Recent Posts by James Flewellen

Elements of Wine 7: Finish

Published by Tuesday, August 27, 2013 Permalink 0


 

Elements of Wine 7: Finish

by James Flewellen

The ‘finish’ of a wine is also known as its ‘length’. It refers to how we perceive the wine once we have swallowed it. Much of our sense of taste is actually due to olfactory senses in our nose picking up volatile aroma chemicals from inside the nasal cavity (called ‘retronasal stimulation’). Thus, we can continue to ‘taste’ the wine after it has left our tongues.

Senses of smell and taste.

Senses of smell and taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think about the finish of a wine in a number of ways. Firstly, I consider the length: how long does the sensation of the wine’s flavours last after swallowing? Simple wines will disappear from the palate almost immediately after swallowing, whereas the flavours of the finest wines continue to be experienced after many minutes. Indeed, there have been occasions where I’ve woken up the next morning (even after brushing my teeth) and am still able to recall the flavours and aromas of a particularly fine wine the night before!

 

The finest wines in the world have finishes that can last for hours.

The finest wines in the world have finishes that can last for hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, I think about the quality of the finish. Inasmuch as the wine on the palate needs to be balanced, so too should the finish be harmonious. A final sensation of too much acidity without any fruit flavours present, or too much alcohol leaving an unpleasant burn on the back of the throat is not the sign of a fine wine – no matter how long these sensations last. Likewise a bitter tannic finish, or a cloying sweet finish, are signs that the wine is not well balanced structurally. Some wines can leave unpleasant flavours in the mouth that you would rather disappeared quickly! An ideal finish is one that combines length with elegance and has the perfect balance of flavour, alcohol, acidity and sugar.

Sign up for Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen’s  “Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass” in France from September 19 to 22, 2013.

 

__________________

Dr James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.

James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the founder of  The Oxford Wine Blog and co-author of the forthcoming book: The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.

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Elements of Wine 6: Oak

Published by Thursday, August 22, 2013 Permalink 0


by James Flewellen

Elements of Wine 6: Oak

Ageing a wine in oak barrels has two main effects. The first is to imbue the wine with flavour and aroma compounds from the wood. This occurs most notably when the wine is matured in barriques (225 litre barrels) made from ‘new’ oak. New oak means the barrels have not been used before for ageing wine, thus there is a higher concentration of flavour molecules to impart to the wine. Wines aged in new oak typically develop notes of butter, toast, nuts, spice, or – if the wine has been aged in American, rather than French oak – coconut and white chocolate.

wine barrels
Oak barriques for the maturation of red wineJim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second effect of oak maturation expresses itself structurally in the wine. Oak barrels, while impermeable to liquid, still allow a small amount of air into the wine. This air exchange allows for a very slight oxidation of the wine, an effect that can be controlled by the size of the barrel and the length of time the wine spends inside. As well as changing the colour of the wine (white wines deepen and red wines lighten) this natural micro-oxygenation ‘softens’ the wine, giving a rounder, fuller, creamier mouth-feel. Red wines also benefit from their tannins polymerising and becoming less harsh, thus integrating better into the body of the wine. Oak barrels are also often conducive to the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid.

Large oak vessels are also used as vinification vats.
Large oak vessels are also used as vinification vats.theqspeaks / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old oak barrels – that is barrels which have been already used at least once to mature wine – give the benefit of the oxygen exchange with the wine without the transferal of wood flavours. It can thus be difficult to detect the use of old oak on the palate; although look out for more density on the palate and a harmonious integration of fruit flavours, body and tannin.

Sign up for Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen’s  “Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass” in France from September 19 to 22, 2013.

__________________

Dr James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.

James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the founder of  The Oxford Wine Blog and co-author of the forthcoming book: The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.

 

 

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Wine & Food Pairing with Classic French Dishes

Published by Monday, August 19, 2013 Permalink 0

James Flewellen photo, wine tasting expert, The Art of Tasting Wine: James FlewellenJames Flewellen: Wine & Food Pairing with Classic French Dishes

by James Flewellen

 

Strawberries with red wine
Strawberries with red wine3liz4 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Cassoulet This depends on the choice of meat in the dish. Try a Chianti or another Tuscan wine, with more savoury notes for deeper-flavoured meats. Or a Barbera, or even a youthful claret if there’s more pork than game in the dish.

 Choucroute garnie If you stick to local Alsatian wines for this dish you really can’t go wrong. Use the same wine you’ve used in cooking if possible (typically Riesling), or go for a Pinot Gris.

