The course-intensive Swedish wine tasting association Munskänkarna only arranges tests at the highest level (“level 3”, should roughly corresond to WSET Diploma level) every second year – typically theoretical test in November of even-numbered years followed by a practical test in February of odd-numbered years. I did them last time around, in 2008 & 2009. Our Brussels chapter (of Swedish expats) has a member who recently passed the theoretical test and who are now going to give the practical test a try in early February. So we have arranged a couple of extra blind tastings recently, so she’s able to practice. That also gives the rest of us an excellent excuse to taste some more as well, in case we needed one. I held one tasting in early January, which was meant to be representative of two of the five flights of the practical test – one of “region-specific” red wines and one of sweet wines. For the sweet wines, I chose to include only fortified wines.
Château Belgrave 2000
Frankrike – Bordeaux – Haut-Médoc (5me grand cru classé 1855), just outside the border to the Saint-Julien appellation
Grape varieties (in the latest vintage): 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, 13% alcohol
€ 22,50 – Rob, Brussels (2008).
In the nose barnyard notes, developed aromas, toasted barrel, black currants and dark plums, some herbal notes. Quite pleasant nose. Medium bodied on the palate, black currants and other dark berries, some spice, obvious but softened tannins, rather long and tannic aftertaste. The nose is one size larger than the palate, which is not that concentrated. 89-90 p.
The leanest wine of the flight, which wasn’t completely unexpected. I believe that almost everyone identified this as a Bordeaux. It was interesting that everyone who guessed the vintage thought it was younger than it actually was, something like 2004-2006, even those who often drink mature wines. Belgrave is typically quite reliable in quality between vintages (since sometime in the 90s) and usually a rather good buy, because it’s just below the radar of prestige customers – typically scores just under 90 from Parker and not in one of the communal appellations of Médoc. In this vintage, I would say it appears to be an average effort for a 5th cru classé in a very good vintage, i.e, it could have been better, which would have meant more concentration on the palate, because the aromas as such were delicious and classic for its origin.
Señorio de P. Peciña Tinto Gran Reserva 1998, Bodegas Hermanos Peciña
Spain – Rioja
Grape varieties: 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Garnacha
48 months in American oak barrels, 13% alcohol
€ 20,85 – Alter Vinum (2010)
Developed nose of vanilla, obvious dill aromas, mild spice and red berries, some leather and balsamic notes. Classic and very pleasant Rioja notes. More than medium bodied, obvious spice on the palate, red berries, “warm style”, obvious tannin with some bitterness, but balanced; elegant, the alcohol is well integrated. Aftertaste with berries and tannin. 91-92 p.
To me, who had read the label, the wine positively screamed “traditional Rioja”, and although several identified it as such, some landed elsewhere. The rather light colour seemed to mislead in some cases (with traditional oak regime and some maturity other varieties than Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo can also be light in colour), and possibly because Rioja was not on the “shortlist” considered in some cases. However, in my mind, traditional Rioja GR must absolutely be counted among the truly typical and identifiable wines that could make a showing in a real tasting of this kind. This particular producer is highly traditional, and in my opinion of good quality and a good value. According to the Belgian importer, this bodega was started up by a winemaker from La Rioja Alta after they had become to modernist for his own taste. This is a bit amusing since their Gran Reserva 890 (quite expensive) and 904 (more affordable for a good G.R.) are considered as quite traditional to the best of my knowledge. But of course, there is also much else in their range.
Château de la Gardine Tradition 2007
France – Rhône – (Southern Rhône) – Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Grape varieties: 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, the rest Syrah and Muscardin, 14% alcohol
€ 23,59 – Cora (2010, Foire aux Vins)
Herbal nose of red and dark berries, spice, pencil shaving, tar, slightly sweetish aromas. Young and almost “Syrah-styled” in its aromas, clearly “French” in the impression. On the palate slightly more than medium bodied, dark berries, quite powerful tannin, slight alcoholic impression, definitely spicy, herbal. Quite young today, difficult to assess. Should be given another 3-5 years. 89-91 p?
Here, the guesses were quite divergent, but some landed in the right place despite the fact that it was quite closed – much more so than I expected. I bought some bottles of this one because its alcohol level was moderate for the vintage (you could buy more Parker points per euro in some other wines that I skipped because of quite high alcohol levels), and after tasting it I believe it could become elegant and balanced with some cellaring.
Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2005
Italy – Veneto – Valpolicella
Grape varieties (in the latest vintage): 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese and 5% Molinara, 16,5% alcohol (whoa!)
€ 24,90 – Match (2010).
