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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

France This Is Not

Two German wines

MOZART: (to Joseph) It's highly moral, Majesty. It's full of proper German virtues. I swear it. Absolutely!

JOSEPH Well, I'm glad to hear that.

SALIERI Excuse me, Sire, but what do you think these could be? Being a foreigner, I would love to learn.

JOSEPH Cattivo again, Court Composer. Well, tell him, Mozart. Name us a German virtue.

MOZART Love, Sire!

SALIERI Ah, love! Well of course in Italy we know nothing about that.

- "Amadeus", Peter Shaffer (1979)

France is to wine what the Beatles are to pop music - its influence is so varied and all-pervasive that it is the de facto reference point for many wines; Sauvignon, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah / Shiraz, Chardonnay (and plenty of others) all call France their spiritual home.

A summer holiday in Germany led to us bringing back a range of local wines that owe no debt to France in their style - on this occasion, a light, refreshing Mosel Riesling and an oaky, pumped-up Pinot.

Von der Leyen Bernkasteler Kurfürstlay Riesling Kabinett 2016 Light, just 8.5%, with zippy, lemony sherbet, fresh green apple, gooseberries and pear. Lively, fresh and mineral.


Drink as an aperitif or with the lightest of starters.

Affentaler Spaetburgunder Rotwein Auslese Trocken 2014 they say life's too short for a German wine lable, but some of the details here are telling; it's a later-harvested (auslese) Pinot Noir (spaetburgunder) fermented to dryness (trocken).

Fuller than a Burgundy, this is a Pinot that has been down the gym and pumped its way up to 14% - with sweet, ripe dark cherries, wild berries and some classic Pinot "vegetal" aromas; supple texture and oaky spice cut through with an elegant freshness.


Drink with classic Pinot fare - darker game such as venison or duck.

Monday, 11 September 2017

A South African in France - Lunch with Martin Meinert

Lunch with Grand Mayne's consultant winemaker, Martin Meinert

What do you get if you cross a South African winemaker with a reviving vineyard on the other side of a prestigious demarcation line in France?

Martin Meinert is a South African winemaker who now consults on Domaine du Grand Mayne in south west France's Cotes de Duras, an area popular with British holiday-makers.

It was created out of a derelict farmhouse and abandoned fields in 1985 and run on a partial-ownership model; punters would buy a row or two of vines and then take their dividends in the form of finished product.

The winery has waxed and waned in the intervening period, but founder Andrew Gordon is still involved with the running.

Martin's CV includes experience at top Cape wineries and Lafite Rothschild, as well as Chile, California and Australia, which sets him up perfectly to achieve the winery's vision of making New World style wines in France.
Being just outside the appellation d'origine contrôlée boundary for Bordeaux brings with it a number of opportunities and challenges - recognition is low, but freedom of winemaking is greater and it brings an opportunity for the wines to sell on their own merits rather than as part of "brand Bordeaux".

Overall, the wines were technically very well-made with good fruit - as you might expect from Martin's CV. The entry-level wines were priced ambitiously, but this reflects to an extent the high level of fixed cost in a UK bottle of wine.

The reserves were demonstrably superior and given the price-quality ratio, arguably better value.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (c. £10) saline-mineral, fresh and aromatic

Reserve Blanc 2015 judiciously oaked with a good blend of oak, ripe fruit and freshness. Substantial, with good underpinnings. Very deft and accomplished.


2015 Merlot Cabernet coffee, cherries , spice and freshness

Reserve Rouge 2015 complex oaking, leather and gaminess; red and dark fruits with spices, freshness and hints of florality.


Moelleux 2012 a blend of S/SB/ChB ripe, roasted peaches, chestnutty beeswax, raisins, spices and cidery acidity. Complex.


They are available via the winery's website: https://www.domaine-du-grand-mayne.com/uk-shop/wine.htm

Monday, 4 September 2017

Lost In the Supermarket - German Wine

A random-ish selection of German wines - from the supermarket

I'm all lost in the supermarket
- Lost in the Supermarket, The Clash (1979)
On holiday in the southern Black Forest and needing a few wines for the week, I was faced with a wall of different German wines that I had absolutely no knowledge of - I could make sense of grapes, alcohol levels and prices, but nothing more.

So, I did what perhaps most people do in the circumstances and chose based solely on whether I liked the labels.

