Last Monday was a public holiday here in the UK and for a change, the weather was lovely and Nick wasn’t rowing. Instead, we slept a little late and then took the train out to Henley-on-Thames for the second annual Henley Wine Fair. Henley is always lovely and it was quite unusual to be there at a time that the famous Henley Royal regatta was not in progress – usually our visits to Henley are completely dominated by this event because Nick has rowed in the regatta three times now! Watch this space for details of this year’s event in early July… Strolled along the towpath away from the rowing course marvelling at the large boats moored along the river and the HUGE houses. Eventually got to the River and Rowing museum where the fair was being held in a lovely room with floor to ceiling windows so you didn’t feel you were missing out on the beautiful day at all.
There were probably about 12 independent wine merchants exhibiting at tables all around the room & we (predictably!) headed first for the table with South African wines – we like to start with the known and work our way towards the unknown! We had agreed to spend the morning tasting only whites and to taste only reds after lunch, so after sampling their whites we moved on to the most charming man, Brett Jones, of Winecases for his selection of Spanish, Italian and German whites. He had a rather spectacular German Riesling (see tasting notes below) which we loved. We also found out that he hosts informal tastings and dinners in Billericay outside London – see his second website for details. We will definitely be attending some of those in the near future!
Just as an aside: I am on a one-woman crusade to re-introduce people to German wines. Unfortunately, wines like Blue Nun and Black Tower (both examples of Liebfraumilch) have created a faintly ridiculous and very naff media image of German wine. Although both are still selling well (Black Tower enjoyed a huge increase in sales after it was conspicuously consumed on a previous series of UK Big Brother – need I say more?), nobody with any aspirations to trendiness or a reputation as a wine lover wants to be seen dead drinking or buying them. Sadly, this has coloured most people’s perception of German wine in general – but in fact, if you are sick of the richness of Chardonnay but not too keen on the austerity Sauvignon Blanc, then you should be trying German Rieslings. Depending on sugar levels at harvesting they can be made into wines that range from restrained and elegant to rich and fruity, but always with enough acid balance not to be cloying. We have discovered a number of excellent Rieslings in the fruitier style at Majestic – and people are always amazed at their longevity! Rieslings from the early and mid 1990s are drinking well now – how many other whites can say that? For a drier wine, try a Kabinett and for sweeter, try the (spectacular) Spätlese wines – fantastic with Thai curry (tried and tested many a time by yours truly!)
But back to the wine fair. Then it was on to Vinos Vinos who specialize in wines from Argentina and from there on to Nick Dobson Wines who specialize in French, Austrian, German and Swiss (!) wines. Unless you like your wines pale, light and crisp to a fault, don’t bother with Swiss wines except as an interesting experiment – I firmly believe their climate is just not suitable, but then that’s my New World palate talking! From there we wandered over to Decanter Wines where we met the charming and enthusiastic Krystyna and Jim Monks who specialize in Spanish wines. Jim waxed quite lyrical about Spain and maps were promptly produced so that we could see precisely where our wine came from. Beware – their enthusiasm is contagious! We struggled to drag ourselves away (as if we were really trying…!). Next door we encountered the Vine King where we were tempted by some Italian , French and New Zealand whites and we immediately moved on the Big Red Wine Company who specialize in French wines with a smattering of other nationalities and were all brimming with enthusiasm. From there we decided to make a foray into the New World and headed for Andrew Chapman Fine Wines who specialize in New Zealand wines, and last but not least we washed up on the shores of Allez Vins who have a marvelous range of French regional wines as well as some sparkling wines, liqueurs and brandies.
