Monday, 29 September 2008

I've moved to

If you're looking for TheWineSleuth and Google has directed you to this page, I've moved to a self hosted site. Here is my new address:

So come and visit me there! Thanks and see you soon!!!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Montes Alpha M '05, Folly '05, and Purple Angel '05

I went to a Montes tasting the other day at the Bluebird Wineshop. Montes is one of the iconic wines of Chile, having been written up extensively in various publications as well as getting rave reviews in the Wine Spectator and winning numerous industry awards. I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Montes started out in 1988 and was one of the few Chilean wineries to focus entirely on import production. 90% of their production was for export and England was one of the first markets to benefit from this policy. Today they produce over 5 million bottles and export to over 92 countries, not bad for only being in business 20 years.

Montes is seeking to make the varietal Syrah the flagship grape of Chile. To this end, they presented their showcase wine, the Montes Folly, so named because the general consensus at the time they planted the vines was that they were crazy to try and produce a premium wine made from Syrah. We sampled the 100% syrah '05 Montes Folly. It opened with a full-on black fruit nose, juicy blackcurrants and blackberries predominating, with a tantalizing earthy minerality lingering in the air. It was fresh and lively, bright black cherries, morello cherries and again that earthy minerality shining through on a nicely balanced, clean, crisp wine. It didn't have the big fruity jamminess that many people associate with new world shiraz. And to differenciate themselves a bit more from the pack, they call the grape syrah (as they do in France) as opposed to shiraz (as they do in the new world i.e., Australia, US, etc).

The wine that everyone knows is the iconic Montes Alpha M. We tasted the '05 M. Composed of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and 5%petite verdot, this lovely is produced from a single vineyard at low yields and aged for one year in new french oak barrels. It had a deeply fruity, intense nose, blackcurrant leaping out of the glass with new oak aromas surrounding it. Blackcurrants were again evident on the very fruity but not sweet palate owing to the fabulous balance of acidity in the wine. It was also shot through with a loaminess that added complexity and finished with strong chocolate flavours that seemed to last for a very long time. Nice ripe tannins, very smooth and elegant.

The Montes Purple Angel '05 was my favourite because it had such a personality. It just jumped out of the crowd. Was it because it was 90% carmenere (a grape really only used in Chile today) or was it the petite verdot, a variety that is falling out of style as a blending grape even in it's native France. The nose was nothing like the others, starting off with a musky, red pepper, exotic spiciness with violets, paprika and delicate mint notes underpinning the aromatic structure of the wine. Moving the wine around my palate, black fruits, plums and red peppers sprang into action and there was a fabulous spicy finish to it all. This was a fresh and lively wine, rather frisky, up for anything. I loved it! An exquisite delight. A well balanced, lovely example of what can be coaxed out of carmenere given the chance.

Montes has a deservedly iconic reputation and these wines only served to show what can and is being done in Chile today. I can't wait for the next release.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Palate Fatigue

The other day, after yet another tasting, my friend P.J. and I started discussing the pitfalls of the wine trade. I mean it's not all wine and roses. Well, maybe it is but there is such as thing as too much of a good thing. Just as professional chocolate tasters must get tired of yet another exotic chocolate or chocolate combination - we wine professionals need the occasional break, too.

Palate fatigue. We've all heard of it but what is it exactly? I mean, how does your palate get tired? It's not like it's doing a 26 mile marathon or anything like that. Or is it? After about the 26th wine it starts to get tiring for me (time for a snack) and if I've been tasting all day, by the time I get to the last wine, it's hard to make distinctions. There are only so many variations of raspberries, cherries, vanilla, oak, pineapple, green apple, butter or hay (to name a few) that you can detect in one day, not to mention all the delicate nuances and underlying notes and tones of a wine.

Can you hack it is the question. Even if tastings can seem like marathons, they are in no way near as painful as actually having to run one. As a matter of fact, despite my whining about palate fatigue I woudn't give them up for anything. Some people swear by the water crackers that are de riguer at tastings, others rinse with water occasionally, and some people I know have a beer with lunch before tackling the next round. Right now I'd say I'm a middle distance runner. I stick to crackers mostly. Still in training but one of these days I'll be a marathoner!

And what do I drink when I'm not imbibing wine? A perfect Maker's Mark Manhattan on the rocks goes great with steak.

I've also heard of this stuff called "water" with dinner....

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Miguel Merino Riojas '99 and '01, Unnum '02

the town of Briones, Spain

I know it seems like I will never stop talking about the EWBC but we really packed a lot into the 2 1/2 days we were in Rioja. I can only imagine what the US Winebloggers Conference is going to be like in Sonoma, CA - which I will be flying back to the West Coast to attend in Oct.

The last day of the conference was devoted to visiting wineries, Marques de Risquel - which I will blog about later, Bodegas Bilbainas - where we had our last lunch, and Miguel Merino Bodegas, a small winery smack in the middle of Briones.

winery courtyard

Briones is a quaintly medieval town set up on a hilltop. Historically, the grapes from the area were sent to wineries in Haro to be used in the best reserva wines. Miguel Merino, along with a few other boutique wineries, decided to set up shop here and take advantage of the excellent viticultural conditions surrounding the town. Although the winery is one of the youngest and smallest in Rioja, what it lacks in size it more then makes up for in quality.

Miguel himself is quite a character. He regaled us with a story about his sorting table - of all things! During the harvest the workers use a mechanical sorting table to pick out the best grapes as they pass by. There are baskets at the feet of the workers, one on each side, where they throw out the grapes deemed unworthy. One basket is called "purgatory" and the other "hell". The "purgatory" grapes get made into wine for family and friends. The "hell" grapes get picked up by a local farmer each day who feeds them to his cows. Miguel says the cows are known locally for being particulary disagreeable, breaking out of their enclosures and causing general havoc, but he doesn't think it has anything to do with his "hell" grapes.

We sampled 3 of his wines, the '99 Gran Reserva, '01 Reserva and the Unum '02 which his son makes. The '99 Gran Reserva (96% tempranillo, 4% graciano) was from a hard year and Miguel had to work quite hard to coax a good wine out of the harvest but he managed to produce a well made, nicely balanced wine. Softly perfumed with aromas of plum, cherry, toast and spice while the palate was again a nice balance of tannins and fruit with a lovely, long blend of plums, red cherry, toast, and tobacco on the palate. Even though it was almost 10 years old, it still had plenty of raciness about it with bouncing acidity keeping it from flagging down the homestretch, so to speak.

The '01 Reserva (95%tempranillo, 5%graciano)was my favourite of the 3. Ruby red in colour with pleasing aromas of sweet spice, oak and a savoury quality detectable underneath it all. A medium bodied wine with not quite round tannins (maybe oval?)that still had a bit of kick to them. I found plenty of cherry, red fruits, tobacco, sweet spice (I'm thinking maybe even allspice) and a warm toastiness to palate. Lipsmackinly good. I bought a couple of bottles to take home and had one the other night with dinner. Let me tell you, this is a wine that definitely loves to travel, no worries there.

The last one, the '02 Unnum is a wine made by Miguel's son. Made from 100% tempranillo, this wine was a bit different in character to the previous two. An oaky, toasty, almost toffee-ish nose with cooked black fruits in the background. The palate had mouthcoating tannins but was elegantly structured with a long black fruit finish. A big wine that needs a big steak to go along with it.

I found Miguel and his wines made for an engaging visit and hope to visit them again sometime in the near future. Miguel's wines are not that easy to find in the UK but they are available from online retailer

homemade spitton