Actually, that's not quite true - I did reject one Spaetburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) for its 14% alcohol level, suspecting it may prove to be overcooked, and selected instead a 12.5% example.

All were bought in Edeka, a collection of co-operatives making up Germany's largest supermarket chain, in Bad Säckingen and priced at around €5-7, the equivalent of around £12 retail in the UK after allowing for duty, taxes and additional mark-ups.

In short, all of them were very enjoyable indeed - clean and precise, expressive and well-made, generally with a light-freshness. Perfect as sippers, they also matched with out holiday food (think wurst and spätzle with sauerkraut) I could routinely drink wines like this and never get bored.

Wuttemberg Terra S Weissburgunder 2015 floral and citrussy with elderflower, lemongrass, orchard fruits, zippy lime and sweet spices. Fresh, mineral and long (12.5%)

Merdinger Attilafelsen Spaetburgunder, Baden 2015 pale and cherry fruited with oaky, peppery spice; fine, firm tannins. Fresh, deft and elegant. (13%)

Wuttemberg Besigheimer Lemberger, 2016 dark cherry and red berry fruit with raspberry leaf and spice. Fresh, clean and pure; elegant and light.(10.5%)

Oberkircher Riesling Kabinett 2015 aromatic, zippy lime marmalade and kerosene with ripe lemon, pineapple and peach; pleasantly piercing acidity; flinty and mineral with white pepper.

Baden Markgraeflerland Spaetburgunder 2015 (12.5%) red and black cherry fruit, fresh and mineral with good underpinnings and a seasoning of oaky spice. Like Audrey Tatou taking you out for whisky and cigars.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Late Summer Sipping

Two whites for late-summer sipping

As we move into late summer, the evenings get cooler even on a hot day; sitting out in the garden can mean repositioning several times to follow the patch of sun as it sets more quickly than a few weeks earlier.

These two white are light enough for summer drinking, but have a bit more warmth and substance; Les Jamelles produce consistently good wines mixing, as befits their origins, Burgundian elegance with New World fruit and precision; this vintage won a silver medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

Château Toutigeac is new to me, but the increasing quality of white Bordeaux is not; warmer than the Loire and with the ability to blend grape varieties, white Bordeaux shows variety around a theme of freshness and substance.

Les Jamelles Viognier 2016 (£6.99, Co-op) honeysuckle, sweet spices and ripe yellow stone fruit, with a freshness and minerality. Long, warming and adept.


Bordeaux Blanc Château Toutigeac (£7.99, Bordeaux-Undiscovered) a blend of Sauvignon and Semillon with a dash of Muscadelle, it is fresh, slightly floral and musky with citrus, white and yellow stone fruit, good structure and mineral underpinnings. A beautifully crafted wine.

Good and good value.

This wine also features in the Everyday Bordeaux offering.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Lancaster Bomber Ale

Marston's Lancaster Bomber Ale

A relative received a year's supply of beer for taking part in an event - not a bad result.

His first delivery was several cases of Marston's Lancaster Bomber ale; it proved a little devisive with other members of the family, so he asked me to sample it and give an opinion.

I was only too happy to oblige.

A multi-award winning, classic English ale, it is chestnut in colour with a lovely full-bodied flavour, enriched with a wonderful late hop character - so says the website and it's hard to disagree with any of that.

Darker, richer and weightier than a lager, it is still mid-weight at 4.4% alcohol and with just a balancing sweetness.

Lancaster Bomber Amber-chestnut, with complex biscuity floral aromas; rich, full-flavoured and hoppy with fruitcake flavours. Clean, balanced and refreshing.


Match with pubby dishes, like steak and ale pie or roast beef.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Tour de Belfort - Malbec Grand Vin 2011

An aged bottle of Tour de Belfort's Grand Vin

I've been a fan of Eugene Lismonde's Tour de Belfort wines since I first tried them - they are superbly well made, with a combination of elegance, complexity and southern warmth.

The Grands Vins have always struck me as way too young to drink and, although I had been drawing out a case, the time had come to try the last one.

At six years old, it is still youthful and the only signs of age are that it does not require extensive aeration even to start opening up.

Youthful, primary and really only just ready for drinking now, it still has years ahead of it. And 2011 was not even a particularly good year in France.

Tour de Belfort Malbec Grand Vin 2011 dark plum, elderberry and black cherry fruit with pencil shavings, spice and freshness; inky and supple with excellent underpinnings and absolutely no rough edges - this is wine-making of the highest order. Youthful, vibrant and energetic.

