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Monday, 31 December 2018

Christmas Afternoon Tea At The Old Bridge Huntingdon

Afternoon tea at the Old Bridge in Huntingdon

Once every few years, we make the short trek up to Huntingdon from Cambridge and visit The Old Bridge, owned and run by MW John Hoskins.

Whilst other places wax and wane, the standard at The Old Bridge never seems to vary. The food is always well-made, the wines excellent chosen and the ambiance varies by seating area.
The most traditional part is the pubby bar, the edgiest is the wine shop with stripped floors and an oenomatic machine dispensing wines in taster, small and medium sizes.

A bit like London buses, I had occasion to visit The Old Bridge twice on either side of the same weekend. First to catch up with a contact and then for Afternoon Tea with colleagues.

For the catch-up, we sat in the Wine Shop and tasted our way through a few whites and reds whilst comparing notes on business issues.
The 2017 ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko from Gaia's Santorini was mineral, linear and precise; the 2015 Chardonnay from Richard Kershaw in Elgin, South Africa was adept and complex.

Moving on to the reds, a 2015 Lemberger from Simonroth, Schnaitmann in Württemberg, Germany was bright, juicy and cherry fruited. The only bum note was a 2013 Cab Franc from Seneca Lake, by Red Hook Winery in Finger Lakes, USA. This was the most expensive of the wines and for me the least impressive.

A few days later saw a return visit for afternoon tea - a couple in the party opted for a glass of Prosecco while I returned to the wine shop for another hit of the Assyrtiko.

We started a choice of  tea or coffee  and were then served delicious finger sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese; spicy chicken Egg mayonnaise; Beef, watercress and horseradish), scones with Jersey cream, strawberry jam and butter plus three mini cakes.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

A Californian Cabernet from Waitrose

Alexander Valley AVA is a sub-region of Sonoma; its wines are typically plush, fruit forward and voluptuous. One of the warmest areas in Northern California, at night it experiences a wide diurnal temperature variation and early morning fog bring more freshness to the wines.

Warmer climate wines typically do not age as well, but this still feels fresh and primary even with four years' age.

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley (Waitrose, £17.99) port-like with plum and cherry fruit, eucalyptus, oaky spice and fresh damp earth; ripe, juicy and slightly jammy dark berry fruits. Hefty, warming and substantial with a glycerol, almost oily texture and soft, fine-grained tannins.

Good.

A big wine that needs big food to match - smoked duck breast or hare.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Joseph Drouhin Secher 1er Cru Chablis 2015

A Premier Cru Chablis from Justerini & Brooks

Under the Byzantine rules of Chablis, Premier Cru is not the top rank but second-from-top just behind Grand Cru. Premier Cru will set you back a few more pennies than entry-level Chablis but will be ready to drink sooner than Grand Cru.

Other dinner party facts about Chablis Premier Cru:

- made from Chardonnay
- grown on fossil-rich, chalky Kimmeridgian soils
- 89 vineyards have Premier Cru status

Technically part of Burgundy but closer to Champagne geographically and stylistically, Chablis is cooler, fresher and more linear than the rest of Burgundy. The wines become more complex and ageworthy as you go up the scale from Petit Chablis to Grand Cru.

Premier Cru benefits from at least a few years' age and has the complexity to match with foods such as smoked ham, mushrooms mild cheeses or fish.

If you need a classy and elegant wine for your starter at Christmas, this would be perfect.

Joseph Drouhin  Secher 1er Cru (£20, Justerini & Brooks) toasty, orchard fruits and honey; fresh, mineral, saline, supple and full. Very adept and elegant. Will improve further with age.

Very Good.

Match with oysters, rare tuna steak or soused trout.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Edna Valley Pinot Noir

A Californian Pinot from Majestic

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream

- Astral weeks, Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, 1967)

On first listening, I could make no sense of Astral Weeks; Van Morrison's semi-improvised unstructured masterpiece blends jazz, soul and Celtic folk-rock with stream of consciousness lyrics.

My cool muso uni friend had told me the album was "quite good" in his understated way, so I persevered and on the second listening it all fell into place and I was hooked.

