Carruthers & Kent’s 1st Birthday party finally arrived at the end of October with a grand suppliers’ wine tasting downstairs in As You Like It in Jesmond. As the company was formed in mid 2009 this may sound a little late, but the fair was really to celebrate the anniversary of their delightful Gosforth shop.
I first met Claire Carruthers in 2008, when she was manager of the Gosforth branch of Oddbins, but within a year she’d set up C&K (with partner Mo O’Toole, who has taken on the role of “Kent”) and first presented under the company banner at the Wine on the Tyne fair at St. James’ Park. Claire was hoping to have a shop before Christmas 2009 but a series of unfortunate events meant that is wasn’t until November 2010 that the doors finally opened at Elmfield Road, and it was to celebrate the first year of having a roof over their wines and a walk-in location for the customers that the party was put together.
7 tables lined the room each with a generous selection of wines plus some Whisky, Cognac and Armagnac if anyone fancied something a little stronger. The detailed tasting sheet showed 67 still and sparkling wines but there were also 3 extra ones hidden in the room, taking the total to 70 which, considering the 4 hours tasting window (more than enough time to attack the list) was very generous for the £20 entry fee.
Each table represented one or more of C&Ks suppliers from around the country;
- Table 1: Nick Whyte from Alliance Wine showing a South American dominated table including 3 Chileans & 1 Argentinean.
- Table 2: Manned by ex-Oddie & local boy Matt Storey showing a range of wines from Fields, Morris & Verdin Ltd (the agency arm of Berry Bros. & Rudd) including two Qupe wines from California, a Hungarian dry Furmint and the only Riesling in the room.
- Table 3: A joint table with Scott Edge of Codorníu UK showing off Spain and Argentina, and Nathan Sherwood of Levin Wines flying the French Tricolore with their Loire Valley selection.
- Table 4: The familiar face of Andy Taylor from Liberty Wines with an mix of Europe, Australasia and South America.
- Table 5: Anne Roque of Domaine Laroche showing the Laroche Chablis, the Domaine’s Chilean offshoot plus a selection of Southern French wines including two Rivesaltes vin doux naturel.
- Table 6: Simon Chant from Enotria with a global mix including Canada and Uruguay.
- Table 7: Marta Mateus and Kevin Bowers of MartaVine with a few of their Portuguese sparkling, still and fortified wines.
The room was busy – most of the 160 tickets had been sold in the run-up to the day – and I bumped into The Journal wine writer Helen Savage and local retailer Michael Jobling over the course of the afternoon.
As I bounced between tables – following grapes, colours and styles – I recognised several other faces along the way. Sadly my weakness for remembering names doesn’t help much but it was good to see fellow NEWT Elaine Orrick, there with a group of friends, and Karim Kassam, who I’d met at the Wine Festival in Corbridge earlier in the month (and ended up in detailed wine discussions along with Owen Pledger of Dennhöfer Wines and Laura Kent of the Yorkshire Wine School).
When I came to review my notes at the end of I had covered 61 of the wines and had managed to taste all of the whites, rosé and reds. The missing 9 included all 6 sparkling wines in the room (a blind spot I seem to have in tastings) and 3 of Marta’s fortified which I ran out of time with.
Obviously it would make rather dull reading to detail all of the wines, so I’ll stick to the interesting or unusual wines and summarise the stars of the day at the end.
I’ll get my complaint out of the way right at the beginning – the lack of a stand-out Pinot Noir. There were 3 Pinots in total; two from New Zealand and one from Chile, but none of them excited. The Chilean was a fair price but thin, while the New Zealanders had more flavour but were still comparatively simple for their more noticeable price tags.
I could also bemoan only having two Riesling to try, which was a little disappointing for someone who adores the grape, but I appreciate that most consumers still don’t “get” that most noble of white varieties. These were the only real negatives on the day, meaning the rest of this piece is dedicated to the positives!
