Sunday, 26 April 2009

TasteLive Español (#ttl) from Battersea

Ok, I’m the slow one. I tweet on Twitter (@UltimateWines) and blog here but I don’t do it “on the road”. So, although I attended TasteLive Español (#ttl) Friday night, I wasn’t tweeting my comments in real time (though thanks go to @Ricard67 who was kind enough to immortalize a few of my pithier remarks via his own posts).

Getting set up for Spanish #ttl in London on Twitpic
Getting set up for the tasting © Robert McIntosh 2009

TasteLive is a global phenomenon, driven by some of the wine lovers who regularly post on Twitter. Our Friday night tasting was an opportunity to taste some excellent Spanish wines and to tell the world about them in real time. The goal of the event is to have people tasting the same wines at the same time in different locations and for them to comment on the wines online as they taste. This event was organized by Catavino in Spain and by Robert McIntosh in the UK. There were at least 3 tasting venues (Barcelona and Madrid in Spain), London (specifically Battersea) in the UK, with a few other locations chiming in from time to time.

London Spanish #ttl headquarters on Twitpic
London Spanish HQ © Robert McIntosh 2009

Rogues Gallery of tasters - Robert, Denise, Ricard, Tim & me (I'm too shy to be photoed) © each of the rogues 2009

The London group gathered in the home of @Ricard67 in Battersea (he made it clear it was NOT Clapham Junction, NOT Wandsworth). We were fortunate with the weather on Friday so we were able to conduct our tasting in the garden. Clustered around a picnic table [video courtesy of Robert], surrounded by electric cables to power up all the hardware, were Robert McIntosh (@thirstforwine), Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth), Tim Dickinson (@timinator), Ricard (@Ricard67) and me (@UltimateWines). Rob, Denise and Ricard all had their computers booted up and online; Tim was wearing out the buttons on his BlackBerry and I was … drinking! To be fair, I was making tasting notes, too, but the others were able to post theirs instantly.

We in London were all ready to go for an 1800 start (1900 in Spain), but some technical hitches, and perhaps some Iberian “mañana time”, kept the Spanish locations just a bit behind. In London we used the delay wisely by filling our glasses (and our noses and palates) with the first wine (Gramona 2004 Imperial Gran Reserva Cava – a blend of 50% Xarel•lo, 40% Macabeo and 10% Chardonnay with 12% alcohol) and noshing on the lovely grilled chorizo and parsnip chips that Ricard provided. Tim enjoyed being a relative wine novice because, as he said, there was no pressure on him. Eventually, we got the nod from Catavino in Barcelona and we were off … . [here’s a photo, courtesy of Denise, of Ricard and me, just starting out.]

Gramona was participating in the tasting live in Barcelona and was kind enough to post a YouTube link to a video about their winery. In fact, all but one of the wineries involved were posting live during the tasting. But the London tasters were frustrated by all the techie-talk and delays in Spain with a paucity of tasting notes. So we just did our own thing.

Despite its relatively grand name, the Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva is only a mid-range cava made by this producer, based near Barcelona. All of the cavas made by Gramona are among the longest aged in Spain (a minimum of 18 months for their basic cava and 3-4 years for the Imperial) so the nose was nice and leesy/yeasty with a bit of citrus and coconut. On the palate it had a soft, creamy mousse, tart acidity, and pleasant ripe white fruit flavours, though it was a bit short on the finish. This isn’t really a cava to write home to mother about but it’s tasty, refreshing and was the perfect start for our evening.

Having started to taste before the Spanish locations, we in London pushed hard to move on to the next wine. Eventually, we received permission (hooray!) and moved on to a real treat, the Pazo de Señorans 2007 Albariño from Rias Baixas in northwest Spain. Albariño is probably the top white grape of Spain and it really showed its true colours in this wine. My first thought was that the nose was orgasmic! – intense ripe peaches, slightly creamy, and a bit of spice. The palate showed rich fruit (a true taste of summer) - peaches and bananas, crisp acidity, with a smooth mouthfeel but, as Ricard said “without the unctuousness of Viognier”, and attractive minerality. This was definitely a hit with all the tasters.

