Week 41 – Pinotage

Tasting Notes

We tasted: Houdamond Pinotage, £13, M&S

Emma says: I entered this week’s grape tasting with a determination to keep an open mind. Often people ask me what my favourite grape or wine is, few ask if there is a grape that I really can’t stand. I’m afraid to say that previous experience has told me that Pinotage is the only one. However the lovely people I work with who (some feel the same way) have told me that Houdamond Pinotage will be the wine to convert me. So here we go…

The reason I’m not a great fan of this wine is likely to be that I’m super sensitive to an aroma and flavour that is quite often found in South African wines. Some call it burnt rubber but I find it a bit of a dungy stink and ashy taste. If you don’t detect the same in your tasting then feel lucky, each of us have differing sensory perceptions and can be sensitive to certain things. It seems I’m particularly alert to these characters.

Onto the wine in question. The first aroma was a dark, brooding prune with a molasses richness which was quite attractive, it was followed by a bit of boot polish which I don’t mind and then that very distinct earthy dung note, but not too bad. So a good start. To taste it was nicely supple, with fluid tannins and a blueberry , plum flavour with that caramel sweetness and a strong coffee note. But then after about a second or two I felt that earthy, burnt rubber and bitter character, plus a raw alcohol burn start to emerge and that was it for me.  I struggled to finish the glass which Andy can attest is a very rare thing.

Sorry South Africa since I know this is your trademark grape. I hope Andy feels differently.”

Andy says: “I didn’t have too much time to taste this wine as I was busy fighting with a blocked dishwasher drain. It won, but there will be a return battle tonight, when I will be armed with a drain snake.

I actually don’t mind it and don’t detect the rubber that Emma does. The first thing I did say was that there was quite a rough alcohol burn. To describe that further, it’s that harsh feeling you can get from a really cheap whiskey, compared to a more expensive one which will be smoother.

Taste wise, I’m still not getting all those fruits, but I did find it quite pleasant, almost blackcurrant-y, and quite easy to drink.”

Buying Guide

Pinotage is the red grape that has come to define South Africa. Its parents are a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault but it really tastes nothing like either of those grapes. The search this week should be quite easy since most big shops stock a Pinotage if they have South African wines.

Week 38 – Negroamaro

We tasted: Domodo Negroamaro 2017, Majestic, £9.99

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Negroamaro is one of the lesser known reds of Italy. It comes from the Southern area of Apulia where it can get very hot so you have to expect a rich red, potentially with a bit of that raisin richness that comes from ultra ripeness. I’m not naturally a fan of big reds so I haven’t been expecting much this week. But I am hoping we get a real taste of these unique grapes that make Italy such an interesting country to explore for wine.

First the colour of my wine is ultra dark, almost opaque which often happens with warm climate reds because the anthocyanin that come from the skins accumulate a bit more with warm climate grapes. I can also see those strong tears that come onto the side of the glass, also a common feature with sugar ripe grapes made into wine.

The aroma matches my first impression, the fruit is rich and baked, lots of prunes, raisins and liquorice notes. To taste it is fleshy, with that ripe fruit profile, mixed with molasses and mediterranean herbs like oregano and tarragon. There is a fair bit of tannin giving it a grip that is typical of Italian reds, but it is also quite quaffable because the alcohol is surprisingly low at 12%.

I’m not quite sure how they managed that with all these ripe fruit flavours, I suspect some winemaker wizardry has gone on. I don’t think this is going to be the Negroamaro that converts me but it was certainly inoffensive and I’d be happy to serve it to friends at a party.

Andy says: “Fairly lame post from me this week, as once again I had very little time to actually taste this wine.

I don’t get any of the flavours Emma mentions, but she is quite a bit posher than me so we’ll put it down to that. As she said, it is an inoffensive drinkable red, and something I’d expect to be given in an average Italian as a their house wine.

Hopefully I’ll get to taste it again and add some more to this.”

Buying Guide

Negroamaro is a black grape from the south of Italy, especially the region Puglia and Salento. We will be looking for a 100% grape blend from these areas. Some large supermarkets do stock this grape but you may need to look in specialist stores.