On Table 1 Nick had the mineral, peppery Domäne Wachau 2009 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd that I enjoyed so much at the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival, but I was more captivated when he poured the deeply perfumed Amayna 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Leyda Valley; barrel fermented to give a rich white with a delicious toffee finish.
There were two excellent value reds; first the Château Fontareche 2009 Corbières with moderate complexity and Garrigue herbs; then the Odfjell Armador 2007 Syrah from Chile’s Maipo Valley, an extracted cassis nose with warm fruit. They were both enjoyably quaffable and good value, one with a nod to the old world, the other to the new.
As a sweet finish there was the Zuccardi Malamado 2008 Mendoza Liqueur Malbec, the first fortified version of this quintessentially Argentine grape that I’ve tried and deliciously Port-like.
On Table 2 Matt made a relaxed and friendly stand-in host in the absence of anyone from F, M & V.
I made a point of trying the two 2009 Riesling from Mosel producer Merkelbach which were both off-dry; first a 10.5% Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese which had a closed nose, light caramel on the mid-palate and moderate complexity; then a 9.5% Erdener Treppchen Auslese which was also closed with a little spritz at the start and came across as more delicate than the Spätlese – for the same price I preferred the former.
The relatively light Dog Point 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough was an enjoyable example of a style of wine I often have difficulty appreciating, while toffee appeared again both on the nose and the finish of the elegant Qupe 2009 Viognier/Chardonnay from Santa Barbara, California.
Argentinean Malbec made a more traditional appearance in the Pulenta Gran Corte 2007 from Mendoza, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot also in the mix, giving plenty of blackcurrant fruit on the nose and soft, mellow fruit on the palate – dangerously easy to drink for a “big” wine.
At Table 3 it was the Levin Sauvignon Blancs that impressed for the whites; first with the understated 2007 basic offering; citrus minerality and subtle elegance; then the 2009 “Mister L”, made using grapes from 35 year old vines and barrel fermented for 9 months in new French oak. This had an intriguing nose with definite blackcurrant characteristics (Nathan said Blackcurrant Leaf had been used before in describing the wine), was dry and very textural with a subtle blackcurrant taste, very good (as it should be for the most expensive wine on the list!).
Then Scott poured me some serious reds from Codorníu’s portfolio, Argentina performing strongly again with an extremely quaffable Septimo Dia 2008 Malbec by Bodegas Septima in Mendoza. This young, warm and fruity red had enough flavour tannin to add character for a modest price tag, a candidate for best QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) of the night. Its more refined sibling was the smooth tannin Septimo 2008 Gran Reserva – 55% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon & 10% Tannat – with the Cabernet definitely coming through on the minty, blackcurrant nose and rich fruity palate.
Scott then moved to Spain for two excellent Priorat reds from the Scala Dei (Ladder of God) winery. The uplifting 2007 Prior Crianza had a fresh, perfumed nose, strong tannin and fruity taste, but it was the 2005 Cartoixa (Carthusian) that showed something special with a deeper and darker flavour profile. A blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Syrah it had a similar perfume to the Prior with added smoke, warm, rich fruit on the palate and showed delicate complexity with very smooth, fine tannins. In researching the wine for this piece I found a blog post on Spittoon that’s well worth reading for some added background to the winery.
The tables finale was the sweet and savoury Septima Tardio, a 100% Gewürztraminer late harvest wine, smoky and sweet with a light caramel component.
Andy at Table 4 had the Masseria Pietrosa 2010 Verdeca, another white I enjoyed at the Corbridge festival at the beginning of October with its rich mid-palate and fresh flavours. The Greywacke 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was on the lists but I much preferred the same estate’s smooth, herb and grapefruit 2010 Pinot Gris that he had also brought along to supplement the table.
