Report – Liberty Wines Portfolio Tasting

LIBERTY WINES ANNUAL PORTFOLIO TASTING

@ THE KIA OVAL, LONDON

The imposing home of Surrey County Cricket plays host to Liberty Wines Grand Tasting
The imposing home of Surrey County Cricket plays host to Liberty Wines Grand Tasting

London’s Kia Oval is the world famous home of Surrey Country Cricket where of course England also play many Test Matches, including those testosterone-charged games versus Australia. However the Aussies I met there recently came bearing gifts, and the only sixes scored were cases of wine.

Each year Liberty Wines, the large international wine distributors, hold their Portfolio Tasting amidst the hallowed portals of this impressive temple to cricket. Essentially, all the producers on their portfolio, world-wide, are asked to attend, bring their wares and share them with those in the trade. This year, I was invited to attend.

This invitation, which came right out of the blue, was from our friend Daniel Castaño, of Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla, whose wines have appeared several times in Cork Talk over the last eighteen years. It was an opportunity that I really couldn’t turn down and I accepted with alacrity, as you might imagine.

I was to be part of a three man delegation from Bodegas Castaño: Daniel, Head of Exports, and bear in mind that this bodega was the first to export wines from DO Yecla and in fact exports a huge 95% of its total production, to Europe, USA, Asia and more; Mariano the Head Wine-maker, who has been responsible for all the Bodega’s wine success (as well as that of the once sister bodega, Bodegas Sierra Salinas, now sold on); and me, with a rather less impressive CV!

Delighted to have been co-opted onto the Bodegas Castaño Team!
Delighted to have been co-opted onto the Bodegas Castaño Team!

However, I had my uses! Mariano’s English is not perfect and it was thus my role to accompany him around the tasting, translating the details spoken in English by all the exhibitors. Now, it would be being extremely economical with the truth if I were to tell you that my Spanish is fluent, far, far from it. However, my wine-Spanish isn’t too bad.

Looking back now over my notes I see that we tasted over 70 wines so we didn’t do too badly!

Mariano has an amazing knowledge of wines and an exceptional palate and nose for wine appreciation. All of which enables him to identify strengths and weaknesses in wines as well as the grape varieties from which they were made. So whilst I was translating for him as quickly as I could, I was also taking note of his comments as well as those of mine re the multifarious wines we tasted.

Liberty Wines had taken over two whole floors of the Conference Centre of the Kia Oval, plus the dining room on the bottom floor where an excellent lunch was served, yes, with wine! The ‘Ashes Suite’, the ‘India Suite’ and the ‘England Suite’ evoked memories of gargantuan battles of the past with walls adorned with photos of cricket legends. With huge windows in each suite that looked out over the tranquil and almost blindingly green square, well it was all rather stirring – and this from a football man!

What a stadium! The Kia Oval, London.
What a stadium! The Kia Oval, London.

Liberty Wines are very strong on Italian and French wines, but their extensive portfolio also more than adequately covers many other countries. South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Austria, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Armenia, Germany, Spain of course and England are all represented and others too! So there was an interesting mix of Old World and New World wines to be sampled. We set about our work resolutely!

 

Clearly, there is not enough space here to describe all the wines we tasted, so here are just a few of my favourites from a truly excellent field.

LIBERTY WINES TASTING @ THE OVAL UK JAN 2015 003

I was impressed with the English Sparkling Wine. Time restricted us to tasting fizz from only one of the producers on hand. I would have liked to have tasted them all, but the one we did taste is perhaps the most famous of all English Sparkling Wines, Nyetimber. Award winning and now served on BA First Class flights, when this fizz hit the headlines Champagne producers started looking over their shoulders!

 

The Classic Cuvee 2009 uses the triumvirate of Champagne varieties, Chardonnay (the highest proportion) and the black grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with the latter perhaps adding a sort of youthful fruitiness to the overall flavour. It has spent three years on its lees adding a depth and richness to the finished product.

 

Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blanc is, of course (the phrase means white from white and as Chardonnay is the only ‘white’ grape in the traditional gang of three, it has to have been made with Chardonnay), made exclusively with Chardonnay. This wine is a different animal. It’s still vibrant, still has what we want from a Sparkling Wine, but its five years on its lees have given it greater complexity, richness and depth of flavour. Super, with a trade price of 32 pounds!

