Champagnes tasted on the Kirker Champagne Tour

Now this was a pretty spectacular line up of Champagnes by any stretch of the imagination.

First evening tasting

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

G. H. Mumm “Mumm de Cramant”

Brut Alain Mercier “Cuvée Emile” Blanc de Noirs Brut

Jacquesson “Cuvée 742” Extra Brut

Gosset Grand Millésime 2006 Brut

Louis Roederer Rosé 2012 Brut

We started comparing a couple of the most respectable NVs on the market and it was surprising that the Charles Heidsieck seemed so much the better; but then it has a huge proportion reserve wines in the blend. Very classy.

I then threw in a special NV, different price point, single Grand Cru village and pure Chardonnay, Mumm’s Cramant. Now, I’ll be frank, in the past I’ve loathed this wine but it seemed pretty good and a well done rendition of the village. Humph. Either it’s improved or I’ve mellowed. The Alain Mercier “Cuvée Emile” was pure Meunier and …… sorry no.

Jacquesson’s 742 – superb. Jacquesson don’t do NV, each year they recreate the house Champagne, making the best Cuvée they can. You never quite know what you are going to get, the blend varies quite a lot but there IS a style that springs from factors such as where the grapes are sourced, the use of foudres, lack of manipulation etc. Pretty uncompromising but great for aficionados.

However the star of the evening was Gosset’s Grand Millésime 2006. A soft rich flavour with tingling acidity. Few Champagnes could have followed this and Roederer Rosé 2012 tried. A bigger flavoured rosé, such as one from a grower in Bouzy or Aÿ might have got away with it. That’s not to say the Roederer Rosé 2012 was anything other than very good though.

At Pol Roger

Pol Roger Brut (Magnum)

Pol Roger Blanc de blancs Vintage 2012

Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2008

This was the first visit and it’s always a privilege to visit Pol. We had already tasted the Brut NV the previous evening, so interesting to try the magnum which was more profound with both more maturity and greater freshness that the bottle. Sir Winston was absolutely magnificent of course. This wine is always more elegant that I expect it to be. Preconceptions, preconceptions….

At Bollinger

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 2007

Bollinger Grande Année 2008

Bollinger RD 2004

Bollinger Special Cuvée

A superb lunch at Bollinger with equally superb Champagnes. The RD from the awesome 2004 vintage was possibly the wine of the tour and certainly people went out to look for it in Reims. Telling that Bollinger are confident enough in the Special Cuvée to put it immediately after such a great wine.

Second evening tasting

Marguet Shaman 15

Georges Laval Brut Nature 15

Tarlant “Zéro” Brut Nature

De Sousa Reserve Grand Cru Extra Brut

Moutard “6 Cépages” 2008 Extra Brut

Marguet “Trepail 1er Cru” Blanc de Blancs 14

Henri Giraud “Dame Jane” Rosé Brut

So, here we have a collection of Champagnes by the Young Turks of the organic / bio-dynamic / natural / rare grape varieties / unusual methods persuasion.

Benoit Marguet I’ve known for many years – he has an outrageous sense of humour and I’m sure he’s got an unusual attitude to responsibility. About the things that really matter, such as honesty in wine and attitude to the environment he’s super-responsible. Yeah, he forgot my last appointment…. The wines were divisive, some loved them but for others they were just too edgy.

Georges Laval is a legend, founder of bio-dynamie in Champagne and his Cumières rouge, (tasted some years ago on one of the more bizarre wine nights of my life), was far and away the best Coteaux Champenoise red I’ve ever had. New generation; the Champagne an absolute stonker! Stole the show. Except that Talant’s Zero, following it, had a crystalline purity that was really lovely. De Souza good too.

Then we had the Moutard; except we didn’t! Some plonker gave us Moutardier think that was close enough. What’s an “ier” between friends? So we had another a non-so good Meurnier vintage, not MoutardIERS’s fascinating blend including the rare Arbanne and Petit Meslier….

