Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to choose an Aussie red wine

The key to choosing and Aussie wine, and indeed many wines, is identifying location, location, location.

In Australia, there are eight main regions for red wines, two cool, two warm and four hot. You need to remember that each region will focus on the grape variety that grows best in the climate/ soil/ water conditions, but they may bottle other grape varieties too. The trick is to choose the region that is best for the grape:

Yarra Valley - Pinot Noir
Mornington Peninsular - Pinot Noir

Margaret River - Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot
Coonawarra - Cabernet Sauvignon
Heathcote - Shiraz

Hunter Valley - Shiraz
McLaren Vale - Shiraz
Barossa - Shiraz

So if you're looking for a more delicate wine, or a wine with low tannin, the red fruit in Pinot Noir from Yarra or Mornington might be to your taste. These wines can also be served slightly chilled if you're looking for a refreshing drink for warm summer evenings. You may even enjoy the Shiraz from Heathcote which should be more refined than a "normal" Shiraz due to the lower temperature.

However, Aussies are known for their BIG reds...

If you like something with complexity (a variety of flavours) and higher tannins, I'd say try one of the Cab Savs from Margaret River or Coonawarrra. One thing I love about Cab Sav from Australia that you don't get in the rest of the world is the flavour of eucalyptus, which gets picked up from the soil and air as the eucalyptus trees expel their oils. It makes these wines fantastic for anything that has red meat and mint/ rosemary/ thyme. The wine has high tannin which is good for steak and roast or grilled meat, and the eucalyptus matches the herbs. Top match for a roast lamb, lamb chops, or even Lebanese/ Greek kebabs.

My favourite Aussie red is a Shiraz. Yum. Big fat blackberries. Alcoholic Ribena. Telly wine. Easy drinking, no food required, warms you up and goes down a treat. Most should have a lovely spicy finish, peppery. I would always recommend a Shiraz from Barossa as a starting point, you can't go much wrong. If you're not a connoisseur then price will mostly make the difference of how long the flavour, and bottle, will last. It's a good idea to drink a Barossa Shiraz slowly as the warm climate tends to encourage a greater alcohol content. Boozy!

TIP: The longer-lasting the flavour of the wine, the longer it takes for the flavour to disappear, and the longer between sips. You/ I/ we tend to take sips more frequently with short-lasting wines.

If you are a connoisseur, then I recommend you move on from Barossa Shiraz and try Barossa Mourvedre, an element in GSM (something everyone should try), and very delicious in its own right. These wines go great with mushroom, veal, beef, pasta, BBQ, duck with cherry jus... or on its own.

You can really get carried away with Barossa wines, I certainly do, as I bought a case + 3 bottles of a wine that isn't available yet + a magnum that cost £100 at the Hewitson & Elderton wine dinner at DVine cellars a few weeks ago. so the best tip I can give you is that so long as the label says "Barossa" on it, it will be a good quality wine. If it says "South Eastern Australia" it won't be a bad quality wine per se, but it means the producer has taken grapes from all over Australia to make the blend. This ensures their wines have consistency, and therefore more reliable (once you find a wine like this you love, you can buy it over and over again, and that's what the big guns are aiming for), but it means they don't have to pay attention to the wine when they make it, and that's what's special. "Barossa" on the label might make the starting price higher, but you can stay low without risking quality.

TIP: If you like big Aussie reds, look out for "Barossa Shiraz" on the label.

My favourite Aussie red is Rockford Rod & Spur Cab Sav & Shiraz. Tip top wine.

If you want to look for an easily identifiable brand, you can't go wrong with Wolf Blass Yellow Label. It doesn't say "Barossa" on the label but it does say "South Australia" and all the Shiraz vineyards I listed above are in South Australia, so its good enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Burgundy basics

I had a great time at the Burgundy wine evening at The Dorchester, and it made me realise that there really is a lot to learn about the region (Bourgogne in French). I thought I'd share the basics. Picking a Burgundy wine that you know you'll like can be very difficult, so hopefully this will help.

A white Burgundy is normally made with Chardonnay (if it's not 100% Chardonnay it will say so on the label) and a red Burgundy is normally a Pinot Noir (and sometimes also Gamay, although this is usually found in Beaujolais, and has been banned from Northern Burgundy).

Chardonnay can be affected by many factors (its know as the tart of grapes), it can take on character of the earth it is grown on (also known as terroir), and its flavour can change through techniques like aging in oak and malolactic fermentation (which creates the creamy, buttery flavour), which means it can vary greatly.

Pinot Noir is a light red wine with low tannin and red fruit flavours. If you're not keen on red wines that dry out your mouth, stick to Pinot Noir (or a Beaujolais). Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow, it requires specific growing conditions, so it can be temperamental, and a good one hard to find.

Another difficulty with Burgundy is that it is divided up into many small plots due to the Napoleonic law, where a vineyard is split up into equal parts to the owner's offspring when they die, which still continues today (unless the vineyard is owned by a company). This means that there are many producers all trying to make their mark in an overcrowded marketplace. Plus wines from Burgundy villages can sell for a higher price even if they're rubbish wine, just because of the name.

My WSET instructor taught me that finding a good burgundy is like kissing a lot of frogs to find your prince. And they can be expensive frogs. The trick is to learn by producer, once you find one you like, you'll probably like other wines they make.

What to choose:

  • If you like light and mineral whites, choose a Petit Chablis (cheaper than a Chablis but still very good)
  • If you like a bit more body in your whites go for Cote de Beaune (Mersault is my favourite but can be pricey)
  • If you prefer tropical fruit flavours try Macon (good tip is Les Enseigneres, a cheaper version of Montrachet)
  • For reds, I would go for Cote de Nuits every time

Monday, June 17, 2013

Princess & the Pinot - Tatty Devine in Selfridges

I love my new necklace from Tatty Devine in Selfridges!

Dorchester Burgundy Wine Evening

With Ronan Sayburn and Gearoid Devaney

I love going to wine tastings, I love to see how different people/places pitch themselves, and at what level. So should you bother going to the Dorchester wine evenings? I think if you know quite a bit about wine, and want some more technical info, if you want to learn about the region and varieties, while being served high quality wines, and lots of them, for £39 then this is a great call! It is quite a formal atmosphere, which you'd expect from the Dorchester.

At the Burgundy evening we tasted 11 wines, and canapes were served (although rather high end - smoked salmon and foie gras isn't to my taste, so I stuck to crackers). Maps, geology and history lessons pursued, which were very interesting, but did mean the tastings were a little rushed. It was wonderful tasting wines side by side, but it became difficult to keep track of which were which (perhaps a tasting mat would have helped). I think also being in a spacious suite meant people started their own conversations and lost the thread of the tasting. Above all, however, I was very impressed by the quality of the wines that were presented, and that the presentation was delivered by two highly renowned Master Sommeliers, who clearly knew their stuff. Plus there was no hard sell, the purpose of the evening for them is for us to taste and learn, and create a more positive association of The Dorchester with good quality wines.

This one is very good value for money, so I recommend you go soon before they increase the price, which they no doubt will once this tasting evening becomes established. Maybe I'll see you at the Californian session.