Confit de canard (duck confit)
(from Southwest, cooked over
a fire in its own fat)
For this rich dish we have two options. One is to stay local and go for a spicy red wine from the south-west of France – a Tannat from Madiran or a Malbec from Cahors. Alternatively a full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay would also work. The acidity of the white wine will cut through the duck fat nicely. Choose a robust wine with enough body to stand up to the rich flavours though – Meursault from Burgundy, or a Californian pretender.

Coq au vin While red Burgundy is the classic pairing for this dish, a claret will also go very well. Choose one with a few years’ bottle age so the savoury developed notes complement the complex herbs in the sauce.

Andouillettes (sausage
made with chitterlings)
A tough dish to pair with on account of its strong flavours and somewhat acquired taste! Both reds and whites could work here. Light reds such as Beaujolais or Chinon will do well to complement the dish without dominating it with too much tannin. On the white side, a light, fresh style is best: perhaps Chablis, or the mountain-air notes of an Arbois from the Jura.

Escargots de Bourgogne (snails
baked in their shells with
parsley butter)
My favourite pairing for escargots in butter is champagne. The acidity helps out with the fat in the butter but the wine does not overpower the delicate flavours of the snail. A Chablis or other unoaked Chardonnay would also work.

Quenelle (flour; butter; eggs;
milk; and fish, traditionally pike,
mixed and poached)
The wine pairing depends on the fish used in the quenelle, typically pike. A fish quenelle would go very nicely with a Picpoul de Pinet. The lively, clean flavours of this wine complement fish nicely, and there is great acidity to cut through the butter and eggs.

Brandade de morue (puréed
salt cod)
Strongly flavoured fish dishes can be hard to find wine companions for. I’d suggest a very dry Alsatian or German Riesling. Being a bit more adventurous, you could also try a white wine from the Rhône – something based on Marsanne or Rousanne.

Bouillabaisse (a stew of
mixed Mediterranean
fish, tomatoes, and herbs)
For Bouillabaisse you want a wine that keeps pace with the rich flavours of the dish, but doesn’t detract from them. Keeping local, I would go for a Provençal rosé, or possibly a quality white wine from the south of France. If you’re in the mood for reds – try a light-bodied, acidic wine such as a Cabernet Franc from Chinon or a German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

Ratatouille (a vegetable stew
with olive oil, aubergine, courgette,
bell pepper, tomato, onion
and garlic) with white fish
I go Italian when matching wine to tomato-based dishes. Try a juicy Dolcetto, Barbera or Primitivo. You could also go for Primitivo’s Californian cousin: Zinfandel.

Duck à l’orange Pinot Noir is the classic pairing for duck, however I find the orange in this dish doesn’t quite gel with the flavours in Pinot. Try a Grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhône, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The extra spice in the wine complements the orange.

Pot au Feu A hearty red wine is just the ticket for this meal. I’d go for a Merlot-based Claret from Pomerol in Bordeaux, but wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, or Grenache will also do beautifully. Just avoid something that is too jammy in fruit profile.

Blanquette de veau I can’t go past an Alsatian Riesling for this dish. Dry, austere, acidic – the perfect foil for the cream – and the fruit profile won’t obscure the meat.

 Sole meunière This dish cries out for a fruity, crisp, light white wine. My pick would be an Albariño from Galicia in Spain.

 Tournedos Rossini My classic pairing for this would be a juicy Left Bank claret. To take a step away from the norm, try a Tempranillo-based wine from Ribera del Duero. Unlike its cousins in Rioja, Ribera wines are more robust and full-bodied – ideal for the steak – and usually avoid the sweet-scented American oak.

Foie gras (terrine), served with
figs or onion jam
I’ve tried many things with foie gras and really don’t think you can go past the classic Bordelais pairing of Sauternes. The sweetness in the wine works beautifully with the salt in the terrine and the fruit profile goes well with the figs and onion jam.

 Steack-frites with Béarnaise sauce Let’s face it steak and red wine go together like a hand in a glove. If you want to emphasise the pepper in the Béarnaise then go for a peppery Syrah from the Northern Rhône or Shiraz from the Barossa.

 

 

Sign up for Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen’s  “Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass” in France from September 19 to 22, 2013.

 

_____________________

Dr James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.

James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the founder of  The Oxford Wine Blog and co-author of the forthcoming book: The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.

 

 

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Spotlight on Chardonnay Grapes

Published by Monday, June 24, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Spotlight on Chardonnay Grapes

by James Flewellen

Just as Pinot Noir is Burgundy’s queen of red grapes, so Chardonnay is Burgundy’s king of whites. Although originating from Burgundy, Chardonnay is so widely grown around the world it is now considered to be an ‘international variety’. 

