Furleigh Estate

ENGLISH WINE – ANOTHER VISIT TO DORSET!

Twenty two years ago (this week, actually) when I left the UK for a new life in Spain I certainly didn’t expect to be returning, all this time later, with a choice of top quality wineries to visit back in Blighty.

It wasn’t even possible to call English and Welsh wine production a nascent industry in the 90s when I left. There may have been perhaps 300 small producers at the time, a rather insignificant number anyway, and in fact it was seen largely as a hobby, a pastime, perhaps for rather idiosyncratic people. But there were those who persevered – perhaps they knew something then that most of the world didn’t, and indeed some deny to this day. Climate change was happening and was very likely to continue!

In the early years of the new millennium those producers who had been stoically making sparkling wines started to achieve some recognition, and success in various wine competitions. English Sparkling Wine competed with Champagne and other quality sparklers – and occasionally won! The wine world began to take notice – just as the British summers began to get hotter with more sunshine hours.

In 2004 Furleigh Estate, Salway Ash, Dorset, was established – and they haven’t looked back since! Their website (www.furleighestate.co.uk) tells of the dinosaur bones that helped make the soils of the rolling land in which their vines are planted, and it was this comment that actually made me choose Furleigh for this visit, from the several that had been recommended, thanks to my Twitter wine friends. And it wasn’t a coincidence that when we went home we watched an old Jurassic Park film!

Our excellent guide, Nick’s optimistic (we now know!) estimate of the time it would take us to travel from where we were staying, differed somewhat from Mr. Google, so we opted for a blend of local knowledge and technology. We were late! Never mind!

Furleigh Estate wines are made with originally German and French varieties – Rondo (unknown to me) but a black grape with coloured flesh, like SE Spain’s Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouchette); and white wine variety, Bacchus, the variety that figures in most English and Welsh wineries. And from France, of course, the Champagne triumvirate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The soil, excellent for making sparkling wines, is largely sand and crustacean based (plus the dinosaurs!) – and it’s not only the vines which like it. Deer often roam freely over the vineyards, occasionally nibbling a few leaves, plus there are badgers and rabbits. In fact, the rabbits can be a problem, to the extent that Nick joked, that when we leave we can take away the Furleigh fizz glass, and a rabbit too, please! Funnily enough right on cue, one jumped out of the hedgerow as we left!

Furleigh has 23,000 vines planted over 18 south facing acres on site, plus a further 30,000 vines elsewhere in Dorset. The difference in the terroir of the two different vineyards gives joint owner (with his wife, Rebecca) and winemaker, Ian, more options when he is making is final blends.

The vines are trellised, all are in pristine condition, and are quite high – the growth is kept a little above the ground to avoid frost damage. Harvest has usually been in the second week of October, when more workers are brought in for the job, but in the most recent years harvest has occurred perhaps two weeks ahead of the expected schedule – you know why, it’s Climate Change once again!

The tasting room at Furleigh Estate has a lovely view over the surrounding land, lit up by beautiful sunshine when we visited. Dorset is such a delight!

Our first wine was actually my favourite of the session – an unusual, quite rare, in fact, white wine made from black Pinot Noir grapes, therefore a blanc de noir. This style has always excited me – most usually seen in sparkling wines, but still uncommon, it has the freshness of a chilled white allied to the depth and body of a red. Furleigh Estate’s White Pinot Noir 2018 had all of this plus some lovely citrus and baked apple aromas and flavour. Great start!

Our next wine, white again, was made with Bacchus plus just 4% Chardonnay. Lovely elderflower perfume emanated from the bottle the moment the screw top was opened. There are also some earthy and herbaceous notes on the nose, with some orchard fruits on the palate. Slightly sweeter than the first white, though not at all a sweet wine, the Bacchus Dry 2018 will suit SE Asian cuisine very nicely!

The Classic Cuvée 2014 English Sparkling Wine is made with the three Champagne varieties, 40% Chardonnay with 30% each of the other two. It has a fine mousse with tiny bubbles speeding to the surface. On the palate there is elegance and on the nose some patisserie notes along with some faint ripe pear fruit. I couldn’t find the melon suggested in the tasting notes, but there was a nice reference to lemon (same letters, different order!). It’s a Brut Sparkling Wine, though at 11 grams of residual sugar, it’s at the sweeter end of the spectrum. Try this wine with Chinese food and I can believe it’s just right, as it says on the tasting notes, with smoked salmon served with some horseradish. I’d love to try it with sushi with a lick of wasabi too!

