Grapevine Archive for sweet

Wed 02 Nov 2016

Staff Choice: A Christmas Ritual

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Some of us are better at preparing for Christmas than others.

For our colleague Dave Collins, October is the time when the culinary pre-work begins; and this glorious sweet wine from the south of France plays a pivotal role.

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Monbazillac, Château Pech la Calevie 2013

The ritual starts in October with a call to visit the in-laws to help stir the Christmas pudding mix and, of course, make a wish. I may be in my fifties but sometimes I have to just do my duty (and anyway, who hasn’t got the odd unfulfilled wish they would like to remind the gods about?).

The next time I see the concoction is just after a seafood Christmas lunch as it is removed from a pot of boiling water where it has just spent the last six hours or so. As this happens our glasses are charged with generous servings of Monbazilliac and our Christmas ritual, which we have followed for more than 20 years, is almost complete.

The observant visitor may notice that the bottle was already open as the first third was consumed with the pâté starter, but to my mind this strongly aromatic sweet wine works so well with Christmas pudding that I cannot imagine Christmas without it.

Dave Collins
Analyst/Programmer

£12.95 – Bottle
£155 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : France, South of France
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Thu 11 Aug 2016

Calcaia: Italy’s Sauternes?

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Barberani's CalcaiaBarberani’s Calcaia

One of the real gems of Umbria is Barbarani’s delicious sweet white wine, Calcaia. It is a hard wine to sell, as it falls into its own category in a way, however whenever it is shown at a tasting, it gets a very warm welcome indeed.

Calcaia Orvieto is made with thanks to botrytis cineria aka noble rot, which is brought on by the vineyards’ proximity to Lake Corbara. The fog which develops through the night envelops the vines until the cool morning winds clears it away so the vines can enjoy the sun. This process brings on noble rot, which dries out the grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars and the flavour.

As sweet wine goes and in comparison to Sauternes, the Calcaia is a beautifully light and elegant style. Alcohol tends to come in around 10-10.5% and the wine is beautifully crisp, fresh, pure and bright – no wonder it is so often a hit with our members when it is tasted.

In order to really get the best idea of how this wine will age, we recently opened a few back-vintages, which Italy buyer Sebastian Payne MW had very handily tucked away over the past few years.

Grechetto grapes in Barberani's vineyards affected by 'muffa nobile'Grechetto affected by ‘muffa nobile’

Sebastian explained how this wine is painstakingly produced, with individual berries being picked, over sometimes five or six harvests in order to account for the different grapes achieving the same level of noble rot at different times. The varieties used are grechetto and trebbiano procanico, two grapes widely planted in Umbria, although grechetto actually has Greek origins and it tends to be these two grapes which feature in most vintages of this wine, albeit with a few tweaks from one year’s blend to the next.

The first vintage of this wine was made in 1986 and although we didn’t have the opportunity to taste that far back on this occasion, we did have a bottle of 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages, along with the 2013 and the soon-to-be-released 2014.

2014: Bright, pure beeswax on the nose with a mouthwatering touch of honey and apricot. Light on the palate, very fresh and clean with perfectly poised acidity. Youthful and fine.

2013: Slightly deeper fruit aromas on the nose with a little more botrytis evident. Fresh acidity remains and a nice weight on the palate. Complex, layered and delicious.

2007: Golden in colour. Unctuous palate with more of the beeswax notes and barley sugar. Some of the acidity has now rounded out but is still very well balanced with stunningly vivid caramelised orange-peel notes and a slight hint of burning incense.

2006: A more herbal nose, again with quite a pronounced botrytised character. The acidity is still there but this wine is much more full and viscous. Showing signs of age but wearing it well.

2005: Orange peel and candied fruit but with an intriguing savoury note which adds to the complexity. Lost a touch of the freshness but the charm is still there.

