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Week 8 – Nero D’Avola

Tasting notes

Will appear here!

Buying Guide

Lovers of Malbec, Syrah or Cabernet – this one may be for you.

This week I’ve chosen Nero D’Avola. The honest truth is that I wanted to select a grape that could only really come from one place (and has one name) because I’m getting tired of the showdown between one region and another when I choose which country to try a grape from.

Thankfully “Nero D” is the king of Sicilian red grapes, which makes it nice and easy. Unless you happen to live in France where I hear you’d be hard pushed to find anything more southern than the Rhone.

And if you do want one tip above and beyond “head to the red Italian section of your local shop”,  I would say that “Vittoria” region of Sicily is where the best versions come from. Also that the bargain bucket Nero D’Avolas can be lovely, but if you trade up a little to £10 or more then you will get a chance to taste the sophistication this grape can achieve. And the Sicilians will love you for it!

Week 7 – Pinot Gris

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “This was the first week I left Andy to buy the wine, and he absolutely smashes it with his choice. He turns up to my flat with Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2015 from Alsace. Completely without knowing this is one of my favourite Alsace producers and would have been top of my list. Maybe he was channelling early Valentine’s day vibes. Looks like he’ll be the buyer from here onwards…

Onto the wine. I remember the first time I had an Alsace Pinot Gris and this experience brought me right back to that moment. I was really blown away by a white that had that creamy soft body and richness of flavour that you might see in a grape like Chardonnay or Viognier when oaked, but with far more subtlety. On this wine I got the enticing aromas of pear compote, with hints of acacia honey, tangerine peel and mild floral notes. Similarly the palate was soft orchard fruits, kumquat, white pepper. It is textured and round in mouthfeel, but with a nice mineral bite that lifts the honeyed fruit. Gentle but pure and long on the finish.

The secret of Alsace whites is that they don’t oak the wine in small barrels, instead (if they use oak at all) they use large old oak vats. The process doesn’t add flavour like vanilla or coconut (Errrm? I tasted coconut. – Andy) that smaller barrels would give. Instead it just gives the wine a bit of gentle oxygen influence that brings out those more orange peel, soft fruit flavours and honeyed influence. Plus they tend to leave a bit of residual sugar which adds to that perception of fruitiness. These are whites that can age amazingly at the high quality end.

Zind Humbrecht is one of the most famous producers. Particularly because it is biodynamic. That means they manage the vineyards and winemaking in harmony with the lunar cycles. Sounds like hocus pocus? I would say so too but some of the finest wines in the world are made in this way. I can bore you for longer than that on that subject but you’d have to #askEmma. In short biodynamic wines don’t necessarily mean higher quality, but they certainly mean the producer has taken care to respect nature in the way they make their wines.”

Andy says: “It was my job to purchase the wine this week. Armed with my buying guide, I popped into a ‘Little Waitrose’. All they had was a fridge full of Pinot Grigio. Undefeated, I walked a few metres up the road to the local independent wine emporium. “Nailed on”, I thought.

It’s one of those places that you can’t quite fathom – I’ve rarely seen anyone in there but somehow they continue to trade.

“Hello”, I said cheerily. “I’m looking for a Pinot Gris.”

“Pinot…” – a slight pause – “Grrrreeees?”. A torrent of rolling Rs and a modicum of incredulity. You could almost hear him thinking “He means Grigio, the idiot”.

“Yes, Pinot Gris.”

“Oh. Well we don’t have any of that”. He moves from behind the counter, “B..”

Before I could be up-sold (down-sold?) a Pinot Grigio, I bid a cheery “kthxbye” and was off.

Next stop and another walk to the local Oddbins.

“Hello”, I said cheerily. “I’m looking for a Pinot Gris.”

“Ah we only have one, and it’s the last bottle. Bottom shelf, on the left.”

“Perfect, thanks!”.

And that’s how I ended up with a bottle of Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2015, from Alsace. I’d like to pretend I knew what I was doing, but no, it was the only bottle within a one mile radius of the flat.

And so to the wine. I got a hint of coconut, it was very dry (I think), and reminded me of Riesling. I like Riesling, and therefore I liked this.”

Buying Guide

Here we go again. Another grape with two divergent versions, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. The former tends to be harvested early and made in a crisp, dry style with lighter flavours; its homeland is the Veneto in Northern Italy. The latter is the same grape but tends to be picked at full ripeness, has richer body and fruit flavour; original homeland Alsace in France.

