon and pasta. (15.5)
  3. Barbadillo Cuco Oloroso Seco: Twelve years old, mouth filling and beautifully dry. Ideal cold weather aperitif (16.5) (Available from Fells at £23.29 a bottle)
  4. Prats + Symington Pazo do Roriz 2015: Warming Douro red made for early drinking with Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel. A blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela. Dark, rich and utterly delightful. (16) (Currently on offer from Fells at £64.50 per case of 6 bottles)
  5. Barbaresco Riserva 1999, Santa Stephano, Castello di Nieve: 100% Nebbiolo from over 30 year old vines, aged for two years in wood. A perfect example of the soft Nieve style. The bottle was a remnant from a trip to the estate in Piemonte years ago. Despite age, the wine is full of fruit, lively but with soft tannins and is absolutely delightful. It partnered pasta cooked with Taleggio perfectly. Wish I had more! (17)

SUNDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2018

Fells Portfolio Tasting was held last Tuesday and Wines of Portugal Annual Tasting was on Thursday. I missed both but attended the Discover Wildlife evening at St George Hotel in Harrogate on Wednesday which featured Brazil’s Pantenal wet land for its unique wildlife (on my bucket list) and Baja California for whales. An invitation has arrived for the World Spirits Conference at the London Hilton in March but I am unlikely to participate.

The most remarkable wine this week was Leon Bayer Gewürztraminer Comtes d’Eguisheim 2000,  bought at the winery years ago. This cuvée is made only in exceptional years and the best fruit from the best vineyards go in to it. Now the wine is deep gold in colour, exceptionally aromatic, dry (residual sugar less than 5g/l), rich and honeyed and wonderful (17). Marsanne is generally blended with Rousanne and Viognier in the Northern Rhone but Paul Mas has produced a cracking varietal Marsanne Estate 2016 – aromatic, dry and full of flavour (16). HMWS members will be able to sample it at the “Volcanic Wines” tasting in April. Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Chardonnay 2013 is a crisp and mouthwatering wine with careful oak handling, more akin to a Chablis than a Meursault (16.5). Ascheri Nebbiolo D’Alba 2003 is from the gentler side of Piemonte with good fruit and soft tannins (16.5). It was brought back from a trip to Ascheri many years ago. Two weeks ago, I met tall and bearded Matteo Ascheri again at the Enotria&Co Portfolio tasting in London and retasted the range including his wonderfully aromatic and fruity 2017 Gavi di Gavi which I thought is well worth seeking out.

SUNDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2018

Fine Food Show North 2018 was held at the Yorkshire Events Centre in Harrogate from Sunday to Tuesday. Of the three Harrogate Gin stands, Whittaker’s True Handcrafted Yorkshire Gin, are keen to host the HMWS at their distillery at Dacre Banks. A visit can be put together if members are interested. York Coffee Emporium brewed fine coffee and a young Polish apiarist who works in Scotland showed fine raw honey from coriander and buckwheat flowers which he claims are as good as New Zealand’s Menuka.

Tony Lee & Renna Benson flew to Argentina on Friday. Florencia Imburgia of Hon Travel Argentina wrote: March and April is a great time to visit Argentina. In Mendoza we have the harvest festival the first days of March. We are the official travel agency, for Master of Wine Tim Atkin’s trips to Mendoza!” Argentina is in my diary for March 2019.

 

The 2018 winter/spring trade tasting program is in full swing. Wines of Portugal annual tasting is on 22nd February. Armit Italian Portfolio Tasting is on 6th March. Jeroboams have their’s on 14th March. London Wine Fair is on 21st May. Great if you live in London!

 

Bialleti Mocha Express is simple and cheap but makes a fantastic cup from ground coffee.

 

 

Wine: Marques de Murrieta Capellania 2010 – a white Rioja, has lost some of its zip, Pierre-Gimonnet Cuis Premier Cru NV is delightful as ever, Kennedy Point Syrah 2007 from New Zealand’s Waiheke island seems to go on for ever and Jean Leon Vinya Palau 2009 is soft and fruity and wonderful.

Pequera,  Crianza and Reserva, will be ordered tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2018

I spent most of the week in London, eating out and tasting wine. Fine South Indian food from Sambal Express on Edgware Road on Saturday was followed by a sublime Sunday lunch at Y.B. Yeats in Finsbury Park (Burrata with beetroot pickled in Sauvignon Blanc, roast beef and roast potatoes), washed down with pints of Brew Dog’s Dead Pony ale. Excellent Premier Cru Chablis from Domaine Bernard Defaix, Lopez de Heredia Riojas and Clos Mogador Priorat thrilled at Georges Barbier portfolio tasting on Monday. The lavish Enotria&Coe tasting on three floors of the Saatchi Gallery on Tuesday had more fine wine than anybody could cope in one day. A ‘Turkish’ haircut and dinner washed down with Punk IPA at Bun & Pint were the highlights of Wednesday.

