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Pfaffl, Recent Vintages

I’ve tasted a number of wines of Pfaffl before. Frighteningly, my profile of Roman Pfaffl and his domaine seems to have been written five years ago, proof that you don’t have to be on the brink of death in order to have your life flash by.

Unsurprisingly, things have changed here over that length of time. Roman and his wife Adelheid have now been joined by their son and daughter, one managing the estate the other looking after viticulture and winemaking. There are new cellars and winemaking facilities too, and the vineyards have more than doubled in size. This is certainly not the domaine it was five years ago. So I was glad to be able to take a fresh look at some of the wines. The first two I report on here were my favourites from a half-dozen I tasted.

Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC Reserve Hundsleiten 2011: From a vineyard of flysch, alternating sandstone and clay speckled with quartz, planted with vines now 32 years old. Bottled under screwcap. A delightfully fruit-rich character on the nose, forward, open and expressive, with notes of bright and vibrant orange zest along with pineapple tinges. Fresh, bright, pithy, with vanilla, minerally and white pepper elements. The palate is just as fruit rich as the nose, with slightly salty, minerally tinges running alongside notes of lemon and orange fruit, lychee and white peach, all with a slightly bitter, pithy depth and grip. A good firm finish to this, with a sappy, savoury substance underneath the fruit, and it is stacked with minerals. Alcohol 13.5%. 16.5/20

Pfaffl Riesling Am Berg 2010: From the In Sandlern vineyard. Bottled under natural cork. Some really interesting character on the nose here, as although it starts off with vibrant and rather plainly defined fruit, backed up by the richness of honey on toast, there are more complex elements here too, although they take a little time to come out. There are notes of chalky minerality, with a lightly matchsticky reductive edge. The palate shows the sweet flesh of a handsome residual sugar, and on top of that there is concentrated, lightly pithy fruit sweetness, with lovely smoky and minerally edges to the diffuse tropical fruit character. We have pineapple here, with hints of kiwi and passion fruit, and a good pithy, grippy finish. This is really appealing. Alcohol 12.5%. 16.5/20

Pfaffl

The remaining wines were as follows:

Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC Haidviertel 2011: From a vineyard of deep loess over flysch, and the vines are 27 years old. Bottled under screwcap. Bright, minerally, with white stone elements and white peach suggestions as well, and with lightly smoky and salty elements to it. These latter aspects come through very well on the palate, which has plenty of pith to it but also plenty of finely poised, energetic minerality. This has a super freshness and slightly diffuse but exotic fruit character. Good style here, with a tight and minerally style. Alcohol 12.5%. 15.5/20

Pfaffl Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC Reserve Goldjoch 2011: From loess and sandy soils. Bottled under natural cork. A lovely, fresh, lightly tropical fruit character at first, but this gives way to a slightly fimer, more minerally, salty character. And the fruit shows a more challenging, lemony edge too, which adds appeal. The palate has that full, fat character that comes with the richer, tropical tones first picked up, but there is plenty of grip and structure beneath it as well. Rather a rich style of Grüner here, slightly fleshy, but certainly dry. And amongst the lemony-tropical fruit there is a classic white pepper minerality to it, and enough bite to keep it alive on the palate. Although in the finish, to be honest, it misses a little definition. Alcohol 14%. 16/20

Pfaffl Wien 2 2010: A blend of Blauer Zweigelt (a cross between St Laurent and Blaufränkisch) and Pinot Noir. Bottled under screwcap. A moderately deep cherry-red hue, although certainly transparent. Smoke and baked strawberry on the nose, with a very soft feel to it. There is a charred, toasted-almond edge alongside that smoke as well. A softly plump palate, although it is quite dry, with a nice grip to it around a rather full and gently weighty feel. Good definition to the structure at least, with a linear feel to it around the fatter, softer, centre of the wine. It has a bright acidic tone as well, although the fruit is less clearly prescribed, suggestive of puréed raspberry and strawberry laced with a trace of savoury beetroot. Alcohol 12.5%. 14/20

Pfaffl St Laurent Altenberg 2009: From loess and loam soils. Bottled under natural cork. A slightly deeper colour here than Wien 2, with a more claretty hue. A more reserved nose, dark plum, opening out to reveal richer and more defined fruit characteristics, damson with a wild hawthorn edge. A very harmonious and unassuming, rather polished start to the palate, with a little more crunch to the definition of the wine through the middle. Supple in style, with nicely defined edges to the palate again, ripe but restrained fruit character and a little grip in the finish. Overall, pretty good. Alcohol 13.5%. 15/20

Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012: Now On Sale!

Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012After several days of tentatively watching its listing on Amazon, I was happy (and relieved, and excited) to see this morning that my Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012 is now available for dispatch. Hurrah!

What is more, there is now a Kindle version available, for the ridiculously low price of £5.14 (about $8 or €6). For those who prefer a hard copy, it’s £6.29 (not yet listed in US, €8.89 in France). I hope this very inexpensive price doesn’t suggest to potential buyers that there is nothing of significance in the book. I put months of hard work into this little guide! Hopefully the contents page on the right will give some indication of what you will find inside, although the Amazon listing gives a very generous “look inside” at the first fifteen-or-so pages.

Here’s what the chapters cover:

Opinion (not listed in contents): an opener – a piece on a controversial topic, entitled Bordeaux: All Money, No Soul?

1. Vintage Guides: a run-down of recent vintages, 2010 back to 2003, with recommended buys – not just the best wines, but wines you and I might be able to afford. Also, brief soundbites on 2002 back to 1990.

2. News from the Region: the latest stories from Bordeaux, bang up-to-date; includes stories from as recent as April 2012.

3. 2011 Vintage Review: more very current opinion; a report on 2011, and some favourite and value picks from the vintage.

4. The Firsts: background info, profiles of first growths and equivalents (I’ve cheated and included two from Pomerol).

5. Top 20 Châteaux: get to grips with the big names in Bordeaux; Pontet-Canet, Cos d’Estournel, Montrose & more.

6. Top 5 Sauternes: Hurrah for Sauternes and Barsac! Glorious wines – I look at five leading estates.

7. Top 10 Value: The holy grail? Maybe…..but in this chapter I look at ten estates providing good value in Bordeaux today. They do exist….honest.

8. Top 10 to Try: Ten estates making waves, though quality, regeneration, revitalisation or otherwise.

9. Understanding Bordeaux: Bordeaux basics; for those learning about the region, information on climate, varieties, organics, biodynamics, winemaking and how the wine is sold.

10. Communes and Classifications: also for the beginner, but good revision for the more knowledgeable too. Details on all the major communes, plus those interminable classifications!

11. Enjoying Bordeaux: You could call this enjoying wine; basics on storage, serving temperature, decanting, glasses, tasting and more.

12. Money Matters: For me Bordeaux should be about drinking, but it’s hard to ignore the financial side. I conclude with information on how to buy Bordeaux, professional storage, tracking value, en primeur and investment.

Hopefully, there is something here to appeal to everybody. Here are some links for that “look inside” facility. I hope you like the map on pages 6 and 7 – I spent a lot of time on it!

If you prefer an iBook, I’m told that should be available very soon.

Was that Natural Wine Week?

So this week should have been coined Natural Wine Week perhaps? I spent Monday at the RAW Wine Fair, a smorgasbord of natural wines gathered together by Isabelle Legeron MW, and Tuesday at the Real Wine Fair, where Doug Wregg was holding court. Much has been made of the existence of two fairs with such similar themes, held on the same few days, seemingly dividing the world of natural wine down the middle. You know the old adage, divide and conquer? Or maybe, divide and be conquered, in this case? It seemed to many as though the world of natural wine was about to shoot itself in the foot.