It’s quite an easy decision. I imagine you’ve all guzzled a fair few bottles of light and thirst quenching Italian Pinot Grigio in your time.  My sister’s friend once dubbed it “lady petrol”.  Yep, that guy was an obnoxious home counties pint of ale and green wellies type but we all know what he means. Pinot Grigio can be that drink that is quaffable for being empty of flavour and inoffensive. I’m not writing it off, there are some fantastic versions I’ve had from the top producers in Northern Italy, that are lean, mineral with a peppery richness and delicate orchard fruit flavours. But I think we can get more interesting than that.

We’re going to opt for Pinot Gris this week. If your default after work white is Pinot Grigio, then this is the week we might just help you break that habit. Those of you that have had your fill of Grigio, we hope we can bring you back.

I have two regions I most like that produce Pinot Gris; Alsace (France) or Oregon (USA). My first choice for this week is going to be Alsace, so look for the French section of the white wine aisle and keep an eye out for Pinot Gris. But I know that we are mostly buying from major supermarkets and this is a lesser found style. If you can’t get that, Oregon Pinot Gris is a good second best. Lastly, head to the New Zealand section.

Week 6 – Grenache / Garnacha

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I happen to know two fantastic winemakers who specialise in Garnacha in Spain. Fernando Mora and Norrel Robertson. Fernando is a ‘garagiste’ winemaker, the term us wine folks use for someone who makes wine in the equivalent of their back yard. His first wine was made in his bath, honestly it was. Given his small quantity production I was lucky to get hold of a bottle to review. We’re told you are able get one if you are interested – just contact us and we’ll tell you how.

Norrel is a Scotsman who moved to the remote Spanish region Calatayud, and is championing their old vine Garnacha. His wines are a little easier to track down: El Puno at Oddbins or Papa Luna at Majestic.

On to the grape in question! There is something unusual about the aroma of Grenache/Garnacha that I don’t quite get. Very Tutti Frutti, which is nice, but there is also an unusual sweet and sour note, with a slightly earthy character. Something I find a bit distracting and potentially I’m just over sensitive to it, because fellow tasters don’t say that as much as me. Plus because it can be a hot climate grape the perfume can be a bit high toned i.e. varnishy. So my previous experience is that I’m a lover of the taste of Garnacha rather than the smell. If I focus too much on the smell I don’t like it!

And on to the wine we are tasting today “Supersonico” by Fernando. This wine has some of that aroma character but thankfully in a gentle way and nice decent note of bright jammy plums – yum. The spicy character comes through in that way a mulled wine gives you a first hit of warming cloves and pepper. Good start.

On the taste this wine really come into its own. It has the sweet supple candied red fruits I expect, very smooth and dense in flavour. There is a lovely texture too; fine but mouth filling. The grape itself has relatively low tannin, so this means the old vine fruit  has delivered this extra layer of concentration. It has warming alcohol but it works well with the layers of spice which are a touch medicinal and liquorice sweet in taste. I love the depth of this wine it keeps giving new flavours, raspberry, cherry, plum, then a bit of root beer, prune, candied peel, star anise, all sorts of luscious sweet and spice flavours. The fruit is very much at the front of its flavour which to me shows the grape have that intensity and that the oak is gentle and not overwhelming.

And I was happy that it was only after drinking the wine I noticed it said “natural” on the label. Checking Fernando’s website I can see it means he’s limited the amount of sulphur he uses to make the wine. This is “bang on trend” and a bit of a controversial topic right now. Sulphur is a preservative and has a long tradition in winemaking. But it isn’t great for the health so many “natural” winemakers have tried stopping using it entirely. I like Fernando’s approach because the wine still tastes squeaky clean. If you’ve ever had the joy of tasting a “bad” natural wine which can have all sort of off flavours you’ll know what I mean…”

Andy says: “Confession time. Each week, we’ve written our notes independently before comparing. This week however, I cheated. I read Emma’s first.”

Nothing hammers home more how little I know or can taste. She’s throwing around terms like ‘prune’, ‘root beer’ and ‘star anise’. Sometimes I think she has access to some sort of wine tasting thesaurus, looks up ‘red wine’, and then chooses three or four synonyms just to mess with me. Red wine, well it’s probably on page one, white wine being alphabetically on page two. How easy is that?

So what can I taste? The only thing I feel confident about is ‘tannin’, in that they’re there, and are soft, gentle and I guess ’round’, as that’s what is usually said.

Andy tip time: You know that feeling when you drink red wine, and your tongue feels like it puckers and your cheeks or teeth go dry? That’s tannin. The firmer the ‘pucker’, the more tannin present.

