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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Rhône Travellers in Languedoc - And Some Thoughts on Extraction

Two Rhône grapes in Languedoc from Badet Clement - Les Jamelles and Abbotts & Delaunay

This is a bit of an about-face for me; I've always been rather meh about Viognier and historically very much liked Les Jamelles' wines with their New World / Burgundian influences.

Now I find myself preferring the northern Rhône white here and have some slight stylistic reservations about the extraction levels of the northern Rhône red (it's a good wine and well-made; it's just that, personally, I would have gone for just a bit less extraction).

Have the wines changed or have I? Perhaps a bit of both.

In search of an answer, I asked an open question on social media about attitudes to acidity vs extraction and got a range of responses:

- the largest group of people preferred fresher, less-extracted wines; these tended to be wine writers

- some people suggested both and that it is mood-dependent; again, these were in the trade

- a lone (non-trade) voice spoke out in favour of big, extracted wines

On this basis, acidity over extraction is a likely innovator / early-adopter indicator; whilst extraction over acidity is probably a late majority / laggards indicator.

Additionally, a lot of people equated high / over-extraction with Big Wines; this is not necessarily the case. A Loire red can be over-extracted just as a 16% Amarone can combine heft with deft if it is all in balance.

An analogy I've used before is that extraction is like the bass drum - you need it to know there's something there, but you also want to mix it up a bit with other elements to create interest.

Final thought: extraction in wine is a little like seasoning in food and what is OK for one or two bottles can become annoying after several. I tried the Syrah after a series of well-extracted Laithwaite's wines, so perhaps I am just in need of an extraction de-tox.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Joseph Mellot Sancerre le Rebault Rosé

An elegant and adept Loire rosé from Joseph Mellot

When you think of the Loire's Sancerre sub-region, Pinot Noir is not the first thing that springs to mind (it is best known for its flinty Sauvignons). When you think of Pinot Noir, rosé is also not the first thing that springs to mind (it is the great red wine grape of Burgundy, Otago, Oregon and a select few other cool places).

So, what to make of a Sancerre Pinot Noir rosé? A bit like middle class London white boys playing the music of poor black rural Americans, it may sound odd as a concept. But this one is as good Mick & Keef at their finest.

Put another way, if Sancerre is not especially a reference point for you, take this wines as it comes and it is a lovely, elegant, substantial, if pricey, pink.

I could deconstruct the proposition of a Loire rosé at length. But Master of Wine Liz Gabay has done that at length already, so I shan't bother.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre le Rebault Rosé 2017 (£22.85, North and South Wines, The Guildford Wine Company) bright salmon pink, floral with delicate raspberry fruit and spice; toasty, thick-skinned richness with creamy-leesy underpinnings. Tense, poised, succulent and adept. Very elegant.

Good

Match with prawns or salmon dishes, as well as charcuterie and spiced foods.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Harvey's Bristol Cream - The Co-op

A cream sherry from the Co-op

A bank holiday weekend took us up to my family home; a trip to the shops for a few ingredients revealed a marked-down bottle of sherry at the local Co-op. How could I resist?

Harvey's Bristol Cream is up there with Angel Delight and Old Spice as one of those things I used to think was terribly sophisticated in the '70s and subsequently decided was a bit naff.

I don't think I've had Angel Delight since I was in short trousers or used Old Spice since I clandestinely splashed on a bit of my Dad's before there was even any fuzz on my upper lip.

But sherry is different.

So put on some ABBA, make a Black Forest Gateau and indulge yourself with a deliciously sweet sherry.

Like Dancing Queen or a home-made Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, Harvey's Bristol Cream is complex and sophisticated, but hides it under sweetly crowd-pleasing exterior.

More tea vicar?

Harvey's Bristol Cream (£10 when not marked down, Co-op and widely available) fragrant and yeasty-pungent with roasted nuts and spices, savouriness and a creamy sweetness. Harmonious, mellow, complex and persistent.

The high-yet-shortish sweetness levels feel a bit unnecessary; underneath is a complex wine that can stand on its own merits.

