Wine News 12-19 May

Here are our picks of this week’s wine news:

This may help you with your summer parties: Punch is offering what it calls House Cocktail hacks, where top bartenders offer recipes for cocktails using only two spirits, two additional elements (vermouth, amaro, etc.) and two simple syrups you can quickly whip up yourself.

If you’re a fan of Madeira, this might interest you: changes to labelling laws will allow a fifth grape variety, Tinta Negra, on the front label, and a new category for 50-year-old Madeira has been introduced.

In this week’s wine crime news, the head of a French wine producer has been accused of illegally blending other white wines into its Chablis.

Over on Matching Food and Wine, Fiona Beckett sings the praises of Vermentino with seafood.

Wine News 28 April – 5 May

May already? As always, May came in with a flurry of celebrations, from May Day and the Kentucky Derby to Britain’s three-day bank holiday and today’s Cinco de Mayo. Hope you’re enjoying the busy spring — we certainly are!

And here are the wine stories that caught our attention this week!

There’s a new crowdfunding site called Cruzu which is specifically for wine-related projects. If you’re feeling flush and in a giving mood, check out what’s on offer.

Here’s a news item for the history buffs: What was the best wine to drink in the Middle Ages? You can begin your investigations here.

And yet again thieves strike the wine industry. Someone stole £100,000 from the Basingstoke warehouse of Berry Brothers & Rudd by cutting through a wall.

Here’s some good news in advance of English Wine Week, which will take place later this month: Waitrose reports its sales of English wine have increased 95%.

And finally, in this week’s wine science, the identification of unique proteins may make it possible to identify grapes infected by Botrytis cinerea (noble rot). Who cares, you ask? Well, makers of Amarone care, because it may make the job of separating desirable withered grapes and undesirable botrytis-withered grapes much easier.

Wine News 21-28 April

Welcome back to this week’s most interesting wine stories in the news — at least to us! Also if you haven’t been on site in a while, you might have missed Daniel’s notes from a Famille Hugel wine tasting and our adventures at a recent Australian wine tasting.

It seems sherry is becoming the star of craft cocktails. Get the details here and check out the accompanying cocktail recipes.

Get up to date on the debate between proponents of dry farming and irrigation in drought-stricken California.

Frog’s Leap’s John Williams makes the case for Merlot in the Wall Street Journal.

There’s a good interview with winegrower Michel Vallet of Italy’s Valle d’Aosta in Wine Spectator, while Wine-Searcher has a substantial profile of the Mosel’s Markus Molitor.

Australian Tasting 2015

WaterBiscuit-Trio

By J.P.Lon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Public tastings at wine merchants can be a haphazard business. As much as you’d like to get an in-depth sense of each wine and increase your understanding of a country, a region, a grape variety, or a style of wine, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish in a crowd-filled room. Judging the colour of the wine in dim lighting is difficult, and swirling wine is perilous amid all the elbows and bottles. You quickly learn to give spitters as wide a berth as the milling crowd will allow, and not to be alarmed by the crunch underfoot of an errant water biscuit. It’s not a contemplative atmosphere – nor should it be. It’s a social event and shopping excursion for most people, with a chance to taste a few wines and buy a few bottles. If most of us struggle to get more than a general impression of each wine at that kind of event, it’s fine. That’s not really the point.

We attended a tasting like that last night. Crowded, genial, full of distractions and, luckily for us, also full of good Australian wines. We made an effort to take a few notes to share.

The Whites

We have one conversation over and over again as we begin tasting white wines. You are almost always given crisp, inoffensive white wines with a touch a fruit. Always perfect examples of a style or a variety or a particular terroir. And for Daniel, always perfectly uninspiring. There’s never anything wrong with them, but he wants a wine that’s provocative and stimulating, an event all by itself, instead of one that goes brilliantly with seafood starters or is easy drinking chilled as background noise at a barbecue. I suppose I have more patience for wines that only become special with food or at a particular moment in time. You don’t drink wine under laboratory conditions: Sometimes the magic happens in the interplay of wine and occasion, wine and the flavours of foods, and wine and interaction with other human beings. The four wines below all veer, to a greater or lesser degree, towards boring him (he’s nudging me to remind you how many good basic whites he gets to sample at work) and seeming like a good summer drinking to me.

