Summertown Selection

I recently went to the Summertown Wine Café with my friend Leanne, visiting from NZ. We tasted our way through about half the tasting menu, including many wines that are not commonly available in New Zealand.

We were informed and entertained by the sommelier, François, who was very knowledgeable and took the time to walk us through the different wines.  In many respects he made the occasion and I would recommend a visit there to taste a few wines you wouldn’t normally consider.

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We tried several bubblies to begin with. I was impressed by the Louis Bouillot Perle Noire” over the Mumm non-vintage Champagne. The Perle Noire is a sparkling white wine made from red grapes (Pinot Noir and Gamay). It had biscuity aromas, sultanas, vanilla, and a warm ‘grassy’ quality. A well-rounded body compared to the rather austere Mumm and the price difference (£13 for the Perle Noire vs £21 for the Champagne) made it the winner for me.

A. Laurence Sparkling Rosé impressed as well. Plenty of biscuity, honey, ripe strawberry, floral and vanilla aromas to keep you interested. A well-rounded palate, and all for only £7.60! An interesting blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

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Moving onto the whites, Dr Loosen “Blue Slate” Riesling (£8.95) was Leanne’s favourite. Dr Loosen is an excellent German Riesling producer with a range of wines to suit all palates and budgets. The Blue Slate is an entry-level Mosel Riesling. 8.5% alcohol, medium sweetness, crisp acidity and classic fruity flavours tempered by a firm minerality.

I was intrigued by the Cave de Hunawihr Pinot Gris (£10.95). A medium-pale straw, with a nose of slate and gravel layered on tart but juicy apricots. There was some residual sugar, but very high acidity. Fairly high alcohol – at 13.5% – yet the structure of this wine was very well balanced. A pleasant example of Alsatian Pinot Gris. £10.95.

We compared two classic Sauvignon Blanc styles for good measure: Dom Michaud Touraine from the Loire in France and Saint Clair from Marlborough in New Zealand (both £8.95). The Saint Clair was big, brash and bolshy. Very aromatic – gooseberries and passionfruit, voluptuous but unripe. High acidity, reasonably high alcohol and fairly full-bodied. Floral and gravelly notes came through on the palate to add a bit more interest. Eminently drinkable but a wine I imagine I would tire of it after a glass. The Dom Michaud was more restrained. Still aromatic with the classic ‘cat’s pee’ Sauvignon Blanc note, also gooseberries and hints of lilacs. The acidity was crisp, although less than the Saint Clair; the alcohol level was moderate and well-balanced. The body was creamy but light and hints of roses and orange peel came through on the palate. I found the Dom Michaud more subtle than the Saint Clair, with the flavours allowed to express themselves in your mouth over time. All in all, these two wines are classic examples of two well-known Sauvignon Blanc regions if you were wanting to brush up on their similarities and differences.

To round off the whites, we had a Pfeiffer Carlyle Chardonnay-Marsanne blend (£10), from the Rutherglen region in Victoria, Australia. Musty, earthy, decaying vegetables dominated this nose. Yet the flavours that came through on the palate were very ripe apples and nectarines. I found the structure of the palate to be unbalanced: high alcohol but low acidity. Needless to say I didn’t like this wine, there was a lack of continuity between aromas and flavours and the palate wasn’t particularly pleasant.

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The Obra Prima Rosato (£7.50) was another strange wine. From Mendoza, Argentina, this was a rosé made from Cabernet-Sauvignon. As such, the colour is a lot deeper than other rosé wines, and more ruby than pink. It had a very ‘porty’ nose – raisins, prunes and overripe blackcurrants. The body was fairly full (especially for a rosé), with medium acidity and highish alcohol. The palate contained tart, sour, glacé cherries and a medicinal quality. However this sweetened on the finish. I wasn’t a fan however.

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The stand out for the reds was the Californian Lazy Monkey Cabernet Sauvignon (£20) from the Mendocino County. A complex nose that was also distinctly ‘Californian': menthol, cedarwood, sweet blackcurrant, shoe polish even. Aniseed came through on the palate. The alcohol was high but didn’t stand out too much and tannins were forward and chewy. My criticism would be the acidity was on the low side and it felt to be lacking a ‘backbone’ on the palate.

The Escarpment Pinot Noir (£15) from Martinborough, New Zealand, was a good example of a kiwi Pinot. Highly aromatic with a red fruit profile – candied strawberries – along with spice and nutty oak notes. The palate contained high acid and fairly high alcohol levels with fine, forward, grippy tannins. The aroma profile of the nose carried through into the mouth with cinnamon, white pepper, raspberries and cherries adding interest.

We also tried the Monasterio Old Vines Garnacha (£6.50) from Carinena, Spain and the Shaw & Smith Shiraz (£16.50) from Adelaide Hills, Australia. Both powerful, tannic wines fairly typical of the grapes and the regions. Both were too unbalanced for my liking. The Shiraz had too much alcohol and not enough acidity to back it up. The Garnacha had an odd nose of pines, peat and mothballs, which was supplanted by a chocolatey, fruity flavour profile. However, this lovely fruit disappeared rather quickly from the palate leaving an uncomfortably tannic finish.

Finally an interesting red was the Lebanese offering from Chateau Musar - their ‘Jeune’ Red (£9). This wine is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. An interesting aroma profile, of tawny port – plums and allspice – plus pines, lemon oil and almost custard. It had a very silky body, smooth tannins and balanced alcohol/acid levels. Well worth a look for something a bit ‘different’.

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For dessert we had a Pfeiffer Rutherglen Muscat. Very similar to the fortified Muscat I mentioned earlier, and indeed from the same region. Dried fruits, candied citrus peel, blackcurrant jam and a creamy feel. Like yogurt covered raisins. I found this a lot more enjoyable than the Chardonnay-Marsanne offering from Pfeiffer!

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About James Flewellen

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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2 Responses to Summertown Selection

  1. Rumbi says:

    Ahh, how I miss the Summertown Wine Cafe! I had the Escarpment Pinot Noir just before I left, and wrote down some basic notes. I remember not caring for it, finding it rather sour and almost astringent on the palate. I also noted the high alcohol. I notice you say that it is a good example of a Kiwi Pinot Noir, and I wanted to ask if these might be amongst some of its characteristics? What would be helpful to keep in mind when comparing a New Zealand Pinot Noir and, say, a Burgundy?

  2. James says:

    Hi Rumbi,
    yes I see what you mean. There is a ‘sour cherries’ aspect of some NZ pinots. Not in a sangiovese sort of way, but along those lines.
    I would say that the characteristics of a kiwi pinot would be the ‘bright fruit’. ‘Finely-etched’ they say. I’ve had some pretty fruit-forward Burgundy pinots, especially from the generic ‘Bourgogne’ appellation, however I think in absolute terms, NZ pinot has less of the ‘other stuff’ (undergrowth, minerality) and thus the fruit stands out. Alcohol, tannins and colour are important distinguishing features.
    We had a fantastic pinot tasting with Hanneke on Friday, so look out for a post about that soon – we covered 6 different pinot styles!

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