Thursday, 31 December 2009


Let your mind wander, journeying amongst undulating hills, where dust speckled canopies of leaves shade you from the raw heat of Tuscan sun; flashes of sunlight then shade. Dry clay tracks lead the car between the columns of vines and hares scamper and scramble around to get away from the noise of the car. San Gimignano sits behind like a backdrop to this summer dreamscape, unchanged since medieval times (ok that is a bit of an exaggeration. They had more towers then. A LOT more towers). Tuscany, the birth place of the renaissance, and the setting of Azienda Panizzi ( ), the home of award winning Vernaccia, for which the area is famous, and more or less the experience I had when I went to visit there doing a solo ‘tour’ in 2008.

However, it is now winter in Bath and the summer warmth has long died down, replaced by the more intense heat of log fires in the drawing room. And my Panizzi wine is a rich ruby San Gimignano Cabernet Sauvignon “Rubente” (14%) 2005 (a Latin based word for coloured or tinged with red. In other words, it does what it says on the tin!) one of twelve varieties that Giovanni Panizzi has in his portfolio (including a medieval style Vernaccio called Evoè, which smells as potent as a red but has a full and unctuous flavour).

This red is rich and plumy to look at, although it is starting to move from its ruby description towards a garnet hue. And whilst there is little rim, even swilling leaves a tide of red clinging to the glass.

So, I swill, and try to wake up the wine from its cold, hibernating state, drawing out some of the aromas and flavours. The strength of the alcohol is immediate, strong but without any sting. Then come the scents: cassis and brambles; spices and wood; liquorice and mint; cream and vanilla from the new oak barrels in which it has been aged (the tasting note described coffee, which would be a natural part of this spectrum of aromas but I didn’t get that. But then again, I am in a different environment, in other words cold England rather than warm Italy); and, an almost meaty earthy note hidden at the back. This is full of complexity and each dip of the nose brings another mouth watering element.

Savouring the moment, and seeing if this would bring back more wistful memories, I take my first sip. Strong prickles hit the mouth, ticklingly spicy. The fruit is strong, mixed with a light vanilla and cream that came to the nose earlier. The berry fruit, more damson than plum, seems rich and slightly stewed giving it a long finish. Wood and flinty minerals reveal themselves towards the end of each mouthful. That, and the high acidity and medium tannins mean that this pleasing moment stays in the mouth for a while.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a late ripening small grape variety that has the ability to burst with berry flavour in hotter climates, where cooler climates can give it a bell pepper bitterness. There is a unique mixture of clay, sand, volcanic tufo, and calcareous soil in the hills surrounding San Gimignano; the clay gives it enough cooling protection to allow it to develop at its own pace without over heating or drying out. This wine has also been matured in new French oak barrels, giving it those slightly more coffee, richer, nutty aromas and flavourings that the Panizzi tasting notes describe.

The wine has had more time to develop and breathe in the glass and returning to it an altogether richer, deeper and smoky aroma from the bluer fruits emerges; a teasing raspberry tinge and rosehip lightness that contrasts with the berry. Then, jamminess.

The warming up has given the wine a greater depth (Panizzi does recommend drinking it at 16-17 degrees Centigrade which is a lot more natural there than Bath). Now the palate has the sweetness of the berries, bringing out the pure jam that was on the nose. This is a prize winner in the WI jam competition! I suddenly get a ‘Rubenesque’ image of rotund, ripe berries, full of fruity flavour dancing on the tongue, teasing you with more to come (not quite a burlesque act for the senses, but something more subtle. Maybe a tableau vivant). Again, the cedar, the flint and the tannins follow, giving structure; framing the wine. And then there are the minty, even eucalyptus (seriously), hints that add to the spicy liquorice; this time though, they are stronger than before.

Like Botticelli’s Venus rising from the sea, these flavours have emerged from the cool temperature where the wine was stored, revealing the wine for its full beauty (I need atmospherics! Cue Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde!)

PS. Azienda Panizzi is going to be in the UK in March to promote their wines (and olive oils maybe). Check out the website for more details.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Credit Crunch Christmas

Thankfully, even with the failure of the Eurostar to get me to Paris for the New Year, and the fact that the snow has melted around Bath, the feeling of Christmas still remains; Ben, Dad and I went to Mass this morning (I told you I was a good Catholic boy!) as a unit, a lovely thing to do amongst families. Having said that, Ben, the elder, managed to wake us up like a child hungry for presents at seven this morning, so we were feeling a bit jaded and looked forward to our return, and to an enclosed environment where we could, if needs be, just crash on the sofa for a few minutes. However, we got back for very strong coffee and a mince pie and prepare everything for a late lunch, followed by the unwrapping of appropriately useful, silly or fun gifts. There is comfort in familiarity and doing Christmas is one of those things. Some people’s habits don’t really change, even after several years.

So with that in mind, our food choice on this occasion was a bit different to the norm, with no capon; the usual choice. Smoked salmon, roast duck (a rather large one from the local butcher) with all the trimmings, and Christmas pudding, ordered and delivered by Fortnum & Mason (who else?). In other words, a bit of a mixed bag.

