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Little ‘n’ large: wine half bottles, magnums and beyond now available from elwood

October 5, 2012

Further to an earlier post regarding the growing demand for half bottles, we have just released an offer for these handy sized bottles, as well as some larger formats  – from magnum to Imperial.

Click here to download special offer for half bottles and larger

Half bottles make an ideal choice if you just want a couple of glasses of wine, or to try a little of two different wines.  Larger bottles are a great treat for dinner parties if you have a crowd of thirsty friends round, but they also make excellent gifts.

View all of our wines on offer, click here

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Upcoming elwood tasting: How to spot a faulty wine

September 28, 2012

Make sure you put Thursday 18th October in your diaries, as The Essential Wine School and elwood have been working on a very special wine tasting that will take place at The Old Ship Hotel in Brighton.

Many years ago, Karl Elwood organised a wine tasting in London that focused on the common faults in wine and how to spot them. Now, you’re probably thinking that it’s unusual to invite customers to taste wines that – to put it bluntly – you wouldn’t want to drink, but the tasting proved such a hit that we decided to repeat it in Brighton.

It’s rare that consumers have the opportunity to experience wine faults in a controlled environment, so we’re very much looking forward to sharing some of our “bad” bottles with you!

Throughout the tasting, we’ll compare wines which have been ‘doctored’ to replicate a particular, naturally occurring fault alongside the same unaffected wine.  So don’t fear – there will be something enjoyable to taste too.

Bookings are being taken now if you’d like to come along.

We’ll look at four common faults on the night, and the samples we’ll be trying will all contain elements that may naturally occur in wine to a greater or lesser degree – and that’s the crucial thing – a little of these elements can be beneficial and enhance the character of the wine, but too much will detract from it.

Fault 1: Exposure to heat

Have you ever wondered about the condition of dusty wine bottles displayed under bright lights in shops?

When you’re buying a decent bottle or case of wine that has the benefit of some bottle age, you want to be sure that it’s been stored correctly. Provenance is key to buying fine wine – but the same care should be applied when purchasing any decent bottle.

Exposure to sunlight and the resulting heat source will effectively “cook” the wine , ridding it of any freshness or balance and leaving behind an overriding impression of stewed fruit.  As the liquid expands inside the bottle, you may notice some seepage through the cork and down the sides of the neck.  This is much easier to spot with red wine, but another sign is the slight protrusion of the cork forced upwards by the pressure of the liquid within.

Another consequence of the cork being moved upwards in this way is that once the wine cools, this is likely to draw oxygen into the bottle – thus leading to the possibility of oxidation.

Fault 2: Oxidation

The second sample of wine we’ll taste will be exposed to excess oxygen. Whilst a little air can help a complex wine develop its flavour, unwanted oxygen can pass through the pores of an oak barrel or – it is thought – in tiny amounts through the cork stopper.

Some wine is deliberately exposed to high levels of oxygen in order to change its character – and in some circumstances this can work. Sherry just wouldn’t be Sherry without the effect of exposure to the air, would it?

Normally a wine that has been exposed to excess oxygen will darken in colour, lose its fresh, fruity character and start to smell musty and stale. Eventually it will turn to vinegar (literally “sour wine”) and then fall apart completely.

Fault 3: Corked

This indiscriminate threat to wine is less prevalent now, thanks to the greater number of wines that use screw cap closures.  A “corked” wine has nothing to do with pieces of cork floating in the glass – it’s an unpleasant aroma and change to the taste caused by the presence of a particular chemical.

The culprit is 2,4,6-trichloranisole (usually, and thankfully, shortened to TCA) which arises from fungi found in corks but – as anyone who has detected that musty, drain smell and disappointing finish in a wine without a cork can attest – there are other sources.

The effects of TCA are often confused with other problems. Though rare today, poor hygiene during filtration can cause a similar stale, damp cardboard smell.  Bottle sickness (or bottle stink) can arise from a number of causes too, but will disappear after a short time after opening.

TCA, however, will not only affect the smell but also cause an overall dullness – so sometimes even at low levels TCA just makes a wine very disappointing, without necessarily the distinctive unpleasant smell.

