Friday, 24 December 2010

Pressed Tongue

So this year we're having a whole load of the family around on Boxing day, this means that there needs to be a whole host of lovely things prepared.
First to be set about to was pressing a tongue. Now I don't know about you but I'm ok with certain bits of food but I find my sqeamish meter tends to get going around raw tongues. They're more than a little bit special.
Any way quickly empty from its bag into a large pan, then trying not to look too closely at it cover with cold water.
Leave for the best part of 24 hours, occasionally (I managed once) changing the water.
Prepare stock like items, heat the water up, take of a what scum form, then add the veg. 2 carrots, some celery, an onion, black pepper, bay leaf. Simmer for about 4 hours.
Once it's cooked it feels rather different. There's a pleasing solidity to the meat and it becomes quite fascinating peeling the skin of.
Here you'll need a tongue press, slit the underside of the base of the tongue and force into the basin. Then screw on the lid. Leave in fridge over night...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

quick bites no.1

It's cold, I'm going out to a friends for drinks this evening so I've no idea what time I'll eat. I need something warming, but proper comforting as well as heating.
Some salad potatoes, half an onion, some Hungarian sausage, though any spicy salami or chorizo would do, and some Reblochon cheese. Oh yeah, speedy Tartiflette for lunch; Parboil the roughly sliced potatoes, soften the onions with a little bit of garlic, add diced salami, add potato slices, add thin slices of Reblochon (pos a small spoon of creme fraiche), let mingle, then eat with a bit of salad and a glass of crisp white. Today it was a glass of Vavasour 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, taut, citrus with a touch of herbality but all together pleasingly restrained for a Kiwi Sauv.

Smoked Haddock and Celeriac Remoulade

It was my sisters birthday, so obviously there was dinner to be made. However I was still feeling a little bit knocked around by this dastardly cold that has taken up residence in my sinuses. Any way main course turned out to be quite simple as both my sister and her mum (mine as well) expressed a desire for roast leg of lamb... So all my preparations for slightly more exotic versions of slow roasted pork belly with sage and orange (as suggested by @bribedwithfood). However this still left starters, pottering around the shops I realised that all the usual things had made their way into the shopping trolley, smoked salmon, creme fraiche and so on. So I decided to remove said items and start again (obviously I left the creme fraiche, so many uses).
A largish fillet of smoked Haddock, a celeriac root and that was about as far as inspiration went.
I should state in advance that this isn't really a remoulade as there's no mayonaisse involved, but it was very easy and very tasty. The creamy smokiness of the fish combining nicely with the slightly crunchy earthiness of the celeriac.

1 large fillet of smoked haddock
1/2 a celeriac root
1 medium onion (go for quite a strong one)
full cream milk
salt and pepper

Prepare the vegetables by grating the celeriac, and finely dicing the onion, then set aside.
Lightly poach the smoked haddock in some butter and the full cream milk. You want to use a pan where the fillet, cut in half takes up most of the pan, then the milk should come up to about half way up the highest point of the fillet, start the poaching skin down, then turn after a couple of minutes, I find this makes it easy to get a good cooking through, and yet still have the skin come off easily. Incidentally you want the flesh to flake apart but not fall apart.
Remove the fish from the poaching liquor and retain both, peel off the skin of the fish (this should be quite easy if the fish is only lightly poached.
Then add the celeriac and onion to the poaching liquor and leave to simmer for about 5 minutes, you're looking just to soften and flavour it.
Flake up the fish, add in the celeriac and onion and mix together. Season to taste.
Finely chop some of the capers and dill (not too much) and mix into the fish and celeriac.
Then turn the mixture into the serving bowl.
Decorate with more chopped capers and dill, salt and pepper and refrigerate.
Oh and I served it with toast and some sharply dressed leaves.

Disgustingly easy, and for me it used hardly any pans (only one). Sadly I failed to take any photos while cooking as I was absorbed with being grumpy and headachey, and the lemsip was taking it's time to kick in. Luckily it had done by the time we sat down for dinner.

I think the label shows what area of the market this was targeted at..
As for what we drank with it, I pulled out one of my experimental bottles of Riesling, Duckbill 2006 from the Great Southern in Western Australia. Now Great Southern is quite a large area that encompasses the steep hilly Mount Barker and the Porongorups, as well as Frankland River and the verdant surrounds of Denmark. I guess I saw this bottle a few years back and figured that it was cool climate Australian Riesling, it wasn't expensive and was worth a punt.
Now I like my Rieslings with a few years of bottle age to them, and this was no exception, tight, minerally, with the beginnings of some toastiness, whoever the winemaker was won't like me for saying that I certainly found a spot of kerosene like characters, but again I like them. All in all it went great with the dish, the acidity pairing the creaminess of the dish well, and the assertive citrus, sherbet and kerosene like characters standing up really well to the smokiness of the fish.


