1 family, 1 valley, 100 km, 9 great treats

Last night I embarked on my maiden solo tasting mission, unaccompanied by my usual partner in wine (my lovely husband). No, he wasn’t watching Liverpool (narrowly) beat Sunderland, but had his nose in his WSET Level 3 Manual, revising for his exam next Monday.  Unfortunately, he was laid low with gastroenteritis when I sat my exam in December, so is having to catch up now.  I tried to persuade him that an evening tasting Chilean wine would be perfect revision, but he nobly put duty before pleasure.


The evening was organised by Portland Wine, presented by Johnny Bingham of Casa Silva and held at Earle restaurant in Hale. Johnny was a great host, clearly passionate about Chilean wine, and declared his intent to show what Chile can do, promising that Chile it can deliver more than boring Sauvignon Blanc.

He demonstrated this by serving the first wine of the evening: Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2012.  This certainly wasn’t boring: it’s a French-style, very restrained example, with stone fruit, citrus and a hint of kiwi fruit.  With this, we ate little bites of haddock and prawn, which complemented the wine really well.


While we were enjoying the Sauvignon Blanc, Johnny gave us a brief history of Casa Silva. Its story began in 1892 when Emile Bouchon (great name for a winemaker!) fled the phylloxera plague in St Emilion and headed for Chile to make wine there.  On arrival in Santiago his pioneering instincts led him further south to Colchagua, which he believed provides the perfect conditions for grape-growing.  As Johnny says “it’s all about the fruit”.

We moved on to the Viognier Reserva 2012.  This was intensely floral on the nose; my first impression was of fabric conditioner, but in a good way.  It has flavours of apricot and pistachio and a lovely creamy mouthfeel.  Johnny gave us an interesting overview of how the winemakers have experimented with the viognier, ageing higher percentages of the wine in oak, before settling on 10%, plus trying out malolactic fermentation, which they abandoned because it interfered with the freshness of the fruit.  I found it very reassuring to learn that even the mighty winemakers don’t always know in advance what will work best, but need to try different things and learn from their mistakes.  Johnny recommended serving this wine with scallops, emphasising the importance of compatibility of textures, rather than focussing solely on the flavours.  I found this thought-provoking, as I usually just think about what will taste good together, rather than thinking about how they will feel.

We then moved onto the reds, starting with the Family Cabernet/Carmenère 2013.  This was 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenère, so the predominant flavours were the typical Cab black fruits, but with some mysterious smoky notes provided by the Carmenère.  Johnny quoted (or misquoted?) Jancis Robinson MW with the line “anyone who likes Cabernet Sauvignon likes their pleasure with a little pain (eg camping) .”  I know what he means, and I really hate camping.  This blend provided an intriguing introduction to the grape, as we were shortly going to taste some 100% examples.


Before we did that, we tasted the Cool Coast Pinot Noir 2011.  This is Casa Silva’s first ever Pinot Noir vintage and has spent 12 months in oak.  It was bursting with sweet, vibrant red fruit, tempered with an earthy quality.  Johnny described it as a “tightly packed spring”.  I’m a big fan of Pinot, and I really enjoyed this one.

Next, we tasted two examples of pure Carmenère alongside each other: the Reserva and the Gran Terroir Los Lingues.  I absolutely loved the Reserva; it had flavours of blueberry and vanilla, with hints of spicy pepper and mocha: a winning combination.  While I was raving about the Reserva, the couple sitting next to me had moved onto the Gran Terroir and were both convinced that it was better.  I disagreed, but did get briefly confused and nearly gave into peer pressure.  The Gran Terroir was indeed excellent, very herbaceous, in a style that Johnny described as “good green”, ie herby, but without astringency or bitterness.  I’m sticking to my guns: I preferred the Reserva, but that’s why tasting wine in a group is so interesting, you can all have your own opinion and nobody’s wrong.

Gran Terroir

We moved onto the Microterroir Carmenère 2007.  This had a powerful blend of fruit and spice.  To quote Johnny again, it was like “a nugget of pure Carmenère placed in your mouth”.  It had a lively purple rim suggesting youth, but tasted more mature.  As Johnny says “we’re not ageing, just oxidising”.