Drink as a digestif or match with sweet rich, desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Hancock & Hancock Rosé

A poised and expressive rosé from Australia's Hancock & Hancock

After a soggy start, there are signs of it actually being a bit summery now; good rosé need not be a purely light, sipping, outdoors affair but a bit of warm sunshine helps.

This is a serious rosé and is priced accordingly; it is made under the auspices of Australia's Robert Oatley whose wines I've always found impressive.

The packaging is distinctive and a screwcap always comes in handy for picnics.

Robert Oatley Hancock & Hancock Grenache Rose 2018 McLaren Vale (£14.95, Cambridge Wine Merchants and other independents) salmon-pink with pithy grapefruit, zippy-zesty thick-skinned yeastiness, raspberry, pomegranate and sour cherry fruit, sweet spices and florality; fresh, elegant and saline-mineral. Textured, poised and expressive.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif (in good weather) or match with grilled chilli prawns, spicy dishes or charcuterie.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Pillastro Primitivo 2018 - Laithwaites

A heavily-extracted southern Italian red from Laithwaites

Laithwaites is the greasy take-away of wine, the slutty pizza of plonk; heavy-handed, unsubtle and lacking in finesse.

Sometimes, simple-and-uncomplicated is what you want; fish and chips on the beach, Friday night curry, Pret sandwich at your desk.

But - and here's the rub - there's a difference between being uncomplicated and being inelegant. Coco Chanel's LBD is uncomplicated and fabulously elegant. Bernard Manning's comedy act is unsubtle and brash.

Imagine you've made a pot of tea and served everyone; there's now a few teabags sitting at the bottom of the pot in their stewed, dark brown juices and you fancy another cup. You put the kettle on, pour over some boiling water and squeeze the last few drops of flavour out, then add a generous dash of milk hoping for the best.

That's your Laithwaites wine - thick, heavy and extracted all the while claiming to be "sumptuous", "powerful" or "velevety". These are all euphemisms for "unsubtle and extracted".

In the words of Doctor Evil, Laithwaites are not quite elegant enough; they're semi-elegant, quasi-elegant, the margarine of elegance, the diet Coke of elegance, just one calorie, not elegant enough.

Extraction does for a wine what the bass drum does for rock music - it gives you a hit of something substantial that you feel more than hear or taste. But it needs to be used judiciously or it soon becomes dull and repetitive. You need to mix it up a bit with tom-tom, snare and high hat.

And this is where Laithwaites dishonesty annoys me - I've said it before, Laithwaites are a wine seller and not a wine educator, but a more honest description would be "extracted and unsubtle" rather than "sumptuous and velvety".

Granted, they'd probably sell fewer wines and alienate their customers, but hey.

Pillastro Primitivo 2018 (£10.99) dark-berry fruits and sweet spices; heavy on extraction, yet otherwise balanced fresh and long. Becomes tedious after more than a couple of glasses.

It's not faulty or a bad wine; it is popular with Laithwaites customers - the oenological equivalent of a greasy pizza and a best of Bernard Manning DVD.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Father's Day Cognac from The Co-op

I am your father

- Darth Vader, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Daddy wasn't there

- Ming Tea ft Austin Powers

We all have dads.

Some of us are dads.

This Sunday is Fathers' Day; a day for Dads, a day to think of our Dads and about how much we love them. And maybe even tell them (if we can).

My Dad is generally happy drinking whatever is put in front of him; I can't be with him this Fathers' Day, so I'll toast him with a glass of something suitably Dad-like. And tell my kids some dad-jokes.

Irresistible Cognac (£20, the Co-op) warming, alcoholic and spicy with some nail polish on the nose; smooth and rich, with mixed fruit, baked apple and sweet caramel.

Drink as a digestif; match with espresso and dark chocolate or a raspberry meringue.


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Indigo Wines at Thirsty

A tasting of Indigo Wines at Cambridge's Thirsty & Hungry

He doesn't have spiky hair and studs, but Sam Owens is still something of a punk; the man behind Thirsty and now Thirsty & Hungry (they also serve food), he is energetic, visionary and iconoclastic.

