Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for March, 2010

Atom bombs and wine fraud

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Australian scientists claim to have discovered an accurate, scientific test to determine the age of fine wine.  The team at the University of Adelaide headed by Dr Graham Jones noted that atmospheric atomic bomb tests, which ended in 1963,  released significant amounts of radioactive carbon-14 into the atmosphere. This is absorbed by grapes as they ripen and can be measured in the lab, in a similar way to that already used by archaeologists to date organic remains. Dr Jones hopes that his research, using a highly sensitive accelerator mass spectrometer might offer one more tool in the fight against wine fraud.

Representatives of the top auction houses will be delighted, especially in Hong Kong.  They will probably be already beating a path to Dr Jones’s door. They recognise that their hugely lucrative trade might collapse overnight if their rich clients, especially those in mainland China, discover that wine they’ve bought might not be the genuine article. Vast sums of money are spent by investors in the Far East on wine: £54,476 was paid at a Hong Kong auction in December, for example, for a case of 1982 Pétrus.

Attempts to deceive are probably inevitable when so much money is at stake; but I imagine that the tests themselves won’t run cheap. And each test will, I’m sure, necessitate the opening of a bottle of potentially precious liquid. Will the worried client be on hand to drink the rest? Will the lucky scientists be treated to a glass too?

At least it might mean that some of a few bottles of these ridiculous commodity wines might actually end up being consumed. Or were they created for some other reason?


Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Laithwaites came north last week to show a range of wines to their customers.  I wasn’t terribly keen to go, not least because their pushy PR folk filled my inbox with reminders – just the think that gets by back up. But I girded my loins and turned up – and I’m glad I did.  The quality and range of wines was much better than I’d expected. In fact I was quite excited by the imagination of some of their choices. So here are my brief notes:

Champagne Haton Brut, Blanc de Noirs (£22.99) A nice rich fizz from black grapes: soft, rich with nice appley acid.

Grand Lescure, Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Vin de Pays Comté Tolosan (£6.99) Clean, green and fresh with a slightly stony finish.

Portinho do Covo Fernao Pires/Muscat, Terres de Sada 2008 (£5.99) Grapey, grapefruit, fresh dry white from Portugal, with nice end minerality.

Alma Andina Torrontés 2009 (£6.99) Citrus, clean, fragrant, Argentinean dry white – simple but quite a nice example.

Feudo di Maria Zibibbo 2008 (£6.99) Unusual dry white from Sicily made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes – a nice surprise: perfumed and floral with grapefruit and a dry tangy, slightly salty finish.

Mourat Sacré Blanc Chenin 2008 (£11.99) Big, rich impressive Chenin from the Fiefs Vendéens full of apricot and apple fruit. A great find.

Stonewall Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2009 (£9.99) Utterly typical New Zealand Sauvignon, bracing, clean and  green (like tomato stalks) with lovely minerality.

Esk Valley, Hawke’s Bay Verdelho, 2008 (£10.99) Lovely smoky apple fruit. Softer and longer than any Aussie I’ve tasted. Good on the Kiwis!

The Black Stump Durif Rosé, 2009 SE Australia (£6.99) Deepish pink with bags of sweet cherry jam fruit and a hint of sweetness.

Chianti DOCG, Collezione di Paolo 2008 (£7.99) Deep for Chianti with a huge smell of ripe cherries and a nicely grippy flavour. Good stuff.

Los Rosales, Chapel Vines Carmenère 2008 Rapel Valley Chile (£8.99) Deep ruby; powerful and chewy with lots of rich black fruit and licorice.

Gran Bombero Garnacha 2007, DO Carinena (£8.99) Very deep with a good concentration of forest fruit flavours – quite grippy. A bit pricey maybe, but judged on its own merits rather than the usual cost of Carinena, probably worth it.

Bulldozer Pinotage 2009 (£7.49) Plenty of ripe cherry and plummy fruit balanced by juicy acidity. Pinotage is South Africa’s unique calling card and is fun when it’s as good as this.

The Waxed Bat Shiraz/Petit verdot/Malbec, Mendoza 2008 (£7.99). I don’t normally respond to big alcoholic reds (this is 15 abv), but this mad mix of grapes is huge, exotic and with masses of concentrated black fruit – long too. Would I want a second glass? Probably not, but the first is a bit of a treat.

L’Esprit des Papes, AOC Cotes du Roussillon 2007 (£7.99) Not bad at all: ripe sweet, spicy and slightly herby and juicy fruit.

Farnese Cinque Uve Ultima Edizione (£7.99) An unlikely Italian table wine – and to my mind the gem of the tasting: rich, spicy with loads of black fruit and best of all, a really velvety texture.

Pillastro Selezione d’Oro 2007, DO Puglia (£9.99) Tarry southern Italian red, with lots of licorice – just saved by enough fresh acidity.

Waitiri Creek, Central Otago Pinot Noir, 2006 (£14.99) Pricy, but probably just about worth it: a very ripe, in your face Pinot, with unembarrassed sweet cherry fruit by the bucketload.

Luis Cana Rioga Reserva DOC 2001 (£13.49) The classiest wine on show; rich and deep, amazingly youthful, full of  fruit, beautifully balanced by just enough spicy oak.

Le Grand Chai, AOC Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2006 Chateau Haur-Pourret (£16) I’ve never tasted St Emilion quite like this plummy fruit bomb – perfumed, soft, rich and then savoury. Is it really claret?

The Moonlighters Cabernet/Nebbiolo/Merlot/Shiraz 2005 McLaren Vale, Australia (£10.99) Juicy, smoky, soft black fruit – plenty of it.

Domaine Mas Mouriane AOC Maury 1969 (£19 – 50cl) Like drinking salted caramel – long and thought provoking.

I also tasted four very good wines from the leading Pfalz estate of Von Buhl, which on the evidence of these wines seems as good as ever it has been – in other words, very good indeed. I hope to do a longer article soon.

Bad news from Chile

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I’ve heard from Zenen Santana-Delgado at Traidcraft that the Sagrada Familia project was badly affected by the Chilean earthquake.

The sad news is that  8 people from  one of the 22 member families were killed when their house fell down during the earthquake and that the homes of four other families were also completely destroyed.

The two wineries with which they work also suffered considerable damage. The full extent of this is not yet clear, but Sagarada Familia’s Lautaro brand lost around 100 000 litres of of stock.

Power and water supplies have been cut – and, of course, all this has happened right in the middle of harvest. It seems unlikely that much wine will be made in 2010.

It is becoming clear that Sagrada Familia are not the only producers to have been so tragically affected by the earthquake. If  ever there was a time to buy Chilean wine, surely it’s now.