10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

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Normally I come up with all the ideas for my posts myself, but recently my friend Jim Dunlop (on Twitter as @jimofayr) shared an article with me that he had enjoyed:
10 ways to mildly irritate a whisky enthusiast and suggested I do an equivalent for wine.

I was happy to oblige, so here it is.  Please comment if there are any others which particularly irritate you!

1. Describe a restaurant wine list as having “both red AND white wine”

I shit you not. This was exactly how a hotel restaurant wine list was described to me when I asked to see it while having lunch in the hotel bar. I know family hotels aren’t necessarily going to be a wine enthusiast’s paradise, but you’d hope that the hotel staff would know a little more than red or white.

Irritation factor: amused

2. Top up their glass with a different wine from the one they are drinking

“Sure, it all goes down the same way?” “Well they’re both French aren’t they?” Or even worse: “well they’re both red aren’t they?” Many wine enthusiasts like a sociable drink, but the odds are, when different wines are being served (at a dinner party or elsewhere), they want to try them individually rather than being forced to try some foul blend. Sometimes a well-meaning host can drive a wine enthusiast over the edge!

Irritation factor: miffed

3. Expect them to be a sommelier if they have a wine industry qualification

I happen to have the WSET Advanced certificate, which is a widely recognised qualification. It would be very useful to have if working for an importer, merchant or in a restaurant with a good wine list. However, just holding the cert does not make me a sommelier; I haven’t spent a single hour working as a sommelier so I have zero basis to claim to be one. I have a lot of respect for the trade as long hours are often unfortunately rewarded by mediocre pay. Some sommeliers don’t have an official qualification and still do a great job.

Irritation factor: exasperated

4. Ask them what they are celebrating when they open a bottle of Champagne

The Champenois are very protective of their image and “brand equity”, a good part of which has been built up by marketing and advertising the drink as a reward for success – think of F1 drivers spraying each other with fizz on the podium. But Champagne is still a wine, and plenty of wine enthusiasts are interested in drinking it on exactly that basis, with nothing in particular to celebrate – so don’t assume that they are.

Irritation factor: peeved

5. Remark that a wine shop is very expensive as most of the bottles are €15 or more

Most wines bought in Ireland and the UK are bought in supermarkets. Over the last ten years or so the choice in most supermarkets has diminished significantly, and although there are nice bottles available the bulk are by-the-numbers-at-a-price-point. This means that the majority of interesting wines are only available through wine merchants, who don’t (aren’t able to) offer huge discounts to tempt shoppers in to buy other things, and in any case aren’t able to procure their wines at the same cost as the supermarkets. All this means that most wines in merchants have a higher price than in supermarkets, but – and this is important – they often offer better value.

Irritation factor: bothered

6. Be an ill-informed wine snob

There are a few wine enthusiasts who are also wine snobs, but I contend that the majority are not. Many are used to hearing silly or even downright stupid comments from “know-all” wine drinkers who like to show off their allegedly superior knowledge. The classic is, of course, “Give me a Chablis any day, none of that Chardonnay crap!” which I have heard on more than one occasion.

Other beauties include “I don’t like French wines” (it’s fine to have an opinion, but have you really tasted ALL types of French wine to arrive at that opinion?) and “Wines from Australia all taste the same” which is of course poppycock.

Irritation factor: annoyed

7. Insist on topping up their glass in a restaurant

Some people enjoy being “waited on” in restaurants, including having their glass topped up by a hovering waiter. Others don’t, and I suspect that – like myself – many wine enthusiasts would be in the “no thanks” camp, for several reasons.

Firstly, as a responsible adult I feel capable of pouring wine from a bottle into a glass myself. Secondly, I like to drink at my own pace, so don’t top up my glass in an attempt to make me drink more.

Thirdly, as temperature can have a profound effect on the aromas and flavours of a wine I like to semi-consciously monitor that as I evaluate a wine – difficult if someone dumps a load more into your glass. As for restaurants where an open bottle is left out of reach or – and this is just terrible form – out of sight, I rarely go back!

Irritation factor (topping up): vexed

Irritation factor (hiding bottle): incandescent

8. Give them a crap glass to drink out of

A good wine glass doesn’t have to be expensive and, conversely, some which are expensive aren’t great for appreciating wine. Even a modest wine will taste better out of the right size / shape / material / thickness of glass. See this article for more thoughts on the subject.