The last red was the Altura 2005, which is a blend of Carmenère (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and Petit Verdot (15%).  This was like a mature Bordeaux-style blend, the sort you might have tasted in 1841.  My tasting notes for this read “leather unique to furniture restorers” – I think that I’ll attribute those words to Johnny, rather than taking credit for them.   Another interesting fact I learnt last night: Carmenère was originally from Bordeaux, but is now rarely planted in France, having emigrated to Chile so successfully.  This ties in with Mr Cork’s exodus from phylloxera-infested Bordeaux to the brave new world of Colchagua.  (I really must read more of “Phylloxera: How Wine was Saved for the World” by Christy Campbell.  It’s a fascinating book and the more I learn about wine, the more I discover about the huge impact that phylloxera has had.)

Wine number 9 (!) was the “dangerously drinkable” Late Harvest Semillon/Gewürztraminer.  This was served with a dangerously delicious chocolate brownie topped with a raspberry.  Because the Colchagua Valley is so dry, the grapes aren’t affected by botrytis, so the wine has pure fruit flavours of lychee and mango.  Johnny stressed that it’s not just for dessert, but could be drunk for breakfast on Saturday with foie gras (I like his style!) or with blue cheese.


As I think you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening tasting the wines of Casa Silva. Any qualms I had about going it alone quickly disappeared, because everyone is so friendly and enthusiastic and just wants to talk about the wine.  Johnny was an extremely entertaining but informative host.  I will be left with the vision of him walking around a vineyard shouting at the grapes to ask “are you ready to come on this journey?”.  He certainly proved that Chile can deliver way more than boring Sauvignon Blanc.

Thanks as always to Paula for organising a wonderful evening. I’m looking forward to joining you next week for sherry and tapas!


From Burgundy to Bordeaux

Last night we attended a Lay & Wheeler tasting of wines from Domaine de Montille, Côte de Beaune and Château Langoa-Barton, St-Julien.

On arriving at the Manchester Malmaison, it was great to see so many friendly faces: the owner of our local wine school, our WSET level 3 tutor, a classmate from the course, plus the manager of our local Majestic on pouring duty.

We were served a glass of Chassagne-Montrachet to sip while waiting for the tasting proper to start.  It had a delicious hazelnutty flavour and was a real treat to begin with.

Proceedings then commenced with a tasting of 5 Burgundies, all from Domaine de Montille’s 2006 vintage.  De Montille’s domain has expanded from Volnay to include vineyards in Pommard, Beaune, Corton and Vosne-Romanée.  As Pinot Noir is my favourite grape, but (due to financial constraints) I normally stick to New World examples, I was very excited about having the opportunity to taste such a variety of Burgundy.

First up was Beaune 1er Cr Les Sizies.  This was light with a pleasant flavour of red cherries, but I found it disappointingly light.

Next was Volnay 1er Cru Les Mitans.  While still extremely light, it was more complex, with savoury notes.

Volnay 1er Cru Les Taillepieds followed.  I enjoyed this one a lot more than the first two: it was another savoury-tasting example, with real elegance and smoothness.  I liked the story of this wine’s name – the grapes are grown on one of the steepest slopes in Volnay, where there is a risk of pruning one’s feet (taille-pieds) when working the vineyard.

At this stage, we were chatting with our tasting companions about how we prefer New World Pinots, giving examples from New Zealand and Chile.  Call me a philistine, but I like my Pinot to have a bit more power than these.  I want to be transported to a field of strawberries and flowers, à la Drops of God. Things did look up as we moved on to wines 4 and 5.

Drops of God

Number 4 was Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens.  This was beautiful: a smooth balance of cherry-laden fruit with savoury notes.  This was our favourite wine of the night.

The last Burgundy was Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru.  This was quite different in style: less smooth, but more punchy with a powerful nose and a mouthful of mushroomy cherries.  It had more acid and tannin than number 4.