By this time we were feeling a little light-headed (you can see my tasting notes becoming more and more scanty as the day progressed – I don’t do spitting out of wine as it’s so unladylike!!) Anyway, we decided that it was time to get some solid food in our systems before tackling the reds. Popped into the museum café where everything on the menu looked good – plates of salad topped with poached salmon, quiche, vegetable crumble etc etc). Nick had a delicious lasagna and salad, but sadly I had a panini which was rather disappointing. For a start, (call me a purist but…) I took issue with the bread. I was and am under the impression that focaccia or similar is an appropriate bread for making a panini. However, what emerged from the kitchen was more like one of those unbaked baguettes you can buy frozen at some delis, for completion in your own oven. So for a start, the texture of the bread was wrong. Secondly, it was too thick – literally like a small baguette! This meant that to get the filling warm and melted, you would have to turn the outside to charcoal, which they didn’t do. So my tuna-cheese panini melt was somewhat disappointing, but hey, it was food and my poor stomach needed some lining by then!!
After lunch we headed back to the tasting venue and did a second circuit of all the merchants, this time having only their reds and about half an hour before the end we made sure we sampled all the dessert wines on offer (I have a particular soft spot for dessert wines!). In a last-minute frenzy before closing time we bought some New Zealand dessert wine (Forrest Estate botrytis Riesling 2002) from Chapman Fine Wines and a mixed case from Winecases – 6 bottles of German Riesling (Franconia Staat Hofkeller Wurzburg 2002), 3 of Argentinian Shiraz (Finca las Moras Shiraz 2002) and 3 of Australian Cabernet/Merlot (Brokenwood Cricket Pitch Merlot/Cab 2001). These were delivered for free (!! special offer for the fair) to our front door the next day – well, actually not our front door – they kindly made their way round to the back garden and hid the wine there as we were not home to receive it.
We had a fantastic time – highly recommended! If you are in South-East England (or plan to be soon!) you may want to check out the UK Wine Tastings website for forthcoming events. After we staggered out, the weather was still warm so we rented a little rowing boat and Nick rowed us up and down the Thames for a while – some of the houses along the river bank are just gorgeous. It was also a nice way to get up close and personal with the swans, mallard ducks, Canada geese and coots that inhabit the river! After that, we were in need of some sustenance and (incredibly) a drink – so we headed for the Angel on the Bridge pub for a quick beer and some disappointing cheesey fries – cheese had been microwaved to within an inch of its life and was in a rubbery puddle on the plate as opposed to on the fries. But the setting was (as always) lovely – right on the river by the bridge. A relaxing way to end a fab day!
If you are interested, you can click below for more detailed tasting notes on the wines we tried. I have tried to use the standard rating system out of 20 (3 for appearance, 7 for nose, 10 for palate) but have not bored you with the breakdown – just a score out of 20 (I’m anal retentive but not THAT anal retentive!!). The notes also vary tremendously in detail – depending on how inspired and/or sober I was!! Hope they are of some use to somebody…
Here are my (very personal) tasting notes. One star means good or unusual. Three stars are for my personal favourites.
FROM SOUTH AFRICA WINES
Klein Constantia Chardonnay 2002 11/20
C – pale lemon
N – toasty, buttery
P – citrussy and not overly oaky, despite 8 months in Burgundy barrels. Would appeal if you are tired of over-oaked Chardonnays.
Neil Ellis Groenkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2003 14/20
C – pale with a greenish tint
N – green peppers, cut grass
P – green peppers, stemmy, grassy – traditional style as opposed to gooseberry fruit flavours
Haute Cabriere Chardonay/Pinot Noir 2003 15/20
[An unusual wine as it is a blend of classic Champagne grapes without the bubbles. The skins of the red Pinot Noir grape are allowed very brief contact with the wine, giving it a lovely subtle colour.]
C – very pale onion skin
N – apricots, fruity, not as toasty as expected
P – some tropical fruits and Pinot Noir characteristics apparent, long finish, balanced
Bajoz Ovacion (Verdejo/Viura) Rueda 2003 – Spain 9/20
C – very pale
N – shy
P – crisp, clean finish with a slight prickle on the tongue. Simple, undemanding lunch wine
Cesconi Nosiola 2002 – Italy 13/20
P – dry but with a very creamy mouthfeel. Tastes almost as if it is wooded, but it has had no wood maturation!
***Franconia Staat Hofkeller Wurzburg – Germany 17/20
C – pale straw
N – fruity – tinned grapefruit
P – slightly sweet initially, like tinned grapefruit, but with a nice acid balance and a lovely long, clean finish. Delicious!