Irritation factor: bothered

9. Ask them a stupidly broad question about wine

If I had a Euro for every time I’ve been asked a stupid, banal question about wine I’d probably have enough for a bottle of Cristal, or at least a bottle of Tesco Value Cava. These include:
• “What’s a good wine?” (Like asking “What’s good food?”)
• “What sort of wine do you like?” (Like asking “What sort of music do you like?”)
• “What wine should I drink with chicken?” (The answer for which is highly dependent on the method of cooking, sauces and other accompaniments)

Irritation factor: headbutting the nearest wall

10. Charge over double a wine’s retail price in a restaurant

Restaurants have more costs to cover than wine merchants, so it seems fair that they make a higher gross margin to cover these costs.  However, some just seem to take the piss: just before Xmas I was at a busy, well-regarded restaurant in Dublin which listed Torres Celeste (a lovely wine, it has to be said) at €50.  The RRP for the wine is €20.95 and I have seen it for less at respected merchants, so it was 2 1/2 to 3 times retail price (which is obviously more than wholesale price).  This is why I rarely splash out on a nice wine in restaurants, the Ely Group being a notable exception!

Irritation factor: thermonuclear destruction

Wine World Colouring Book [book review]

Adult Colouring Books are all the rage nowadays – meaning of course colouring books designed for adults rather than containing 18+ material.  Primarily they are used to aid relaxation and stress-reduction, though I think it would be fair to say that there is also an element of nostalgia.

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Up to now I haven’t succumbed to this fashion, though I have been known to “help” my 4 1/2 year old son with his colouring.  However, my Twitter friend and fellow blogger Zelda Sydney has authored an adult colouring book that has me searching for colouring pencils – because the illustrations are all related to wine!

The first three pages explain (a brief) history of wine production, Zelda’s interest in wine and illustration, and why she thought to combine them.

There are 20 hand-drawn comic-style illustrations each of which has a wine-related theme.  It’s obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into their composition – they have (at times) quite technical wine themes but are approachable for those with only a passing interest in wine.  Don’t be fooled by the simplistic lettering, this lady knows her stuff!

Here is my overall favourite: before any colouring and after I have started work (Disclaimer: please bear in mind that I am partially colourblind and so the actual colours used may bear no resemblance to those intended to be used.)

 Before:beforeAnd after:

after

What fun!

Click on the image to buy the book on Amazon

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar With Giuseppe Vaira

Last month my wife and I were invited to a wine dinner at Ely Wine Bar, my favourite venue in Dublin and one which I often mention on Frankly Wines and on Twitter.  It was jointly hosted with importers Liberty Wines and the wines were presented by third generation family member Giuseppe Vaira.

Magical food was prepared by Ryan Stringer and this team, with Ely Wine Director Ian Brosnan the man with the bottles.

Just to whet your appetite here is the menu:

Menu 2

 

Background to G.D. Vajra

The owner and winemaker is Aldo Vaira who established the firm in 1972, naming it after his father Giuseppe Domenico.  The family had been growing grapes since the 1920s but made the jump to producing wine.  Since then they have gradually expanded their holdings in the area around Barolo to 60 hectares.

Winemaking is traditional, in that the grapes are not left on the vine until very ripe and oak is used judiciously, but there is no overt woodiness and no faults, just fruit that speaks for itself and its birthplace.

Aperitif: 

G.D. Vajra “Pétracine” Langhe Riesling 2012 (12.5%, 3.8 g/L RS)

Vajra Riesling

Italian Riesling?  Unexpected or downright unusual, but the proof of the pudding is on the palate. Lemon and lime with perhaps a touch of stone fruit on the nose.  Very zesty, with lemon and apple flavours.  It does fall off a little after the amazing attack, but then mellows out for a very long finish.  There’s a tiny touch of sweetness in there, but it definitely falls into the “dry” category.  Would compare well to many Alsace Rieslings (which is high praise from me!)

Crispy pig tail, black pudding, caramelised onion, carrot & pine shoot oil

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The pig tail was tasty but it was the combination of the black pudding, the caramelised onion and carrot which ruled the dish.  Beautifully presented  it was appealing to both the eye and the palate. It also worked well with the crisp wines accompanying it.

