Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wine tambourine man

Some winemakers can only make wine.
Some of them can also tell stories and involve you in their passion and life. Charles Melton is one of the latter.
He is an handsome man with a cool and friendly expression, gaucho boots and a charming spontaneous smile. He truly believes in the historic value of Australian vines and wines and he is more than proud when he loudly talks about the experience of Australian producers.

Charlie is one of the most prestigious and well known producers in the Barossa Valley where he started his own activity in the '80s after long experiences in other parts of Australia and Europe. His small winery in Tanunda has the atmosphere of a family run farm. And this is exactly what it is.
Charlie and his wife Virginia, have 50 acres of vineyards and buy more grapes from neighbours growers. The same growers that he has supported when the trend in Barossa was to pull out the old vines of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre ("the great vine-pull scheme" promoted by the Australian Government). He convinced them to keep those varieties for the importance of the viticultural tradition of this area. (Not so many know that some of these vineyards are among the oldest in the world -140/160 years old).
 At the time he was able to recognise the value and the potential of these varieties and the level of quality, concentrated flavours and deep complexity that only old vineyards can give especially when the people who's working in them have a long family tradition of wine making and know how to deal with the vines.

This is one of the reason why he is so proud of his work and of the Barossa Valley. And this is why he tries to promote the introduction of the a Barossa Valley qualification, form a legal point of view but even more because he truly believes in the sense of place that these wines recall.

That character of the Barossa Valley that you will find drinking for example the Nine Popes.
And this is a funny story. The name of this wine was chosen to celebrate the Chateauneuf du Pape after his experience in the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately the time spent in France was not enough to improve his French skills and he translated the "neuf" in nine instead that new!!
But the loss in translation is the only thing that this wine is lacking, being a great example of a juicy blend of  Grenache, Mouverdre and Shiraz that will wrap you up with its dark, deep fruit and plush spices.

Another story? He is still producing a Rose of Virginia because he is still married to the woman that gives the name to the wine. Not only for this reason to be honest but also because this is recognised as one of the best Rose of Australia, with its impressive pink the good crispness and delicate raspberry's aromas.

And to finish with a classic style Barossa Shiraz the Grains of Paradise. No anecdotes on this, as far as I know, but a full, luscious and intense wine. Mouth filling and rich. Deep aromas of red fruits, spices and violet. A wine that will surprisingly evolve in the cellar and that expresses at its best Charlie's interpretation of an Aussie classic.

No more comments or descriptions from me.
After tasting his wines, if you have the chance go and visit his cellar and let him tell you his stories!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Nebbiolo: the bastard grape!

When you have the chance to follow a Masterclass on Nebbiolo with David Gleave (MW and huge expert on Italian wines)  you don't want to miss it.
And when the wines to be tasted are big Barolos from producers of great tradition and prestige, you don't want to spit.

Nebbiolo is a high maintenance grape: no doubts about it.
It's the first variety to bud but the last to be picked. It needs the right sites; it needs south facing slopes. It has to be produced in low yields otherwise the wine will result diluted and the tannins will not be ripe and soften enough. It needs to be treated the right way. It needs people that know how to handle it: how to make a great wine from a difficult and sometimes austere and unfriendly grape.
Finally in the right hands, in the right place (mainly Piemonte - even if it can be cultivated as well in other parts of the world) it will reward you with unforgettable wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo or the less famous appellations of Ghemme and Gattinara.

Nebbiolo has normally a quite light color and it can be strongly aromatic. When young it often has fresh red fruit and flowery intense flavors such as raspberry, cherries, plums, violets and rose petals. With the aging it develops tertiary aromas of leather and tobacco.
It is normally characterized by a lively, vibrant acidity, often balanced by intense fruitiness and a good body depending as well on the wine production and on its age.
But nothing will impress you more than its tannins. They can be harsh and almost unbearable. Young and explosive but under control or they can be extremely subtle and velvety. Once again this will depend mainly by the winemaker's touch and the cares that he (or she) gives to the vineyard.

Love it or hate it but Nebbiolo is a grape that gives wines with strong personality.
Wines that need their time to be waited and their occasions and company to be tasted.
For sure food is probably the best companion, but try it with a book: I am sure it won't disappoint you.

Personal pick of the night was the Vajra Bricco delle Viole 06 a deep, full on, vigorous Barolo with intense and ripe forest fruit aromas and a perfectly integrated smokey hint from the oak aging. Extraordinarily elegant, you would struggle to keep in the cellar!

Thanks to David Gleave and Liberty Wines for the inspirational masterclass and the outstanding wines tasted (Massolino, Conterno, Vajra, S.C.Pannell)

Monday, 7 November 2011

Italian grand-ma memories...

Being Italian when I was a child I used to spend most of my Sundays with my grandparents. Often  I was sitting in the kitchen and staring at my grand-ma preparing home made lasagne, fettuccine or gnocchi.
With those memories in my mind my personal amateur chef (once again Italian) and I decided to challenge our cuisine skills and to make gnocchi at home trying to remember our grandmothers’ moves.

To be honest the preparation is quite simple but it takes long and it is extremely tiring.

