🇫🇷 Plaimont, Colombard-Gros Manseng Côtes de Gascogne 2017
8/10 – Nothing wrong with that
This wine is a blend of Colombard and Gros Manseng grapes, two local South West France varieties. This is the area of France between Biaritz and Bordeaux and Colombard is in fact one of the grapes used in distilling the local tipples of Cognac and Armagnac for which the region is probably better known.
As a wine, this blend is golden in the glass. There is a surprisingly lovely passion fruit nose: surprising because I don’t even like passion fruit. Swirl it in your mouth and it is very much like sucking a ripe lime. But it isn’t sour, nor will it make you thus. This French white is smooth and pleasant over the tongue, like a soliloquy by Vanessa Paradis.
Sat on a hill, roughly halfway between the airport cities of Bordeaux and Bergerac, Saint-Émilion is a very approachable little town, especially should you be flying there from London. There is a large, welcoming visitor centre in the centre – aptly named and located – which should be your first stop even if only because they have toilets downstairs. From here – the visitor centre that is, not the toilets – you can also book one of the informal wine tastings which are available nearby. If you don’t mind the strain on your calves from a sloping street then Saint-Émilion is quite an interesting, walkable town, though a car is useful to visit the surrounding chateaus.
Saint-Émilion has a long history of wine making. The Classical Romans planted vines in the region during the height of their expansion, instigated by Emperor Trajan at the start of the second century, and Mr Émilion himself was there from the eighth century living in a cave. Émilion was a monk known for performing miracles so there is perhaps no surprise that the resultant red wines that bear his name are world renowned. However, given Saint-Émilion has limestone soil and sits in the midst of the Bordeaux region you might consider the production of great wines as more of an expectation than a miracle.
Saint-Émilion and Montagne-Saint-Émilion were established as separate appellations within the Bordeaux wine region in 1936. Montagne is a northern adjunct to the primary Saint-Émilion region, though the grape varieties used in their wines (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) are the same as those of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru.
This wine starts with a lovely savoury marmite nose and that distinctive winery smell of old barrels full of freshly fermented grapes. There is a lot going on in this red which is befitting of a wine from this region and the classic blend of Merlot and Cabernets. But there is perhaps too much tobacco on the tongue and it seems a little young to be smoking: you won’t need to nip outside for a cigarette after a glass of this. In the end it was all just a little bit disappointing. Better, I think, to leave it in the cellar for a few more years, along with that rowing machine someone bought you for Christmas.
Asda £7.00 (US $9.00)
Getting to Saint-Émilion
From Bordeaux Airport: 1 hour drive or 30 minute shuttle bus to Bordeaux train station, 40 minute train plus 20 minute walk.
From Bergerac Airport: 1 hour drive or 10 minute taxi to Bergerac train station, 1 hour train plus 20 minute walk.
This was a pleasant surprise: an interesting Austrian wine in a local London supermarket. I had searched in vain for a local red when I was in Salzburg earlier in the year and had to settle for a white, a Grüner Veltliner. And now, here in Sainsbury’s, was a red wine as Austrian as Helmut Marko.
Zweigelt is a novel grape as it was developed in Austria by Mr Zweigelt himself. It is a cross between Blaufränkisch, my old friend from Munich Airport, and St Laurent, a grape widely grown in the Czech Republic. St Laurent comes from Pinot Noir but is a child that never knew it’s father.
The wine is a purple in the glass with a watery rim. Like the Amarone Valpolicella I had tasted the day before, this has a cherry nose, though it is much more pronounced. It is not quite as smooth over the tongue but it will not give you much displeasure if you are a fan of the Italian. There is of course none of the fig or chocolate you find with Amarone but it was strange to find any similarity at all between wines from such different grapes and such different fermentation processes.
This is a surprisingly nice wine even without time to breath. Indeed, I had barely sat down before I was pouring myself a glass and toasting Mr Zweigelt.
I found this wine a bit sour despite the age and a Meininger gold medal in 2016. The Meininger is a twice-yearly competition held in Germany, so I guess there are plenty of opportunities for an average wine to succeed, like a seven-year-old in the scouts, where there is a medal for making your bed.
Winemakers know that a medal on their bottle, even one of bronze, will help entice us to choose their wine amidst the well-stocked shelves of competition. But as with those ‘Best Laundry Powder in a Blue Packet’ advertisements, we know that some of these awards are not worth the gold paper they are printed on.
I once bought a box of Bordeaux reds from Costco. They each had a shiny, gold sticker on them. But these wines did not have the qualities that might win a competition unless the other wines did not bother to turn up, so I suspect the gold medals were straight from the marketing department’s laser printer. The wines were not at all bad, in fact they were fantastic value, but the only medal the winemakers might have won was one for making their beds. Some suppliers even preprint awards on their label, which always seems to me a rather egotistical thing to do, like tweeting your own name. Usually those awards refer to the winery rather than the wine and so have little relevance to your purchase unless you plan to buy a bottle of every single wine they make.