Week 35 – Cabernet Sauvignon

We tasted: Chateau Blaignan Medoc 2012 £14.50-9.67 on save 1/3 now

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “This week Andy really held me back. I was ready to crack open a fine bottle of Bordeaux for our Cabernet experience. One of those really pricey bottles that I’ve saved for a “special” occasion. Since I never seem to find a grand enough moment to fit opening one, I thought 52 grapes might fit the bill. But no, Andy was my kill joy, he said we needed to find something similar to what other readers might be drinking. Do I sound bitter?

So I didn’t open this bottle with a lot of relish. However I’m really happy to say that opening it was a nice reminder that everyday Bordeaux can be a joy. A lot of wine trade people dismiss ordinary Bordeaux as being lean and green tasting. That is because the Cabernet grapes in the moderate climate of Bordeaux can struggle to ripen and if they don’t the flavours can become bitter and leafy, plus the tannin in the grapes can also be unripe and rough. Potentially I’m just a bit immune to those flavours because my lovely dad who is the ripe old age of 91 has been drinking at least a half a bottle of Berry Bros Extra Ordinary Claret since I was born; which was a while ago. Consequently I’ve had a lot of experience with this grape!

Onto this wine which I happen to know really well because I import it for the company I work at. I’m so pleased that it really shows that definitive Bordeaux character in a good way. The aromas are heady and perfumed, with typical cassis and sweet menthol leaf, combining with leather and tobacco. Then on the taste it showed through a sense of classic minerality (pencil lead if you have ever tasted it) and fresh crunchy brambles mixing with a hint of padron grilled green peppers that defines to me the greenness that is good in Bordeaux. The tannins are a feature as you would expect in a boldly structured grape like Cabernet, they feel grippy and leave a texture on your teeth, probably a colour if I’d drank the whole bottle. Cabernet is also the grape that really encapsulates what “tertiary” characters are in wine. This term refers to the aromas and flavours that happen with age and when a wine moves away from primary characters such as fresh fruit and flowers. Cabernet has a lot of structure and acidity that soften out nicely with age and then these “other” characters evolve which also bring complexity for example: leather, tobacco, tar or pot pourri. This wine only has six years of age but ones that are much older will be become dominated by these tertiary characters more than the fruit.

On food matches do try a lump of cheese with this wine. The heavy tannin in  Cabernet reacts with protein and then they have this nice synergy where the wine softens the taste of the cheese and the protein then helps the tannins to soften so the wine is more approachable.

A final personal note is that I love Bordeaux because every time I have a sip I somehow feel closer to my Dad. I’m not sure he feels the same way or he’d be thinking about me a lot! But it is nice to have that personal connection with a wine.”

Andy says: “I was looking forward to this week as I’ve always thought I was a CabSav fan. I think I still am, but am coming to the annoying realisation that maybe not all wine is the same.

I think I’ve probably only ever had big, bold, shouty Cabs from e.g. California. Well, I know that’s not true as I’ve had plenty of Bordeauxs in the past, I guess I’ve never really clicked that they’re the ‘same’ thing. Basically, I was expecting an explosive mouthful of flavour.
My first sniff of this wine seemed salty, sort of salted caramel, and also some high tones (those aromas that, for me, get right up your nose and right into your brain), but other than that, I didn’t get too much. After a while that changed and I did get some fruit, but very hidden, definitely not ‘fruit forward’. Taste wise it was the same, it seemed a bit watery and washed out to me, but again I’m probably hankering for a big gutsy red. Emma did explain to me that it was to do with the age (we had a 2012), but I wasn’t really listening so not sure what she said.”

Buying Guide

Cabernet Sauvignon is the world famous red grape that makes wines with great structure and ageability. We are going to seek one out from the classic region of Bordeaux. Look for a “left bank” Bordeaux wine which can be identified by names like Medoc, Margaux, St Julien or Pauillac, these have the most Cabernet in the blend.

Week 34 – Cinsault

We tasted: De Martino Old Vines Cinsault, Itata, £11.99

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I’ve been looking forward to this week because I knew exactly which wine I wanted us to taste. It is actually quite rate to find a 100% Cinsault wine but I have fortunately found my ultimate one when visiting a favourite Chilean producer De Martino three years ago.

This is a family business that has been making wine for generations but the younger clan headed up by Sebastian and winemaker brother Marco are now championing a return to old traditions. Sebastian is mad about buying up long forgotten plots of vines in overlooked regions like Itata and Maule where the vines are hundreds of years old. He took me on a memorable visit in tropical downpours where we drank this wine standing under a tin roof shivering. I remember thinking if the wine tasted that good in those conditions it had to be great. So let’s see if Andy agrees.