G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG 2015 (13.0% – available by the glass at Ely Place)

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Dolcetto is often looked down upon, especially by outsiders, but it’s what the locals often choose to drink themselves.  Although the name alludes to sweetness, it’s nearly always a dry red wine with some tannin and moderate acidity as a frame for red cherry and red berry fruit.  Fabulous aromas of violets mean you will be nosing the glass for an age before tasting – though once you have tasted you will want more!

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2013 (13.5%)

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Unlike wines made under the Barbera d’Asti DOC regulations (which allow up to 15% of other local grapes, this Barbera d’Alba is a 100% varietal.  (Also see the new Nizza DOCG within Asti which is always 100% Barbera.)  This is a more powerful wine than the Dolcetto, blended from the fruit of six different vineyards.  The key notes for me were chocolate, berries and earthiness – a great match with the starter!

Organic Burren lamb belly, potato, samphire & lamb jus

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Occasionally ordering lamb belly can lead to a disappointingly greasy result. This dish offered anything but, with tender rolled pink lamb belly. The samphire (a first for us) added saltiness to both the potatoes and the lamb and really brought balance to the plate. The jus was sweeter than expected and would have been enjoyed more if there was a little more on the plate, because it was that good.

G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely Place)

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The Albe is Vajra’s entry level Barolo with grapes sourced from several vineyards.  The nose is predominantly red fruit and floral, with pine resin / eucalyptus in the background – definitely fruits of the forest!  Although it spent several years in barrel before release, it’s not at all woody;  tannins are present but not overbearing.  For such a relatively young wine, this is a minor miracle (from my limited experience of quality Barolo!)

G.D. Vajra “Ravera” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely CHQ)

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Ravera is a “Cru” or designated vineyard in the south west of Barolo, with a free-draining mix of clay and loose sand.  Although vines were first planted in 2001, the wines were labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo until 2008.  After 3 weeks of fermentation, the wine spent 42 months in Slavonian (Croatian) oak barrels.

The star of the show!  A full on black fruit experience on both the nose and palate – lovely juicy blueberries and blackberries, with a mineral edginess.  So well put together – rich yet delicate; poised…once the wine touches your lips you can’t wait for it to sate your taste buds.

Considering the young age of the wine and time spent in barrel this is a remarkably approachable wine already.  It seems Vajra have mastered the art of complex wines that don’t need a decade and a half to be ready!

Custard & rhubarb tart, poached rhubarb, lemon meringue
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The rhubarb and custard tart was smooth in texture and had plenty of zing.  The delicious, slightly chewy meringue added texture and the coulis of rhubarb cut through any over-sweetness.  Dessert offered texture and tang and was a winner.

G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 (5.5%, 143 g/L RS)

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Sometimes the icing on the cake can be a little bit too much – but not in this case!  Moscato d’Asti is naturally sparkling from the CO2 produced by the fermentation process.  This is stopped early – by bringing the temperature down to stop the yeast from functioning – so that only some of the sugar has turned to alcohol.  Sort of like the opposite to Holsten Pils, if you remember those Griff Rhys-Jones adverts.  The result is an avalanche of fruit – apricot, peach, mango, pear, passionfruit… it just goes on and on.  The dessert it accompanied was an inspired choice, as the acidity in the rhubarb and the Moscato were a match then the sweetness of the meringue was equalled by the residual sugar in the wine.

 

Thanks to my wife Jess who wrote the food sections above!

Great food, great wine, great company – this was an evening to remember!

 

Make Mine a Double #17 – Achaval Ferrer Mendoza

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Credit: Dbenbenn

If Argentina’s wine producers can be said to have a certain nobility about them, then Bodega Achaval Ferrer is royalty.

To my shame I hadn’t tasted their wines before the Wines of Argentina event earlier this year, but they made a big impression. More precisely, they didn’t make an impression by just being *big* (though there are very few 12% light-bodied Malbecs made in Argentina), but rather due to their elegance – probably the most elegant wines I tasted at the whole event.

Elegance doesn’t come without a cost, of course; apart from the pair featured below the range includes more expensive wines such as:

  • Quimera, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (RRP around €35)
  • The Finca series, three single vineyard expressions of Malbec with a RRP of €85 – €90

The Mendoza series are blends from different vineyards across the Mendoza wine region.  Based on the idea that blends can be more than the sum of their parts, they are designed to highlight the qualities and characters of their varieties rather than be a transparent window onto the terroir where they are grown.  Though to be honest, given the strength and power of Malbec, wouldn’t translucent be more appropriate?

