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Showing posts with label Tawny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tawny. Show all posts

21 December 2013

Spain v Australia: festive sweeties and reds, with or without chocolate

Well, not exactly one against the other, but a way of introducing five very different wines from these two diverse wine-lands ranging from essentially dry red to sweeter to very very sweet, started as white ended up brownish. First off, an aged dry red from Penfolds, the 2006 vintage of their Bin 28 Shiraz (about £14 in the UK). This was one of a few stars sampled with different types of chocolate at a recent Northern Ireland Wine & Spirit Institute 'wine with chocolate' tasting, with Deirdre McCanny of Belfast chocolatier Co Couture (a tad more about chocolate making etc. follows the wine blurb). This particular Penfold's 'Bin number' has been going since 1959 apparently, and the 2006 wasn't really showing its age that much. Powerful spicy nose with eucalyptus tones even, sweet blackberry and maturing savoury notes, has a fair kick still vs attractive spice and richness vs meaty flavours and softening tannins. Nice with the 'plain' Madagascan chocolate and the 'smoked sea salt' flavoured one even (read on...); or have with the usual red meat suspects I'd imagine.


Moving on to the Rutherglen region in north-eastern Victoria, which is famous for producing one-off sweet Madeirized style wines - deliberately oxidized by a special maturation process - fortified with alcohol (like Port and Sherry) and keeping hold of a large dose of natural sugar. Two different types are mentioned here, a 'Tawny' (the Portuguese won't like that) and a Muscat. Jen Pfeiffer is one of Naked Wines' bespoke winemakers, who's come up with a quirky little number called The Diamond 10 Year Old Rutherglen Tawny (19.8% abv). This showed cooked raisins and pecan nut on the nose, caramel fudge and toffee, oxidized Madeira notes but redder fruit, tangy toasted nuts vs sweet raisins vs punchy alcohol; quite balanced in the end despite all that going on (for a long time). £11.99 'Angel' price, £15.99 'normal' (more about their pricing here). I tasted this one at home recently (still am, a couple of mouthfuls at a time is enough, and it keeps for weeks) rather than at that choco event; try it with a selection of cheeses or mince pies.
Campbell's is a name almost synonymous with this particular style of sticky fortified wine, especially their legendary Rutherglen Muscat (17.5% abv - £13.99 Direct Wine Shipments and generally available in many specialist shops). Probably even sweeter than the tawny, with around 190 grams per litre residual sugar, this had a full-on cooked sultana and marmalade nose, very sweet and lush palate with treacly vs aromatic fruity flavours, the Muscat character does come through all that in the end lending a fruitier, dare I say 'fresher' side. The chilli chocolate worked well giving it a bit of bite; and similarly, the ginger choc also fought back! Was a bit weird with the sea salt one though.
Carrying on with the intense sticky theme, Sherry country in southwestern Spain is responsible for a variety of tasty styles of this fortified aged wine, from very dry (Fino, Manzanilla) to super sweet, such as Gonzalez Byass' extraordinary Matusalem (20.5% abv). Their press blurb describes it thus: "Matusalem is a premium cream sherry aged for 30 years in the Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez, Andalucia. Fine Oloroso sherry is blended with Pedro Ximenez (that's a variety not some bloke who works there, whose bunches are dried out lying on mats after picking, massively concentrating the natural sugar) and aged in American oak barrels where the flavours and aromas concentrate."
This is what I scribbled down after trying it a few times at home over a period of days with and without food (makes a nice dessert just on its own, or with dried fruit and nuts perhaps) - again good with mince pies, could be a substantial match for Christmas pudding or smooths the edges on blue and hard mature cheeses; and what about pouring some over vanilla ice cream too? Powerful 'volatile' Madeirized nose with cooked/oxidized and really toasted walnuts and molasses tinged with an almost extremely reduced wine/meat gravy edge! Caramelized soy sauce too vs mega dried fruit sultana/raisin cocktail, huge palate with the same array of flavours plus very nutty sweet walnut/pecan, nice kick/bite cuts through it a little, very intense tangy vs sweet finish. Wow, extreme wine or what. Tastes the same a few days later, another one that will keep for a week or three probably. Luckily comes in half-bottles - £19.99 from Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco, Majestic, Fortnum and Mason, Harvey Nichols, Cambridge Wines and other independents and sherry specialists.
Staying in Spain, I'll come back to an unusual slightly sweet Merlot from Priorat, found down the coast from Barcelona and inland a little on the hills, made by Joseph Puig called Dolc de Lluna 2006 (15% abv, £22.50 DWS). Nicely wacky mix of maturing meaty leather notes and dark vs savoury fruit, had a bit of grip still vs rounded mouth-feel with some sweetness and kick. Different for a Merlot. Again stood up well to the stronger flavoured chocolates even, ginger and chilli, as well as a nice match with the 'plain'.