Wines Of The Week: Pratts & Symington Prazo do Roriz 2016 – a blend of Tinta Barroca,Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, full of black fruit with spicy notes is excellent and is ready to drink now. Hunter’s Pinot Noir 2014 is less savoury and more fruity than the 2013 and is quite delightful. Both wines are currently on offer to the HMWS from Fells and Laytons respectively.

HMWS: A member wrote: “Not received anything from you for quite a while. Is your e-mail not working?” The fact is, not many e-mails are sent out. Everything the Society has to tell members is on the Blog and/or Daily Hedonist!

Year Of The Bird: National Geographic celebrates 2018 as the “Year of the Bird” to encourage people everywhere to commit themselves to conservation, as environmental changes driving the dramatic loss of bird diversity across the Earth. “If you take care of the birds, you can take care of most of the environmental problems in the world,” says Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, biologist and “godfather of biodiversity.”

SUNDAY 28 JANUARY 2018

A Sparkling Cuvée?: Ex England cricketer Ian Botham has launched a new English sparkling wine called – yes you guessed it – Cuvée Sir Ian Botham. Pol Roger watch out!

The Tio Pepe En Rama was the 2016 bottling – it  has lost some freshness but is still perfectly drinkable. Great with Hamon Serrano and green olives. Abbotts & Delaunay Domaine de la Métairie d’Alon Pinot Noir Le Village 2015, Pays d’Oc is a Burgundian in style but with a touch more of the sweet fruit and flesh you find in new world Pinots. It is made by a Burgundian, Laurent Delaunay, in the region he thinks has what it takes to make the best Pinot Noirs in France outside Burgundy – Limoux. Delas St Joseph 2009 didn’t deliver as much as it promised but partnered a steak well. Torres Purgatori 2013 was almost perfect with the Burns Night haggis. 2011 Guigal Cotes du Rhone is ripe and ready.

SUNDAY 21 JANUARY 2018

Harrogate Masonic Hall: Many thanks to the members who wrote in with their views and suggestions and to Dr. Stephen Cameron for his donation of £60 towards the new corkage charges. Each event at the Masonic Hall will now cost an extra £120. It is disappointing that we are asked to pay corkage even for the tasting wines we ourselves open and pour in to our own tasting glasses. The cost of a three-course meal has also gone up to £35. It is sad that the Masonic Hall ended up being the last choice instead of the first.

Greywacke: Cloudy Bay Pelorus Brut Rosé is added to the Greywacke tasting list despite the cost. Tom Cannavan in his Wine Pages wrote: “Though I’ve tasted Pelorus and Pelorus Vintage many times, this was my first tasting of their Pinot Noir Rosé, a traditional method wine from Marlborough. It pours a very delicate, pale colour, with plenty of minuscule bubbles. Gentle peach and redcurrant, raspberry aromas lead the way, a little whiff of stony, herbal character, onto a palate where the tangy raspberry and citrus is lively and really dances across the tongue with its fine acidity, the sweetness of the fruit always matched by crisp, pithy flavours into a long finish. Very stylish.”

Argentina: Florencia Imburgia of Hon Travel – the agent selected for us by Sophie Jump was contacted during the week. She wrote: “Good to hear from you. For this small group, we should re quote all the services, because the prices have been modified for 2018. What I need is a detailed itinerary that the passengers would like to do, and the exact dates, so I can quote each of the services.” I am not sure whether we have enough time to get things together for this tour in early March.

Enotria&Coe: The annual portfolio tasting of this HMWS supplier will be held at the Saatchi Gallery in London in February. An invitation has arrived and I hope I will be able to attend.

Paul Bocuse: Sad to hear of the death yesterday of chef Paul Bocuse at the age of 91. What a pity we missed the opportunity to dine at his three star Lyon restaurant last October.

SUNDAY 16 JANUARY 2018

  • The Society has been successful in arranging Oliver Connolly to attend the annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in London tomorrow as a member of the Serendib Promotions’ team. I will be there too and hope to meet the Greywacke team including Kevin Judd’s son and Jane Hunter’s winemaker, among others.
  • Insufficient uptake forced the Society to cancel the proposed day trip to London for the Cézanne Portraits Exhibition. The only definite HMWS trip in 2018 appears to be the “Autumn In The Rheingau” wine tour in September. I contacted the agent for the proposed tour of Argentina on Friday to see if the tour will be viable with the small number of members who have shown interest. Response is awaited.
  • Stonecroft Reserve Syrah 2014 is an elegant and utterly pleasing wine. It will be one of the ‘main course wines’ at the Society’s Spring Lunch in May this year.
  • The £1 increase in the cost of the supper at the Masonic Hall is acceptable but the introduction of corkage is not. Members’ views were conveyed to Adam and he has gone away to ponder. It is hoped that a satisfactory compromise could be reached.
  • This week’s Twitter Links told you about Multi-vintage Blends, 2017 Northern Hemisphere Harvest, Volcanic Wines and the latest Coravin.

