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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 27 – Semillon

We tasted: Tyrells Hunter Valley Semillon £13, M&S

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I’m writing this in the last 5 minutes of England v Colombia and my first thought is that this really isn’t the wine to watch the nerve rattling experience of an England World Cup game.

Not that I have much experience of football supporting, being Andy’s girlfriend definitely has its down side, especially during the World Cup. The reason this wine doesn’t match, is that Semillon is a wine which in itself encapsulates a lot of tension being lean and bone dry with a piercing level of acidity. So right now every sip seems to make me more nervous.

We’re tasting a Hunter Valley Semillon which has a very particular style. They pick the grapes early so there is a high level of acidity and lower than usual alcohol, at around 11%. When youthful the wine can seem almost watery and neutral with a fresh lemon juice zing. Then as it ages it really comes into its own developing much more interest, often with a candle wax aroma, smoky complexity and rich lime flavours with a peppery twist. I have tasted some fantastically complex old Semillon. The one we’re tasting tonight is on the simpler end. I got a whiff of white smoke on the nose, a touch of wax but it was altogether citrus focused, lean and with that big zing of acidity. I like the fact that the fruit tastes pristine and clean but there didn’t feel to be much dimension yet in the style. Perhaps it needed a little more age.

We had it with pizza which I didn’t feel was the right match either, the delicate character of the wine was masked by the tomato of the pizza. I kept thinking sushi would have worked better.

[talking of matches, I’m never going to write a note during football again – in the time I wrote this Colombia equalised. And thank god England finally won or Andy would have blamed me]”

Andy says: “Emma has already blown our cover and given away the day we tasted this. Ideally we’d be a few more days ahead instead of throwing this crap together just before the newsletter deadline each week. But hey ho, England won.

Thankfully, my notes will be short, and not because I wasn’t really paying attention to the wine, I just have nothing to say about it. It was another one of those limey sour whites that I just can’t understand. I need to go back through my other write ups and see what the connection – other than my poor palate and lack of wine vocabulary – is.”

Buying Guide

Semillon is a grape that was often blended with Sauvignon to make Bordeaux whites. It then found fame as a single grape in Australia, specifically Hunter Valley where is makes elegant low alcohol whites that age well. So try to find an Australian version to get a pure taste of the grape.

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 25 – Assyrtiko

We tasted: Estate Agryros Assytriko 2016 £13.79 (+vat) Costco

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “This week’s exciting news is that I opened my Assyrtiko with a brand new prized possession; a gold plated corkscrew. But keep that between us, Andy thinks it was the gift I brought back for him from my Master of Wine conference in Spain…oops.

And it seems apt because I’m very excited to be introducing Assyrtiko as one of our 52 grapes, which coincidentally was also given a small spotlight at a tasting during the conference I have just returned from. This grape has been called the “Chablis of Greece” by fellow wine geeks and I hope once you experience it, you’ll understand why.

The true home of this grape is a beautiful island right at the tip of the Cyclades islands in Greece; Santorini. This island was born by the explosion of an undersea volcano. As a result, the island has a stunning backdrop of multi-coloured cliffs and layered volcanic soils that are fantastic for growing vines. The island’s other secret is old vines, sometimes over 100 years old, and on their original rootstocks which is another rarity. I won’t delve into that right now because it will distract us all from just appreciating the grape. However, the result of these old vines, grown in intriguing little basket shapes, is a wine that has incredible finesse, yet intensity and a mineral streak that gives them the Chablis-esque reputation. One famous Australian winemaker, Jim Barry, was so taken by this grape he transported cuttings to his side of the world and is now attempting to create his version in South Australia; so look out for that.

This wine comes from Estate Argyros, a family run winery I happen to import from and so I’m pleased we are getting to try their wine. This version is 100% Assyrtiko so we can taste its purest version. At first sniff I was pleased it had this gunflint, smoky quality that gives it that edge of complexity. Then a burst of salty lemon zest and a grapefruit lime zing, slightly honeyed, almost like an aged Riesling. To taste the high acidity of this grape leaves a zippy lift to the palate, and the rich saline grapefruit flavours continue with a dose of tropical fruit salad. Having said that it doesn’t taste like a warm climate wine. It is altogether lean and fresh tasting. And that is what I think I love so much about this grape, I’ve spent my teenage holidays on this sunny island and given the gorgeous heat I experienced there I can’t quite believe it can produce a wine with so much finesse.”

Andy says: “I’ve noticed that my tasting notes are getting shorter each week. And you’re in luck, as the trend is about to continue.

I think I’ve officially run out of vocabulary for wine, and am sitting on a learning plateau. So I’ve done my usual trick of tasting, working out what I think I tasted, and then reading Emma’s notes to see if I was close. On this occasion, maybe a C+ or a B-.