As it happens, I don’t think that was the case at all. For a start, it seems as though there are plenty of natural wines to go around, and plenty of winemakers ready to pour and talk about these wines, more than enough to fill two such fairs. In the end, although some who would rather promulgate the romance and mysticism of natural wine (or real wine, or whatever you want to call it) might not like to admit it, where the diving line between the fairs was drawn reflected the fact that, no matter what your methods and philosophies are, natural wine is still a product that needs to be commercialised and sold. The Real Wine Fair was, naturally, stuffed to the gills with producers who sell their wines through Les Caves de Pyrène. Whereas at RAW there were a host of individuals and domaines associated with other UK merchants, including Aubert & Mascoli, outspoken advocates of natural wine, and others new to me such as Wine Story, run by Thibault Lavergne who I met on the day, or Dynamic Vines. That just about sums it up. The ‘battle’ between the two ‘rival’ fairs was overplayed and excessively talked up by some, I think.

Second, if the two fairs continue as separate entities (as I suspect they will – both seem to have been sufficiently well attended to justify repeat performances next year), I hope they continue to ‘clash’ in the manner that they did this year, partly for selfish reasons, partly for the good of the fairs. Separating out events such as these may well be fine for local Londoners and those who live just a short distance from the capital, so if those are the customers and clients you care about go right ahead and hold the fairs on separate weekends, in separate months even. But as we saw with this year’s Salon and Renaissance tastings in the Loire (which are usually sequential, one Saturday-Sunday, one Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, but this year the Salon was a week later than usual) visitor numbers may well fall as a result. For me, two days tasting in London was a viable proposition, even though it meant two four-hour train journeys (and the first, thanks to technical problems, stretched out to seven hours), because what the two fairs offered (in terms of exposure to the wines of the Loire) was worth it. But I find to do all that for one day’s tasting is increasingly too exhausting, and also expensive. Might I choose to come to just one of the fairs if they were held at very different times? Perhaps, tiring as that would be. Would I come to both, travelling twice to do so? No. And I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in that; there were attendees at these fairs from far afield, including some international travellers. The two fairs together could become a star attraction in the tasting calendar.

So I hope organisers of both RAW and Real liaise with one another over next year’s fairs, realising – as I hope InterLoire have realised (Virginie Joly told me the 2013 Salon des Vins de Loire has moved back to its usual slot, and will thus follow on from the Renaissance tasting) – that it is better to co-ordinate and co-operate, for mutual benefit and for the good of all potential visitors, than it is to try and best one another, or disrupt the other’s activities.

Real Wine Fair, 2012

It’s been an interesting week, what with the RAW Wine Fair (which I attended on Monday), the Real Wine Fair (which I attended on Tuesday) and yesterday’s Born Digital Wine Awards which were announced at the London International Wine Fair (which unfortunately I was unable to attend).

The Real Wine Fair was another great opportunity for me to get to grips with some new wines and new domaines, as well as re-acquainting myself with some ‘old friends’. As with the RAW fair, my focus here was regional; I viewed both fairs as an opportunity to expand my knowledge and coverage of the Loire, rather than try and get an overview of what is happening globally with ‘natural’, organic or biodynamic wine.

Real Wine Fair

One domaine I am familiar with is Domaine de la Louvetrie, home to Jo Landron, pictured above. He was showing mostly 2010s again, wines which I have already reported on in previous tastings published this year. He also had a couple of 2011s though, of which one was sadly displaying the rot of the vintage, a sign that not even the top names of the region have succeeded in this most difficult of years.

As with the RAW Fair there were more new discoveries in Vouvray and also Montlouis, from the likes of Ludovic Chanson and Lemaire-Fournier. These two appellations continue to excite, the latter because it continues to yield domaines and wines of quality from incomers, new blood attracted by fair prices for the land. And the former because, in an appellation sprinkled with superstars (Huet, Foreau, etc) much of what is produced here is in fact dull and uninteresting (a large proportion of the wines made here are unexciting, cooperative-made sparkling wines), and so it is always a pleasure to find a domaine turning out something of quality.

There were plenty of other new discoveries too, from Jasnières and Coteaux du Vendômois, as well as a few interesting examples of pétillant naturel. Sadly there were also some less exciting oxidised wines, in a few cases from winemakers of some repute from whom I would have hoped for better. Tasting a lot of these wines together also allowed me to tease out some more differences in wines that are simply oxidised, versus those that are oxidative. I’ve blogged about this before, here and here, but now I’m convinced there are important distinctions to be made here, and wine writers should be careful about which term they use. I have a feeling many oxidised wines are often blessed with the somewhat kinder term ‘oxidative’, but as Thierry Puzelat has said, the two are not the same.