Sweetish nose, red berry liqueur, oak barrel notes, chocolate, some vanilla. White raisins? On the palate a little more than medium bodied, powerful, sweetish, clearly alcoholic, again an impression of red berry liqueur, notes of dried berries and white raisins, some vanilla, some tannin and a slight bitterness. Good in its style (possibly a little sweet in its impression), 90-91 p? I suppose than an amarone with extra high alcohol shouldn’t be my style, but this was quite good when assessed for what it is. I had expected to score it lower. I suppose that you could say that the alcohol and sweetness in this case are so obvious, that it doesn’t even try to compete with, say, fruitier Bordeaux wines (such as Merlot-dominated right bank blends), but is a wine which solidly signals that it belongs to another category altogether. I would rather serve this with flavorful and salty cheese than with meat dishes.
Domaine de Coyeux Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2005
France – Rhône
Grape variety: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Fortified, 15% alcohol
€ 18,00 – Rob (2011), also available in half bottles
In the nose orange peel, flowers, grapes, perfume, dried spice – powerful and elegant aromas. On the palate sweet (a little more than “Beerenauslese sweet” in my impression, for those who use German wines as their point of reference), viscous, slightly alcoholic, good concentration of fruit, notes of orange, passion fruit and other tropical fruits, good acidity. Power and elegance combined. 92-93 p.
Some actually were completely right in their guess of wine type and appellation. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a fortified wine that usually stays at such a reasonable alcohol level (note that it’s 1,5% below the amarone…) that it is one of the least “booze-y” sweet fortified wines around. This in combination with its typical Muscat notes means that I consider it a good match with fruit desserts.
Lustau East India Solera Sherry
Spain – Jerez
Grape varieties: Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximenez
Fortified (a blend of matured dry Oloroso and matured sweet P.X. + additional maturation), 20% alcohol
€ 11,55 (half bottle) – Rob (2011)
Figs, dates and nuts in the nose, some brown sugar, freshly oiled wooden boat, clearly oxidised/madeirised notes, quite pleasant. A little more than “Beerenauslese sweet”, good concentration on the palate, notes of burnt sugar, dried spice, very dried fruit (apricot?), good acidity some bitterness. 91-92 p.
For me, who had the distinct advantage of having read the label, it was possible to find both the Oloroso notes (nuttiness) and the P.X. character (figs, dates) from the two components of the wine. Most of those who tasted blind, though, guessed Madeira, and I understand why when there was burnt sugar and similar notes. I guess East India Solera should show this, but not “standard” Cream Sherry, which is probably more common to encounter.
Blandy’s Malmsey Rich Madeira aged 5 years
Portugal – Madeira
Grape variety: Malmsey (Malvasia)
Fortified, 19% alcohol, 123 g/l sugar
€ 23,75 – Rob (2011)
Some green notes in the nose, burnt sugar, walnut, slightly smokey. Comes across as a bit more rough and angular compared to the Lustau Sherry. “Beerenauslese sweet”, very distinct acidity, brunt sugar also on the palate, some dates, slightly less concentrated palate than number 1-2 of the flight. 87-88 p.
To me, this shows some classical Madeira characters: slightly green notes and high acidity (typically higher than Sherry). Most guessed the other way around, thinking this was a Sherry, and several (but not me) preferred this to the actual Sherry. However, this is my blog so I do the scoring. In a way I have an easier time understanding how you could think the Lustau wine was a Madeira, than how this could be a Sherry. But I guess it’s an effect of tasting from the left and deciding too quickly on the first wines, which means that Sherry was what was left within this approximate style…. Despite the slightly lower score, it is a good wine, but I often find that you need to go to those older than 5 years for a wine in full harmony. It’s always fascinating that a wine produced from in principle underripe grapes, which have then been “maltreated”, in the end can yield such a good wine. I guess the booze plays a certain role… 🙂
Graham’s Tawny Port Aged 10 Years
Portugal – Douro (Port)
Fortified, 20% alcohol
€ 15,05 – Delhaize (2011).
In the nose dried red berries, dried yellow fruit, some marshmallowy candy, slight spice. On the palate a little more than “Beerenauslese sweet”, dried red berries, obvious spice, some leather and tannin, rather alcoholic, classical Tawny in a sweet style, 90-91 p.
Most tasters nailed this down as a Port, with some guesses in Banyuls or Maury instead, which tend to hold 16% rather than 20%, but I guess it is not always easy to tell the difference if you have a single fortified red.
Graham’s house style is to produce rather sweet Port, but with good fruitiness and concentration. Thus, a Port from Graham’s comes across as sweeter than one from for example Taylor’s or Dow’s. Rumour has it that the Port producer themselves consider 20 year old Tawny to be optimal (there is also 30 and 40 year old at a higher price), and drink this when they meet among themselves.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.