This Edna Valley Pinot is my Astral Weeks moment again - it's not a Pinot that in any sense you would recognise if Burgundy, New Zealand or Mornington Peninsula are your reference points.

It smells like a Pinot but from there the similarities end. It's as if Big Bang Theory's Sheldon had gone down the gym and worked out in a muscle vest until he made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a wimp.

Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2015, Central Coast (Majestic, £15.99) classic Pinot farmyard and black cherries; the fruit is very forward, very ripe and very generously seasoned with oaky cola spice. Perfumey-floral, extracted and alcoholic with fine tannins and just enough freshness to keep it all in check.

With the prominent fruit of a sipper and the body of a food wine, match this with spiced duck or buffalo wings.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Classic Co-op Christmas Wines

Three classy and classic wines for Christmas from The Co-op

Christmas is not a time to experiment - trying to persuade distant relatives of the merits of some obscure and strangely-made wine from central Asia does not usually go down well over a post-Christmas dinner game of tiddly winks whilst waiting for the Dr Who Special.

There is a time and a place for experimentation and a house full of family-on-best-behaviour all trying to maintain a veneer of civility to each other is not it.

So, keep it classic and classy with three well-made Old World standards from the Co-op and you can't go wrong.

Aperitif
It has to be fizz and if it has to be classy, then Champagne is your only option.

Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne (£40) elegant and classy NV Champagne

Christmas roast
Bordeaux's Medoc makes elegant and structured food-friendly wines that match perfectly with roast meats.

Château Sénéjac Cru Bourgeois (£17) distinguished Cru Bourgeois producer in the Haut-Medoc; vintage matters in Bordeaux and 2015 was a very good year; this now has just enough age to be ready for drinking

Christmas pudding, mince pies and sipping into the evening
Port is one of the world's great wines; vintage port shows cherries, eucalyptus and spice with strength, elegance and more nuance and complexity that any other style

Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas (£30) the lifetime of vintage port is measured in decades, so this 2004 is still a baby, only just ready for drinking

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Christmas California Reds

Three Californian wines for Christmas

"Big and Bold" pretty much sums up California - or so I used to think. There will always be plenty of New World fruit on show, but there is also freshness, balance and nuance if the wine comes from a slightly cooler part of the state.

I was sufficiently impressed by the cool-climate white wines from these three Gallo-owed vineyards to be intrigued about the reds.

With a New World combination of fruit and sophistication, Gallo suggest these as classy Christmas crowd-pleasers:

Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2015, Central Coast (Majestic, £15.99) for guests with more refined tastes as well as those who prefer something lighter. Match with goose or turkey or any Christmas centre-piece

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley (Waitrose, £17.99) ideal with rich meat dishes and easy to drink, making it a perfect accompaniment to Boxing Day casseroles

MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley ( Great Western Wine, £27.50) from one of the world's most sought-after Pinot Noir regions, this makes a perfect Christmas gift

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Three Wines from 8wines

A fizz, white and red from 8wines

Now, if 6 turned up to be 9
I don't mind, I don't mind.

- If 6 Was 9, Jimi Hendrix (1967)

Like Hendrix's middle-child album, Axis: Bold As Love (on which If 6 Was 9 appears), I must confess to not knowing much about 8wines - their website explains that what started out as a small venture to cater to the specific wine tastes of our friends and family, turned into a business reaching customers in all corners of the EU and beyond.

With little more of a back-story other than that they are "headquartered in Cyprus with warehouses in Central Europe", they are somewhat anonymous, so it is hard to think of a compelling reason why you should try them over any other wine merchant.

If they have a compelling vision or driving sense of purpose, that passion is hardly to be found in their stated ambition to rectify the shortage of "functional sophisticated online wine shops in EU with unique and wide selection of premium wines from major and less known wine regions from around the globe".

I've seen more charisma from an actuary.

Then again, on the basis of these three well-made and well-priced wines, there's also no reason to avoid them; they are by turns pleasant, intriguing and compelling.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux (£12.11) warm-climate, frothy, Languedoc fizz made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and aromatic local hero Mauzac; apples, white peaches, flowers and citrussy freshness. Pleasant, elegant and clean with ripe, southern warmth.