Finally, congratulations to Jim Budd for a well-deserved win in the Born Digital Wine Awards for his (and Howard Heckle’s) journalistic perseverance in uncovering the No Pay No Jay scandal, the affair which has seen Robert Parker desperately trying to paper over the cracks in Wine Advocate organisation, administration and governance. Jim picked up the Best Investigative Wine Story prize in these increasingly prestigious awards. The full list of winners can be seen here. Well done Jim!

Born Digital Wine Awards 2012

I was slightly amused to get back to my hotel yesterday, after a busy day at the RAW wine fair in London, to find an email from the Born Digital Wine Awards organisers with a link to a ‘shortlisted’ badge.

Here it is:

Shortlisted Investigative

Why amused? The timing gives me about 36 hours to display the badge, before the awards are handed out on May 23rd at the London International Wine Fair. In a digital era, in an award scheme celebrating digital content, the timing feels a bit more ‘snail-mail’!

As I wrote in my original post celebrating my being short-listed (I am absolutely delighted to be recognised), I hope and anticipate that Jim Budd will win. Unfortunately as I’m on the road (I’m off to the Real Wine Fair today, in about ten minutes, then back to Scotland on an evening train – sadly I won’t be able to attend the award announcements tomorrow) I don’t have the time to resize the image, or set up the link on my home-page. So for now I will post it here, and wish all those short-listed the best of luck!

RAW Wine Fair, 2012

I spent Monday at the RAW Wine Fair. It was a day that started well for me; driving to the railway station at 5am I was treated to a feast of wildlife sightings, including foxes in East Lothian fields, deer at the roadside and heron flying overhead. Surely it was a good omen, nature coming out to see me off to a tasting of ‘natural’ wines?

Umm….maybe. But if nature was on my side, modern technology wasn’t and as the train trundled southwards I learnt of delays ahead. I shan’t bore you with the details; suffice to say that due to damaged power cables I eventually arrived at King’s Cross, having swapped trains, two and a half hours late. That’s two and a half hours of tasting missed. A great disappointment.

I spent about 20 minutes wandering around Brick Lane trying to find the tasting, compounding my late arrival. It is partly my fault, as there was a banner over the rather non-descript door indicating where the tasting was being held. But it was not a huge banner, it has to be said. Inside, to be honest, I though the venue – the Truman Brewery – was looking rather the worse for wear…the effect of several days of busy tasting, perhaps? Happily, the quality of the wines – OK, some of the wines – more than made up for this.

Above, Nicolas Joly, who was as full of his usual rhetoric as ever. Naturally, I focused on the Loire, so Joly’s were just some of many Loire Valley wines I tasted. His wines were showing strongly, and were one of the high points of the tasting. Damien Laureau was also on fine form, his Savennières from Les Genets, Le Bel Ouvrage and Roches-aux-Moines all brilliant, and surely the best portfolio of wines I tasted all day. There were also great wines from Damien and Coralie Delecheneau of La Grange Tiphaine and Peter Hahn of Le Clos de la Meslerie (a great new discovery in Vouvray!).

There were also some real dogs of course, wines that are fine for those who have run out of fino and are looking for something to drink as an aperitif with salted almonds, before popping out for tapas. A great moment for sherry perhaps, but I’m not looking for a replacement wine in Touraine-Amboise Sauvignon or Chenin. As far as the Loire goes, the oxidative style rarely works, in my opinion. Not never works, as there were some where the wines were attractive (I surprised myself by enjoying the wines of Sébastien Riffault, for instance), but these are exceptions to the rule. There were also a number of reds displaying a really green and vegetal character, showing that no matter how honorable, ethical and environmentally sound the methods may be, some winemakers haven’t quite got the hang of waiting for the fruit to ripen before harvesting. I won’t dwell on these wines or domaines here, but I will be writing up all the domaines and wines – with no exceptions – on Winedoctor in good time.