So we’re coming to the end of a year that started with travel, then stayed resolutely London bound before ending with my longest period away.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit wineries in four countries and to have extended stays in two of them. Obviously with so many wonderful and special memories, not to mention incredible wines it’s quite hard to pick out favorites, but with no small application of a critical razor I’ve just about managed to do it.
One of the Grand Father vines in the Hill of Grace Vineyard
Red wine of the year:
This is a pretty easy call, it was Henschke, Hill of Grace, 1996. Tasted (and later drunk) at Pru and Steven Henschke’s winery in the Eden Valley. Sometimes when you taste wines that are legendary there is a sense of expectation, and with that comes a nagging doubt as to your impartiality in the face of the wine. Well there was no time for that with the 96 Hill of Grace, it was a wine that soared and dazzled, with such breath taking complexity of aromatics. My first notes on tasting it were; wow, privileged, deep succulent herbal red fruits, pot pourri, violets, clove oil, unicum, pepper, such depth and complexity. But this isn’t really doing the wine justice, every time I went back to it, it had changed, it was a glass that I really didn’t want to end. The 86 that was served along side would be a close contender for the years crown, but it was the 96 that leapt straight into my list of all time wines.
White of the year:
I’m not going to go with the greatest white I tasted this year, as to do that would require choosing between four or five stunning experiences, so instead I’m going to go for my biggest surprise of the year. The wine that knocked my right on my arse for simply being so impressive and for being such an unexpected treat.
Movia is a winery in the Collio hills, straddling the Italy/Slovenia border the fact that their post box is in Slovenia makes them Slovenian. Ales Kristancic their winemaker was present at the London International Wine and Spirit Fair. Amongst his mightily impressive collection of wines he was presenting his Puro 2002 Sparkling wine. This is undisgorged and as so needs opening in a bucket of water at the table.
Now this isn’t the time nor the place or a lengthy dissertation on the effect of yeast lees in the bottle with regards to contribution of autolytic flavours, but also as a protection from oxidation. Suffice to say that with recently disgorged Champagnes the closer to the disgorgement you can drink them the better and more unique (as distinct from non lees bottle aged Champagnes) the experience will be.
Ales’ Puro is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rebulla (known in Italian as Ribolla Giallo), the base wine is made and aged in old oak for 4 years, then instead of adding sugar and yeast to the base wine a la the Champenoise, he adds fresh grape juice, which has enough sugar and natural yeasts to start the secondary fermentation.
For all the funkiness of the production it would have all been for naught if the wine hadn’t been great. All sorts of toasty, apricot, salt caramel savoriness, butterscotch, spiced apples, all tied together with a great minerally core.
Dish of the year:
I’ve chosen my dish of the year, from what was undoubtedly from a technical perspective the outstanding meal of the year. The tasting menu lunch at the Ledbury. A succession of dishes that were each as outstanding as the next, but the one I’ve plumped for was the Celeriac backed in ash with wood sorrel and a wild boar kromenski.
Very often when I visit restaurants the focus is on the protein, whatever the beef is, or on what the lamb has been fed. However it’s  more often that not something that has been done with the vegetables that turns my head, be it beetroot caramelized in sherry vinegar with thyme comprehensively blowing the great Tasmanian steak out of the water at the Black Cow in Launceston, or at the Ledbury, the Celeriac being brought to the table in it’s ash sarcophagus, ceremonially carved in front of us then being returned to the kitchen for plating. The dusky, earthy, smoky notes transforming the celeriac from a great, but slightly work horse vegetable, into the star, from girl next door to smoldering kohl eyed temptress. Quite sensational.
Meal of the Year:
Again there are a lot of very strong contenders here from my travels, particularly the salt pepper squid and fish n chips we enjoyed at the etherial Star of Greece in the McLaren Vale. However it was the first of the trips meals that really stood out, and that was despite quite a few potential marks against.
Lunch with William (Bill) Downie in his barn on their farm in Gipsland Victoria. We started with his zero Sulphur Pinot and plates of Charcuterie and Crudites from his farm and the pigs next door. This was hands down some of the finest Charcuterie I’ve ever eaten, the Lardo was divine, salty, intriguingly herbal with just a hint of spicing to it. The Prosciutto lingered longer on the palette than any Pata Negra I’ve ever tasted. The vegetables were gorgeously sweet and crunchy, it was as if Bill was laying down a gauntlet; Forget everything you might have though about Australia and her wines.
Then an off dry Petit Manseng which he made in 09 as it was a bit hot for him to be happy with his Pinot Noir, a salad of raw seafood, impeccably fresh and moreish.
Then the main course, BBQ lamb, plates heaving with the most sumptuous Morels and Artichoke hearts. Bottles of Bill’s Pinots started arriving on the tables, they’re stunning, pure, elegant, and yet each hugely different from the others.
Oh and all the while there was an open fire blowing smoke at us in a doomed attempt to mitigate the late spring chill. Yep this was cool climate Australia, and we carried the smell of the smoke as a reminder for several days to come....

Friday, 3 December 2010

Hetzolo on a very cold day in London

Sometimes day's just don't pan out as you expect them to. I had my Friday afternoon pretty tightly scheduled, a swim, followed by an experiment with Bikram Yoga then off to London.

On the train to London feeling strangely stiff and flexible at the same time all my meetings started to fall through. The weather, staying up far too late watching the cricket, generally being a bit useless. The reasons were varied and plentiful. However it's not like I've never amused myself in London for a day before, so I managed a spot of xmas shopping, had a couple of pints of Caledonian 80 shilling at the Gun. Lovely beer that I've not drunk for years (not since Glasgow days) that tastes like a hearty ale that someone has added a nice Sunday roast and popped in the blender. I could almost feel the goodness surging through my pores.
Then after being cornered by my old work I succeeded in having my arm twisted into helping them out for a week before xmas, on the condition that I don't have to eat any turkey and they pay me cash (lots of it).
Feeling like I ought to totter back to Reading I got a call from Gustavo Lo Bianco, sommelier consultant, buyer, general all round good egg Brazilian wine person asking me if I fancied a little tasting of the wine of Hetszolo. Well of course I wanted to do that.

Tokaji Hetszolo is a little bit special amongst the great estates, it's cellars have possibly the most romantic history of any winery, being where Rackoci Ferenc launched his revolution against the Hapsberg dynasty, so if anywhere represents Magyar pride then it's Hetszolo.
Stylistically it's different as well, their vineyards are situated in a South East facing amphitheatre of deep, 12-15 feet, loess this gives the wines a characteristic lightness and a perfume that tends towards honey and flowers.
Hosting the tasting at the chic and stylish Fine and Rare offices was Kata Adasz, Hetszolo's ambassador in the UK and she was doing a fabulous job of shepherding the assembled through the intricacies of Tokaji nomenclature. Suffice to say that Szamoronodni is never, ever, ever going to be a break out hit in the UK market, it's just too unpronounceable.

Any way we started with the Dry Furmint 09, vinified in steel with a little bit of old oak this was quite delicate with lightly floral aromatics, showing some of Furmint's trademark acidity, but quite a subdued style in comparison to other dry Furmints.

This was followed by the Edes Szamorodni 05, Edes means sweet (Szaraz on the other hand means dry and is a whole different kettle of fish) and Szamorodni is a term deriving from the Polish market which generally means 'we picked everything' in effect the wine is made from whole bunch picking, which means that there isn't quite the concentration of Aszu berries and the wine is there for lighter in style. However there is quite a lot of discrepancy in the style of wines that carry the name. Hetzolo's was weighing in at about 75 grams of residual sugar, which to my mind wasn't quite enough, the wine showed new oak like characters that mingled playfully with some floral peach like notes, but then it finished a bit dry, which after the initial seductiveness seemed needlessly miserly.

The 2001 5 Puttonyos was where the wines started to get serious, the wine was delicate with a real drinkability, white flowers, ripe peach accents, honeyed vanilla cream and a tight little coil of acid structure, one that was crying to be drunk with food.