Given it’s still pretty warm in London right now we decided to chill our wine, which I also thought was fitting because it is quite a light bodied red which really suits being chilled. To the first smell it had that gorgeous scented dark cherry character with a hit of farmyard and smoky pencil lead, giving it a classic European charm. If I was tasting it blended I don’t think I’d ever think of Chile, but Itata is quite cold and wet which is why these wines can have a more restrained style. To taste it was just so light and elegant it sort of danced on the tongue, the tannin texture being really delicate. The fruit is slightly cassis but also with a mellow cherry flavour and a mild herbal freshness. The acidity feels nicely lifted but not sharp. To sum it up it really is a pretty wine.

Onto potential food matches, I would say this is a great red to go with food where a heavy red would dominate. The light tannins mean it would work really nicely with fish like salmon and could also work with curries. I think it would also be one to substitute for dishes that I would normally match with Pinot Noir, like mushrooms, game birds or white meats.”

Andy says: “My first sniff of this made me think of vinegar, which is never a good thing. But, the wine was fresh out of the fridge, and maybe it was a trick of the temperature as it soon blew off.

I also got a bit of leather sofa, which is a bona fide wine tasting thing to say. The first tasting was also disappointing, very thin, very light, not much to talk about at all. Downhearted, I logged in and started building this page, finding and cropping the images etc.

Some ten minutes had passed and the second taste was much different. It was full of character and full of black fruit flavours, blackberry, blackcurrant etc, even a bit Ribena-y. Lesson learned, don’t over chill your reds. This is a lovely summer drinking red.”

Buying guide

Cinsault is a red grape from France, it was often used in blends to bulk out a wine because it is high yielding. We are going to seek out a 100% Cinsault from old vines, typical countries that do this are France, South Africa or Chile. These are quite rare so we’d recommend buying any one you can find.

Week 32 – Mourvèdre

We tasted: Domain Bunan Bandol, M&S, £11.32 (down from £17)

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “This heatwave in the UK has brought with it many uncomfortable experiences. Oven like conditions on the Jubilee Line, muggy offices where everyone is fighting over a USB powered portable fan, and not to mention the restless nights without air con or breezes. We just aren’t hardwired for heat in this little island.

I can now add to that list the need to taste Mourvèdre on a hot sweaty night. I arrived home off the heated pavements just swooning for a glass of something chilled and white. But no, I devised this dastardly 52 Grapes schedule so I really must drink this 14.5% alcohol beast of a red. So here goes.

Mourvèdre actually loves heat, as grapes go. Winemakers use it in a blend because it retains a good amount of acidity in heat. That is difficult in warm climates because as the grape accumulates sugar it loses acidity. On the first aroma this is definitely a ripe red, full of brooding dark fruits with a spicy and earthy edge, exactly what I expect from Mourvèdre. The fruit is plummy and sweet with a gentle perfume of fresh beetroot. To taste it is really a mouthful, the feeling is grippy but not astringent and it sits heavily on the palate with that warming alcohol really hitting at the back of the mouth. The fruit flavours are dense and there is this sort of earthy clay taste with gives it a distinct savoury expression. I also get that herbal undertone that is typical of Southern french wines a bit like dried herbs in a pasta sauce. I can really appreciate how complex this wine is, even if it wasn’t what I was feeling like drinking today.  I almost feel a little sad that I’m not sitting by a camp fire chilling in a typically cool English summer evening. This would have been the ultimate wine for that occasion.

So in summary if you love heavy, full bodied reds and haven’t tried Mourvèdre, in particular a Bandol, then please do. This is a wine that may tick all your boxes. I might have to buy another bottle and keep it for when the winter sets in.”

Andy says: “You might have noticed that our notes and pages have been appearing later and later. That’s mostly due to my addiction to Softball and playing Mon/Tue/Wed for the last 10 weeks or so.

That has severely eaten into the time available to keep things up to date. It was the same again this week, as I arrived home at around 10pm (early, actually), hot, tired, sweaty, and needing to taste a Mourvèdre. The first thing I noticed as I poured it was the lovely deep purple ink colour of the wine. I gave it a sniff (it’s what you do) and said it smelt smokey. ‘Not really’, said Emma, who then sniffed it and said ‘actually, yeah it does’. Master of Wine nil, sweaty bloke one.