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Denise and the Sauló © Denise Medrano 2009

We were really getting into our stride now and the wines (and tasting notes) were coming more swiftly. Our third wine (and first red) was the Espelt 2007 Sauló (14% alcohol) from the Empordà region in the northern part of Catalonia just south of the Pyrennes (the land of Salvador Dali). This is a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena (a grape variety that gets trashed in Jancis Robinson’s “Oxford Companion to Wine” which says “Its wine is high in everything—acidity, tannins, colour, bitterness—but finesse and charm”, though with the acknowledgement that “the most carefully farmed old vines on well-placed, low-yielding sites can produce Carignan with real character.”). Here’s hoping that the Cariñena in this wine is of the latter variety! Well, as you can see from Denise’s tasting note (below), initial signs weren’t hopeful (“freshly peeled bark of a sugar maple with squirrel carcasses in knotholes”!!). My own notes said “a bit vegetal, woody and shy”. I wasn’t really put off by the nose but it didn’t make me want to dive into the glass. However, the palate was much more promising – zippy acidity with black cherry and plum fruit and mild spices, some leather and grippy but ripe tannins. This is a summer red that can be served slightly chilled and doesn’t finish “hot”, despite the 14% alcohol.

"Coleccion Vivanco" in quite an unusual squat bottle

Our last wine (before adjourning to dinner) was the Dinastía Vivanco 2005 “Coleccion Vivanco” Rioja “4 Varietales”(14.5% alcohol). This is a blend of 4 grapes – 70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 10% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo. Robert explained that each of the varieties is vinified separately, with malolactic fermentation and maturation for 24 months taking place in new French oak barrels, then the winemaker blends the varieties together. In the glass the wine is a inky blackberry colour, almost black. The nose is exceptional – a spicy, sexy range of black fruits with a backbone of minerality, some vanilla from the oak, a bit of licorice and cinnamon. All of this carried onto the palate. Despite the 14.5% alcohol, the result was controlled and elegant with blackberries, Bing cherries and Damsons dominating, some new leather, silky smooth tannins and a LONG jammy finish. Quite impressive! The wine was even better an hour or so after the bottle had been opened when the different flavours had more time to open up and integrate.

Now it was time for dinner (we adjourned to the house as the temperature was dropping in the garden). Ricard prepared a lovely spread with pa amb tomàquet (an amazing whole grain bread toasted and rubbed with fresh tomato), white anchovy and hearts of artichoke salad, cold hickory and muscovado sugar-smoked salmon, and a cheese plate that included manchego, Picos de Europa, and Lincolnshire Poacher. Tim's tweet about the salmon probably summed up our reaction to it "That smoked salmon was the 3rd best thing I've ever put in my mouth. #Norwegiansalmonporn " - from Northcote Fisheries in Battersea. None of us wanted to ask what things #1 and #2 were - LOL!

Northcote Fisheries in Battersea © The Local Data Company

I supplied an Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva “Ursa Maior” (12.5% alcohol) to go with dinner. The wine was perfectly aged and was drinking beautifully. Its nose was of leather, forest mushrooms and hints of balsamic vinegar yet with fresh ripe red fruits supporting all of this. Despite its age, the fruit was still vibrant and juicy. All of this was present on the palate with velvety tannins and a structure, complexity and elegance that left all the tasters fighting over the bottle.

Finally, Ricard raided his cellar and produced a Bodegas Vizcarra 2005 "Torralvo" Ribera del Duero (14.5%). Quite a contrast to the Ondarre because this wine was still a baby, yet was much more assertive. A vivid purple in the glass, the nose was still quite shy with some saddle leather and chocolate-covered cherries. Tim, for reasons known ONLY to himself, said “it smells faintly of Bulgaria”! There were grippy but ripe tannins on the palate (to be expected in a wine so young) with jammy plums and damson fruit, espresso, cocoa and cloves. Quite a nice end to our evening. [oh, and deserving a mention were the hazelnut chocolate truffles that appeared as we were winding down.]


Denise provided some of the funniest and best tasting notes on the night. Here is some of her best work –
About the Gramona cava –
• #ttl I've got big bubbles, coconuts on the nose
• #ttl don't think i should eating chorizo with this
About the Albariño –
• #ttl this albarino is amazing peachy nose, @ulitmatewines is making obscene noises and doing the cabbage patch
• #ttl lovely green flecks, this is like ripe peaches that have just fallen off the tree, a stunning albarino!
About the Saulo – photo
• #ttl bit vegetal, we think it's like freshly peeled bark of a sugar maple with squirrel carcasses in knotholes
• @Timinator LOL , no squirrels were harmed in these tweets! #ttl
• #ttl tasting much better then it smells, great spice and black cherry, chocolatey, fab tannins!
About the Vivanco –
• #ttl 4 different aromatic varietals coming together, fresh black fruits and lovely spice, just want to suck this up my nose!
• #ttl full and intense, great black &orange chocolate in there with black cherries, smooth and silky, round smooth tannins
And about the Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva “Ursa Maior” with dinner –
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Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva "Ursa Maior" © Denise Medrano 2009
• muscovado smoked salmon with a delicate 95 gran reserva rioja is a match made in heaven!!#ttl