I decided to disregard the line up of wines and go for the older 5 puttonyos before jumping to the more powerful 6 puttonyos as I find that once you've jumped up a sugar level going back down makes the wines seem lacking. The 96 5 Puttonyos was showing a lovely meaty almost earthy side, with slightly caramelised honey, some spiced apricot and had great elegance.

Now in the past, I've perhaps been a little bit hard on Hetszolo, in that I've occasionally found their wines a little inconsequential and have also noted what seems like slightly lifted aromatics. The 99 6 Puttonyos, straight Harslevulu seemed to be a case in point, with some wood polish like notes initially before showing intense caramelised apricot and quince, before finishing with an almost white pepper like note. This was one of those wine that I find a little hard to categorise, not quite floral enough to shout Haars, but enjoyable none the less.

The final wine on show was the 93 6 Puttonyos, this was magisterial, a deep burnished ochre
coffee salt caramel, some floral toffee, dried apricot, mango, fresh, great length and intensity,
still really fresh for an 93 – showing real zing and minerality on the finish...

So a somewhat of a rehabilitation in my eyes for the Hetszolo style, though I admit that I'd only tasted youthful examples of their wines, and thus it was illuminating to see them at an age when they're actually ready to drink.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Margaret River

First impressions of Margaret river are that it's quite flat, also it seems drier here than it was in both Victoria and South Australia (having said that, it's raining again this morning).
Through Twitter I had met up with Kate Mason, one of the winemakers for Fraser Gallop a small newish winery who are currently being imported by the same folk that look after Mac Forbes, we chatted over a light beer at Must, a swish wine bar in the centre of the town, then she kindly offered me the spare room. So one day in and the camper van still hasn't been used properly.. oh well

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Kind hearts and tin roofs

The story may be apocryphal, but it’s said that someone sent Robert Parker a bottle of Rutherglen Muscat. He was so blown away that he awarded the wine 100 points. The next year a grower sent Parker a bottle of their top Rutherglen Muscat. His shocked response at having shot his bolt so early was to lament that ‘if I had more points to give’…..
Rutherglen is about 350km north of Melbourne and is to the west of the Victorian Alps region of the Great Dividing range. This is important for the regions macro climate as the winds come down from the mountains bringing cooling air.
The geology and topography of the region is due to the action of the Murray Darling river system. As the glaciers melted it worked its way down from the mountains bringing large amounts of gravel and alluvial matter, this was deposited across the Rutherglen in patches around the heavier clay mounds that are what pass for hills in the area.
There are only eight producers of Rutherglen Muscat in the region and all except Seppelt are family owned. The region was founded in the 1860’s and experienced a boom, fuelled by immigration and brought in labour from China. Prior to Phylloxera hitting the area it was the second largest viticultural area in the colony. The early half of the 19th century was not the happiest of times, several wars and a general decline in the market for fortified wines conspired to leave the region in danger of becoming a curio.
Colin Campbell and his brother arrived on the scene at around this time. Born into the 4th generation of the Campbell family, they were never given a choice as to what their career path was going to be. Colin had been sent to agricultural college and subsequently to Roseworthy, then returned to the Rutherglen to look after the wine making, his brother the vineyards. Their first task was to be saving the region.
John Campbell arrived in the Rutherglen from Scotland in 1860 on the Merchant Prince, initially he was attracted by gold prospecting, (un)fortunately the gold soon ran out. Inspired by a French vigneron who declaimed ‘dig gentlemen, dig, but no further than 6 inches down, for that is where the real gold will be found’. Soon the Campbell patriarch had assembled the 3rd largest estate in the colony, his son assumed the task of replanting the estate after the devastation of Phylloxera, and Colin Campbell’s father had to keep the estate running through the lean years, principally through expanding the other agricultural activities of the farm.
Early settlers would speak of ‘the tyranny of distance’, the Rutherglen was a long, long way from Melbourne, three weeks by cattle train. It was for this reason that the two Scottish settlers who built the All Saints Castle had to make all the bricks from local mud, all the early buildings were roofed with corrugated iron, the most economical material to transport over the long distances. This was to have a major impact on the style of wines produced.
Rutherglen Muscat, and Rutherglen Tokay are amongst the most distinctive wines produced in Australia, along with Hunter Valley aged Semillon and Sparkling Shiraz they have no analogue in the rest of the world.
Their wine making takes in aspects of Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Mistelle production. Produced respectively from Muscat a petit grains rouge, a local clone of the well known varietal, known with characteristic Australian elan as Brown Muscat, and Muscadelle, the varietal used in small amounts to add interest to dry whites from the Entre Deux Mers.
The grapes are left on the vine to become raisins, following their harvest (occasionally over several tries) they are left to macerate together. The purpose of this is to get the sugar and flavour out of the raisined grapes by steeping them in the juice of the non raisined grapes. Osmotic pressure across the grape skins causes the raisined grapes to swell and gradually the batch approaches homogeneity. There are stylistic differences across the houses over whether any fermentation is allowed to take place in the Brown Muscat (the lower sugar levels of the Muscadelle mean that everyone prohibits ferment with it), with some pressing at the first sign of activity and others leaving the grapes to bubble a bit. Adding the high proof (96 degrees) neutral alcohol to un-fermented juice retains more of the sugar and fresh aromatics, where as allowing up to a few degrees of natural alcohol darkens the resultant wine (higher phenolic extraction due to the solvent action of the alcohol) and adds a more vinous complexity. In this sense the start of the process has similarities with either Port production or that of a Mistelle.
Once the fortified juice has been transferred to the ancient ageing barrels the real magic can begin.
The Muscats and Tokays of the Rutherglen are defined by the architecture of their region. The tin roofed huts get hot, real hot. Once the early wine makers realised the beneficial effect the heat was having on their Muscats they started to build new shacks, angled north westerly to get all the days sun, with low roofs to concentrate the heat. At All Saints their Church Shed will regularly reach 55 degrees centigrade.
The maturation of the wines is another area where house styles differ, Morris work exclusively from barrels where as Campbells only work from their large Solera system. However regardless of the system used the wines are sent off into the sheds to drift off into a hot but peaceful slumber. By a strange quirk of geographical positioning the humidity/heat balance is such that the alcohol and water in the barrels evaporates at almost exactly the same rate, unlike in the Barossa, where Seppelt send their wines to mature and the alcohol creeps up year by year. This means that the 4-10% volume loss per annum merely concentrates the wine. With both sugar and acidity levels rising in tandem, this lends the finest most ancient wines a searing powerful acidity that balances the sugar levels (often as high as 280g per litre).
Stylistically Tokays are not quite as sweet as the Muscats, and show a different aroma palette. More savoury they have black tea, walnut, salt caramel, coffee and rancio characters, where as the Muscats initially have the fresh floral characters of the grape along with caramel, honey, and raisined notes but then develop all the gorgeous richness of oxidative ageing, the chocolate notes, the unctuous christmas cake characters, nutmeg, clove and candied orange peel accents.
Within each group there are four quality levels: Rutherglen Muscat/Tokay, Classic, Grand and Rare, however it is up to each different producer which wines he wishes to bottle in which category.
A note on nomenclature, due to EU trade agreements the region of Tokaji heglia has reclaimed rights to the usage of the Tokay name. The Rutherglen producers have been given until 2018 to phase out the usage of Tokay. Writing as someone who has an intimate knowledge of the region of Tokaji I have great sympathy for them, and I fully understand why they should wish to prohibit the use of their regions name for other wine styles. After all it is no longer considered acceptable to label your sweet wine a Sauternes. The producers of the Rutherglen are understandably aggrieved to have to stop using a name which they have used for well over a hundred years. However it was chosen in the first place because Tokaji was such an iconic wine, whose history dates back to the 1600s.
Despite all this I can’t help but feel that an exception should be made, Tokay is a drop in the ocean production wise and the quality can be exceptionally high
p.s. The name that was decided upon was Topaque, and yep it actually hurts to type it.