‘Earthy, smokey richness’ was my next phrase, which scored big points as apparently ‘earthy’ is the classic description, and one I see Emma used. I promise I hadn’t read her notes this time. There was also a touch of ‘farmyard’ to it. If you’ve ever walked through a muddy field of cows, or a barnyard, you’ll know the smell I mean. Not as strong and vomit inducing as the real life smell, obviously, just that hint of countryside. It’s known as brett, and at the right level can add an extra dimension to the wine, which it did here. The tannins were tight and grippy, but let go immediately.”

Buying Guide

Mourvèdre (aka Monastrell in Spain) is a grape variety most commonly used as a small part of a blend. We will be seeking out a Bandol from the South of France where this grape is used as the dominant grape in their styles. Any Monastrell from Spain would equally work well.

Week 28 – Carmenere

We tasted: Pintao Carmenere by Casa Silva £10 Marks and Spencer

Emma says: “I had originally scheduled the next two weeks to be South American wines to time with my annual trip to those countries. Sadly those trips were postponed at the last minute which means I’m now sitting in 30 degree summer heat trying to enjoy a ripe and rich Carmenere.

I decided to try to make the most of the unexpected situation by testing out a food and wine matching theory. Carmenere has a generally accepted spicy character that sets it apart from other grapes. I detect it a bit like spicy red peppercorns or those padron peppers you get in tapas bars. So I cooked up an Indian feast that had a spicy daal and a good dose of red chilli in everything. The test being that food matches are often based on “like for like” flavours in food and wine so I wanted to see if it would work. The truth is – NO. The effect of base room temperature, wine and food was all a bit overwhelming. So I had to leave the glass of wine to taste again later.

Back to the wine, I chose Casa Silva “Pintao” Carmenere, because I know the winery well and think they are the absolute masters of bringing the best out in this grape. In our last newsletter I mentioned that some no-so-good Carmeneres can be thin green and bitter tasting. As a winery they have taken great care to plant just the right variation of Carmenere that has the ability to ripen well in their valley Colchuagua. They took me through their vineyards last year and told me the secret of their good Carmenere was all about how they grow the grapes rather than what they do in the winery.

I was pleased that my first sniff gave a definite breeze of grilled peppers, in tandem with a pleasing note of ripe cherries and also refreshing menthol notes. To taste the fruit is really exuberant but not at all jammy, more raspberry, hints of rhubarb and orange peel with all that powerful spice overlaying it nicely. This is a full bodied red and it does leave with a warm feel in the back of the mouth. It would probably be better suited to a winter’s day but once we chilled it a little it seemed to work far better. And as a final point I love the fact this wine isn’t smothered in oak that tend to give the wine a tutti fruity confected character and a bigger grip. It means you can really taste the grape which is exactly what our adventure is all about.

Andy says: “I was on a winery tour with Emma a few years ago and was lucky enough to taste a Carmenere straight from the barrel. ‘Ooh, tastes like jalapeños!’, I said.

I can’t express enough how jalapeño-y it was. It was like a, ‘Is this made from jalapeños, or grapes?’ kinda thing. Emma then informed me that that is a classic tasting note for this wine, so I was quite happy. And I’ve been looking forward to this one to see if I had the same reaction. Unfortunately I didn’t, but I definitely get green bell pepper, so the same family at least.

Colour wise, using the handy Winefolly chart again, I’m going for medium to deep purple. Tannin wise, I’ll let you into another little secret of mine, and that’s this blog post that lists out nice descriptions. So, from that list I’m heading toward rounded. There’s not so much as a grip, more of a quick, gentle hug of the tongue.

I tasted this twice, the first time with the same meal as Emma, and it was okay but not great. The wine was too warm, I think. The second time I had it well chilled, as we’d put it in the fridge and forgotten about it for a day. Straight out the fridge it was no disaster, but it was a hot day so maybe just cold liquid was all I needed. 15 minutes later as it warmed, it opened up. On the ‘like it – don’t like it’ scale, it’s up at the ‘like it’ end.”