Talking of that Co Couture chocolate, it seems like a good way of ending this post with a few facts and figures about making fine chocolate gleaned from Deirdre's introduction (hopefully accurate, as it was all scribbled down in a hurry). Cocoa beans are bigger than I'd imagined, although shrink when roasted turning them brown too, as are the pods, which resemble elongated coconut shells without the hair crossed with a shrivelled melon! There are three different varieties used for making choco: forastero, the biggest pod mainly grown in western Africa; Trinitario, a hybrid of the latter and Criollo that's smaller with rounder ends and more susceptible to weather and disease. Criollo is considered the finest, and there's a resurgence in growing this one, Deirdre said, although it's difficult to grow. There's no sugar in the beans but is in the pulp around them, so they're fermented together imparting more flavour into the beans. These are then dried and roasted.
We tasted three pieces of raw beans, all different with bitter vs sweet profile. It should have intensity and tannins but not particularly bitter; if a bean tastes heavily roasted, it means it's poor quality. The final roasted bean is about 50-50 cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which is pressed and separated. The butter is a fat, which does smell like cocoa-infused butter and melts in your hand. For dark choco, they then take 70% cocoa solids (any fine chocolate should be minimum 70%) and add 30% cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla (best fresh). There shouldn't be any other kind of fat, although you can add the useful soya lecithin nowadays. For milk chocolate, you need the cocoa solids blended with milk powder then the rest of the ingredients as above. And white chocolate is just cocoa butter and the rest without the cocoa solids. The solids are first refined to make a smooth paste with no particles. Typically, the darker the colour, the higher the amount of solids although this isn't always the case, e.g. from Madagascar, which can have lovely reddy brown hues.
Rubbing your thumb on the back of the chocolate helps release the aromas. Snap it - a nice 'clean' snap means it's high in cocoa butter. Let it melt in your mouth on your tongue to get more of the flavours. We tried four different types with various origins and styles, although it's not totally clear from my notes what they were each called, so I'll just say I was surprised how different they all looked and tasted (they were all 70% dark), and no real bitterness there either. There are essentially two production styles though, French and Belgian/Swiss (plus everyone else). The French like to taste the chocolate and use less sugar and more butter (better for cooking chocolate too for melting) than the Belgian/Swiss makers.

And have a look at part 2 of sweet wines and chocolate here (links to it, with a touch of Maury and Banyuls), plus more southern French 'reds of the mo' that have come my way from the Roussillon, Languedoc and St-Chinian in particular...