Majella issues

This afternoon I had the pleasure of discussion with Bruce Gregory the winemaker at Majella the effects that the last eight years of drought have had on the grape physiology that he sees in the Coonawara.
Bruce relates that the average pH has been steadily rising from a decade ago where the average Cabernet pH would have been 3.3. This has risen to a cool year average of 3.4 and in the warmer years edging up to 3.7.
Obviously this is problematic because it necessitates higher and higher levels of acidification. But things are complicated by the fact that the decrease in total acidity isn't a spread across the different naturally occurring grape acids. In fact it is overwhelmingly the Tartaric acid which is being lost. This means that the grapes arrive into the winery with proportionately raised Malic acid levels. Malic acid is not microbiologically stable, and is almost always lost after fermentation through the action of Malolactic bacteria. This has a knock on effect on the final acidity of the wine. Meaning that Bruce then has to decide whether to acidify the must to a pre malolactic fermentation level which is more suitable for fermentation, or to a post malolactic ferment goal.
Incidentally when it comes to correcting acidity, it's pretty much established practice across South Australia. 3.57 is the magic number, pH's above this figure leave a fermenting must wide open to oxidative problems, and will likely lead to heightened volatile acidity or worse. So obviously a must with a pH above 3.57 will need acidifying, but the other benefit of acidity is that it will balance the final wine, acting like a frame work for the fruit and tannin to hang upon. It is here where things get difficult because the wine maker needs to anticipate how much acidity will be needed, but there is always some acidity consumed during fermentation. The final complicating factor is that post fermentation acidity fixing never really integrates into the texture of the wine and often appears on the palette as a kind of disjoint between the fruit of the wine and the acidity alongside it.
There are several reasons why the average pH values could be increasing, however Bruce attributes it to increasing vine stress, which may be caused by any of several factors. Obviously, eight years of drought is almost certainly the main factor as the increased temperatures, accompanied by shortage of water put great stress on the vines, however the is evidence of concurrent draining of both sodium and potassium levels in the soil, which may very well impact on the vines ability to ripen in a slow and balanced fashion.
Because there was never any great problem with ripening grapes in the southern Australian vine regions, it fell to the Kiwi's to do most of the iconic work on canopy management. This suited them because being a cooler climate region there was an incentive to maximise the sunlight exposure the foliage received, and subsequently to ensure the most effective fruit:leaf ratio in each plant. It would appear that things now have swung in a different direction. We are now looking at warmer regions (though Coonawarra is regarded as a relatively cool climate in South Australian terms) that are in the grip of rising temperatures, so the focus gets completely spun on to its head. Majella converted to mechanical harvesting and pruning some time ago due to major problems sourcing labour. This gives the vines an odd looking tangle of branches, that brings to mind a birds nest. However this does lead to quite shaded canopies which in the hot sunny weather isn't such a bad thing.
There has been some research into Cabernet clones that are better able to cope with the hotter weather, however it appears that most of this was done some time ago, and really with vines planted in 1968 from cuttings taken from Jock Redman's vineyards, there is little that can be done on that front in the near future.
Hopefully the Lynn's will adapt to the new conditions, because a tasting of their wines showed some beautiful wines, their entry level Musician 08 came across as an excellent value example of Coonawarra fruit, more seriously their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon positively glowed with minty, eucalypt and cassis aromas, medium weight chewy tannins had me thinking naughty thoughts about serving it lightly chilled of a summers evening. Their 2006 Shiraz was showing slightly maturing red berried fruit,a delicate earthiness and boasted great drinkability. Of their top end wines the youngest, 2007 Malleea was a riot of sophisticated oak notes, balsamic vinegar, cassis, dark cherries and cream. The 2004 of the same wine was easing itself into its drinking window still prodigiously full bodied but with complex secondary notes, earthiness and lots of deep dark brooding fruit, though still balanced and drinkable.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Anatomy of a blend

'Must not structure have a genesis, and must not the origin, the point of genesis, be already structured, in order to be the genesis of something'
 Jacques Derrida, "'Genesis' and 'Structure' and Phenomenology," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978)

There is a paradox implicit in great blends, to succeed as a blend they must be the sum of many different parts. Each of the different parts is the product of man's intervention into the environment, and yet each part is also determined by the climatic conditions that preceded the harvest.
Certain elements of the blend may not be excellent by themselves but may shine when partnered with other complimentary elements.
In general we encounter these wines in their finished state and can only wonder as to what exactly each of the parts has contributed. On occasion one gets the chance to peek behind the curtain.

Best's Great Western is a small family winery in the Victorian region of the Grapions, now in their 5th generation they are blessed with some incredibly old stock of vines. Shiraz plantings going back to 1867. Their top two wines are respectively Bin no.0 and Thompson Family Shiraz. The Thompson family wine is a single vineyard expression of the 11 rows of 1967 stock and is made in quantities around 2400 bottles. The Bin no.0 is a blend of their other vineyards, with some of the old stock and is arguably more interesting.