Finally, because we were such a nice group (Nick, you smooth talker you!) we were able to taste the Sea Pink 2018, traditionally coloured rosé wine, which had a noticeable slight sweetness to it too!

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For Tim Ladd

TIM LADD – AN OBITUARY

I’m writing this Cork Talk on the night before I’m taking a flight to Southampton to join a Fred Olsen cruise, where I’ll be working as a Wine Speaker. By the time it’s published the cruise will be but a pleasant memory, however I can tell you now what my first drink onboard will be – a Harvey’s Sherry, for sure!

In a recent Cork Talk, entitled, ‘The Ladies Who Fizz’, I referred to my old friend Tim Ladd, saying that this once stalwart, ex-President and perennial committee member of the Cost Blanca Wine Society had regrettably returned to the UK in poor health.

Regret is an appropriate word – for I’m suffering from it now. Unfortunately, Tim and I had rather lost touch. My busy life, both wine wise and domestically, and Tim’s happy retirement just didn’t dovetail. I regret very much that I let this slip, for I heard, following the publication of the above article, that Tim had passed away some time ago.

I can’t actually recall when I first met Tim, but it must have been quite soon after my move from Torrevieja to Moraira, so it’s likely to have been close to start of the new millennium. Neither can I remember where it was that I met him, but it’s an educated guess that it was in fact at said Costa Blanca Wine Society.

We hit it off straight away, despite our very different backgrounds – from the south of England, with a fairly far back accent, Tim reminded me of a public schoolboy, always up for a prank. My northern accent – a bit Lancastrian, with a slight Liverpudlian lilt was rather removed from that of the boys of The Remove.

That didn’t make any difference though – we made each other laugh, his the contagious naughty sort, as if listening to a jape about a prefect, or better still, a Marster, related after Prep in the Boys’ Toilets; mine more, well northern, the lads in the pub sort of laugh. Plus, we had something else in common – wine, of course!

Tim had worked for Harvey’s of Bristol – you’ll know Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, I’m sure. He’d worked in Portugal (they make Port as well) and in Jerez and was a frequent visitor too. His knowledge of both Port and Sherry was exceptional, and he was full of stories about how it had been, working for such a time honoured and well respected company.

Naturally, I suppose, whilst working in the sector, Tim had also developed a great interest in unfortified wine, and a fine palate too. Such a gentleman, for that’s exactly what Tim was, a real gentleman, was tailor-made for the Costa Blanca Wine Society. Tim was able to bring with him his management and people skills, as well as his wine knowledge and, importantly his sense of fun. There’d be no stuffiness where Tim was involved!

I don’t know how long the Society had been going when Tim joined. Was he one of the founder members – I’m not sure? I do know, however, that he befriended (well, that’s obvious, Tim befriended everybody, he was that type of guy) the founder of the Costa Blanca Wine Society, Anton Massel. Anton was a big noise in the wine world.

A wine maker who had been contracted to make wine in the UK, long before it became as fashionable as it is nowadays and an author of a number of wine books, Anton had also started what is now the oldest international wine competition on the world, the International Wine & Spirits Competition (www.iwsc.net). I wasn’t aware of this until I walked into the offices of the IWSC eight years or so ago, about to join the judging panel for the first time, and saw Anton’s photo on the wall! I don’t mind admitting that my knowing Anton and the fact that we’d been in business together added a certain kudos to my being there!

Well, there were three of us in the business – and you’ve guessed, of course, that Tim Ladd was the other member of the triumvirate that ran the Costa Wine Society. It was a good idea – a wine club, with wines chosen by the three of us, pooling our knowledge and tasting skills to make crucial decisions. Members of the club received a case of six wines a month, with details of their provenance, grape varieties, method by which they were made, the history and philosophy of the bodegas etc etc.