Blend Your Own Bordeaux

A Bordeaux château is offering the chance to visit and, alongside the usual tour of the vineyards and walk round the cellars, to blend your own bottle of Bordeaux.

Château Lavergne Dulong sits close to Montussan, on the strip of land that lies between the Garonne and the Dordogne as they wind their way towards their convergence, when they become the Gironde. I guess that puts Lavergne Dulong at the heart of the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation. Looking at their website they bottle a red AC Bordeaux, and a Bordeaux rosé.

The proprietor Sylvie Dulong, once she has taken you on your tour, leads a tutored tasting of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot components of your possible blend, before you decide on your own personal assemblage. This you can then blend (making enough for one bottle!), and once corked and dressed with capsule and your own personal label you take your unique bottle home with you.

The bottle may well be unique, but the same isn’t true of the concept. Nevertheless it certainly makes a change from the usual ‘rent a row’ and other ‘get involved’ schemes; it is more akin to becoming an oenologue for a day than a château proprietor or viticulturalist. Perhaps the next step will be a day out with Michel Rolland, when you visit minor right-bank estates and tell them to micro-oxygenate and use more toasty oak?

OK, joking aside, this blending day is a concept I like very much; it would make for a good ‘corporate’ day out, perhaps? I can just see the current batch of candidates on The Apprentice being sent on a day like this having won their task. And it’s good to see estates in Bordeaux brushing off the region’s fusty-dusty image and welcoming potential customers in this way. Lavergne Dulong has a good track record in this respect, as Sylvie Dulong also offers straightforward visits and tastings, cycle hire, bed and breakfast and day-long guided tours of the right bank appellations.

Having said that, one bottle of AC Bordeaux does not come cheap here, the cost being €55 per person, minimum four people. But you are paying for the day out, and Sylvie’s time of course. Sylvie’s guided tours of the region are €350 for two people.

More information available here: Château Lavergne Dulong website

Provignage at Domaine de la Bergerie

I’ve written about the old practice of provignage – gardeners may know it better as ‘tip-layering’ – before (it’s hard not to with wines such as Provignage, from Henry Marionnet). Well, in truth, there is more to provignage than there is to tip-layering, with many variations on the theme. The technique in Burgundy, for instance, often involved excavating soil and then burying the entire vine with only the growth tips showing, a little more drastic than merely layering a shoot. But the basic principles behind these techniques are the same. When used as a straightforward method of propagation, the new vine is generated by securing the growing tip of a pre-existing vine beneath the surface of the soil. The tip will form roots, and once established the newly-rooted plant can be separated from its genetically identical parent with a swift cut of the knife. The result is one healthy (provided the parent was healthy, of course) young vine, on its own roots. These days, however, because vines on their own roots are vulnerable to attack by phylloxera, propagation using this technique is rare. Nevertheless it was once very common, and it was a good method by which a peasant vigneron could expand his vineyard and thus enhance his income.

This week and next I am reporting on a series of tastings at La Table de la Bergerie, featuring not only the wines of Yves Guégniard but also Claude Papin and Vincent Ogereau. But before the tasting began we took a walk among one of Yves’ older vineyards, next to his house and cellars. I found what I saw there to be fascinating; first, some of the vines there had been propagated by provignage, and were thereby planted on their own roots, and yet – looking at the thickness of the vines themselves – they had seemingly been thriving for many decades. That in itself seems unusual, in a region where ungrafted vines (such as those planted by Pithon-Paillé on the Coteau des Treilles) quickly succumb. But, in addition, these provins (as they are known) were still attached to their parent plant by the original shoot, now thickened with age. I had naively thought this would be severed once the plant had rooted.

I had time to shoot a quick video of the vines in question. It is less than half a minute long, so don’t blink:

I found myself with two questions. First, why not sever the provin from the parent? Second, could the apparent phylloxera resistance of the provins, and this lifelong connection between parent and offspring, be in any way related?