I've long regarded the art of successful blending to be one of the dark arts of wine making. Wineries pay hundreds of thousands pounds to secure the assistance of a successful consultant to help ensure their blend is perfect, and yet after all the talk of soils, vineyards and cultivation methods it remains one of the most important elements in the outcome of the final blend. That and the date of picking, but we'll get onto that later.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of tasting a breakdown of the Bin no.0 blend components in the cellar at Best's with Adam Wadewitz their head winemaker. Fascinating it was.

All the wines were from the 2010 vintage

First pick off the hill vineyards – gravel and granitic soils so excellent drainage. This was given a 100% whole bunch fermentation a method that contributes aromatic complexity, adding a certain green herbal perfume, however it's quite important to get lignified (fully ripe and woody, not green) stems to avoid the green tannins that can result. Discussing what sort of characters the whole bunch pressing gives, Adam was of the opinion that there was a certain dill character that was present.
Indeed there was a fresh nose, some herbal and vegetal characters married to some meaty dark fruit, nicely fresh and perfumed, not too full bodied with a directness of intent and linearity of acidity and tannins.

2010 second hill pick and no whole bunches, the second picking was three days later. I was remarkable how the aromatics differed there was a blast of fabulously opulent cherry liquor, raspberry and red fruits – still very fresh and direct on the palette, showing dark red fruits and hints of dark fruit on the palette. Despite the difference in aromatics there was a noticeable similarity in structure on the palette.

Adam went on to explain that he doesn't crush very much, what they're looking for is integrity and anything other than a very soft crushing is detrimental to the final delicacy of the wines.

Moving onto the 1970 block, this section usually gives quite aromatic and floral wines so they have opted to leave it on the lees to develop more mid palette body. Personally I found it had a very floral and aromatic nose – rose petals and violets, blue fruits which was followed by an incredibly floral palette, rose water, violet love hearts, there was some mid palette structure, but this was a component that was almost overwhelmingly aromatic, certainly an interesting component to have for a blend, but not for a single vineyard wine.

Their 1966 block is usually divided into two picks, one of the area surrounding the gum tree as they like to be able to isolate the heavily eucalypt oil affected grapes. The first pick showed the expected eucalyptus, some meat, mint, and choc chip ice cream. It was quite creamy on the palette, more velvety and richer. Fuller on the palette, bright red fruit as well, twist of pepper at the back?
To quote 'tannin, acid and density are what this wine brings to the blend', though personally I felt that this was another wine that would be ading aromatic complexity and interest.

The 1966's second picking was on the following day and had some whole bunch (30%) ferment, to start with it was a bit reduced, toasty (due to more new oak), smoky (flinty?) and quite complex. On the palette it showed some hard to pin down red, with fullish rich velvety tannins, fruit and
lovely lip smacking acidity on the finish

The 1867 Shiraz plantings are divided into two plots, 4 rows and 11 rows, the 4 rows goues into the Bin no.1 blend, whilst the 11 rows are put into a separate wine if the year is good enough.

The Thompson family vines 4 rows from 1867, this had brooding raspberry and balsam notes, it was aromatic, full bodied with quite tight restrained tannins, great concentration and balance, (incidentally these are often the first shiraz vines to be picked).

The Thompson Family 11 rows, this is regarded as Best's best fruit and in good years it will be the Thompson family Shiraz wine, Adam was pretty certain that this would be one of those years. Indeed the wine was intense showing mint choc chip ice cream, raspberry, a perfumed aromatic nose. On the palette it was serious with both freshness and balance. Finally the tannins were chewy and powerful with great length.

To add some perspective to the tasting we then looked at the Bin no.0 and Thompson Family Shiraz 2008 wines.

Bin no0 2008, this had a gorgeous nose showing mint, balsam, some spice, creamy red fruit, raspberry and on the palette it was sweet and direct with great acidity, elegant tannins, Very, very good and still a baby.

Thompson family 08 – this was a bit closed with red berried fruits some hints of herbal characters, raspberry and spice. Some cigar box notes were on the finish, and it had a great consistency of palette depth. However it was still far to young and acting all coy.

To quote Michaelangelo 'True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it. ... The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. ... A man paints with his brains and not with his hands'. It is with this in mind that I often feel the better blends of a producer are the true works of vineous art. Single vineyard wines, whilst beautiful, fail to have the added intellectual depth of purpose that the great blends get to carry.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Nobless oblige?

Bodrogkeresztur is a smallish village on the Bodrog in the heart of the lower (Tokaj) end of the Tokajheglya, and it's home to Tokaj Nobilis. Sarolta Bardos is from a family with a long history in the region, and for this we should be grateful. When her and her husband, Peter Molnar of Patricius, were looking to buy up vineyard land, it was the good name of her Grand Father that pursuaded people that they could sell to her. The upshot is that they now have land in two of the cru vineyards around Bodrogkisfalud, Barakonyi and Csirke-ma. From their holdings they vinify a range of wines, which keep getting better.

I've visited Nobilis twice now, once in 2009 and again this year (2010), both times it's been a pleasure, not least because there are usually one or two little girls either in someone's arm or peeking shyly round the corner of a wall.

Sarolta is a charming host, who evidently loves her vineyards, and is equally passionate about the wines she's making. This is very much her winery, Peter has more than enough to do with Patricius, and being the president of Tokaji Renaissance..

We arrived at the winery earlyish on the Sunday morning following the festivities of the previous nights harvest party, and for once I was extremely glad that I'd gone to bed on return to the house the previous evening. No one else in the house was going to be raised for several hours more and on their reappearance there were sunglasses all around (that's you Gergley and Rita x).
Sarolta then took us out to visit the Barakonyi vineyard, unfortunately the Csirke-ma hasn't coped with the inclement weather so well and won't be providing much quality fruit this year, a story I've heard repeated all over the place, the vineyards are, helpfully, located just about the Patricius holdings and aren't too far from their house.

On return we got stuck into tasting..

Stylistically, the wines tend to see quite a bit of oak, I found this a bit problematic when I tasted the 07's last year, and probably is why I didn't rave about them as much as I ought to have done. However I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted the Barakonyi Hars 08 (Harslevulu) at the Buda wine festival, it was showing lovely white flowers and nice minerally core of citrus fruit, while the oak was noticeable it was merely adding body, exactly how I like it. A tank sample of the Hars 09 was equally promising, prodigiously aromatic with very ripe fruit and some sweet apple like notes on the palette.