Thoroughly enjoyable sipper that will match with summery picnic foods or a creamy risotto.

Kozlovic Malvasia 2017 (£11.80) Italian-influenced Istrian white with an intriguing, dried-sage musty-muskiness and ripe orchard and stone fruits with a sea-spray minerality and a touch of white pepper. Clean, fresh and savoury.

A versatile food wine to match with creamy pasta, such as gnocchi in a creamy blue-cheese sauce.

Manincor Reserve del Conte 2015 (£13.92) Bordeaux-plus-Lagrein blend from the dolomites, more Austrian than Italian; black cherries, bramble and blueberry fruit with savoury black olives and old leather; herbs, spice, freshness and fine tannins.

Good.

Match with red meat, especially game; roasts, artisan salamis or carpaccio will all work well.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Domaine of the Bee at Thirsty

A tasting of Justin Howard-Sneyd's Domaine of the Bee wines at Thirsty Cambridge

What do you get if you cross a Master of Wine with a winemaker and buyer for Waitrose and Laithwaites?

This not a joke in search of a punchline, it is the backstory to Justin Howard-Sneyd who has worked in wine shops, been a cellar-hand and assistant winemaker in 4 different countries, was Global Wine Director for Laithwaites and in charge of the wine department at Waitrose before producing his own wine at Domaine of the Bee.

With not a lot of money to invest, Justin bought 4 hectares of vines in the Roussillon region of the South of France, near the village of Maury and began to make wine.
There is very much a family resemblance to all of Justin's wines - and the influences are clear: technically, they are very well made with no rough edges, as you would expect from an MW; they are also very fruit-forward and expressive, just the sort of thig that major retailers know will sell; finally they are made in small quantities and priced ambitiously to avoid competing on volume at the lower-end of the market.

In their own words, the Domaine loves to champion big reds, the style we love and the style we make, and we are unashamed enjoyers of full-throttle, turbo-charged Grenache.
Hart of Gold 2013 (£31.25) Chardonnay, Pinot, Pinot Meunier blend, big, substantial, spicy and leesy with lots of red apple and ripe citrus fruit. Good.

Taronja de Gris, Orange Wine 2017 (£30) orange wine from Grenache Gris with 1 month skin contact including some stems; fresh and elegant with soft red fruits, aromatic orange peel, herbal notes and some tannic grip. Good.

Grenaschista Cotes Catalanes (£16.50) fresh and elegant with red fruits, fine tannins, long and supple with old vine concentration. Good.

B Side 2015 (£18) second wine (hence the pun-tastic name) bramble fruits, oaky spice, warming and expressive. Good.

Domaine of The Bee (£25) a vertical of recent vintages

2015 plump, supple concentrated and inky with dark fruits, garrigue herbs and spice. Good.

2013 lighter, fresher, more aromatic. Good.

2011 mushroomy-truffley nose, dark fruits, minty-porty, concentrated and well-structured. Good.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Everyday Bordeaux: New Generation Winemakers

The new generation of Bordeaux winemakers

Bordeaux is not so much a region as an entire oenological universe; name a style of wine and you can pretty much find it in Bordeaux - dry white, red, rosé, sweet and fizz; from young, fresh and juicy to complex, oaked and ageworthy.

Away from the headlines and $$$s of the trophy wines of the classed first growths, Bordeaux produces great everyday wines.

These two wines are examples of new wave of young winemakers pioneering initiatives and techniques, including sustainable winemaking practices and disease-resistant grape varieties to reduce the use of pesticides.

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec 2016, Bordeaux AOC Sauvignon Blanc (£20, The Wine Society) floral and blossomy with complex beeswax; fresh, fragrant and balanced with white-peach fruit, waxy lanolin and lingering crisp fruit aromatics.

Very Good.

Match with meaty white fish or strong cheeses, such as Chaource or Époisses.

