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The Dirty Dozen: on duty & off piste

Last wet and windy Wednesday, when there was not a ray of sunshine in the sky, our solar energy came in Dr Richard Smart format – sunlight into wine!   Having dutifully checked out the Portuguese and Australian wines at The Dirty Dozen Tasting, most of which I’d already tasted (especially from Australia), I decided that there was no better time to play.  In particular, to seek out wines from the sunshine state of California.  They are on a roll and hey, this being the Dirty Dozen tasting, I’m not talking Blossom Hill. Here are my highlights from the tasting:

Australia

Jancis Robinson came out in support of Bordeaux underdog Cadillac at last week’s launch of the latest (4th) edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine.  I didn’t taste the red, but the white, Ch. Reynon Bordeaux White 2014, was excellent – steely, flinty, a touch earthy , with great texture and well-focused lemon and steely grapefruit, just like this impressive Margaret River Bordeaux blend.  Arlewood Estate upped sticks from Wilyabrup to Forest Grove, south of the township of Margaret River in 2009.  With 1200mm of rainfall a year (thank goodness not in summer) the area around Witchcliffe/Forest Grove is one of the wettest places in Western Australia.  And being in the south, it’s the cooler end of Margaret River.  Perfect for whites then. Arlewood Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River) – a 60:40 blend – reveals grass, lemon, a hint of earth, incipient lanolin and (courtesy of 20% spending two months in barrel) smoky/flinty lemon oil to nose and very persistent palate.  Textural, but with terrific steely grapefruit drive. Q.E.D. 13.5% Imported (& retailed by) The Wine Treasury – £18.

Portugal

The first of two great 2014 Vinho Verdes – I am loving the wines from this region in this vintage.  They are very intense yet fresh – classic.  Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2014 (Vinho Verde) shows crisp, intense grapefruit and lemon on the attack.  A light touch of greeness and firm mineral acidity keeps it well focused and in check. Long, very persistent.  Very good. 11% (Raymond Reynolds).

Great not only to taste this smart 2014 Alvarinho from Anselmo Mendes, but also to see this master of the variety re-inforce the importance of the Monção e Melgaço sub-region with the embossed bottle – now any Vinho Verde can put Alvarinho on the front label.  Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2014 (Monção e Melgaço) has terrific fruit depth and weight with no loss of balance or vibrancy.  Delicious sweet tangerine, apricot and honeysuckle notes abound.  12.5% (Clark Foyster)  Not tasted (because I’d sampled them at home already), but most worthy of note are Quinta do Soalheiro’s 2014 Alvarinhos, reviewed by me here.

I’d also tasted Casal Sta Maria Arinto 2014 (Lisboa) from Raymond Reynolds previously (in June) but, given it’s a relatively new venture, wanted to see how it is ageing.  This initially austere white is just starting to show a little more generosity/sweetness to its lemon and lime fruit.  It’s still as impressively brisk and focused as the 103 year old Baron who owns this Lisboa estate though!  (Check out my report of a visit with Casal Sta Maria here) 12%

Red packaging distinguished my Bairrada Baga three, all from the school of gentler extraction and oak elevage. Filipa Pato Nossa Calcario Tinto 2013 (Bairrada) is the prettiest of the three with gorgeous lift, purity and crunch to its black and red fruits and ultra-fine supporting tannins. A subtle lick of chocolatey oak put me in mind of Pinot.  13%  It is imported by Clark Foyster.

I had a quick chat about Casa de Saima’s all new Casa de Saima Tonel 10 Colheita 2013 (Bairrada) with Raymond Reynolds of Raymond Reynolds.  We agreed that, though true to Casa de Saima’s rather austere traditional style (it was trodden and fermented in lagares and aged in a large oak tonel for 12 months), this pale plummy Baga has a prettiness about it too with its lifted incense spice and dried pine needle forest floor to nose and palate.  Lovely line and length.  Much more yet to give.  13%

Paler still was Ataíde Semede Baga Young 2013 (Bairrada) which, stylistically, is a great fit with Indigo Wine‘s portfolio of highly drinkable (I guess that’s why it says “Young” on the label) but interesting reds.   I’m looking forward to re-tasting it at home together with the another Semede wine which wasn’t on show, but I liked its minerality, spice and earth… see what I mean, interesting.  Watch this space.  By the way, apparently Semede used to work for Alvaro Castro, whose excellent Dão wines Indigo also import).