Two Australian reds fought it out for my favours: Willunga’s “The Tithing” 2009 Grenache (McLaren Vale) had a closed nose with unidentifiable red fruit, was soft and smooth in the mouth with moderate tannins adding some character. Equally smooth was Clonakilla’s 2010 Hilltops Shiraz (Canberra) with its peppery nose and fruity character. In the end I couldn’t really separate them, both equally enjoyable and equally priced.
Special mention should go to the Chocolan 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserva from Chile which was far too young to enjoy now but showed tremendous potential with concentrated cassis and herbs – if bottle age integrates the battling components it could be a delicious wine in 2-3 years for a very modest price.
Anne Roque at Table 5 had the very good Domaine Laroche 2008 Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru with its buttery pineapple nose, deep texture and concentrated, mineral palate.
Although the reds on the table were perfectly enjoyable none stood out from the crowd, however, the Domaine de Cazes 1999 Ambre from Rivesaltes couldn’t be ignored, with deep caramel on the nose and palate, a comforting glass that few could dislike.
Onto Table 6 and Simon poured the superb Domaine Yves Cuilleron 2010 Vioginer, made in Chavanay on the Rhône, only a few miles downriver from the spiritual home of the grape – Condrieu. This had a subtle orange zest nose, rich texture with orange oil and peach on the palate, a match for many of its neighbours.
There was a monster red in the room with the Bogle 2007 Phantom – a gutsy wine made from Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a hint of Mourvèdre matured for over 2 years in American oak. It had a Garrigue herb nose with some menthol and was relatively smooth with strong tannins on the finish but, while good now, I felt it could only get better with more bottle age.
For dessert Simon showed off an ancient Italian grape variety with the Candido Aleatico 2002 Salice Salentino from Puglia. The Aleatico red grape is possibly the parent of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains variety and this had a raspberry leaf component with moderate, juicy sweetness – one to recommend.
So finally to Portugal with Table 7 and MartaVine, where Marta and Kevin must be starting to think I’m stalking them! The only (still) Rosé of the night was to be found here with the perfectly pleasant Santa Marta, a medium sweet wine made from the Touriga Franca grape.
Although showing the same blush colour the Jeropiga moved us into the fortified section and also signalled the end of the afternoon. From the Beira region, Jeropiga is a Vinho Licoroso (Liquer Wine) made by the addition of brandy to pre-fermented grape must (usually Jaen, Aragonêz, Trincadeira and Rufete varieties) and this was dangerously easy to drink, with a little tar on the nose and some sweet liquorice on the palate. As the room emptied my last glass was the Portal 10 year old tawny Port with its classic nose, burnt cinder toffee taste and decent complexity – a characterful wine to finish the event on.
Although I rushed a little bit with the fortified wines (and totally ignored the sparklers) I was more than satisfied with my efforts for the still wines in the room and, thanks to diligent use of the spittoons, was relatively compos mentis at the end of a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon – at least the legibility of my tasting notes suggest so!
To summarise; there was a thoughtful balance of white and red wines giving a good choice of both value and quality, although it would have been nice to have one or two more Rosés. Whites were especially strong overall but the reds weren’t far behind (unless you were looking for a Pinot Noir).
My picks of the afternoon were (prices as shown on the tasting sheet, check with C&K for changes):
QPR (best value for your £);
- Masseria Pietrosa 2010 Verdeca (Liberty, £10.99)
- Odfjell Armador 2007 Syrah (Alliance, £9.99)
- Septimo Dia 2008 Malbec (Codorníu, £7.99)
- Candido Aleatico 2002 Salice Salentino (Enotria, £16.99)
Quality (wines with a wow factor);
- Amayna 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Alliance, £19.49)
- Levin “Mister L” 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Levin, £34.99)
- Septimo 2008 Gran Reserva (Codorníu, £15.99)
- Scala Dei 2005 Cartoixa (Codorníu, £30.00)
- Bogle 2007 Phantom (Enotria, £19.99)
Thanks to Claire and Mo for setting up the event and I hope it’s the first of many I’ll be attending.