Henri Giraud “Dame Jane” Rosé – A Champagne from base wines fermented in amphora, or rather pithos. Yes, very good. A nice Rose from Aÿ, and what I like, bit of strawberry. No you couldn’t taste the amphora and to my mind that’s right.

It’s worth mentioning that the 14 and 15 are not misprints nor vintage dates. They are Cuvée dates.

At Philipponnat

Philipponnat Royal Reserve Philipponnat

Philipponnat Royal Reserve Rosé

Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs Vintage 2008

I’m a big fan of Philipponnat, but I don’t think many in our group had heard of them and so there were a few converts! The Blanc de Noirs Vintage need some explanation: It’s very much a wine of the Grand Vallée de la Marne wine, (where the house is based) and it showcases the lovely Pinot Noir of this area. As such it’s important wine in the portfolio. Redfruits, cream, brioche intense, lively and scored at 90 to 92 points for those that like that kind of thing.

At Taittinger & La Marqueterie

Taittinger Brut Réserve

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2007

Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru

Taittinger Millesimé 2013

Taittinger Folies de la Marqueterie

Taittinger Préstige Rosé Brut NV

Comtes is one of the greatest of all blanc de blancs Champagnes and it’s more versatile and ‘user friendly’ that the other greats, such as say, Salon. I find that the Prelude has greater clarity, purity and depth than the Brut Réserve but the Millesimé is somehow more dynamic. The single vineyard Folies de la Marqueterie is great fun and a good meal wine. Really worth trying. The Rosé is much improved lately too. The NV, which has been on offer in the UK recently is pretty good, but it gains a lot from being well chilled and decanted… yes, decanted!

At Vilmart

Vilmart Cuvée Grande Réserve

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier d’Or 2010

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier d’Or Coeur de Cuvée Vintage (2008?)

The Vilmart Champagnes just keep getting better and better. Wonderful to taste the Coeur de Cuvée, shame I didn’t notice the vintage! Vilmart Champagnes are really age-worthy. I’m still sitting on quite a few bottles from the 1990’s.

At André Jacquart

André Jacquart Vertus Experience Blanc de Blanc 1er Cru

André Jacquart Mesnil Experience Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru

André Jacquart Rosé Expérience Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru

The Mesnil was very good. Shame they were out of stock of the Mesnil Vintage which, now that Salon is strictly for Billionaires, is one of your best chances to experience something extraordinary from the village.

Round and about!

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Clos Saint Hélène Special Club 2012

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Cuvée Nature

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Rosé de Saignée

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Grand Réserve

Sanchez-Le Guédard are a new discovery for me and newish entrants into the Special Club. Cumières is an interesting village with a great south facing slope with fairly deep soils. The style is powerful, almost brutal. Sanchez-Le Guédard are organic and work fairly naturally. Impressive, especially the Club and Rosé .

Pol Roger Brut (Bottle)

Lanson Vintage 2008
Lanson Green Label Bio

Over the past 30 or so years, Lanson have been consistently one of my least favourite houses, so I leapt at tasting these two. No really, I did. You see last summer at Wimbledon there had been a monumental screw-up to do with the catering at the opening party of the new roof at Court no 1. Following a complaint, we were offered a bottle of Champagne. GREAT.  (Turned out to be Lanson, shit…) We duly collected aforementioned bottle and were offered this Green Labelled jobby. Hmm, why not? …. and it was lovely. It’s also a Cumières, from the old Le Clerc-Briant bio-dynamic vineyards.

So, not a bad haul, 44 Champagne in 4 days and it was a great tour!

 

Ma’s Spiced Christmas Ham Recipe

Turkey is a boring bird, why have it at the Christmas feast?

We’re not, we’re having a GOOSE. However, we’ll demolish the whole thing in one lunch with only a few bits left over for a snack supper with bubble & squeak. So we need something else to feed the assembled hordes and that, is a spiced Christmas Ham.