Fault 4: Brett

The last faulty wine to be shown will demonstrate the effect of a particular strain of yeast called Brettanomyces. This naturally-occurring yeast creates a number of by-products during fermentation, and the effect of two of them is noticeable in wine if present in any concentration.

The volatile phenol 4-ethylguaiacol gives spicy and smoky aromas, which can be very attractive in many a complex red wine; while the other volatile phenol 4-ethylphenol is generally less appealing, giving flavours described like an old pair of boots or animal.  A classic tasting note of some Shiraz wines from Australia a few years ago might have been “sweaty saddle” and was attributed to the combination of grape variety and volcanic soil – but we now know it was Brettanomyces, usually referred to as “Brett”.

Whilst careful monitoring can alert to excessive Brett and good hygiene reduce problems, only sterile filtration and addition of chemicals can eradicate it completely from a winery’s output.  Both of these are increasingly frowned upon by quality winemakers, and the growing trend towards organic and biodynamic wines.

Maintaining sufficient sulphur dioxide can also prevent excessive Brett, but as always the clever winemaker has to have a balanced approach.

If you’re interested in attending this elwood wine tasting in Brighton on 18th October 2012 then please call Karl Elwood on 01273 242535 or book online – and the next time you’re served a wine, either at home or in a restaurant, you can exercise your consumer rights with newfound confidence, and send the faulty wine back!

Elwood Tasting: Producer’s Dinner with Bodega Norton

September 23, 2012

Written by Alice Reeves

Last week, elwood launched a new event series in a new venue, holding their first Producer’s Dinner at Blanch House. Brighton’s original boutique hotel – just recently re-opened – this gorgeous Georgian terrace is a chic, stylish, friendly little place in Kemp Town; the perfect spot to showcase a vineyard with a pretty quirky story…

Bodega Norton's Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

Bodega Norton’s Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon

About Bodega Norton

It was an immense pleasure to meet with, chat to and hear from Bodega Norton’s representative Diego Surazsky, who captivated everyone with the tale of the winery’s unusual beginnings. Founded in 1895 by Edmund James Palmer Norton – an English engineer working on the railway connecting Mendoza to Santiago – it all began with a love story. During his time in Mendoza, Norton fell for and married an Argentinean girl, whose family presented him with some land as a gift. It was here that he decided to plant a selection of vines imported from France – and Bodega Norton was born.

The Wines & The Food

Blanch House put together a special menu for the evening, designed to bring out the very best in the wines Diego decided to share with us – and the matching was absolutely spot on.

Here’s my verdict…

Pre-starter: Falafels with Tzatziki – delicately spiced and delicious, these warm falafels were served with a cool cucumber and mint tzatziki topping (plus plenty of smiles and welcoming words from Blanch House’s lovely staff!)

Wine: Finca La Colonia Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – I could hardly believe this was a Sauvignon Blanc; it has such a refined, smooth finish with hardly any acidity. The perfect blend of citrus and floral, this is a winner at just £7.95 per bottle.

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Ham Hock Terrine at Blanch House

Starter: Ham Hock Terrine

Starter: Ham Hock Terrine with Sweet Piccalilli and gluten-free Mustard Bread – as well as gaining bonus points for use of gluten-free bread, the terrine was divine. I’m a pickle fiend, so the home-made piccalilli was the perfect accompaniment. Great twist on a British classic.

Wine: Lo Tengo Torrontes 2010 – after buying the Lo Tengo Malbec following elwood’s summer tasting, I had high hopes for its white partner. I wasn’t disappointed. Aromatic, smooth, vibrant and very similar to a Viognier or Gewurztraminer, this is one of the most fabulous whites I’ve found in a while. What’s more, it’s under a tenner at £9.95!

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Featherblade of Ditchling Beef at Blanch House

Featherblade of Ditchling Beef

Main course: Featherblade of Ditchling Beef with Colcannon – I’m always a fan of local meat, and Blanch House’s Sussex beef was cooked to perfection. Braised and roasted until it was unbelievably tender, you could have cut it with a spoon and it just melted in the mouth. Divine. Creamy colcannon and plenty of gravy complemented the meat marvellously.

