Last night saw the wife and I return to Chester Beer and Wines for the second of five sessions of their tasting course, and the subject this week was the Burgundian grape varieties. Firstly, however, I should say how impressed I am with the course so far, the tutor Mervyn is excellent and the other attendees great company. I was in two minds whether to book myself on it – I like to think I’m reasonably comfortable with at least the main French varieties and regions together with their new world counterparts. What has surprised me, however, is how much you learn by drinking reasonable amounts of contrasting wines in parallel, and discussing it with like minded people. My usual approach is to drink single bottles sequentially, or alternatively attending tasting events where you are given a miserly splash after miserly splash – I can only assume I don’t give off a sufficiently affluent air!
Anyway, on to the tasting. We started with a flight of three Chardonnays, an austere Chablis, a fruit forward unoaked Aussie, and an oaked number from Chile. First up was the 2014 Domaine Laroche Chablis. Pale straw in colour with a translucent edge, it was all apple on the nose and acid in the mouth. I love Chablis, and expect this will be a great wine once mellowed in a years time or so, but at £18 (I’ve seen it for even more elsewhere) better value can be had. Next up was the 2015 One Chain Vineyards “The Googly”, taking our tastebuds from the orchard to the tropics. Deeper coloured than the Chablis, the apple aromas were replaced with delicious bananas and honey, and pineapple and mango seemed to join in the party on the palate. With a medium body and acidity this seems to me to be a bargain at £7.75 – I’ll be snaffling up a few of these! Lastly we had the 2013 Casas Del Bosque from the Casablanca valley in Chile. The scent of butter was rather spoiled by acrid smoke – more peat than burnt toast, and some of the group found it off putting. It’s gentle compared to a peated whisky so I wasn’t going to be deterred, and in fairness it was better to taste – butter popcorn flavour dominating with just a hint of smoke. It’s reasonably priced at £11.
We then moved onto the Pinot Noir. First up was the 2011 Stop Banks, from Marlborough. It’s a funny thing when you approach a wine with expectations, whether due to grape variety, region or appellation. If those expectations aren’t met it can leave a bad impression, even if the wine is pleasant enough in its own right. This was the case with this Kiwi, in-spite of it’s age (it had already turned brick orange) the high acidity and lightness spoke more of Gamay than Pinot Noir, more a counterpart to Beaujolais than Burgundy. In spite of that there was some nice oak and savoury forest floor notes in there, and at only £9.75 I might be inclined to grab a bottle for a second opinion. Next up was the 2013 Domaine Valmoissine. Now this is an IGP rather than an AOP wine, and not one I’d probably pick. Not because of snobbery, but rather the appellation system giving a sense of the devil you know. The wine comes from the village of Aups, in the hills about 30 miles north of St Tropez, the fact that the vines are 500m above sea level (roughly a Moel Fammau) presumably mitigating the heat. The fact it’s from the stable of Louis Latour is probably a hint that it will be decent, and indeed it was. Deep garnet in colour, with medium acidity, supple tannins and enough fruit to balance the earthy and farmyard flavours, this was my favourite wine of the night. At £13.25 not bad value either.
Last wine of the night was the 2013 Gnarly Head (£13.50). I’ve never had a Californian Pinot Noir before, and if this is anything to go by, I’ll be happy never to have it again! It was deep purple in hue rather than the red I expect, and the flavours followed suit, the red fruits I consistently taste in Pinot Noir gave way to blackcurrant. Cloying, concentrated Ribena, with little to no structural elements to balance it. What is odd is that it was quite popular in the class, in fact for both the whites and reds the class was split pretty evenly, with only the Casas Del Bosque getting little love in the room, which goes to show, it takes all sorts! It’s Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon next week, done in the same format, I can’t wait.