Dealing with the first of these two questions requires a little knowledge of history, and how viticulture today differs from what was carried out in the past. The concept of a vineyard full of distinct, individual, neatly arranged plants is a modern necessity, brought about by (a) increased use of horses and then vehicles in the vineyards through the 19th and 20th centuries, requiring planting in neat rows, and (b) the need for vines to be each planted on their own phylloxera-resistant roots. Prior to these two major changes vineyards were not collections of many individual plants, but a heterogenous, amorphous mix of vines and roots, interconnected and densely planted (a side effect of provignage – the shoots only reach so far from the parent vine, so vines were propagated close to one another). New vines were established by layering the pre-existing vines in one direction. As such vineyards tended to ‘migrate’ along the ground, eventually new vines would have to be taken to the now barren end of the vineyard to replant there.

ProvignageThere are a few such vineyards still in exstence today, of which perhaps the most famous belong to Bollinger, and are the source of the Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée. One of these is the Chaudes Terres vineyard, behind the Bollinger headquarters in Aÿ (shown right). The pictured vines are not individual plants but stem from a network of underground roots; the soil (as can be seen in the picture) is sandy, and this has deterred the phylloxera from attacking. As the old-timers noted, the vineyard ‘migrates’ (in this case, up the slope) and every few years fresh vines are planted at the bottom to maintain production. It sounds ridiculous, but this system – with the vineyard planted en foule, a mix of tightly-packed, randomly-positioned vines – was once the norm.

So, with memories of an era when vineyards were very different to how we see them today, it is of no surprise that the provins were left attached. What benefit would there be, after all, to their separation? The whole vineyard used to be like this, why worry about a handful of vines? The vigneron of fifty years ago would have regarded it as unnecessary work. Or perhaps they knew better to separate the vines? Perhaps they saw that provins separated from their parents did not thrive so well? I’m hypothesising wildly here, by the way.

And this brings us to my second question; how have such vines survived in a phylloxera-infested environment? Is it just chance? That seems unlikely. Or is it that, despite having their own phylloxera-susceptible roots, they receive sufficient nourishment from the parent plants (which were grafted vines), in order to remain healthy? Unfortunately, a trawl through what is written on provignage did not yield many clues; the literature does not seem extensive, especially literature concerning provignage in the post-phylloxera era. I don’t have an answer to this question, but here are a few interesting points I picked up along the way.

In his Treatise on the Vine (T. & J. Swords. and other publishers, 1830), William Robert Prince wrote the following of provignage: “…in vineyards where this course is practised, new vines are not required, for there, as is the case in Burgundy, the provins not being separated from the parent vines, the plants can be preserved for centuries, which is favourable to the quality of the wine“. Prince was an American, concerned mainly with phylloxera-resistant American vines, and he was writing before the disease had swept across Europe (before the disease was even known of, or understood), so naturally he makes no mention of phylloxera resistance of the ungrafted vines. Nevertheless he seems to have noted some qualitative advantages of leaving the provin attached, implying that the attached vines are certainly different to those that are separated. Healthier? More disease resistant? Prince doesn’t say.

More recent (and we would have hoped more relevant) references to provignage do not provide any clues; describing the process in Viticulture: An Introduction to Commercial Grape Growing for Wine Production (Lulu, 2007), Stephen Skelton writes of the provin, “[t]his shoot can then be trained up a support and in due course the new vine can be separated from its neighbour and – voila – the empty space has been filled“. There is no suggestion anywhere that the vines may be left connected, or that this may aid the battle against phylloxera. And I could find no mention elsewhere of whether provignage from grafted vines might be different to provignage from ungrafted vines in terms of how the vines cope with phylloxera.

There were a few other interesting references to provignage I uncovered, from James Busby (also writing in the 1830s, pre-phylloxera again), but not much else new. So ultimately my question remains unanswered. I would be delighted if readers can come up with any thoughts or hypotheses on whether ungrafted vines connected to a grafted vine might survive in a vineyards where phylloxera is endemic, or if you know of any other writings on the subject I should check out.

More from Herdade do Rocim

I featured one wine from Herdade do Rocim as my wine of the week yesterday, this being the Vale da Mata Reserva 2008. Although that wine was undoubtedly my favourite from all the Herdade do Rocim and Vale da Mata samples I have tasted recently, the others are certainly worthy of a mention.