Château Le Grand Verdus Generations 2015, Bordeaux Supérieur (£8.67, L’Assemblage) Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend; coffee grounds, cherries and earthiness; spice and dried green herbs; fresh with fine tannins.

Good.

Match with roast red meats and hard yellow cheeses.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Co-op Christmas - Blandy's Duke of Clarence Madeira

Blandy's sweet Madeira at The Co-op

Is your name Michael Diamond?
No mine's Clarence

- Beastie Boys, Shake Your Rump (1989)

George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence and brother of King Richard III, was drowned in a barrel of Madeira, if legend and Shakespeare are to be believed.
Madeira's history as a wine dates back many centuries - now relatively obscure, it is one of the world's great wines, due partly to its almost indestructible nature. In its heyday, it occupied a place akin to Champagne, single malt whiskey or vintage port.

This lovely, underappreciated wine is more versatile than just Christmas, but matching with mince pies and Christmas pudding is not a bad place to start if you are new to Madeira.

Duke of Clarence Madeira (£13; reduced to £11, 21 November – 29 Jan inclusive) caramel, roasted nuts, dates and figs; rich and unctuous yet all held in check by a fresh acidity. Harmonious and mellow.

Good.

Match with Christmassy treats, drink as an aperitif or an after-dinner sipper.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Three Wine Men in Cambridge

The Three Wine Men event returns to Cambridge

Another year, another Three Wine Men Christmas tasting; this time round there were noticeably fewer local independents.

With just a three-hour slot and over 30 exhibitors in the hall, there was no chance to get round everyone. So I focused on local heroes and noteworthy wines.

Cambridge Distillery
Meeting both of these criteria was Cambridge Distillery whose gins are something of a revelation. Owner Will Lowe cites three points of difference from pretty much any other gin you might try: all botanicals are fresh and seasonal, all are distilled separately and then blended separately.

Will's house gin is the Cambridge Dry Gin - fragrant, floral and perfumey with juniper and menthol, a firm grip leading onto a round sweetness. Very Good.

A step up is the Cambridge Botanical Gardens Gin with flavourings picked from the Botanical Gardens just up the road from the distillery. With rosemary, lavender and apples descended from Newton's tree, this is a more nuanced and elegant gin. Very Good Indeed.

The Truffle Gin is flavoured with white truffles from alba and is intended as a digestif, a gin for whisky-lovers. The musky white truffle dominates the nose leading to more juniper on the palate. Very Good.

Thorne Wines
New kid on the local oenological block is Thorne Wines, run by James Thorne, formerly of Cambridge Wine Merchants.

The white Rioja Perica Olagasa Blanco 2017 is a complex, nutty, fresh, leesy spicy old-school Rioja. Good.

The red Perica Olagasa Reserva 2010 is fresh, youthful and still primary with bramble fruits and spice; mellow and harmonious.

Also good and tasted on a previous occasion is the Vondeling Chardonnay.

Thirsty
Wine merchants inevitably reflect the personalities of their founders; Thirsty's wines are iconoclastic and zeitgeisty. There was South African Southern French / Pinotage blend with juicy fresh berry fruit, a Southern French Chardonnay that was fresh with a southern warmth and an orange wine that was highly drinkable and pleasant rather than challenging.

Chateau Musar
A vertical of Lebanon's Musar showed how this amazing wine develops: the 2011 red, the current vintage, is complex, harmonious and meaty with dried red berries, spice and freshness and just the beginnings of some secondary woodsy undergrowth alongside dried red fruits. Very Good.

The 2000 is paler with more secondary aromas of sous bois and truffles, but the fruit is still good and it will continue to age. Very Good.

The 1998 is very pale and almost tawny port-esque, very harmonious and mellow. At a peak and my top of the three vintages on show. Very Good.

I had not known about the Musar White, but got a chance to try the 2009. Complex, with nuts and oaky spices, waxy and old school, it is a unique textured wine that somewhat defies definition but is in the same category as amontillado, vin jaune and white Rioja. Very Good.

New Zealand Wine
If you think New Zealand is just Sauvignon Blanc, then look away now.