I think I also get acidity, as my cheeks water heavily after drinking. Nose wise, it’s a bit old leather. I hate myself for typing that, but it’s definitely not ‘new leather’. A hint of VA (volatile acidity), and a wisp of farmyard, neither being unwelcome.

Buying Guide

Whoever voted for Grenache – you pesky people! I knew it would be difficult to decide on which Grenache we taste, and was hoping to leave it until later this year.

Why? Well Grenache is mostly used in blends. When we set out on the 52 grape challenge we said we wanted each week to taste a wine that best expressed the grape it was made from. Sticking with that idea, Spain and Australia are places that make 100% Grenache wines. We’re plumping for Spain, so look for Spanish Old Vine Garnacha from either Calatayud or Carinena regions.

These styles will be pretty similar to the Tempranillo and Barossa Shiraz in recent weeks, so if you do fancy a blend, look for a French Rhone blend – specifically the wines Côtes de Rhone, Gigondas or Vacqueras; which are all from the Rhone area. Look for a recent vintage too.

So go to your local wine shop, head to the Spanish or French red section, and find a wine with those names on the label. If you go French, check the back label in the hope it mentions Grenache is in the blend. If they write Grenache first in the list grapes it means it’s the predominant grape – which is perfect.

Alternatively ask your friendly wine merchant to help!

Week 5 – Zinfandel / Primitivo

Tasting notes

Emma says: “I’m intrigued to see how this week goes, because on a personal note I don’t ever remember really enjoying Zinfandel. It is that sort of lusty bold red that I really don’t get.

A bit of a problem child as a grape because it needs a really hot climate to get ripe and then ripens unevenly, so you can get sweet raisin grapes and green un ripe ones in the same bunch. For me that means it can be jammy and sort of green tasting at the same time.  Not a great combination. Then it easily reaches high alcohol, and since I’m on the petite side that extra % or two of alcohol can make all the difference the day after.

But that is the pleasure of this journey. Bring it on. Let’s find a Zinfandel I love. So we choose a slightly pricey one, Edmeades from Mendocino County in California. On the first sniff it is definitely Zin, slightly spirit-y in fragrance (=alcohol) with very ripe raspberry and cherry fruit but actually there is a nice perfume to it and it feels surprisingly fresh rather than pruney. Good start. To taste it silky textured and smooth with more of that candied cherry and luscious strawberry fruit, it is balancing on a fine thread to being jammy, but hanging in there well. I’m feeling that 15% alcohol but not it isn’t vicious and there is a nice gentle cocoa powder twist from oak.

So I think the learning for me is that if I drink Zinfandel it is going to have to be the pricey stuff. Before now I’ve tended to drink Lodi region Zinfandel which is the biggest commercial area for this grape and those wines have been richer and heavier without the finesse of this one we’ve tried. Mendocino area benefits from cooling coastal breezes which is perhaps the secret of its finesse; Russian river Zins share that character. The other thing to look out for on the label if you do like Zin is “old vine”. This was one of the original planted grapes of California but a lot was pulled up in favour of more famous red grapes. Those old vines have far better balance in the way they produce fruit and so tend to produce the best and most complex styles of Zin.

Oh and if you are trying Primitivo instead of Zin, that is the style I typically favour. It has that pruney intensity but I like more earthy, savoury profile that mingles into the fruit and gives it a different dimension. So I hope you find that difference if you are going Italian this week.”

Andy says: “Let’s get one thing straight: My wine vocabulary is limited. I can sort of recognise tastes and smells, but then struggle to put a name to them. I guess that’s what happens when your diet consists mainly of crisps, chips and pizza.

But, one of the reasons for doing 52 grapes is to help me work out what people mean when they say they can taste leather, petrol, arsenic, or some other thing that would kill you if you actually knew what it tasted like. You know, like Tide pods.
So the wine. On the nose, it’s a bit shoe polish, high notes, and if you take a big old sniff it hits you right between the eyes. Tasting again a day later, that’s softened a bit. It’s 15%, so I’m assuming it’s the alcohol. Watch this space for Emma telling me why it’s not that.
Taste wise, the label says Graham Crackers (no idea, it’s something American), cherry (yep, ok, I’ll give you that), blackberry (never knowingly had one – more childhood issues), and dark chocolate (maybe). For me, mild tannins (only a slight tongue grip), and quite dry. Did I like it? Yes – but I’d like to try it at a lower ABV.”

Buying Guide

This buying guide is the trickiest so far.

Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetically the same grape. The former is mostly found in California producing ripe fruity styles that are heady and full bodied. The latters is a classic from Italy, normally in the southern Puglia region where the intense sun produces rich, fruity and concentrated styles. The thing is the results are dramatically different. For me the Zins are the more straightforward – fruity, even jammy styles. The Primitivo is more classic in the mix of rich raisiny fruit and leathery, savoury undertones. They are equal in quality, so I’m struggling to decide which one we should taste.

Since I’ve tasted a lot of Primitivo recently through work, I’m going to plump for a Californian Zinfandel. But I really am tempted to buy one of each, although I’ve been promising Andy that I’ll stop doing that…

Please note – this is not a White Zinfandel, you’re looking for a red wine. White Zinfandel is the pink version and is basically the Coca Cola of the wine world. It doesn’t really taste of the base grape because the vines used have massive yields, producing watery flavoured grapes. To be pink it has very short contact with the skin, and that’s where most of the flavour sits. Then to finish it off they chuck a load of sugar at it before bottling. I’m not trying to trash talk White Zinfandel, many people love it, but it really has little to do with the grape, and our mission here is to try to taste the best example of the basic grape flavour.

Head to the red wine section where Californian or American wines are located. Then look for a Zinfandel which is normally marked clearly on the front label. And remember – it’s a red wine!

Week 4 – Riesling

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I’m intrigued to see how this week goes. Riesling has got such a bad name for itself and in my mind is due for a reinvention. Maybe our project can, in a small way, nudge this lovely grape back in the right direction?

I’ve again risked the wrath of Andy, bringing home two Rieslings to try. I was in Austria last week for work and was reminded by just how amazing their dry Rieslings are. So it seemed only right to smuggle back a bottle of Brundlmayer Riesling to try alongside the Australian Riesling we’d put in our buying guide. At least I then I have two chances to make Andy love this grape.

I’ll start with my thoughts on the Brundlmayer Austrian Riesling. It was their “Ried Heiligenstein” vineyard which is a special site in the Kamptal area. This tends to mean the wine has more intensity and specific expression. For me it beautifully expresses the lime blossom youthful aroma of a good Riesling. Then on the palate it has that nervy acidity that makes it brilliantly refreshing, lots of lime zest, very bright but with a fresh mineral core that balances the fruit richness and makes it feel as lean as a good Chablis. And the good news is that almost all Austrian Rieslings are dry, so you can make it your “go-to” European region for good dry Riesling.

Then onto the Pike Family Riesling from Clare Valley in Australia. On tasting this is off dry, so not the exact match to my desired example of a bone dry new world Riesling. However that sweetness is really nicely in balance and doesn’t feel noticeable. Its aroma is more of a mellow lime, with tropical pineapple notes that definitely reflects the difference between new and old world styles. Pleasingly there is a hint of petrol that is an early sign of how it will age. And a bit of a savoury green olive tang which I often find in good Oz Rieslings. So a wine with real depth of flavour and richness.

We had this with a sort of lazy tapas style dinner to go with the Rieslings. Homemade guacamole, gouda cheese, olives and a couscous salad (that was mostly eaten by me not Andy). I think that was a perfect array of food matches for Riesling. The acidity cut really well through the cheese and the lime flavours matched really well to the Guac. But if we were being more sophisticated I think a Thai Curry would have been perfect.”

Andy says: “I like Riesling. One of the first wines Emma forced me to taste was a Chilean Riesling. It was clean, crisp, sharp, and an utter joy to drink. This was also the time that I learnt that Riesling is a cliched, underrated, darling of the wine world. “It maintains high acidity whatever the climate, so they’re always zesty and fresh” – wheel that phrase out in wine company and score wine points. (And of course don’t forget the Viognier tastes like Violet tip from Week 2).

On to the wines. The Brundlmayer was bone dry, sour (in a good way), and tasted like Rose’s lime cordial. I mean, not exactly like that, but if you were tasting this and someone was like “Lime cordial”, you’d be like, “Yeah, I get you man”.

Clare Valley – definitely sweeter and with a hint of CO2, given away by a slight but detectable tongue tingle. Aromas of green fruit – predominantly lime (expected) and apple. 

I’m not entirely sure which was my favourite. I think we had the Clare Valley a little too warm (I like my (alcoholic) drinks cold. Except of course for hot toddies, the clue is in the name, but not excepting mulled wine. That’s just some December marketing gimmick to get rid of shit red wine. If you liked it that much you’d drink it in February too, wouldn’t you? Ever seen mulled wine in a bar in February? No.)