Chardonnay is often described as a ‘winemaker’s grape’ in that the primary qualities of the grape are overwhelmed by the winemaking procedure, meaning the winemaker has an essentially blank canvas upon which to work. I take exception to this somewhat in that there is certainly something about Chardonnay that makes it ‘Chardonnay’, it’s just that this quality may vary depending on location and climate.

Chardonnay grapes close up, creative commons photo by  Dan Random / Foter.com /
Close-up view of Chardonnay grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The typical flavour profile of the grape is green apple and lemon if grown in cool places like Chablis in France, moving through to ripe red apple, peach and melon in warmer climes and eventually to tropical pineapple, mango and even banana notes in hot climates such as California and parts of Australia. Wines from hotter places tend to have a fatter, heavier texture, lower acidity and higher alcohol, whereas those from cold climates can be lean, austere and steely.

Chardonnay and oak go together like a hand in glove. Although there are many ways of integrating oak flavours with those of the grape, some winemakers in the past have chosen to overwhelm the natural expression of the grape with an unsubtle whack of oak. This has led to the association in many people’s minds that Chardonnay “tastes like wood.” Judicious use of new French oak adds butter, toast, nutty aromas and flavours to the wine, while new American oak brings a slightly ‘sweeter’ coconut or white chocolate profile. While some very fine wines can be profoundly ‘oaky’, to my mind this should always work with the available fruit flavours rather than overwhelm them. There is a recent movement in new world countries such as Australia and New Zealand to produce leaner, more mineral Chardonnays with very little new oak influence, while this has been practised as the norm in Chablis, in particular, for decades.

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 White Wine Grapes

Published by Sunday, June 23, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 White Wine Grapes

by James Flewellen

With over 1,300(!) vine varieties out there making commercial wine, it’s a tough task to narrow down to only 10. Nevertheless, here are my ‘top 10’ white wine producing grapes. The order is my own preference, based on commercial importance, potential quality of the grape and whether it produces a ‘classic style’.

10. Albariño

Deutsch: Albariño-Weingut. Weingut Granbazan. ...

Bodega Granbazán en las Rías Baixas, producer of Albariño

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps a controversial start to the list, Albariño is a rising star in my book. The grape can produce well-balanced aromatic, peachy wines with fresh acidity, suitable as an aperitif or with fish and vegetarian dishes. It’s not yet grown much outside its native Galicia in Spain (and parts of Portugal), yet its stature is certainly on the up and much interest is being shown in growing the grape in a number of new world countries.

9. Gewurztraminer

Tramin - Gewurztraminer Grapes

Tramin – Gewurztraminer Grapes (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very distinctive grape producing ‘love-em or hate-em’ wines. Gewurztraminer has its spiritual home in Alsace, France, though can be found throughout Central Europe and in many new world countries. The grape is typically pink-skinned and produces an abundance of sugars in the right growing conditions. This leads to deeply-coloured, rich, full-bodied wines – many of which are off-dry, or even sweet. Gewurztraminer wines are flamboyantly fragrant with unmistakable notes of lychee, pot pourri and sometimes cloves.

8. Viognier

English: Viognier grapes ripening on a vine in...

Viognier grapes ripening on a vine in Amador county, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another full-bodied, distinctively aromatic wine. Viognier brings forth characteristic notes of peach, apricot and ginger. The very best examples come from the tiny appellation of Condrieu, in the Rhône Valley in France. However, it is found in the blended white wines of southern France, and increasingly in the new world. A single producer in the Barossa, South Australia — Yalumba — could be credited with re-popularising this grape and bringing it to a new audience in the modern era.

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Wine Diamonds in White Wine

Published by Tuesday, May 28, 2013 Permalink 0

by James Flewellen

Wine Diamonds in White Wine

There are a number of legitimate reasons for sending a wine back at a restaurant: the wine could be oxidised, be contaminated by ‘cork taint’, suffer from excess volatile acidity, or have unpleasant Brettanomyces aromas. One common cause for complaint, however, is the presence of tartrate crystals or ‘wine diamonds’. Wine diamonds in white wine are a natural occurrence.

