Tasting Events

Valentines Wines (I) The Tasting Panel

For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.

It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.

Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:

Starter:

Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes

Main:

Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus

Dessert:

Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard

Cheese:

Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.

The wines

Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)

Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV

The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.

On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.

A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
  • Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
  • Jess 4 [found it too dry]
  • Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]

Verdict:

This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013

Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast.  The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.

The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc.  It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.

Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting.  Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
  • Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
  • Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
  • Frankie 8 [what a find!]

Verdict:

Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus.  O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for mature fine Burgundy – it’s that good!

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013

Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse.  If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…

So what to do?  Find a good producer, of course – or a great producer, such as Henri Bourgeois.

Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines.  The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!

As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit.  There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
  • Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
  • Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
  • Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]

Verdict:

Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate.  This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007

Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux).  Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.

As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel.  Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.

It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish.  There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate.  Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
  • Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
  • Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
  • Frankie 8 [Spain meets Bordeaux, incredible value]

Verdict:

Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone.  It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison.  Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game.  The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!

More Valentine’s Wines to come!

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