Welcome to the first ‘blog’ from Sovereign Wines from Tavistock. For those of you who are out of your teens a blog is a less elegant term for a letter or newsletter. It’s an informal way of keeping you up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of wine - as seen from the western edge of Dartmoor anyway!
It's been 4 months since Mike McGarry bought Steevenson Wines from Charles Steevenson, having been the company’s Operations Manager for almost a decade. Clearly Mike has a great sense of timing and is not averse to a risk or two, as we are now entering the second lockdown since he took the helm - let’s hope it’s the last! Charles is still here, edging his way gradually towards retirement but enjoying something of a ‘Grand Tour’, visiting his existing customers and bringing some new ones on board.
Mike is introducing some changes and moving forward despite all the obstacles being thrown in his way. I am delighted to say that as well as buying wine online you can now visit us in person at the sw-bottleshop and tasting room which is now open in Tavistock, Devon! Yes, we have a retail shop within our premises it is at the top of the hill behind Tesco. No tasting allowed at the moment unfortunately until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. It has been hard work trying to run the core business and also install a shop, but it’s now a reality. Sadly a grand opening was not much of an option with a limit of 5 people at one time, but we are really enjoying seeing customers in person, so do call in and see us when you’re passing and be assured we are Covid safe on site.
We are permitted to remain open throughout lockdown, and our range now includes a good selection of beers and spirits as well as wine. Have a look on our website shop to see the latest offers and promotions, but here are some details of a couple of current highlights.
The Autumn Reds case has been such a huge hit we are extending it as an offer and it is now only £95.00 - really great value and crammed full of exactly the sort of wine you look forward to opening as you curl up in front of the fire. It’s really gratifying to ‘hit the nail on the head’ and this is clearly an example of where we have done just that!
The other thing to look out for is our “Thirst Aid Kit”, introduced to provide you with all your drinks essentials in a time of emergency! We’ve selected a range of drinks that includes something for everyone - red, white and sparkling wines, local craft beers and Bumblebee - our favourite cider for the winter months. Please give us your feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let us know what else you would like to see in our offers - we’re here to provide what you want and case offers give us a chance to bring our prices even lower whilst giving you exactly what you’re after.
No wine blog would be complete without a review of some wine, but I apologise in advance if my style is a bit ‘Plain English’. About a quarter of the population taste and smell things more acutely than the rest. Unfortunately when it comes to reviewing wine that can leave three quarters of us thinking ‘What is he/she talking about? Hints of this, nuances of that…??' Here are my -hopefully easy to understand - thoughts on a couple of the wines you’ll find in the two case offers I’ve mentioned.
Conte di Castel Vecchio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Say it five times quickly - go on! It sounds formidable but actually Montepulciano is simply a town in the Abruzzo region of Italy and Castel Vecchio just means “old castle”, so don’t be put off by a wine’s name (except perhaps ‘Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush’ which is a real Sauvignon Blanc from Cooper’s Creek in New Zealand). On a similar note, this bottle is a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a wine by its label. Perhaps it’s just personal taste but in this instance the label appears to have been chosen from the ‘economy’ section of a catalogue titled ‘Unremarkable Wine Labels’. I shouldn’t grumble - as soon as they realise just how good the wine is the price will go up to pay for a better label!
Always a very drinkable red, this year’s vintage has really stepped up a notch. No expertise is needed to appreciate the immediately attractive aromas of dark fruit, and the same impressions carry through as flavours in the mouth. This doesn’t always happen with wine because the ways we perceive smells and tastes are different. When it does happen it’s very satisfying. The flavours linger long enough for you to appreciate there’s good balancing acidity and the tannins are soft and well integrated. If you’re not familiar with tannins check out the ‘wine babble’ at the end of this article. There is enough acid to cut through some oil in food and the flavours are strong enough to pair with some fairly rich dishes. Personally I’d suggest pasta with tomato based sauces (“Ooh” I hear you mutter, “How original - pairing an Italian wine with pasta”). Sorry for any disappointment, but the beauty of good Mediterranean wine is it works terrifically well with good Mediterranean food!
