Courtesy of the EAT! NG Festival and Newcastle Wine School Sunday 29th July 2012 saw the Newcastle Wine Fair roll into town again, although this year the location had moved from the Civic Centre to the Georgian architecture of the The Assembly Rooms. Following a similar format as previous years there was a mix of independent, local and national retailers showing a selection of their range; Fenwick, Majestic, Carruthers & Kent, Michael Jobling, Tyne Wines, Proteas Wines & Bin21 (Marta Mateus of MartaVine was sharing with Bin21), but this year we were joined this year by Spanish Select Wines, a Newcastle based on-line retailer, and supporting the Tim Atkin Masterclass (see previous blog post) was a Wines of Lebanon table.
The Fair was due to start at 12:30 but well before the doors opened a queue was forming from the reception area and stretching outside, so that the room rapidly filled when the Fair began. With the Masterclass taking about an hour in between this cut back on the total time I had to check out the tables, so I changed tactics from my normal “taste as much as you can” philosophy and screened the lists looking for interesting sounding wines I hadn’t tried before.
The notes start from Wines of Lebanon (which I went to first) and then move around the room anti-clockwise for no particular reason.
The Wines of Lebanon table was hosted by Laura Kent (Yorkshire Wine School) and local wine expert Richard Whinney promoting a selection of Lebanese wines available in the UK. The Domaines de Tourelles 2011 Blanc (M&S, £8.50) Muscat/Viognier blend was rich and enjoyable, with the IXSIR Altitudes White 2010 (£15.95 from Great Western Wine) adding Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon to the same blend to create a delicate wine; well balanced with complex but almost hidden, flavours.
For the reds the Château Ksara Cuvée IIIème Millénaire (their flagship red, £25 from Strictly Wine) showed well with fruity flavours and a rich texture, as did the IXSIR Altitudes Red 2009 (£15.95, Great Western) with vegetal flavours and a menthol lift.
Sadly the Château Ka Source Blanche and Rouge never turned up for the tasting (the red replaced in the Masterclass by Bin21’s superb Château Musar 2003) – although I’ve since discovered that Carruthers & Kent have the Source Blanche for £10.99.
That leads us nicely onto Carruthers & Kent in persons, with both Claire and Mo doing a sterling job pouring and chatting with the hordes (and their table was particularly busy throughout the afternoon). A full-on Terra Alta 2011 Garnacha Blanca (£8.99) with intense flavours started off the whites, but the Alain Paret 2010 Viognier (£11.99) was in a different league, with precise, clean, focussed flavours – a mini-Condrieu without the price-tag. For red the Lamadoro 2011 Negroamaro (£8.99) was fruity and smooth while the 16 Stops 2011 McLaren Vale Shiraz (£8.99) was meaty with a little spice, both good.
It’s also worth mentioning their Sparkling Red which they were pouring (a class of wine I usually put into the “abomination” category), the Alma 4 2007 Bonarda from Mendoza in Argentina (£18.99). Previous forgettable forays with sparkling reds have been Australian Shiraz or Merlot, creating scarred memories and a reluctance to even try new examples but, on advice from a friend, I tried the Alma 4 and found myself rather ashamedly enjoying its spicy fruit (although probably not enough to buy any for personal consumption).
At the Majestic table manager Greig Wilson was there with a global cross-section of wines including the obligatory Champagne which the Wine Fair participants always seem to make a bee-line for. I really enjoyed their chewy, chocolaty Matsu 2009 El Recio from Toro, Spain (£15.99); delicious old-vine Tempranillo made biodynamically and aged in French oak.
Next door Spanish Select were doing a roaring trade and with 30 minutes of the tasting left they were pretty much all out of wines to pour. Unfortunately I’d only managed to try a couple of their range but hopefully we’ll cross paths again and I’ll have a chance to give them my full attention.Joining Bin21 owner Patrick Eyres behind the table were Marta Mateus and new recruit Owen Pledger (ex- of Oddbins and Dennhöfer, now to be found in the Hexham store), although for some reason their wines weren’t on the main wine list and they only had a basic tasting sheet showing a handful of wines (no vintages or prices indicated). It was the reds I enjoyed most here, starting with the Casa Santos Lima Azulejo, V.R. Lisboa with juicy fruit and quite subdued elegance, unlike the brash Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley which had chewy, sweet fruit. The Shiraz was so dangerously drinkable as was the Marqués de Reinosa Rioja which had complex fruit and oak flavours, although it is a touch young at the moment.