The only problem was that there weren’t enough clients – we didn’t lose money, but we didn’t make any either! We decided the stop trading after a few years, but we’d all enjoyed it. I can remember the tasting sessions we used to hold, just the three of us, in secret, well fairly secret – in a quiet lounge at Javea Golf Course, very close to where Tim lived. Great fun – and of course Tim was right in the thick of it, lapping it up – literally!

So, sadly Tim is no longer with us, but I know that he is fondly remembered by everybody who came across him, particularly the members of the Costa Blanca Wine Society who’ll remember his tireless work on their behalf, even after he became ill, and his ever present fun and happy way.

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PILGRIMS’ PROGRESS

I’ll be very interested to see how these Peregrino (pilgrim, in Spanish!) wines progress over the next few years. I received from Bodegas Gordonzello, via Ondara’s wine shop Aguilar, three bottles of the wines they were showing at the shop one evening when I couldn’t attend. www.gordonzello.com

I was attracted to them as they are made with relatively rare varieties which hail from the DO Tierra de Léon region, as does the winery in question. I’ve written before about Albarín Blanco and Prieto Picudo and was impressed then – so I was keen to try some other versions, and here I had a white, rosé and a red, again!

Firstly, please note again, that Albarín is not the same variety as Albariño, which will be known to most readers. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser grape at all – different flavour and aroma profiles, but really enjoyable.

With vineyards at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level – it’s a good start. Temperatures can be very high during the growing season, but at night, at this height, there is some respite allowing the grapes to develop far better. On the nose, Peregrino Albarín, might remind the taster of a French Sauvignon Blanc, that’s subtle, rather than in-your-face NZ Sauv. Or you might first think of Spain’s Verdejo, one made with indigenous yeast, rather than cultivated and mass produced yeast, designed to bring out, and even exaggerate certain flavours and aromas. Or then again, a taster new to the Albarín may think the wine is like a combination of the two!

This a little nutty on the nose, but with good fruit – perhaps greengages and maybe a little kiwi, with a citrus twist? It’s a lighter style than the one I’d tasted earlier – an aperitif wine for sure, also pair it with salad. And in this heat (it’s currently approaching 40ºC at the time of writing!) I’d approve of a cube of ice and a little sparkling water, making a wholly different, refreshing spritzer.

It was close, but my favourite wine of the three was in fact the Rosado. Yes, I’m aware that we are having very rosé weather at the moment – rosado wine is so refreshing in the hot weather – but it’s not this fact that endeared to the wine to me particularly. It’s just that it’s a really fresh rose petal wine, with soft red fruit and a slight red peach flavour too!

We are eating far less meat these days. Vegetarian options are good, also fish, and I like to pair the colour of the fish, sometimes, with the colour of the wine. Salmon and Trout can work well in this way with rosé wine, and so it was with the salmon fillet marinated in chilli oil, ginger, garlic and a touch of lime. The match worked well.

La Costana 2014 Crianza is the red wine I tasted. It’s from the same bodega, though another name, and made with the same variety as made the rosado, Prieto Picudo. It’s crianza was 12 months in a mixture of French, American and Hungarian oak.

I wish I’d tasted this wine two years ago, when it would have had the fruit of its youth, which is now, unfortunately on the wane. I have found that in the 20+ years I’ve been writing about Spanish wines there has been a change in the style, generally of crianza wines. To me they don’t seem to be built to last the perhaps 5 – 7 years that they used to manage with some ease.

Perhaps the 2014 vintage wasn’t such a good one, perhaps the majority of the vines used were a little too young? I’m not sure but, whilst it is drinking quite well, it’s more the oak that is to the fore.

It may also be that this variety is perhaps better when drunk younger? The red I tasted several months ago was from the 2016 harvest. Of course, there may have been some vintage variation, those vines may have been older, different oak and time in barrels might have been used – there are many variables. However, it may be that Prieto Picudo is at its best when enjoying the vibrancy of youth – but then, aren’t we all?!

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An Atypical Wine Taster?

COMBATTING PRECONCEPTIONS

WHEN WINE TASTING

I think I’m probably an atypical wine taster.

In various different capacities, I’ve been tasting wine professionally for 30 years now. My lengthy, and on-going, tasting trip started a few years before I opened my first restaurant in the UK, knowing that in order to make the restaurant different from the others in the area, and more attractive for diners to visit, I had to have an edge. Understanding wines and being able to write my own wine list was the way forward.

