Friday, 23 December 2011

2011 review: my best bits

If you're feverishly searching for last minute Christmas wine recommendations – and you really are cutting it fine – then please have a look at my previous two posts on this blog.

In the caring sharing spirit of Christmas, I offer here just one nugget that could save your bacon. If you seek the perfect wine match for Christmas pudding, then look no further than Moscatel de Valencia, a ridiculously under-priced dessert wine from Spain. Its luscious sweetness with an orange marmelade edge makes the pudding sing. Sainsburys' version is just £3.98 a bottle. If you're quick you might just make it...

This column is devoted to a review of the best bits of 2011. Here, in no particular order, are my personal highlights of the year:

  • Tasting top class Aussie Rieslings courtesy of Jacob's Creek at “wine workshop and kitchen” 28-50 in London. The 2005 Steingarten Riesling was the highlight, but Jacob's Creek Riesling Reserve 2010 was pretty delicious too: fresh and lively (and limey), floral but dry – a great palate cleanser.

  • A Bollinger Grande Année masterclass, with chef de cave Mathieu Kaufmann, where I learned that I have expensive tastes when it comes to Champagne. Bollinger Grande Année Rose 1996 was my favourite, if you're reading this, Santa. Completely beguiling, luxurious stuff which, sadly, I can't afford.

  • Marcelo Retamel, Chilean winemaker (at the family-owned De Martino winery) and Iron Maiden fan, describing his return from the Dark Side of wine-making. Tasting the first vintage (another 1996) of his single vineyard Carmenère was a delicious reminder of how good wine can be when allowed to mature without the added glitz of selected yeasts, new oak and other winemaking frippery. Look out for the 2010 vintage of the Alto de Piedras Carmenère when it arrives at the Wine Society, which marks his return to the more natural style of winemaking that characterised that first vintage back in 1996. 
  • I can't honestly remember what the exact bottle was, but drinking fizz in spring sunshine at our Royal Wedding street party felt both modern and traditional at the same time.

  • Meeting Chester Osborn, legendary Australian winemaker at d'Arenberg and infamous wearer of loud shirts, and his collection of wine-themed fluffy toys at a wine “speed tasting”. His Money Spider Roussanne 2009 was one of my favourites at the whistle-stop tasting.

  • Tasting Tio Pepe “en rama” at Bar Pepito in King's Cross (a must for sherry lovers) and then seeing how well it stood up to their excellent range of tapas. The summer weather may have been a let-down, but that day was a true taste of the Mediterranean. “En rama” is a special, full-flavoured, unfiltered bottling of Tio Pepe that sells out (mostly to those in the know in the wine trade) almost as soon as it hits these shores. The classic Tio Pepe, however, is widely available for around a tenner.

  • Getting to grips with the new face of Portugal's Vinho Verde at a fascinating tasting this summer. I learned that Vinho Verde is not green and doesn't have to be redolent of soluble aspirin – and it can also be red! 
  • Buying an exotic-looking liqueur in France over the summer, only to find it was none other than that British Christmas stalwart, sloe gin. Equally nice served cold in the summer, I can helpfully tell you.

  • Spending three footsore days working at the London wine trade's annual fair in May – but my reward was to be responsible for encouraging visitors to taste a great selection of interesting, individual and delicious wines from Southwest France.

  • The taste of Graham's Malvedos 1958 single quinta port – still looking and tasting good at 50!

  • Tasting Zind-Humbrecht's Rangen de Thann Clos-Saint-Urbain Gewurztraminer 2009 at the first dedicated biodynamic wine tasting in London in November. Olivier Humbrecht (Master of Wine and PhD) has managed to create a perfect marriage of grape variety to terroir making for an unforgettable wine experience.

  • Seeing how Hunter Valley Semillon ages (well, it turns out) courtesy of a vertical tasting of Neil McGuigan's Bin 9000 Semillons back to 1997.

  • Drinking nothing but Champagne for 3 days (OK and some water) during my first study tour of the region.

Life could be worse! Wishing you a suitably merry time over the next couple of weeks. See you all in 2012.

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