At the far end of the wine spectrum is Sunnycliff Brut, a sparkling white wine from Australia. As Christmas begins to loom our thoughts turn to bubbles. Of course for some it has to be Champagne (and we have a substantial range of Champagnes) but what an opportunity to try some alternatives. Sunnycliff is made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, just like Champagne, but of course it’s grown in a different climate. Hailing from Victoria, in the very south-east of the country, just across the Bass Strait from Tasmania, this is a dry, medium-bodied wine with clear citrus flavours and pleasing, slightly savoury, biscuit notes. Importantly it’s made using the Traditional Method (some people refer to the ‘Champagne Method’ which means it is fermented in the same way as other wines, but then undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle). All of this is of course extra work and adds to the cost, but the winemakers at Sunnycliff believe it’s worth the effort, and I have to agree. Its bubbles are perhaps lazier than most Champagnes - probably because the warmer weather adds a little more body to the wine - but they are smaller and finer than tank produced fizz such as Prosecco.
This little section comes last so those of you who are already familiar with the subject in question can skip it and get to drinking your wine! I’m going to explain (and hopefully de-mystify) a little bit of wine babble in every blog, until you too can bore your dinner guests senseless!
Today, tannins - because I’ve mentioned them several times and they are an important element of red wine in particular. There are a couple of ways of explaining them. The first begins with an explanation of polyphenol molecules, so I’m going to use one of the other ways.
Tannins are astringent - they make your tongue feel dry at the edges. The most frequently used example is that it’s the sensation you get from swilling cold black tea around your mouth. Honestly I’ve never understood why it is assumed that people would have experience of swilling cold tea around their mouths. I have a better suggestion. Swill some red wine around in your mouth and then note the sensation on the sides of your tongue and gums. Unless you’re unlucky enough to have a really badly balanced wine you’ll almost certainly detect the tannins (you can’t taste them though - only feel their effect in your mouth). And the wine is a lot more fun to swallow than the cold tea.
Tannins are an important part of wine, especially red wine, giving colour, balance and structure. Most tannins come from the skin, stalks and pips of the grapes, and become infused in the wine by keeping these parts of the crushed grape in contact with the juice that later becomes wine. If they are aged in casks or barrels, wine can also extract tannins from the wood in which it is aged, as well as flavours. In very simple terms lighter coloured red wines tend to have lighter tannins. Pinot Noir grapes have thin skins so usually produce lighter wines, whilst Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are darker and thicker skinned, so usually impart more tannin. Of course the longer you leave the juice in contact with the skins etc. the more tannin the juice will absorb.
Most wine is meant to be drunk young, but it is well known that some red wines can age very well (some whites too but for different reasons!). Most can only do so because of their tannins. Tannins are actually very good for you (so clearly you should buy more red wine from your local wine merchant), but it’s really important that they are kept in balance, and not just because you’ll pull amusing faces if you take a mouthful of wine with too much tannin.
The key to ageing wine well is to balance the tannins it gets from the grapes with the tannins it gets from the wood it is stored in. I like to think of this as a ‘dinner party fact’ - something you can drop into conversation that will make you look really knowledgeable without having any real use whatsoever. I will do my best to ration myself to one item of impressive but ultimately pointless information per blog.
This is why some wines don’t get released for some years - the wine maker is waiting for the tannins to smooth out and balance, something which takes time and involves molecules joining together in strings and other A level chemistry. One last thought though, to do with ageing. Wine doesn’t always get better with age (in fact if it’s not meant to age it usually gets worse quite quickly). It becomes different. There are 3 kinds of flavours in wine. The ‘primary’ flavours come from the fruit itself. The ‘secondary’ ones come from the wine making process (e.g. oak flavours may be added by using oak casks). It’s the ’tertiary’ flavours that come about through the ageing process. These can be quite dramatically different, so you may hear talk of flavours of leather, forest floor or tobacco. Some of these are not for the faint-hearted and you should bear in mind that if you are going to buy an old and expensive wine it may taste very different to what you expect. Equally it may be incredibly delicate and almost ethereal. What a good job you’ve got a local wine merchant to go to for advice before you part with the big bucks! See you next issue.