Wines: Reserva Malbec 2009 & Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (both £12.95)time for two robust reds to accompany the beef. First we sampled the Malbec which was fruity, spicy and warming; but the Cabernet was my favourite of the two by a mile. Robust and ripe, this was a huge mouthful of cherries with a chocolaty twist. I went back for more!

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Privada 2009 by Bodega Norton

Star of the Show: Privada 2009

Dessert: Cheese Board – selection of three cheeses served with oatcakes (more gluten-free points), chutney and grapes.

Wine: Privada 2009 – move aside for the star of the show; this blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was out of this world. After the red fruits of the previous wine, this tasted much darker with blackberry and blueberry flavours packing an almighty punch. The lingering finish was incredible. At £16.50 it’s a little pricier than the rest, but rightly so – you get what you pay for, as I’m sure Karl will tell you.

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Click here to visit elwood’s wine shop.

Click here to view upcoming elwood events.

2011 white burgundy vintage comes to London

September 20, 2012

Round one of the Burgundy 2011 tastings started in London yesterday for the trade and press to get a preview of the wines that have recently been bottled from this vintage.  We’ll have to wait until January 2013 to see how the reds have evolved in barrel over the course of this year.

Nature has been very kind to burgundy in  recent years after a run of fine vintages in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  The 2011 vintage was not without its challenges, with a severe winter and a relatively cool summer,  however nature came good in the end by delivering decent weather from mid-August to harvest time in early September.   The overall impression from growers is that the whites have been a success and particular praise has been singled out for the Cote de Nuits reds that have excellent levels of concentration.  More details on the reds will follow in due course.

From Chablis to Montagny, passing through the celebrated vineyards of the Côte d’Or, there was plenty of fresh, vibrant fruit to tempt anyone that enjoys classically-styled white burgundy.  It was pointed out that natural alcohol levels were lower than either 2009 or 2010 too.  It’s a good vintage without the brilliance of 2010, nor the concentration of the 2009’s.  The wines I tasted gave the impression that they will drink early, which may prove rather timely as the previous two vintages will warrant further ageing.   It will be interesting to see how the whites evolve in bottle when the main En Primeur 2011 Burgundy tastings kick off in early January 2013.

Prices for 2011 will see a slight increase in euro terms, which has more or less been mitigated by rather better exchange rates compared to last year.  However, this price increase is not a reflection on the growers perception of the quality of the vintage, but because of the difficult harvest of the 2012 vintage that is due to start within the next couple of weeks.  Given the expectation of greatly reduced production, the growers need to factor the economic impact a poor 2012 harvest will bring.

We will provide a more detailed report in due course, but there was one star from Chablis that really stood out at today’s tastings and is worth a special mention here.

Samuel Billaud

Samuel Billaud is regarded as one of Chablis’ finest wine-makers.  For twenty years he was responsible for the superb quality of wine at the family estate,  Domaine Billaud Simon.  For the past four years he has turned his hand to a new project, identifying the region’s greatest terroirs  and the realisation of their full potential.    With wines bottled under his own label, Les Grands Terroir Samuel Billaud, he offers some of the most exceptional examples of unoaked Chardonnay in the world today.

As a result of tasting the 2011’s from Samuel Billaud and Domaine Billaud Simon side by side,  I would go so far as saying that Samuel’s wines were the superior in this vintage.  Furthermore, they are cheaper too!

I will need to review my notes on Samuel’s 2010s and if we can get more, this will certainly be a wine for anyone that loves classic Chablis, or as many will tell you – the purist expression of Chardonnay on the planet!  That get’s my vote everytime.

Make mine a half

September 17, 2012

I was in London the week before last to meet a client and one topic of discussion that evening was the need for half bottles of decent wines.  The client in question loves the idea of going to a restaurant that has a good range of half bottles so that he and his wife can try out more than one wine.  Half bottles represent better value than buying wine by the glass, if you wish to try a few different wines, with the added advantage of being able to walk away from your table at the end of the evening without the need for assitance.