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

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This is a 100% Malbec wine made from 60 hectares of vines in the Perdriel (3,150 ft), Medrano (2,790 ft) and Uco Valley (3,608 ft) subregions.  Close to opaque in the glass, it has a highly perfumed nose, with a range of red and black fruits and a twist of spice.  The fruit is also present and correct on the palate, but elegantly presented rather than the punch in the gob which most Malbecs give you.  It’s hard to describe accurately, but this is a classy wine.

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 2013 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

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The companion Cabernet Sauvignon is also a 100% varietal, but made from just 15 hectares in the Agrelo (3,215 ft) and Medrano (2,790 ft) subregions of Mendoza.  It also has a beguiling nose, outrageous amounts of elegant fruit coming through.  On the palate it could almost be mistaken for a serious Pauillac, with black and red fruit plus hints of cedar and tobacco – though I don’t think a Pauillac of this class could be drunk so young! Fine grained tannins also add a bit backbone against which the fruit is framed.

Conclusion: Yes, this pair do showcase their respective varieties as intended – but I think far more than that, they showcase the care and attention taken in the vineyard, low yields and high altitude setting.  These are wines fit for a king!

Full index of Make Mine a Double

 

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #10 – Domaine Rémy Gresser Gewurz “Kritt” 2015

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #10 – Domaine Rémy Gresser Gewurz “Kritt” 2015

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Credit: CIVA

Despite its long and thin, North-South orientation, probably the most significant compass direction in Alsace is East – West, as going East takes you closer to the plains by the Rhine (not that great for quality wine production), whereas heading West takes you into the foothills of the Vosges mountains (where most of the Grand Cru vineyards are located).

However, latitude does have an appreciable effect, with the richest wines being made around Guebwillwer and Thann in the south, and lighter styles in the northern villages such as Barr (where I stayed for a week a few years ago).

Very close to Barr is the village of Andlau, home to Domaine Rémy Gresser, a small family-owned producer.  They have a total of 10.3 hectares under vine, split across plots within the Grand Crus Kastelberg, Wiebelsberg and Moenchberg plus the Lieux-dits (recognised vineyards that do not have Grand Cru status) Brandhof, Brandberg and Kritt. The family’s vinous links to Andlau have been documented as far back as 1520 when Thiébaut Gresser  (himself a viticulturalist) was appointed prevost.

Domaine Rémy Gresser Gewurztraminer “Kritt” 2015 (13.5%, £21 from Top Selection)

Gresser front

Gresser back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On opening the bottle there’s no doubt what the grape is, before a glass has even been poured – white flower blossoms and lychees unfurl into the room.

Unusually above I have put photos of both the front and back labels up: two key figures are revealed on the back, being 13.5% alcohol and a sweetness of 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.  So, it’s fairly high in alcohol (though not untypical of Gewurz) which gives it some body, but off-dry in sweetness (compare to the medium and medium-sweet pair I reviewed here).

On the palate it is again distinctly Gewurz, but with a lightness and elegance that is remarkably refined.  If you find many Gewurz to be too full on – especially for pairing with more delicately spiced food – then this could be the wine you have been looking for!

 

Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review

 

 

 

 

 

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #9 – Nederburg “The Manor” Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Stylistically, Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa is somewhere between New Zealand and the Loire Valley – just as its Shiraz / Syrah is often between Australia and the northern Rhône.  Nederburg cite their founding back in 1791 by Philippus Wolvaart, but this is a thoroughly modern Sauvignon.

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Credit: Wines Of South Africa (WOSA)

The Manor is is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc grapes from vineyards in Darling (area 3 in the map above), Paarl (area 9) and Philadelphia (within Durbanville, area 4) – fairly close to the coast for the longer growing season required to develop the aromatic compounds in the wine.

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After popping the cap, typical Sauvignon aromas burst into the room, with Loire grassiness joined by Kiwi tropical notes.  These are reflected in the mouth with plenty of zest and vigour.  Perhaps my expectations weren’t that high, but this wine really impressed me – I would definitely order it again.

Make Mine a Double #16 – California Dreaming

Wine is produced in all 50 of the USA’s states, and many of them are now seeping into the wine drinker’s consciousness – New York State (Finger Lakes), Oregon (Willamette Valley) and Shenandoah Valley (Virginia).  Despite this, California still accounts for around 90% of the USA’s total production, and is almost synonymous with American wine from a European point of view.