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Vinho Verde Tasting at the Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, London

On Thursday, 23 April 2009, the wines of the Vinho Verde were featured at a tasting held at the Royal Exchange in London. The Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes (The Commission on Viticulture for the Region of Green Wines – but more on that later) hosted the tasting. The location was elegant, the wines were superb, the canapé were delicious and beautifully presented. Sarah Ahmed, the Wine Detective, presented a masterclass on the wines. The tasting was well-run with lots of information available on the wines, the grape varieties, the region (including interesting wine routes to try), and enthusiastic producers eagerly describing their wares. In short, it was a terrific event but, sadly, with quite low attendance (at least while I was there).

Why was that? I suspect it’s because almost everyone over the age of 40 (and many under 40) thinks of Mateus Rosé or Lancers in a squat, Bocksbeutel-type of bottle when they think of Vinho Verde.

The classic Mateus bottle

To dispel this myth, first, Mateus isn’t a Vinho Verde, as Sarah Ahmed was at pains to point out, because it sources grapes from a variety of regions and, hence, isn’t entitled to the name. And, second, even Mateus has had a make-over since the bad old days and is a much more pleasant drink now than then (not that it would be my Portuguese wine of choice).

Well, Vinho Verde has come a long way, baby, and deserves another long and thoughtful look.

To begin with Vinho Verde is not GREEN WINE, as the direct translation of the name implies. Instead, the name refers to the nature of the wine as one to be consumed young, when it is fresh and lively. With spring here now (hooray!) and summer just around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better to feature these wines. If ever there were summer barbeque wines, these are the ones (even more so, in my opinion, than Provençal rosés). All the wines, even the reds, benefit from a little chilling, and they are superb with food, especially seafood and grilled meats – hello Summer!

While the common perception of Vinho Verde is that the wines are all white, they actually come in all the standard colours (red, white and pink – but NO green!) and a variety of styles, mainly still and sparkling. In fact, until quite recently, the majority of Vinho Verde wines were red though now more than 60% are white. All the wines are known for their racy acidity and crisp fruit character. The reds and rosés are quite savoury with interesting cranberry and strawberry fruits and good minerality.

All the wines were nice with the whites from Enoport (Acácio, Lagosta and Moura Basto) and Quinta de Carapeços (Alvarinho/Trajadure and 100% Alvarinho), to name just a few, being very enjoyable. However, it was the reds and the pinks and the sparkling wines that I found to be the real stars. Perhaps it was just the novelty of the wines, but I thought that they were the ones with the most interest as well as the ones least likely to be seen by the general public, which is a real shame.

Espadeira (aka Tinta Amarela)

The rosé wines were all made with the local grape, Espadeira (known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro). The nose tends to be quite savoury with a strong under-pinning of strawberry, cranberry and raspberry fruit and a hint of spice. The colour ranges from very pale pink to near red with my favourites being the darker versions from Quinta das Arcas, Enoport, and Quinta de Carapeços.

Outstanding among the sparkling wines were the white and pink Espumantes from Quinta de Lourosa. Their rosé espumante is made from a blend of Syrah and Jaen, neither grape a native of the region. It had the most amazing nose of geraniums.


The real stars of the tasting, however, were the inky, near-black reds made from Vinhão (which MAY be Sousão but may not – the Oxford Companion to Wine and the UC Davis National Grape Registry say it is but various Portuguese winemakers disagree). Vinhão is one of the few grapes, called teinturier, that has a dark coloured must (juice) in addition to its deep purple skin. This dark juice combined with the colour extracted from the skins means that Vinhão wines are almost black. Several of the tasters, after much debate, decided that the colour was deep aubergine and/or blackberry. While the wines can be somewhat tannic, all the ones I tasted had smooth, ripe tannins that were very pleasant and added great structure to the wines.

Vasco Croft, winemaker at Afros

My favourites among the Vinhão on offer were the 2008 from Afros (the 2007 vintage was named one of the “50 Great Wines of Portugal 2009” by Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak) and the 2007 Arca Nova Vinhão-Escolha from Quinta das Arcas. The Arca Nova Escolha is only made in the best years. None was made in 2008 (though they did make basic Vinhão) so when the terrific 2007 is gone (and there wasn’t much made to begin with), we’ll have to wait until 2010 (assuming 2009 is a good year) before we’ll see anymore.