The Thirsty empire is not just about selling drinks, but more a social way of life and bringing people together. The wine list changes regularly and is low on classics or standards; instead there is a real mixture of places, grapes, production methods and packaging.

The consistency of Thirsty is in the quality and the style, a well-made, vibrant freshness; it is a place where you go to explore rather than simply return to the same again.

The latest addition is a range of wines from Indigo, a multi-award-winning importer with a reputation as one of the UK's most interesting independent importers of quirky, artisanal wines. With a particular strength in Iberia, they champion small producers who practise low intervention approaches.
My highlights were:

Dão Branco (Alvaro Castro, Portugal)  bright and fresh Portuguese white made from indigenous varieties with zesty citrus and a  mineral finish

Soplo (Rafael Cambra, Spain) fresh, perfumed Garnacha with touch of earth and leather

Dajoar (Andreas Bender, Mosel)  off-dry with a playful sweetness that balances out the crisp acidity. This is beautifully bright and fresh, with plenty of green and yellow fruits, great intensity and grip on the mid- palate and a long mineral finish

7 Fuentes (Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife) a blend of several plots, all on volcanic soils, and its main component is the wildly aromatic Listán Negro, followed by a small amount of Tintilla (aka Trousseau), juicy and refreshing


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Languedoc's Bruno Andreu

Two wines from Languedoc's Bruno Andreu

Newly-created and based in the Languedoc village of Montblanc, Maison Bruno Andreu has been in existence for only one vintage so far.

The eponymous former marketing manager of Château La Condamine Bertrand decided to set up on his own in late 2017 and established Maison Bruno Andreu in January 2018, buying and renovating a winery.

The red, Elixir, has  won a TOP 100 medal; the Sauvignon is more New-world style.


Aromatic Sauvignon (Champagne & Château, ANZAC; £9 - £12) aromatic, pungent and zesty with ripe tropical and yellow stone fruits; clean and expressive, Marlborough-esque, with good underpinnings.

Match with antipasti, white fish in a herb broth or drink as an aperitif.

Elixir (Elegant Wine, £12 - £16) baked black fruits, cocoa, black olives and gingery spice; fine, firm tannins. Long, with a dense core. Improves with extended aeration.

Good.

Match with roast red meats.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Three Laithwaites Wines

A(nother) mixed bag of wines from Laithwaites

A bank holiday weekend meant a trip up to my parents'.

Over the course of three days, we ate, drank and caught up with each other over various meals. The kids had put in a special request for fish and chips and a curry and there were home-cooked meals as well, so we ended up trying quite a range of drinks.

Some were better than others.

Mum has a fondness for Laithwaites wines that I've never quite understood; Dad's generally happy with whatever's put in his glass.

I have to confess to a certain amount of eye-rolling about Laithwaites wines - they are usually not terrible, just rather dull. in that sense, they conform to Rory Sutherland's definition of a brand as being a guarantee of non-crapness.

My complaint is not so much that the wines are mediocre (they are) or that they are oversold (they are) or overpriced (they are). No, it's the whiff of dishonesty that irks; the slight-of-hand, the knowing-yet-confidential references, the casual mentions of high-priced / high-scoring wines, the almost-religious belief in the most tenuous of connections.


I know that Laithwaites are wine sellers, not wine educators, but telling your audience that mediocre wines are great wines just seems a bit ... wrong.



Domaine Bisconte 2017, Cotes du Roussillon AOC (£12.99 plus delivery) the best of the three and highest rated by Laithwaites customers (4.3/5); dark fruits, garrigue herbs and spice; fresh and mineral with very fine tannins. Deft, harmonious and accomplished.

Good.

Match with roast red meat or darker game.

Viña Tarapacá Malbec Shiraz 2018 (£10.49 plus delivery) gets a lowly 3.0/5 from Laithwaites customers; confected and jammy, aiming for a bigger-is-better style.

Underwhelming.

