Hold on tight, here we go again!

Ben Franks Tasting Wines
My tasting notes from last week

OK, I’ll admit it, I have a short attention span. When it comes to food and drink, I can’t pinpoint whether it’s curiosity or boredom but I will jump around and try new things like it’s a drug addiction. I’ll go off wine completely and dive head first into learning about whiskies, or buying a Danish cherry liqueur to sip. Then I’ll be right back to wine again, bouncing all over the world.

I rarely buy the same cereal twice in a row.

Silly problem, I know, but I do have a point: this trait means sometimes I have a book full of tasting notes with no theme to link them.

Shortly I’ll be writing a piece of German Spatburgunder and then another on dry German Rieslings that I bought from The Wine Barn recently. I’ll then have a series of reports on Austrian wines. However, in the meantime, please indulge me for a minute. I’m going to publish a few of my tasting notes with no real link other than I enjoyed all the wines and ciders you’ll read below in the same week.

Don’t worry, I’m not quaffing it all down by the bottle. Most of the time I’ll have half a bottle left and gift it to a friend to polish off*. The spirits get closed up and popped away for another time.

So what have I been drinking?

Last week, I started by revisiting Spain. I had a bottle left over from a case of wine I purchased from Corkage wine bar at the beginning of lockdown as a show of support.

The wine is from Ribero del Duero, and if you look at my wildly outdated Vivino profile (no, I’m not going to link you) you’ll see I wrote a lot of tasting notes on Rioja and Ribero del Duero wines during the London Wine Fair in 2017. You’ll find hundreds of these wines in the UK, if not thousands, which can make it difficult to find an outstanding one, but the availability in itself is testament to the drinkability of the style.

The most popular grape in these regions is Tempranillo and the one I had from Bodegas Fuentenarro is 100% full of the stuff. Fuentenarro started over 90 years ago with their first vineyards planted in Burgos. In 2002 they opened their winery and produce wines exclusively from the family’s own vineyard estate, aiming to create a distinct identity for their wines.

The Fuentenarro vines around La Horra

The 40 year old vines are around the town of La Horra, an area with high quality clay and calcareous soils. The viticultural practice is biodynamic and sustainable and the winemaking is overseen by oenologist Juan Ayuso Arenillas, who matures the wines in American and French oak.

The resulting wines are distinctive, rich in character and showcase the influence of oak ageing as much as they do the quality of juice.

2014, Vina Fuentenarro Ribero del Duero Reserva ★★☆ – Made from 100% Tempranillo and matured for 12 months in oak, this wine is instantly chock full of tobacco smoke on the nose. Under it you get some interesting aromas of black cherry, iced coffee, blackcurrants and vanilla. Rich cassis, packs of smoke, black pepper, strawberry jam and a tang of black liquorice make up a grippy palate with an almost peated-like finish. Actually surprisingly moreish for an Islay whisky fan like me.

A fresh drop of white wine – or maybe a cider?

Continuing a nostalgic return to the classical wine regions, I have a love for Rhone Valley white and red wines, but particularly anything with Roussanne in it. When these wines are done well, oaked Rousanne for me can be even more interesting than some of the most elegant, oak-matured Chardonnays.

Bush vines in Swartland, South Africa

Swartland, known for its sunny weather and arid, vast desert landscapes, has become home to a new wave of winemakers inspired by the blends of the Rhone. Having tasted some delicious varietal Roussanne from the region, I was eager to try winemaker Marius Prins’ Granite Rock White blend that was created for importer Hallgarten Druitt in the UK.

80% of the fruit in this wine is harvested from small bush vines and sorted for exceptional quality. The creative final product is a blend of some of my favourite grapes: Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Chardonnay.

However, while I delighted in a creamy white wine, I also indulged in an Iscider from Swedish cidery Brannland. I have raved about this cidery before and regularly name drop it as a reason why I drink cider at all.

“Claim” Iscider, by Brannland

Brannland’s Iscider range is made from naturally frozen apples that are pressed as they gently thaw, much like the Quebecois method in Canada that requires the fruit to be naturally frozen for ice ciders and wines rather than made from frozen juice. This method retains fresh, tart acidity while also concentrating the sugars in the cider.

The resulting products are some of the most mouth-watering and indulgent treats I’ve had the pleasure to try.

2017, Swartland Winery Winemaker’s Collection Granite Rock White – From South Africa’s Rhone-inspired Swartland region. It’s a lighter, more mineral style than some of the Roussanne-based blends coming from Swartland. This combines Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Chardonnay to create a wine with a nose of butterscotch, pear water and grapefruit. It’s not very punchy on the palate, instead smooth and lightly viscous with notes of cooked pear, peach and white flower. The alcohol note is like a prickly spice. Citrussy, bittersweet grapefruit and grape skin tannin round out the palate with a hint of vanillin spice.

NV, Brannland “Claim” Iscider 8.0% abv ★★☆ – From one of my favourite cideries, as I’ve mentioned before, this is a lighter style of Quebecois method Ice cider produced by Brannland. It has a very cidery nose of apple and sugar, with hints of poached apricot. In the mouth it’s full and viscous with a perky acidity and notes of sweet Pink Lady apples and dried cranberries. Claim is ultra fresh but definitely needs chilling to avoid too much of a tang on the finish.

A glass of home-grown bubbles

As we look into extending our range of English wines at Novel Wines, it was lovely to hear a customer recommendation to try the wines from Sussex producer Albourne Estate. Located just 8 miles from Brighton, the family-owned boutique vineyard is celebrating 10 years in 2020.

Albourne Estate in Sussex, England

The grapes are grown on their 10 hectare estate and used to produce a range of still and sparkling wines. Albourne have also released a vermouth. The estate is managed by co-owner Alison Nightingale, a graduate from Plumpton College, who selected the site in Sussex for its aspect, altitude and geology – as well as its gorgeous views over the South Downs. Her sparkling wines are made from the classic Champagne varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, while they make still wines from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Ortega.

2014, Albourne Estate Blanc de Blancs ★★ – 100% Chardonnay sparkling from Sussex. Aromas of apple squash, toasted brioche and tangerine make this instantly likeable and attractive. It has a very fresh, zingy palate with flavours of apple turnover (think buttery pastry, cinnamon, baked apples), lime acidity, cream and tangy tangerines. The finish is biscuit and malty with a persisting note of cox apple skins on the middling finish. A great tasting fizz!

NV, Albourne Multi-Vintage – A classic blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. This has a honeyed, butter pastry nose with a very clean berry note. It’s soft on the palate with almond and kernel-like notes over orchard fruits and lemon citrus. The finish has a savoury dab of local honey, red apple and berries. Try it with some smoked salmon for a delicious pairing.

Cheers! Until next time…

*I will caveat this with the fact my other half doesn’t drink, so there’s usually a bit of wine left (unless it’s really, really something marvellous!)