Very Good.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

High Tea At The Maid's Head Norwich

Presidential high tea at The Maid's Head Hotel, Norwich

On a site dating back almost 1,000 years, the Maid's Head hotel has played host to Queen Elizabeth I, The Black Prince and Catherine of Aragon.

Lo-frills accommodation this is not.
I chose it as the venue for my Presidential high tea before our ICAEW East Anglia annual dinner for a number of reasons, least of which were the convenience and the fact that the owner is also a fellow Chartered Accountant.
The building has a real sense of history and character; it is full of great stories which David Chaplin told as we drank fizz from Tour de Belfort, made by his father-on-law and attacked the finger buffet of sandwiches and cakes before we moved on to the cathedral.


Norwich Cathedral, which overlooks the hotel, is an 800-year-old building with a behavioural, rather than commercial purpose, was the venue for my final address as President of Chartered Accountants East Anglia - details here.

For more about The Maid's Head Hotel, see: http://maidsheadhotel.co.uk/

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Tesco Christmas in July

A tasting of Tesco Christmas wines - in July

Sometimes the snow comes down in June
- Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams

What could be more Christmassy than a steaming hot day in July?

Fortunately, to set the Christmas scene, Tesco had arranged a walk through a (slightly disorientating) magical winterland.

The general impression of most of these wines was pleasant enough, perhaps a little underwhelming - which is no mean feat for a large supermarket at this price range.

However, a range of under-the-table Italians plus a couple of dessert wines at the end proved worthy of searching out.


A Blanquette de Limoux and, new to me, a Pignoletto; both fresh, elegant and pleasant.

With a Maconnais Burgundy, an Aussie chardie from Yarra and a d'Arenberg white blend (zippy Sauvignon and Riesling with waxy Marsanne and Rousanne), these were again all pleasant, with the New World wines being perhaps the more accomplished.

Again, a broad range of styles from a light, cherryish Burgundy from Mercurey, an harmonious cherry-and-spice Aussie Pinot from Yarra, a fuller Ripasso, a more-summery bbq d'Arenberg GSM blend.
The Italian Job

Of more interest was a trio of Italian wines, all at £9 before seasonal offers, that held together more convincingly:

Tesco Finest Greco Beneventano ripe orchard and melon fruit; fresh with some richness and length.

Tesco Finest Falanghina fresh and citrussy with orchard fruit and good length

Tesco Finest Aglianico smokey prunes, some gaminess, dark chocolate and mocha, spice; harmonious and balanced with some firmness
The stickies

However, the cherry on top was two ridiculously good value dessert wines that should not be saved for Christmas.
Tesco finest* Dessert Sémillon 37.5cl (£6) made by de Bortoli, this warm-climate sticky has roasted peaches,beeswax, roasted spices, savouriness and extensive botrytis. A really impressive, complex and classy full-on dessert wine at an amazing price.


Match with treacle tart, mince pies and blue cheese.

Tesco finest* 10 Year Old Tawny Port 75cl (£12) from the excellent Symington family, this has everything a tawny should; cherries, eucalyptus and freshness. Complex and substantial.


Christmas pudding in a glass, match with mince pies, Christmas pudding or hard yellow cheese.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Familia Martínez Bujanda 2014 - Laithwaites

A Rioja from Laithwaites

It's not often, I find, that you get a very pleasant and classy wine from Laithwaites - but this is one.

It's reasonably-priced for the quality, typical of what it should be and has no faults or rough edges; you can't ask for much more; just a nice, ripe Rioja with a little age at a reasonable price.

How did that happen?

Familia Martínez Bujanda 2014 (£9.49 plus delivery) ripe plummy-damson fruit with spice and well-integrated oak. Fresh and nicely balanced; a very pleasant easy drinker.

Match with roasted red meats.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Virgin Wines - The (Summery) Whites

Two summery whites from Virgin wines

 If you want expressive, well-made summery wines, these two from Virgin wines are great examples.

The Vinho Verde is a classic, fresh, maritime wine from two native Portuguese varieties - Loureiro and Arinto; the Brio is a northern Italian Pinot Grigio with bags of flavour and personality; it has the body stand up to even quite strong foods such as curry.

Quintas do Homem Domum Vinho Verde 2016 (£10.99) zesty, zippy citrus with melon and lime; fresh, mineral and poised.