Greywacke Chardonnay 2014 is a complex, elegant and ageworthy oaked Chardonnay; fresh citrus and orchard fruits, gently toasty oak. Substantial and deft. very Good.

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2014 fresh, delicate and crystalline with elegant red fruits; supple and harmonious. Very Good.

Sud de France
Quality, consistency and affordability were all high here - these were some really lovely wines.

Domaine Morin-Langron Etiquette Noir 2017 fresh, elegant and long Picpoul. Good.

Ch Canet 2017 waxy, spicy, warming southern white blend. Good.

Domaine de Cebene Felgaria 2015 pruney fruit, feral, mineral red blend; concentrated, supple and fresh. Very Long. Very Good.

Ch de Prieure des Mourgues Grande Reserve 2015 poised, focused, concentrated St Chinian red blend. Fine tannins and will age. Very Good.

Alpine Wines
Swiss wines can be lovely, but they are always expensive; if you set next-door Burgundy as a benchmark, then they are reasonable value.

Provins Petite Arvine Grand Metral 2016 fresh, lemony and elegant. Good.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

New Bojo Mojo from The Co-op

A new Beaujolais from The Co-op

Juicy and gluggable, Beaujolais is a perfect autumnal wine; red, light and fresh and perfect with gamier foods like salmon, duck or guinea fowl.

Made from the Gamay grape in a strip of land between Macon and Lyon, Beaujolais comes in various guises; Beaujolais Villages is a step-up from entry-level basic Beaujolais - the wines show juicy red fruit, but are richer with more personality. They can come from any of 38 named villages, all of which are based in the northern, hilly half of the region on granite soils.

This would be a perfect wine to stock up for Christmas - handy to keep in the rack for unexpected guests, its juicy freshness will be welcome with Boxing Day cold cuts or turkey leftovers.

Reserve de Pizay Beaujolais-Villages 2017 (£8, reduced to 2 for £15 from 21 Nov – 3 Jan inclusive) juicy dark berry fruits, violets and spice; freshness, elegant and well-made.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

The freshness of this wine makes it very versatile with food - match with game, starters or ham terrine, pork rillettes.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Les Grands Chemins Old Vine Carignan - Virgin Wines

An award-winning, crowd-pleasing southern French red from Virgin wines

If you need good, inexpensive wines to stock up on at Christmas time for unexpected guests - or to enjoy yourself aside from the big day, then make sure to include this sub-£10, classy and easy-drinking southern French red from Virgin wines.

Les Grands Chemins Old Vine Carignan 2017 (£9.99) bursting with sweet, ripe, juicy cherry and berry fruit with spice, violets and a supple texture. Fresh with fine, harmonious tannins.

Straight out of the bottle, the fruit dominates; with aeration, the old vine complexity becomes more obvious, so don't be afraid to decant or come back to part-consumed bottles a day later.

Good.

Match with hearty stews, roast red meat and Boxing Day cold cuts.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Co-op Christmas - Taylor's LBV Port

A Late Bottled Vintage port from The Co-op

Christmas is a time to share food with family and friends in a more relaxed setting; certain wines are more indulgent than others and port is one of the great comfort wines.

Sweet and strong, it is both easy-to-enjoy and, when well-made, complex and considered.

Ports come in various styles; LBV is port from a single vintage that is aged in oak for several years before release. This gives it some vintage port character, but allows for much earlier drinking.

Taylor's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2013 (£16, reduced to £12 until the end of January 2019) eucalyptus, cassis, dark berries and freshly ground spices; rich, sweet and warming, with ripe, juicy fruit, freshness, complexity and precision.

Drinking nicely now, it will improve and become more harmonious with cellaring.

Drink as a digestif; it will also match with Christmassy foods such as best-quality dark chocolate, mince pies and Christmas pudding.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Dragon Hills Pinot Grigio - Virgin Wines

A crisp and expressive Romanian Pinot Grigio from Virgin Wines - a perfect rack white for Christmas

Dragon. *Dragon*, not lizard. I don't do that tongue thing.
- Mushu (Mulan, 1998)


I have never really fallen for Romania as a country, but I have always loved its wines - clean, well made, precise and orderly, they seem to be everything that the country is not.

