2015 winners

Oddbins: The Palate, Portuguese top tips & a quirky Champagne

Back in the day, managing Oddbins Fine Wine Farringdon

It has been something of a nostalgia trip mentoring/judging at Oddbins The Palate these last two years.  It doesn’t feel so very long ago that I was a keen amateur/customer myself, eager to find out more about wine, then taking the ultimate step and joining the chain just in time for the Christmas rush in December 2000.  Talk about hit the ground running!

As well as being a super solid base for building on my enthusiasm and wine knowledge (and despite having managed the City branch of Oddbins Fine Wine), Oddbins’ unstuffy approach to wine gave me a healthy cynicism about more £££s translating into more pleasure, less still value for money.  At last week’s Winter Press Tasting, I was particularly struck by the fantastic value for money of three Portuguese reds, while my pick of the highly individual unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Ports reminded me how much more bang for buck you get with this sub-set of the category.

This quirky Blancs de Blancs Champagne made from Chardonnay, Arbane, Petit Meslier & Blanc Vrai (reviewed below) tempted me off piste, as did a couple of pingily fresh (smashable as the Aussies would say) Grenache quaffers which I thought it’d be fun to taste after my Aussie Grenache-athon (Catalunya’s Cop de Mas Garnacha Tinta 2014 & the Beaujolais-eque Dolia Grenache 2013 from the Pays d’Oc).

Freshly crowned, Phil Hedderman won Oddbins The Palate 2015

Naturally, my curiosity was also piqued by San Valentino Bacaia Sangiovese Superiore 2012 which was selected for Oddbins by none other than my mentee and Oddbins’ The Palate 2015 winner, Phil Hedderman.  The amateur taster negotiated the tasting, knowledge and wine and food matching tasks with great aplomb.  With a dash of 10% Syrah, this bright red fruited Sangiovese from Romagna has good depth to the mid-palate; the majority grape’s firm, savoury tannins lend support and line.  The question is, what dish would you pair with that Phil? Mr Hedderman heads off to South Africa next year to enjoy a ‘wine holiday;’ he’ll be in for treat exploring Palate sponsor Radford Dale’s portfolio at close quarters.

If you’re keen to sharpen your palate watch out for Oddbins’ The Palate 2016. And if you can’t wait until then, Oddbins has set up Oddbins Events to meet growing demand from corporate and private customers for wine tastings.  Events & Tastings Executive Angela Cosgrove describes it as another great way to showcase Oddbins’ core philosophy that wine is for everyone and should be interesting and fun as well as the wines.  For more detailed information about Oddbins Events, including Christmas tasting packages contact angela.cosgrove@oddbins.com.

Here are my notes on the Portuguese wines and Ports (including a White Port and my pick of the 20 Year Old Tawnies), plus that quirky Champers:

Paseo Red 2014 (Lisboa)

I’d have expected to prefer Casa Santos Lima’s Paseo White – Lisboa is producing some exciting whites at the moment from coastal sites with Jurassic limestone.  Reds can be trickier.  So it was a good surprise to encounter this smooth chocolatey, ripe, round red with fleshy plum and black olive notes.  For a little under £6 this blows lots of competition out of the water.  It’s a blend of 55% Castelão, 20% Touriga Nacional, 15% Camarate and 10% Tinta Miuda.  13% £5.75

Quinta de la Rosa Dourosa Tinto 2012 (Douro)

I like this vintage – upfront yet elegant and, if you’re looking for elegance in the Douro, Jorge Moreira always delivers, even for this entry level red.  Nice length and concentration to its juicy plum fruit with an exotic lift of crushed coriander seed spice.  The whole is well framed by ripe but present tannins.  It is a blend of 30% Touriga Nacional with Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz.  14.5% £12

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Tinto 2011 (Douro)