The dilema facing restaurants is one of supply.  In order to secure the fine wines that they would like to list, they need to commit to buying their wines En Primeur (still in barrel) and request that the wines are bottled in halves before being shipped.  And therein lies the catch : not many restaurants these days can afford to have money tied up in stock that won’t be physically available for 2 years, not withstanding the fact that the wines won’t be ready to drink for several more years.  Fewer and fewer producers will carry stocks of half bottles, therefore it tends to be the preserve of a few private clients that give instructions to bottle in halves – and that’s very few in my experience.    A bordeaux negociant made an amusing point to me once when we talked about the fall in demand in half bottles.  He pointed out that a diner in France may select a 50cl bottle, because at least it gives the appearance of a full bottle on the table when viewed by fellow dinners.  But unlikely that he’ll order a 37.5cl bottle!  Given that the bordelais don’t offer 50cl bottling for their reds or dry whites as an option, that diner is probably going to continue buying his wine in a standard bottle.

But low and behold, on the tube to catch my train home, I picked up a copy of The London Evening Standard and there was an article about the increase in demand in the UK for half bottles – spooky!   “A half is perfect for people who want to share two glasses of fine wine, instead of a full bottle of cheaper wine” it goes on to say.  A case of déjà vu here!

According to Richard Halstead, the chief operating officer of Wine Intelligence, and I quote from their article : ” There is a deffinite feeling among consumers at the moment that they ought not to be drinking so much, and they are also watching their pennies”.

I think that is a fair point and with the desire for choice, to be able to try a fine wine that by the bottle would be priced out of peoples pockets, I feel that these are all relevant factors.

It’s time to put this to the test and see what demand we find for half bottles and we will put together a selection to offer next month, but if anyone who reads this blog has a view, then please feel free to share it!

Now as for magnums, that’s another story!

Producer profile – Bodega Norton, Mendoza, Argentina

September 14, 2012

As a precursor to our producer tasting and dinner on the 20th September, featuring the wines from Bodega Norton, I thought a brief profile on this renowned winery would be in order.  Details of this dinner will appear at the footer of this blog if you would like to join us.

The History

Although there was a history of commercial viticulture as far back as 1557, it wasn’t until the completion of a railway line that connected Mendoza with Buenos Aires in 1885 that paved the way for Argentina’s wine industry.

Edmund James Palmer Norton first set eyes on the Mendoza countryside during the construction of this famous railway line and impressed by the terroir, he founded Bodega Norton, south of the Mendoza River, with a plantation of vines imported from France.

Fast forward 100 years and we see how Norton has evolved into one of Argentina’s leading producers, exporting to more than 60 countries world-wide.

In 1989, the Austrian businessman, Gernot Langes-Swarovski,  bought Bodega Norton after sensing the great potential of Argentina to influence the world scene.  Struck by the beauty of the area and the optimal conditions for growing grapes, he chose Bodega Norton because it was the only traditional winery surrounded by its own vineyard.

During the 90’s Bodega Norton started exporting high quality wines, becoming one of the first wineries to develop export markets.  The winery experienced strong international growth and positioned itself as one of the leading wine exporters in the country.

The continued investment programme started to pay dividends the following decade when in 2004, Gernot Langes-Swarovski son, Michael Halstrick,  was awarded the “Best winemaker of the Year” and Bodega Norton was positioned within the top 100 most admired companies in Argentina by the country’s two major newspapers (La Nación and Clarín).

And the awards kept coming. In 2006 the prestigious American magazine, Wine Spectator, nominated Bodega Norton as one of the top 20 wineries in the world.  And in the past two years Wine Enthusiast nominated Bodega Norton as the “Best New World Winery of the Year” in the 2011 edition of its competition “Wine Star Awards” and went one step further by naming their current Chief Winemaker, Jorge Riccitelli, as Wine Enthusiast’s “Winemaker of the year 2012”. He was the only Argentine nominated in this category.

The recent announcement of The Decanter magazines World Wine Awards this month has added to their impressive tally of medals.

The Vineyards

With five vineyards spread over the main terroirs of the province of Mendoza – all of them within a privileged zone known as the First Zone for the quality of its grapes – Bodega Norton is fortunate to have exceptional grapes for the production of quality wines.  The average age of their vines is around 30 years, although they also have a large number of hectares planted with 80 year-old vines.