This award-winning Pinot Grigio is a perfect wine to have on standby over Christmas - smart enough to impress, but under £10 so you can afford to be generous when unexpected guests arrive.

Dragon Hills Pinot Grigio 2017 (£8.99) aromatic white flowers and white pepper, ripe apples-and-pears fruit, freshness, minerality and thick-skinned substance.

A versatile wine for fish or cheese starters, canapes or creamy pasta dishes. It will also stand up to roast pork and cold cuts.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Three Wine Men in Pictures

Another year, another Three Wine Men tasting in Cambridge

Master Distiller Will Lowe of Cambridge Distillery.
 
Superb aged wines from Lebanon's Chateau Musar.
 
New kid on the block, James Thorne of Thorne Wines.
 
More than just Sauvignon - wines of New Zealand
 
 Well-made and ageworthy, with plenty of southern fruit; Languedoc Top 100
 
Alpine wines from … Alpine Wines

 
 
Iconoclastic and funky - the wines are not bad either. Thirsty Cambridge.
 

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Marks & Spencer Petit Chablis

A Petit Chablis from Marks & Spencer

Petit Chablis is a "junior" Chablis, made from the same Chardonnay grape, but grown on a different soil type.

If you want the dinner party fact, Petit Chablis is grown on denser, more-exposed, hilltop, portlandian soils that, unlike the kimmeridgian soils of Chablis, are not broken up with contain ancient sea fossils.

A well-made Petit Chablis will have the flavour profile and elegance of a Chablis, but will be a lighter, more everyday, less contemplative sort of wine - perfect as a simple aperitif.

Marks & Spencer Petit Chablis (12-) citrus and orchard fruits, honeysuckle and white flowers, white pepper; fresh, mineral, leesy and elegant.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif - or match with fish and chips.


Friday, 9 November 2018

Four Virgin Wines for Christmas Day

Four Virgin Wines for an indulgent Christmas Day

Christmas is a time for family and togetherness, spending time with loved ones. Celebratory food and superior wines add to the sense of occasion, so here are four wines from Virgin to sort your Christmas Day.

Fizz gets the party started, a dry sherry is the thinking man's aperitif, an off-dry white works with fishy starters and a mature red will complement your roast.

Senti Prosecco Extra Dry (£10.99)
Start with fizz; whether your celebrations begin at breakfast time with a Bucks Fizz or a glass of bubbles whilst the turkey is being carved, Prosecco is a great warm-up act.

Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado (£25.99)
Fresh and bone dry with flavours of roasted chestnuts, hazelnuts and orange peel, Amontillado is a great aperitif. Just make sure you have some olives, salted almonds, cured meats or manchego to hand as you sip this.

Clos du Gaimont Vouvray Demi Sec 2015 (£12.99)
An off-dry Vouvray will match with seafood starters, such as scallops, lobster or salmon in a creamy sauce.

Palacio de Ibor Gran Reserva 1998 (£24.99)
You don't often come across a 20 year-old Spanish Cab, so this is interesting of itself; mature reds are a great match with a Christmas roast and the gamier the better, so pair this with duck, goose or turkey.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Four Chablis Wines

Four Chablis wines

Chablis is something of a miracle - it is not easy to make wine this far north in France in a damp and chilly river valley.

All wines from Chablis share similar characteristics - they are white and made from the Chardonnay grape with high acidity, lemony-mineral flavours and a nervy, cool-climate precision.

Better sites in better years produce wines with flavours of honeysuckle and blossom that take five or ten years to become ready. Simpler wines are ready for early drinking and do not improve with extensive aging.

Like many Old World areas, Chablis has its own, idiosyncratic classification:

- Petit Chablis; grown on different (inferior) soils, this is a "junior Chablis", an easy drinker with the character of Chablis in a lighter, simpler form

- Chablis; must be grown on fossil-rich kimmeridgian soils

- Premier Cru; incongruously, the second rank of Chablis, better sites with more favourable aspects to produce riper fruit

- Grand Cru; a cluster of the top seven vineyards, a small amphitheatre facing due south with just the right angle of incline, undulation and shelter to produce grapes for the top wines

Chablis is expensive to produce, but does not command the trophy pricing of investment-grade wines, so the best value is to be found at the top of the range rather than at the bottom.