Ingredients:

1 Large Smoked Gammon ham, rind on, off the bone. A green Gammon can be used if you prefer. (Mine is 8 kilos ie 17 lb). Actually, I’ve done it on the bone too – it’s just that it bigger and more cumbersome.

Several pints of vegetable stock, spiced with a small handful of All Spice and several Bay leaves.

Cloves (lots of them), soft brown sugar, demerara sugar, Ginger Ale, Cider and Mustard powder.

For the final phase: 4 large unwaxed oranges. Squeezed the juice, grate the zest of the peel.

Method:

First, weigh you ham and work out how much stock you will need….

Make the vegetable stock if you haven’t already. Grate up a couple of large onions, a washed leek, a couple of large carrots, a few sticks of celery, a parsnip and some lovage if you have any. In a large pan, fry it all together in basic olive oil, tossing and stirring for a few minutes. Add a few bay leaves, a small handful of all spice, black pepper and maybe some thyme or lemon thyme. Then add the water – you’ll need several pints – enough to cover the ham when you boil it. Bring to boil and cook pretty vigorously for 10 minutes.

Ham into very big pan – add the stock, straining it. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 12 and a half minutes per pound, (30 minutes per kilo) – then let the ham sit in the stock as it cools.

Fish the ham out of the stock and then carefully strip off the skin, leaving on all the fat.

Make a series of deep incisions into the fat (not quite to the meat) across the whole ham then at right angles, making diamonds which should be about 1 inch across.

Stud the ham with cloves, putting a clove into the centre of each diamond and one in any odd triangles of fat. You want a lot of cloves…..  It should look a bit like “Pain” from “Hellraiser”.  If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, no matter, you need a LOT of cloves.

Pour some Ginger Ale over the ham, then dust with a little mustard powder and sprinkle well with soft brown sugar.

Put on a roasting tray that allows you to baste. Slam it in a hot oven 230c. fat side up for 20 – 30 minutes (according to size).

After a few minutes, pour some cider over the ham..

a few minutes later pour some ginger ale, then again orange juice.

Shut the oven double quick each time.

After this, baste with the pan juices dredging up the sugar. Repeat this, 3 times.

Take out of the oven and pile up a crust of demerara sugar and course-grated orange zest on the fat.

Return to the oven at 180c. for 30 minutes. Do NOT baste. Drink the remaining cider.

Just as good cold as hot, if not better!

I got this recipe from my mother a few years ago and it’s the delicious Christmas flavour from my childhood. I’ve never had a ham like it but I don’t think it’s an original. I’m pretty sure it came from Constance Spry and she modified it a bit.

Sorry haven’t got a photo of this. I will have after Christmas, but that, is a fat lot of use!

Autumn recipes. Time for Ceps!

The first of the food blogs 

Autumn;  game, mushrooms, fruit, nuts….. especially mushrooms, especially if it stops raining and we have a few warm dry days.  Yes, we do get Ceps in Hampshire, they like warm sandy sites. Also some of the other Boletes, such as Bay Boletes and Red-cracked Boletes are pretty common and useful too.

The Cep, Porcini or Penny Bun, king of mushrooms

The first recipe is a northern Spanish classic. I first had it when we were setting up the Rioja Vineyard Walk and was hooked instantly. The trick is to get the liquid right, you don’t want too much of it coming out of the Ceps (and prawns) at a late stage in the process.

The second is a Veronese Risotto. Hence super-absorbent Vialone Nano rice and not much stirring. It should be creamy but the rice grains should be fairly firm still. 

And the third is one of my own, a rich Pheasant casserole-roast

  

REVUELTOS CON SETAS (Scrambled Eggs with Ceps)    Serves 2

 Ingredients:   4 large good quality Eggs.  

16 medium sized prawns (Optional)

100 – 150g Ceps

Dash of mild olive oil    30g butter / Bertoli              

 A little lemon juice   Salt   Chopped Parsley

 

PREP. Discard any damaged parts of the Ceps.

Cut Ceps into thick slices

If using uncooked prawns, cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Season.