Buying Guide

Carmenere is to Chile what Malbec is to Argentina. It originated in Bordeaux, France but seems to have found a better home in Chile where it fully ripens. It is best to try an example that is a little above entry price because cheaper versions can be a bit light and green. The valley in Chile where it tends to show at its best is Colchuagua; so we will be searching out that style.

Week 26 – Nerello Mascalese

Tasting Notes

We drank: Etna Rosso £11 Marks and Spencer

Emma says: “I made Nerello one of our 52 grapes just to test Andy’s supremo pun skills. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for our newsletter.

On a more serious note, I really do feel this grape is justified to be part of our 52. I fell in love with it last year on a trip to Sicily. It forms the major part of most wines labelled “Etna Rosso” which is an amazing wine region sitting on the slopes of Mount Etna. Volcanic soils appear to be the current theme on our adventure, given last week was the Greek grape Assrytiko which is grown on the volcanic island of Santorini. In Sicily the volcano is still active, and I think wines from this region definitely have a mineral intensity which would suggest there is some sort of interaction with the soils. I always get a pleasing whiff of smoke from an Etna Rosso. Andy would probably say that is me imagining things into the wine again.

I chose a wine this week that I’m really familiar with having imported it for my work. The Nicosia winery is one of the most established in the Etna region, a lot of wines from this region are seriously expensive and they offer a really great value option. It is a relatively small region and is now becoming quite trendy on the wine scene, hence prices are going up.

I tasted the wine on potentially the hottest day of this year so far, so I gave it a bit of a chill in the fridge which seemed to really work and bring out the fruit in the wine. The first scent I got was dark and brooding with wood smoke and medicinal herbs.  Nicely followed by fragrant raspberry and a hint of wet clay. All in all, there was lots going on. The palate had an equally dense flavour, it was somehow tannic and yet light in feel which I really liked. The flavours brought more bright red fruits with that smoky note pointing to the volcanic soils the grapes are growing on, but this dimension  wasn’t  fierce, rather gentle allowing the fruit to stand out nicely; making it an elegant yet complex glass of wine. As a Pinot lover this really appeals to me as a wine that has that lightness in touch, making it infinitely interesting to drink.

We had it with a simple pasta ravioli supper and it worked really nice, a red that isn’t too dominant in flavour for that kind of meal.”

Andy says: “This week marks the half way point on the 52 Grapes journey. It’s all downhill from now on, and things should get easier as we’ve all learnt so much, haven’t we?

So Nerello. I’m not looking forward to writing the newsletter, as I’m going to have to think of a ‘pun’ for this grape. I say ‘pun’ as I’m using the term loosely.

To the wine! Smell wise, I got old leather sofa, shoe polish, and lots of high tones. It was actually quite pleasant. Emma insists it also smells like a smokey volcano, but I must disagree. I’m wondering if she’s ever actually been near a smoking volcano. The label says it’s ‘floral’, and I couldn’t disagree more, but that’s probably because my definition of floral doesn’t match that of a wine expert’s. Colour wise, I’m plumping for Pale Garnet, based on the excellent wine chart over at Wine Folly.

I need to work on this description, but it’s what I call ‘thin’, and this one was ‘quite thin’, like when there’s not enough Ribena left to make a full strength glass. Quite a bit of a burn when swallowing, but I’ve been getting that a lot lately so perhaps I should see a doctor. This wasn’t particularly high alcohol (13%), so perhaps it was the acid causing that sensation.”

Buying Guide

Nerello Mascalese is the main grape that features in the Etna red wines from Sicily. It is rarely featured alone so if you find a wine labelled Etna Rosso or a Sicilian Red with that grape featured on the back label that will work just as well.

Week 24 – Pinot Noir

We tasted: Domaine Roblot Marchand Vosne Romanee 2014 £40

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I have been looking forward to this week, as to me Pinot is the finest of red grapes and at its best in Burgundy, France; much like Chardonnay. For many winemakers, making a great Pinot Noir is the ultimate challenge of their life. It is a grape that is very sensitive to climate and soil, as well as winemaking technique.