Start with Petit Chablis if you want to see what all the fuss is about, then continue to work your way up if you like what you find.

Here are four wines to try - drink the lighter Petits Chablis as an aperitif; match the richer Premiers Crus with fish or chicken starters.

- Petit Chablis 2017 (12-, Marks & Spencer)
- Petit Chablis, Louis Moreau, 2016 (12.99, Waitrose)
- Chablis Premier Cru Secher, 2015 (20-, Justerini & Brooks)
- Chablis Premier Cru, Montmains 2016 (24.50, Frazier's Wine Merchants)

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2018

A textbook kiwi Sauvignon from Villa Maria

Kiwi Sauvignon is a textbook wine and Villa Maria is one of the country's most reliable producers.

So this wine should be characteristic and flawless, right? And so it is.

If you want to know what an entry-level kiwi Sauvignon should taste like, or if you want an utterly benchmark wine, this is it. No surprises, quirks or flaws; just a well-made classic archetype.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£11.25 Asda, Co-op, Majestic, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose) aromatic and expressive with cut grass, zingy gooseberry fruit, lemongrass and white flowers; zippy lime and a touch of white pepper. Clean, pure and well-made.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as an aperitif; match with aromatic salad leaves or chili-ginger tuna carpaccio.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Puklavec and Friends

Two wines from Slovenia's Puklavec available at Waitrose

For those who either weren't around or weren't paying attention at the time, Slovenia was formerly part of a country called Yugoslavia that fell apart in a spectacular and rather grisly manner in the 1990s.

Wedged in between Austria and Croatia with just a few miles of coastline, Slovenia has always considered itself more "Little Austria" than southern slav.

Puklavec dates back to 1934 - politically prehistoric in local terms, and has existed in at least three different countries.

Geo-politics aside, of these two wines, only the white is actually Slovenian; and it is typically Slovenian in being technically well-made and combining a southern fullness with the freshness of altitude.

The red is from Macedonia, another former Yugoslav country with a possibly even more complicated history than Slovenia, and a new wine area to me. I have no idea of Macedonian regionality, so this wine needs to be judged on its own merits.

puklavec & friends Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Grigio 2017 crisp, aromatic, fresh and mineral; yellow stone fruits, white flowers and a shake of white pepper. A wine of tension and contrast, full yet fresh, ripe yet crisp.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif or match with an aromatic starter.
 
puklavec & friends Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot 2017 coffee-cherry merlot nose, bramble fruit and plum with spice and a sour-cherry rasp; savoury and supple with gentle yet firm tannins.

Good.

Drink with red meat.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Two Co-op Reds for Autumn

Two Co-op reds for Autumn

As the nights draw in and the days get chillier, bigger, spicier reds are needed to match with hearty, gamey autumnal foods.

The Co-op has two new wines - a focused Old World Portuguese red and Big Red from South Africa with plenty of fruit.

Vila Real Rabelo Red 2015 (£6) dark fruits, sour cherries, hints of woodsiness, liquorice, spice and pencil shavings; fresh with fine, firm tannins and a good structure. Improves with aeration.

Good.

Match with red meats such as roast lamb or a beef casserole.

Vandenberg Adelaide Hills 2017 (£10) ripe, pruney fruit, cool mint and spice; supple and substantial with rounded tannins. Slightly porty.

Good.

Match with garlic-and-rosemary roast lamb.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir

A kiwi Pinot from Yealands

I've been impressed with Yealands' wines for a number of years and have even met the great man himself. The entry-level wines are clean, precise and very well-made; and they just get better as you go up the range.

This makes Yealands, I think, very good value, even when you are spending mid-teens money. You could pay more and be less wowed by something from a Big Name European wine region.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 A blast of pure, black cherry fruit, farmyard, pencil shavings and oaky spice with freshness and leesy, savoury underpinnings. Substantial, supple, balanced and very well made; expressiveness within a defined structure.