 

Fry the Ceps with little mild olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat for about 2 minutes – stirring.

Add a few drops of lemon juice and some salt, but NO pepper. Vap off any juice.

Bring the temperature down and add the Prawns if you are using them.

Add a little butter / Bertoli or something similar, to the pan.

Pour the egg into the pan and cook on a gentle heat stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it is cooked.

Add chopped parsley and serve.

 

Wine: Delicious, but pretty hopeless with wine. Better than straight scrambles eggs, I suppose, so you could try Champagne….

 

FRESH & DRIED BOLETUS RISOTTO         Serves 4

Ingredients:   Double handful fresh edible Boletus, ideally Ceps.

                        Dried wild mushrooms.

                        150 grams Nano or Arborio Rice

                        1 medium onion

                        1 medium Leek

                        Half bottle dry white wine

                        Clove of garlic, crushed.

                        Mushroom stock –  (or some good chicken stock).

                        Chopped parsley leaves and Chopped parsley stalks.

                        Salt

           

PREP: Soak Dried Mushrooms in hot water for several hours.

Then cut into julienne strips & half these lengthways,

the pieces will be roughly the same size as a fully inflated grain of Nano rice.

(The dried Mushrooms bring great flavor, but their texture is uninteresting).

Reserve the juice.

Cut the Fresh Mushrooms into ¾ inch-ish hunks.

Cut leaks into 1 inch by ¼ inch-ish strips.

 

Heat oil, add rice & chopped onion.

Fry the rice, but do NOT burn.

Once it has gone white / brown round the edges, add half bottle of white wine;

vap this off on a high heat for a couple of minutes.

 

Turn heat down to medium.

Add a small mug of stock, the crushed clove of garlic and a little salt;

Cover. Do not stir.

 

After 5 mins, add leak, dried mushrooms.

Test the rice, add another cup of stock.

Cover. Do not stir.

 

A couple of mins later check the rice again, it should be nearly cooked and fairly dry.

If it’s still hard, add more stock….

 

When the rice is nearly cooked

add the chopped fresh Mushrooms and chopped parsley stalks.

Add large knob of butter or Bartoli, stir in.

 

Stir well, scaping off the bottom and folding back in.

Add rough chopped parsley leaves.

Check seasoning and add more salt if needed

and SERVE.

 

OPT. You can add Parmigiano, but take care it doesn’t swamp the flavor.

Note: You can dry your own Boletus. Ceps can be found in Southern England, and there are many other members of this family which you can find even more easily such as Red cracked Boletus which do dry well.

 

WINE: This is a Veronese style Risotto so it calls out for a good Valpolicella Classico.

 

     

    PHEASANT, CEPS & ROSEMARY                Serves 4!

    Ingredients:   2 young pheasants

                            Olive Oil

                            Rosemary – a couple of large sprigs

                            2 cloves garlic

                            Double handful of Ceps and other wild mushrooms.

                            2 medium onions rough chopped.

                            Some red wine

                            Salt & Pepper

     

    PREP: Take 2 young pheasants that died off fright rather than getting both barrels.

    Make sure that ALLthe shot and bits of feather are removed.

    Cut the Pheasant in half down backbone, and remove ribcage.

    Reserve breast.

    Remove legs & cut off the drumsticks which go into the stockpot.

    Debone the thighs. Reserve thigh meat.

     

    MAKE THE STOCK: Chop up carcass with a small axe.

    Put it in large saucepan with small bits of meat and fat, skin and drumsticks.

    Add a little oil & rosemary, brown.

    Cover with boiling water. Boil to make stock. If you have tons of time before serving make a concentrated stock now! 

    Or if not, GET IT GOING and get it well reduced by serving time….

     

    ROAST: To a large deep frying pan, add some olive oil, the Pheasant pieces, salt and black pepper, several 2 inch sprigs of Rosemary and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic.  Brown the Pheasant!  

    Remove and put in a casserole /oven pan.

    Arrange so breasts are skin-up. Make sure there is a sprig of rosemary under each piece.