Castelo do Vinteiro 2016, Douro DOC (£10.49 plus delivery) voted 3.5/5; dark berry fruit and fine tannins; on the plus side, it's fresh and balanced.

Pretty ordinary.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Rousseau de Sipian 2005

A mature Medoc from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Mature red Bordeaux is something special; age does something to a wine that nothing else quite achieves.

Maturing wines can become an expensive business if you put them in storage or even buy your own wine fridge. It is not for the buy-open-drink crowd.

I inadvertently carried out not just one, but several aging experiments with this wine bought on special offer for under a tenner at Cambridge Wine Merchants in 2010.

The first was to buy two cases and drink them over the following decade; youthful and grippy even at five years, it has - like all of us - softened and mellowed with time.

The second was to store both cases under the stairs, but with one in the rack and the other in the box on the floor. The last couple of bottles of "rack" wines were faded and somewhat disappointing. By contrast, the "box" bottles have proven extremely well-preserved and show no signs of deterioration.

So it is possible to age wines at home without expensive equipment; you just need to make really sure they stay cool.

It is also both possible and desirable to age relatively inexpensive wines for a significant period of time; bear in mind 2005 conforms to Jancis Robinson's Bordeaux "rule of five", so look for 2010s or 2015s if you want to lay something down now.

Finally, the wine also picked up a nod from Tim Atkin, as well as a couple of gongs.

So, if you want to try aging wines, pick a style that is intended for aging, buy enough to be able to try one every six months or so and see how it develops over time, keep it really cool and look for critical recommendations.

This one still has plenty of life left in it and as I'm now down to my last two bottles, I'll leave it at least a year or so before I try it again.

Age and scarcity increase the value of a wine and therefore heighten the emotional context of drinking it - as two diners at Hawksmoor Manchester recently found out.

Rousseau de Sipian 2005 still in incredible shape; lovely fruit, sous bois, vanilla spice and leather with integrated tannins.

Good.

Match with plain roast red meat, especially darker game or tuna.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Oxford Landing River Crossing

Two wines from Australia's Oxford Landing via The Co-op

First I was sniffy about Australian wines, then incredulous.

Later I found them too lean and austere.

Finally it all fell into place at an Australia Day tasting.

These two are Big Brands and none the worse for it. Well-made, well-presented, easy-drinking; what's not to like? For me, the gently-oaked Chardie is the more enjoyable wine; the Shiraz I find a little fruit-forward.

Oxford Landing River Crossing Chardonnay 2017 (£8) toasty-oaky with lemon-lime and melon fruit; ripe and honeyed, saline and mineral; supple and savoury with no rough edges.

Thoroughly enjoyable and good value.

A versatile food wine, match with chicken, hard cheese or meaty white fish.

Oxford Landing River Crossing Shiraz 2017 (£8) ripe dark fruit, inky pencil shavings and spice with menthol. Fresh with no rough edges. Fruited and easy-drinking.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with herby sausages, salami or bolognese.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Rosés from the South of France - Foncalieu

Two elegant rosés from Languedoc's Foncalieu

Master of Wine and rosé enthusiast, Liz Gabay describes pink wine as oenology's ugly duckling well in need of a re-appraisal.

Vignobles Foncalieu is a southern French collective based in the heart Languedoc who are pioneering new approaches to wine; I have been nothing but impressed with not just their wines, but also their innovation and willingness to challenge convention in presentation, such as labelling, packaging ans design.

It may seem a moot point to judge a wine by its labelling, but scan a shelf of wines quickly and few will stand out, however good their contents; Foncalieu's wines are distinctively presented and memorable.

The first has a Boaty McBoatface of a name; the second clearly has an eye on the designer rosé market with its elegant frosted bottle and glass stopper.

Drink either of these wines as an aperitif, with aromatic starters, sushi or mixed antipasti.