Sunday 7 January 2018: The snow was gone and the sun shone briefly on New Year’s Eve. The whole Hamon Serrano in the wooden cradle was gently sliced and the 2017 bottling of Tio Pepe En Rama still tased fresh.

A great friend and wine personality was lost in the early hours of Monday. The death of Tony Keys was not the kind of news one wants to hear on New Year’s Day. Champagne earmarked for the evening stayed on ice and the last remaining bottle of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz was opened instead – a wine I shared with Tony often in the past. It was from the 1999 vintage and was silky and wonderful and as late Colin Parnell used to say “was that good a bottle, it was not enough for two.”

A good sausage, if you can find one, is a real treat. The plumb Italians from the East London Sausage Company, first fried in olive oil and then baked with onions, rosemary, harissa, chicken stock and cannelloni beans, made a wonderful supper on Christmas Day. Thank you Nigel Slater!

In 2012, a handful of members from the HMWS visited Boekenhoutskloof for a memorable tasting. I had no hesitation in picking up a parcel of wine from this celebrated Franschhoek producer that came on the market this week. They will be tasted in July.

The tasting of Greek wines was not an easy one to arrange and present but it was a great privilege to taste the intense and rare Samos Nectar 1980. Effi Sournava’s video clip (see Tweet below) on Christmas Greek wines is refreshing – she is my contact for Meerlust Estate wines. However, my last bottle of 2001 Tasca D’Almarita Cabernet Sauvignon, brought back from the last HMWS trip to Sicily, was hopelessly corked!

Sunday 31 December 2017: As always, the final week of the year has been one of indulgence. It was cold and wet in London but Gimonnet Special Club 2008, 2001 La Rioja Alta 890 and Dow’a 1985 with the pheasant casserole on Christmas Day kept the spirits up. Then there were the Turkish grills and beer at the fabulous Gokyuzu in Wood Green on Boxing Day. There was an endless supply of Gimonnet 2009, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Moss Wood, Mas La Plana and Quinta do Crasto with Carol & Peter Murphy on Friday. In comparison, Saturday’s Gimonnet 2008 and Ken Forrester’s Gypsy with a few good friends felt rather tame.

And what will 2018 bring?

Sunday 25 June 2017: Sunday was bright and sunny in London. I walked along Regents Canal to Granary Square and had lunch at the fabulous Grain Store where the prodigiously talented chef Bruno Loubet is a King’s Cross dining king. I drank Esporao Blanco Reserva 2015 with homemade sausage, wild mushrooms, potato and ducks eggs. The wine from Portugal’s Alentejo region is a delightful blend of Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, Arinto and Semillón. It brought back very pleasant memories of our visit to Esporao in June 2016. Outside on the square, kids were playing in the fountains and I stood and watched a pretty girl on a canal boat playing the harp. It was a great way to spend Sunday afternoon!

Friday 23 June 2017: Preparations for the July Meerlust Tasting have started in earnest. All the wines are in place, Powerpoint presentation is taking shape and publicity material from Effi Tsournava of Maisons Marques et Domaines – UK agents for Meerlust, arrived this morning. I have requested the Company’s Trade Wine List and Serendib Promotions can open a trade account to source Meerlust and other interesting wines for the Society if members are interested. It is also hoped that the two remaining places for the Meerlust tasting will be filled soon.

I have mixed feelings about the apparently booming Georgian tourist industry which could affect the ancient charm of the country. I am glad that the Society managed 3 tours since 2011 before things got too hectic. This came from a new tour operator yesterday: “Geo City Travel  is an independent travel agency oriented on making the exclusive tours around Georgia, organized by the professionals loving their work. Our love towards Georgia enables us to offer you Individual or Family luxury holidays at unbelievable value. Please check attached package below, and come back to me. We have some great offers for very good price. – Levan Kobakhidze, Tbilisi, Georgia.”    www.Geocitytravel.com

I drove down to London in the afternoon for a weekend break, walked in Finsbury Park in the evening watching urban foxes and  and drank La Rioja Alta’s Vina Arana 2008 with supper.