It was time to travel to Bordeaux for a vertical tasting of five vintages of Château Langoa-Barton, St Julien.  I have to be honest; I’m not a claret fan.  However, when at tastings I always keep an open mind and palate, so I was curious to taste the wines and see what happened.

Chateau Langoa-Barton

We started with the 2008 and weren’t keen.  It was very light and rather astringent.  My tasting note includes the words cough syrup and paint stripper, but remember that I’m not a Bordeaux fan and I was probably being harsh.  The wine may need longer in the bottle to mellow a bit.

The next wine was the 2005 and was much better: fruity and elegant.

We moved on to the 2000, which had an “earthy” (ie farmyardy) nose.  On the palate, it combined cherry and strawberry flavours with savoury notes, so was much more drinkable.

The 1998 was also somewhat earthy, this time with cedar and eucalyptus flavours.

The last wine of the night was the 1996, which also had the ever-present farmyard aroma.  In the mouth it was tannic and acidic with savoury/gamey flavours.

We took advantage of knowing one of the guys in charge of the bottles to snaffle another taste of the Pommard and the Corton.  I don’t know whether it was the pleasing contrast to the Bordeaux, or the wines had been taking a breather while we were busy in Bordeaux, but they seemed to have really opened up and be bursting with strawberries.  I was getting closer to my “Drops of God” moment.


To sum up, maybe I’m unsophisticated, but I certainly lack the resources to afford premier cru Burgundy on a regular basis.  Accordingly, I propose to stick with my favourite New World Pinot Noirs until I develop some sophistication and/or win the lottery.  As far as Bordeaux is concerned, I do wonder if I’m missing something, as I just don’t seem to feel the attraction, but I will persevere, as I hate to miss out.

Wish me luck as you serve me Tokaji


There is a prize for the most painful pun, right?  As our esteemed “goodwill ambassador” the drunken “cyclist” so eloquently expressed it in his reminder post, I am finding this prompt difficult, but my butt is now in gear (said in my best American accent).  Thanks to last month’s winner, the “sweet” sommelier (a misnomer if ever I heard one, she’s clearly an evil genius) for setting such a fiendishly difficult challenge this month.

What’s the biggest stroke of luck you’ve ever had?  For me, it would have to be meeting my husband (aaahhhhhhhh).  After years of Bridget Jones-style disastrous dating of commitment-phobic public schoolboys (the English, posh, emotionally damaged kind), big knickers and drinking bad Chardonnay, I finally met a man prepared to marry me.  The lucky part?  My sparsely-filled social diary made the prospect of a work night out with a local firm of accountants sound appealing and my (Technical Architect) now-husband was attracted by a text from his accountant friend that asked “do u want 2 meet 10 female solicitors?”.  (Note to any American readers, in England a solicitor means a kind of lawyer.  I fear that it might mean something different in the States, but don’t be alarmed.)

Wine was consumed that evening, but none of it good.  However, as my husband has for a number of years now been my faithful companion on our tour of Planet Vino, I don’t think that mission would have got off the ground without him.


As I write this, I particularly need good luck.  After spending the last 20 years working in the legal profession, I have an interview to become a wine advisor at a highly-respected local independent wine shop.  After getting to my age without racking up any experience in the wine business, I’ve taken the leap of faith to start applying for wine-related roles, but will I find anyone prepared to take the similar leap required to offer me a job?

Perhaps I should have thrown myself into celebrating St Patrick’s Day: drunk green Guinness, kissed a shamrock and rubbed an Irishman (that is good luck??) but I was too busy marking essays on the English Legal System (aided by Chardonnay, now the good stuff; I have grown in some ways).

I think that the biggest stroke of wine-related luck that I’ve ever heard of is the Master of Wine (Bob Campbell MW) who adopted a cat (Mr Wu) who could detect cork taint.  How lucky is that?  The only cat in the world who can detect cork taint adopted by a Master of Wine?  Or can all cats detect cork taint, but only demonstrate this talent (by grunting, apparently) when exposed to large numbers of wine samples, some of which by the law of averages will be tainted?  I’m rambling; clearly a sign of nerves about my upcoming interview.