These are clear crystalline deposits found usually in certain white wines, especially Riesling. They are either potassium bitartrate (a.k.a. cream of tartar) or calcium tartrate — both found naturally in grapes, and which follow through to the final bottle in the winemaking process. They are certainly not tartaric acid, sugar, or bits of glass! These wine diamonds are perfectly natural and completely harmless. In the glass, they sink to the bottom and will barely impose on your enjoyment of the wine. Or, the wine can simply be decanted, with the crystals remaining in the bottle.

Wine diamonds in white wine left over from a glass of excellent Austrian Gruner Veltliner.

These crystals can be removed before bottling, however it is an involved process involving chilling the wine and passing it through filters. This is energetically expensive and the filtration process can remove flavour compounds that give the wine its complexity and character. Producers of fine wines prefer to mess with the wine as minimally as possible to deliver the best possible quality to the consumer.

So if you do see some wine diamonds in your wine, this is not a cause for complaint. Rather, be assured that the winemaker cares about his wine so much that he has chosen not to remove them to deliver the best possible wine to you!

__________________

James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and wine tasting courses through the Oxford Wine Academy.

 

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Red Wine Grapes

Published by Thursday, May 23, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Red Wine Grapes

by James Flewellen

My last post covered what I consider the ‘top 10’ white wine producing grapes. Finding a similar list for the top 10 red wine grapes is no less difficult — perhaps even more so with the propensity for red wines to be a blend of a number of different grapes. Again, the order is my own preference, based on commercial importance, potential quality of the grape, and whether it produces a ‘classic style’.

TOP 10 RED WINE GRAPES

10. Malbec

Malbec is one of the six permitted red wine grapes in Bordeaux, although few producers take advantage of its rich, plummy flavours. You are more likely to find Malbec predominating in blends of southern French appellations, such as Cahors, where the grape is called ‘Cot’. These wines are typically full-bodied, deep in colour, with plum flavours alongside ferric, inky notes too. Malbec has found a second home in Argentina, where it is the country’s signature red grape. In Argentina, the mineral notes subside somewhat, and a purer fruit note comes to the fore. The tannins, plentiful in Cahors, are softer in the Argentinian expression.

 

 

 

 

8. Sangiovese

This rather romantically named grape (‘Blood of Jupiter’) is the key component of wines from the Chianti region in Tuscany — arguably Italy’s most famous red wine export. The grape produces ruby-coloured wines with notes of cherries and almond. The palate can show high acid with tart cherry flavours, medium to high levels of alcohol and drying, austere tannins. The best examples develop savoury, tea-like notes with age and undeniable complexity. Brunello di Montalcino is perhaps the most interesting expression of Sangiovese, from a wine-lover’s perspective. Best served with food on account of the fierce tannins though! Sangiovese is also a component in many of the so-called ‘Super-Tuscan’ blends, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Sangiovese ready to harvest

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Tempranillo

As Sangiovese is to Tuscany, Tempranillo is to the Rioja region — and indeed to many parts of Spain. Rioja is now perhaps Spain’s most famous wine export after Cava and within this region the Tempranillo grape has found a plethora of styles. The traditional style of Rioja saw ageing in mostly American oak barrels, complementing the strawberry notes from the grape with a sweet vanilla and coconut aroma from the oak. The balance between oak and fruit notes depends on the length of time the wine is aged in the barrels. With age, these wines develop pleasant grassy and ‘farmyardy’ aromas. A ‘new’ style of Rioja has emerged in recent years, favouring French oak and pushing fruit notes to the fore. Tempranillo is also a key component in many other regions of Spain, such as Ribera del Duero, and in Portugal too, where it is known as Tinto Roriz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Cabernet Franc

The second Bordeaux grape on the list, although in Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc usually plays second or third fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. This by no means diminishes its importance for the region, however. For a classic expression of a varietal wine we head north to the Loire valley — to classic regions such as Saumur, Chinon and Bourgueil. Here, the grapes produce a medium-bodied purple wine with high acidity and fine, powdery tannins. Due to the cooler climate in the Loire, these wines have leafy, herbaceous notes to go with blackcurrant, blackberry and a distinctive mineral note many describe as ‘pencil shavings’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Grenache

Grenache is the stalwart of the Southern Rhône, where it makes up the dominant component of blended wines along with Syrah, Mourvèdre and many others. This grape is a the heart of famous appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vaqueyras. Unusual among grape vines, it can tolerate heat and drought remarkably well with its ability to close its stomata to minimise water loss through evaporation. This feature also explains its success in South Australia — another hot, dry part of the world. The Aussies have followed the Southern Rhône model and produce similar blended wines — typically called ‘GSM’ after the three major grape components. Grenache is also to be found in Priorato and other parts of Spain, where it is known as ‘Garnacha’ and typically blended with Cariñena (a.k.a. Carignan). Grenache produces wines with high alcohol, low acidity and fine, dry tannins. The flavour profile is usually of strawberry with a characteristic white pepper spiciness.