Drink as an aperitif or match with seafood, such as grilled mackerel with garlic.

Brio Pinot Grigio 2015 (£8.49) fresh apple and ripe pear with citrus freshness and minerality; characterful, clean and substantial.

Good - and  good value.

Drink as an aperitif; a versatile food wine, it will match with most white meats and fish and will even stand up to stronger foods like chili and curry.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Decanting Club

“The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.”
Two wines from Decanting Club

Is wine just the liquid in the bottle or is there more to it?

There are two opposing schools of thought here - and all points in between.

For those of a purist nature, it's all about the liquid in the bottle; by contrast, behavioural economists will tell you that context and heuristics are at least as important as what we drink.

How you feel about the idea of Decanting Club's wine-in-pouches proposition will perhaps depend on whether you prefer iTunes to vinyl.

If you like the feel of vinyl, its rituals and familiar inconveniences, then wine in full-sized bottles with the awkwardness and sensuality of popping corks is likely to be your thing and you may find a pouch of wine lacks a certain sense of occasion, even if the name consciously evokes instant heritage and a more genteel age.

Clip do Monte da Vaia, Loureiro, Vinho Verde sadly, this was oxidised, but it gives the impression of having been a typical Vinho Verde

Adalia Valpolicella fresh cherry fruit; light, pleasantly juicy and gluggable - but here too there is a slight hint of taint, VA perhaps?

Cartoon from: http://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a19180

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Virgin Wines - the Reds

A range of reds from Virgin wines

If you want to try a range of reds that are both typical and demonstrate the breadth of what a red wine can be, you could do worse than try these from Virgin Wines.

From the freshness of the Loire Cab Franc to a fortified port-esque Malbec via the Rhône and a Sicilian passimento made from partially-dried grapes.

Domaine Lame-Delisle-Boucard Bourgeuil Cuvee des Chesnais 2015 (£9.99) fresh raspberry leaf and cherry fruit with pepper, spice and minerality.

Good and good value.

Fresh enough to sip slightly chilled on a hot day or match with lightly-smoked salmon fillets.

Chateau Cambis Cotes du Rhone Villages 2014 (£10.99) light and fresh Rhône, with elderberry fruit, liquorice, pencil shavings, dried green herbs and fine, firm tannins; lacks fruit-plumpness, a little basic.

Drink with red meats, such as burgers or roast beef.

Eghemon Passimiento 2015 (£15.99) prunes, figs and baked red berry fruit with spice; strong, concentrated, sweet and intense, cut through with freshness. Good underpinnings.


Drink as an after-dinner sipper or match with darker game and aged cheeses.

Familia Zuccardi Malamado Malbec 2014 (£15.99) port-style fortified Malbec from Argentina. Herbaceous, figgy-raisiny, sweet and powerful, with dried plums, black fruits and savoury roasted spices.


Like ruby port, it will match with mature cheeses, dark chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies; or darker game.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Crisp White and Big Red

Crisp white, big red from Virgin Wines

Crisp White and Big Red is a classic combo - you can't go wrong with it; the white as aperitif and with fish or mozzarella starters, followed by the red with a main of beef, lamb or venison.

The white here is a Sancerre-esque Loire Sauvignon - more mineral than aromatic, it is a classy Old World classic; the red is baked, Spanish and a touch blowsy.

Domaine Denis Jamain Les Fossiles Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (£14.99) steely, mineral citrus fruit with precision and finesse. Substantial and persistent with excellent underpinnings. Good.

Pizo Garnacha 2015 (£9.99) big and alcoholic with plummy, somewhat baked dark and raspberry fruit and cocoa, liquorice and spice. The fresh, mineral core just about holds it together. Fine tannins.

Curiously, after almost two weeks in the fridge and still slightly cool, it has become something much more interesting - fresh, pure and harmonious - so consider extensive aeration and / or a few minutes' chilling.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Low Alcohol Wines from Tesco

Three low-alcohol wines from Tesco - Sauvignon, Garnacha rosé, Tempranillo

I'm not sure, if I'm honest, that I can quite see the point of low alcohol wines - they are something of a needless halfway house between a decent bottle of wine (of which you may drink half a glass if you need to consider your alcohol intake) and non-alcoholic substitutes such as iced tea, elderflower cordial or even - amazingly - water.