Griset Gris de Gris 2018 herbaceous and floral-blossomy with white pepper, citrus, passionfruit, grapefruit and menthol. Fresh, nervy and precise; mineral and linear.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Paradis Secret a zeitgeisty rosé with a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah; very pale and elegant with white stone fruits, citrus and some red-berry fruit; white pepper, zippy lime and grapefruit. Precise and linear, supple with saline minerality.

Good.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Cave du Vieil Armand Medaille Gewurztraminer 2016

A ripe and full Gewürztraminer from Alsace's Cave du Vieil Armand via Auchan

Gewürztraminer is not the easiest wine to track down in the UK, but a quick search suggests that you will find a few supermarket examples as well as at your local wine merchant; I brought this one back from France.

Aromatic with exotic fruits and spices, Gewürztraminer is highly distinctive, perhaps even a bit Marmite in that you will probably either love it or loathe it.

The New World produces some Gewürz - you will find it in New Zealand and Chile - and its name purports to originate from the German-speaking Alto Adige or Südtirol (the name means "Spicy from Tramin / Termeno").

However, the spiritual home of Gewurz is Alsace where it is one of the most widely-planted grapes. This is a medal-winner with a couple of years in bottle.

Cave du Vieil Armand Medaille Gewurztraminer 2016 (Auchan) musky perfume and blossom, ripe tropical fruits, exotic spices and honeysuckle with classic rose-petal-and-lychee flavours. Aromatic and full with an oily-waxy, late-harvest viscosity yet dry on the finish; supple, fresh, adept and substantial.

Drinking nicely now and will age.

Very Good.

Drink with rich pâtés or gingery stir fries.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Famille Perrin Les Cardinaux Cotes du Rhone - The Co-op

A spicy-yet-fresh southern Rhône from The Co-op

I have to confess a bias here - I have had several holidays in the Rhône and I think it's a lovely place. It's the fruit garden of France. Lavender-scented, hot, dry and dusty in the summer with rocky mountains. And ripe, spicy wines with the wildness and attitude of Manon de Sources.

Unlike their Northern counterparts, Southern Rhône wines are a blend, often of the classic Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (aka GSM).

This one is made by the illustrious Famille Perrin and comes in a smart, embossed, heavy bottle which makes the wine taste better (this is not a joke, there is scientific evidence of this).

Famille Perrin Les Cardinaux Cotes du Rhone 2016 (£10, The Co-op) GSM blend, ripe, slightly baked fruit with spice and garrigue herbs; fresh, with firm tannins.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Match with plain roast red meats.

It also gets a nod from Knackered Mother and MW Tim Jackson, who scores it a 16/20.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Saumur Blanc "Secrets de Chai" 2017

A Chenin Blanc from the Loire via Auchan

Loire Chenin is, perhaps like German Riesling, something of an aficionado's choice - not a front-of-mind wine like kiwi Sauvignon or oaky Chardie.

A quick online search for Saumur Blanc suggests you'll struggle to find it easily in the UK at anywhere but a specialist wine merchant. Which is a pity, because it is a lovely wine with the expressiveness of Sauvignon and a rich, honeyed complexity.

The elements of the flavour profile will all be familiar, you just may not have had them all in a single wine.

Saumur Blanc "Secrets de Chai" 2017 (€5, Auchan) expressive and aromatic, zesty-zingy citrus and ripe stone fruit with a leesy, honeysuckle richness. Supple and full, very well-made and adept.

It has a silver medal from somewhere - which in France is a reliable indicator of quality.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif, with starters, fish or white cheeses.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Closerie de Malescasse Haut Medoc 2014

A classy second-wine red Bordeaux from the Haut Medoc

With red Bordeaux, they say in a good year you buy the second wine and in a bad year you buy the Grand Vin.

This is a second wine from Bordeaux's Haut Medoc from a good-but-not-great year. It is made from younger vines, so perhaps lacks some of the concentration of the first wine; lighter, fresher, earlier-drinking

Think of it either as a wine to drink young whilst you are waiting for your first wines to mature, or as an aperitif wine if you like Big Reds. Or just a good-value, inexpensive, classy and very typical Left Bank Bordeaux red.

