Lockdown drove me to it – the best soliciting (flavours) of 2020, Part 2 – the booze

The avid reader(s) may have noticed a new look to the blog  Not my choice, I am really not keen on change, but it was rather necessitated by my original theme seemingly no longer being mobile friendly if viewed via twitter

This all caused me no end of hassle  getting to the bottom of the problem, with much cursing on my part last Sunday (WordPress very helpful, Twitter support utterly useless, in terms of a resolution to the issue).

All enough to drive one to drink, which is rather appropriate as this week’s post is all about the best booze I drunk in 2020.The blog featured a lot more posts last year on booze (at 12, more than 2019 and 2018 combined), which is reflective of what a rubbish year 2020 turned out to be.

A year like no other (God please let 2021 be better) with pubs, bars and restaurants having either been closed or unable to sell booze for quite a lot of the year (the new puritans seemingly believing, by December, that after one glass of wine/beer the hoy polloi all start licking each other).

Luckily I am never anything but well stocked on the booze front, with my main (only) hobby being collecting and tasting wine. Due to this, it is fair to say I didn’t do too badly on the booze front during the annus (a characteristic typo(o) by me of anus would have probably been quite apt here) horibilis that was 2020.

A positive (Jesus there weren’t many) for me out of 2020 was my discovery of sour beers.

In the past I have had little more than a passing interest in beer, usually when watching rugby at the pub (where wine is not much of an option, as it is generally gawd awful in most – not all, the Heathcock being one such exception to the rule – pubs), and I always seems to suffer horrendous hangovers post even a small session involving beer.

If someone had told me I would be drinking, let alone enjoying, a carrot and coriander beer (Bugs from Yonder Brewing and Blending) at the start of the year I would have dismissed them as a raving lunatic.

Sours, however, seem to have little if any post drink effect (even though many are whoppers on the ABV front) on me – they don’t tend to be cheap so it might simply be down to the miser in me meaning I never drink many in one go.

With Pops ‘N’ Hops and the Bottleshop (the latter now having opened up in Pontcanna) my beer experiences have truly turned sour. I have had some lovely beers (particularly from Vault City Brewing and Yonder Brewing and Blending) over the course of 2020, which has seen me change from a somewhat bitter man to a real sour puss.

After much deliberation my best beer of the year was Vault City Brewing’s Peach and Nectarine Sour. Fabulous beer that had so much fruit in the mix. An initial burst of nectarine, followed by tinned peaches and than a twang of salt and a pleasing hit of not too aggressive sourness. Is this one for the beer purests? Maybe not, but I am no purest that is for sure and this beer is just immensely fun to drink and akin to a grown up’s liquid solera ice lolly.

I think this was the beer that really got me to sit up and take beer much more seriously and led to numerous other discoveries.

Of course, wine remains my favourite tipple and the “in person” (when we were allowed out to play) and “online” wine tastings of Curado Bar and, particularly, the Mystere Wine Club have helped to keep me sane this year. A brilliant run of tastings, with the Mystere Wine Club managing (despite Covid’s and the powers that be’s best efforts) to continue to put out pretty much a full roster of tastings over the year.

Great work by the club’s committee for setting it up to work online, with a marvellously efficient distribution chain being seamlessly put in place, and a special thanks to the members for supporting it so well.

Elsewhere a fabulous tasting at the Jeroboam Club of Muga wines, with Jorge Muga, and the release of the Bar 44’s fantastic own brand manzanilla bookended the year rather nicely.

The latter is a truly lovely wine, with distinct green olive and briney seaside notes on the nose, followed by fresh cut apple and almonds.

On the palate it is such an easy drinking number, with almonds, herbs and a twist of citrus. Seriously gluggable stuff.

A tasting during Welsh Wine Week (at Viader Vintners) of Welsh red and white wine brought a fascinating insight into the joys of what Wales now has to offer on the vinous front.including the proprietor’s (rather good) own wineand, the star of the show, an Ancre Hill Chardonnay.Really classy wine this and probably the best non sparkling English and Welsh wine I have had to date (but still missing out on a spot in my top ten).

In terms of my top/most enjoyable wines drunk during 2020, it was really tricky to narrow them down and if truth be told the list could have easily been 30 plus.

I had quite a few bottle of wines in 2020, but I think after much deliberation below is my top 10 (irrespective of price) in descending order:

10. Mix 36 Toscano IGT, Fonterutoli, 2011

Part of an excellent Fonterutoli tasting with the Mystere Wine Club (back in the days when we could meet in person),this wine was my clear favourite on the night.The nose gave off an initial hit of wet slatey minerality, followed by cherry and a hint of tobacco.