Tempranillo Sequiot 2001 – Valencia, Spain 14/20
N – vanilla
P – lots of ripe berry fruit with some toasty notes. Easy, undemanding drinking
Barbera d’Asti, Ca’ del Matt 2001 – Nizza Monferrato, Italy 13/20
C – plumy, purple-red
N – fresh berries – blackberries, cranberries
P – not as much fruit on the palate as the nose suggests, but still round and pleasant
***Finca Las Moras Shiraz 2002 – San Juan, Argentina 17/20
C – deep purply red
N – meaty, smoky – almost like smoked oysters
P – lots of jammy blackberry flavours but with just enough tannins to give it good structure. Delicious!
***Brokenwood Cricket Pitch Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – Hunter Valley, Australia 18/20
C – inky deep purple
N – heady with alcohol, smoky, again like smoked oysters
P – deep spicy notes and lots of ripe blackberry flavours, good long finish – lovely.
FROM VINOS VINOS
Torrontes 2003 – Valbona – Argentina 13/20
N – fruity, apricots
P – full-bodied, slightly madeirised? Very long finish
Chardonnay 2002 – Atilio Avena – Argentina 12/30
N – limes, citrussy. Can’t smell any wood
P – fresh and citrussy medium bodied, short finish
*Finca Los Levia malbec 2002 - Mendoza, Argentina 14/20
C – deep purply red, almost opaque
N – peppery
P – peppery spice, like a Syrah. Soft tannins and fruit still opening up. Medium bodied
***JA Cicchitti malbec 2002 – Mendoza, Argentina 17/20
C – deep purply red, almost opaque
N – fruity – lots of ripe berries
P – big mouthful of fruit, ripe raspberries. Incredibly soft tannins, so very easy to drink, Delicious.
Benegas Don Tiburcio 2002 – Mendoza, Spain (Bordeaux blend) 17/20
C – very deep opaque purple
N – stemmy, minty, like a new clone cabernet sauvignon
P – not much fruit yet and lots of tannins. Still opening up and has lots of complex potential. Would like to try it again in 3 or 4 years.
FROM NICK DOBSON WINES
Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2003 Reid Frauenweingarten – Austria 11/20
C – very pale greenish yellow
N – very shy
P – neutral, dry, hardly any fruit, uninspiring
Riesling Spätlese 2001 Dinstlgut Loiben – Austria – 12/20
C – pale lemon
N – distinctive kerosene undertones
P – dried apricots, good acid/fruit balance but not a very long finish
*Viré-Clessé 2001 La Forétille Domaine des Chazelles – France – Maconnais 15/20
N – blackcurrants, Ribena!
P – apricotty fruit, full bodied and complex with a long finish. (made from Chardonnay grapes)
Chasselas de Lully 2002 – Switzerland
N – pear drops?
P – crisp, minerally, light. Wouldn’t buy it.
Sauvignon Blanc de Lully 2002 – Switzerland
P – very crisp, gooseberry fruit but also quite citrussy. Wouldn’t buy it – too tart.
***Rully Blanc 2002 1ère Cru Grésginy – France – Burgundy 17/20
C – pale straw
N – toasty, buttery, almost floral
P – grapefruit, toasty vanilla, butterscotch, nicely balanced and very long finish. Complex and delicious
FROM DECANTER WINES
Caves Fermi Bohigas Blanc de Blanc 2002 – DO Catalunya, Spain 12/20
N – green apples
P – fresh and crisp, slight prickle on the tongue. Not complex.
Bodegas Valdelana Agnus de Valdelana 2002 – DoCa Rioja, Spain 14/20
N – Cream Soda soft drink
P – sweetish, almost like it smells but with enough acid not to be cloying. Vanilla notes, medium finish.
*Caves Fermí Bohigas: Bohigas Crianza 2000 – DO Catalunya, Spain 16/20
C – bricky red
N – ripe berries
P – ripe fruit and soft tannins with a caramelly finish – very easy drinking and delicious
***Bodegas Peñalba Lopez: Torremilanos Crianza 1999 – DO Ribiera del Duero, Spain 17/20
N – vanilla & caramel
P – tastes like it smells – lots of vanilla and caramel notes with ripe fruit. Lovely.