I also have to admit to being a bit of a dirty old lady because Vasco Croft, the winemaker at Afros, was not only articulate and delightful, he also was a dead-ringer for the young Richard Gere. A little bit of eye-candy certainly livened up the tasting for me.

In short, my recommendation is to seek out wines from the Vinho Verde. You won’t be disappointed.


As an aside - To add to the Vinhão confusion, a common problem (especially for Portuguese grapes which doesn’t aid their efforts to market their wines), the National Grape Registry records the following synonyms for Vinhão – “Azal Tinto, Espadeiro basto, Espadeiro da Tinta, Espadeiro de basto, Espadeiro do basto, Espadeiro Preto, Negrão, Negrão Pe de Perdiz, Negron, Pinta Femea, Sesão, Sousão, Sousão de Correr, Sousão do Douro, Sousão Forte, Sousen, Sousón, Sousón Retinto, Souzão, Souzão Forte, Souzon Retinto, Tinta, Tinta de Luzin, Tinta Femea, Tintilla, Tinto, Tinto Antigo, Tinto da Parada, Tinto de Parada, Tinto Nacional”. Are you confused yet?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Mash-Up at The Loft

Sparkling Water Label
© PikPikZoo 2009

Ok, first question – what’s a mash-up? Maybe if you’re under 30, the answer is obvious. However, I’m not and I had to experience it to understand it. From experience a mash-up is where food, wine, art and music commingle to make a perfect evening. But perhaps it’s better to describe it.

The Location –
The Loft Kitchen

The Loft Kitchen in Hoxton, Northeast London, is actually the residence and laboratory of Nuno Mendes, an innovative Portuguese chef in London who is using the lower floor of his loft as the experimental kitchen for his new restaurant (opening in the Bethnal Green Town Centre complex early in 2010). Every Friday and Saturday night he creates multi-course tasting menus to try out some of the dishes he’ll feature in his restaurant. However, Nuno was merely our gracious host on Wednesday night. The dynamo behind the mash-up was actually Rachel Khoo.

The Cast –
Rachel & the table setting © Bronia Stewart 2009

Frankie prepping© Bronia Stewart 2009

Joseph & Lana © Bronia Stewart 2009

Rachel is Malay-Chinese and Austrian by ethnicity, a art-designer/marketer/food stylist/chef de patisserie among other things by training, and her food events are a combination of her multi-cultural, diverse background and her wide circle of friends worldwide. First, she used the designs of her friends, ZoeLydia and Miss K of PikPikZoo in Hong Kong for the placemats, tablecards and even water bottle labels on the table. Then, she asked her friend, Joseph Seresin, to create a musical mix to entertain us throughout the evening (we even received a CD of the mix to take home). Bronia Stewart, yet another friend, was engaged to photograph the proceedings (almost all the photos in this post are courtesy of and copyrighted by Bronia). Joseph was involved again for some of the wines we enjoyed with our dinner through his family connection with Seresin Estate in New Zealand. Last, but far from least, Rachel was ably assisted in the kitchen by Frankie (Francesca Unsworth).

The Mash-up -

Soft lighting, PikPikZoo designs decorating the table, Joseph’s mix playing in the background and the curtain went up on the Mash-Up –

As the participants gathered, we were offered a refreshing glass of Bailly-Lapierre NV Crémant de Bourgogne Exception Brut Intense. It was zippy and delicious and a perfect tool to get conversation flowing among the diverse participants who seemed to have discovered the event either through some connection to Paris and Rachel or via Kang’s post on
Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils © Bronia Stewart 2009
Playing with your food © Bronia Stewart 2009

After a bit of bonding time (which worked extremely well as conversation at the table never flagged), we were presented with Rachel’s opening number - a plate of Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils. Served on a plain white rectangular plate, were 3 crisp crackers – one with red onions, one of rye and orange, and the third with olives. Set above them were our “pencils”, carefully crafted from a cucumber, a radish and a carrot. Below the crackers were 3 paint tubes (literally!) filled with 3 different “paints” – a spread of beetroot humus, one of butterbeans, and a third of green olive paste. Encouraged to use our creativity, we set to work like kindergarten students in art class, busily spreading the paints on each cracker to determine our favourites. This was a terrifically creative idea, if an enormous amount of work for Rachel and Frankie to sterilize and fill all the tiny paint tubes and construct the picture on our plates. If the ice had not already been broken by the bubbly to start, this exercise in free-child fun certainly got things off with a bang. This course was accompanied by a glass of Domaine Lefebvre d’Anselme 2007 “Trilogie” Côtes Du Rhône.