    All thigh-meat and any small bits should be lumped together so they don’t dry out.

    Add a couple of slugs of red wine and some stock (esp the fat from the top).

    Put into oven @ 200 for 30 mins, basting after 15 mins with more fatty stock.

    Then take out of oven, rest in a warm place.

    Put the rosemary & juices into the stockpot.

     

    FINISHING THE SAUCE:

    Get 2 rough chopped medium onions on to fry in olive oil for several mins.  

    Deglaze the cooking pan with a decent slug of red wine. – Add to stock pot which should still be reducing well. 

    Add the small Pheasant bits & thigh meat to the onion. 

    Add sliced ceps & other mushrooms.

    Add the reduced stock through a sieve.

    Check seasoning, adjust salt and pepper in needed, (however the Roast Veg should be well salted so the stock should not need more).

    The final consistency is a reduced sauce, not a liquid!

    SERVE:

    On each plate, place a breast and cover with sauce, making sure all get some thighmeat and plenty of mushrooms.

    Accompanied by Roasted root veg, including sweet potatoes.  

    And roast potatoes of course.

    WINE: A really good red burgundy with a few years ageing behind it. A Nuits-St Georges, Vosne from the south side of the village, a Gevrey or a Pommard should be ideal. 

     

    6 Wines from Waitrose

    Welcome to the Wine Blog

    This will be regular, there’ll be some recurring themes like “6 wines from….”, reports from areas I visit, discussion of ideas such as Organic & Natural wines, history of wine and whatever seems interesting at the time. Every blog must start somewhere so here’s no 1….

    Six Wines from….. Waitrose

    Reyneke Organic 19 Chenin Blanc.  Western Cape – South Africa. £9.00

    I’m a big fan of Reyneke, South Africa’s oldest biodynamic wine estate. It’s perched on a hill above the great Jordan estate and founded and run by surfing fanatic, Johann Reyneke.  We’ve have been really pleased that a couple of their wines have appeared on the Waitrose shelves as part a general perking-up of the White Range here, for Reyneke is a place with a lot of soul that makes profound and harmonious wines.

    So to this wine:  On opening we were immediately struck by a note of what we call “bubble gum” on the nose. Unwelcome, and often a sign of selected aromatic yeast – highly unlikely at Reyneke, so maybe it’s a maybe cold and reductive fermentation aroma that might lift off. As the wine was a bit warm, we stuck it back in the fridge, cork out, to chill and get a bit more oxygen to it. 

    Half an hour later – bubble gum gone, nose nice citrus and honied, with a bit of apricot. Now that’s more like it Johann…..   It took on more weight over the couple of hours too. It is fairly near the bottom of Reyneke’s range, so whilst it isn’t as wonderfully harmonious as his top wines, it’s an attractive wine that delivers a lot for the price. I will buy it again.

    Served with:  Guinea Fowl in Avgolemono sauce.  The wine married with this dish. It had enough weight to take it and the citrus note echoed the egg and lemon sauce. Also it suddenly seemed nuttier and much more complex with the food.  Actually, really good food and wine marriage.

    Other Gumpf: Integrity & Sustainability Certified. Organic certified by Ceres. (This is not an Estate Wine or from their Biodynamic range).  Closure: Agglomerate cork. 

     

    Waitrose Fairtrade Chenin Blanc.  South Africa.                              £3.95

    This wine is made by an outfit called A921 who I’ve never heard of. It was reduced from £5.49 to £3.95 plus 5% case discount so £3.75! Now I can’t remember the last time I bought a wine at this price in the UK, so grabbed a bottle with no great expectation – and thought “maybe we’ll cook with it”.…

    Mild pleasant lemon nose, reasonable balance, mid weight and reasonable persistence. Nice zingyness on the palate, but a slight lactic note. Far from unpleasant and a lot better than it could have been.

