4 by 3…a NEWTS tasting

4 classic wine styles, 3 local retailers each offering an interpretation from their range; this was the premise for the July meeting of the North East Wine Tasting Society and meant a record 12 wines for the 2 hour meeting.

The tasting was the brainchild of Laura Kent, until recently the manager of the Oddbins Newcastle branch, who approached Newcastle wine merchants Richard Granger, Carruthers & Kent and Majestic for an example bottle of German Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Toscana Sangiovese and Argentinian Malbec to go head to head for the assembled NEWTS.

German Riesling;

  • Michael Schäfer 1991 Dorsheimer Pittermänchen, Nahe. 9.5% £6.49. (Majestic)
  • Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg 2006 Spätlese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. 9.5% £21.60. (Richard Granger)
  • Reichsrat von Buhl 2010 Riesling Trocken, Pfalz. 12% £12.49. (Carruthers & Kent)

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc;

  • Moncellier 2010, Marlborough, £10.98 (Richard Granger)
  • Sherwood Estate, Clearwater 2008 , Waipara Valley. 13% £13.49 (Carruthers & Kent)
  • Astrolabe 2010 Discovery, Marlborough. 13%, £19.99. (Majestic)

Toscana Sangiovese;

  • 2009 Poggio Del Sasso, IGT Toscana. 13%, £8.82. (Richard Granger)
  • Nipozzano 2007 Chianti Rufina Riserva. 14%, £17.99. (Majestic)
  • Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva. 14%, £24.99. (Carruthers & Kent)

Argentine Malbec;

  • Viñalba 2008 Gran Reserva, Mendoza. 14.5%, £13.99. (Majestic)
  • Pulenta Estate 2008, Mendoza (Lujan de Cuyo, Alto Agrelo). 14.5%, £15.84. (Richard Granger)
  • Colome Estate 2009, Valle Calchaqui, Salta. 14.5%, £15.99. (Carruthers & Kent)

Unfortunately Laura couldn’t make it on the night as she is in the middle of setting up her new wine enterprise, the Yorkshire Wine School (a franchise of the Newcastle Wine School) due to start in September. As a last minute replacement Richard Whinney stepped in using her notes (not as daunting as it sounds as Richard has presented to the group before and used to be in the wine trade, so knows his stuff).

The 12 bottle table looked daunting, especially knowing the NEWTS ability to procrastinate on any single wine, but Richard prevented a midnight finish by pouring 3 at a time rather than the serial pouring we usually follow and, with all three Rieslings in glass, we began the discussion.

Riesling, my favourite varietal, is a great way to start an evening and was enhanced by Majestic’s bottle-aged example, part of a batch from Weingut Michael Schäfer which they are currently marketing nationally. The QbA Dorsheimer Pittermänchen (Dorsheim is the Nahe town, a Pittermänchen was a small 16th Century silver coin) had a deep petrochemical nose with creamy sweetness, gentle acidity and a sweet lemon, citrus finish. The 20 year old wine was in the twilight of its years, but still delicious and a bargain at £6.49 (although you do have to buy an unbroken 6 bottle case).
The Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg from the Mosel (Ruwer, to be precise) is named from the monastic Carthusian’s hill vineyard outside the town of Eitelsbach and was even more popular with the group, a floral, lemony nose and a richer, more opulent texture (befitting a Spätlese) – sweeter and younger with someone commenting on Mango & Passion fruit. Popularity came at a price though, as this was the night’s second most expensive wine and I found the sweetness a little too simple, probably due to its relative youth.
The final Riesling, a dry Kabinett from Reichsrat von Buhlwas not so popular, a nose more reminiscent of a sweet Sauvignon or Verdejo (white peach was mentioned); light and acidic in the mouth, thin and too atypical for my taste, finishing with some grapefruit bitterness. Comparisons were made to a New World Riesling, and, as the youngest of the trio, some were curious whether bottle age would bring out more complexity (but I had my doubts).

The group voted the Karthäuserhof best (although I preferred the venerable Shäfer), giving Richard Granger the lead as we moved to the Southern Hemisphere for round 2. It should be noted that I hesitate with Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand, as I dislike the over-the-top style that has become synonymous with that country and Marlborough in particular.