Our next course, A Cup of Tea with Beef and Vegetable Carpaccio Stirrers, was again a dish where we could use our own imagination. The tea was a creation of tamarind, soy sauce, lemon grass, galangal, star anise, lime, water and perhaps some secret ingredients. Served very hot, we could either stir the “tea” with our beef and vegetable skewers or eat them raw. My personal favourite was to just give the skewer a quick swirl in the tea to briefly warm it. That gave me the delicate and rich taste of nearly raw beef, the bright crispiness of fresh vegetables surrounded by the slightly spicy savoury “tea”. And the “tea” was pretty tasty all by itself, too! This was paired with a glass of Seresin 2007 “Momo” Pinot Noir. The wine was perhaps a bit too ripe and fruity for the dish but nice.

Slow-Roasted Duck © Bronia Stewart 2009

The main course, Slow-Roasted Duck a l’Orange & Plum with Millefeuille of Potatoes, was probably the only course that was fairly traditional (i.e. – no particular playfulness in the dish). Instead of playfulness, we were given something else I really like in food. This was a “Ronseal” dish – by that I mean, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”. In other words, this dish delivered exactly what its description says. I’m not much of a Duck a l’Orange fan normally because I find the orange often overwhelms the duck. Rachel managed to get just a hint of orange flavour not overly aggressive and the plums were outstanding with it. In fact, I think that doing the duck with just plums would really be terrific. As it was, this was full of flavour and very satisfying. We had another Seresin Pinot Noir with this course, a 2006 “Leah”. This wine was much more subtle and nuanced than the previous "Momo" and was really lovely with the dish.

Palate cleanser time – a Fleur de Geisha Granitá made from Japanese Green Tea and cherry blossom flowers. Simple as this was, it was one of my favourites of the night. The crunchy “snow cone” of ice had a delicate flavour, definitely of tea but airily light but an ephemeral cherry sweetness that really wasn’t sweet at all. An excellent touch and a perfect palate cleanser.

Poached Rhubard with Almond & Strawberry Shortbread and Rosemary Mousse © Bronia Stewart 2009

Now it was time for puds. This was another of the highlights for me, Poached Rhubarb with Almond and Strawberry Shortbread and Rosemary Mousse. Rachel suggested that the Rosemary Mousse, which was beside the shortbread in a little cup, would be very good with it. She was VERY right. Everyone around me seemed to be just as pleased with the savoury character of the mousse, just slightly sweetened, against the bright ripe strawberries and the crunchy almond shortbread. VERY very yummy! We had yet another Seresin wine with this, their 2004 Noble Riesling dessert wine. Although the wine was quite nice, it is always difficult to pair a dessert wine with a sweet dish and this wine was just a bit too much for the dish. I’d probably use a less sweet dessert wine like a Brachetto d’Acqui which isn’t too sweet and which has a lovely strawberry character itself that should blend nicely with the dessert.

Mini Mooncake Truffles © Bronia Stewart 2009

Finally, in what was a bit of a homage to Chinese New Year, we had 3 Mini Mooncake Truffles, each with a coconut “skin”, one filled with black sesame, one with chocolate and the last with pistachio. The sesame one was very Chinese and savoury; the pistachio one was a bit overwhelmed by the coconut, while the chocolate one was “just right”. Maybe I got Baby Bear’s portion!

Perhaps you still don’t understand what a mash-up is but go to one. It’s worth it.

Tasting Notes –

Bailly-Lapierre NV Crémant de Bourgogne Exception Brut Intense
A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is “champagne” but made in Burgundy, hence, the name Crémant because it cannot be called Champagne. It is intense and very dry with a soft creamy mousse and delicious citrus and apricot fruit. Bright and zesty with crisp acidity.

Domaine Lefebvre d’Anselme 2007 “Trilogie” Côtes Du Rhône
This is a blend of the undistinguished (usually) Ugni Blanc and Rousanne. 13.5% alcohol. Rousanne dominted this blend giving its peachy aromas and flavours. Decent acidity and smooth finish but not particularly distinguished. However, I admit that I was having so much fun playing with the Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils that I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to this wine.
Michael Seresin of Seresin Estate © Jamie Goode 2007

Seresin 2007 “Momo” Pinot Noir
“Momo” is the entry level Pinot Noir from Seresin Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Biodynamically made, hand-picked and sorted from three different vineyards, its nose is a classic New World Pinot nose – bright cherry fruit with a hint of underbrush and herbs. Unmistakably New World Pinot on the nose and palate. Soft ripe tannins, cherries and raspberries, with the classic Pinot vegetal undertone. Very pleasant, especially for an entry level wine. 13.5% alcohol.

