Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beaujolais Nouveau

This weekend I tried Beaujolais Nouveau for the first time. Ever since learning about it I have wanted to try it, but it’s only available for a short time in the year, as it is released the third week of November and should be drunk immediately (within 3mths).

Traditionally, BN was drunk by the local vineyards as a celebration of the end of harvest. The rules of the region (AOC Beaujolais) meant that historically Beaujolais were only allowed to sell their wine after 15 December of the harvest year. Then in 1951 they relaxed those rules, so the wine released before this date is called Nouveau. Georges Du Boeuf (whose Fleurie I gave tasting notes on a few months ago), and some other producers saw the potential in marketing BN. By getting these bottles out quickly they could sell table wine at a premium, and by selling it early helped with their cash-flow. It was heavily promoted in the 1970s, I’m thinking a Parisian version of Abigail’s Party, and although the celebration of the release has died down a little, the production and marketing continues with fun, novelty and celebration. It is quite popular in the US where it is promoted as a Thanksgiving wine.

The wine is very young and therefore fresh, bright and a little “un-ready”, one wine critic compared it to eating cookie-dough. I tried one from M&S (who say their sales of BN are increasing every year). I found that the texture of the wine dried out my tongue, even though it has no tannins, having the same effect as drinking black tea. It tastes of rosehip tea, Parma Violets and pear drops. It’s very thin and a little sharp, and sits at the top of your mouth. It’s bright pink-purple and you can pretty much see through it.

If you fancy trying it, which I would recommend, even if only once, look for it at the end of November, and watch for the brightly coloured labels, it’s the opportunity for the reserved French winemakers to go a little “fiesta”! 

Beaujolais: a region in France that is AOC and produces light, fruity red wines using the Gamay grape
AOC: Appelation d'origine controlee, which means the wine has strict rules and regulations that the winemakers must abide by
Fleurie: One of the AOC villages in the Beaujolais region

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I didn't point out in my Italian post that you need to be aware of the difference between Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Montepulciano Vino Nobile. The former is named after the grape and is the juicy, jammy red that's almost alcoholic Ribena. The latter is made from Sangiovese grape (as in Chianti) and is named after the location in Tuscany. I prefer the d'Abruzzo, but to be honest you shouldn't be disappointed with either.

Friday, January 18, 2013

So what do I think about Bulgarian chardonnay?

Peach Garden 2011 12% from M&S <£10 Bulgaria

I've not tried much Bulgarian wine before, if at all, but I have been keeping an eye out for more unusual wines on the high street, and when I saw this in M&S I had to buy it!

Well, the flavours are nice, warm fruit, white peach, lychee, is that chamomile? There is a slight bitterness - walnut? No, hazelnut. And very strangely (maybe this is a feature of Bulgarian wine) I taste no apple. They say, if you ever go to a wine tasting and the instructor asks what you can taste in a white wine you should say apple, because there's always apple. Not in this one!

It's very light. And when I say light I don't mean what the label means by "light" (not much flavour, could be a little acidic), it almost flutters on your tongue.

It's short in length,probably due to its low acidity (note: Acidity prolongs the flavour in your mouth because your mouth produces saliva that keeps the taste going for longer).

This wine makes me feel very tall (and I'm not even wearing heels today, wearing wellies for the snow!), like you're reaching for the sun in the sky. Feels like wearing stilts - really enjoying yourself, but it doesn't feel quite right.

This is a great wine to try if you're an ABC (anything but chardonnay).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Italian wines

Before I started my WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) course, I "didn't like" Italian wines. That is to say I knew very little about them other than Pinot Grigio which I find tasteless, Chianti which I find a little bitter, and Valpolicella which is sour. Now I love them, purely because I know what I'm buying. There are lots of varietals and regions to learn, probably why we don't know much, and they're wrongly seen as "less good" than French wines, which often means you get better value for money. Here are a few you should try...

Hannibal Lecter infamously drank Chianti with liver and fava beans - not a bad choice as it happens! Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape, which is high in body, acidity and tannin, has plum, earth, tomato and tea flavours. I would suggest this if you like Cabernet Sauvignon and  Bordeaux wines. I'm not saying they taste the same, but should appeal to a similar palate.

If you like Pinot Noir, may I suggest you try the Nebbiolo grape, either in the form of Barolo or Barbaresco wines. Nebbiolo has high body, acidity and tannin, and has red fruit, floral and earthy flavours that might be enjoyed by a Pinot-phile (I've just re-read this and noticed how dreadful that sounds!!). Be aware though, a Barolo can be quite full-on, a "meal wine", and is best enjoyed with (or instead of!) food .

If you love Shiraz, particularly Australian Shiraz, then I would strongly suggest you try Primitivo or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Both are rich in black fruits, the former with jammy notes and the latter with black pepper and raisin. Yum! (NB. Primitivo is the same family as Zinfandel, but don't let that put you off!)

For white wines, don't bother with bland Pinot Grigio or Soave, instead try something more unusual with a Castelli di Jesi (Verdicchio grape - lemon, fennel, bitter almond) or a Gavi (Cortese grape - citrus, candied fruit). Oh and one thing to remember,  don't buy Trebbiano - this is a mass-produced grape that is used for making cheap blends! The way I remember this is its the white grape with two Bs, for Bad Blends.

Look for DOC or DOCG on the label, this means it comes from a quality wine-producing area.

Quick note on Italian sparkling wines: Prosecco is a good alternative to Champagne, although will have less complex flavours, because it is made using the Tank method. "Spumante" means its fully sparkling and "Frizzante" means its lightly sparkling. The best Prosecco is, apparently, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG (I have yet to try this).

How to choose cheap wine

Happy 2013!

I have the flu, so haven't posted since the new year, and I suspect people are detoxing after the holidays, so I thought I would give a few simple tips for buying cheaper wine.

  1. If you have a red and a white at the same price point (and have no preference), go for the red as its easier to make red one (white requires more balance of acidity and flavours are more delicate).
  2. If you're buying in a restaurant or bar, and you think the establishment cares about its wines,go for the house wine, this should have been selected to represent their values at a reasonable price. But be sure to check prices for glasses vs bottle, as I recently found two restaurants in London were charging more per ml for the bottle than for glasses, as I suspect they had found many people say "oh lets get a bottle", either that or the people writing the prices on the menus were idiots!
  3. Don't buy discounted wines in the supermarket. They have false deals that make you believe the wine is worth more, but it isn't. Take the deal price as the representation of quality.
  4. Have a price in mind when going in store, have a look at the wines at that price point, but don't be afraid of spending £1 more, for cheaper wines, £1 can make quite a difference in quality.
  5. French wines can be really differentiated, so it might be safer and cheaper to go for an Italian wine (see my Italian wine blog post for tips). My favourite wines at the moment come from Chile and Luis Felipe Edwards have some really great wines at cheaper price points. Winemakers in Chile are trying hard to break the global wine market so you can get some cracking value for money.
Hope this helps!!