First, a little background on Herdade do Rocim; if you take the Rocim literature at face value the driving force behind the estate seems to be Caterina Vieira, and this impressive project was all inspired by her grandfather, a onetime vigneron who relinquished his vines many years ago. While Caterina studied winemaking, an impressive and no doubt expensive winery of very modern design sprang up in Alentejo. With my more sceptical hat on, what we see at Herdade do Rocim today – including not only the ultra-modern winery but also the meeting rooms, restaurant, shop and wine bar (they’re just missing the health spa I think) – is the result of massive investment from owners Terralis Lda, an agricultural machinery specialist that purchased the estate in 2000.

Most of the wines are from Alentejo, although there are also vines to the west in Lisboa, where (back now to the dreamy literature, infused with black-and-white images of vines and handsome young pickers, oak barrels and wizened old vignerons – so much nice than pictures of tractors and muck-spreaders) her grandfather once made wine. The varieties featured include locals such as Antão Vaz, Aragonez, Trincadeira and the better-known Touriga Nacional as well as the rather more international Syrah.

The labelling, I have to say, I find a little confusing, but here’s my take on it. The Rocim range (in white and red) appears to give us the entry-level wines, described as ‘youthful and fruity’. There is also a straight Herdade do Rocim bottling (in red). Then there are the Olho de Mocho wines (red, white, rosé), which seem to be made from selected parcels each vintage, and so should be a step up from the Rocim/Herdade do Rocim wines. Finally, top of the tree is the Grande Rocim, the flagship wine which features Alicante Bouschet. The aforementioned Vale da Mata wines are a separate line, made from fruit grown in Lisboa to the west.

First up, two white wines.

Herdade do Rocim ‘Rocim’ Branco (Alentejano) 2010: A blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeira. Fresh, lean, lightly chalky fruit character on the nose, with a touch of citrus zest. Also a little white-peach stone. Light, with slightly pithy fruit in the middle of the wine, showing decent freshenss, nice acidity, and appropriate substance. Clean, lightly steely fruit. Gently attractive. Alcohol 13%. 14/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco Reserva (Alentejano) 2010: This is 100% Antão Vaz. A pale straw coloured hue with a faint hint of green. The nose is dominated by oaky characteristics, as evinced by notes of fennel, with citrus fruit tones underneath. An attractive palate if you are oak tolerant, because the flavours certainly speak of the wood to a large extent, as do the light grip of oaky tannins in the finish. Bright structure underneath, with freshness and nutty tones. Nice acidity, with a bitter, pithy edge to the fruit. Long, grippy, slightly sour finish. Alcohol 13%. 14.5/20 (May 2012)

One rosé wine.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Rosé (Alentejano) 2010: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez, this wine has the deep, richly coloured pink hue that many Iberian and southern European rosés seem to possess. The fruit character on the nose is simple, with plump strawberries to the fore. The palate has the same character, rather solid, with a foursquare style and bold flavour. For uncomplicated drinking. Alcohol 13.5%. 13.5/20 (May 2012)

And finally a selection of Herdade do Rocim reds.