    It didn’t improve in the glass under critical inspection. The lemoniness subsided, replaced by a basic mineral ‘stringy’ Chenin nose and a bit of gronky-dirtiness on the palate. Maybe it really was only a cooking wine…. But we’re being really picky! It tasted fine when first opened and heck, it cost under 4 quid!

    Served with:  Guinea Fowl in Avgolimeno sauce too!  By this time the wine had been open for an hour or so and the lemon character had subsided. It didn’t have enough weight for the dish. The fact that bit had been used in the sauce didn’t help it. It didn’t work very well, but the sauce was GREAT!

    Other: Gumpf – Integrity & Sustainability Certified. Closure: Screwcap.

     

    Tsantali Organic Cabernet.     Greece                                          £9.49

    There’s no doubt about it, Waitrose’s Greek range is a miserable offering. There’s only ONE Greek red and it’s not even made of a Greek grape variety, and Greece has loads of wonderful wines and almost as many grape varieties. 

    Tsantali are a fairly big outfit.  I’ve never visited the winery, which is south east of Thessaloniki. However, I have seen it when visiting their near neighbour, the wonderful Gerovalisiou, and it’s kind of a factory….  Now Tsantali do do some good stuff.  Their ‘Rapsani’ red is well distributed in Greece and is one of our standard ‘go to’ wines when nothing else looks exciting. It’s good, reliable and authentic. The ‘Metoxi Chromitsa’ from the Monastic vineyards of Mount Athos is just wonderful. The Tsantali website by the way is excellent. Anyway that’s enough creeping to large wineries for one day, what about this wine?

    Tsantali Organic Cabernet

    Opened and poured directly into the glass (as most people would drink it), it gave little away on the nose and was dense and hard on the palate – any fruit was deeply buried. Immediate conclusion – a not particularly subtle version of a hot climate Cab.. A couple of hours later, still no openee….. It was re-corked and left lying around for a couple of days, then opened again and for a brief moment there was a window through to some blackcurrant fruit, but the finish had taken on a sour character, perhaps if it was aged properly it might all come together OK. Now are Waitrose really selling this wine in the expectation that people will age it for several years?  

    A bit of a disappointment then, but I’ve tasted this wine before and been more impressed. It’s now available on offer at £7.12. Would I buy it again at that price? Maybe, but not in a great hurry when there are so many other wines to try.

    These days people are much more interested in wines form the huge number of Greek autochthonous grape varieties. The region though has some pedigree for Cabernet and 30 years ago a Greek Cab from here was considered utterly ground breaking….. and Greek Cabs can be super! If you do want one, I would point you in the direction of Attica for Kokotos or to the Peloponnese where there are several really good ones: Any’s Animus from the Southwest coast, Domaine Gioulis from the mountains near Corinth and Tselepos ‘Avlotopi’ from the high Arcadian plain. Also there are good ‘Super-Greeks’ (ie Cab and local variety blends) from Thrace and Macedonia. The thing is though, you won’t find them in Waitrose…. 

    Other: Gumpf – Certified Organic. Closure: Screwcap. 

     

    Brokenwood Thompson Road Semillon 2015  Hunter Valley             £9.49

    With our stock of 1er Cru Chablis running low, and it being so being darned expensive to replace, we’ve been trying quite a few wines as stand-ins as day to day wines to go with fish. It has to be said that we’ve had a good number of wines from Macon, the Rhone and Southern Italy that were pretty average and should have been better.  So how fab to see one of Australia’s classic white wines (and from an excellent producer too) here on the shelves at Waitrose at a must buy price. – In the past the Aussies used to sell such wines as “Chablis”!

    Brokenwood are based in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. I’ve quite visited them a few times over the years, the first time must have been back in the early 1990s. It’s often hot and sticky-humid around harvest, which was when we tended to be there. I never got to love Hunter reds and the guys at Brokenwood found the region unreliable for reds too and so started sourcing grapes from South Australia. However the whites are another thing, showing as lightweight and elegant with high, even austere acidity when young, but ageing well to show great almost unexpected complexity after a few years.