Photo courtesy of WineFolly.com

 

 

 

 

 

4. Merlot

Merlot was much maligned by Paul Giamatti’s character in the film Sideways – although in an ironic twist, his prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc contains a major component of Merlot. Perhaps Merlot’s unfairly poor image comes from the many mass-produced French and New World wines where the grape is used to make soft, undemanding, plummy, easy drinking wines. However, at its best, Merlot produces elegant wines with savoury flavours combining with juicy plum and fruitcake spice notes. While the grape does not lend to the most structured wines, there can still be relatively firm, drying tannins, allowing the best examples of Merlot to age very well. The most famous examples of Merlot come from the Right Bank of Bordeaux in appellations such as St Emilion and Pomerol. Here, Merlot is typically blended with Cabernet Franc to produce some of the finest wines in the world. Merlot is, of course, a component of the Left Bank Bordeaux wines, although here it comes in second to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot can also be found in Bordeaux-imitation blends around the world and as a varietal wine in parts of the New World – especially California, New Zealand and Chile.

Creative commons photo (C)

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Syrah/Shiraz

Whereas the Southern Rhône follows the model of blending many grapes to create Grenache-dominated wines, the Northern Rhône sticks to a single grape: Syrah. Historically, Syrah has produced the most revered wines in France — emanating from Hermitage, Côte-Rotie, St Joseph and Cornas — and it has only been relatively recently that the focus has shifted to Bordeaux and to Burgundy. The best examples are very long-lived and offer very good value to the fine wine connoisseur. Syrah from the Rhône is medium- to full-bodied, with firm, slightly coarse tannins, crisp acidity and complex notes of plum, blackcurrant, black pepper, roasted meat, liquorice, treacle, herbs, among others. Syrah is, of course, equally famous in Australia, where it is known as ‘Shiraz‘ and found throughout the entire country. In fact, Australia has the oldest Shiraz grape vines in the world, with a number of regions unaffected by the phylloxera blight that destroyed European vineyards in the late 1800s. The classic style is that of the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale — jammy black fruits, often with notes of spicy salami, black pepper, and eucalyptus. Australian Shiraz is usually more full-bodied with lower acidity than that of the Rhône, although wine from the slightly cooler region of the Hunter Valley can approach a Rhône-like style.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/wine/8706849/Syrah-from-Chile-and-New-Zealand.html

Photo link to the Telegraph

 

 

 

 

2. Cabernet Sauvignon

The predominant grape in some of the world’s most revered and expensive wines: those of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. In the right climate and on the right soils, Cabernet Sauvignon offers elegance, power, structure and harmony that few other grapes can match. However, in search of the perfect structure the grape can produce austere flavours in the wine, which is why this grape is best suited to blending with others. This is the origin of the ‘Bordeaux blend’, which sees Cabernet Sauvignon melded with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon brings classic notes of blackcurrant, cedar, and bell peppers alongside vanilla and nuts from maturation in new French oak, which is typical in Bordeaux. On the palate, the grape brings crisp acidity and firm, structured tannins, and both of these can ensure a long ageing potential. The Bordeaux style has found favour in many other parts of the world, from the ‘Super-Tuscans’ of Italy to equivalents in Spain, California, Australia and South America. The best examples of these are among these nations’ finest wines also.

 

 

 

 

1. Pinot Noir

As Chardonnay is the Burgundian king of white wines for me, so Pinot Noir is the queen of reds. Fickle, hypersensitive,  ill-tempered, yet oh-so-magical when it all pays off, tasting a great Pinot Noir is an unforgettable experience. At its best the grape offers up swirling, subtle aromas of raspberry, strawberry, cherry and blackberry, a refreshing minerality and an earthy, leafy quality that is quite indescribable, yet summed up beautifully in the French term sous-bois – or ‘forest floor’. Burgundy still holds the crown for the most desirable Pinots – indeed wines – on the planet, due in no small part to its 1,000-year history in growing the grape. The grape is notoriously difficult to work with and susceptible to very minor changes in climate. Various places around the world have taken on the challenge of making great Pinot – New Zealand, Oregon and Tasmania are considered the best pretenders to the crown and can produce some very good (and much better value-for-money) wines. But these are all new kids on the block, and have a few centuries ahead of them to really get to know the grape, and for the grape to get to know their new homes.

__________________

James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and wine tasting courses through the Oxford Wine Academy.

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Spotlight on Pinot Noir

Published by Monday, April 15, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Spotlight on Pinot Noir

by James Flewellen

Pinot Noir is a light-skinned red grape originating from Burgundy in its modern form. Although, the Burgundians have been working with Pinot for around a thousand years, so the term ‘modern’ should be taken with a grain of salt!

 

Pinot noir grapes have a much darker hue than ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grape typically produces light-bodied wines with aromas ranging from fresh red fruit (raspberry, strawberry, cherry) to black (blackberry, mulberry) depending on the local climate of the vineyard. Warmer sites tend to produce wines with ‘blacker’ and riper fruit flavours. Alongside the fruit, good Pinot exhibits a fresh minerally, or even pleasantly ‘grassy’ character – complemented by the grape’s naturally high acidity on the palate. With bottle maturation, the wine develops notes of mushroom and decaying autumnal leaves — expressed evocatively by the French term sous-bois — which translates as ‘forest floor’. The thin skins of the grapes mean that the wines are generally low in tannin, though tannins are usually very fine-grained and punctuate the wine sufficiently so it can be enjoyed with food.

Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape and is very difficult to handle. Burgundy’s millennium of association with Pinot Noir means that it produces the best in the world — and that the Burgundian clones of the grape are ideally suited to Burgundy’s continental climate. Explaining Burgundy’s appellation system would take an entire post of its own, but there are two main subregions for Pinot Noir there: Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. These are further divided into villages, which may be further identified by vineyard — and these can be classified as either Premier Cru or Grand Cru indicating the quality level of the grapes.

Pinot grapes in Burgundy going through the pro...

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: The Waipara Wine Region

Published by Tuesday, February 19, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: The Waipara Wine Region

by James Flewellen

About 45 minutes drive north of my hometown of Christchurch, NZ, lies the North Canterbury wine region of the Waipara Valley. The valley is nestled between the Teviotdale Hills, which shelter the region from the cool Pacific, and the foothills of the Southern Alps. The everchanging interplay of light and shadow on these surrounding hills and the immense Cantabrian skies make this one of my favourite places to visit.

Hills in the Waipara wine region

New Zealand’s wine industry is still very young (about 30 years) by global standards, yet the Waipara region has been recognised for less than half of that. While there are some well-established names in the area (Pegasus Bay, for instance), many of the wineries have only been around a decade or so, and a whole host have sprung up in the last two or three years. I’ve long been impressed with the quality of wine issuing from Waipara’s small-scale, boutique wineries. A recent visit over the New Year reconfirmed for me why this spectacular region is receiving a surge of interest and that the future looks stellar for quality wine production.

Inasmuch as such a young region can be ‘known’ for a particular style of wine, Waipara is fast becoming a home to Riesling in New Zealand, an alternative base for Pinot Noir, and a lighter, less pungent style of Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is also planted and there are small plantings of other reds including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

Unfortunately, my visit coincided with a public holiday, so I was unable to see many of the region’s top wineries on this trip; however, we had a lovely tasting and lunch at well-established winery Waipara Springs, newcomer Black Estate wines opened their doors up especially for us, and a trip to a family friend’s farm at Limestone Hills resulted in a tasting of their very small-scale (and delicious) Syrah and seeing a champion truffle-sniffing dog in action!

Waipara Springs

Waipara Springs is one of the more established wineries in the region. They have a well-equipped tasting room and a charming garden restaurant serving delicious food designed to match with their own wines. Waipara Springs produces a wide variety of styles. I was most impressed with their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which was very smartly-made, melding fresh gooseberry and passion fruit flavours with a high-acid, dry palate and a long, lemony finish.

Their ‘Premo’ series wines all showed great character and were a significant step up in quality from the house wines. The Premo Riesling, 2008, showed toffee notes of bottle age, zesty lime fruit, and was medium-sweet. Quite a full, luscious  body for a lowish alcohol wine and a refreshing tartness to the finish. The Premo Chardonnay, 2011, I found to be a rather light, elegant wine. Perhaps not one for those who like their Chardonnays to be bold and assertive, but a very pleasing wine nonetheless. The Premo Pinot Noir, 2010, seemed to me to have a bit much oak on the nose; the wine is aged in French oak for about 15 months, 20% of the barrels are new wood. But this is something that will resolve with time. Otherwise, the wine showed lovely concentration of dark plum fruit on the nose, an appealing sour cherry palate with green, herbal notes, crisp acidity and finely-etched tannins.