Central and Northern California
Credit: http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com

Of all the regions within California, the most well known are Napa and Sonoma in the North Coast (at the top of the map above).  The Central Coast also has a lot to offer, including Santa Barbara (the setting for Sideways).  Below are a couple of fantastic reds hailing from Santa Maria (area 71 in the map above) and Napa.

 

Cambria Estate Santa Maria Valley Tepusquet Syrah 2010 (14.5%, €24.95, O’Briens)

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This 100% Syrah is the sister wine to the Cambria Estate Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir which I reviewed recently elsewhere.

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Credit: Cambria Estate

Well, not quite the sister, as Julia’s sister Katherine has her own namesake vineyard next door.  The Tepusquet Vineyard is in the far south of Cambria Estate as it is the most protected from the elements, and is therefore a little warmer.

Internationally, the choice of synonym normally denotes the style – spicy and savoury Northern Rhône Syrah or big and bold Aussie Shiraz. In common with many US versions of the grape, this wine is labelled Syrah no matter what the style, but as it happens this is somewhere in between the two – as though Saint Joseph had a very warm year.  This spicy, savoury edge to the dark juicy fruit gives it versatility – lovely to drink on its own but would pair well with red meat dishes without overpowering them.

If you like South African Shiraz or Hawke’s Bay Syrah then this is definitely worth putting on your list.

 

Atalon Napa Valley Merlot 2004 (14.0%, €27.45, O’Briens)

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And so to the wine that dare not speak its name.  Merlot often gets a bad press, with the influence of Miles from Sideways still felt…

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

Napa is rightly famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are also planted there.  Atalon aim to produce Bordeaux-style wines from the different parts of Napa which exhibit elegance and complexity – words not always associated with Californian wine.

This is almost a varietal Merlot, with just a 3% dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, so this is right-bank in style – think Pomerol or Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion.  At 12 years of age it is still in its prime, with lots of black fruit, and still a little tannin.  I’d imagine it spent well over a year in American oak while maturing, but that oak is well integrated now, leaving just a little vanilla and spice.

This is a Merlot for people who don’t think much of Merlot – it is indeed elegant and complex, with far more going on than any other new world example I’ve tasted.

This is the finest varietal Merlot I’ve tasted in many years!

More from Make Mine a Double

 

 

 

 

Of Champagne and Serendipity, part 1

Celebrating my third anniversary (“blogaversary”?) today, so here’s a throwback to my first post 3 years ago

Frankly Wines

The subject of my first blog was prompted by an unexpected discovery.  While clearing a bit of space in the porch last week I thought to use the sturdy empty wooden box I had spotted to collect all the knick-knacks lying around.  To my delight the box was actually full, containing six bottles of Varnier Fannière Champagne!  I suppose I ought to tidy up more often, who knows what else I might find!

Despite being a self-confessed wino for twenty years, I’m a relative latecomer to the charms and intricacies of Champagne.  For a long time I’d see it as something for celebrations and posing without any inherent character as a wine.  The Champagnes I’d tried had been either terribly acidic (bye bye tooth enamel) or just bland – neither of which are good enough when the ticket price is so high.  Don’t get me wrong, if offered a glass…

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Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #08 – Jake’s Orchard Kent Cider

Jake’s Orchard Kent Cider

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Wine is my passion and my favourite drink, but if I fancy a change now and again it’s cider that I took to (beer no longer gets a look in due to my wheat intolerance).  Cider actually has quite a lot in common with wine as it’s made from the fermented juice of an annually harvested fruit.

So what better that a cider made by winemakers?

With a nod to Ireland’s Simon Tyrrell, here is one of the finest – and most vinous – ciders I have ever tasted, from the winemaking team at Hush Heath Estate in Kent.  The orchard was replanted 20 years ago around the time of the birth of the owners’ son Jake, and so it eventually took on his name.

The cider is made from a blend of Cox (aka Cox’s Orange Pippin), Bramley and Egremont Russet apples, with a little essence of strawberries & blackberries added.  Do not think, however, that this is a sickly sweet syrupy concoction like some ciders on the market – it’s elegant and light, and is great option for the dinner table.

Interestingly, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle – just like traditional method sparkling wine – which makes it naturally sparkling rather than carbonation.  Those with keen eyes might notice that it is fairly strong in alcohol for a cider at 7.5%, but it doesn’t taste that strong at all – the sign of a well-balanced wine cider!