The 2013 is currently available for £22 per 50cl bottle, as part of Sebastian’s ‘The Best Of Italy’ selection.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it tastes in a few years… if I can manage to keep my hands off it before then…

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

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Tue 15 Jan 2013

Sauternes 2012: Some Optimism

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Château d’Yquem has made the news recently, declaring loudly that it will not be releasing a 2012 because the quality is not up to scratch. The growing season and harvest was particularly complicated and stressful for the Sauternais, it’s true, and we have not heard anyone claiming the vintage of the century.

However, Yquem’s typically bold statement does rather queer the pitch for anyone who does plan to release! Château Climens’ Bérénice Lurton, who is President of the Union des Grands Crus de Sauternes et Barsac, offers her take on the vintage:

8 days of harvest over a period of 2 weeks (15 to 31st October) gave us a yield of 10hl/ha and moreover, quality that we could never had hoped for. For such a crazy harvest, frankly the outcome is positive. And more than that, it was great to cock a snoot at all those malicious gossipers who declared Climens to be ‘devastated by mildew’. Mother Nature was not so unkind after all!

As for biodynamics, without which we would almost certainly have lost fewer grapes to mildew, it did on the other hand help the vines to stand up to the drought in September and the unwelcome rains towards the end of the season.

The tastings post-fermentation are amazing: apart from 2 or 3 lots that are simpler but honest, the overall result is excellent. To start, the aromatic purity is perfect from beginning to end. And for most of the lots a long finish, complexity, elegance and panache are all there.

(Bérénice’s full harvest report can be found by visiting Climens’ website and clicking on the post entitled ‘Proud of our 2012 vintage!’.)

After a run of good Sauternes vintages, cellars may not be gasping for more. We’ll take a view after we’ve tasted in the spring. At least we know we don’t have to save our centimes for Yquem 2012!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for Bordeaux

Edit, 29th January:
Château Rieussec
, we now know, is also not releasing a 2012 wine; but our first taste of the Dubourdieus’ Cantegril (The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes) and Doisy Daëne have indeed proved that some delicious Sauternes and Barsac have been made.

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Fri 20 Jul 2012

Sweet Wine. Rotten Name. In Stock.

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Society members celebrating the wines and fashion sense of d'Arenbeg's charismatic winemaker Chester Osborn (right) in May of this year.
Last August I asked Grapevine readers for their thoughts regarding a delicious sweet wine made by the brilliant (and delightfully eccentric) d?Arenberg winery in Australia. The contents of the bottle were so good that I had to buy it, but the name, The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana, quite understandably caused some debate.

It is, quite literally, a rotten name: an asexual spore that causes the phenomenon known as ?noble rot? (latterly known as botrytis cinera), named after the German botanist who first discovered the spore, Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Fuckel. Noble rot dehydrates the grapes on the vine, concentrating the sugars and making the great sweet wines of Sauternes, Tokaji and elsewhere.

I was delighted with readers? responses, which were often as witty as they were thoughtful. Most importantly, there was an overwhelming degree of support for us listing the wine.

This has been taken on board: though the first batch was so small that it sold out in a matter of days, I am delighted to announce that a new shipment has arrived for members to purchase.

We were able to get hold of this latest consignment after a large merchant cancelled their order on account of the name. With our members? enthusiastic comments in my mind, I therefore stepped in and bought all we could get hold of. This still isn?t much ? it?s very rare ? so anyone who would like some is advised to order quickly.

The wine uses the classic Sauternes blend of semillon (77%) and sauvignon blanc (23%), grown in McLaren and Adelaide Hills. It is beautifully made, fragrant and luscious, but also refreshing, and would make a fine partner to fruit-based desserts. D?Arenberg?s winemaker Chester Osborn can be seen here enjoying it with a passionfruit soufflé and explaining more about it:

Pierre Mansour
Society buyer

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Wed 27 Jun 2012

Sauternes and Strawberries: A Faultless Match

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Many refer to Bordeaux?s famous sweet white as a ?dessert wine?, but this only represents a fraction of its culinary capabilities. A good bottle of Sauternes is as at home in the pre-prandial sunshine as it is next to a winter pudding. The Bordelais themselves are known to serve it with main courses and cheeses, and often enjoy a well-chilled glass as an aperitif before the food has even arrived.

