Monday, 29 March 2010

The Sampler: top 10

It's a grizzly grey Monday night in Islington and I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I'm at The Sampler armed with a loaded card. Admiring the 80 wines on display in the Enomatic machines like paintings in a gallery, I don't know where to begin.

I try to keep on top of wine trends, but am three years late in discovering this North London gem. Walking round the shop is a genuinely exciting experience - it feels Decanter magazine has come to life, and all the top wines have leapt from the pages onto the shelves. All the key world wine regions are represented and at every turn is an A-lister: Salon, Ausone, Richebourg, Aldo Conterno, Castillo Ygay, Caymus...

The bottles stand side by side on the shelves begging to be bought. I have to resist the urge to pick them up and drool over them. As I ponder what wine to try first, I catch sight of a man in his mid 50s in a purple flat cap, outsized glasses and yellow Crocs enjoying a slurp or two whilst listening to his i-pod. He looks French. That's the beauty of The Sampler - everyone is free to enjoy the delights of this wine juke box at their own speed and to their own soundtrack. The shop's soundtrack, a trendy mix of noughties indie – Kasabian, Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys, is seriously cool to sip to.

A selection of the much-hyped Bordeaux 2009s will be available to try from the end of April, but if your budget doesn't stretch that far fear not. I topped up my card with a humble £10 and managed to try 10 impressive wines from a fantastic variety of regions. Where else in London can you do that? I'm a little in love with The Sampler, and plan on making a return visit soon, if only to catch a glimpse of Ivy the dog. Here are my top ten...

Lopez de Heredia, Viña Gravonia, Rioja, 1999 (84p)
Made in Lopez de Heredia's Haro-based winery where architect Zaha Hadid has recently set up shop, the aged white is an attractive amber-gold colour with a wonderfully developed nose of apricot, poached pear and vanilla. Unlike any white Rioja I've ever tasted, its oxidized aromas lends it a Sherry-like quality. Full, rich and weighty on the palate, it tastes of toffee apples with a floral, honeysuckle finish. Lush and alluring, creamy yet fresh, it's a fascinating find. I fear I may have peaked too soon...

Au Bon Climat, Wild Boy Chardonnay, 2007 (74p)
I had to try this wine, if only for the mad label – winemaker Jim Clendenen's head in the middle of a psychedelic triangle looking like a modern day Jim Morrsion. Going on the label, I was expecting a full on cream and oak explosion, so was pleasantly surprised by the restrained and dare I say elegant nose of lemon and green apple. The oak certainly comes through, but in a violin rather than an electric guitar sort of way. It's rich, rounded and creamy on the palate – delicious.

Loimer Steinmassl Riesling, 2006 (£1.54)
From winemaker Freddie Loimer's single vineyard estate, the nose shows wonderful ripe juicy fruit: peaches, pear drops and baked apples. Elegant on the palate, with mouth-puckering citrus fruits, lovely structure, complex minerality and hints of vanilla perfume, it's luscious long length hints at tremendous ageing potential.

Briseu Patapon, 2008 (75p)
If you can get past the scary Jack Nicholson-esque clowns on the label, then this is a really interesting wine. Made from Pineau d'Aunis, a black grape from the Loire, the raspberry coloured wine displays lovely Gamay-style fruit: bright Morello cherries and ripe raspberries. The nose explodes with soft summer fruits, and on the palate are hints of spice, cigar smoke and tar. Grippy and peppered with great structure, it would be amazing served chilled on a summer picnic.

Reichsrat von Buhl, Spätburgunder, 2007 (79p)
I tried my first Spätburgunder last Friday and was seriously impressed by its smokey bacon character - it tasted like liquid Frazzles, so was very excited to see this Pfalz Pinot Noir in the line up. A pale ruby colour, it has a pretty strawberry and cherry blossom nose with an earthy undercurrent. Medium bodied, the slightly perfumed red berry palate mirrors the nose, with bright red fruit mixing into an attractive savoury finish. Quite lovely.

4 Kilos, 12 Volts, 2008 (91p)
Being an unashamed hispanophile, I was keen to try this effort from Mallorca, made from the indigenous Callet-Fogoneu grape, with a little help from Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot. Still very young, the palate shows savoury aromas and dense black fruit: blackberries and juicy blueberries, with hints of coffee and spice from the oak. On the opulent palate the thick bramble fruit continues, with blueberry jam coming to the fore. Suave in the mouth, with lovely vanilla and sweet spice from the oak, it's rich, mouthfilling and seriously quaffable.

Innocent Bystander Shiraz Viognier, 2005 (53p)
Already won over by the enigmatic label, this Yarra Valley gem didn't disappoint. The nose is full of bright, vibrant black cherries, chocolate and nutmeg, and yet it retains a wonderful savoury quality. Rich, full bodied and fruit forward, the palate is lush and velvety, with delicious ripe black fruit mingling with alluring meaty notes and hints of spice. Big and grippy, yet elegant, with a spicy liquorice finish, the savoury notes make it dangerously moreish.

Château Musar, Musar Jeune, 2008 (45p)
Château Musar is high up on my wish list of wines to try, so I saved this until last. Made in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, this young, unoaked upstart is vibrant, fruity and unashamedly exotic. Made from a blend of Cincault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose shows lovely red and black cherries, raspberries and red currants. The palate is rich, smooth and red-fruited with sweet spice, structure and grip. Magnificent.

Paxton AAA Shiraz, 2007 (77p)
They call this AAA for a reason. Made from 70% Shiraz and 30% Grenache at the reputed McLaren Vale biodynamic winery, the wine has a spice-box perfumed nose of kirsch and mulberry. Supple, forward and textured, it's a seriously easy going wine. Pleasantly perfumed, elegant and restrained, it smells of the Old World, the Grenache powering through to give it a cherry and raspberry kick. Velvety and smooth, it has a creamy and meaty core with sweet cinnamon spice on the long, full finish. Quite delicious.

Fontanafredda Barolo, 2004 (£1.19)
And finally... One of only two wines I paid over a pound for, this was worth the extra pennies. The Fontanafredda estate used to be the hunting lodge of the late King Emmanuel II, and was also home to his mistress Bella Rosa Rosin. The blood red wine from this superb vintage has a clear-cut, intense nose of withered roses and underbrush with overtones of vanilla and spice. Dry but soft, the palate is haunting – full bodied, silky and well balanced, it's complex and lengthy with alluring spices, smoke and crushed rose petal aromas. Grippy and spicy on the palate with lingering sour cherries, it could only be Italian – it could only be Barolo.

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