Herdade do Rocim ‘Rocim’ Tinto (Alentejano) 2008: This is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional. It has a bright cherry red, with a pale intensity and a pink rim. Soft and rather reserved, slightly dusty fruit character on the nose, with a touch of violet perfume. The palate has more expressive fruit thought, the restrained texture sitting behind some baked raspberry fruit cut through with overt notes of black liquorice. There are elements of smoke to it, but is that dark, liquorice vein that really dominates here, along with little related nuances of coffee bean. Some very soft grip to it, but attractive acidity, but the overall feel is of a soft, easy-going wine. Those aromatics are certainly interesting though. Alcohol 14%. 14/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Tinto (Alentejano) 2009: This is Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. Just a little more vibrant than the 2008 Rocim, but a similar cherry-red hue. Again very reserved on the nose, with a chalky suggestion to the fruit, a lightly floral character too, but otherwise not really very expressive. A very soft and fruit-rich start to the palate, with light pepper through the midpalate. A fairly soft, plump but certainly well filled-out texture here, with a little seam of soft tannins which remain very low key, and perhaps a slightly gentle acid profile. An attractive wine, a sweeter, richer fruit profile than the 2008 Rocim too. More supple and full, with some grip. Alcohol 14%. 14.5/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Tinto Reserva (Alentejano) 2009: Three varieties here, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet. Deeply coloured, with a bright hue at the rim but a dark core. Aromatically this is showing a lot of oak lactones on the nose at present, and lots of peripheral oak related notes, with coconut and caramelised sugars too. The fruit certainly takes a back seat at present. A really attractive texture here from the outset, and this is maintaining a very broad and flattering character though the middle of the wine. Thankfully the oak flavours come through less on the palate, although there is certainly an oaky grip coming in at the end. Nice sweet fruit to it here as well though, and I suspect this will come through more in time. Attractive wine, certainly modern and polished in style, but one that needs to spend a couple of years in the cellar for everything to come together here I think. Alcohol 14%. 15.5/20 (May 2012)

Vale da Mata Tinto (Lisboa) 2008: A blend of Aragonez, Syrah and Touriga Nacional. A fairly dusty red core here, with even a faint tinge of oxblood to it. The fruit character on the nose is certainly less expressive than the Reserva (see my note on the Vale da Mata Reserva 2008), although there are bright floral tinges apparent at times, as well as more gamey and autumnal notes, plus tinges of mint and tobacco. A moderate texture immediately apparent, runing into a slightly leaner and drier palate that expected, with some robust structure underneath it. A rather firmer underpinning than I expected considering the substance of the wine I think. And in the finish, little tinges of caramelised fruit, giving a lightly toffee-like edge to it all. Reflecting the climate, or the toast on the oak, I wonder? Alcohol 14%. 15/20 (May 2012)

My Bordeaux Pocket Book

After learning that I had been shortlisted for a Born Digital Wine Award, yesterday turned into a good-news double-whammy with a knock on the door, and the long-awaited arrival of my book (well, OK, it’s actually only been two weeks since it went to print, but it felt like a long time). I’ve been working on this project for months and months, and it was amazing to finally hold a copy in my hands. And, although I am more than a little bit biased, I am over the moon with the finish on the final product.

A little bit more detail for you; it’s a magbook, so a sort of magazine-book hybrid. But with its A5 size and firm, card-like cover it feels more like a pocket book than a magazine to me. Inside is a mix of news, profiles, guidance and vintage reports, with hopefully something for everybody; a generic vintage guide for Bordeaux beginners, more detail on a selection of interesting châteaux for those more familiar with the region, and reports on the latest vintage and all the latest news for those who know the region well and just want to get to grips with what’s new.

And when I write latest news, I mean latest. I’m particularly pleased with the ‘current’ feel of the product. Most wine guides are already out of date by the time they hit the shelves, the copy for the book often having been submitted a year before you hand over your cash. Here, the short time between finishing the copy and holding the book in my hand (as noted above, a couple of weeks) means the news within is definitely not dated. I include a report on the 2011 Bordeaux vintage (added after my return from the Bordeaux primeurs in April) as well as other Bordeaux news from the past couple of months (as well as important snippets from 2011 of course).

I haven’t held back from expressing this in the introduction – nor from criticising some other elements of the annually published pocket wine guides!

What should also appeal is the asking price. I was tempted to countdown the figures here (must be the latent market trader within me) but maybe I’ll just come straight out with it: £6.99. Not a typo: £6.99. It will be available in hard copy in the UK with some copies going out to the Far East, the USA and a few to Australia. A major point of sale will be airport shops (WH Smith and the like), but happily in this modern era it should also be available through online retailers such as Amazon (it’s not listed yet though, to save you the time checking) and of course there will be electronic formats for Kindle in Amazon, and it should be available as an iBook.

Now I just need to read what the book-reviewing wine-writing community think of the product. Nervous, me? Absolutely.

Update: From myy publisher’s comments below, the book is available online now from Zinio, and will on the shelves and with Amazon from May 24th. Kindle and iBook versions to follow!