The taste of a Pinot can be incredibly different depending on where in the world it comes from. If you take a new world Pinot from an area like California it has a sweet berry fruit character with exotic spice notes. Then the styles coming from cooler regions around the world like Central Otago, Oregon or Tasmania are brighter with more crunchy fruit. Finally you have the classic region of Burgundy which is unrivalled for having a diversity of styles and flavour profiles coming from tiny patches of land within the region. Yet another challenge, is balancing the use of oak to the delicate berry fruit flavours and often light body. Only the best Pinot can take a good dose of oak without being swamped by its flavour.

Many wine geeks like myself have fallen for Pinot just like the winemakers, I think for similar reasons. We are all on the quest to find that perfect bottle. And particularly in Burgundy this can be an expensive gamble, you have to pay a fair price for a bottle of Pinot in this region but I’m afraid you can never guarantee what you will get for that price. Sadly sometimes the wine could be faint in flavour and coarse in texture if from a lesser vintage and producer. Given there are hundreds of micro producers in that region it is beyond even me to know every one of them. Add onto that the limited supply, which means any good producer soon becomes sought after and the prices sky rocket. So I have to confess for my everyday Pinot drinking I tend to look a little further afield to places like Oregon, Southern Germany or Australia where I tend to get a little more consistency for the price.

52 grapes has yet again proven a nice excuse to crack open a bottle I selected for my job to be part of our fine wine range and was saving for a special occasion. Vosne Romanee is a particularly lovely sub region in the Cotes de Nuits side of the region. Here the reds typically have a dark cherry fruit and dense spicy character but this smaller patch of land is also known for having a beautifully perfumed aroma that makes it more feminine in style than other reds of that area. And that is exactly the type of Pinot I like. It is from the 2014 vintage which was fantastic for quality and age-ability, in fact we’ve probably opened this bottle a little too early.

Despite this I was pleased to find the aroma did have that bright perfume of rosehip and a touch of violet plus a defined smokey mineral note that gave it that complexity you expect from good Burgundy. To taste the fruit was pristine, all dark damson and crunchy black cherries straight from the punnet. There was quite a bit of oak adding more structure into the palate and shavings of dark chocolate but the underlying fruit more than matched it.  I felt there was far more under this youthful palate to come once the structure softened out with age. And that is the beauty of Pinot, if you were to buy a case of this wine and drink a bottle every few years you would experience an entirely new dimension each time.

Looking forward to hearing what everyone else has made of theirs.

Andy says: “Another one where I’m really struggling to come up with anything. I’ve read Emma’s notes and Googled tasting notes, and I’m just not getting it.

The only thing I can pick up on from Emma’s is the black cherry. It’s definitely there, but it’s not dominant or overpowering. I think I almost get the ‘smokey mineral’ comment too, but the thing I’m struggling with is the overwhelming mouth puckering. Is it tannin or acid, or both? I have no idea, but Googling tells me that Pinot usually has silky tannins, so maybe its acid? I get quite an intense burn on swallowing, which I suppose is more weight for the acid camp. I wish I knew.

Did I like it? Not that much, at first. But, a day later and another glass… yeah, it was ok. I probably shouldn’t be saying that about a forty quid bottle of wine. ”

Buying Guide

We will be trying a classic Red Burgundy made from 100% Pinot Noir this week. To follow suit head to the French red section. The wines from this area labelled with the village name rather than grape. Look out for the generic name Bourgogne Rouge or famed villages/regions such as Cotes de Nuits or Beaune, Nuits St Georges, Volnay or Gevrey Chambertin.

Week 22 – Carignan

Tasting Notes

We tasted: Domaine de Lavail, Old Vines Carignan, M&S, £10

Emma says: “Mission unaccomplished. After promising we would taste a Chilean Carignan in our notes I popped into my local store to find we were out of stock. Pretty embarrassing considering it is a wine I buy for that supermarket. Oops.

Maybe it was fate, because the birthplace of Carignan is France and very quickly I found a full shelf of that very style staring at me. But I’m still sad because Chile has this brilliant new movement called “Vigno” which is a collective of new winemakers specially dedicated to growing interest in their old vine Carignan. Seek out one of these if you do like this style of wine, just look out for the word “Vigno” on the label of a Chilean red. They are vibrant, blue fruited with a heady perfume and densely packed with flavour. A memorable experience.

However our French Carignan is also an old vine expression which is good news. Carignan is a vigorous vine which means it can over produce and deliver a style that is rustic without much concentration in flavour. The old vine versions are far better because the vines produce less fruit with more powerful flavour, creating just the balance required for a delicious wine.