Seresin 2006 “Leah” Pinot Noir
“Leah” is a blend of fruit from the clay-rich Raupo Creek vineyard, the alluvial shingles of the Tatou vineyard, and the mixed soils of the Home vineyard. The wine spent 3.5 weeks on the skins during and after fermentation. Aged in French barrique (about 25% new). 13% alcohol.
For me this was a much more elegant and restained Pinot than the “Momo” which had preceded it. More mineral character, deeper textures and much more character. Much more of the Burgundian “barnyard” Pinot aromas with ample brambly fruit, a bit of smokiness and spice.

Seresin 2004 Noble Riesling
From old vine Riesling planted on alluvial soil with free-draining basalt pebbles, the fruit was affected with botrytis and was rigorously selected. After slow fermentation for a month, further fermentation was stopped by chilling after the wine reached 12% alcohol.
The nose is classic for a botrytized wine, honey and beeswax with some citrus notes. For me, however, the usual mineral floral beauty of Riesling was a bit lacking. On the palate the honeyed notes were repeated, accompanied by tropical fruit flavours. There was enough acidity to keep the wine from being cloying but not enough to lift and lighten it as you see in the best sweet wines from Germany and Austria. It was also just a bit over-powering for the delicious dessert Rachel made but a pleasant enough wine nonetheless.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Random Thoughts on VinItaly 2009

Late Sunday night I returned from an exhausting but interesting visit to VinItaly in Verona. It's billed as the largest wine fair in the world and that's not hard to believe. It makes the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) look like a village fête.
This was my second visit to VinItaly. Both times I attended on a sponsored visit, which means I had some required appointments with producers. I wouldn’t go to the fair any other way. The fair is so huge, unless you are an importer with a defined list of producers to see and perhaps some specific target wines that you’d like to discover, it is just too vast to contemplate. Also, unless you have a hotel booked at least a year in advance, and I never plan that far ahead, you won’t have a place to stay anywhere near Verona, so a sponsored trip that includes a hotel is the only way to go.

This year my assigned meetings were a day-long “Taste & Buy” with producers from Basilicata and an afternoon Piemontese “Taste & Dream” session. The “Taste & Buy” sessions are great. You receive a list of available producers several weeks before the event and are asked to list your preferences in order. The organizers then try to schedule meetings with as many of your top producers as possible but you always get at least 5 of your top 10 and usually more. These sessions are a great way to get an intensive introduction to a region. I always try to pick areas that are under-represented in the market usually with interesting indigenous varieties so I chose Basilicata this year and Lombardia and Puglia last year. Without exception (so far!), the producers have been excellent and the wines of a very high standard. I always feel a little guilty that I’m not an importer because these producers are so eager to get their wines into foreign markets. But I do always send my discoveries to some of my Italian suppliers and ask them to consider importing the wines. This year there’s the additional problem that Sterling is in the tank against the Euro. That’s makes ALL Euro-based wines really expensive. In a depressed economy, that’s a non-starter. But it’s good to make contacts for future opportunities.

The Piemonte “Taste & Dream” session was completely the opposite of the “Taste & Buy” experience. “Taste & Dream” was 2 and 1/2 hours of torture. We saw 20 producers, each showing at least 3 wines, some as many as 6, over the course of the session. Each producer had to enter, introduce him- or herself and the business, then discuss the wines, and finally encourage you to visit their stand at the fair. Much was repetitive, boring, or unnecessary. The presentations were not timed with the wines as they were poured so it was easy to become confused about which wine was which. And there were just too many producers with too many wines over too short a time. Worst of all, though Piemonte is one of the finest quality wine areas of Italy, there were just not enough truly good wines. Only one was actually corked (thankfully!) but far too many of the wines were incredibly ordinary and all but one of the producers had no international presence. I’m all in favour of discovering small, unknown producers but the ones on show here didn’t meet the mark. Given that the “Taste & Buy” sessions have produced such high quality wines, it is hard to imagine that Piemonte managed to drop the ball so badly, but they did. Comments from some colleagues about a Trentino “Taste & Dream” session were excellent so it was a Piemontese problem. They just tried to do too much.