Thursday 22 June 2017: It was an early start to the day. The Hedonist was done and posted and a wine order sent to Fells before seven. Two cases of Louis Roederer champagne for the December dinner arrived from Lea & Sandeman, Michael Drappier wanted to know where we would be staying on 25th October during the Rhone/Champagne tour and to my delight, John & Pat Shore responded to the 2018 Tasting Calendar and cancellation of the Dirk Niepoort tasting, before eight! 

On the subject of Niepoort, I uncorked a bottle of his Rotulo 2013 for supper, a Dao red from 30 to 60 year old Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Touriga Nacional vines, vinified in stainless steel and aged for 22 months in cement vats. It went well with Stamna – Greek baked lamb with aubergines, red peppers, tomato and potatoes.

Wednesday 21 June 2017: Yesterday I marked the Summer Solistice with a bottle of Barone Ricasoli Torricella Chardonnay 2015. It was my first taste of the unusual Tuscan blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Sauvignon Blanc and I liked it. The Chardonnay was aged for 9 months in wood with skin contact and the Sauvignon Blanc also for 9 months but in stainless steel without skin contact. The wine is rich with good texture from long skin contact but not tannic like a Georgian qvevri wine. The oak is in the background and though linear, has fine fruit and a dry, long finish. It is a good food wine and complemented buttery and nutty Sicilian Nocellara olives in brine (sold by Olives Direct) and new potatoes cooked with thyme and telaggio. It is on offer from Fells till tomorrow (Friday) and I have placed an order for two cases today for delivery next week.

Tuesday 20 June 2017: Last week, Andrew Jefford described in Decanter his meeting with the eminent wine critic and educator Michael Schuster at his home in London (Hedonist published a link on Sunday). “Which famous person, alive or dead, would you most like to share a great bottle with (and what would you serve to him or her)?” Jefford asks him. Schuster replies: “Mozart. At the moment it would be JJ Prüm’s 2004 Whelener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. As refreshing, transparent, and moving as so much of his music.” That brought a smile to my face. I bought two cases of the wine during one of the Society’s visits to the Mosel to taste at JJ Prüm some years ago. I drank the first case last year and I will think of Mozart and Schuster when I drink the second over the next few years.

Monday 19 June 2017: The previous week’s heat wave continued and another senseless atrocity in London shattered the morning peace. Goldfinches chirped in the morning sun and a nuthatch waddled awkwardly across the patio looking for a worm. Fathers Day had come and gone without a drop of wine passing my lips – the heat, high UV and pollen are to be blamed. Master of Wine Sebastian Payne’s account of his visit to Tuscany for The Wine Society and his meeting with Paolo de Marche of Isole e Olena was read with joy. It brought back memories of a meeting with the great Tuscan producer at a portfolio tasting of Liberty Wines in London years ago when a day trip to the capitol by train was still affordable. (You can read Sebastian Payne’s “Would the real sangiovese please stand up!” here). I couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to feature Islo e Olena’s 2010 Cepparello in magnums (£110 The Wine Society) at a tasting of the Society!

Dr. Tony Coral wrote to me a week or so ago wanting to buy a case or two of Mt. Horrocks Nero de Avola and I am down to my last three bottles of Polish Hill. As both wines are imported to the UK by Liberty (owned by David Gleave MW), I e-mailed Andy Taylor in sales for the current trade list. Liberty are the agents for countless top producers, both in the Old & New World such as Pieropan, Allegrini, Cullen, Ata Rangi, Charles Melton etc. etc…

Images below are from the Society’s tour of Tuscany in 2007.

The first wine of the week was Pouilly-Fume Les Chailloux 2001 from Jean-Claude Chatellain. You would be right in thinking that a 16 year old Pouilly-Fume is way past its drink by date. It has lost all its Sauvignon Blanc features, but was rich and honeyed with excellent fruit and acidity and was perfectly drinkable.

 

Sunday 18 June 2017: – “Small Group Tastings – Way Forward For The HMWS?” Lately, more and more HMWS events are undersubscribed and require subsidies from the meagre funds of the Society. Several members have suggested that small group tastings, restricted to 15 where only one bottle of each wine to be tasted is needed, could be the way forward. However, that would not be possible at the Masonic Hall where the minimum number has to be 28. The Golf Club too would not be keen to host regular evening events for 15 but tastings on Sundays when the carvery lunch is on (every other Sunday) is a possibility. Again, to do exactly that today, did not get enough support probably because of Fathers Day. It would be interesting to see what response we have for the proposed small group event on Sunday 16 July. An alternative would be for members to host ‘home tastings’ Again, only a small number of members have the facilities to do that. Needless to say that all expenses of such volunteers would be reimbursed.

 

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