Fizz Fit For The Queen: Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV Review

Per chance, one of my buyers planned Christmas in the crucible of my wine career: Saratoga Springs, New York.  Years ago, I left academia and started fresh-ish there at Putnam Wine, run by British expat William. He crushed and carried me through wine’s complications, trends, and the WSET Advanced. So I sent my buyer with a few bottles from home in Oregon. He returned with, of course, English Sparkling wine.

Now English wine was once a staple of antiquity. A cooling Middle Ages supplanted it with beer and later spirits.  Thanks to global warming and wine’s rise for the aspirational, over 450 vineyards produce English wine today.

Wine Growing Regions Britain

An hour and a half drive southwest of London, in Hampshire, sits Hattingley Valley winery. Hattingley: as English-sounding as Paddington bear, eating marmalade in a railway. They work 60 acres on the same ribbon of chalk that runs through the Cliffs of Dover straight through Champagne. So today’s Brut blends the same grapes: 48% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 17% Pinot Meunier and 2% Pinot Gris.

Methods match Champagne.  Teams hand-harvest grapes into small baskets. A Coquard press squeezes whole clusters. Used white Burgundy barrels ferment 15% of the grapes to soften acidity, stainless works the rest. 18% reserve wines tame the current vintage. Then secondary bottle fermentation occurs and it hangs 18 months on the lees. Seven grams of sugar add to balance it out.

But can the Brits match France?

Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV

Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve English Sparkling Wine NV $45.00

It froths intensely when poured (the cross-country flight probably did not help). The APPEARANCE looks a clear, light gold with brassy highlights. AROMAS and Flavors smell layered, clean, and a bit chunky of moderately intense salted pistachio, brioche, a strawberry’s white core, mostly lemon juice, white oak, and steel.  It enters the PALATE off dry, but a zipper of citric acidity straightens it. The body feels light, lean. The rapid yet fine effervescence keeps an otherwise supple texture edgy. The long finish rides lightly with meringue and baguette crust.

Hattingley Valley’s bubbly is young, bracing fizz, and damned good (4 of 5). It has been to college, travelled a bit, knows a fair deal, but might takes itself a bit seriously imitating its mentors. Still it gives any non-vintage Champagne around $40-50 a great run for your money.

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Give Mourvèdre Its Due: Wine Review of Croad, Paso Robles, California 2011

Santa brought me a surprise: a case of wine from the Central Coast, Paso Robles, California.  The mystery case focuses on a much neglected grape: Mourvèdre.  Thus, each week, check here for a new dive into Mourvèdre.

Now Mourvèdre likely originated in Spain, near Valencia, in a town suspiciously called Murviedro. It wiggled its way across the Mediterranean Coast to Provence.  Here it dominated until phylloxera sapped it, root stock grafting failed, and the famed Syrahs and Grenaches supplanted it in our glasses.

Mourvèdre survived where phylloxera could not: hot, sandy fringes like Bandol and high desert plateaus of Spain. Today, Washington, Australia, and California toy with it in their hotter climates.  The grape tends to make muscular wine with tannins, high alcohol, red fruits, and savory, earthy, and gamey notes: a perfect match for Paso Robles California.

Today, we start with a single, estate vineyard owned by the Croad family: New Zealander’s known for their fabulous mission style winery atop Paso’s West side.

Croad Vineyards, Mourvedre, Silver Fern Series, Paso Robles Willow Creek CA 2011 $46

Croad Vineyards Mourvedre Paso 2011

To stand up to the grape, Croad throws all new oak at it, half French and half Hungarian

Croad’s Mourvèdre looks clear, with a garnet core and a medium clear frame, draped with red-tinted tears.  AROMAS and FLAVORS glow and pop with dried raspberries, red apple, orange peel, sage, clove, and tobacco. The PALATE feels lean, dry, twitching with medium acidity, wood dust tannins, a medium body, and a medium 14% alcohol.

The wine is very good (4 of 5) but needy. Do not expect rich, powerful, classic Mourvèdre.

Find food to make this work. Grilled herbed salmon, ashy goat cheese, truffled pasta, stuffed mushroom caps. Think things savory things for structured, earthy Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo.

Until next week’s Mourvèdre, see you then.

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Nearly New Year: Champagne Dinner at Paley’s Place Portland Oregon

With a newly minted one year-old daughter, my wife and I will not make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  We find the next best fudge: sparkling wine Wednesday dinner at foodie stalwart Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon.

Paley’s lines up six sparkling wines from the world over, along with one blind bubbly. We start them with the mixed vegetable platter: a divine mishmash of winter roots, horseradish sauce, Russian kale and barley salad, spicy cabbage, buckwheat black radish crepes, and on.

Paleys Place Champagne Dinner

Sparkling highs include Langlois‘ prim and silky Cabernet Franc Loire Valley Brut rosé (very good 4 of 5 $19), Pere Ventura‘s taut, zippy, chalky Tresor, Brut, Cava (very good 4 of 5 $14), and Dr Loosen‘s peachy, apple, lime-zested sparkling Riesling (very good 4 of 5 $14). The fizzes are eclectic, at times funky, but good value.

Then the blind bubbly rears its head. Get it right. Get the flight for free.

The glass stares at us.  Its Appearance looks a clear, mild, salmon pink with brass highlights and a near silent trickle of fine fizz. Aromas smell moderately of ethanol, red apple, honey, and dried strawberry that carry into Flavors.  Most telling is the Palate: dryish and kinda flat: with a pithy medium acidity, noted alcohol, a medium light body, and tired fizz.