Closerie de Malescasse 2014 bramble fruit, cherries and coffee grounds with mintiness and spice.Supple, harmonious and fresh with fine, ripe tannins. Well-made with good underpinnings.

At five years old, it is drinking nicely now and will age further.

Good.

Match with plain roast red meats.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Chateau D'Hanteillan 2016 Haut-Medoc

A classy Bordeaux for drinking now or cellaring

Based in Bordeaux's Haut-Medoc, Chateau D'Hanteillan is classified as Cru Bourgeois, better than everyday, better value than the classed growths.

From a good year with a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, this is ready for drinking now but will improve with cellaring.

Chateau D'Hanteillan 2016 ripe ramble fruits, inky pencil shavings, violets, mintiness, spice and savouriness. Excellent underpinnings. Fresh and balanced with perfectly ripe, firm-fine tannins.

Will age.

Very Good.

Match with roasts.

Purchased in Auchan Calais for a few Euros.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Co-op Irresistible Explorers Sauvignon Blanc

A good value kiwi Sauvignon from The Co-op

Are we at peak kiwi Sauvignon? It feels like we might be; zippy, aromatic Marlborough Sauvignon has been synonymous with "a glass of white" for many people for decades now. It has gone from upstart, to establishment to middle of the road; so in, it's out.

What you make of all this depends rather on how you view life - hipster early adopters are all into funky (in every sense) natural wines now while the late majority can continue to enjoy something more mainstream.

Set aside personal characteristics for a moment and we can address the central question of whether this is a good wine or not. Here the answer is easy - it is good and good value; a well-made, typical, easily available kiwi Sauvignon with a cool-climate restraint and European food-friendliness.

If you need any further proof, the winemaker behind it is Saint Clair Family Estate, a regular medal winner.

Co-op Irresistible Explorers Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£7.50, The Co-op) aromatic and fresh with some cool climate steeliness; zippy lime, white stone fruit, white pepper, honeysuckle, cut grass and saline minerality with good underpinnings. Well-made.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif or match with goat's cheese or white fish dishes, such as cod with a herb broth.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Everyday Bordeaux - Two Reds

Two Everyday Bordeaux reds from Waitrose and Lea & Sandeman

Bordeaux is primarily about place, secondarily about time. Other considerations, such as grape variety or winemaker, are deemed trivialities and demoted to the back label; you buy a Pauillac 2015 or a Saint-Émilion 2010.

Here, the grape is merely an expression of the soil and ripening conditions of the year, the winemaker's role more technical director than visionary.

They say in a good year you buy the second wine and in a bad year the first wine; that is exactly what we have here - in a sense; a lesser appellation from a better year vs a better appellation from a weaker vintage.

As to which is better, the market and / or accolades can often tell you what you need to know; the Medoc is a Cru Bourgeois priced at almost double that of the Blaye.

If, like Richard Bampfield MW, you drink pretty much exclusively reds, the juicy, Merlot-dominated Blaye could be your aperitif / starter wine, with the textured, Cab-dominated Medoc  accompanying main and cheese.

Château Les Martins 2014, Côtes de Bordeaux, Blaye (£9.49, Waitrose) fresh with bramble and cherry fruit, liquorice, spice, pencil shavings and fine, gentle tannins.

Adept and will age further.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

We matched this with toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic and tomato topped with basil, tomatoes and olive oil.

Château Poitevin 2012, Médoc Cru Bourgeois (£17.95, Lea and Sandeman) minty-herbaceous with dark bramble fruit, leather and complex oaky spice; fresh and inky with a dense muscular core. Supple with firm, fine tannins.

Still very youthful and primary; will repay cellaring.

Good.

We matched this with aged, Aberdeen Angus rib steak (rare, of course).

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Belgian Beer-Off

Three Belgian beers

The Belgians seem to combine a Gallic love of gastronomy and religion with a Germanic affinity for beer and  Byzantine complexity.