 

We started with white wines and some of my absolute favourites were in attendance. Condrieu from Maison Nicolas Perrin is a stunning wine. It’s made with 100% Viognier with notes of apricot and honeysuckle flowers. It’s an iconic wine, with everything that is best about this marvellous variety. It’s not cheap with a trade price of 27 pounds, but it’s sooo worth it!

 

If asked what my favourite wine, or why style, is, I always explain that it’s impossible to say. I’m so lucky to be able to taste incredible Spanish wines, but of course there are equally wonderful wines made all over the world. However, if cornered I’d have to say that white Burgundy wine has to be up there with my all-time favourites.

 

Chablis, of course, would be a contender. Chablis 1er Cru ‘Les Vaudevey’ was lovely! Good acidy with a little butter on the nose, good length, rich fruit, lively. From the same producer, Domaine Laroche, I thought the Chablis Grand Cru ‘Les Blanchots’ was outstanding – though at 38 pounds, it jolly well should be.

 

I also loved Rully, Saint Roman, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Mersault – marvelling at how diverse the flavours and aromas of Chardonnay can be.

 

For reds (I told you I’d have to be brief!) I was very impresses with all the wines made with Syrah/Shiraz. Côte-Rôtie, again from Nicolas Perrin, was wonderful, and for me this is not surprising – it also has a touch of Viognier in the blend. I also really enjoyed the Crozes Hermitage and the Ermitage from the same producer, though the last was very expensive at 43 pounds a bottle.

 

Perhaps understandably, given that I am so accustomed to Spanish wines that have had the benefit of so much sunshine, I tended to warm to the Australian Shiraz a little more than the French. The Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier (yes, that blend again!) is magnificent with rich Shiraz fruit and a little white pepper with added aromatic value coming from the small percentage of  white Viognier.

 

Also Mitolo’s Jester Shiraz and Gam Shiraz were outstanding.

 

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and via the website www.colinharknessonwine.com where you can see all Colin’s wine events, articles etc; and via Twitter @colinonwine

 

PS There are just a few seats left for the Gourmet Tapas/Spanish Wine Pairing Evening at Vintage Gastro Bar & Restaurant, Albir. Vintage is owned and run by Dani Bowler who shot to fame on UK TV’s Masterchef Programme, and his precise and imaginative cooking is now enjoyed by all who visit his new restaurant. Proceeds from this event will also go to the:  Asociación Espanola contra el Cáncer (AECC)! Please contact Colin to reserve your places!

Channel Radio UK – Tomorrow!

It’s my monthly guest spot on UK’s Channel Radio tomorrow (Tuesday 10th February 2015) on the SCOFFQUAFF programme, 11:10 hrs UK time (12:10 horas in Spain). I’ll be talking about wines from my own region here in Spain, DO Alicante – where a lot of good stuff is going on!

You can listen live at www.channelradio.co.uk and by all means Tweet your questions and comments!

Palacio de Bornos where Verdejo is Queen!

TANINIA BODEGAS & VIÑEDOS

My guess is that the above won’t mean a lot to you? And yet, I’m fairly certain that you will have tasted and enjoyed, perhaps all, but at least, some of the wines made by this wine-making group.

I remember clearly the first time I tasted a Verdejo white wine from DO Rueda. I was with friends at Hal’s house and, like all present, including our host, I was challenged by one of our number to identify the wine that had just been poured, blind, into our glasses.

We had just arrived, had enjoyed the obligatory palate cleansing glass of Cava and were chatting amongst ourselves anticipating the lengthy tasting that was one of the reasons for our being there! A silence descended as we took up Pepe’s gauntlet.

By its stem, we held the wine against a white background and scribbled our ‘visual phase notes’. Swirling the glass and then sniffing the contents, a faint light dawned on some of our faces whilst some, including myself, had brows furrowed alternately in perplexity and in the light.

On the palate the perfectly chilled wine refreshed our taste-buds, as we swept it over the tongue’s receptors to detect any: sweetness; bitterness; saltiness; and acidity. As we allowed the wine to warm slightly, tiny vaporised molecules were released like illuminating Chinese lanterns, to float towards the olfactory passage on their journey of discovery to the brain, to tell us: what we were tasting; did we like it; which fruits could we identify; was there any oak involved; etc etc.

