Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meeting the Winos

Every time I visit Malta I try to meet as many of my friends as possible and surely one of the dinners I look forward too is the one I organise together with my wine friends and colleagues. In Malta most of the people involved in the wine industry work with importers who bring in loads of goodies to the island. Unfortunately most of these wines are not appreciated by many due to the avalanche of wines which sell at 2 Euros a bottle at super markets. Back to the dinner, it is usually made up of:

1. Great wines – the theme chosen for this dinner was Whites and Rosés, due to the heat which is hovering on the Maltese islands these last days.

2. Great company – handpicked wine friends who are not so easy to find yet the few that exist make exquisite company.

3. Good food and relaxed atmosphere – most food and wine dos are always so prim and proper, so this dinner we like to keep it as relaxed and easy as possible. This time we choose to have a light dinner at Munchies at Ghajn Tuffieha (Apple’s Eye ),one of the most beautiful bay’s in Malta.

After sending a few emails and reminders, all is set for a nice evening. Wines tasted throughout the evening range from Antinori’s bubbly Franciacorta to Trimbach’s racy Riesling to Scilio’s mineral Etna Rosato. My favourite wines from the evening were all of French origin. My first place goes to the rich and ripe Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001 by Hugel. This was the last wine we tasted during this evening yet even if we were all mellowed out with the lovely wine we drank before, for me, as I put my nose in the glass the captivating bouquet takes you to an exotic fruit heaven of mango, lychee and papaya; the palate opulent yet aromatic.

Another French which I enjoyed was the Pouilly Fume 2007 by Domaine Des Marinier. I am a great fan of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley since their expression is based more on the mineral rich notes rather than on the aggressive exotic fruits like most examples coming from the new world. This wine combined lively acidity with cutthroat minerality leaving a mouth watering palate. It was the ideal combination with the mixed Maltese platter we had as starters; gbejniet, bigilla and Maltese sausage.

Just writing about such a lovely dinner makes me look forward for another wine bonanza with my good buddies! There is nothing better than great friends, great wine and food under a starlit Maltese sky

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Basking in the Vineyards of the Loire

Ever since I stepped into France to conduct my studies in Burgundy I had dreamt about visiting the Loire region and taste its great wines. Loire is one of the most interesting regions in France and is renowned mostly for its beautiful castles as well as for the vast portfolio of wines it offers. So, after browsing through the cascading vineyards of the Rhone I drove for 6 hours to taste Loire.

From bone dry Muscadet to sweet Bonnezeaux to sparkling Vouvray, Loire is truly a treasure to discover for any wine lover. I had the luck to stay in a refurbished 14th century house in Vouvray during my 4 day stay. I chose Vouvray because it logistically makes sense; close to Tours and in the centre between the great wines of Sancerre and Menetou-Selon to the East and the Anjou and Nantais to the West. Yet little did I know that to taste all these wines and visit all these sub regions I would need at least 15 days. So with my 3 days and a half I travelled and discovered as much as possible.

Loire is one of the most important sparkling wine regions in France production mostly around the villages of Saumur, Vouvray and Montlouis, particularly due to the tuffeau caves which are ideal for sparkling wine second fermentation in the bottle.

Travelling upriver towards the west of Loire reaching the village of Anjou, the well-known Rosé wines take the top place on wine lists in restaurants around the village. Of course most Rosé wines are not as sweet and unbalanced as many Rosé d’Anjou examples found on commercial markets, yet they are refreshing with some striking acidity which makes them perfect summer wines. Grolleau and Groslot varieties are used for the cheap, medium dry rosés whilst lately more Cabernet Franc and Gamay are used for the better quality wines.

Some of the best sweet wines in the world also come from this diverse region. The grape used for such heavenly wines is the Chenin Blanc, also known as Pineau de la Loire yet has no connections with the Pinot varieties of Burgundy. Giving a wide range of ripeness levels, this grape variety can produce more than 190 to 260 grams of sugar per litre. Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, the grand crus of Coteaux de Layon have the most favourable microclimates for botrytised Chenin Blanc grapes giving lusciously sweet wines. As these wines age they offer a rich bouquet with overtones of honey and apricot.

In between the towns of Tours and Anjou one can also admire the reds of this region coming from the village of Chinon. Here Cabernet Franc can also offer a variety of red wines depending from the soil composition the vineyards are planted on. The most important wines are endowed with a good portion of tannins which ensure a long life in the bottle and more complexities with age. I find it very hard to find good examples of Cabernet Franc yet with it green pepper nose its one of the most recognisable red wines of France.

Well, Loire has delivered all it promised; lovely castles reflecting their beauty along the Loire river and great long lived wines well-known for freshness and finesse.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Geographical neighbours; poles apart in style

The Rhone Valley has always been on my top list wine regions to visit whilst studying in Burgundy, yet with all the travels in the past 8 months I didn’t have the time or the budget to travel to this wine region. As soon as my studies were over both the regions of Rhone and Loire pop in my mind and after having a quick look at my bank account, it always needs to be a quick look or else my heart stops beating, I decided to rent a car, drive down to Beaujolais, further down to Tain-l'Hermitage and then up to the Loire Valley.

Within a few hours’ drive south of the Cote d’Or the landscape changes from the soft hills protecting fertile valleys nourishing short vines of Chardonnay and Gamay to the steep garrigues of the Rhone covered in tall Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne vines. I had the luck to visit the picturesque towns of Solutré, Pouilly and Fuissé on previous occasions but this time I took the time to book a tasting at one of the Domaines which struck my interest during a tasting at L’Atrium, a hub which brings the 5 different terriors of Pouilly- Fuissé under one roof.

Greeted by the Madame Desroches who put my French language to test, my visit to Domaine Grand Pre Philippe Desroches was exactly what I was looking for. Their prestige cuvee wine coming for their vineyards in Solutré, the town shadowed by the Solutré Rock, has citric nose with undertones of exotic fruit yet on the palate the refreshing acidity and minerality give it a lovely balance. A wine as dainty as the land it grows in.

After a surprise thunderstorm at night which brought with it a very welcome cool breeze yet which skimmed off parts of the top soils of the vineyards of the Beaujolais I drove off towards the land of Syrah. With no GPS and relying only on google maps indications and my own instinct, I punctually made it to immersed village of Tain-l'Hermitage. Bathed by the Saone River on one side and the vineyards blessed by the Chapel dedicated to Saint Christophe, patron saint of drivers, this town is all about wine. The haunting domination of the vineyards on the right bank clearly portraying the Jaboulet and Chapoutier families evoked in me a desire to start my Masters once over this time in Tain-l'Hermitage. The wines? Powerful, intense and impressive, a perfect expression of the land grows their vines.

A distance of just over 159 km gave me an experience ranging from the charming delicate flavours of the Mâconnais and the Beaujolais to the structured untamed character of the Northern Rhone. Such is the beauty of diversity in French wine. As I drive away I know one thing for certain; I will be back sooner other than later! :)