Taste Test: #6:

There’s a tendency in complex, horizontal storage bright and shiny btlsintelligent human brains (and in our tasting sessions) to try predict what a wine might taste like even before we even open it. We all do it. All of us. Even you. Always have; always will.

That guesswork can have profound influences on expectations, being based on subjective issues like sight cues, emotions and the personalised responses to financial outlay in purchasing said wines. Hence the blind taste test aficionado’s ráison d’être. We don’t blind test (read our views on that pseudo-science here.) Hint: it’s a red herring.

Where possible, while still aiming for diversity, we put together reports with themes and this time all the wines are from Europe….

Whites:

German flag 50xClaus C. Jacob Riesling 2011 Qualitätswein Pfalz, Germany 16.5pts. ~¥125  Bin EndClaus C. Jacob Riesling

What a teeny picture we have… however we won’t let that trip us up here.

Claus C. Jacob wines are known for their great personality from Pfalz, in Germany. The Jacob ‘Classic wines’, of which this is a selection, are from, as they put it, ‘the exclusive sommelier range and are only made with classic grape varieties typical of their region of origin’. Fai enough. This Riesling Classic is ascribed Qualitatswein level of quality, and that’s a good thing representing the basic level we would like to see in a German wine (mit Prädikat is even better).

It has been too long since this wine was tested for clarity and quality. So what did we think this time? YUM, BLOODY, YUM. Way, way better than remembered when last tasted in 2012, after just a year in bottle, when it was a tad thin.

Now with 3 under its belt, things have moved nicely forward, as the weight and complexities have evolved. Riesling is a very capable grape and can age to exquisite lengths. And because it’s off the trendy radar (for most casual drinkers) prices are manageable.

Whilst it is pretty much impossible to find anything from Germany that doesn’t break the bank here in Shanghai, I think we have here, a lovely summer aperitif and according to the blurb on the label, ‘a great partner to fish, seafood, poultry and pasta dishes’; the latter suggestion particularly with cheese or cream based sauces, I should imagine. we sank it without any food whatsoever at around 4 to 5pm. Sorry about the pic. 16.5pts.

spain-flagTorres Gran Vina Sol Penedes, Spain 2010 ¥185-¥250 17pts.Torres Gran Vina Sol

Gran Vina Sol was a pioneer in the production of cask-fermented Chardonnay in Spain. Its name is very apt as it’s a wine of greater complexity and presence than the traditional Vina Sol.

Chardonnay is the white grape that gets the most attention as to how its made into wine. Wine-makers can adopt (or not) various tools, methods and techniques to search for the style they desire to produce given the fruit at their disposal.

The method of wine-making produces a wide continuum of styles. Some for aging; some for drinking early. There are oaky, rich, buttery types. There are strikingly fresh, zingy tropical versions. There are single vineyard wines and there are blends with other grapes. And there are many styles between the outside markers.

A blend consisting in the main of Chardonnay with a dash of Parellada, fermented in barriques, and it shows: Big and opulent with nutty, buttery, creamy flavours which Mr. and Mrs. wine Man absolutely adore, but which are just a little out of fashion, right now. Know what that means? Better prices for us consumers.

We get to enjoy the above average quality wines we like at below average prices. Out of the spotlight equates to best values. Add to that Spain’s amazing undervalued wines (we go on about it a lot) which will change just as everyone else decides its a bandwagon they want to join. Supply and demand is a dependable beast but happily so too are the artisan winemakers who keep doing their thing so well; even when they are not flavour of the month. 17pts.

Sparkling:

Italy-national-flagZonin Prosecco Black Bottle NV Italy ¥136-¥150 17.5pts.Zonin Prosecco Black bottle

Prosecco sales have exploded worldwide despite Champagne’s attempts to broadcast their ‘ultra high quality’ mantra. But is it? Is Champagne just hyping a silly tradition of fiddly wine making? Is Zonin’s flagship Prosecco (in many ways their flagship wine) a wonderful example of populism that makes perfect sense?

The ‘traditional’ method, from which we derive Champagne; its fruit produced under cool, unreliable northern European skies, relies on relatively intensive human interaction – a fiddly methodology (in the cellar) to create the finished drinkable product. The need for human interference ironically built into Champagnes methodology influences consistency (like observing the electron causing the wave function to collapse in particle physics) even though they try to reduce those effects because Champagne strives for the development and continuation of heritage through a distinctive house style; they too are looking for an homogenous product.

Conversely, Prosecco’s method of production (in a concrete or stainless steel tank may be less romantic) but the tank method creates its homogeniety more readily (and most notably in Italy), as it tends to happen where grapes naturally ripen better; whereas if the traditional method were enacted there it may result in a finished product that is too sweet.