Too northerly a climate for wine, Belgium produces a vast array of beers, often made in abbeys by  Trappist monks, of different styles, colours, alcohol levels and sweetness each with its own, impenetrable code of dubbel, trippel and quadrupel (see guide here) and often their own bespoke glasses.

Belgians also seem to share a Teutonic love of eating and drinking out as a competitive sport; it is hard to pin this down precisely but for Italians eating and drinking well is part of a general lifestyle statement; for the French, it is an innate raison d'etre while for Germans, and quasi-Germans, it is a status symbol and public announcement of general success in life.

Returning from a family holiday in Bruges last year, we decided to being back some of the local stuff.

Brugse Zot from local brewery De Halve Maan, rich, malty and complex golden ale.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Westmalle Tripel bigger, stronger, sweeter and more bitter. Citrussy and floral, too. More of everything.

Good.

Trappistes Rochefort 8 sweetish dark ale, complex with fruitcake, bitter, roasted nuts and spices Good.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Paul Schneider Pinot Noir 2017

An Alsatian Pinot Noir

I've said it before, I'm a bit "meh" about Pinot. I actually want to like it but sitting next to an MW at a Burgundy tasting, I struggled to find it anything other than ... well, thoroughly pleasant.

So decent, inexpensive Pinot is probably best for me. Anything better is wasted on my non-Pinotphile pallet.

Does good inexpensive Pinot exist, you may ask.

Indeed it does; if you happen to be in Alsace on holiday and able to pick up a bottle of the local stuff from the cellar door.

Domaine Paul Schneider is based in the ridiculously pretty (even by Alsace standards) village of Eguisheim at the southern end of the Vosges where the hills are higher and the climate correspondingly drier and milder.
This Gold Medal Pinot is indistinguishable from a light Burgundy that would have cost quite a bit more - to my palate at least.

Paul Schneider Pinot Noir 2017 farmyardy with juicy red and black cherry fruit, spice and leesiness; elegant with fine tannins; savoury, fresh and supple

Good.

Drink as an aperitif if you have some Big Reds to follow or match with picnic foods, salmon or other game.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Studio by Miraval; Rosé from The Co-op

Another Provence celebrity rosé, from The Co-op, made by Perrin

Ad Man David Ogilvy once observed, people don't know how they feel, don't say what they think and don't do what they say.

This was not pejorative; merely an (accurate) observation of what it is to be human.

When we buy a bottle of wine, we are purchasing an experience and making a statement about ourselves as much as we are actually acquiring liquid in a bottle.

To wine purists (and many educators) who are product-focused, this view is heresy; it's all about what is in the glass.

Back in the real world, think about what car you drive and what clothes you wear - these send a subtle, but powerful series of signals about the sort of person you want to project yourself as.

Behavioural scientists such as Rory Sutherland call it "the peacock's tail"; it serves no evolutionary purpose other than as a method of showing off, of projection of the self.
And so it is with this beautiful bottle of Provence rosé from celebrity ex-couple Brangelina; it looks gorgeous and will send just the right signals if you want a sophisticated and reliable rosé to impress guests.

Equally, it tastes thoroughly pleasant too, so the liquid backs up the promise of the packaging.

It probably costs a pound or too more than an ordinarily-packaged bottle of Provence rosé of equivalent quality, but on the flip side, it also looks more expensive than it costs.

So, quality, presentation, value - pick any two.

Studio by Miraval (£12, exclusive to The Co-op) very pale, slightly toasty; soft red-berry fruits, garrigue herbs, white pepper and saline minerality; elegant and pure.

Thoroughly pleasant.

A pleasant sipper, match with picnic food.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Wine in Context - How To Win Without Pitching

On the role of context in wine tasting and scoring

Training as an accountant several decades ago, I learnt that debits are debits and credits are credits; there's no discussion or debate, them's the rules.

The higher-level elements of business strategy call for more imagination, creativity and flair, but historic bookkeeping has to be built on solid foundations in order to bear the weight of assumptions about the future.

The same applies to advertising, the sector I worked in for many years until recently - there are provable, testable scientific bases to the way people react to advertising and to what works and what does not.

