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Wine round-up 13/09/2010

Neil Sowerby meditates on endangered bees, the grouse season and stonking reds from down under. Plus latest news on Manchester’s Big Indie Wine Fest.

Written by . Published on September 14th 2010.

Wine round-up 13/09/2010

A bee settled on my arm the other day, a tinier than normal bumble. It seemed in some distress but flew off to pollinate the purple-bloomed hyssop in my garden. How fragile the existence of these essential insects at the moment with a fifth of our bee population dying last winter.

As Albert Einstein famously said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants.” Not that the man was always right of course.

I am unclear if the bee plays any part in the pollination of grapevines (no, WikiBeedia couldn’t help), but it is heartening to see a major wine producer backing the Co-operative’s Plan Bee campaign (for how you can take action to protect them visit www.co-operative.coop).

Aussie giants Banrock Station have a laudable history of pouring money into conservation projects and using lighter weight glass to reduce carbon emissions, so their latest initiative is no suprise.

They are offering three special edition varietals until October 19 in all Co-operative and Somerfield stores at £4.60 a bottle. Five pence from each bottle goes towards a fund-raising campaign, target £45,000, to finance Plan Bee projects.

My trio of wines – a Shiraz Rose, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon – came in cute black and yellow-striped jackets for publicity purposes (pictured).

Alas, there’s never going to be a great buzz about Banrock offerings. Easily the pick was the Cab with its blackcurrant and vanilla warmth.

My last column recommended an array of Sauvignons for summer (the one we’ve barely seen). One excellent example that slipped the net – the latest vintage (2010, a cool one) of Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Typical gooseberry, melon and herbaceous aromas lead on to a clean refreshing palate combined with intense fruit concentration. A treat that’s widely available. Expect to pay around £8.99 at Tesco, Sainsbury’s Waitrose, Asda, Majestic, Booths, Spar or Wine Rack.

With the arrival of September game is very much in my thoughts. Not bagged a grouse yet (from our local butcher, he has connections), but I’m weighing up appropriate reds. Spanish favourite partidge, say, would be a great match for one of the Portia reds from the boom vineyards of Ribera del Duero, north of Madrid. Rioja producers Faustino have been developing a 400-acre base in this rival region for 20 years, culminating in a state-of-the art winery designed by Norman Foster.

American guru Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded an impressive 90/100 to the company’s Portia Prima 2004. Produced in limited amounts, it is 100 per cent Tempranillo aged for 15 months in new French oak. Cherry red with violet tints, it offers a whole cocktail of aromas. Blackberry, blakccurrant and vanilla definitely. Maybe violets again. Velvety smooth, sweet fruit lingers. One for the long haul? The tannins are soft. Maybe a decade. Lovely now.

Again 100 per cent Tempranillo (alled tinto de pais in the Ribera), the Portia 2004 is lighter in colour and in intensity, with less on the nose but nicely balanced blackberry fruit, the oak less evident.

Both wines can be bought online from TheDrinkShop.com (Portia £12.29, the Prima £16.95) or www.DrinksDirect.co.uk.

I was sorry to miss a summer Australia masterclass at Hanging Ditch (www.hangingditch.comfor details of their regular events), now International Wine Challenge Northern Wine Merchant of the Year, but I caught up with one of their top wines at the recent opening of The Parlour bar/restaurant in Beech Road, Chorlton.

Passion Has Red Lips 2008 from Aussie maverick winemakers, The Three Young Punks is on the Parlour wine list at £27. Sadly its Punks white stablemate The Squid’s Fist hadn’t accompanied it. Ed Cross of suppliers Boutinot kindly opened a bottle of the 2008 Passion with its lurid label based on pulp fiction novel Sin On Wheels. A strapping (14 per cent) herby, chewy blend of Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Chocolate and smoke. A bit too power-packed to accompany my imminent grouse, though.

I think fragrant Pinot Noir would be more the thing. Craggy Range Zebra Pinot Noir 2008 is Central Otago pinot personified. Majestic Wines are big fans of this New Zealand producer and stock this Zebra at £17.49 (as part of the standard six-bottle case, which can be mixed). This is 14 per cent, too, but carries it well. A cherry fragrance and a great spicy cherry and plum palate sheathed in a velvet glove. Bring on the autumn nights.

Autumn, of course, means the Manchester Food and Drink Festival and its Big Indie Wine Fest, which will run at the People’s History Museum, Spinningfields on the event’s closing weekend. Celebrating the area’s best individual wine merchants, three tasting sessions will run in the refurbished Engine House – Friday, October 8 (5pm-9pm) and Saturday, October 9 (12pm-4pm and 5pm-9pm), price £10.

Advance booking is highly recommended (fee 90p, via thebigindiewinefest.eventbrite.com

The expert-led masterclasses that were hugely popular last year will feature again. Wine merchants showing their wares include Hanging Ditch, Reserve, Smithfield, The Vineyard, Wine Buffs, Harvey Nichols, Ditu and MT Rosa Wine, Gaucho, Molly Brown Wine List, Origin Wines and the Co-op.

Congratulations to two of the city's best drinks operations. Hanging Ditch, the wine shop in the shadow of Manchester Cathedral, has been named Regional Wine Merchant of the Year for the North at the prestigious International Wine Challenge. Short of visiting the shop there are two great opportunities to sample the wine and service that clinched the gong. Firstly they are among the independent wine merchants assembled for the Big Indie Wine Fest at the People's HIstory Museum on October 8 and 9, part of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (tickets £10). Then on Friday October 29 Hanging Ditch are holding their own annual fair at Manchester Art Gallery (£25 per person), with 100 wines to taste.Meanwhile Marble Brewery have scooped a silver award for their Manchester Bitter in the Golden Ale section at at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival.

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RaySeptember 13th 2010.

Well done, Ditch! A laudable effort. Don't forget also Reserve in Didsbury, Portland wines in Hale, and Winos in Oldham. All offer wines of real character which don't need false (and misleading) discounts offered by the supermarkets (and latterly Majestic on their bubblies) backed by enthusiastic knowledgeable individuals.

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