So in conclusion, I like both. Brundlmayer probably for a warm summer day picnic (I mean beer garden, but Emma’s reading this). Clare Valley, maybe a bit more every day, as it’s cheaper.”

Buying Guidelines

Many friends have raised an eyebrow in a mixture of shock and disgust when I suggest they try a glass of Riesling. Yet for wine geeks this is often considered among the king of grape varieties. My challenge this week is to try to gain some converts.

I suspect many people have been turned off Riesling by tasting relatively cheap off dry German wines. This isn’t to say German Rieslings are not good, they can be incredible. For this reason I’m suggesting we try a new world dry style. For me these tend to have a more ready appeal to the modern palate.

As a first choice, I recommend finding an Australian Riesling from Clare or Eden Valley – the best areas for creating wines with that beautiful rich lime zest character and elegant floral aromas. Alternative hot spots for dry Riesling are South Africa, Chile or New Zealand, but beware some of them do leave a pesky bit of residual sweetness. Another tip is to venture into your local small wine shop this week and simply ask for a nice “dry Riesling”.

If you want a bit more depth of information about Riesling do check out the grape page which gives you some hints on how to find a German Riesling that may be a drier style too.

Week 3 – Syrah/Shiraz

Tasting Notes

Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield ShirazEmma says: “I’m concerned that now I’ve promised Andy this wine will taste like one of his favourite crisp varieties “Frazzles”, that he will be disappointed if this doesn’t turn out to be a bacon wine.

My hope is that this wine really shows that beautiful bold fruit of the new world Shiraz but with that sophistication that comes from Barossa; that bit more complexity and dimension.

And wow, this Chateau Tanunda wine has certainly a lot of power. The aromas are really diverse, the fruit bursts from the glass, lots of raspberry & blueberry, very ripe but not too jammy. It might not have a bacon aroma, but it has this wild savoury character typical of Shiraz, smoky with an oriental spice twist. There is also a distinct molasses or brown sugar note which I always find in these wines; something that makes them very enticing. Plus there is a definite hint of eucalyptus, a classic note of Australian reds, apparently because the grape skins do absorb these characters from the abundant local eucalyptus trees.

Then to taste it is as succulent and rich as expected. I do love the way Shiraz feels rich and velvety in texture when it comes from a warm climate like Barossa. And paying that little bit extra (£15) for this wine has paid off. It has a real array of flavours from the dense red fruits to the sweet menthol, licquorice spice, then a hint of vanilla sweetness and brown sugar to finish. To put it simply this wine is GOOD. I’m glad I don’t have the bottle with me or I’d finish it.

Something I didn’t get from this wine is black pepper. That is a character of Shiraz that so many people tell me about but I always seem to miss. It used to frustrate me a lot when I was blind tasting for my wine exams, but then I read it is just one of those sensory characters that some people are more sensitive to than others.  You might want to test which camp you fall into with your Shiraz.

 And one more thing to watch out for from the Shiraz/Syrah you are tasting. This is a grape that is prone to reduction (see my Terminology section) so you might find when you open the bottle is can be dumb or flat, maybe with an eggy aroma. If that is the case swirl it in the glass or decant it. Give it time and the oxygen can reverse that problem and you’ll start to notice it becomes fruiter and generally wakes up.

For food matching, it is true that Frazzles may be your ultimate pre dinner match for this wine. But if you are feeling more sensible and want to have a decent dinner with it I’d advise food with equally bold flavours, maybe spiced or barbecued meats. Or for those on Veganuary you can go for padron peppers, roasted vegetable lasagna or tortilla.”

Andy says: “Australian Shiraz this week, and I’ve been looking forward to this ever since Emma said that it might taste like Frazzles, the king of bacon flavoured corn based snacks. She admitted privately that she meant French Shiraz and not Shiraz in general, so we’re off to a bad start.

I was hoping for something more from this full bodied red. There was mild tannin (that ‘grip’ you get on the tongue’), a whisper of smoke, and quite a short finish. It was lacking the punch in the mouth burst of flavour that I was hoping for. You know, that one that knocks you back a little and makes you go ‘wow, ok’. Actually, on second thoughts the finish isn’t that short, but does fade sooner than you’d like.

A day or so after opening and the wine opens up, and I get more fruit and mild hint of a jammy character, but still lacking a bit of intensity for me. Maybe that’s the idea… maybe, omg, I’m learning.

Still probably my favourite of the three so far.”