It is important to choose the right kind of potatoes. Go for the best for boiling or mash, it will give you a smooth texture; we chose Desiree.
We boiled the potatoes (2 Kg) and mashed them.

Then we mixed the potatoes with flour (500 grams), eggs (2), a little piece of butter and a pinch of salt.

 Be careful with flour, a bit too much and your gnocchi will be hard, not enough and they will break in the water.

We gently worked the mixture, then divided it in 8 parts and with each portion we prepared the little gnocchi.

 We left them resting on the table for a while and then divided them in groups, the ones to be frozen and the ones to be eaten on the day – we prepared 2Kg of gnocchi, probably the same amount that our grandmas would have prepared for a big family reunion!!!

Once you finish you will need to choose a dressing. We decided to go for quail sauce, prepared cooking the whole quails with wine, chicken stock, rosemary, thyme, garlic and onion, a spoon of flour.
Our final decision had to be the matching wine…and I chose a Rosso di Montalcino (Palazzo Comunale Cantina di Montalcino '07) a lower level of appellation than the Brunello, less deep or intense but still powerful and strongly fruity flavoured, with an lively acidity and a good structure.

Great satisfaction at dinner time.
Gnocchi were rich smooth and tasty and the sauce was great. Not sure if we have to thank our Italian genes or all that patient attention given to our grandmothers when we were children but the result was absolutely exquisite!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Picks from the Gang

I have always thought that London is the capital of wine business. Not only because it is one of the best place to have a wide choice of wines coming from all over the world but also because the calendar is every year busier with wine events especially consumers oriented. The Wine Gang Christmas Fair was the most recent one. Not only wine merchants but big retailers suck as Waitrose, Marks and Spencer & Sainsbury's were present with a selection of hot buys!
I have been there walking around the tables for a while, looking at people and quite randomly tasting wines. I say quite randomly as I have actually focused my search on the big retailers just looking for good buys
And here is what I've good and bad...

Cave de Lugny Macon Villages 2010 Waitrose £6.99
An extraordinaire value for money for this fair Burgundy Chardonnay with simple ad fresh apple and citrusy flavours. Light in body and relatively short in its finish but with a good acidity it can be a very pleasant aperitif or a gentle company with a delicate fish.

Moonvine Biodynamic Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot 2009 McLaren Vale Australia Waitrose £9.99
Deep colour for this rich, strong wine that is all red fruits,plums and spices at the nose. I found its acidity was overpowering the fruits in the mouth. Probably too young or just in need of some food to balance it and keep it quiet!

Falanghina Guardiolo 2010, Campania Italy The Wine Society £6.95
Very good example of Falanghina for a great price. Fresh, mineral with aromas of flowers and citrus fruits. Quite light with a medium long finish. Great as aperitif , you would love with seafood.

Chateau Argadens 2010, Bordeaux Blanc, France The Wine Society £8.95
Predominant green flavours of Sauvignon Blanc and a gentle (luckily) touch of oak. Warm and rounded in the mouth.  Not extremely remarkable.

Barbera d'Alba 2008 Bruno Giacosa, Italy Armit £21.67
Elegant Barbera characterised by herbal notes and intense cherries flavours. All freshness and lively acidity in the mouth. Price probably affected by the producer's name but if you can afford it you won't regret it. Can be chilled.

La Metropole Blanc 2010, Languedoc ad Roussillon, France The Co-operative £6.99
Easy wine with a nice mix of sweet exotic fruit (mango, melon mainly) and pear, lively acidity and a balanced richness. No complexity, but it doesn't need it to be so pleasant for this price.

Chateau de L'Etang 2008, Bordeaux France The Co-operative £8.99
Soft tannins and lively acidity. Blackcurrant and dark cherries. This wine needs food company.

Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein 2009, Limestone Coast Australia, Great Western Wine £11.95
Weird meeting of a Piedmont indigenous grape with one from Australia. Red intense fruit, fresh at the nose, jammy in the mouth. Lively acidity. Light tannins, may like it, I am still not sure!

Blanc de Noirs Champagne NV Sainsbury's £17.69
Fairly priced Champagne from Pinot Noir. Lightly yeasty, freshly fruity, pleasantly dry. Not a great personality but a good balance.

Plan de Dieu 2009 Domaine Durieu, France Majestic £10.99
Juicy, jammy fruit and spiciness with soft tannins and a medium structure. Rustic, good French wine. One of my favourite of the day.

The Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2011, New Zealand Majestic £9.99
Intense gooseberry, green and tropical aromas. Refreshing and dry, deep and warm. Very good quality.

Chateau de Chambert Cahors, Malbec 2008 France, Le Marche' du Quartier £16.99
A wine for a steak. It is juicy, has vegetal and spicy notes mixed cherry flavours. Strong but velvety tannins that require food.

Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2009 Italy, Majestic £23.99
Elegant and serious white wine from Veneto. Apple, pear, white flowers and a gentle touch of oak. Gracefully intense. The ripe fruit of this still young vintage is balanced by a good acidity. A long charming finish. This a treat more than a wine. Expensive but a good idea fr a present...for yourself.

Now you should have enough to drink until Christmas...well at least until the end of the week!