The first thing I noticed (pre reading Emma’s notes) was the acidity. It’s intense, possibly more so than my experience in Week 18 with Savvy B. This time, I think my eyes did actually water. I’m sure there’s (probably) a scientific name for it, but I’m (for now, until I find it) going to call it the ‘sour shudder’. I’m sure (hope) you all know what I mean – that involuntary face scrunching forehead squeezing wince when you taste something acidic/sour. Yeah, well every sip so far has triggered that reaction.

I also found it sweet (it’s not), leaving that oily residual feel on the roof of the mouth. I need to work out what that indicator is if it’s not sweetness. Emma’s notes say ‘honeyed’, perhaps that’s it. And she also mentioned grapefruit, so given I wasn’t a massive Viognier fan, I’m not super taken by this one either.

Buying Guide

Assyrtiko is perhaps the most famous grape of Greece. A white grape that is said to have the elegance of Chablis. Try to find one from its birthplace, the island of Santorini but any Greek white stating Assyrtiko on the front or back label will do.

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 23 – Grüner Veltliner

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “We took a long time to find our Grüner this week because I was being especially picky. I wanted to find a really good example, because to be honest the everyday supermarket level ones are nice and quaffable but can be lacking a distinct character.

I remember studying this grape for my blind tasting exams and finding it incredible frustrating as a result. It fell into that “could be anything” category that would send me into a blind panic.

However tonight we are trying one of the best Austrian producers Brundlmayer, if you are an avid 52grapes fan we did try their Riesling earlier in our journey and I’d hoped to get a Domaine Wachau wine this time to ring the changes; but I ran short of shopping time.

This wine is form the warmer Kamptal region and Grand Cru (best vineyard) sites both resulting in a flavour that has the added intensity I was looking for. Yet it was still mild, with a gentle sweet pea herbal and lemon balm aroma, then a textured soft palate, with a distinct white pepper note that is typical of this wine and a sort of green lettuce with salad dressing flavour. That last bit sounds strange but really works for me, I think I’m trying to describe that it has citrus, herbal notes but is gentle and soft in flavour; not exactly fruity. And I really like how unique that flavour is when you get a good Gruner. It has that thirst quenching acidity of a good Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon but a flavour profile that would sit well in between the two. I hope the version you all found was just as delicious.”

Andy says: “Definitely struggling with this one. Let’s get the easy bit out of the way first. Did I like it? Yes!

It was my task to choose the wine this week, and luckily the store I went to had a choice of one, so I chose it, knowing I’d be blame free. With a good 20 minutes of pondering saved, I checked to see what food matches we’d recommended for this wine, and picked up the ingredients.

We had it crisply cold, with a Malaysian Laksa for dinner, and yes they really did go well together. It wasn’t the spiciest of laksas, but the coolness of the wine really quenched the thirst, and the acidity helped to cleanse the palate. It was very easy drinking.

On the nose, I get a hint of pineapple, but it’s barely perceptible. I get little else. Taste wise, it’s that limey citrusy white wine thing again, which I’m finding is ‘worse’ if you have a tiny sip. A big old glug seems much better.”

Buying Guide

Gruner is a white grape originating from Austria. We’ll be looking for one from there and preferably one from a classic sub region like Wachau or Kamptal.

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 21 – Chardonnay

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “It was especially difficult to select the wine we’d taste this week. If we stayed true to our usual mode of choice we would have gone for something that represented a true and classic taste of that grape.

The thing is that Chardonnay is a real chameleon. Even in its birthplace of Burgundy, it has an array of flavour profiles because it is the grape that most reflects where it is grown and how it is made. So if we start at the Northern tip of Burgundy in Chablis, the Chardonnay there is most often unoaked very brisk and zippy with striking minerality and fruit that is green apple or citrus in profile. But then you venture south from there and reach the Cote D’Or the aptly named section where some of the priciest wines come from; think Meursault or St Aubin. Here whites are oaked and therefore have a richness and buttery fruit flavour, plus differing mineral and complex expressions depending on the exact patch of land and winemaker who made them. It doesn’t stop there, as you get on the motorway and drive down to the Maconnais part of Burgundy, the climate gets warmer, and the wines tend to be unoaked, giving them rich but pure fruit flavours; think peaches, melon and honey.

I haven’t even mentioned the wider world of Chardonnay; venture into other classic regions like Adelaide Hills (Australia), Napa (California) or Mendoza (Argentina) and the array of styles will get even broader.

I hope I have made one point here. If you think you dislike Chardonnay it is probably because you haven’t found the one you like yet!