And while I’m bitching, the VinItaly catalogue is absolute rubbish! Everyone I know throws it out. Many trees are killed for no good purpose. To improve it, the organizers need to do several things –

1. Drop all the common farm, association, estate words like Azienda, Agricola, Tenute, Consorzio, Tutela, Podere, Fattoria, etc, and alphabetized based on the main name. For example, the Chianti producer I know as “Felsina” is actually “Fattoria di Felsina”. In the current catalogue, it’s listed under “Fattoria”, along with hundreds (!!) of other Fattorie. It should be listed under “Felsina”. Very few English-speakers, and probably the Italians as well, know the exact business name of many producers. So you have to look under Azienda Agricola, Azienda Vitivinicola, Azienda Vinicola, Fattoria, and many other permutations to find any producer. Even worse, one producer was described as Consorzio Tutela Matera DOC. No luck under Consorzio, none under Tutela, same for Matera. I found it under Consorzio DI Tutela Matera DOC. This is just too stupid for words. VinItaly need to get their act together to produce a catalogue that isn’t just an over-sized door-stop.
2. Provide more information on Pavilion maps. At the moment the maps show only stands by grid reference (A5, for example) with no other information. This is fine if you’re looking for A5, but not particularly necessary since the grid references are posted near the ceiling in each hall. All you need to do it look up and get your bearings. However, it’s a bit more difficult if you’re trying to find a dedicated section for a specific purpose, like Basilicata, and you know it’s in the pavilion but not the grid reference. The maps should show that section, perhaps with a colour as the map for the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) does. That way if you don’t know the names of any of the Basilicata producers or their stand reference, you can find their section of a pavilion. As it is, you just have to do a random walk to find them.

Ok, enough bitching. What were some of the highlights?
As a confirmed indigenous varietal geek, the highlights always are finding new exciting varietals. This year I decided I needed to know more about Val d’Aosta so I spent an afternoon visiting with some of them and tasting their indigenous varieties. At Feudi di San Maurizio I had a lovely visit and managed to add a number of new varieties to my life list. Among them were Mayolet and Petit Rouge, which I just learned are the proud parents of Cornalin du Valais from Switzerland. Interestingly, I also tasted Cornalin d’Aosta, that my host, Michel Vallet, was at pains to point out was NOT Cornalin du Valais. Subsequent research has revealed that Cornalin d’Aosta is in fact an offspring of Cornalin du Valais and is known as Humagne Rouge (no relation to Humagne Blanc) in Switzerland – oh my, what tangled genealogy!

Also on the indigenous highlight list (and one of the few things to make the Piemontese “Taste & Dream” a bit less onerous) was tasting a decent Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. And tasting a selection of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a grape native to the Marche, from both Velenosi and Moncaro. I also really enjoyed the Visciole, a dessert wine that is made by first created a syrup from sugar and the local sour cherries of the Marche (Visciole), then mixing the syrup with Lacrima wine which triggers a second fermentation. The product was a very attractive dessert wine that would be lovely with chocolate or berry desserts.
As someone who loves to eat, another real treat of the week was a lunch on the first day at Ristorante dei Signori. Each day this restaurant features 2 famous Italian chefs, offering a special menu of local specialties, accompanied by your choice of wines. Our lunch started with some ox-tail rissoles with celery julienne, followed by kid tortelloni and Orsino garlic, then cheek of beef (so tender even cutting it with a fork almost brutalized it) sprinkled with grown liquorice (on the plate it looked like espresso grounds). To finish we had a fantasy dessert of “JRE or Noir” chocolate cake with an almond crust, rhubarb sauce and strawberry sorbet. We were also provided with a wine list and told to make selections, no restrictions. Wow! We started with the Vetoraz 2008 Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Millesimato”, followed by the Moncaro 2008 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Verde Ca’Ruptae”, then the Cantina Negrar 2005 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Domini Veneti” (perfect with the beef cheeks), and finally the Moncaro (again because the first was so good) 2005 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Passito “Tordiruta”. Talk about being a kid in a candy store! No one said “no”; no one said “too much”, and there was NO limit on what we could order, except that our taskmistress, Chiara, kept urging us back to work on the Basilicata “Taste & Buy”. When I investigated about booking lunch there the next day, I learned that this experience cost the general public €70 each, which I thought was actually pretty good value, given the amazing food and wines.
The last real treat of the fair was meeting and tasting with Barbara Olson Tori of Enoteca de Rham in Florence. Barbara is a California girl and Stanford grad, like me, who went to Italy during her university days and never really left. After a long and complicated story, she became the owner of her husband’s Enoteca. She has turned the business into a one-stop shop for Italian wine specialists. Her list is extensive and country-wide and includes lots of unusual varietals and obscure regions which is always a real treat for me. One of the top wines I tasted with her were the Ezio Voyat “Le Muraglie” Rosso from the Val d’Aosta. This is sold as a vino di tavola because Ezio clashed with the local wine authorities many years ago when the DOC laws were first introduced and he went his own way. Though obscure, this wine, a combination of Dolcetto, Petit Rouge and Gros Vien (also known as Nus and tasted with the Val d’Aosta producers) can really be considered a “super-Val d’Aosta”. Though not cheap, this is a wine that is delicious and has a real story behind it (too long to relate here) and stories help sell wines. Two other treats from Barbara’s collection included a Colle Colletto 2006 Wildbacher (yes, a Blauer Wildbacher from Austria that seems to have wandered across the border to the Veneto), rich berries and spice, and, my final wine of VinItaly 2009, a Stefano Mancinelli 2005 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Passito. It was smooth, luscious and rich, a fine ending to the fair.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Cunning Plan – British Olympic Committee adds Wine Tasting to 2012 Olympics to Bump Up Anemic Medal Totals