Buying Guidelines

If you’ve read the grape guide pages, then you’ll know Shiraz/Syrah is the grape I have come to view as “sexy” through the influence of a Mexican winery owner. Yes, indeed.

When I thought of which particular Shiraz/Syrah we should taste I thought I’d have to go straight to the style I would put most firmly in that “sexy” camp. I might be wrong, but I find the Barossa (Australian) style Shiraz the one that has those wickedly enticing flavours, and that’s what we’ll be trying this week. It is all raspberry ripple, brown sugar and velvet in its texture. Plus, the alcohol is a bit of a devil because it can often reach 14% or more. [Warning – you might not feel so sexy the next day after that bottle]

Finding this wine should be relatively simple because most retailers, large or small, should stock an Australian Shiraz. So this week head to the Australian section and find a Shiraz from the Barossa, McLaren Vale or Hunter Valley regions. This should represent best bang for buck.

Whilst we really want you to taste the same thing as us, if you’ve drunk a lot of Aussie Shiraz before and find this a boring option, then try some styles a little further afield. There are some great Syrahs from New Zealand (Hawkes Bay), South Africa (Paarl), Chile (Limari or Elqui Valley), California or even Canada (Okanagan). Get stuck in.

Finally, if you are not a fan of ripe fruity new world wines then you can go old world and give us some thoughts on the classics. The region most known for pure Syrah is the Rhone Valley. Northern villages of that region like Cote Rotie, St Joseph or Cornas produce amazing wines of great intensity and they have more complexity in additional infusions of wild herbs, black olives and more earthy savoury notes.

Oh and look out for bacon flavours or aromas. For some reason good Syrah always smells to me like a packet of Frazzles. I’d like to know if anyone else gets that…

Week 2 – Viognier

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “OK, I admit it. This whole 52 grape thing has got me overexcited. This week I realised it was the perfect excuse to go back to buying wines I’ve never tasted from an eclectic mix of stores. Just like I used to do before wine become my job.”

So yes, I bought two Viogniers. The reason, well like I said in the buying guide, it can be dramatically different in style and I wanted to learn which would be Andy’s favourite. The first is Domaine les Yeuses Viognier 2016 Pays’Doc; so South of France – I stuck to that promise. Then I got lured into buying a Sonoma (California) Viognier from Cline cellars; a well known winery from that part of the world but not a wine I’ve tasted from them before.

Actually I’m not expecting Andy or many other of our fellow tasters to naturally like this grape.  It fits a certain flavour profile that I think appeals to only some people. If you like your whites to have character and find those dry Italian whites boring, it could be for you. On the other hand some people find it too overtly floral, rich and fruity.

So what did I make of them. As I suspected, Domaine Les Yeuses Viognier 2016 was definitely my favourite. The unoaked French styles have more zip, freshness and a good grapefruit pith bite. You do get that lovely violet perfume but it is mild not overdone. Plus there is a sort of mineral saline back bone that gives it a bit of complexity. This is a rich wine but not overtly so.

Then you move onto the Cline Viognier. And wow, it is a different ball game entirely. First the fruit is very ripe, tinned peaches and orange blossom aromas, then ripe apricots, creamy and textured on the palate. You also get a mild menthol note and a violet cream richness. So it has complexity. But it is a little too supercharged to me. Just a personal preference thing. But when I drink wines this like I only ever really want one glass. Plus the alcohol is 14% – ouch that is big for a white wine.

As for food matching, I think the French Viognier would be more versatile. It would go well with things that have a touch of spice like chicken paprika dishes, paella or rich cheese like halloumi or feta. Then the Cline Viognier has that bit more power so it can stand up to dishes with Tex Mex flavours or Moroccan tagines.

Now over to you, have we got any converts?  And don’t forget to check out the Viognier page to read more about this grape.

Andy says: “So once again this week we are tasting two different versions of the ‘same wine’. This is not normal, and was not the idea for the site – you really don’t have to try more than one. I’m putting it down to youthful exuberance on Emma’s part. Hopefully it will wear off soon and we’ll just be having the one and I won’t have to think so much.”

On to the wines. According to Emma’s excellent notes, I should be getting grapefruit, apricot and violet. Let’s take those one by one.

In the same way a parsnip tricks you into thinking it’s a lovely roast potato, a grapefruit is basically an evil orange. You’re expecting some sweet juicy goodness, but instead you bite into a sour bitter ball of hell. I don’t like parsnips, and I don’t like grapefruit. Unfortunately I’m picking up grapefruit flavour profiles here, fortunately there is no hint of parsnip.