Michael Jobling was there in person overseeing his table pourers and joining in with the conversation. A conservative selection of wines was headed by a good value Albariño, the palate-coating Bodegas Coto Redondo Senorio Ribios from Rias Baixas, Spain (£10.20) and a meaty Don Cristobal Finca La Nina Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina (£7.38).
I found myself a little underwhelmed by the Fenwick list which began with a Chilean Sparkling wine infused with Patagonian strawberries (?) but it recovered with an unusual offering from Alsace, the Hugel 2011 Gentil (£10.49) blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Muscat. “Gentil” is an traditional term used for a melange of the Alsace white varieties – a high-end Edelzwicker where at least 50% of the blend must be Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat or Gewürztraminer – and this had a light start, pleasant enough mid-palate but an amazingly long and complex finish. Another tasty wine was the Portia 2008 Crianza, Ribero del Duero, Spain (£13.99) with typical ripe flavours for the region.
Then to the penultimate table and a couple I hadn’t seen for a while, Tony and Carolyn Raven of Proteas Wines. The company has been running under the radar for a while, so it was good to have them back, especially as they’ve added a few new wines to the range (which was beginning to tire a little, much as though I love the Umkhulu Akira 2001 it has been nearly 3 years since I first tasted it and it was mature then). Two whites grabbed my attention immediately, both from the Seven Springs Vineyard in Hermanus, South Africa. The 2011 Unwooded Chardonnay, W.O. Overburg (£11.95) showed clear minerality under delicate tropical fruit, then Tony poured a glass of the 2010 (Oaked) Chardonnay to compare and it showed ripe fruit with toasty vanilla – both were excellent examples of the two modern styles of Chardonnay done extremely well (remember I’m a recovering A.B.C.). Seven Springs is a new winery (setup in 2006 with the first vintage in 2010) owned by English couple Tim and Vaughan Pearson and even more encouraging is that the wines are made by a 24 year old local winemaker, Riana van der Merwe – I predict a bright future for this venture!
And so finally to the last table and a familiar face, Irwin Thompson of Tyne Wines. I am guilty of sometimes neglecting Irwin at tastings as he suffers something of a backlash at only having French wines in his range, and a lot Beaujolais amongst that. Both country and region often fail to excite in comparison to the larger wine world, however, there is also something reliable about them when done correctly and his speciality is uncovering diamonds in the rough (I also later noticed Tim Atkin tweeting “Just discovered a great Beaujolais importer in Newcastle”).
I loved the bon-bon nose of the Domaine du Griffon 2010 Le P’tit Blanc (£8.95) a mere Vin du France as it is a white Gamay, the first I have tried and very palatable. I also enjoyed the same Domaine’s sparkling version, La P’tite Bulle NV (£10.95) – enough to buy a bottle to join my miniscule collection of sparkling wines.
For the reds I particularly enjoyed the soft, young raspberry fruit of Domain Champagnon 2009 Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais (£11.65) although there were 3 other reds (Chiroubles, Fleurie and Minervois) which I’d more than happily drink.
As usual I was one of the last to leave, looking for just one more wine to taste and hoping I hadn’t missed anything spectacular, although I probably did!
Now that I’ve had time to review my notes, decipher the occasional scrawl and dredge my memory of the day, I must admit there weren’t as many stand-out wines as I’d like to have seen, but saying that there weren’t too many stinkers either! My top 3 wines of the show were the Alain Paret Viognier, the Château Ksara Cuvée IIIème Millénaire and either/both of the Seven Springs Chardonnays, with probably the Finca la Nina Malbec taking best QPR wine.
It was great to see such an enthusiastic turnout to the event and even better to see a Master of Wine mixing with the crowds, hopefully a sign that the North East wine scene is heading in the right direction!