Crisp and clean, with a touch of fruit sweetness but fairly dry overall.  Delicious! Drink from a large wine glass.

 

Disclosure: sample kindly provided for review

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Book Review – Port and the Douro – 3rd Edition – Richard Mayson

Front Cover

Most of us like Port, but few of us actually drink it – on a regular basis at least.  It’s possibly even more niche than the other great fortified style from the Iberian Peninsula, without Sherry’s trendiness in its favour.

Above all, many of us are curious about Port:

  • What’s the difference between Ruby, Tawny, LBV and other labels?
  • Why do so many producers have English names?
  • And for the very curious: What’s the connection between Dog Strangler (1) and the Bishop of Norwich? (2)

Richard Mayson’s excellent and authoritative book answers these questions and much more besides.  

The first chapter gives a condensed history of Portugal, Port and the Douro. Politics, religion, agriculture, industrialisation and international treaties all intertwined in the second millennium CE to create the fascinating landscape we have today.

The second chapter is a detailed exposition of the geography, climate and principal grapes of the Douro. This includes a map of the top 80 or so Quintas (farms or estates) with a review and contact details of each.  In conjunction with chapter 8 “Directions in the Douro” this makes a mini travel guide.  Would be visitors now have a valuable resource to help plan their trip.

The evolution of Port production methods is treated in chapter 3.  Whereas fine “light” wines can enjoy a long fermentation and maceration to extract flavour, colour and tannin from grape skins, Port has no such luxury.  With a maximum of 48 hours of skin contact before fermentation has to be arrested, firm and rapid extraction is key – and the tried and tested best method for this is foot treading in a lagare (a big, square, open-topped stone tank).

Throughout this third edition, the main text is interspersed with panels painting light-hearted pen pictures of the “Men (and women) who shaped the Douro”. In fact, these small pieces on their own give the reader some entertaining insights into the whole Port story.

As a patriotic Yorkshireman, I particularly enjoyed hearing of a bluff, straight-talking fellow Tyke (3) who devoted himself to exploring and documenting the vineyards of the Douro itself, rather than focusing on the blending, maturation and shipping from Villa Gaia de Nova. Joseph James Forrester produced some excellent maps of the region, and was also a vocal proponent of light (unfortified) Douro wines. Unfortunately, he was 150 years too early for consumer taste and shipping conditions, so these views were widely derided by the Port establishment.

A lack of available labour in the 1960s necessitated the introduction of mechanised alternative to the human foot, with varying degrees of success.  Much of the Douro was without a reliable (or any) electricity supply at that time.  Autovinification was an ingenious answer, as it used the pressure created by the natural production of carbon dioxide during fermentation  to pump the must over the cap (of floating grape skins).  More modern technology has since seen the use of robotic devices which attempt to reproduce the firm-but-not-too-firm extraction techniques of the foot.

Who invented Port? Although “light” wine had been made in the Douro for millennia, it was English Shippers who added spirit to large barrels of wine to stop them spoiling on the sea voyage to England. But that wasn’t the invention of Port! Port production depends on the addition of spirit before fermentation has finished, thereby retaining some of the grapes’ natural sugars as the spirit kills off the fermenting yeast. And that practice was first documented by a couple of wine merchants who found the Abbot of Lamego carrying it out on 1676.

The fourth chapter explains the different types of Port, from the well-established to the new.  The following table summarises the main styles:

Main Types of Port 3

The best of the best – Vintage Port – gets chapter 5 all to itself.  Each year from 1960 to 2015 (in the new paperback edition)  is given a mark from nil to five stars as an overall guide, plus a narrative explaining how the vintage unfolded – essentially the weather throughout the year – and the author’s pick of the best bottles.  Selected other years going back to 1844 (!) are also included in the vintage guide.  Whether this is a useful buying guide depends on the distance of your drinking horizon and/or the depths of your pockets.

Adulation and Adulteration. Without reference to quality, (young) Port’s defining characteristics are that it is sweet, strong in alcohol and dark in colour. Unscrupulous shippers based in Portugal and (especially) wine merchants in England would therefore bulk out real Port wine – or even wine from other regions – with sugar, raisin wine, cheap alcohol and elderberry juice.