The wine tried was very typical. It had a raisin rum fruit aroma which gave it that southern French expression from the warm climate. The palate has pleasing warm spices of liquorice and cinnamon overlaying baked plums and blueberry fruit. The structure had the rich tannin typical of smaller berries from old vines, but not aggressive given tannins in Carignan are low. The acidity was nicely in balance despite alcohol giving you that gentle mulled wine heat, another typical feature of this grape. It was more on the European flavour spectrum having quite an earth savoury finish. So I think I still prefer the versions I’ve tried in Chile and even Israel. But a nice reminder of a traditional red that is hearty and soothing.”

Andy says: “This will be a fairly short review as I was fairly unimpressed with this wine.

On the nose, all I could get was what I think are referred to as ‘high tones’ – a bit nail polish remover-y or alcohol-y. A good old sniff really did open up the sinuses. Taste wise, I didn’t get any particular flavour or fruit, but I identified that the tannins were fine grained with just the smallest bit of grip. Quite a bit of acid too, I think, and a good old burn on the swallow. Maybe this needs a day to be open, who knows, I’ll find out tonight.”

Buying Guide

Carignan comes from the south of France in the Rhone or Languedoc. It is typically used in blending but you can find some in their pure form. So we’ll be looking for an Old Vine Carignan from the south of France. Typically these are labelled with that name on the front label.

Week 20 – Barbera

Tasting Notes

We tasted: Barbera D’Asti De Forville 2016 at Majestic £13.99

Emma says: “Back to red this week and what a joyful return given we are tasting Barbera D’Asti. I often pick whites above reds as wines that perk me up after a long day, but Barbera is one of those reds that has all the attributes to revive me.

The one we chose certainly didn’t disappoint. The aroma is beautiful and pure, bursting with dark cherry and floral kitschy notes, plus a sweet herbal note like fresh cut tarragon. Then to taste it is so gentle and silky in texture, giving it an easy drinking appeal, especially when compared to other Italian reds that can be heavy and tannic. Plus that purity of fruit really lingers in its flavours, the high acidity in Barbera make them taste even fresher on the palate. Yet this isn’t a simple joy like a Valpolicella or Beaujolais. Barbera at this quality level has that bit more complexity, and this wine also had a bit of oak age that brought in more mocha sweet hints, plus a spicy dimension with a liquorice bite. This week has really reminded me that Barbera should be on my list of fine and elegant reds as much as a good Pinot Noir. I hope that everyone else enjoys its expression as much as me.

And for those who want a global picture of Barbera, it does grow in other countries, normally where Italian immigrants have settled; Argentina, California and Australia to name a few.  I have tried many in Argentina and find they really need to be at the high quality end to be worthwhile. Barbera is a very vigorous vine with high acidity and so it can be used to create big volume wines that are a bit tart in flavour. But the benefit of new world Barbera when it is good, is that the fruit can have a little more power and the acidity can provide it with a good balance; even in warm climate conditions. So get exploring.

A final note is that we had this with a meal of spicy grilled halloumi and giant couscous with roast vegetables. The Mediterranean flavours and spice seemed to work beautifully with the Barbera. I often find reds fight with spice flavoured dishes so this will definitely go on my food matching list for the future.”

Andy says: “Apologies for the delay in my notes on this one, it was a busy social week. Apologies also for the ‘Ba Ba Ba Ba Barbera Ann’ email, apparently it got into some of your heads. Hehehehe.

I’m told this wine has high acidity, and I think I might now be able to detect it. Emma has always told me that it ‘makes your cheeks water’, and I’m definitely feeling that sensation with this wine. There’s a slight puckering, and then you feel it release as your mouth salivates to balance the acid.

On the tannin front, I’d say they were virtually non existent. This wine is just smooth and goes down very (too) easily, with a mild warming from the acid. My fruit vocabulary is still limited, but if pushed I’d have to say that it reminds me most of blackcurrant, especially if you’ve ever tasted undiluted blackcurrant cordial. Possibly my favourite red so far.”

Buying Guide

Barbera is an Italian grape from the North East of Italy in Piedmont where the famous Barolo reds are also made. So head to the Italian red section and look for a wine with this grape name on the label. Typically it comes from two famous villages; Alba or Asti. Either one will work to taste along with us.