You can find a list of their overseas distributors here.

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A delicious light lunch at Waipara Springs

Black Estate

While the Black Estate winery and cellar door is reasonably new, the site was planted back in 1993 with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The purchase by the Naish family in 2007 has seen the estate extend its plantings, with a constant eye on terroir and what the soil and mesoclimate bring to the wine. Their first Riesling release was in 2008, and I tried their 2011 incarnation. A beautiful nose with lime blossom, cream, mint leaf and sage was followed up by a rather intense lime sorbet palate. Crisp acidity was balanced nicely by the off-dry sweetness; medium alcohol (11%) and a medium length, but very pleasant finish.

Interestingly, the winery releases two different Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs: Black Estate and Omihi Series. Each comes from separate plantings with artisanal winemaking techniques (such as foot treading, and avoiding pumping) designed to bring out the terroir character in each wine. I enjoyed all of the wines and it was fascinating to see the difference the vineyards made. The Omihi Series Chardonnay, 2011, was a lean, delicate and very well-balanced wine. I discerned lighter, floral notes, with apple, cream and some truffle hints on the nose. By contrast, the Black Estate Chardonnay, 2011, had more apricot and peach notes on the nose and a heavier, more rounded body.

The Omihi Series Pinot Noir, 2010, was very aromatic, with a bright slightly estery, raspberry note along with hints of mushroom. The palate began with this bright fruit character and evolved savoury, stemmy notes all the way through to a crunchy, firm yet quite finely-etched tannic finish. Delicious, though my one criticism was the finish came through a bit hot. The Black Estate Pinot Noir, 2010, had more boysenberry on the nose, was less estery, with appealingly Burgundian ‘cooked carrot’ and white pepper hints. The palate showed a riper entry than the Omihi, with less of a progression to savoury (at least at this stage in its evolution); however, a slightly fuller, ‘gutsier’ body I felt balanced the alcohol on the finish more.

Black Estate wines are imported to the UK by Lea & Sandeman.

Limestone Hills

A highlight of the day was seeing Rosie the truffle-snuffler unearth an enormous truffle at the Limestone Hills farm. Well, I thought it was enormous, though Gareth Renowden, our host, assured me it was probably only a about 200 grams and therefore just a ‘medium sized one’! Gareth also grows Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes for his own wine made in vanishingly small quantities. I tasted the 2011 Limestone Hills Syrah and found a very interesting complex nose: black plum and berry fruit with medicinal, peppery hints alongside lavender and manuka honey. The palate showed only a medium body – a far cry from the full-bodied Shiraz of much of Australia, and even lighter than many Northern Rhone examples. Green, herbal flavours came through on the palate with a rich concentration of spicy strawberry and peppery plum. The wine had moderate acid, well-integrated alcohol and the classic, ‘ragged’-textured tannin profile I associate with Syrah. Overall a fascinating and very palatable wine.

Rosie the champion truffle-snuffler unearths some black gold at Limestone Hills farm

Waipara certainly is a region to watch in the very near future. One of the risks with hyped-up new regions is that many people can flock to invest there, resulting in huge increases in quantity and a dramatic decrease in average quality. However, as Bob Campbell MW suggests in this article, the difficulty of securing reliable yields in Waipara means that viticulturists and winemakers really do need to focus on quality to bring about a return. Long may this continue!

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Wines of 2012

Published by Saturday, December 22, 2012 Permalink 0

by James Flewellen

recent post by my friend Tom Parker on his top wines of the last year inspired me to go through my notes to consider the same question. Wine tasting being the highly subjective and opinionated business that it is, it is nigh on impossible to narrow down a list of the best wines one has tasted in a year. Thus, I’ll go for the most enjoyable wines I can recall from the past 12 months to create my list of the top 10 wines of 2012.

Enjoyment of wine is predicated on many things other than the quality of the wine itself – the situation, the company, your frame of mind, for instance. And I’ve found that tasting great wines in a sterile, academic or commercial setting doesn’t really do justice to the mystic and sublime essence of a magical beverage. I’ve tried to take these factors into account in my list, as well as reflecting a range of styles and the locations I’ve visited throughout the year.

So, in no particular order:

Pewsey Vale vineyard, Eden Valley.

1. Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Riesling 2006. Eden Valley, South Australia.

A beautiful wine from a beautiful place. ‘The Contours’ is made from the best fruit in one tiny sub-plot from the Pewsey Vale vineyard high above the Eden Valley floor. 2006 was the most recent release at the time. Lively lime,  blossom and tertiary notes developing. Refreshing and elegant.