Port Producers and Shippers are addressed in chapter 6, some now defunct and many now conjoined into large groups:

Major Port Groups

Joseph James Forester’s beloved light (everything is relative) Douro wines finally make an appearance in chapter 7.  They are made using essentially the same grapes as Port itself, but fermented to dryness, and skipping the addition of spirit.  Douro wines only gained their own DOC in 1979.  Usually big and bold, when well made they can perform well at the table with many courses, rather than just Port’s traditional role at the end.

As already mentioned, chapter 8 has travel information on hotels, restaurants and local dishes.

Chapter 9 is a short postscript on the future for Port and the Douro.  It would be an interesting exercise to look at the predictions in earlier editions!

Overall, this is an essential book for Port and Douro fans, and great reading for anyone with an interest in wine!

Click on the pic to buy directly from Amazon:

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Footnotes
(1) The literal translation of the name “Esgana Cão”, the extremely acidic Port grape which also appears as Sercial in Madeira.
(2) Asking a person at the dinner table if they know the Bishop of Norwich is apparently a polite prod to keep the Port moving round the table!
(3) Peter Mayson is a resident of the other (dark) side of the Pennines, so was duty bound to use this description.

Make Mine A Double #15 – Unusual Alsace

raisins
Grapes at Domaine Christian Dock, Heiligenstein

There are a few types of Alsace wine that most wine lovers are very familiar with – Riesling and Gewurztraminer for example – and aficionados will also know about the Crémants and Vendanges Tardives wines.  However, here are a couple that are really off the beaten track – but no less delicious for it!

Christian Dock Klevener de Heiligenstein 2011 (13.5%, bought from producer)

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When Gewurz is great it can be really great – such as this pair.  However, even when it’s as good as that it’s not necessarily a supping wine – it can be so rich that one glass is fab, but enough.  This related grape is less expressive, usually drier, and much more quaffable.  So what the heck is it?

We begin with the Traminer grape which is thought to have originated in the town of Tramin an der Weinstraße, previously in the Austria-Hungary County of Tyrol and now in South Tyrol / Alte Adige in northern Italy (the town didn’t move but the border did). Traminer made its way north to the Jura mountains where it became known as Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), though it differs very slightly from its antecedent.  Here it is still produced for Savagnin table wine, Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune.

A pink-skinned mutation (of either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc) called Savagnin Rose then developed, and was allegedly taken north from Chiavenna in Italy (Cleven or Kleven in German).  An aromatic mutation of this then became Gewürztraminer (literally Spicy Traminer) in Germany and Alsace.

However, in the village of Heiligenstein (near Barr) and its surrounds in northern Alsace there are still some plantings of Savagnin Rose – known as Klevener de Heiligenstein – which is what we have here.  Further confusion is caused by Klevner (only 2 ‘e’s) which is either a synonym for Pinot Blanc or a blend which can contain Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir plus Auxerrois.

Unfortunately production is fairly small so it’s a rarity, but if you ever come across a bottle then you must try it – still off-dry, soft and round but more subtle than most Gewurztraminers. Like its offspring I think it would be great with Asian food.

Christian Dock is a small family producer in the village that I happened to stop at in passing.  Like most producers they make the full range of Alsace wines and I recommend you try any you can get your hands on.

Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Zind” Vin de France 2013 (13.0%, RRP €23.95, jnwine.com)

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So first of all you may notice that this isn’t an Appellation Alsace Controllée wine, or any Appellation at all come to that, despite being made by one of the region’s most celebrated producers, Zind-Humbrecht.  This is because it doesn’t satisfy the AOC rules for Alsace and there is no junior Vin de Pays or IGP designation for the area so it has to fall all the way down to Vin de France.  And where does it fall short of the rules?  Chardonnay! *gasp*

This is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois.  You never see the former on an Alsace label as it’s not considered to be a local grape, but it is permitted in Crémant d’Alsace (as in many other crémants around France).  Occasionally a small percentage might find its way into a Pinot blend, but that’s strictly on the QT.

Auxerrois (this version of it, at least – it’s also the synonym for grapes such as Malbec and Valdiguié) is a full sibling of Chardonnay, as they both have Gouais Blanc and Pinot as parents (due to the Pinot family’s genetic instability it’s not always possible to tell the colour of a particular parent).  Although this is considered a local grape, it too nearly always ends up in blends.

Despite not being an AOC wine this was special.  It showed lots of citrus and white fruit, but also minerality and some pleasant reductive characteristics.  My friend Mags said it reminded her of a good white Burgundy – though at a much lower price!

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