11 March 2013

Grenache: Australia - Seppeltsfield & Kilikanoon

Nathan Waks oiling his cello with
Grenache: www.kilikanoon.com.au
You've guessed it... "aka further adventures from the World Grenache Competition..." held in France a few weeks ago, where I was one of the (many) judges. This time, the limelight neatly shifts continents to Australia and a guy called Nathan Waks in particular, who came over from Oz for the event and brought a few Grenache wines and some interesting stories with him. Nathan, who speaks pretty fluent French by the way (much to the pleasant surprise of the probably majority French audience), I guess thanks to a career as a professional musician having travelled extensively around Europe on tour, is one of the owners and directors of these two wineries and associated brands; the rather famous Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley and perhaps less well-known Kilikanoon in the Clare Valley. The latter was only established in 1997 by Kevin Mitchell; the former purchased (literally lock, stock and barrel by the sound of it) from the Fosters Group in 2007, although has been around since the mid 19th Century...
Seppeltsfield specialises in fortified Grenache-based wines, some of them very old indeed. Nathan told us they have over 100 ha (250 acres) of "mostly old Grenache, about 50 to 80 and some 100+ year-old ungrafted bush vines, as there's no phylloxera in South Australia." There's also Shiraz plus some of the Port variety Touriga and Sherry variety Palomino planted here. The historic winery was built in 1888 and was then the world's largest 'gravity-flow' winery (now the norm for most new-build cellars where you have the space to do it, constructed into cut-out hillsides or huge excavated holes to create different levels/heights to allow a natural winemaking process going from top to bottom), with 120 concrete open-fermenters on six storeys! There are seven million litres stored here, "although not all ours - some of it is Penfolds, which was Fosters' when they sold it... complicated..." There are all sorts of styles found there; some are aged in "loft-like (spaces) for a 100 years, or in corrugated iron (sheds), which get very hot and cold (over the course of the year) so the wine gets very oxidized, with lots of evaporation; sometimes it reduces down to 10%-15% of the original amount. It's not very economical!" he explained.
Presumably that's why they sell the 100 year-old (see my note on their extraordinary treacley and intense 1913 Para below) for $1000 (Aus) a bottle! Production of this wine started in 1878, "and we still have every vintage for over 130 years." Other fortified wines they make include classic Tawny styles such as their Para Grand Tawny (also see below) - from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre with a minimum average age of 10 years, "although much older due to the solera system we use (as for Sherry production), but we can't prove it..." - and Colheita wines too (Vintage Tawny). At Kilikanoon in Clare, they make two varietal Grenache reds (plus a couple of GSM / SG blends and a rosé), one of which won a Gold medal in the competition - again, I've tasting-noted these below. I've also got a bottle of their 2009 Riesling under the stairs - will report back with my impressions on that (I'm keeping it for a special tasting). These wines are distributed by Negociants International in Australia, so presumably are via their UK and US offices too: more info @ www.seppeltsfield.com.au.

1913 Seppeltsfield Para ("100 years in oak", 21% alc.) - bizarre cocktail of cooked molasses, red Madeira and roasted/charred walnuts; very rich sweet and intense, super concentrated and long on the palate with power, warmth and very complex flavours. Wow: not sure I'll be able to taste anything else after this!
Para Grand Tawny (20% alc.) - aromatic and nutty with intense rich nose and palate, again some of those complex aged/oxidized flavours with a bit of oomph and extracted caramel finish; delicious. About $30.
2009 Kilikanoon The Prodigal Grenache - touches of oak with savoury and peppery edges, ripe sweet fruit vs grainy firm and solid mouth-feel still; good wine. Gold medal. $30
2009 Kilikanoon The Duke Grenache - still showing a fair bit of oak but this is richer yet firmer too with attractive sweet vs peppery fruit, nice grip and power on the finish. $59

Other World Grenache Competition medal winners from Australia (all three Silver medal)The Absconder 2010, Wirra Wirra Vineyards, McLaren Vale; The Blewitt Springs Grenache 2009, D'Arenberg, McLaren Vale; Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2010, Jackson Wine Estates Australia, McLaren Vale.
More on the WGC on my blogs: part 1 (overview), part 2 (Roussillon & Chateauneuf-du-Pape), part 3 (Cannonau di Sardegna), part 4 (Spain). And a couple from South Africa here.
Lots more on Australian Grenache there (Sept. 2012)

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