All of this points to a warm-ish climate with old world tendencies, an age past its peak, and low cost.  No focussed character so it is non vintage. It lacks the fruit and alcohol of New World bubblies.  No autolytics: so not Champagne nor anything with much lees time.  Medium acidity: so not a Burgundy bubbly.  It lacks the cut of Cava, so no Spain.

Crap. This is hard.

My wife hits on Portugal: good call, warmish climate, Euro profile but a bit odd, value.  Its flatness meanders me to charmat/tank/prosecco method and considering an Italian Glera with a dash of a red grape like Pinot Nero. My second guess is a cheap Crémant de Bordeaux, cabernet/merlot blend with a bit of age.


A Cremant d’Alsace, Pinot Noir non-vintage Brut by Dopff & Irion ($19).  Ah well.  A fresher bottle would probably be delish worth buying.

Luckily, we order a bottle of Champagne to wallow over our loss.  Dryness, edged and angled crisp chalk, green apple, lemon squeeze, smoke, brioche and mineral make for a food thirsty bubbly by Moutard, Grande Cuvée Brut, Buxeuil, Champagne, NV ($32.00) (4 of 5 very good).

And then the entrées: salmon, kale mushroom gratin, truffle, potato magic.

Salmon truffle magic Paleys

My wife feigns ennui at her salmon, smoked lobster cream pasta.

Tracy Paleys Salmon Cream Pasta

Parting gifts of ice-cream and mini cocoa cookies wrap up the meal.

We may not make it to New Year’s Eve, but eight sparkling wines make for a fabulous dinner.  Thank you Paley’s Place.

Tracy Aaron Paleys Dinner


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An Easily Bearable Bordeaux: Chateau Malescasse, Haut-Médoc, 2009

Last week, a 2009 Bordeaux pissed us off.  In desperation, only food could tame its barking tannins.  But this week, we flip the script and flip the river bank.  We have a Left Bank, Haut-Médoc: famed for Cabernet blends and alluvial soils.

Ready your glass and soul for a Bordeaux that pleases right out of the gate (hopefully):

Chateau Malescasse, Haut-Médoc, FR 2009 $17-$20

Chateau Malescasse 2009 Haut Medoc Bordeaux

Once again, we time travel to the giving 2009 vintage. Malescasse sits on the Haut-Médoc’s highest hill.  Although founded in 1825, Malescasse’s winery and vineyards have had a total makeover.  Stainless tanks and technology should make for a pure, pleasing, modern red.  They do all those things wine nerds nod our heads to in unknowing approval: slow, cold maceration (“mmmhmm”), three weeks of controlled fermentation (“mmm”), MLF 35% in new wood (*nod), 12 months barrel aging on fine lees (“of course”). The blend is nearly half and half Cabernet and Merlot, with dashes of the usual suspects: Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Does this make an easy-pleasy wine?

The APPEARANCE looks clear but sits on a deep core of black cherry red, rimmed by garnet.

Flakes of AROMAS glow with medium plus intense kirsch, dried blackberry skin, light raspberry, cedar, tobacco ash, flint, light soy, and a waft of vanilla.

The dry PALATE sings merrily along with medium acidity, meaty tannins, medium alcohol, a medium body that feels plump, muscular, yet smooth.

Rich FLAVORS lead with plump boysenberry jam, dried mint, plum, torquing into cedar, light caramel, wrapping with Highland Whiskey.

Malecasse ’09 is very good (4 of 5). Food need not necessarily apply. But brisket, mold dishes, slow-cooked meats with light spice, mushroom or truffle risotto, and young hard cheese will play nicely with this Bordeaux.

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How Not To Hate A Wine: Give Cheese A Chance

Ever try a wine and hate it?  Yeah, me too.  But before we blame the wine, maybe give it a second chance. Actually, give it some food.

It is freezing outside and I am in the mood for a hearty Bordeaux.  Some Bordeaux need years to work, while others taste brilliant young.  So, when I find a Right Bank, Merlot blend, from the ripe 2009 vintage, I consider myself safe.  Doubly so, this is young Château Vignot (est 2003) with modernist Pierre Seillan at the helm, Kendall Jackson money backing it, and a website pushing words like “approachable”, “elegant”, “feminine”, “silky”, and the phrase, “meant to be enjoyed upon release”. It all seems overeager to please.

Is it?

Chateau Vignot 2009

Château Vignot, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2009 $60-$70

It smells tempting enough with plump aromas of dried blueberries, crushed raspberries, red cherry, toasted cedar, light caramel, and tobacco.

However, sipping it feels like licking a tree: a tart, dusty, angry tree. Green notes of olive, pine, stem, earth all frame some horrid prune juice…just no.

I give Vignot a couple hours to breath. But it still feels like reaching first base with tree bark.

Then I remember, the French eat to drink and drink to eat and eat and drink to live. Or something.

So, I whip out some aged cheddar from Scotland and Tillamook. The wine stands on its head.

That angry cedar tree remains, looming behind us, but we have walked out of its forest into a sunny grove with warm blueberries, black cherry trees, plum liquor, wafts of a nice cigarette: my kinda grove.  Its acidity and tannin step back just enough to keep interest, the medium body holds, and the texture turns to distressed suede.

I know this is excruciatingly obvious. Food pairings make wine work. Yet, so often, we think ourselves wine gurus and dismiss them on first impressions. Crowds plow through wine tastings, judging them harshly, with nary a snack. As if speed dating ever worked.

This drives winemakers to manipulate their wares ever softer, sweeter, and dead on arrival.

So, to misquote John Lennon, give cheese a chance.



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