But if you must have low alcohol wine, then you want it at least to taste nice, even if it does not taste completely like wine.

These three from Tesco are de-alcoholised wines from Spain with some sweetness added back to maintain balance; there is a white Sauvignon, a Garnacha rosé and a red Tempranillo.

They taste pleasant enough - off-dry and fruit-forward; I've had worse full-strength wines. There's nothing actively wrong with any of them, which is probably no mean feat.

And they are apparently proving popular with consumers of low-alcohol wines.

A technical note - low-alcohol here is around 0.5%, which is almost nothing. No-alcohol is 0.05%, which really is nothing.

Priced at £3 per full-sized bottle, they are notably cheaper than even the most basic normal-strength wine.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bastions of South Africa - Virgin Wines

Two South African Bastions V wines from Virgin Wines

South Africa has the world's oldest soils - winemaker Marinda Kruger-Van Eck says "the wine must express where it comes from, you must be able to taste the soil [then] the quality of the grapes and lastly hopefully something from me as the winemaker."

Both these wines have New World fruit ripeness with a European sense of restraint. Both are well made and enjoyable; the Shiraz is the more interesting of the two.

Bastions V Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2016 Tropical citrus and desert apple with some limey zip and minerality. Balanced and clean with good underpinnings. Rounded and pleasant, rather like the girl next door.

Drink as an aperitif; match with starters or white meats.

Bastions V Western Cape Shiraz 2016 inky pencil shavings and spice with dark damson and black cherry fruit. Fresh and mineral with fine tannins. Darker and more intriguing; rhone-esque. Good.

Match with red meats, such as steak or venison casserole. Or drink with cheese.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Wines For Summer: From Vineyards Direct

Three picnic wines via From Vineyards Direct

Just like bank holiday weekends and planning a barbecue, some things seem destined to bring on bad weather; these summer wines arrived just as the long hot summer broke and gardeners rejoiced in the deluge of rain.

When the good weather does return and you need some summery wines, here are three via From Vineyards Direct.

They are all easy-drinking and thoroughly enjoyable - with plenty of freshness, they will both match with picnic foods or drink on their own on a hot day.

Finca Tempranal Selección Airen 2015, Spain (£7.95) fresh, citrussy baked and tropical fruits, pineapple and mango with pithy lime zest and sweet spice.

Moulin de Gassac, Guilhem Rosé 2016, Languedoc (£8.95) red berry fruit, minerality and good underpinings. Good.

Domaine de Marcé Cabernet 2014 Touraine, Loire Valley (£9.95) leafy raspberry fruit and green peppers with pencil shavings and spice. Fresh and poised.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Entries now open for The Daniel Pontifex Scholarship 2017

Wine Australia and The Daniel Pontifex Memorial Trust are offering a rising star of the UK hospitality industry a trip to Australia to learn more about the trade and explore the country’s renowned food and wine culture.

The scholarship, which has been running since 1998, recognises and celebrates the efforts and enthusiasm of tomorrow’s leading hospitality professionals. The award commemorates Daniel Pontifex who died in a car accident during his employment at Kensington Place Restaurant in London.

Daniel had previously worked in Adelaide in Australia with Shaw + Smith’s Michael Hill Smith MW who, along with Daniel’s family, went on to initiate the scholarship in his name.

Each alternate year, a scholarship winner from the UK and Australia respectively is invited to experience the hospitality sector in the contrasting country. The trip provides them with direct access to influential industry leaders and offers first-hand insights into the international world of food and wine.

The Daniel Pontifex Scholarship was last awarded in the UK in 2015 to Quinby Frey who works at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

Quinby Frey, now Sales and Accounts Business Development Manager at Cambridge Wine Merchants, said:

“The day after I returned from Australia I hosted a wine tasting into which I ‘sneaked’ a couple of the wines that I’d had during my trip. It was a delight to share with customers the stories and places that I’d visited, and the enthusiastic customer response was heartening.

I have completely loved how much I now have to discuss about Australian wine with customers since my trip and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see customers step out of their wine comfort zones and embrace Aussie wine.

I learnt far more spending four weeks on the ground than I have in my last four years as a merchant and I am thankful for the amazing opportunity given to me to develop my knowledge further.”

Alessandro Marchesan, past scholarship winner and 2017 panellist, said:

“It was one of the best experiences of my life. The opportunity to travel around Australia’s best wine regions, to meet and work with the best winemakers and to have some working experiences in some of the best restaurants boosted not only my knowledge but also gave me great confidence to carry on with my career.”

Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia Head of Market EMEA, said:

“We look forward to sharing Australia’s vibrant food and wine culture with the winner and helping to develop their career with this unique experience.”

To enter, applicants are invited to submit a short essay (500-750 words) explaining why they believe they are a suitable candidate, together with a short resume.

Applicants are expected to have a strong interest in wine and may work in any area of hospitality.

Submissions should be made by email to laura.jewell@wineaustralia.com by Friday 29 September 2017.

Interviews will be held in October in London and the winner’s trip will take place in 2018.

The winner of the 2017 scholarship will be selected by a panel of leading wine and hospitality professionals including Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia; Michael Hill Smith MW, Shaw + Smith; David Gleave MW, Liberty Wines; Alessandro Marchesan, Zonin UK; and writer and Chef-Consultant Rowley Leigh.

The winner will receive funding towards travel, insurance, accommodation and expenses.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

English Wines for Christmas At Waitrose

English Wines for Christmas At Waitrose

I've been through a number of English wine phases - I have always (mostly) enjoyed them, but it has never resulted in an unqualified devotion to patriotic oenology.

English wines' main challenges are climate, price and range; and that's before you factor in awareness and branding issues.

My advice to people wanting to try English wines is generally to go for the fizz - at the top end it can be much better than equivalent-priced Champagne.

Lower down, still whites can be thoroughly enjoyable, yes there are occasionally interesting (pale) reds and if you seek it out, you can even find a dessert wine.

Waitrose stock a total of 110 wines from England and Wales, many of them available only locally (within 10 miles of the vineyard).

At this Christmas tasting, there were English Wines of all styles and all were thoroughly enjoyable. A couple were even rather Good.

Here are the ones I enjoyed most.

Furleigh Estate Dorset Coast Special Reserve, NV elegant, Champagne method sparkler, mineral and autolytic. Good.

Leckford Estate Brut, 2013 finer and more elegant, still youthful; will gain complexity with age. Good.

Winbirri Bacchus Reserve, 2015 typical aromatic Bacchus hedgerow aromas and freshness; atypically substantial.

Stopham Estate Pinot Gris, 2015 floral and fresh with gooseberry and ripe pear fruit. Think restrained Sauvignon.

Also consider:

Litmus Element 20, 2012 deft and mineral with an intriguing cidery tang.

Bolney Estate Pinot Noir, 2015 very light, fresh Pinot with gentle cherry fruit; think Alsace rather than Burgundy. Deftly made with an appropriately gentle hand.

Denbies Noble Harvest Ortega 2014/15 sweet, botrytised English sticky with beeswax and honeycomb. Fades quickly, though.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Going Austro-Hungarian with Virgin Wines

A Wachau Gruener and a dry Tokaji from Virgin Wines

Students of central European history will be especially pleased by this geopolitical combination from Virgin Wines; oenologists will find they highlight stylistic differences between these now neighbouring, once-joined, countries. 

Both are very well-made; the Austrian wine is linear and precise, whereas the Hungarian is fruitier and, although dry, shares the hedonistic flavour profile of sweet Tokaji.

Gruener Veltliner Wachau Selection (£13.99) made by the Wachau's excellent co-op, Domaene Wachau. Poised, elegant citrus and white stone fruits with hints of Gruener's signature celery and lentils; pure and fresh with a saline pebbly minerality, white flowers and a whiff of pepper. Improves with extensive aeration.


Drink as an aperitif or with light starters.

2015 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Furmint Dry 2015 (£10.99) dried apricots, marmelade and beeswax-honeysuckle with freshness and a saline minerality, white pepper and sweet spices. Floral, eaxy and rich.


Drink with rich foods such as pâté.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Villa Maria and 25 Years of Gimblett Gravels

New Zealand's Villa Maria - some museum pieces

So, the New World does fruit and the Old World does aging, right? These Villa Maria wines, going back to almost the last century, were in better shape than some equivalent Bordeaux.

Villa Maria Library Release Merlot / Cabernet 2010 sweet spices, dark fruits and cocoa beans; fine, well-integrated tannins. Dense with a muscular core. Very Good.

Villa Maria Library Release Cabernet 2009 black olives, sweet spices and dark berries; fine, integrated tannins and seamless texture. Still young. Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2008 berry and cassis fruit, dried herbs and spices; soft yet concentrated. Good.