Compañia Bodeguera de Valenciso: Valenciso Reserva 1999 – DO Rioja, Spain 15/20
C – deep purply red
N – vanilla
P – medium bodied, lots of ripe berry fruit flavours
Bodegas Fariña: Gran Colegiata Crianza 1999 – DO Toro, Spain 13/20
N – raisins
P – not much fruit on the palate, quite tannic
*Bodegas Fariña: Gran Colegiata Crianza 1995 – DO Toro, Spain 16/20
P – tannins very much softer than in the 1999 vintage, tart berry flavours (like cranberries), very well balanced wine with good structure. Lovely.
FROM THE VINE KING
Verdicchio Sarterelli 2002, Marche – Italy 14/20
N – green apples
P – a huge wine, loads of body but with fairly high acid, so not much fruit showing through. Very long finish.
Cortese Icardi 2002, Piemonte – Italy 12/20
C – pale yellow
N – fruity
P – fruity, medium bodied, not a serious wine but pleasant
Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Marlborough – New Zealand 15/20
N – gooseberries!
P – another huge wine with the perfect tasting graph (growing to a crescendo & dying away slowly). Grassy, gooseberry fruit with a very long finish
Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Lechet, Burgundy – France 13/20
N – oaky, vanilla – but has not been in oak !
P – minerally, delicate with a very long finish
FROM THE BIG RED WINE COMPANY
Vin de Pays D’Oc Xavier Vignon 2003 Viognier – France 12/20
C – pale lemon
N – smells like a Muscat – almost litchis?
P – medium bodied but not much fruit, medium finish
Vin de Pays De Vaucluse Domaine des Anges 2002 Chardonnay – France 14/20
C – pale straw
N – toasty, but restrained
P – citrys (lie & grapefruit) flavours up front, nicely balanced with oak
*Rasteau Villages Domaine des Coteaux des Travers 2002 – France 14/20
N – overripe grapefruit
P – wonderfully spicy – cinnamon & cloves. Very unusual!
Lerchenberg Riesling 2000 J-P et J-F Becker – France (Alsace) 13/20
C – pale lemon
N – typical kerosene, plasticky
P – apricots, not a very long finish but clean. Lovely.
Cérons 1999 Château de Seuil - France (Semillon & sauvignon blanc dessert wine) 14/20
C – honey
N – dried apricots and honey
P – fruit, apricots with a honey finish – not very heavy
***Rasteau VDN Domaine Bressy-Masson “Rancio” – France (Grenache dessert wine) 18/20
C – deep amber, lovely
N – madeirized, not much fruit
P – sultanas and dried apricots with a nutty undertone. Very balanced with a long, clean finish – delicious!
FROM ANDREW CHAPMAN FINE WINES
Forrest Estate Riesling 2002 – New Zealand 14/20
N – bit like soft cheese, still with a slight kerosene tone. Not typical
P – not overly sweet but with lots of fruit – apples and apricots. Medium bodied with a long finish.
Forrest Estate Gewurztraminer 2003 – New Zealand 14/20
N – rose petals, typical
P – floral but with lots of cinnamon spice. Long finish & lots of alcohol (13.5%). Lovely!
***Forrest Estate Late Harvest Riesling 2002 – New Zealand 16/20
N – litchis
P – fruity – sweet citrus and dried apricots. Beautifully balanced with a very long and clean finish. Delicious.
***Forrest Estate Botrytis Riesling 2002 – New Zealand
C – gold
N – dried apricots
P – fantastic caramelly butterscotch intense flavours, but with an apricotty acid balance so that the finish is clean. Delicious.
FROM ALLEZ VINS
***Saussignac AC Chateau Grinou 2001 – France (Semillon dessert wine) 18/20
C – deep gold, lovely
P – delicious spicy cinnamon and honey flavours, very complex with a long finish. Lovely.