Silence prevailed. Over ten minutes we all drained the glass, making occasional additions to our notes, and crossings-out, until, as one, we held it out for a refill! The one thing on which we were all agreed was that the wine was delicious! Vociferous discussion followed and there was a collective ‘shame’ cried aloud when Pepe informed us that it was the only bottle!

We were, in fact, all wrong – but we were close, although it won’t immediately sound like it! I had concluded that the wine was a blend, with Sauvignon Blanc adding the lion’s share, with perhaps another two varieties in the mix. And the other two? Well I’d guessed some high altitude Chardonnay and maybe the slightest touch of Albariño. Then again, maybe some ripe Macabeo with a little Airén that had been left on its lees a while, was the background to the Sauvignon?

Nah! It was a monovarietal Verdejo from Bodegas Palacio de Bornos! Now, here’s a wine that you’ve tasted, no?

Thus started my passion for quality Verdejo, a variety that had been around in Rueda  for hundreds of years, but essentially only in Rueda, and with only a small group of enthusiasts enjoying the wine. Verdejo’s metamorphosis from such a state to being now the most bought white wine in Spain is a rags to riches story par excellence. A variety which many commentators, myself included, shares some of the same taste and aroma characteristics as the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc.

Bodegas Palacio de Bornos also makes Sparkling Wine made with 100% Verdejo! And, with a view to writing my second article for the UK based international Sparkling Wine magazine, Glass of Bubbly, I wrote to the bodega to ask for a couple of samples.

My letter brought a dividend – several more wines from the various bodegas within the same group, Taninia Bodegas y Viñedos. One such wine was my old friend, Bornos Verdejo, the very wine that Hal, another great old friend, now sadly no longer with us, and I tasted together on that eventful day years ago!

But, as we did at the aforementioned tasting, I’m going to start with the Fizz! Spain’s most famous Sparkling Wine is, of course, Cava. But, as many Cork Talk readers will know, quality Spanish Sparkling Wine is not just about Cava, lovely though it is! And one of the delights of fizz made in other areas of Spain is that such wines are made with a plethora of different grape varieties.

When these other grapes are some of the most aromatic in Spain they can add another dimension to the finished article. Look for example at the Sparklers made in DO Rías Baixas with the Albariño variety and, of course, look also at those made with Verdejo in DO Rueda.

The aroma profile of Palacio de Bornos Brut Nature, the driest style of Sparkling Wine, carries the usual panaderia, yeasty brioche notes that we expect from Fizz, but there is also the fragrance we know and love that is central to Verdejo. You’ll find delightful gooseberry and kiwi fruit notes, with a passing nod to the aroma of grapes too!

Then on the second phase you’ll be able to identify blanched almonds and a little scorched green herb in the mix. Hold the wine on the tongue and enjoy the tiny prickles as the bubbles move, invigorating the palate!

The Brut version, still made with 100% Verdejo, is similar, though you’ll also be able to identify the spritz that emanates from a green pepper as it’s sliced, with a lovely fennel seed aroma adding the herby nature of the wine. It’s still a dry wine, of course, but there are a few more grams of residual sugar per litre in the Brut version and this makes it a super partner to Asian, SE Asian, Chinese and Indonesian cuisine with, again, an endearing freshness.

Finally, for now, as I’ll be writing about other wines in the Taninia portfolio next week, a brief word about Palacio de Bornos Verdejo. There’s quite a pale, straw-yellow colour with some very light lime coloured notes too as the wine is poured into the awaiting glass.

The first thing you’ll notice, even without having to put your nose to the glass, is that give-away gooseberry/kiwi/fennel perfume that I guarantee will have you licking your lips in anticipation. Served chilled, but not too cold, the wine will be fresh in your mouth while it fills the taste-buds. Lovely, dry white wine!

Contact Colin: colin@colinharknessonwine.com and via Twitter @colinonwine.

It’s also advisable to visit Colin’s website www.colinharknessonwine.com on a regular basis to see the events he organises, his articles, client comments and a lot more. Plus, if you join his e-mail list you will receive, direct to your computer/iPhone/iPad etc details of his wine tastings, wine pairing dinners, bodega visits etc. Just contact Colin!