I tasted this wine in the Douro the week before Oddbins’ press tasting in a line up of Duas Quintas reds from 1990 to 2013.  It was one of my standout wines.  In the exceptional Douro 2011 vintage this wine is markedly deep in hue with a youthful pink rim.  A youthfulness which is reinforced by a formidably concentrated, still tightly coiled palate with prodigious ripe tannins to match.  This will go some distance.  It reveals exotic hints of coriander spice and bergamot dark currant/berry and chocolate palate as it opens up.  Great structure – an outstanding wine – especially for £12!  14%

Quinta dos Roques Tinto 2012 (Dão)

This blend of 55% Touriga Nacional, 20% Jaen, 15% Alfrocheiro, 10% Tinta Roriz is a terrific example of the Dão.  It’s looking very lifted and lively now with elegant, bright red fruits and delicate spice and pine needle hints.  Very persistent.  Again, great regional typicity and character for the price.  13.5% £12.50

Drappier Quatuor Blanc de Quatre Blancs NV (Champagne)

As the name no doubt lead you to conclude, this is that quirky blend of Chardonnay and three newbies to me, Arbane, Petit Meslier & Blanc Vrai.  I had to delve deep into the recesses of Wine Grapes to find out about these three newbies.  I could find no reference to Blanc Vrai but I wasn’t surprised to learn that Arbane and Petit Meslier both have small bunches and berries because this Champagne is spicy and firm, with attractive apple core phenolics – a lick of tannin – and biting (in a piercingly engaging way) grapefruit.  Characterful, long, dry (with just 4g/l dosage) and a little nutty on the finish, it’s a contemplative not canapé-light Champagne which thoroughly intrigued me.  Very good.   According to Oddbins buyer Ana Sapungiu those small berries and bunches also partly explain why these Champagne grapes of old fell by the wayside – they just weren’t productive enough, plus the flavour profile was not what people had come to expect.   Vive le difference Drappier!  £49

Churchills White Dry Port

White Port has become pretty trendy in Port circles.  Churchill’s were ahead of the curve and this complex Dry White Port has no little complexity.  It was aged for 10 years in seasoned oak casks.  Creamily nutty with attractive walnutty resonance and a hint of salty kelp to the finish it put me in mind of a dry oloroso, though this is rounder and fruitier. Never better than with roasted Douro almonds, but try it with smoked salmon; it’s also great long with tonic (1/3 Port to tonic).  43g/l residual sugar. 19.5%  £15 (50cl)

Ramos Pinto 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Tawny Port mixology magic in progress with Ramos Pinto’s Ana Rosas

This 20 Year Old Tawny is as ebullient, naughty and nice as its maker, Ana Rosas, with whom I enjoyed a fantastic tasting of Tawny blend components last year, pictured. With its rich, satisfying core of buttery macademia nuts, candied citrus, fruit cake and liquorice, it could not be more different from the more slender Churchills 20 Year Old Tawny (which Oddbins showed alongside).   A long, nutty spine makes for balance and length.  Devilishy moreish, it’s a feast in a glass.  In fact, if this Port was a cake, it would be Great British Bake Off finalist Tamal Ray’s final showstopper, Sticky Toffee Abandoned Chinese Fishing Village Fruit Cake (for which I’ve just discovered the recipe here – just in case you want to check the veracity of my observation – what a horizontal tasting that would be, in every sense of the word!) 19.5% £26 (50cl)

Sandeman Late Bottled Vintage 2009

Since I last tasted it, the 2009 has opened up a little and is showing a bit more vintage character – the ripeness/sweet red fruits that characterise the vintage.  A little jamminess even.  Rich and chocolatey, generous and long with a charge of fine tannins for structure and line, it’s an intense LBV with plenty of gas in the tank.  96g/l residual sugar. 20.5% £16.50

Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2008

From a milder year, the Noval  is very elegant and balanced with lovely florality and fluidity to its black berry and cherry fruit, slinky tannins and a touch of bitter chocolate on the finish.  It’s drinking beautifully now.  98g/l 19.5% £24

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