When I think of the dry Nobilis wines I tend to think of their Harslevulus, however this might be because good examples of the grape are slightly harder to come by than good dry Furmints, of which the 09 Barakonyi is an example. Sarolta has left 8g of residual sugar in the wine which isn't very noticeable balanced as it is by the high acidity of the Furmint grape. The 09 showed lots of peachy Furmint character, and was starting to integrate it's oak. It should be released sometime next year.

There are a couple of off dry wines, a Sarga Muscatoly (Muscat), which is at 14g residual sugar and is very perfumed with a lime and turkish delight palette and an off dry finish, and a Koverzolu (means fat grape) which again is light, off dry and quite pleasant.

However the serious wines return again when you start to taste the sweet wines. The late harvest Sarga Muskatoly which is made from shrivelled grapes from the Barakonyi vineyard shows all sorts of exotic rose, spice and perfume and is suitably sticky and unctuous on the palette.

Amicus 08 (120g residual) is 90% Furmint, 7% Koverzolo and 3% Hars and spends 6 months in new oak has bucket loads of acidity which conspires to keep the sugar in check, apricot and ripe pear characters abound on the palette and it has a great lengthy finish.

The 2002 6 Puttonyos clocks in at 160g residual sugar and similarly has a great freshness and intensity of fruit. These are sweet wines that are predicated on their intensity of fruit, they're very much of the new school where oxidative characters are nowhere to be found, unless they develop slowly with age. Rather like the Amicus, the 6 putt is very well balanced and has a great finish of apricot marmelade and a touch of the tokaji minerality.

I like Nobilis a lot, I think Sarolta is charm personified, and oddly I also relish seeing Peter slightly more relaxed, he's away from the official business that I usually meet him through, so instead of being the president of Tokaji Renaissance he can concentrate on keeping his youngest daughter occupied long enough for his wife to chat to us about the wines. A lovely family winery, that also seems to be on the up and hopefully will continue to improve.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Alana alana, give me three wishes, I want to be that dirty finger and his sex bitches.....

I can't look at Alana without hearing the inimitable Lovefoxx from Cansei de Ser Sexy singing almost the same name... Slightly distracting, but less so because it's a great song. Oh and the wines are quite stunning.

Alana arrived on the scene with some dash and verve a couple of years ago. They obviously have some money behind them, though this wasn't fully elaborated upon, because they've arrived to really shake up the scene in Mad.

The village of Mad is sort of the spiritual home of the new generation of Tokaji producers. With Royal Tokaji having their cellars only a couple of doors up from Istvan Szepsy's boutique operation. Growers like Gabor Oroz skirt the periphery of the main road and the whole town is dominated by it's most famous produce.

Alana has set up shop on the main street, purchasing in two goes a 900 square foot cellar and 17th century house which they are in the process of renovating. The goal is to have two separate entries, one from the main road which visitors can use and the other at the top of the property for wine making traffic.

They have around 23 ha which is divided into 10ha of Furmint, 6 of Harslevulu, 2.5 of Yellow Muscat and the rest between other varietals like Zeta.
Their policy regarding Oak, as slowly evolved as they have gone on. Always using Hungarian Oak they have moved from Trust with western Hungarian Oak, to Kadar with their guaranteed Zemplen Oak to finally using the local Tonellarie in Erdobenye, where Atilla has found that simply having a good working relationship with some one close has benefited him the most.

In Atilla Gabor Nemeth they have found themselves a winemaker thoroughly up to the challenge. Quiet and thoughtful he's regularly singled out as the philosopher of the younger generation. This might be doing him a slight disservice, but his wines have the rare quality of showing a very distinct character, and one that runs through the range.

Furmint 06 Betsek. Betsek is regarded as one of the traditional cru vineyards, however Atilla is of the opinion that the upper and lower parts differ radically in terms of quality, with the upper half being much better. Sadly their holdings encompass both areas, though the lower part is more likely to suffer from botrytis, so for the dry wines it's mostly the higher fruit.
This had some slightly toasty peach/ripe pear fruit characters on the nose, it is medium bodied on the palette with quite high acidity. There is an abundance of fresh fruit still on the palette which is lovely to see as the wine has spent 3 years in barrel, yet still finishes with fresh clean youthful fruit.

Harslevulu 05, there was about 20% of Botrytis affected fruit in this wine, as such it took a very long time to finish fermenting, however the extra marmelady apricot notes on the nose complement the white flower notes very well, and the slight extra viscocity helps offset the higher alcohol nicely. Again for a wine that spent three years in barrel it is remarkably fresh. Atilla comments that this was a wine he didn't like for most of it's evolution, before finally blossoming later on in its life.

2005 Muscat/Harslevulu blend, one of only 500 bottles that probably wont see a commercial release this was a blending accident that turned out very well. A beautiful golden colour with slightly sticky ripe tangerine notes and perfume on the nose then a marmelade and apricot palette.

2008 Muscat. I've never had a hankering for Passion fruit cheesecake before, it's not something that I usually find myself yearning for. However this stunning sweet muscat succeeded in lighting that particular flame. A glorious confected lime and perfume nose led directly onto a superbly sweet (140g residual sugar) palette that maintained a directness and minerality that succeeded in keeping it fresh.

2008 Kiraly Furmint, at 220g residual sugar this is in the Szamorodni category and from the Kiraly vineyard. There was 30% of Botrytis fruit in the blend, the rest was plain late harvest. Unlike a lot of Szamorodnis this isn't lacking any freshness, and indeed it demonstrates (the bar I'm sat writing this in has just started playing Backstreets Back, by the Backstreet Boys, it's incredibly disconcerting) minerality, fresh super ripe peach notes, a lovely opulent creamy palette and a very fresh finish. For a 100% Furmint sweet wine it is very fresh with really good poise.

2006 Aszu 6 Putonyas, surprisingly for an Aszu this doesn't have any Furmint. The base wine is Harslevulu and Muscat, with the Aszu berries comprising Harslevulu, Muscat and Zeta. The nose is minerally, with sticky tangerine and floral notes. On the palette there is a fresh apricot, tangerine marmelade character, with a lush creamy vanilla and oak accent that rounds off the palette.