The wine choice came from what we had in Dad’s ‘cellar’ (read larder). We started with Jacquart (which I have blogged about before). I know. Before you say anything, a good Chablis with a bit of oak would have worked a treat, but, as the title implies this is a Credit Crunch Christmas and I picked this out from a left over wine tasting.

The duck was a bit of an experiment, a Marsannay from the Cote d’Or, a Pinot Noir based wine with the most delicious berry lightness and low tannins that went ok with the meat (in other words, it didn’t steal the bird’s thunder) and particularly unusual as it is almost a deep rose in colour rather than the light purple-ish red that maybe a Gamay or other light red would have.

Finally, a Tokaji Azsu to go with the pudding. A dried berry and citrus zest wonder from the East of Europe (yes, I know it is Hungary. I went to Budapest to get it myself!) with a rich and ever so slightly cloying after taste that left me feeling I wanted to whoop with joy, before mellowing on a bed of Hungarian down pillows to slowly doze and leave the washing up to those left behind (i.e. Ben and his early bird Santa imitation). Good stuff and worth the wait of four years to find an appropriate moment.

All in all, a rich and heady combination which is sending me to a rapid dreamlike state, and ushering me to an early bed.

So not the normal blog, but a quick note to say, good night and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.


Ps Thanks to Jamie Keddie for this photo knicked from his blog..!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Angels and Demons

Following up from the recent tasting of Beaujolais Nouveau (surprisingly good if not slightly expensive) I travelled with Dad (not actually moving from the spindle back chairs in the basement, but that is wine tasting for you) down from Beaujolais to the Rhône valley and to Vacqueyras, giving us the chance to chat and mull over the wine in front of us.

So to set the scene: My big brother Ben has returned to London to work on the Chancellor’s report, the street lights are glowing with that wonderful orangey hue as the wintery, misty night rolls in, and the fire is burning with renewed energy in the hearth. Crackle! Snap! (Are you with me?) The cold I have just recovered from has really thrown me, so I am not convinced my palate will serve me well with this one, however, I will press on with Dad as my back up.

Nestling by the Dentelles de Montmereil and sheltered by Cypress trees from what must be the Mistral winds, is a wine made with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (though I didn’t notice any reference to the latter on the label); Les Grands Cyprès, Vacqueyras 2007 (Waitrose, £7.99 from £11.99) 14%. Vacqueyras is a Rhône Valley region lying just south of the Gigondas (so this vineyard must be right on the northern border but on the other side of the teeth) a mere 20 kilometres or so from Orange in the South of France.

This light ruby red wine has an almost devilish scarlet tinge rather than a rich bluey red of some other Rhône wines. The clear rim sparkles and winks in the glass from the light and contrasts with the slightly coloured legs.

Swirling this wine around (in that knowing way that experts do when talking to people, but somehow I just manage to spill some and end up having to take items of clothes off for washing) I get a rich Morello cherry hit on the nose followed by cassis; brambley blue fruit richness and hints of sharper citrus. Lighter berry fruits follow, coming to the nose; ripe strawberry, some cream and also a more mellow tone, musty and dull, a papaya-like mustiness, slightly sour yet fruity; a bit of a serpent in Paradise (given my dislike of papaya).

Changing my glass (I told you I swill so badly, this one has been knocked over. Thanks Dad) I get sour cherry, lemony flintiness and hints of stalk. The elements of cream and the cherry remind me of something similar to clafoutis; more sour cherry and less of a creamy vanilla batter scent though.

Each pause lets this creamy richness develop. I wasn’t sure about this purchase being always dubious about discounted or promoted wine, but realise my glass, hand, and bottle are probably a little too cold for this one. So giving the wine a bit more air and warmth, Dad and I take our first sips.

Initial berry and cream lead to fruity, woody stalk and sharp acidity that the Grenache provides. This high acidity leading to a mouth puckering, mouth wateringly long finish. There is a subtle melange (now there’s a word I haven’t used in ages) of the sourness and younger red fruits, red currents, strawberries, raspberries. Also, a impish hint of Parma violet, the element that gives the mellowness, bridging the sour cherry, the dark berry and the smoky tannic prickle. A subtle hint of herb comes next, though rather a bitter liquorice herb; stalky, chewed pencil ends. Finally flinty rocks blend with the acidity and tannins to gently coat the mouth.

Resting further and gaining a better room temperature, out come the richer fruitier berries that I had on the nose initially. Some leathery stewed fruits appear, which may or may not be the mysterious Mourvèdre that fails to appear on the label (apologies to Waitrose if it is, I am getting glasses soon). But predominantly it is the rich, creamy, dark and naturally sweet berries that remain in the mouth and in the mind. This, added with mild and smooth tannic elements, and the warming peppery prickle that comes from the Syrah grape, tickles the tongue and the tannins, spice and pepper pull together to provide the long and delightful finish.

Dad and I sit back and watch the dancing fire and breathe the cedar aromas emanate from the hearth; smooth music plays in the background, and we sip the wine that enlivens our palates with its own crackle of spice and pepper. Angelic fruity richness and devilish peppers. Spice. Acidity. Length. Temptation! Naughty but nice (as the old “cream cake” adverts used to say).