Madfish Great Southern Riesling 2014

This was our favourite white of the night. It has crystalline clarity, clean and zesty citrus aromas, and high acidity, along with mouth-watering lime flavour and very delicate hints of the aromatic and mineral qualities you would expect in a Riesling. If we had one complaint, it was that this wine didn’t exhibit those Riesling qualities a bit more strongly, but we’re prejudiced as great fans of Riesling and that shouldn’t take away from what a fine, versatile dry white wine this is.

Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Marsanne 2012

There’s something uncommon in the aroma of this wine. It has citrus and stone fruit on the nose, but also a mineral edge to the perfume similar to bath salts. The citrus and peachy flavours echo the aromas, but there’s also something honeyed and a bit herbal to it. It’s less honey than honeysuckle, with that dash of wildness and earthiness. Tahblik specialises in Rhône grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, and claims to have the largest single holding of Marsanne vines in the world. This wine also ages well, developing additional richness and complexity.

Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014

This wine is one of a group of Australian wines the Wine Society sells under the Blind Spot label, aiming to bring exceptional small producers in Australia out of the wine industry’s “blind spot” and into wine glasses. We very much enjoyed a Blind Spot Champagne-style sparkling wine from Tasmania at a tasting last year, and so we always try other Blind Spot wines with great interest. This is a classic Pinot Gris, with the crispness and easy-drinking qualities you’d expect. It has grapefruit on the nose with flavours of apples or pears, and less of the aromatic quality of an Alsatian Pinot Gris. While this will surely be a fine summer sipper, we couldn’t help wondering what ever happened to that Blind Spot Tasmania sparkling . . . .

Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013

Bleasdale is an Australian wine producer we particularly like. It’s rare that we don’t have a bottle of the Wise One Tawny around the house, and Bleasdale’s Sparkling Shiraz is one of our favourite sparkling reds. Had we but sufficient cash in the wine budget, we’d keep bottles of 2012 Frank Potts in our collection too. This Adelaide Hills Chardonnay is picked by hand and fermented in French oak with wild yeasts, so fans of oaked Chardonnay will love the toastiness accompanying the stone fruit flavours. This wine should age well for three or four years, and should be very food-friendly.

The Reds

Blind Spot Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2014

Blind Spot Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was a surprise hit with us both. It offers a bit of cranberry on the nose and blueberry on the palate, with smooth tannins adding structure. It’s light-bodied and elegant, and probably delicious with charcuterie.

Jamsheed La Syrah 2013

This is an Australian shiraz with cherry and bramble flavours that don’t overwhelm the slight spiciness and pepperiness. It’s elegant and restrained, with firm tannins that will stand up to bold or meaty dishes.

Pitchfork Margaret River Cabernet-Merlot 2013

This blend was Daniel’s favourite red of the evening. It’s 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, with big, dark berry flavours on the nose and lively, juicy flavours. There’s a hint of eucalyptus or mint too, along with good acidity and considerable structure from the tannins.

Bleasdale The Broad-Side Langhorne Creek Shiraz Cabernet-Malbec 2012

Another offering from the fine folks at Bleasdale, this time a blend of 43% Shiraz, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Malbec. Ripe, almost jammy flavours of purple plum, blackcurrant, and blackberry lead into firm tannins that slowly build, a quality that can be a touch of genius when paired with food.

Wine News 14-21 April

Whether you are looking for upcoming events, feel a bit scientific, or want to dig in to some of wine’s controversial topics, this week we have you covered!

London Wine Week (18-24 May) is just around the corner. Wristbands are already on sale for £10 and you can keep up with the latest information on the website or by following @LDNWineWeek on Twitter.