Vidal Reserve Chardonnay 2007 citrus, floral and nutty with stone fruits and some aged character.
Esk Valley Winemaker Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2007 dark fruits, herbs, cocoa and spice; restrained and substantial, still tightly wound and closed up even at a decade. Firm and assertive. Very impressive. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2006 red and black berry fruit with pepper and liquorice. Fresh, vibrant, floral and spicy but above all substantial. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2002 blackberry, plum and violets. Concentrated and harmonious. Fresh, vibrant and lively. Substantial. Very Good.

Vidal Reserve Cabernet 2002 ripe black plum, coffee and earthiness with cigarbox. Substantial. Good.

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2000 black fruits, chocolate and spice with aged gamey-woodsy-earthiness; vibrant, fresh and mineral. Still very lively but also substantial and harmonious. Very Good Indeed.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Camino de Seda 2014 - Laithwaites

A typically overbearing Laithwaites wine from Jumilla, Spain

Laithwaites specialise in sourcing unsophisticated wines from cheap areas, billing them as "BIG reds" and selling them at a high mark-up to the sort of people who write "Supple mouthfeel, smooth as silk...."

Camino de Seda 2014 (£8.99 plus delivery)  Jammy, extracted and alcoholic with no length; blowsy and all-front, the acidity just about holds it together - oversold, overpriced and overblown; it has as much finesse as a milky tea with two sugars.

Not actively unpleasant, it is thoroughly underwhelming unthinking drinking; just the sort of thing Laithwaites customers seem to like.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Spain's Herència Altés

Two Herència Altés wines from Bancroft

Described as a "very exciting producer making some serious modern expressions of red and white Grenache from the oft overlooked part of northern Spain, Terra Alta", Herència Altés is owned by husband and wife team Rafael de Haan and Nuria Altés whose backgrounds have been in wine for many years.

They started making wine together under the Herència Altés name in 2010, before purchasing their own old-vine Garnatxa vineyards in Gandesa, Tarragona.

Herència Altés specialises in the Garnatxa grape producing red wines and fresh white wines, full of elegance and built for ageing.

Herència Altés owns 3 vineyards totalling 55 hectares. Approximately half the vines are over 50 years old. They are predominantly planted with Garnatxa Blanca with small pockets of Garnatxa Negra and Carignan.

All Herència Altés’ vineyards are in conversion to organic viticulture; conservation is at the heart of the Herència Altés philosophy - the new winery runs off-grid, completely on solar power and represents a long-term investment for the future.

Both of these wines feel well-made and youthful; they improve with aeration and feel like they will gain added complexity with aging.

Garnatxa Blanc, Herencia Altes, 2015 fresh and zesty-citrussy with orchard fruits, celery and a whiff of white pepper. Saline and mineral. Clean elegant and pure. Technically, very well made. Good.

Garnatxa Negre, Herencia Altes, 2015 juicy and fresh with some bubblegum and fruit pastilles; dark berry and black cherry fruit, spice. Deft and supple, improves with aeration.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Lunch

Lunch at New Zealand House with Villa Maria's Karen Fistonich and The Modern Pantry

Villa Maria is a byword for well-made, classical-style wines with a typical New Zealand purity and crystalline freshness.

At this lunch, Karen Fistonich, Chair of Villa Maria, showed us the company's more ambitious side, including the new flagship wine, Ngakirikiri, as well as a few museum pieces.

With starters
Esk Valley Verdelho 2015 elegant, clean and pure with fresh acidity and exotic peach and passionfruit. Good.

Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2015 complex oaky, slightly sulphide nose; pure white nectarine fruit with toast. Sleek and tightly woven. Very elegant and adept. Will improve with age. Good.

With mains
Legacy Syrah 2011 dark cherry, plum, herbs and spice with savoury oaky complexity and fine tannins. Drinking nicely now and at a peak. Good.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve 2013 black fruits with spice and smoke; some fruitcake, cherry and chocolate. Complex and still very youthful with an excellent structure. Needs aging. Very Good.

Ngakirikiri, The Gravels, Hawkes Bay 2013 the first vintage of this super-prestige wine; Cab-based from a spectacular vintage. Intense and aromatic, with dark fruit, plum and herbs, coffee and cedarwood. Complex with fine tannins. Still very youthful and needs age. Very Good.