2. Bollinger Grande Année 2002. Champagne, France.

I love rich champagne styles and Bollinger is always a sure performer for me in this regard. The superb 2002 vintage brings even more leanness and length to this wine. Still a baby in drinking terms but very hard to resist!

3. Brokenwood ‘The Graveyard’ Shiraz 2001. Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia.

Hunter Valley Shiraz is so unlike the jammy Barossan ‘fruit bombs’ that most outside of Sydney associate with Aussie Shiraz. It can be wonderfully complex, earthy and Hermitage-esque. ‘The Graveyard’ is one of the best, and it was a rare privilege to taste such a great wine at an age it deserved to be drunk.

4. Langmeil ‘The Freedom 1843’ Shiraz 2009. Barossa, South Australia.

Tiny amounts of this wine are made from one of the oldest plots of vines remaining in the world. 1843 refers to the year of planting. This wine is nothing like any Barossa Shiraz I’ve ever tasted. Incredibly concentrated and animally. Far too young at three years old, but an amazing wine to experience nonetheless.

Ancient Shiraz vine in Langmeil's 1843 Freedom vineyard.

5. Cornas, Les Grandes Terrasses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2001, Northern Rhône, France.

Rounding out a trio of Shiraz/Syrah: I showed this wine at a recent tasting in Oxford and was mightily impressed by its length, complexity and great value for money. Drinking very well now.

6. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 (barrel sample). Margaret River, Western Australia.

The most enjoyable barrel sample I’ve ever tasted. The wine had been blended from the individually-aged parcels and was into its second round of oaking. Incredibly taut, balanced and complex. Brimming with potential.

7. Phélan Ségur 1996. St Estèphe, Bordeaux, France.

During a trip to Bordeaux over the summer, Phélan stood out for their hospitality, their obvious attention to detail in the winery, and their delicious wines. We were so impressed that a friend hosted a mini-vertical of Phélan later in the year. The ’96 was the most mature, complex and enjoyable of these, although many of the other vintages will get there in time.

With David Ling at Hugel following a portfolio tasting.

8. Hugel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1976. Alsace, France.

One of the most astonishing dessert wines I’ve ever had. Pulled completely out of the bag during a visit to the charming Hugel property in Riquewihr. Endless length and complexity and a beautiful balance between sweetness, acidity and the perceived dryness all great dessert wines get with age.

9. Pirinoa Road Reserve Pinot Noir 2008. Martinborough, New Zealand.

A brilliant pretender to the Burgundian crown of Pinot supremacy. Great balance between lively red fruit, floral overtones and meaty depths. Still young but starting to develop delicious tertiary character.

10. Marie-Thèrese Chappaz Grain d’Or 2010. Valais, Switzerland.

A fascinating and unusual wine. Marie-Thèrese Chappaz makes extraordinary wines from her vantage point in some of the world’s steepest vineyards overlooking the Rhône River in Switzerland. This wine is mostly Marsanne, from gnarly 90-year-old vines (with a good claim to being the oldest in Switzerland), and spends 18 months in barrel. Still too young, but it’s so hard to get your hands on a mature example of these wines — they are all sold in person every year in May at the winery!

Grain d'Or at the Chappaz vineyard in Valais.

Commended

Jansz Traditional Method Sparkling. Tasmania, Australia. When my budget won’t extend to champagne or English Sparkling, Jansz is my delicious, great value fallback option.

Three Choirs Midsummer Hill, 2011. Gloucestershire, England. Brilliant value, light, fruity English offering.

Macrocarpa Pinot Gris, 2011. Marlborough, New Zealand. Lovely single vineyard expression of Pinot Gris firmly in the Alsatian mould.

The Lane Chardonnay 2009. Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Delicious Chardonnay with judicious and balanced use of oak. Went with a delicious lunch at the winery.

McGuigan Semillon Bin 9000 1997. Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia. Hunter Valley Semillon is certainly one of Australia’s great gifts to the world of wine. Lovely to taste one with significant bottle age to bring out the subtle tarragon and nutty notes.

Duas Pedras 2009. Alentejo, Portugal. Touriga Nacional blended with Syrah, this is a powerful, rewarding wine that needs decanting in advance and has become one of my staple reds.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season with plenty of good cheer and fine bottles. I’m not yet sure what I’ll be drinking on Christmas Day, but I have a feeling I’ll stick to my favourites: something French, something Kiwi, something sparkling, something Pinot…

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James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and the Oxford Wine Academy.

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