I make no apologies for devoting this month’s contribution to wines imbibed on a 42-day cruise from Tilbury, Essex, to the Amazon. Frankly, I had no great expectation but Daphne and I did our duty, ploughing through 30-odd of the 51 table wines on the appallingly-chronicled list, plus some surprising special offers
The best French whites were very good. A copybook 2008 Pouilly-Fumé – Marcel Martin’s La Rochetais: pale with a fragrant, floral, varietal aroma; dry, a bit grassy, with classic Loire acidity and a minty aftertaste.
A close second (and the most pricey) was J Moreau & Fils’s 2007 Chablis, La Croix St-Joseph. Low-key, dry, lean, and with the hallmark of quality, length and finesse. (Incidentally, no vintages were mentioned on the list and rarely a producer’s name so I always had a good look at the labels before ordering.)
I didn’t expect Lafite, but not even a minor château was listed under ‘Bordeaux’, just – with due respect to Baron Philippe de Rothschild – Agneau Rouge and Blanc, both AC Bordeaux. The first, a 2007, was pleasant enough with ‘correct’ 12.5% alcohol; the second, 60% Semillon, a youthful 2008, dry and refreshing.
Of the other French reds listed, ‘Burgundy, Fleurie Duboeuf’ was an unexpected disappointment, not just in its mislocation: a 2007, lacking Gamay’s characteristic aroma, with a sharp finish. The King of Beaujolais should look to his laurels.
I never discovered the producer of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Grands Vins du Palais’ and, as elsewhere on the list, its description was seriously inaccurate: ‘Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon AC [!], dry with tanning [!] compounds.’ Another 2007, unsurprisingly for southern Rhône, of high strength (14.5%), sweet and headache-inducing.
A simple Côtes du Rhône was seriously overpriced and ineptly described as ‘tender, with strong fruity notes, rich and warmes (sic) reached at the finish’. It turned out to be Guigal’s, and the ship’s best red: fairly deep, velvety sheen; ‘hot’ scents; medium sweet, fleshy fruit, 13.5% alcohol, spicy, tannic finish.
Spain was represented by Torres, its very good, dry 2007 Viña Sol. There was also a 2005 Crianza Rioja from Bodegas Primicia: very deep colour, fairly intense, but with an unfamiliar but interesting nose and taste. Nice weight, stylish.
The New World was also represented. Two Oceans Cabernet from South Africa was decent, inexpensive; Lindeman’s South-East Australian Shiraz-Cabernet: colour fairly intense; fruit-laden, the Cabernet dominating; sweet, a fair 13.5%, rich, slightly raisiny, modern style.
Chile, ever dependable and good value, fielded Montes’ 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Merlot.
The former was from Casablanca: pale, melon tinged; youthful, grassy, gooseberry-like aroma and flavour, dry and acidic. The Merlot from Colchagua: deep, intense, opaque; fragrant; very good flavour, dry finish.
From Argentina were three wines, albeit from one winery: Bodegas Enrique Vollmer in Mendoza. A very tannic 2006 Malbec, a Cabernet, not tasted (and worryingly listed under South Africa), and a Sauvignon-Chardonnay: pale, fleshy, difficult to assess though quite drinkable.
Beneath this was an off-puttingly listed ‘Chardonnay Forest Vile’, which should be Forestville from California: over-chilled, waxy sheen, soapy textured, touch of oak, moderate alcohol (12.5%), dry finish.
(Sorry to harp on about the wine list errors but there’s no excuse.) Liking German wines, I ordered Albert Kallfelz’s feinherb Riesling. Its description: ‘Excellent and rich, strong in flavour’ was, as anticipated, far from the mark. It was an off-dry Mosel: pale as water, nose not distinctive, drier than expected, touch of spritz and, of course, good acidity. There was better to come.
The previous operator of this cruise ship, the Marco Polo, catered for Germans and Brits. The former drink beer and the English think German wines are all sweet, so the ship’s cellar had a fairly large stock of German remnants. The first Limited Special Offer was Steinberger Riesling, at a very tempting price.
Surely there’s only one Steinberg vineyard, arguably Germany’s most famous, planted at Kloster Eberbach by the Cistercians in the 12th century. And this was it: a dry wine from the excellent 2007 vintage: pale, bright, dry, lean fruit, good acidity.
The next offer was ‘Freiherr von Gleichenstein, Blanc des Noirs, Baden’ from Johannes Freiherr von Gleichenstein, a Spätburgunder trocken, skins removed. The resulting white wine was not too dry, good flavour and a sustainable 12% abv.
Tio Pepe was the only Sherry. Though perfectly chilled, with the inimitable flor scent, the measure was a thimbleful, scarcely covering the bottom of the whisky tumbler it was served in. As for the Port – they say sailors have a girl in every port and a port in every girl – I couldn’t face another thimbleful so gave even a 10-year old tawny a miss. A long haul, but Daphne and I both enjoyed every minute.
Written by Michael Broadbent