If you aren’t near London, English Wine Week is coming up from Saturday 23 May to Sunday 31 May. Events will take place all over the country and you can get information about what’s going on in your area on the English Wine Producers website.

In previous years, International Sherry Week followed hot on the heels of London Wine Week and English Wine Week, but the celebration has been renamed Sherry Wine Week this year and shifted to 2-8 November 2015. You can go to the Sherry Wine Week website and subscribe to the newsletter if you want to keep up with the latest news.

English Sparkling Wine Day will apparently be celebrated on St. George’s Day on 23 May 2015. We believe this may be the first year English sparkling has been celebrated, so if you are so inclined, get out there and try some of the best bubbly the South of England has to offer. A peculiar twist of fate means we’ll actually be at an Australian wine tasting on the day, but we tasted 2010 Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé, 2011 Ridgeview Bloomsbury, and 2009 Nyetimber Brut Classic Cuvée last year during English Wine Week and posted our notes. The 2010 Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé is a particular favourite of ours, so if you’re looking for an English sparkling wine to try, you might start there.

Will Lyons has written an article for the Wall Street Journal on Bordeaux’s Château Lafleur, Pomerol’s tiny, family-owned wine powerhouse.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered the success of Pinot Noir may be down to its ability to incorporate virus DNA into its own genes and evolve.

If you’re looking for a wine adventure in London, the Wine Sleuth recently attended one of the twice monthly tastings held in the 380-year-old wine cellar of the Stafford Hotel in St. James in Central London.

The Academic Wino weighs up the pros and cons of the Ganimede fermentation method and the traditional fermentation method used for red wine.

On Wine Shout you can read about Italy’s Alto Adige DOC and the 2013 Lagrein from Elena Walch Family Estates.

On Wine-Searcher Jason Wilson argues that the intense Summer of Riesling campaign that has dominated Riesling press in the United States for years has actually done more harm than good in promoting Riesling, primarily because sommeliers are still pushing sweet Rieslings.

A cache of the oldest known bottles of Ruinart Champagne have been unearthed in a cellar in Alsace.

In the Guardian David Williams asks why people get so cross about natural wine, while Alice Feiring tries to separate fad from future in natural wine.

There’s a peculiar new infographic from Jacob’s Creek making the rounds to help you match food and wine. Some of these wines aren’t the first we would have suggested, but then some of the foods aren’t either — Sea salt and balsamic vinegar crisps? “Gourmet” Scotch eggs?

One last note, in case you missed it last week: Daniel attended a staff tasting of some of the wines of Famille Hugel in Alsace. Not surprisingly, given that he loves Hugel wines and Alsatian wines in general, he was impressed. You can read the details here.

Famille Hugel

Wednesday I was fortunate enough to attend a staff wine tasting of Hugel wines at the Wine Society. I actually went in on my day off just for the that, which should be an indication of how interested I am in the wines of Alsace and in Famille Hugel wines in particular.

Daniel at tasting

Daniel, smiling in blue stripes at work on his day off

The Hugel family has been producing wine in Riquewihr in Alsace since 1639, which is remarkable continuity when you consider how many times Alsace changed countries and official languages during the same period (six times since 1639, by my count). The Hugel family features prominently in Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup, which, if you haven’t read it, is an collection of accounts of how the French tried to preserve cellars, vines, vineyards and the vintners themselves from the Nazis during World War II. We’ve just finished reading the book ourselves and will post a full review soon, but while many of the stories blur together in the Kladstrups’ descriptions, what happened to the Hugel family really stands out.  Two Hugel brothers were conscripted into the German army and one, once he had managed to survive the Russian front and return to liberated Riquewihr, felt he had to go back to Germany and fight again as a soldier in the French army. The two brothers were actually on opposite sides of the fighting at the same time during a battle near Lake Constance. It’s frankly the sort of thing you’d find unbelievable if you saw it in a film. If you’re interested in reading more about the Hugel family during World War II, you can read excerpts on the Hugel website or in Wine and War.