During my time in New Zealand, I often bought wine recommended by the local Cuisine Magazine. Their little purple, oval stickers were easy to spot on the supermarket shelves and were a reliable gauge when picking out a wine for a dinner party. Those wines never disappointed and the magazine itself was also rather good.
So the sticker on this wine was not a good indicator, though at the time I had little other guidance in a foreign supermarket in a foreign country. It was a variety I knew well and it had won a medal: how bad could it be? I remembered that on my next trip to Germany when I instead chose wines that were made, rather than just judged, locally. If I do take notice of a sticker now, then it will generally be from someone with whom I have built some trust, like Decanter. I must admit, however, that a bright red sticker promising 30% off will often take my eye, especially if it has been a difficult month and I have just been talking to my accountant.
After reading Wonder of Wine‘s wonderful piece about Amarone Della Valpolicella, memories of my time in Verona moved me to the nearest supermarket in search of a bottle of Amarone. What I found was this bottle of 2013 Vincini, the 2012 vintage of which Wonder of Wine had also mentioned in a previous post.
This wine does not of course match the quality of a £60 bottle of Amarone Classico, but it is a lovely wine none the less, befitting the lovely provence of Verona from which it comes.
Verona was put squarely on the tourist map by William Shakespeare, though it is unlikely he actually went there. Indeed, despite setting plays in Verona, Padua, Venice and Rome, there is no record of Shakespeare ever visiting Italy. His plays, however, have ensured millions of others since have. And the local tourist industry has had no qualms in using the British playwright to sell their city, even going as far as to add a Juliet balcony to an old house with tenuous links to the Cappelletti family, so as to give the tourists something on which to pose.
When it comes to Verona’s favourite writer, Shakespeare has rather overshadowed Italian poet Dante Alighieri who did actually live in the city for six years after being kicked out of Florence. So for a link to the city’s past, it is worth reading Dante’s Divine Comedy as much as Romeo and Juliet or Two Gentlemen of Verona. In fact, Dante was probably the first to write of the two feuding families of Montecchi and Cappelletti, who have been the source of many stories since, including the novel by Luigi Da Porto, who created the characters of Romeo and Juliet used in Shakespeare’s play. Although Dante hasn’t had a balcony built in his name, he does have a fabulous, thoughtful statue in the beautifully serene Piazza dei Signori. And for me, the 19th century statue has rather more historical and artistic merit than a 20th century building extension.
As for the Amarone, it was a dark and glassy red in the glass and had a subtle cherry nose. A sophisticated start from a wine renowned for its intricate taste and method of fermentation. There is a touch of chocolate figs on the tongue which will try and tempt you to Caceres, but stay in Verona, as there is still plenty to experience here. This wine is as beautiful and as interesting as a week in Verona and it finishes with a smooth flight home.
Last month, after the worst day at an airport ever, I gave up, booked a hotel and grabbed this bottle of wine. I had been standing in a queue the length of a runway at Munich airport for five hours and it had moved barely five metres. I was so furious with the poor customer service provided by Lufthansa that I didn’t even realise that the wine I had just bought was in a one litre bottle. Though I think I needed all of that.
The problem apparently began when someone walked through the secure area at Munich airport unchecked. As anyone who has flown on an aircraft in the last ten years knows, getting through security is a slow and arduous process. In Germany, however, it appears that if you want to you can skip straight through without queuing.
For all the alleged efficiency of German businesses, that efficiency has never applied to the German police or security services, as this incident once again proved. I remember reading a report many years ago of a German police operation to catch members of the Baader-Meinhof gang, a far-left terrorist group responsible for dozens of murders. After receiving a tipoff that members of the gang were at a café, the local police arrived there in numbers. The only problem was, they had no idea what the gang members actually looked like. Therefore, after a few minutes of indecision the police merely left whilst the members of the gang, who were indeed there, simply finished their coffees.
And so it seems the incompetence of the German security services now extends to their national carrier, Lufthansa. The short delay at the airport whilst the police looked for the person they had previously ignored, brought Lufthansa to a standstill. With all their modern, automated systems, the airline had forgotten about one very important element: people. Attempts to contact the airline by phone or online, as they continually told people to do, were futile. So I was forced to stand in a queue for another seven hours the next day before getting a flight back to London… on British Airways.
That incident left a bitter taste in my mouth and tainted my otherwise fine memories of Munich. But this German wine certainly didn’t. Trollinger is a variety that is primarily grown in Baden-Württemberg, just over the border. But the winery also make a wine based on the Lemberger grape – better known as Blaufränkisch – which comes from Franconia, a region that is now encompassed by Bavaria, so very much the local grape of Munich Airport. It is a pity the local supermarket didn’t stock that wine as I would certainly have enjoyed the irony.
Given the price and the size of the bottle I wasn’t expecting much from this wine but it was far and away the best part of a horrendous day. It is light red in the glass with a soft strawberry nose. There is a bit of spice and a smooth, even finish. This is a very pleasant and friendly wine. Lufthansa could learn a thing or two from this winery.