Speaking of the Dão, I re-visited Niepoort’s first release from this region, Niepoort Rotulo 2012, one year on.  It was in fine fettle with a peppery resonance – a buzz of spice – to its bright, well-defined (as Dão should be) blackberry and plum fruit; ripe but present tannins complete the picture. 12.5% (Raymond Reynolds) P.S. One year on and I’ve only just realised that the pipe on the label is punctuation – doh!

Spain

Indigo forged their reputation with their Spanish range.  Carlos and Alex at my local Spanish getaway, Trangallan, gave me the heads up on Fedellos do Couto Lomba dos Ares 2013 (Ribeira Sacra) – much as the straight Mencía (the Cortezada pictured right) was rather good, the Lomba from a 70 year old field blend vineyard at 700 a 750 metres took you into another dimension.  And what’s not to like about that!  No doubt partly due to Mencía not hogging the show as well as the elevation – the other varietal players are Mouratón, Merenzao, Garnacha Tintorera and Caiño.  Lighter than the Cortezada – more agile – it has lovely lift, dance and spice with orange peel, violets, bitter chocolate and garrigue notes to its damson fruit.  Gorgeous!!! 13.2%

California

Another heads up took me down the virtual, vinous Route 66.  When I recently presented a Portuguese tasting for Sip & Savour, I’d not realised that one of the wine stockists – Vin Cognito – is the new venture of James Bloom and Lucia Sabine, formerly of Swig.  But it makes lots of sense given their interesting selection and impeccable recommendation of Precedent Wines Old Vine White Wine 2013 Wirz Vineyard (Cienega Valley, California), another Indigo wine and my pick of the Californian whites (I didn’t manage to make friends with any of the Chardonnays).  It hails from  60+ years old, head trained, dry farmed Riesling/Sylvaner field blend vineyard on a bed of decomposed granite at just under 1,000 ft at the northern end of the Gabilan Mountains (had to look that up so surprised was I by this Californian white!) In fact so surprised that I managed not to make any notes!!  But let me tell you it was a firm, mineral but not at all mean, deep, very textural Riesling with old vine sinew –  a sense of struggle translating into a wine of impressive intensity, concentration and focus.  I’d love to sit down with a glass/bottle and see/taste it unfold.  It was naturally fermented and aged for 18 months in seasoned French oak.  12.4%

From the same producer, Precedent Wines  Clements Hill Chenin Blanc Sec 2013 (Lodi, California) and Precedent Wines  Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 (Contra Costa County, California) were nearly as impressive.  The Chenin was like a cross between an Anjou schist-driven Chenin and a Swartland old vine Chenin (if you can imagine) – so firm, very tensile, with quince; long but not without breadth – muscular I guess?  12.5%  From ungrafted dry-farmed vines planted in 1890 in over 30 vertical feet of alluvial sand, the Zinfandel (in fact another field blend with Carignane, Mourvedre, Palomino, Muscat, Chasselas and other varieties as yet un-identified) was an intense as you might expect.  But a good deal fresher than you might expect, with a super-firm backbone of acidity to its perfumed blueberry and plum/plum skins fruit.   Long – another wine to eke out in the glass.  13.9%

Another very interesting Californian  white  – no surprises this time – is Sean Thackrey La Pleiade II (NV) from The Wine Treasury.  I was a big fan of Thackrey’s idiosyncratic reds (a Pleiade non-vintage red and Orion Petite Sirah) when I managed Oddbins Fine Wine in Farringdon over a decade ago now.  This is only his second Le Pleiade white and, like the red, it’s an unspecified mixed varietal blend.  Lots of chew (some skin contact?) and interest to this complex white which has bruised apple and firm pear flesh, wild blossom, fennel and spice notes.  It shows a touch of alcoholic warmth but has both the body and acid structure to carry it off.  Long and interesting.  13.5%

Roberson Wine have been at the vanguard of the hip Californian wine revolution and my pick of their whites is available by the bottle or as part of their ‘Wine on Tap’ (20 litre PET keg) range.  Wind Gap Russian River Valley Trousseau Gris 2014 (California) is a mutation of the red Trousseau grape (Portugal’s Bastardo).  It’s exceptionally perfumed with pear, pear skin and quince to nose and nutty, structured palate.  The nuttiness is a nice savoury foil to the perfume.  Not your average available on tap wine! 11.2%

As for Roberson’s Californian reds, Piedrasassi Central Coast Syrah PS 2013 (California), totally floated my boat with its charcuterie and violet edged palate and lovely depth of well-defined bright black fruits.  Ruffled, ripe  tannins carry a long, resonant finish with warm orange peel and anise spice.  Delicious – a sensual yet structured Syrah.  14.1%

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