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).

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