But onto the wine we tasted. I went big this week and selected my ultimate desert island wine, a Puligny Montrachet, from that Cote d’Or region. It was pricey but I really wanted to show Andy why I love this grape quite so much. We tasted one from David Moret, a new producer I have discovered who is well worth searching out. The experience was just what I hoped. Puligny has this amazing honeysuckle aroma which is bright and elegant. We had a 2014 which is a fantastic cool vintage and still very young in expression. To taste, it was so pure in flavour, a seamless line of creamy rich lemon curd, with electric minerality coming across as crunchy sea salt, interplaying well with the oak that gave it an almond nut richness, with a caramel twist. I could go on but I won’t bore you. I hope I have expressed why I find this wine so exciting. And if you want to try a slightly cheaper version I have tasted this producer’s Rully of the same vintage last week and it was great.

One confession is that we didn’t get the food match right. 52grapes is really challenging our social scheduling. We had to taste it last night and I got home late after meeting a friend so the only food we could summon was a takeaway pizza. Needless to say this isn’t going to be something I would recommend, and probably something I’d never repeat…”

Andy says: “I’m going to assume you all gave up reading this page by Emma’s 47th paragraph, and whatever I write here will remain unseen by human eyes.

I have two main takeaways from this week’s wine. 1 – I always thought I preferred unoaked Chardonnay, and 2 – I always thought I didn’t like Chardonnay. The first thing that hit me was the oak. To me it was ‘quite oaky’, but Emma mumbled something about the grape and the region and how it takes on so much flavour, or something. I don’t know, I was trying to watch Taskmaster at the same time and that took precedence.

There was also a big hit of acid. I didn’t get the same cheek-watering sensation as last week, this was more along the lines of a crisp, eye piercing, grimace. And then the cheek watering. All in all a tip top tipple, highly highly recommended.”

Buying Guide

We will be heading straight to the the classic region of Burgundy. Our sub region of choice will be Puligny Montrachet. So head to the French white section and look for any of these, your choice may be dependent on how much you want to spend: Bourgogne Blanc, Macon Villages, Chablis, Pouily Fuisse, Rully, Chassagne Montrachet, Meursault or Puligny Montrachet.

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.

Week 19 – Gewurztraminer

Tasting Notes

We tasted: Alsace Gewurztraminer £10 Marks and Spencer

Emma says: “The experience of tasting Gewürztraminer this week was a nice moment for me. It made me realise the value of the 52 Grapes experience for a so called “expert” like myself. I fell out of love with Gewurz a while ago, I’m not a fan of overtly floral styles of wine or off dry wines; so I had put this one to the back of my grape closet.

But on being forced to taste it again I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. Perhaps it was the rare, balmy, bank holiday weekend that we had in London this week. The pretty floral profile of this Alsace Gewürztraminer seemed to perfectly suit my mood. I also really liked this particular style I tried, it had a fresh rose aroma and crisp lychee fruit flavour that lingered nicely with a ginger root twist that brightened it up. It wasn’t fat and oily or too confected as many styles I’ve tried in the past. Not amazingly complex but I I found further dimension in its fruit flavours with a creamy peach interior and candy floss sweet twists from its off dry style.

I then tried a further glass with my lazy dinner of a feta cheese, avocado and grain salad. Andy was out obviously, he wouldn’t put up with that sort of dinner. But I found that it worked fantastically with salty cheese and the richness of avocado. Its sweetness and vivid fruit offered a fantastic contrast. And for that reason it would be a great one to try with Thai or other spicy dishes too.

A final note is that another type of Gewürztraminer I have recently tried and enjoyed for its similar restrained character was one from Northern Italy in Trento where it can be called Traminer. Therefore if you are a fan of this style look out for that too. Plus we will be tasting other floral styles of grapes later in our journey; look out for Torrontes and Muscat if you are a fan of this grape.”

Andy says: “I’ve now had time to taste this wine. Who’d have though that drinking a different wine each week would be this hard to keep up with?

Well, I think the only word I can use here is ‘floral’. If you’re in the UK and of a certain age, you might remember sweets (aka candy for our American friends) called Cherry Lips, that taste eff-all like cherry, but do taste like soap, and this wine reminds me very strongly of them. And that ladies and gents, is pretty much all I have to say about this wine. Those sweets were ok in small doses, and I guess this wine is too. This is not on my ‘must buy again’ list, more likely the next time I try this will be in a year or two when I read back on the notes and wonder if it really did taste like cherry lips. Note for future me: Yes it did.

I also spent most of this review resisting wondering if I could say ‘…one of the wurzt wines I’ve had’. ”

Buying Guide

Gewurztraminer is a classic grape variety of the region Alsace in France. Happily Alsace normally puts this grape variety boldly on the front label so it should be easy to identify. So we will be trying a version from there. Good alternatives regions if you find this hard to find would be Germany, New Zealand or Chile.