A recent tasting, prompted by a suggestion from Sebastian Payne MW, showed just how good the combination of Sauternes and strawberries can be. Though often overlooked in favour of sparkling alternatives, the 2009 Exhibition Sauternes (made for us by the Dubourdieus at Château Cantegril) proved its credentials magnificently.

The Sauternes strikes a balance between rich, honeyed flavours (derived in part from noble rot) and refreshing acidity from the grapes themselves. When combined with the juicy sweetness of the strawberries, the results were simply sublime, and all the more so with cream.

Below are some of the comments from Society staff after tasting the combination for themselves:

?It seems to become an even better marriage the more you have. I think what the Sauternes does to the strawberries and cream is give them more definition somehow: they both bring out the flavour of the other.?

?Put an instant smile on my face ? absolutely lovely.?

?The wine didn?t taste sickly at all with the strawberries and cream and also had a creaminess of its own. An unctuous trio!!?

?It?s satisfying and decadent but really brings out the brightness in the wine ? remarkably refreshing. Neither overpowers the other. Wonderfully indulgent, yet still it finishes fresh and makes you want another glass. This will surprise people.?

Certainly something to bear in mind for Wimbledon and beyond.

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Mon 09 Jan 2012

Vin Santo and Stilton

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I have just been finishing up the Christmas Stilton with a glass of Fontodi’s luxurious Vin Santo.

Barrels at Fontodi
It’s an exquisite combination, first suggested to me by the inimitable Minuccio Cappello. Minnucio supplied The Society’s Chianti Classico from his Montaglio estate in Panzano where he also ran what must have been one of the simplest and best trattorias in Italy. All the produce was local and prepared in the Tuscan tradition by Anna. You could walk through the kitchen looking into all the pots before you made your choice. Sadly, when Minuccio had to sell the estate and trattoria, standards slipped, and badly.

Minuccio considers Stilton to be much better than any Italian blue cheese to accompany his concentrated Vin Santo, aged 7-10 years plus in small sealed barrels. Though Vin Santo is traditionally offered at family celebrations and to special guests at festivals, ‘santo’ is unlikely to be derived from the word for ‘holy’. Wine during the Turkish occupation of Greece, and earlier, sweet white wine used in Russian orthodox and Greek churches, came from the island of Santinori, and this is thought to have given the wine its name.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Buyer

Categories : Italy
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Tue 21 Dec 2010

Strong and sticky

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We’re on a roll with Jancis Robinson as she includes the following wines in her top 40 fortified and sweet wines for Christmas.

Herederos de Argüeso, Las Medallas Manzanilla NV Very light and delicate. It doesn’t even taste 15% alcohol. Juicy and fluid and refreshing. £6.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society


Sánchez Romate, Fino Perdido NV Very pale tawny. Chock full of character. Really light, dry and zesty. Screwcap with señorita label. £7.95 for 75 cl The Wine Society

Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado NV Obviously very old and super tangy. Lots to lose yourself in here though overall much more delicate than most Palo Cortados. Seriously interesting. £17 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society

Royal Tokaji, Late Harvest 2008 Tokaji The painless way to enjoy Hungary’s most famous wine. A super-fruity blend of the three Tokaji grapes: the great Furmint, Hárslevelu and Yellow Muscat. Shows the freshness that defines Tokaji without any of the complication. Super clean. £10.95 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society


Ch La Tour Blanche 2003 Sauternes Really luscious for drinking now. So big and round and unctuous. Yet it’s saved from flab by its structure. There’s a beginning, middle and end to this wine with some very agreeable toastiness in the undertow. Great stuff. Enjoy it while you may. £37 The Wine Society

Ch de Fesles 2005 Bonnezeaux Mid gold from the mid Loire. Nutty start and then beautiful, contained sweetness with a savoury streak. Impossible to spit. Great intensity with a hint of dill pickle. So long, so complete. Lovely already yet I’m sure it will last beautifully. £29 per 50 cl The Wine Society