It's a great shame that at present Alanas wines are not available in the UK as I think they're a Tokaji hose of the highest quality, their production is still on the low side, so I imagine that when they finally get an importer willing to make the individual hand sales the wines require that the prices will be a long way from the bottom of the price scale.
This is quite simply how it has to be. As wines of this quality only come about as a result of serious care and attention to detail.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

I cus you cus we cuss about couscous..

Cous Cous

I've never really given a lot of thought to couscous, it was always what got served at lunch time in cafeterias when I was on French exchanges. At home, it never really featured, not when there were potatoes, pasta, errm more potatoes, bread and numerous other starches that could bulk out a meal.
I'll accept that I might have had a slightly sheltered childhood, but it wasn't really anything that bothered me.
Several years ago I took a trip to Morocco with my sister, the Tagines we had were beautiful, the interesting grilled meat street foods were glorious, but according to all the Moroccans we spoke to, Berber couscous was the thing.
Annoyingly the chap in question who was most forthcoming in his praise for Berber couscous was also quite forthcoming in his praise for my sister, and after a while became quite insistent that we should come with his to dine on his mothers evidently supreme example. To cut a longish story short, we made a swiftish exit.
Since then I might have been a bit harsh on the food stuff. On occasions going so far as to state that with the amount of flavourings one needs to make couscous nice, you'd be as well cooking cardboard.
However I have been wrong before, and I'm pretty certain I'll be wrong again (though if you could refrain from letting people I used to work with this little fact, I'd be most grateful).
So when I was invited to travel to Sicily to attend a couscous festival in San Vito lo Capo near to Trapani I jumped at the offer (and it wasn't just because there was a pretty girl doing the offering). We'd left Trapani airport in the morning and set off to the rental house that had been organised near to Marsala. Not having any real clue as to the geography of the region I didn't really give this much thought. I'm used to being driven round on wine trips, so I tend to relax into a sort of beautific state of nonchalance regarding directions and the proximity of one place to another. After a journey to the beach where we trekked across a shallow bay to find an out of the way beach near to a disused saltworks for a swim and clamber over salt mounds we were all feeling a mite pekkish. Showers were had and we all clambered into cars. My ears pricked up a little at the mention of 60km! Surely we were on an island, how could we be that far away? Apparently that was 60km as the crow flies. A lengthy car ride up into the hills outside of Trapani snaked through imposing rocky crevasses, with looming mountainous shadows ominously following our journey. Signs started to point away from Trapani, then oddly enough started to point back towards Trapani. What was going on?
Then it became obvious, out of the window I saw a sign announcing that we were just leaving Purgatorio.... well that expained everything.

Parking just outside of the town, we followed the crowds and wafting scents of cooking towards the festival. Entry was free, though if you wanted to eat you had to buy some tickets, not really speaking Italian I didn't quite understand what the various tickets entitled us to, anyway for 10 euros each we were entitled to a bowl of couscous, a glass of wine and a portion of a sweet thing. Now I know that couscous is an expensive commodity but even so I did raise an eyebrow.
The festival was broken down into numerous tents, Couscous from Italy, global couscous, organic couscous etc, with other little tents showing off regional specialities like Vodaphone and a couple of local wine merchants.

I tried, I really did. There was a lovely bustling atmosphere, music and lots of people having fun. We worked our way through a whole host of different bowls of couscous, there were lovely bits of Bison meat on the bone in a couscous con moutone con zucca grane, and the couscous con pantesca had a nice healthy whack of flavour and lots of mixed vegetables with fish. My favourite come the end of the day way the Pece scogghiu which married chunks of mixed rock fish with a slightly spiced and cinnamon inflected body, but nothing really thawed my cold un couscous loving heart. I just don't understand it, the texture, even when light and fluffy just seems designed to bulk other things out. Maybe I'm doomed to dislike what is obviously a foodstuff loved by the rest of the world, but I can't pretend that my favourite moment of the night was sitting down for a beer afterwards.

Hey ho, hey ho, it's off to Heimann we go

Zoltan Heimann cuts an impressive figure, tall and powerfully built his close cropped white hair and beard separate him from the crowd. Garrulous and endlessly quotable, he has dragged the region of Szekszard into the Hungarian wine scenes limelight. Not only has he galvanised an whole group of younger growers but he's also made some pretty fabulous wines.
Trying to taste wine and talk with him at the Buda wine festival is an exercise in patience as almost every other person walking by has to stop to chat. Every now and again he'll put a bottle on the table and whisper apologies, it's the head of the national bank or some other notable that he just has to have a quick word with.
Occupying slightly less of the limelight is Agnes his wife, no less imposing, though slightly quieter, this is very much a two person team and any time spent with the both of them reveals a couple, both focused and dedicated to their soil and land.

The Heimanns have roughly 40 ha of vines with a very interesting selection of varietals. Zoltan explains, it's their duty to revivify the region, and this means sorting out the plantings. Along with Kadarka, they have Merlot, both Cabernets, Kekfrankos, Syrah, and experimental plantings of Tannat and Sagrantino.

Large portions of their vineyard has been replanted, with more in the planning stages. They're vineyard land is comparatively well consolidated being in 2 main groups, most of it visible from their house on the top of the hill. They have plantings on the highest of the Szekszard hills, with the 290 metre marker lying in the block of 'French Merlot' which goes into their top cuvees. The choice of Tannat and Sagrantino as experimental plantings has been quickly justified as anyone who's been lucky enough to taste Franciscus or their Barbar blend will tell you, both varietals combine well with the existing stock adding respectively, an exotic bitter cherry, herbal and medicinal core to some silken Cabernet Franc, and as tight earthy tannic heart to a blend of the regions other grapes.
As for the indigenous grapes, the Heimanns have been at the forefront of the search for better clonal stock for Kadarka, a grape with which they regularly make very seductive wines.

Zoltan was elected president of the growers association some five years ago, at the time there was a degree of resilience to the appointment, though this was mainly from the older growers, who hadn't quite come to terms with the change in focus needed to prosper in the modern world of wine. His first tenure has been a great success with the number of growers bottling their own wine going from around 50 to close to 200, and a much more organised and cooperative approach to marketing the region (anyone who's followed Hungarian wine marketing will know that organised and cooperative are words rarely found in the same paragraph as marketing).