Though individually nuanced wines might be an undesired outcome in Champagne (for lower priced non-vintage wines) each bottle of the less involved tank method is by default less open to such fluctuation. Crucially ‘method tankois’ (I made that up!) ensures the consistency that consumers find appealing because predictability, ergo reliability, is an essential part of the equation. Also the cheaper production method due to fewer worker hours, hits another crucial bullseye: the cost of production.

I should mention that a ‘triple whammy’ presents itself. Forget snobbery, status, fame, notoriety, twiddly-fiddliness for its’ own sake; it seems people actually prefer Prosecco in most real world instances because it doesn’t require food: the very fruit forward style with a dash of sweetness epitomises its honest and attractive appeal.

It seems that Prosecco producers are getting it right in managing what champagne producers would like to achieve, and in a far less costly way. The perfect package, wrapping up the perfect blend of price and quality makes this wine the world’s no.#1 top selling Prosecco. 17.5pts.

rosés:

franceChateau Lamargue Les Grandes Cabanes Costieres de Nimes Rosé Rhone, France 2010 ¥115-¥145 Bin EndCh Lamargue Cabanes rose

The south of France home to the most celebrated rosé wines worldwide. This example, while it is never going to seriously challenge the heady heights of a bank account-busting Provence powerhouse, has something out of the ordinary; an unusual and nuanced style of wine which globalisation may one day quell.

Given the low sales volumes, Rosé wine may be a Cul de Sac for many consumers? However for those, like me, who do find it beguiling, rosé represents an essential divergence. Those of us have an exploratory nature need rosé wines to be properly maintained and it’s future ensured through re-investment, for the sake of variety, if nothing else; an avenue to be kept open: a necessary and compelling fork in the road that keeps us interested, entertained and our life’s experiences, enriched.

Mrs. Wine Man thought this was a nice surprise and a very enjoyable change of course; a big fat ‘wow’ with some cold roast pork leftovers one Tuesday evening in June. The 2104 summer found us in fact trying more rosés than ever, and it has been an unanticipated, accidental, yet tremendous rediscovery. It happens like that for us every 3 or 4 years.

We’ve tested rosés form Italy, Spain, France, Chile and Turkey. That last one we enjoyed immensely in Cyprus summer 2014.

This French, Southern Rhone version, as I said, we matched most recently to cold roast pork. Other examples, we discovered were happy to mix it up with both hot and cold dishes with equal aplomb. And this week I opened another bottles of this wine to use as the sauce base and accompaniment to a new Coq Au Vin recipe I was trying out. It was absolutely mesmerizing. And now after all that I have to admit that we are down to the last few bottles, for ever. It had been de-listed and is no longer available. Let this not be a growing trend in diminishing access to rose wines. 16.5pts

reds:

 Italy-national-flagZonin Valpolicella Classico DOC 2012 Veneto, Italy ¥118-¥140 Zonin Classici Valpolicella18.5pts

Most simple DOC Valpolicella are light, fragrant table wines, meant for drinking young and quite unlike their sweeter, age-worthy powerhouse Amarone and complex Ripasso cousins, which we have also written about (and will do so again).

A wine meant to be enjoyed young; Valpolicella, of the province of Verona, Italy, east of Lake Garda, has seen a mottled viticultural history mapped out by the negative influences of over-production and complacency. Those days might never truly ever be finally behind us, but thankfully I can report that these particular wines are now very good examples. Moreover, they are presented at very good prices.

Obviously, someone at Zonin has cast fresh eyes over presentation. That’s a good move in the right direction. It’s previous incarnation was rather unflatteringly marketed in rather naff bottle & label combo under the drab ‘Zonin Collection’ design aesthetic. As a result it was an uninspiring experience for those who preferred to go with pretty bottles (ahem, like me, sometimes).

The result under this ‘Classico’ moniker is far more appealing. OK, so while that should get more folks to take a roll of the dice, what will customers find when they do?

Lovely, soft, Italian fruit and food friendly acid in spades. In fact, though food does elevate this wine, it can stand up just perfectly with or without food. And at such a low price for the quality we wholeheartedly recommend wines like this. At the moment we are getting through about 4 bottles a month, which, when one considers how much ‘time verses wines’ we have, is something of a testament in itself.

It was such a lovely surprise to see these wines were repackaged away from the previously drab designs, whilst simultaneously getting an unexpected major quality upgrade of the product inside the bottle thrown-in for good measure. Repackaging has made an anonymous product gain the public eye and the combo now deserves a higher score.  18.5pts

spain-flagTorres Mas Rabell Tinto 2011 (Grenache/Carañena/Merlot) Catalunya, Spain ¥122-¥133Torres-mas-rabell-red 15.5pts.

I am going to struggle with this review. It’s important to check in occasionally with Spain to see where things are at. We don’t want to get complacent. We know that values continue to be splendid when compared to other wine producing regions. But what of innovation and developments?