Three generations of the Hugel family were in England this week for wine tastings and to announce the rebranding of the company from Hugel & Fils to the more inclusive Famille Hugel, as well as the launch of the family’s first single-vineyard wine called Schoelhammer. Schoelhammer is made from grapes from just 30 rows of south-facing Riesling vines, and the first release is from the 2007 vintage.

Famille Hugel

Famille Hugel

The energetic Etienne Hugel, Directeur General at Famille Hugel, and his son, Jean-Frederic, took charge of the staff tasting at the Wine Society and lead us through the fascinating stories of the family, its vineyards, and the great wines they produce. It’s always a pleasure to talk with producers who are so expressive and in love with their wines and grapes. The father and son team had us nodding and laughing, all the while learning from them in a most pleasant way.

We tasted a variety of Hugel wines, each of them impressive in its own way. The tasting notes below are mine, but the links will take you to the product page on the Hugel website.

Gentil Hugel 2012 (The Society’s Vin de Alsace 2012)
This wine combines noble grapes of Alsace: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Sylvaner. The result is a refreshing wine with a crisp, lively aroma and bright, but not biting acidity. It has good length and generous juicy fruit. Blending the qualities of these disparate grapes also makes this wine a good all-rounder with food.

Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012
This wine is quite dry and the sort of wine I enjoy most when I have it with food. It seemed to me to have a slightly shorter length than the Gentil. The acidity and the aromatic qualities of this wine would pair particularly well with fattier poultry such as duck and pheasant, or with game.

Gewurztraminer Tradition 2012 (The Society’s Exhibition Gewurztraminer 2010)
Etienne Hugel called this the family’s most curry-friendly wine. In fact, anything with any sort of spice will go extremely well with this. This wine has all the characteristics you associate with a fine Gewurztraminer: the aromatic qualities, the hint of spice, the freshness and delicacy. It’s as good an example of a classic Gewurztraminer as you are likely to find.

Riesling Jubilee 2009
This is one of the most expressive Rieslings I’ve had in a while. There is so much on the nose, with a fine flintiness and acidity. It’s well balanced with ample fruit and floral aspects that promise much for years to come.

Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, Hugel 2007
Etienne Hugel says this sweet wine is perfect with blue cheese. There’s acidity to lift the wine, so it avoids being cloyingly sweet, and while full of perfume and fruit flavours, it shows restraint. The 2007 we tasted was excellent, but we also tasted a 1998 that was divine. It was almost a pity I had to leave and get on with the rest of my day off.

The Hugel family is set to appear in a feature article in Decanter magazine next month, if you’d like to learn more, or the Famille Hugel website is full of additional information and truly beautiful photos. You can also follow Famille Hugel on social media.
http://www.hugel.com/

https://twitter.com/Hugelwine

https://www.facebook.com/Hugelwine

Wine News 7-14 April

We came across some interesting stories in the press this week, so let’s crack on with the wine news!

Will sampling strips make it possible to know exactly what a wine tastes like before buying and opening the bottle? Beringer is giving it a try in a US supermarket chain.

UK wine merchant Majestic has bought Naked Wines for £70 million.

There’s a good article on the Academic Wino, especially if you’re interested in issues related to climate change and its effects on wine production: “Biochar as an Alternative to Irrigation in Extreme Drought Conditions.”

Vinepair featured a guide to the often-overlooked wines of Corsica.

Famille Hugel in Alsace is about to release its first Riesling named after a specific plot of the family’s grand cru terroir.

Decanter posted a good wine travel feature on Puglia.

And, finally, we came across a good collection of features on Chablis on the Saveur magazine website. There are articles on the food and people, a travel guide, and a set of recipes.

Wine News 31 March – 7 April

And it’s time again for the weekly wine news! Here are the stories that had us talking over the last seven days. Did we miss something that caught your attention? Let us know!