Amongst these five vineyards, Bodega Norton has grown virtually the entire spectrum of varieties available in Argentina.  The highlights are: Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah and Pinot Noir in the reds. For the whites, they include, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Riesling.

The Wines

The range is constructed principally according to vine age.  Finca La Colonia is sourced from young vines, with no oak to obscure their immediate, accessible fruit.  Vineyards over fifteen years old are considered for Barrel Select; their more structured juice is suitable for aging fifty per cent in wood.  Past their thirtieth birthday, plantings can make the grade for Reserva, which is entirely matured in French barrels and offers extra depth and complexity.  Privada used to be the family’s private reserve, and is now Norton’s signature wine, as well as one of Argentina’s best-respected names, with fifty to eighty year old vines providing great concentration.  Perdriel is the recent flagship, from a single vineyard of old vines; with stunning richness and intensity, it proves that Edmund Norton’s hunch about Luján de Cuyo was right.

We will be posting an offer for a range of Norton wines on our website shortly, so do keep an eye out for that.

The future

In 1993 we started to see the Mendoza region divided into sub-regions, such as Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley and by identifying and promoting the greater complexities of this diverse region, we can start to appreciate the next drive for quality that will clearly establish a great future for Argentine wine.

There are other considerations too that will probably be just as significant in the future.  The lack of humidity in this region means that many of the vineyards can operate without the need for chemical spraying, a condition conducive to organic viticulture, something that we are all passionate about.  Recent trends have seen a push to plant vineyards at higher altitudes, up to 3000m above sea level in some cases!  Planting at higher altitude moderates the temperature, causing an extended ripening season, higher natural acidity levels and exposes the vines to more ultraviolet light, which encourages the development of colour and tannin in the black-skinned varieties.

It is clear that with a strong philosophy about the direction Bodegas Norton wishes to take, they will continue to be one of Argentina’s most respected wine producers.

If you would like an opportunity to meet the export manager for Norton during his visit to the UK, then click here for details.  We have a fabulous dinner with matching wines in the comfort of Blanch House, Brighton on the 20th September 2012.

Wines for weddings

September 14, 2012

We were approached by one of our customers recently, who also happens to be a wedding planner, and naturally the conversation lead to the subject of selecting wines for weddings.   As a regular attendee at our tutored wine tastings, she felt this could form the basis to help couples choose the wines for their wedding in a relaxed and informal setting.  We also wanted to explore the basics of matching food and wine,  empowering couples with the knowledge to help make these decisions themselves as opposed to being solely directed by the caterers or venue, for example.

With this in mind a joint venture between elwood and Susan Beckingham from Perfect Day has resulted in what we hope will be the first of many Wines for Weddings tutored tastings to take place at Blanch House in Brighton on 11 October 2012.  If you yourself or indeed know someone that is due to tie the knot in the not too distant future, then we hope this evening will be a great starting point for you.  At the very least a fun and informative evening.

Numbers will be restricted to a maximum of 20 for each event and the tickets are priced £35 per person, inclusive of wines and some nibbles.  Doors open at 7.30pm for welcoming glass and the tasting will commence promptly at 8pm, ending around 9.30pm.   If you are interested in more details or to book, please follow this link.

Some background on Perfect Day

After a long career as a Sales Director and having frequently helped her friends organise their weddings, Susan Beckingham founded Perfect Day in 2009.  Based in Brighton and Hove but covering all of the south including London, Perfect Day provides high quality wedding planning and coordination services.

Susan works with busy couples who simply don’t know where to start or how best to organise their big day. She can help you find a venue, a wedding dress supplier, a fantastic caterer and a great band for everyone to boogie on down to at the end of a brilliant day.  Susan can help you budget, create your personalised Things to Do list and negotiate with suppliers to get the best value for you.  And of course, she can manage your Big Day ensuring that you, your new spouse and your family can relax and enjoy yourselves.

For more information on Perfect Day’s services, have a look at www.perfectday-planning.co.uk

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