Apricot – the jam you nan has, right? She doesn’t have marmite or nutella, just apricot jam, and some out of date all bran. I don’t like apricots (childhood issues) and to be honest I couldn’t even think what they might taste like (unlike grapefruit, I do know that taste, because Tequila n’ Ting) – so no, I don’t get the apricot bit. Grapefruit yes, apricot no. One out of two so far.

Violet? Violet is a colour, not a taste. But! AHA! Parma Violets! Those awful, awful tiny purple sweets! Yes, ok, I can smell that. When Emma first started trying to educate me about wine a few years ago, I remember her pouring me a Viognier and me saying “this smells like Parma Violets”, and her being amazed that I’d said that, as violet was a typical Viognier note. Violet and Viognier both start with V, which is a nice way to remember. You can look forwards to more top tips like that through the year.

The Domaine Les Yeuses was quite sour, and I found that it made my mouth water quite a lot, especially from the cheeks. It wasn’t an unpleasant wine, but I wouldn’t say I was loving it. Maybe a hot summer’s day would be more suitable.

The Cline I found to be a little sweeter, and of the two was my preference. But, it was also quite soapy and had a whiff of those cherry lip sweets that probably don’t exist anymore. I didn’t really like them, either

In summary, I think I’ve found that I’m not a massive Viognier fan. All the things it’s supposed to taste like are things I basically don’t like.

Buying Guidelines

Picking a benchmark Viognier isn’t easy as it’s available in so many different styles. Oaked or unoaked? New World or classic European? Warm or cool climate? Each of these styles will be very different.

When this is the case, we’ll try to describe how to buy a wine we think best represents the pure taste of the base material – the grape.

Condrieu is the famous Viognier region, but it’s small and the wines from there tend to be pricey. You’re also unlikely to find Condrieu in the supermarket, so unlike last week when we said to find a Rioja (a region that predominantly uses Tempranillo), this week we simply want you head to the French whites section of the wine aisle and look for any Viognier.

It is likely to come from the South of France – the Languedoc or Rhone to be specific. In general, most of the wines from that area will have little or no oak, but if the back label says “unoaked”, even better!

If you do spot a Condrieu, feel free to buy it. It will give you a taste of the intensity this grape can really achieve.

If for some reason your shop lacks French Viognier then do try an Australian or other new world style. It will taste a lot riper and richer than the style we’ll try, but we’ll welcome your thoughts on those too.

Week 1 – Tempranillo

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Week one and the pressure is on. Have I selected the right wines that will show Andy exactly what Tempranillo and Rioja is capable of? This is a complication I hadn’t quite factored into the challenge.

Here are the wines I chose: Perez Burton Rioja and Romeral Crianza Rioja.

I tried to select two close in price and not too pricey, just a touch over £10. One was from a producer I know is modern –  the “Perez Burton Rioja” by winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. He originates from Rioja, and studied winemaking in Bordeaux before returning to Spain, bringing new ideas and techniques. His wine did exactly what I hoped, it has a lively strawberry fruit aroma, then more bramble berry richness to taste, plus that lick of oak flavour giving chocolate sweetness; but all in all it is the fruit that is the star of this wine. And it has this purity in taste, plus a rich but fine texture that is the hallmark of modern styles.

And the second wine, Romeral Crianza Rioja was different from the Perez as I had hoped. The aroma was definitely more cedar noted, and spicy. The fruit wasn’t quite as showy, it was mixing in with those more savoury spicy characters that are a feature of traditional styles. I have to admit there is a year more age in this wine which does account for why the Perez Burton is more fruity, as the fruit does start to be overtaken by these other characters as it ages. I also think if we’d chosen a Reserva or Gran Reserva of the Romeral wines we’d have seen a bigger difference. When you taste those styles the fruit goes to strawberry compote and the spices get softer, more cinnamon and cocoa powder.

So what creates this difference between traditional and modern styles? Well there are lots of factors, but for me the simplest way to explain it is that modernistas try to make the wine so that the fruit flavours remain bright even as the wine ages. Sometimes traditional styles have been criticised for getting dried out and tired as they age, but to be honest I’m actually a real fan of the traditional style because I love the complexity of how all the savoury and spice notes start to overlay the fruit after time. However in this experiment I was more on the side of the Perez Burton.”

Andy says: “So week one and two Riojas / Tempranillos to taste, a modern and a classic. I didn’t know which was which and attempted to work it out following the guidelines above. I ballsed it up.

I know very little (nothing?) about wine, but I have had quite a few bottles of Rioja in my time. It’s usually smokey, smooth and creamy. Of our two, the Perez Burton was closest to what I recall as being Rioja, so I guessed it was the traditional one. It wasn’t. It was the fruitier of the two, and if I put my arty farty wine cap on, I’d say I could taste blackcurrant jam. The label informs me to taste cocoa, sorry label, but I can’t.

The Romeral by comparison, was a little ‘thinner’ and less tasty than the Perez. Again with the arty farty wine cap on, I’d say it had a little more volatile acidity (‘VA’ as the experts say. I’m probably wrong, but the way I detect VA is to get acetone-y, nail varnish remover-y notes on the nose).

A little disappointed in both (where’s the smoke?!), but of the two I’d choose the Perez.”

Buying Guidelines

Tempranillo is the main grape in Rioja. We chose this for week one as we assumed most of you would be familiar with it, and so it can be a good introduction to writing down your thoughts as the taste might be already well known.

Just in case you hadn’t clicked, the idea is that each week, within reason, we all taste the ‘same’ wine. The safest and easiest way to find a wine to match ours this week is to head to the Spanish section of the wine aisle. Find the Riojas and look for a bottle that says Tempranillo on the front or back label, as that way you can be sure it is made predominantly with that grape in the blend. If it doesn’t say Tempranillo on either label, then we can’t be sure that that is the predominant grape.

We want to taste a real “classic” Tempranillo which is aged in oak, so look for a Rioja called “Crianza” or “Reserva”. Those are terms used to mean the wine has spent some time ageing in oak.

Wineries tend to split into two style camps; traditional or modern, and we can’t be sure of the style of producer you will select. The traditional styles have gentler, sweet fruit, more cinnamon, sweet spice and savoury characters, whilst the modern style is more structured, more vibrant, blackcurrant fruit and peppery, clove-y spice. When tasting, see if you can spot which style you have.

We’ll pick up two bottles and comment on both styles. It would be impossible to guide everyone how to do the same. This way we thought that we can cover the bases so nobody should be left out.

For people who want to go slightly off the beaten track, you can pick another Tempranillo from Spain – the Ribera del Duero region makes wines from often 100% Tempranillo and can be a lovely option if you want to explore styles a little and join in that way.

Not long now

We have been delighted, excited and slightly unnerved to see so many of you sign up to 52 Grapes. It is great to see how many people want to share our adventure into the grape beyond. We now have over 100 followers with members scattered as far as New York, Toronto, Paris and Beirut. Thank you for signing up!

We’re still tweaking the website, so apologies if something moves or things look different each time you pop over for a visit.

It’s only a few days now until January rolls around. We’ll put up the Week 1 page for Tempranillo very soon. If you try it before we do, just post your comments at the bottom of the page.

Happy New Year and see you all soon for the first proper post!

Week 0 – Arneis

Ascheri Langhe Arneis

This is a sample post to show what pages will look like when we start, using the grape Arneis. We might do it again later in the year.

Emma says: “Shuffle over Gavi, this little grape is the northern Italian white that really deserves the spotlight. It has that bone dry crisp and refreshing style that fans of Pinot Grigio love but so much more in flavour. 

As I wrote in my page on this grape it’s also a favourite with locals. And I love the fact its name means “little rascal”

This version from Ascheri is a perfect example. Slightly honeysuckle floral on the nose, but it really comes alive on the palate, pear compote and cream flavours but that fresh acidity to balance that makes the mouth water. I don’t think you’d find many other examples better than this. 

For more ideas on other grapes to try or food matches check out the Arneis page I’ve written. But my perfect food match for this wine would be a lovely chicken breast casserole in a creamy sauce, the peachy flavours of the wine would combine nicely and the fresh acidity could cut through the sauce.”

Andy says: “Disclaimer: I tasted this after eating some home made garlic bread, so not ideal palate preparation.

I quite liked this wine, it was clean and crisp, but to be honest I don’t have much more to say, it’s just a bit ‘white wine-y’. It’s definitely fruity, but I’m not really getting any of the ‘classic’ apple and peachy notes that I’m supposed to. Garlic, yes, apple, no. Would I drink it again? Yeah, it’s not offensive in any way, just a bit middle of the road.”

User Comment: “I agree with Andy this time. We tried an Arneis that we found at our local Oddbins. It was quaffable but not life changing.

Price was a bit more than our usual “Friday wine”, glad to have tried it but not on the re-buy list.