Blends offer a whole new perspective on what Spain is capable of. We know very well about the beauty of Rioja (written about many times on our site) and the complexity of Priorat (no?) but where do low cost blends fit in? Who drinks them? What are they looking for? What are blends for?

Blending, is a major act that sets winemakers apart. So much so, that many fear to tread there lest they open themselves up to criticism for any failings they then might not be able to blame on inferior fruit. Many others simply don’t have the types of fruit that can be blended. Some snobs do look down their noses at blends, lest they forget that many, many major global brands are in fact blends.

Consumers who seek out blends are, in most cases, looking at a greater depth and breadth of flavour, rather than focussed varietal notes or finesse. And this brand does have that. Unfortunately for me, but probably deliciously perfect for someone else, is the inclusion in this particular blend of my varietal antithesis: Merlot, a grape I avoid. I just don’t like it and I never have.

When I do spot Merlot’s presence in a blend …and I do… I am aggrieved to the extent that I have difficulty remaining objective. So, I guess I should put my hand’s up right now and walk away from offering any hope of a fair trial here. Even when looking through Bordeaux blends, I seek out Cabernet-rich (or indeed, Cabernet only wines just to make sure); never a Merlot. Poor old Merlot.

What I can tell you is that (albeit through a treacly, smarmy layer of ill advised M-word) there is, inside, a rather interesting blend of Grenache, Carañena – two grapes full of flavour, history, spice and the sweet, sweet summer sun of Catalunya (… and Merlot, in case that wasn’t obvious).

I imagine that should rate around 16pts, if someone else were testing, but as it’s not really my cup of tea; being a M-blend, that is, I just have to award a paltry score. In my defence, over the last couple of years we have been marketing this wine, not a single person has said, “Hey that Mas Rabell tinto is really fantastic…just up my street!” 15.5pts.

spain-flagTorres Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva 2007 DO (Garnacha/Cariñena/Syrah) Catalunya, Spain ¥210-¥225 17.5pts.Torres Gran Sangre de Toro reserva Decanter Magazine: Bronze ’13 & ’14

Plenty of bottle age here and plenty of accolades building up too. And a lovely, well-designed blend of 3 great grapes, to boot, but the straightforward, asy Taste Test I expected, did not materialise.

Most wines that we test; we discuss, we tally, we compare and then write a report on. We’ll most often return to the subject wine some days, weeks or maybe even months later to review it’s progress (or other). Another point important to add context here is that when engaged in the act of testing, I like to see where my emotions meander to, especially on first nosings and then later first sip. Sniff, Sip, Turn on, Tune in.

We have actually been a bit naughty with this brand. We tested 5 or 6 of these bottles in the last 16 months; just to make sure we were on the right tracks, you understand. But with this wine, at each visit I struggled to form a tangible view; I just couldn’t get a handle on it…so this first report has appeared (as no other) with brief notes reported simultaneously from 3 of those numerous visits over a 16 months period.

Torres Gran Sangre de Toro reserva labelWhat grabbed my attention was that I couldn’t quite pin down my own emotional responses during the first sips; it being different every single time!

Nov 2013: Just lacking the Killer WOW for me unless it’s partnering a powerful meal: Then it’s a very accomplished wine (Beef Stew). A bottle to share with a foursome one glass each with hearty rich food is perfection. Not as a sipper wine before or after the meal. 17.5pts.

December 2014: Late night after food. After a movie. Too late? Am I bit bored by it. Or perhaps; ‘not as excited’ is more accurate. Do I like it? Is it me this time being a bit ‘off’? What’s the story here? Frustrating. Only questions…16.5pts.

March 2015: Just prior to dinner. Bloody Great! “Oh that’s just what I like,” chips in Mrs. Wine Man, “..that’s lovely.” I was shocked at her saying that. Thought she’d think it too rich, too powerful and too acidic without food. Seems to be an enigmatic wine: I just can’t pin it down. Enigma. Superb with our rich, hearty Lamb Chops and roasties. 18.5pts.

On reflection, and in my current search for a perspective, I think that the high acids and plentiful flavours make this wine an ‘alpha-male wine’ undergoing a steep evolution. It’s possible that there has simply been a great deal of active in bottle development going on and that I have had access to a rather rare series of snapshots of that evolution. On the other hand it may well be my body chemistry, my emotions, the changing seasons reacting to the chemistry in this wine: The wine interacting with me. Put 2 evolving alpha-males together and there will be an unpredictable reaction. 16.5pts.

Italy-national-flagEnrico Serafino Barbaresco DOCG 2005 Piedmont, Italy ¥265-¥300 18.5pts.Barbaresco Silver Award SIWC 2014

Barbaresco is of Piedmont, Italy; as Barolo is. Barbaresco if of the Nebbilo grape; just a Barolo is. But they are not the same: Queen and King? Ying and Yang?