The Moncellier had a pungent nose with a touch of epoxy, mellowing in the glass to a nettle aspect. It was fresh, clean and a touch acidic with a lemon sherbet component. A little lean and not as bitter as I’d expected from the nose there was a slightly metallic finish which gave a bit of character – a solid 3 star for me but the least popular with the group.
The Clearwater (Sherwood Estate’s UK brand for their Heritage Collection) was very smoky with a struck match aroma – reductive and sulphurous, which stayed for a while. It had a thin texture, a mild butteriness washed away by its lightness and low on complexity. This lacked character and was not to my taste (although it was the group second favourite ahead of the Moncellier).
The Astrolabe represented exactly what I dislike about the genre; thick, concentrated and a wine that was just trying too hard. The nose was pungent and tropical, while in the mouth there was a syrupy sweetness backed by tropical fruit but very flabby in the middle with a touch of blackcurrant (reminiscent of Ribena, which I felt was just wrong!).

I was in the minority with my disapproval though, as the group winner was the Astrolabe, nudging Majestic into the lead ahead of Richard Granger for the whites. Now it was back to Europe for the reds with Tuscany, specifically Sangiovese.

The Poggio Dell Sasso 2009 from Cantina di Montalcino was a young, fruity and very drinkable “quaffer”; slightly chemical fruit with a hint of blackcurrant and mild, youthful tannins, although finishing quick. This was a “nice” wine – a term frowned upon by the Chairman, but perfectly apt for the Poggio; inoffensive, pleasant with no faults but no great character either.
Next to the ubiquitous Nipozzano, for some reason a wine I’d never managed to taste before.  This had a creamy fruit nose with some chocolate mint but was a little lean and acidic at the start with very dry tannins overpowering the mid-palate, almost obscuring a medium length vanilla-oak finish. This felt a touch unbalanced and, at twice the price of the Poggio, was overpriced for what it is, no doubt partly due to the Frescobaldi name.
The last Italian was the Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale, a true 4 star wine and easily the best of the night. This had a beautifully developed, smoky nose with a touch of liquorice and there was subtle sweet fruit. This was actually quite light in the mouth but with very smooth chocolatey tannins, lots of flavour complexity throughout, very well integrated and a subtle but long finish – delicious, worth the £25 price tag and a clear favourite taking the group vote with the largest majority of the night.

With that last vote bringing Carruthers and Kent into play, overtaking Richard Granger for second place, we finished the night with the trio of beefy Argentinian Malbecs, each coming in at 14.5% abv, which proved to be the closest comparison of the night, each wine having its strong points.

The Viñalba Gran Reserva was fruity with a dry ash component to the nose, smooth creamy fruit in the mouth moderately mild tannins kicking in at the end – a good, uncomplicated 3+ star wine.
Pulenta Estate
weighed in with a 2008 Malbec with a funky, meaty nose and a raw earthiness. Unfortunately, even with pleasant fruit underneath, there was an oaky character throughout this one that didn’t seem to blend – it’s not an oak monster, it’s not unpleasant, but the oak is too “added” and seemed completely unnecessary. I still rated it 3 stars nonetheless and I was in a minority in overtly criticizing it.
Bodega Colomé finished the night with their Malbec from the Calchaquí Valleys in Salta, home to the highest vineyards in the world at 2300-3100m above sea level. This had a sour, meaty nose with a green aspect and some blackcurrant, while there was a freshness to the taste that I liked. It has some herbal character, good blackcurrant fruit and was quite perfumed – the only failing was a lean finish, a bit too much acid over tannin, but still 3+ star.

It was the Colomé that took the last vote, narrowly beating the Pulenta on a tie-break (although I preferred the Viñalba for second place – a little under £2 the price for a similar wine without the obtrusive oak). This gave Carruthers & Kent a clean sweep in the red wines and just put them ahead of Majestic for the night.

The Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva was the best wine of the 12 but also the most expensive at £24.99, while the best buy had to be the Michael Schäfer 1991 Dorsheimer Pittermänchenat £6.49 – I even managed to rescue the remaining half bottle of it at the end of the evening to enjoy at home!

When comparing my own scores to the group consensus I shouldn’t be surprised that the biggest deviation was in the notoriously fickle Sauvignon Blanc category, where I rated the Moncellier highly and the Astrolabe less so, however, with the Moncellier at half the price of the Astrolabe I’ll stick to my guns in recommending it as a good example of an understated NZ Sauvignon (if that’s your thing).


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