Tasting 21 March 2019 – Restaurant El Cumbre – Benitachel

members enjoying pre tasting drinks

President Maureen welcoming members and Guests

President Maureen Holliday welcomed 58 members and guests to the tasting at Restaurante El Cumbre where two of our members, Kathy and Andrew Johnson were presenting  “A case of Mistaken Identity”.   They had chosen a selection of single variety wines and these were linked to the role of the highly specialised botanists whose job it is to identify grape varieties by sight as a result of a life time of experience.   This specialisation is known as Ampelography.The cost of each wine and where it can be purchased and average score given by members is shown in the list of wines tasted in 2019, which can be found by clicking on “Wines tasted in 2019”.

The first four wines were tasted in pairs to demonstrate a botanical point.   Andrew introduced the first two, which were a Chardonnay and a Riesling.  They came from bodegas Viñas del Vero  in DO Somontano, which is the DO the society will be going to on this years wine trip.  The chardonnay was from the vineyard Pago La Piedra a 2017 vintage from 30 year old vines made by cold maceration, followed by fermentation, filtration and bottling.   It has a straw yellow colour and was bright and clean with greenish tints.   the bouquet had floral aromas with citrus notes and tropical fruits, while on the palate it was flavoursome, well rounded with a long intensive finish.   It had an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 13.5%.

Andrew introduces the first two wines

The Riesling was 2016, chosen purposely because Riesling matures at a different rate to Chardonnay.   The grapes were harvested from the vineyards in Pago Los Olivos.   the harvest was carried out manually, grapes being transported in small boxes due to the delicacy of the skinof the Riesling grapes.   After fermentation it rests for 5 months in a deposito on the lees, before filtration and bottling.   the wine was pale straw yellow , clean and bright with greenish reflections.   It had an aromatic intensity, the notes of citrus standing out which also dominated the palate with a pleasant acidity.   the finish was medium short with a very pleasant fruity and floral aftertaste. The ABV was 13%.

The purpose of tasting these wines said Andrew was to demonstrate how different they are and to question how they could be confused.  He then told the story of a producer who acquired a few acres of chardonnay and made wine exactly as he had made Chardonnay elsewhere and the reults were not good.   He called in an expert on Ampelography and she very quickly identified  that these vines were Riesling and not Chardonnay.   Kathy then distributed a graphic that showed the key characteristics of the vine leaves that the specialists study and comparisons of these two varieties.

Kathy introducing wines 3 & 4

The next two wines were presented by Kathy and tasted blind as she wanted us to consider whether or not we thought either was a Merlot.   She told us the wines were from the Torres family, but not from Spain’s great wine producing house, but from Chile.and she had chosen them to illustrate another case of mistaken identity.   One of Chile’s largest wine producers was struggling with a field of old Merlot vines. The wine just wasn’t drinking as Merlot should.An ampelographer was called in, and identified that these vines were not Merlot, but were in fact Carmeñère , the lost grape of France!   Carmeñère had for years been a mainstay blend variety in Bordeaux, until it was (so they though) wiped out by the great wine bug, phylloxera, in the 1860s and 1870s. Andrew distributed photos of the two leaf types and the grapes and we first tasted the Carmeñère ,   

The Carmeñère variety is now considered native to Chile. This is a 2017 vintage, because, unlike the Merlot, it drinks very well young.  It has a Cherry color and fine aromas of blackberry, with eucalyptus balsamic notes that culminate in a delicious touch of tangerine. The palate is elegant with sweet and fruity tannins that deliver nuances of leather and spices. The aging in French oak for 6 months brings pleasant toasted and vanilla backgrounds. It has an ABV of 13.5% and comes from the DO Central Valley.

Turning to the third wine this was a Merlot and was 2 years older from the 2015 vintage. Obviously harvest happens in our spring in the southern hemisphere, so these wines are 6 months older than Spanish wines with the same vintage.  The Merlot is certainly a grape variety that has acclimated in Chile with great success.  The wine is also from DO Central Valley and has also been aged for 6 months in French oak.   It has aromas of jams of plums and blackberries mixed with nuances of vanilla and licorice. Gourmet and elegant palate, enriched with toasted notes of aging in oak and a long and spicy aftertaste.   It has an ABV of 14%.

For the fifth and final wine introduced by Andrew, we were asked to identify whether it was Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo.   There have been some confusions in wine production in the past. Numerous vines were hurriedly planted, both during the threat of Phylloxera, and in the 80s and 90s explosion in production. And both varieties have been confused with the other, so which did we think it was.  It turned out to be a 2011 Baron de Ley Varietales Tempranillo from Rioja

Hugh proposing the vote of thanks

.The winery, situated in Mendavia, Navarra, was founded back in the 1980’s with the aim of producing classic style wines.   The tempranillo grapes used to make this wine come from the Carboneras estate situated 840 metres above sea level in the sierra de cameros viejos. The vineyards have a continental climate which is perfect for the tempranillo variety.   Production begins with fermentation in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures, with malolactic fermentation carried out in the same tanks for 15 days at a fixed temperature of 20ºC.  The wine is aged for 12 months in American oak barrels.  The wine is red-garnet color with violet tones. The nose is intense, with notes of red fruits, pastries and vanilla. The palate is fleshy, complex and with an acidity that makes it fresh and long. It has an ABV of 13.5% and scores 90 points in the Guía Peñín.


The vote of thanks to Kathy and Andrew was given by Hugh Epsom

members enjoying the tasting
Text by Gaby Ferenczy from Notes provided by Andrew Johnson.   Photos by Gaby Ferenczy                                                                                                                                        March 2019