We, and particularly, I, have been no stranger to this wine over the past 5 years in various vintage guises. Yet it was certainly nice to have another look back at how the 2005 was doing. The tasting was approached with the animated anticipation of a true believer. That’s me: An Italian wine fan, a Piedmont wine fan, a Nebbiolo fan. And in this instance, most importantly of all – a Barbaresco fan.

Calm beauty, sublime feminine guile and understated power are the keystones of Barbaresco lore. And it’s not until one drinks a Barbar with a ‘rolo close by that that impression of deep feminine strength is engraved on the heart. That’s a close as I can get to describing how it is for me personally when I drink these Nebbiolo greats.

I had mainly tested 2009’s over the previous two winters and so to come to take the plunge in late spring on this, my final 2005 bottle, was both a welcome professional exercise and a potentially worrying seasonal debacle; what with it being actually pretty warm outside at the time, and some conventions erring on drinking these wines in the depths of winter. That’s what I thought I thought anyway…

My concerns shifted as unconvincingly as the ethereal mists, which I imagine sit aloft a surreal Shakespearean scene in which these, my fairy creature wines, reside: Barbaresco my Titania to Barolo’s Oberon.

Over 3 days the teasing play went on. Me, the enthralled audience somehow deeply involved in what was playing out before me, inside me. Trepidation, panic, enchantment, pleasure, relief, and then pain at parting.

Back to reality; and what I now have to contend with: this vintage by this producer will likely never grace my glass again. The run has ended. No possibility of any repeat experience. Never again will I dine on this particular honey dew. I’ll probably never even see this 2005 again and that’s a sad moment of reflection, right there.

Fleetingly, she stills, fades; nevermore to grace my dreams, but it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Never mind let’s fall in love with the 2009’s…. 18.5pts.

Fortified:

Portugal Flag thumb 60x40Graham’s 10 years Old Tawny Port    Portugal  ~¥Grahams 10 YO medium560 18.5pts. GOLD Medal 2012 & Silver 2014

Many years ago my baptism into ports was via Late Bottled Vintage and Ruby (and we’ll have a report on one or other of those soon) but for this style of Tawny Ports it really was obvious I that knew nothing. I was a complete novice really, a late discoverer. A late adopter.

I have had my fare share of  LBV over the years, usually at Christmas. Usually with Stilton Cheese or Mince Tarts. Rich, dark, sweet and powerfully complex. But that profile wasn’t much of a lead in with Tawny (afterall it looks so different) and my limited experience offered little in the way of encouragement when I was considering opening a bottle of (let’s not deny it) expensive port.

When awards start flying around though, as has recently happened to this brand in particular, I do take more notice. I do start to feel it’s more a responsibility to discover what the fuss is all about and with a head of steam raised I was able to hand over the money.

What I found here was an altogether different beast: Way more complex. Drier. Lighter. Certainly pretty nuanced and yet subtle and powerful. Almost ‘delicate’ in comparison to an LBV. Less oxidisation, perhaps? Possibly. Easier to quaff in quantity – no doubt. Delicious and satisfying true: BUT Is It Worth the Money? Initially, I remonstrated, ‘yes’, then a maybe, later a ‘not so sure’. Then after my 3rd bottle in 5 months, I was right back up to ‘probably’ and thought myself a little bit silly to still be having this particular debate.

I counted all the bottles, deemed something must be right about it, if I felt the need to test the wine so many times and I determined that the proof does indeed seem to be in the pudding. 18.5pts.

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

Alongside our standard prices where these exist for the wines we stock; we have also introduced the recommended retail price (sometimes called, rather less helpfully; the Market Price). This should give a better indication of what readers can expect to pay if they go to a City Shop or a Pines for example to locate any of the wines we feature (if listed by them, that is).

Same rules: All wines were paid for, in full. No other agent was involved in our choices or tastings or opinions, nor have they been sought. We don’t care what our suppliers want us to write. zoom black grapes moist

  • Some wines mentioned in these reports; we don’t even sell! But we’d like to mention them anyway for general interest, plus for current and future reference.
  • We are always looking to add value to what we do by building a better picture.
  • The points given at the end of each entry are based on usual tasting criteria (appearance, aroma, taste, cost) and are out of 20.
  • We also take into consideration security of supply, accuracy to type, presentation, versatility, maturity and our ‘Wow versus Price’ view.

Embedded links take you to those wines with their own pages for further detailed descriptions/opinions.

Those without links are either:

  • too new (*),
  • too niche (#),
  • we haven’t got around to it (^),
  • we didn’t think were worthy (Φ), or are
  • not available from us at the moment (¡)

TWM

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