Everyone’s talking about the Bordeaux 2014 vintage. What do you need to know? Let Tim Atkin be your guide over on Wine-Searcher, where he gives you his general impressions and his top 10.

One of the more interesting items we read in the heavy press coverage of the Bordeaux 2014 vintage was that several white wine producers were performing partial malolactic fermentation on their highly acidic 2014 Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Jane Anson wrote an interesting piece for Decanter about how Cabernet Franc is losing its place in Bordeaux’s vineyards and becoming rarer in blends. I hadn’t realised how many vines were actually being pulled up in favour of other varieties.

Decanter actually had several articles we found particularly thought-provoking. Take a look also at Stephen Brook’s “Think you know Pinot Grigio?” (Hint: Brook says you don’t, if you haven’t tried the fine examples now growing on the slopes of Friuli) and Natasha Hughes arguing that wine flaws may play a different role in our enjoyment of wine than we think. The Hughes article also has a good run-down of wine flaws and how to detect them. Well worth a read.

Wine Spectator recently created a new newsletter called Unfiltered, its new fun, breezy and entertaining e-newsletter” on drinks and pop culture. Want to see the first issue? So far we aren’t impressed, but we’ve subscribed on the assumption it might not be Real Housewives, Sandra Lee (yes, *that* Sandra Lee, American readers) and Jonas brothers every week. Bad start, though.

VinePair offered a cheat sheet for body in red wines, which might be helpful to anyone trying to learn more about wine styles and regions (and especially anyone studying for wine exams).

Speaking of wine exams — why are you taking them? An Australian doctor of psychology says you can become a wine expert in four hours . . . .

Chances are you’ve seen this. It popped up in our Twitter and Facebook feeds regularly over the last week, but on the off chance you missed it, here’s the strange story of the 1974 US Forest Service Cocktail chart. Read up here on the Drinks Business (the image is clickable and can be enlarged) or here on VinePair.

Fiona Beckett’s drink of the week on Matching Food & Wine is Verus Riesling 2013 from Slovenia. As fans of Riesling who can’t remember ever having tried one from Slovenia, we are intrigued.

And last, but certainly not least, the next time you are on the spirits aisle in Asda, look for Freddie Mercury — not in the flesh, of course, but in the form of a tribute vodka produced by Stoli. It’s called Killer Queen and Brian May is officially endorsing it. Get the details here.

Wine News 24-31 March

Bordeaux en primeur, Easter, Passover . . . You may have a lot on your schedule, but don’t neglect the wine news!

A paper has just been published in the Journal of the American Society for Microbiology suggesting that soil-based bacteria rather than soil type may be responsible for wine styles. Read all about it in the paper itself, or, for a quick non-technical overview, try this article on the Drinks Business.

The backstage rider for Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond is as extravagant and boozy as you’d expect. Take a look at what they insisted on having backstage every time they made a Top Gear appearance.

We only just learned that people are marketing wooden bottles so consumers can increase the oak in wines and hard liquor. I’m not sure this is going on our wishlist, but it’s interesting.

Fiona Beckett gives you 15 great pairings for Easter on her website Matching Food and Wine, from lamb and gammon to hot cross buns and simnel cake.

Wine News 17-24 March

Welcome back, arsenic lovers! Er, we mean wine lovers, of course.

Chances are that you, too, have seen concerned wine-drinkers posting that news story about arsenic levels in California wines. No matter how many times we link to Alder Yarrow’s very informative article, we can’t seem to stem the hysterical linking and scaremongering. Despite that, here is, yet again,  Alder Yarrow’s article on why you shouldn’t worry. Read it before joining the senseless panic.

Dreaming of sipping wine in Paris? Will Lyons has listed his top five Paris wine bars in the Wall Street Journal.

Over on Tuscan Vines this week you’ll find a good overview of what Amarone is along with a good collection of tasting notes.

And for your spring sipping, Anne Krebiehl has listed 25 great Austrian wines just perfect for the season for Wine Enthusiast.