On the palate it was rich and plummy, yet retained a very pleasant zestiness and a good level of refreshing acidity.

I really need to start drinking more Tuscan wines.

Not cheap this at £60, but a truly lovely wine.

9. Chateau Sociando Mallet 2000I am not a huge claret drinker as I can’t afford the stuff I know is good and don’t have enough knowledge of the lesser known stuff to buy with confidence.

This is where the benefits of being a member of the Mystere Wine Club really comes into play, with it offering the chance to try stuff I would never otherwise contemplate.

This wine was my second placed wine in a glorious tasting of 2000 clarets (may put up a fuller post in the next couple of weeks).On the nose this was classic claret, with graphite, pencil shavings and cedar to the fore, followed by perfumed floral notes.

On the palate, it was so precise in nature – really minerally, followed by full on cassis notes (big on the blackcurrant).

Proper old school claret this and a delight to drink. It bested, to my mind, many a much pricier wine at the tasting.

At around £50 a bottle this is by no means cheap, but it represents to me one of the beat quality to price clarets around.

8. CVNE Monopole Clasico Blanco 2015

I love white rioja, be it the everlasting traditional beauties that are Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia blanco and Marques de Murrieta’s Castillo Ygay Blanco (the 1986 was my wine of the year last year) or the more contemporary ones such as the superlative Remelluri Blanco.

A revived oddity in the world of white rioja is CVNE’s Monopole Clasico Blanco. Made from predominately viura, the uniqueness of this wine comes from the addition of a small quantity of manzanilla (yes sherry).

The result is a sensational wine and I tasted the 2015 at a Mystere Wine Club committee meeting back in February (it was mine and one other’s turn to bring something interesting to drink – very civilised affairs, before lockdowns, our committee meetings – and I bought this) On the nose, the small amount of manzanilla was instantly recognisable, with chamomile flowers, coastal notes and almonds, as well a limey citrus.

On the palate, there was refreshing acidity, slatey minerality, stone fruit and a creamy nuttiness. Almost voluptuous in its mouth feel, with great length.

Fabulous wine and a relative bargain at around the £25 mark.

7. Chateau Musar Red 1999

An iconic wine and one that really showed its class at a Mystere Wine Club tasting in September. Whilst the surprise of the tasting (at least to me) was the very classy white (will age for ever I reckon), the 1999 red was the clear winner of wine of the night. Very light in colour, this had a fabulous nose of bitumen, wood smoke, leather, smoked meats and truffle. Really heady stuff.

On the palate there were notes of mushroom, wood smoke and spice.

Drinking on point, but with eons left in the tank, this was just lovely.

Expensive at around £70, but well  worth the moolah.

6. Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2016

Part of an intriguing Mystere Wine Club tasting that saw a blind taste off between French (Burgundy) and South African (Hemel en Aarde Valley) wines (very close, but France won by a nose),this wine more than held its own in very esteemed company.On the nose it had understated oak, as well as clean, precise, notes of citrus peel and floral orange blossom, followed by a touch of spice (cinnamon rather than vanilla).

On the palate, it had a slightly oily mouth feel, coating the tongue, with a touch of salinity, tart green apples and preserved lemon.

Beautiful wine and good value at around the £40 as against the Montrachets (pay at least double for one of equal quality in my book) it is up there with quality wise.

5. La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza 2010.

Into the top 5 and the first appearance of my first and enduring love, wine wise, a red rioja.

Vina Ardanza back in the early 90s was one of the wines that really got me into wine and the 2010 is one of only 4 Vina Ardanza wines given the “Especial” classification (along with the 2001, 1973 and the 1968). The Vina Ardanza 2010 is an absolute peach of a wine.

Beautifully integrated oak, cedar, cigar box and ripe fruit on the nose. Smooth, with lovely fruit, followed by Asian spice and meaty tertiary notes on the palate.

As good as the 2001 I think, I picked up half a case at £19.95 a bottle (seriously regretting not buying more as price is now north of £25 – still a bargain at that price).

4. Bodegas Muga  Prado Enea 1994

I am a huge fan of Muga wines in general – never had a bad one –  and to me Prado Enea is the jewel in their crown. The 1994 was my second placed wine in a stellar Muga tasting with Jorge Muga at the Jeroboam Club in Bristol and what a wine it was.

Lovely aromas of prune, plum, meatiness and then dried herbs (touch of dill).