Since those days I’ve tasted wines as an exporter, wine club business joint-owner, writer, broadcaster, TV presenter (briefly!), wine tourism guide, wine tasting event presenter, plus as a national and international wine judge. That’s quite a lot of experience – yet I still find myself having to combat any preconceptions I might have. I think it’s safe to say that I do overcome them, but they nevertheless do raise their tempting, even, seductive, heads. Perhaps it’s this that makes me atypical?

This whole train of thought started just the other week. It so happened that I’d been, coincidentally, tasting a number of wines all poured from more or less the same shaped bottle. Oldsters like myself would call this shape, the Burgundy style bottle – perhaps you know the shape I mean?

I’d liked, occasionally loved, the wines emanating from these bottles and had waxed fairly, and at times, very, lyrical about them. Then, some wines turned up for me to taste (I know, it’s tough isn’t it!) and one of them was in a tall upright, high shouldered bottle, the one those of us of a certain age would call a Bordelaise, or Bordeaux bottle. My first reaction on seeing the bottle, I should emphasise, not on tasting the wine, was one of disappointment! Ridiculous, I know – after all, there are some rather good (understatement of the year) wines from Bordeaux!

Of course, the thought was dispelled immediately and I set about tasting the wine wholly dispassionately – professionally!

Whilst I’m ensconced here in the confessional, I’ll admit to feeling similarly when viewing wine labels! With some there is an immediate attraction – they say ‘Buy me, buy me now!’; or, if I’ve been sent the wine, they tell me to drink them, drink them immediately. The inference in both cases is, of course, that it’s clear I’m going to like the wine, because, well look at the cool, sexy label!

In contrast, there are some labels I see which are the antithesis of this feeling – they, initially, I emphasise again, put me off. They don’t attract me at all, making me, illogically, and momentarily (I assure you), somewhat disinclined to taste the contents!

And, whilst we are on the subject of labels, the other day I was given a bottle with no label at all – naked wine! My automatic reaction – great interest, and expectation. To open such a wine would be stepping entirely into the unknown, appealing to my sense of adventure, to boldly step . . blah, blah . . . like some sort of vinous Treckie!

But, wait, hold back a bit – the wine might well be outstanding, but it also might me poor. I have to combat my preconceptions once more.

Also, I receive recommendations from people – Oh, Colin you must try this wine! Do you find it’s the same with restaurants? It is with me. Whether I take up the advice about dining at a certain eatery will depend a lot on the person who has recommended it. I’m not being snobby, though it might sound like it, just sensible. If the person loves pizza, baked beans and burgers, well, I might not actually be that interested – because, I don’t!

Back to wine – if the recommender won’t buy anything over 3€ a bottle, well I might not be too impressed by his/her recommendation (though I am aware that occasionally a good wine, priced thereabouts, can be found!). But, on the other hand, if one of my wine appreciating pals, or a wine related Twitter or Facebook friend recommends a wine, I’m very likely to look out for it and try it.

However, it’s here where the recommendation goes out of the window. In the preconception battle, the professional has to win every time. There can be no preconceived ideas when tasting wines! What sort of judge would I be if I’d already part decided the wine’s quality, based on: the shape of the bottle; the look of the label; the absence of a label; or the recommendation of a colleague? Objectivity is key.

I recently received two wines, independently, from two people whose opinions I respect – one with no agenda at all, one who is also trying to sell wines. The latter highly recommended Albakar Viognier – and, as Viognier is one of my favourite varieties, I was keen to try it. A good wine, but nothing outstanding and not really representative of the variety – I’d give it perhaps 74 points out of a hundred.

Petit Hipperia is from Castilla – an eclectic blend of five different red wine varieties. It’s sold locally, but it wasn’t the vendor who was recommending it to me. I went along mostly with the recommendation, it’s a very well priced, good quality wine, with, as you’d imagine, lots of fruit, but it’s not quite perfectly balanced. Its ripe tannin and diminishing acidity mean it hasn’t got long to last before it starts to wane. However, is that a problem? You’ve got a year or so to drink it as it is now! 80 points!

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