Oh, I’ve just remember another stroke of alcohol-related luck I once had.  I won a bottle of Pomagne on a Pomagne Wheel at a school fete (yes, that does sound inappropriate to me too, now I’ve put it on paper).  This memory has prompted 2 questions: 1) can you even get Pomagne any more? 2) was it a British-specific aberration, or did its popularity escape off our island?  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Pomagne was a sparkling pear cider-type drink that was marketed in the 1970s as “champagne cider” until nos amis at Bollinger took the makers to court to stop them using that name.  I once spent the early part of a wedding reception wondering why I wasn’t remotely feeling the effect of the fizz, until I checked the bottle to discover that it was low-alcohol Pomagne.  Not my luckiest moment, but things are looking up.


Sun, sand and old vines

On Wednesday evening we attended a tasting of Plaimont wines, organised by Portland Wine, held at Gastronomy in Hale and presented by Xavier Didelon.

M. Didelon opened with an introduction to Plaimont’s wines, which represent a number of appellations, including Côtes de Gascogne, St Mont and Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bilh (please don’t ask me to pronounce the last one).

Our tasting started with a Colombard.  Xavier explained that the vineyards are in Armagnac country, so Colombard is grown both for brandy and for wine.  He described this wine as “like Sauvignon Blanc, but more so”.  I saw (tasted) exactly what he meant: the wine has a pronounced aroma of gooseberry and perhaps rhubarb, with a powerful flavour to match.  It’s an intensely fruity wine, if you like that kind of thing.  I preferred it when accompanied by the prawn, salmon and avocado canapés, which I thought smoothed out the wine’s rough edges.

The next wine was “Le Faite Blanc”, a blend of gros and petit manseng.  This was less fruity and had a hint of creaminess from barrel-ageing.  I was just thinking that this would go well with cheese, when we were served croustades filled with feta and baby broad beans flavoured with lemon.  This was a really good match.

We then moved onto the reds with a Merlot/Tannat blend.  I wrote “FRUIT BOMB” in block capitals for this one.  That’s not a criticism: it’s a powerfully fruity (blackcurrant/raspberry/plum) wine.  I thought that the inclusion of some Tannat made it more interesting than some of the cheap and cheerfully fruity Merlots available.  This one was served with paprika chicken. 

L’Empreinte, a blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, followed.  This was very deeply-coloured, with blackcurrant and blueberry, but also savoury, gamey notes.  Appropriately, this was served with venison crostini.

Next up was the Château de Sabazan, another Tannat/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  This was served slightly cool, which complemented the wine’s elegance.  It had flavours of blueberry, black cherry and white pepper, plus hints of vanilla from oak ageing.  It was served with soft cheese and beetroot canapés and was our favourite wine of the night.  

Xavier explained that the sandy soil of the Château de Sabazan vineyard enabled the vines to survive the phylloxera epidemic, so they still have some vines that date back to Napoleon’s time.  I found this particularly interesting, as I’m currently reading “Phylloxera: How Wine was Saved for the World” by Christy Campbell, which I recommend to any other wine history-loving anoraks.

Our tasting concluded with Pacherenc St Albert, a sweet (NOT dessert!) wine made from a blend of gros and petit manseng.  The sweetness comes not from botrytis, but from passerillage, leaving the grapes on the vine until the middle of November so that they raisin.  Xavier explained that 15 November is the fête St Albert, hence the name.  We drank it with canapés filled with blue cheese, pear and walnut, which I thought was a perfect way to end the evening.  However, Xavier explained why he does not describe this as a dessert wine – he recommends it served well-chilled as an aperitif.  I’ve never tried sweet wine as an aperitif, but it’s an interesting idea and I’m keen to try it.  I imagine it as a modern spin on the sweet sherry before lunch tradition much-loved by my mum’s family.

So, another enjoyable evening with Paula from Portland Wines, Xavier Didelon of Plaimont and our fellow tasters.   Portland’s tastings are deservedly popular and unfortunately I think I’ve missed out on tickets for the next one (Casa de Silva).  However, I’m really looking forward to the sherry and tapas tasting on 2 April.