Speaking before a crowd of 23 Japanese tourists, 5 street people and over 1,000 pigeons in Trafalgar Square, Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the British Olympic Committee, announced today that wine tasting has been added to the 2012 Olympics.

“We Brits have owned most of the wine world at various times [Bordeaux, Loire, parts of Burgundy, the Americas – most of it anyway, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc, etc.] and if we didn’t own it, we were responsible for the creation or popularization of some of the best products [Port, sherry, Hock, etc, etc.]. We are also generally rubbish at most sports and manage to lose even those we invented [football (soccer to those of you in the former American colonies), rugby, tennis, etc, etc.]. Mindful of these issues and desperate not to look like the poncy losers we are, we have developed a cunning plan to increase our medal totals at the 2012 Olympics. Accordingly, we have added Wine Tasting to the sports agenda.”

Events to be contested under the Wine Tasting rubric include –

‘Pretentious Git Tasting Notes’ – This will involve tasting 3 incredibly ordinary wines and preparing tasting notes of the most florid nature. Medals will be awarded for the most incomprehensible and ridiculous descriptions. Gilly Goulden and Oz Clark are likely to be British team captains. Masters of Wine will be the judges. Since the vast majority of MW’s are Brits, the outcome should be certain.

‘Spitting for Distance and Accuracy’ – Contestants will be required to spit into a 3/4’s full spittoon from distances of 1, 2 and 3 meters. Splash patterns will be analyzed with medals awarded for least splash over the 3 distances. Dribble patterns down the participants’ bibs will lead to disqualification.

‘”Food” and Wine Matching’ – an event sure to earn many medals for the British team, contestants will have to pair common supermarket wines with those paragons of British cuisine – a Chip Butty, Bubble & Squeak, Toad in the Hole, SpagBol, Beans on Toast, Marmite, and Jaffa Cakes. Medals will be awarded for Most Imaginative Food & Wine Combo, and to anyone whose stomach is strong enough to eat all of those foods. “Since most people wouldn’t even consider eating any of these things ‘foods’, much less matching them with wine, we’ve got this one nailed”, said Lord Coe.

‘Binge Drinking Relay’ – This will be a men’s and women’s event, played in teams of 3. The first member of the team will chug a bottle of typical “house” wine, run 400 meters [equivalent to walking to the next pub], then hand off to the next member who will do the same, etc, etc. This continues until one member of the team hurls, passes out, or otherwise is unable to continue; the team time and consumption will be recorded. The winning team will consume the most wine over the longest time. Amy Winehouse, the British team mascot, will lead cheers, if not participating in the event herself. She is also charged with distracting the paparazzi.

“We’ve got this event nailed”, said Lord Coe. “We invented wine tasting and have perfected binge drinking. Most of the adult population and a significant proportion of the under-18’s are already binge drinking at world class levels. Picking a team will be easy. The medals are in the bag.”

Jancis Robinson MW and Michael Broadbent have been named Team Manager and Team Manager Emeritus, respectively. “With the events planned and the quality of the British participants, we aim to dominate”, said Jancis. “Bring it on!”

Immediately following the announcement by Lord Coe, Robert Parker volunteered his services to the US Olympic Committee. “I won’t let those effete snobs run away with the sport. I can be as over the top as the best of them”, Robert said without the least hint of irony. Michael Broadbent countered Mr. Parker’s taunts by suggesting he [Parker] should be tested for steroids - “Have you seen pictures of him [Parker] from the 1980’s? Look at him now. All that bulk can’t come naturally!”

Smack talking continued from other quarters – James Halliday of Australia was heard to say “Damn whinging Poms don’t know anything about wine. We’ll knock them for 6!” Meanwhile, from John Platter, coach of the South African team, “They can’t win at cricket or rugby or football. What chance have they got against us in wine tasting?”

To read more from the Dregs Report, click on the link.