    Brokenwood Thompson Road Semillon

    So with a certain amount of excitement we opened it for lunch! – It did exactly what was expected: a lot of citrus on the nose and intense lemon / austere grapefruit on the palate with racy acidity and good length. It’s not rich, full, heavyweight or exactly complex, it’s more straightforward and snappy and it packs intensity.

    Having tasted many Hunter Semillons, both young and with a few years under the belt, I feel very confident that this wine, (that’s drinking very well now), will age superbly. It’s well worth squirrelling a few bottles away to get that toasty-complexity of a great aged Hunter Semillon.

    Will I buy it again? Yes for sure and I’m also going to bury a few bottles in the cellar but for that I’ll probably wait until Waitrose have one of their 25% off deals; it then comes down to £7.49, which is an absolute steal!

    Served with: Baked Cod, Oven Baked Chips & Ultimate Mushy peas. Just the job – no need to squeeze lemon over the fish!.

    Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap. 

     

    Waitrose Australian Shiraz (St Hallet’s)               £9.49

    I’m a bit of a sucker for the Barossa.  Other areas in Australia might have cooler climates and a wider range of fashionable grape varieties, or have more gourmet restaurants or fancy designer wineries, but they haven’t got what the Barossa has; it’s the beating heart of the Australian wine industry. For me the focal point of it is a cross roads just out of town, where on one side you have Rockford and Charlie Melton (and you could continue to Grant Burge and on round to Bethany); straight on you come to a ditch called Jacob’s Creek and on the other side, St Hallets.

    Whilst looking for my 6 wines, I spotted a Barossa Shiraz from St Hallets and reduced from 11.99 to £9.49. That was one for the trolley then.

    The wine had a berry and spice nose, was mid-weight and was not gloopy (ie correct – this is Barossa). To sum up: satisfactory, but not that exciting.

    On a ‘St Hallet’s roll’, I noticed that Majestic had the ‘Faith’ Shiraz, knocked down from about 17 quid to £13.99. Now this was an entirely different cuttlefish…. A much stronger nose loaded with toasty oak, berry fruit and spice. On the palate, again mid-weight, but lively, fresh and elegant. (I remember a few years ago, the winemaker Stuart Blackwell making a lot about the importance of this elegance, which for him was a signature of the Barossa that he wanted to express faith in). And on to the finish, racy with little notes of chocolate.  WOW.

    Now I know this isn’t comparing like with like, but the cost isn’t that different. Would I buy the Waitrose Barossa again? Maybe. Would I buy Faith again? Try and stop me. 

    Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap. 

     

    Hill Smith Estate Eden Valley Chardonnay                          £11.99  

    The Hill Smith family own Yalumba, one of Australia’s most important wine companies. Unlike so many other longstanding firms in the industry, Yalumba have avoided going down the corporate route, loosing their identity and having their good name used to push out oceans of plonk. Despite all this, I’m afraid to say I’ve only been there once, quite a long time ago, and was completely zonked at the time by jet-lag.  So without any real excuse, I haven’t followed their wines particularly and wasn’t in a hurry to go back there simply because the visit hadn’t been exiting. Likewise Australian Chardonnay, although above the basic price point it’s always very decent and nothing like the false archetype, I rarely think “gosh, must have an Australian Chardonnay”.

    As I said, we’ve done a fair bit of wine-hunting this year looking for a good stand-in for a 1er Cru Chablis what with the pound being a bit crunched and everything. So this bottle, coming with key words “Hill Smith” “Estate” “Chardonnay” and “Eden Valley” (ie the cooler part of the Barossa), plus classy looking labelling, said “hit me”!  It had a nose of fine French oak with an elegant, yeastiness that was sort of reminiscent of blanc de blanc Champagne. (Surprising, for Eden Valley isn’t THAT cool!) Nice creaminess on the palate, and a restrained steeliness on the long finish. 

    Well, conclusion: Quite a lot of wine for £11.99!  I think it would age nicely if kept for a few years too.

    Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap.