Winetraders 20/20 Tasting

Now I attend my share of tastings throughout the year, some more interesting than others. Last Fall I attended 20/20, an all Italian affair hosted by specialist importer Winetraders, with the head honcho and fellow Canuck Michael Palij MW showcasing twenty wineries all working on less than 20 hectares of land. A very intriguing set up and some equally exciting wines.

First to pique my interest were two wines from the tiny 5 hectares of Azienda Agricola Adalia. Located outside Verona, their Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2011 smelt invitingly of wet game, liquorice & truffle. On the palate that promised gaminess was there, nicely textured, fine fruit and balanced tannins. Giving AAA’s Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2009 a good sniff, I got fragrant ripe forest fruit and fudge. In the mouth it was spicy smoky charcoal, sensual yet muscular, with great texture and body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.30.11My Dad’s favorite number is eleven, and it proved lucky indeed as #11 on the tasting sheet was Lambrusco “Fontana dei Boschi” IGT 2010 made by the eccentric and mysterious Vittorio Graziano at his minute property south of Modena in Emilia Romagna. My nostrils are grabbed, and my brain is instantly engaged with it’s very pleasant earthy funky wild sour fruit aromas. Sip. Bam! Socked in the mouth with zip zing mature red fruit, subtle popping spritz and perfectly grained tannins. This grown up wine sang to me truthfully of it’s terroirs and the loving care with which it is produced. Somehow, in a tumbledown cellar, doing everything by hand, Vittorio managed to take a terribly unfashionable grape variety and transform it into my stand out wine of 2013. I loved it!

Numero 13 is considered a bad omen by some, but superstitions were cast aside with a tremendous Lugana Superiore DOC 2010. Aromas of rich honeyed fruit & hints of butter were followed faithfully with smoky, lush buttery floral fruit on the palate. Winemaker Nunzio Ghiraldi tends his Trebbiano di Lugana grapes with great care, to produce a luxurious, fine white wine with an achingly long and dare I say scrummy finish. IMG_3292

Another white of note, Roero Arneis ‘Camestri’ DOCG 2012 is made from the not terribly well known native Italian grape Arneiswhich loves the hills of Roero in Piedmont (north-west Italy). Produced by Azienda Agricola Marco Porello it draws you in with subtle but fragrant wet stone and lime leaves. Really enjoyed it’s vibrant flavours of passionfruit, grey slate and the long clean lime finish.

I have become a recent convert to good Dolcetto and Mascarello ‘Bricco’ DOC 2011 is most certainly of the aforementioned ilk. The Mascarello family have been making wine in Lange (Piedmont) since 1881 and their Dolcetto D’Alba (Alba refers to the specific area that the Dolcetto comes from) gives off a beautiful bright berry perfume with hints of candy liquorice cigar. Sipping it, first to arrive is gummy bears, followed by juicy bright happy berry fruit. It’s tannins are supple and is an interesting wine indeed.

Barolo, the “grande vino” of Piedmont made from the Nebbiolo grape is an obsession for many. But it can be notoriously complex and difficult to wrap your taste buds around. It often lacks obvious fruit character and its tannins can leave even a seasoned wino like myself gasping for a glass of water. Not the case with Azienda Agricola Bovio’s brilliantly named ‘Rocchettevino’ DOCG 2008. To my nose wild sour meaty fruit beckoned me to taste. Tea tannins, happy acidity merged with ripe aged fruit and a lovely piece of Christmas cake. I liked it very much.

Before moving onto the sweet wines, I scoffed a few delicious bites to keep my energy up. Twas no surprise that said nibbles were of a very high standard, as the tasting was held at Vinoteca Soho, which one of four excellent wine bars/restaurants/shops dotted around London.

IMG_3290Things got off to a groovy start at the pudding wine table with a jazzy, fizzy little number by the name of ‘Birbet’ Vino da Tavola 2012 from our pal Marco Porello, who is obviously a very talented winemaker. Made from Piedmont’s secret weapon Brachetto, this gently sparkling red, with notes of: pink grapefruit candy on the nose, is unctuous, effervescent, berry gummy (forgive me) yummy and supremely drinkable. Coming in at a very civilised 5% AVB it’s no wonder I fell for it.

The next wine was from Liguria, a lovely coastal province just over the border from France and where some years ago was the backdrop to a memorable holiday romance. Giulaini & Pasini’s ‘Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá’ DOC 2008 left me breathless with aromas of apricot, creme caramel and toasted almonds. On the palate I was seduced by voluptuous peach, firm jasmine tea, melting caramel and a rich sensual finish that lingered so long I lost track of time. Using Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino varieties Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá (Cinque Terre refers to the dramatic coastline where the wines come from) is produced in the Passito method, sometimes referred to as Straw Wine, where ripe grapes are left to dry on ventilated racks, thus intensifying their sweetness. This particular amber goddess left me swooning, starry eyed, taking me back  to that small town of Riva Ligure, lo those many moons ago. Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.34.56

Despite my lightheaded state I soldiered on and am glad I did because next was the fabulously delicious Azienda Agricola Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2006. Pantelleria (which does sound like a great place to buy Italian undergarments) is a tiny island south of Sicily and is renowned for it’s sweet wines. Winemaker Salvatore and his wife, Dominica produce their superb Passito on just two hectares of land from Muscat of Alexandria but is known locally as Zibibbo (a great name for a 6th Marx brother if you asked me). Lifting it to my stout I’m a bit taken aback, what’s that on the nose? Well I’ll be… it’s inviting warm gingerbread and baked peach, then tasting it, my mouth is coated in luxurious caramel and intense apricot. The finish is long and fine. Bravo!

Goodness, I really enjoyed that. What a treat it was to sample wines made in such small quantities with real dedication, passion and creativity.

The wines are available through various UK merchants, so do drop Winetraders a message for further info.

A special thanks to Emanuele at R&R Teamwork for inviting me along.





Champion Beers of Britain 2000-13

I got very excited when the invite for this sudsy retrospective arrived in my inbox. An opportunity to taste the best beers as voted by CAMRA(Campaign for Real Ale) of the past 14 years all in one go, what a treat!

This unique event was held at The Bull in Highgate(North London), a venue that had long been on my malt liquor hit list. A very cosy pub with great staff and an impressive array of cask ales. All but one of the pumps(Pete’s Coffee Porter by Pete & London Brewing Company, which was pretty good) were dedicated to the aforementioned Champ E On A’s.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.07.30 Some of the beers I’d had before and others were totally new to me so armed with my tasting sheet, pen and a glass I tucked in.

I took a rather simplistic approach to tasting the line up of royal real ales, as they were arranged on 2 floors, I tasted the ones downstairs first in order of ascending ABV and then did the same with the winners upstairs.

Here’s what I thought;

2000Moorhouse Black Cat Mild/3.4% – This was hands down my least favourite beer. Dull, thin, watery cola that was almost tasteless. A real disappointment. 3.5/10

2001Oakham Ales Jeffrey Hudson Bitter/3.8% – Despite it’s shortened name of JHB sounding like something you would go to jail for, this is a seriously good beer. Tons of depth, flavour, balance & character. A session ale of the highest order. 8/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.47

2002Caledonian Deuchars IPA/3.8% – I know this beer well and have had some excellent pints of it(mostly in Edinburgh) and some rather bad ones(in London). But it showed well, clinging to the mouth, taught hoppiness & very fragrant nose. 6.5/10

2003Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blonde/4.2% – A favorite of mine in bottle and on keg, but B & T was off the pace a bit in cask. It’s freshness and intensity muted somewhat. Lacked bite but still a good brew. 7/10

2004Kelham Island Pale Rider Golden Ale/5.2% – I’ve had this in the past once or twice and have thought it a decent beer. The nose however is not welcoming, reminded me of skunk cabbage. It was a bit soapy and lacked some definition. Better than average though. 6.25/10

2005 & 2006 Crouch Vale Brewers Gold Blonde Ale/4.0% – The only double winner of the past 14 years and deservedly so. I buy this in bottle often from my local Morrison’s as it’s one of the only good beers they stock. Bright, crisp & refreshing, with a lemon pith grassy finish. A worthy back to back Champ, top stuff. 7.5/10

2007Hobson’s Mild/3.2% – Now I’m one of those Philistines who struggles to appreciate Mild, but that said Hobson’s is definitely one of the best I’ve tried. Lean, woody mushroom, tangy coffee and very drinkable. 7/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.04.27

2008Triple FFF Brewery Alton’s Pride Bitter/3.8% – With a strong nose of farmyard and super dry hop character that left me wanting another sip, so was easy to see why this beer had its admirers, but it didn’t wow me. 6.5/10

2009Rudgate Ruby Mild/4.4% – Soapy, somewhat astringent and rather ho hum. A champion? Not nearly. 5/10

2010Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale/3.8% – I remember this beer because it was my first year at GBBF(Great British Beer Festival) and they announced it over the tannoy. Buttery and bright with notes of sunflower seeds and lemon. Drinkable but nothing to sing about. 6/10

2011The Mighty Oak Brewery Oscar Wilde Mild/3.7% – Despite its rhyming name honouring a great writer & humourist, I was left wondering where this beer’s wit and charm were. I liked the creamy fleshy texture but found little else to praise. 5.5/10

2012Coniston Brewing Company No. 9 Barley Wine/8.5% – Very impressive this stuff.  Irn Bru in colour muted peach and sandy soil on the nose. Dry malty apricot, firm structure, good balance, long dry citrus finish. Company No. 9 is a complex wonderful brew, heartily deserving the crown in 2012 and was my beer of the night. 8.75/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.00

2013Elland Brewery 1872 Porter/6.5% – Another great beer. Bitter chocolate, espresso, molasses notes, yet retaining freshness and sharp hop bite. Long persistent and well balanced. 8.25/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.24

Now some of my critique may seem harsh, but when it comes to judging beer(or anything else for that matter) personal taste will always play the biggest part in whether you like, love or loath something. Some of my colleagues really liked some of the beers that I didn’t, that’s just way the malt crackles…

There were some nice snacks thrown on by our hosts Warminster Maltings and R&R Teamwork to soak up all the beers.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 15.58.50 But I found myself returning to the glasses of Maris Otter Malted Barley. Nutty, malty, crunchy with a hint of sweetness, I would happily have bowls of it to snack on at my next dinner party.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 15.58.19

Now I may not agree with CAMRA on everything(their hardliners superstitious view of keg beers for one) and certainly would not have voted to elevate some of these cask ales to Champion. However, considering how long ago some of the beers won, I was on the average pleased with the overall quality, if not wild about the beer itself. I did catch up with some old pals and met some lovely new folks as well, so all in all it was an excellent soiree.