My visit to the winery coincided with possibly the worst vintage of the last 20 years, blame has been tentatively laid at the foot of the Icelandic volcano that erupted in early May, with the theory being that the ash clouds that covered Europe caused major climatic changes, particularly to the central European basin, Hungary, the Czech republic and many other central Eastern European countries have all experienced very cold and incredibly wet summers. Speaking to growers across the country the rough figure quoted is 50% loss of crop, though obviously there are small growers who have fared much much worse. In the case of the Heimanns, they have no Kadarka this year, nine tenths of the crop was left on the ground, and that which was harvested was so low in sugar and phenolic ripeness to be relegated to their siller wine. The later harvesting varietals, whilst still healthy are in need of a good month of extra sunshine. This doesn't look like it will be forthcoming.

Resilience is built into the Heimann DNA, that and starting things from scratch. Zoltans great grandfather was blinded just before the end of the great war, returning home to try and rebuild his life, he was further crushed by the great depression of the late 1929/30. After weathering the economic storm, he and his son were then pulled into the maelstrom of the second world war. Zoltan's grandfather was drafted to fight on the eastern front at the age of 41. After spending some time at the receiving end of Russian hospitality he finally returned a mere 48k. He was the same height as Zoltan (they are a tall family), the strains of being a prisoner of war led to him suffering several debilitating cancers including that of the colon, and needing a bag fitted. Zoltan's father was only 15 when his fathers death forced him to take over the estate. This was during the communist era, when times resolutely refused to improve for Hungary. However he rose to become president of the local cooperative. The collapse of Communism didn't really improve matters for the Heimanns, as the state ownership of the land had stripped them of most of their estate. So from the ½ a hectare that his father had saved they were forced to repurchase all their land at market values. Zoltan and his wife Agnes, then had the unenviable task of replanting, stripping promising sites bare and replacing the vines with more suitable varieties. Their constant forward vision has resulted in a winery and estate the will hopefully break the chain of hardship. Indeed the winery is set up with a view to being converted to gravity controlled flow should his son desire to install it.

The Heimanns make several ranges of wines, from an easy drinking beaujolais style early release that is pretty much solely for the Hungarian market through to some very top end cuvees that are extremely low production and stay in the cellar to be given to friends and family (there are perks....).

Viognier plantings
Viognier 09, steel tank and no malo to improve crispness. Very fresh almost apples and pears on the nose with a very crisp and clean palette. A very modern wine.

Fuchsli 09, this is a Siller wine, which is a German/middle European style of very dark rose. It's made with Kekfrankos and Kadarka and has lots of strawberries and cream characters on the nose with darker red fruits making an appearance on the palette and a little lick of tannin an the finish. Zoltan claims that making the siller wine style is help it stand out in a crowded rose maket, but I suspect it's more to do with the more intense rose working better with soda water for spritzers...

As for their Kekfrankos plantings, like most of the region they have quite a bit, though their most promising vineyard was purchased in 2005 in a very bad way, with roughly 40% of the vines missing and the rest very overgrown. However they were so impressed with the quality of the fruit that they decided to cut the vines right back to the stumps and let them re-establish themselves from water shoots. Right now the vines have their first crop since regrowing, which is heavy as the Heimann's didn't want to put the vines through the trauma of crop thinning just as they were coming back to health.
The 08 showed violets, smoke, spice with cassis fruits and stewed plums on the nose, on the palette it had an interesting combination of medium plus tannins and a lean austere yet almost exotically spiced fruit.
Tasting the barrels of Kadarka in the cellar, it was very instrumental looking at the increasing intensity of the fruit character as we moved up through the quality scale. The top end wines, which go into the top blends, are stunning, showing a great consistency of palette concentration and oodles of dark spicy fruit.

The Heimanns have quite a lot of Merlot planted, with their “French” clones planted in some of their best vineyard sites, indeed it is Merlot that occupies the highest plantings in Szekszard.
The wines go from textbook plummy and sweet fruited varietal examples, to serious opulent and full bodied examples that would challenge in many a blind tasting challenge. Indeed one of the highlights of my visit was tasting 3 different barrels of their top Merlot, which is earmarked for a tete du cuvee blend to ba called Agnes (in honour of Mrs Heimann). The Taransaud new oak showed lots of sweet oak characters and lush fruit, where as the Vicard was much less aromatic but demonstrated a more consistent length and more body on the palette. Finally a Hungarian barrel from Kadar demonstrated a slight rusticity and unrulyness. I'm very excited to see how this wine will end up.

Syrah 07, a warm year this and with a touch of bottle age to the wine this now shows a chocolate and plummy nose, a nice earthy leathery bent ahile on the palette it's full flavoured, though a little hot. According to Zoltan the best Syrah is a bit like a pretty 18 year old Gypsy girl who's not washed for a week, sexy but at the same time quite disturbing...
The 2008 which is from a cooler vintage was very different. Crushed black pepper lurking around inky dark fruit, a gorgeous creamy ever so slightly medicinal (think camphor) palette with just the slightest hint of earthiness at the finish.
The 09 from barrel was different still, showing meaty leathery dark fruit. Much closer to a Barossa archetype than the Hawkes Bay that the 08 resembled.

Heimanns top wines are their blends, these are the ones that I feel really show off the potential of Szekszard as a world class region.

Britokbor 07 (50 % Cab F, 30% Merlot and 15% Kekfrankos, plus some other stuff)
This showed a rich and ripe nose taking in sour dough bread, violets, cherries, crème de cassis, a hint of raisins, then on the palette loads of dark cherry fruit with an earthy, meaty and complex long finish.

Heimann Barbar 07 – (equal parts Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Franc with 10% Kekfrankos) this is a wonderfully earthy, ferrous little beast of a wine, sweet red berried fruit, lots of ripe tannins, and then it opens up to reveal violets and spice.

Tannat grapes
100% Tannat, called Stilusgyakorlat (roughly translates as experiment in style, a bit like RWT). This is a 15% monster, intense and creamy with loads of dark fruit and licorice, a nice medicinal edge and a palette oozing dark fruit, minted coffee and licorice. Interestingly enough the tannins, though huge, are extremely ripe. Similar, though not the same, as the top Bodegas Juanico tannats from Uruagay.

Franciscus 07, a blend of 2/3 Sagrantino, with 1/3 Cabernet Franc. A wonderful spicy herbal medicinal explosion on the nose, with an edge of big dryish tannins that is mollified by the creaminess of the Cab Franc. Quite unique and very good.

Franciscus 08 (from barrel) the blend is reversed this year to 2/3 Cab Franc and 1/3 Sagrantino, and consequently the dominant character is the violet scented dark berry Cab Franc fruit, but with a lovely polish of medicinal and slightly bitter sweet herbs.