Very Good.

Drinking nicely now, it can also be cellared for a number of years.

Match with autumnal dishes, especially darker game such as venison and duck.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Foncalieu Pays d'Oc Extraordinaires Sillages Albariño

A Portuguese grape doing well in France's Languedoc from Vignobles Foncalieu

I've tried Foncalieu's southern French wines on a number of occasions and always been impressed with the sensible balance they strike between the competing demands of expressiveness vs elegance and quality vs price.

This Languedoc white is a great start-of-autumn wine - yes, it's white, but unlike its Portuguese equivalent, Vinho Verde, it's big enough to stand up to comforting, early-autumn foods such as creamy pasta with mushrooms.

Foncalieu Pays d'Oc Extraordinaires Sillages Albariño 2016 ripe orchard fruits, citrus, florality and sweet spices with southern warmth and substance. Saline, mineral and elegant.

Good.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution - Elizabeth Gabay MW

A new book on rosé wine by Elizabeth Gabay MW

Wine comes in two colours, right? Red and white.

No wait, vin jaune is yellow, Madeira is amber and sherry can be brownish; Champagne is kind of mushroomy and then there are orange wines.

And actually red wine isn't generally red - more often purplish or cherry-coloured. White wine is certainly not white but covers the spectrum from greenish to yellow.

And we don't use an English word for pink wine but call it rosé instead - including an accent and an extra syllable to differentiate it from the accent-less flower by any other name. Pink / rosé wine is perhaps the only wine colour style that meets its description; it genuinely is pink, even if it comes in a range of shades.

It may seem quaint or old-fashioned to write about the entire topic of wine of a certain colour, yet as Liz notes in her introduction, rosé wine has benefited over the last twenty-five years from a boom in quality and production volume, so a re-appraisal of this "ugly duckling" among wine styles is overdue.

Exploring ‘unicorn’ rosés, largely unknown, unreported and unrecognized and often difficult to find, remaining hidden to most consumers, Liz starts with the question ‘What is a rosé?’, something that sounds simple enough, but for which she finds there are numerous exceptions.

Subsequent chapters cover the history of rosé wine, viticulture and winemaking, and rosé regions from Provence to other classic French regions via North America, the southern hemisphere, pink sparkling wine and the rest of Europe including the Balkans, the Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean before addressing the business of rosé.

The book concludes that formerly an ugly ducking, rosé is now emerging as a beautiful swan in a dynamic revolution that is only just beginning.

Available from Amazon, priced £30

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Infinite Ideas Limited (15 Jan. 2018)

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017

An award-winning Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Addison Wines

Kiwi Sauvignon is by now an established classic. Like aging punks, its attention-grabbing, in-yer-face style is regarded with more affection than dread; think Iggy Pop; think elder statesman more than gobby oik.

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2017 (£12.35 Addison Wines) taut, linear, precise and mineral; floral and peppery with aromatic lemongrass and tropical guava, melon and pineapple fruit. Weighty and substantial with good underpinnings and a long, persistent finish.

Very Good.

Match with aromatic Pacific Rim and Thai foods or Keralan fish curry.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Anvil Chardonnay Semillon 2017

An Aussie Chardie blend from Virgin wines

Like Anvil the band, Aussie chardies got a bit, well, monolithic a while back - like dodgy old Metal Dinosaurs, Bigger was always Better in Chardie-land.

Then we suddenly all stopped being Bridget Jones and Australia eventually caught back up.

This Chardonnay-Semillon blend is billed by Virgin Wines as a barbecue wine, but I think that sells it short. It's better than that, a well-made and nuanced wine with subtle oaking that matches perfectly with autumnal foods such as pasta with creamy mushrooms, pork rilettes or roast chicken.
The Anvil Chardonnay Semillon 2017 (£9.99) ripe orchard fruits, citrus freshness and creamy-nutty oatmeal with well-integrated oak. Saline, mineral and elegant.

Good.

A versatile food wine, match with fish, cheese and white meats.