On the palate, there was cherry with a nice hit of pepper spice as it lingered.

Almost ethereal in nature, this was a beautifully elegant wine.

Whilst pricey at around £85, it beats a lot of similarly and higher priced wine – including the much pricier Aro offering from Muga which featured at the same tasting.

3. Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi Sec 1969

Into the top 3 and this star from the Loire was my top white wine of the year and the wine of the night at a great Mystere Wine Club tasting (full post of the tasting in a few weeks, probably).

Lovely butterscotch colour to this wine, with a nose of ripe sweet citrus (orange) fruit and bag loads of honey followed by wafts of beeswax and ginger.

On the palate it was still as fresh as a daisy, with tangerine, stone fruit, honey and minerality in the mix.

A really elegant wine, with huge length – lingering on the palate for an age. It is quite frankly an amazing wine considering it is over half a century old.

A very pricey £145, but it was a real privilege to be able to drink this wine.

Another good example of what the Mystere Wine Club is all about – affording access to wines I would otherwise never dream of drinking.

2. Chateau Angelus 2000Wine of the night at the same Mystery Wine Club tasting as my Number 8 wine, this Saint Emilion number was just huge.

Deep and dark in colour you would never clock it as being 20 years old in the glass.Big nose, with expressive aromas of rich fruit – black plum, black cherry – and a tarry, truffely finish. Just glorious.

On the palate, my tasting notes started with “Wow”. Lovely rich, silky, sweet blackberry, with a nice back note of liquorice.

A body builder of a wine, with so much muscle – modern yet totally hedonistic, with years and years still left in the tank.

Is it worth the monster £430+ a bottle price tag (it was purchased – very astutely, a long while back – by the Mystere Wine Club committee for a mere £50)? Probably not, but once tasted never forgotten.

1. Bodegas Muga Prado Enea 2001

So to the winner and inevitably it had to be a red rioja. From the same tasting as the Number 4 wine on this list, the 2001 was the clear wine of the night from that super tasting.

It had a glorious nose of full on meaty leatheriness, with cedar, cigar box and star anise wafting up after a bit of agitation. Utterly intoxicating stuff.

On the palate, it was loaded with sweet fresh black fruit (cherries and plums) as well as a delicious meatiness and a touch of citrus. This was liquid velvet in the mouth.

I said at the time (back in February) this would be very hard to beat as my wine of the year and so it proved. A worthy champion and much cheaper (at “only” £78 a bottle – if you can find any) than its closest contender.

If price is factored into the equation, I think on balance, the Vina Ardanza 2010 (I picked it up for under £20 a bottle, the Angelus by contrast is over £430 a bottle) comes out on top just ahead of the Prado Enea 2001.

The fact there isn’t a single sherry (or Montilla Moriles) wine in the top 10 may surprise a few (I love both dearly and bang on about them constantly on here), but their absence is a reflection of just how good the wines I have drunk this year have been. The Bar 44 Manzanilla,  the 2020 Tio Pepe en Rama and a Bodegas Alvear Carlos VII amontillado were each a joy to drink, but still didn’t make it into my top 10.

I still had some fabulous sherry and Montilla Moriles tastings over the year with the Mystere Wine Club, Owen Morgan from Bar 44 and Curado Bar.

In the new year, the first 3 tastings of the Mystere Wine Club all look to be doozies (all likely to be oversubscribed, so if I am lucky I will get two out of the three – hopefully the Toro one as I have chosen the wines for that tasting).I also have high hopes that the Jeroboam Club (in hibernation since early 2020) will be back in play sometime in 2021.

In addition to stellar tastings, I have been very well served by the retail sector in 2020 with wines and beers from the likes of Viader Vintners, the Bottleshops, Pop’n’ Hops, Mumbles Fine Wine, #Mercado44 and Curado Bar.

Cheers to you all and here’s to a happy, safe and prosperous 2021.

As for Dryanuary, it can well and truly f%&k off,  I shall be supporting Tryanuary and perhaps make it Madiranuary (Madiran being a much underrated wine from the South West of France). Any indies in or around Cardiff got a good Madiran in stock for me?

Expect more post this year on booze (few in the bank ready to go already and more pipeline), with at least one a month being the plan as eating out options seem likely to remain limited during at least the start of 2021. 
Here’s a thought – why not pop into your local wine and beer merchant and buy something you haven’t tried before in January rather than the same old same old from the supermarket.
Drink even better booze rather than more will be my mantra in 2021


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