I have always, therefore, tended to feel that any discipline that seeks to be taken seriously, such wine-scoring, should equally be based on solid principles; in my world, scoring a wine (should you choose to score it) needs to be based on an objective assessment of its qualities, not merely a subjective opinion.

Yes, there may be bottle variation, wine evolution over time, and sometimes just the emotions of the moment (according to Robert Parker), yet I fundamentally believed that wine scoring, when done properly, is objective.

Then two things happened.


The trouble was - he points out - it was the same wine.

Second, I took along a Chianti and Canadian Riesling to a tasting with friends and found that the Chianti (which I had previously tasted and rated well) became an unassuming wallflower and faded into the background when lined up against better, older or just more interesting wines.

Then, even more unexpectedly, the Riesling, which I had marked down as an aperitif / starter wine, showed brilliantly when tasted out-of-order as an end-of-tasting palate refresher.

As a side-note, I think the Riesling had the advantage of being big enough to cope with coming after the reds; a fresh, lean, mineral Pays d'Oc Chardonnay (think entry-level aperitif-style Chablis) hit a bum note when introduced in the middle of the tasting.

By an appropriate coincidence, the Riesling had been a gift from one of the best business speakers and advisors I know, Blair Enns.
One of Blair's speaking topics is how to Win Without Pitching; in simple terms, the more you do something unique that no-one else quite does, the more business customers will actively seek you out, rather than you having to go out and pitch for it.

Conversely, if you just do everything the same as everyone else to about the same level of competence, you will find it hard to stand out in the scrum.

So, my Dievole Chianti Classico 2015 (which I had previously rated as Good) did not stand up to a comparison with its peer group, whereas the Orofino Riesling 2014 shone when tasted against some very different wines.

For those interested in tasting notes (if not scores):

Orofino Riesling, 2014, Similkameen Valley, Canada classic Riesling dieselly-limey nose; expressive, rich, vibrant and supple with crystalline lemon-lime and pear flavours; mineral finish.

Dievole Chianti Classico 2015 (my original tasting note) very fresh, cherry fruited and floral with spice; structured, mineral and concentrated with fine tannins and a firm, muscular core. Fine and precise.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Paul Mas Chardonnay-Viognier 2017 Pays d'Oc

A Languedoc white blend from Paul Mas

At their best, Languedoc wines combine the arty iconoclasm of punk with the good-breeding of minor royalty.

Chardonnay and Viognier are two of the most aristocratic of grapes, adept, assured and complex, here with a balance of southern warmth and elegant restraint.

Paul Mas Chardonnay- Viognier 2017 Pays d'Oc
ripe orchard and yellow stone fruits, melon and zippy lime with well-integrated oaky spice and leesy minerality. Fresh, supple and harmonious.

Good.

A versatile food wine, match with mixed starters, poultry, meaty white fish or a cheese plate.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Saint Martin Des Champs, Cuvee L'Hermitage Du Domaine 2016

A Bordeaux blend from Saint Martin des Champs in Pays d'Oc

So, what we have here is:

- a Bordeaux (mostly Cab) blend
-  from Pays d'Oc, south of Bordeaux
- with a very restrained 12.5% alcohol
- that spends 12 months in barrique and a further year-plus in bottle

The lower alcohol level suggests a cooler climate somehow than Bordeaux; maybe altitude or sea breezes.

Either way, the end result is a very structured and well-defined wine with a dense core that takes a while to open up.

You should definitely give this a couple of hours in the decanter; it will repay some cellaring if you can wait.

Saint Martin Des Champs, Cuvee L'Hermitage Du Domaine 2016 dark berry fruit, firm fine tannins, freshness and a savoury minerality. Good underpinnings. Will improve with age.

Good.

Match with plain roast red meat, especially darker game; also, mature hard cheeses.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Domaine Matray Saint-Amour 2016

A Cru Beaujolais from Alpine Wines

At almost £17, this is towards the upper end of prices for Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics you would expect of a Beaujolais but is more detailed and nuanced.

If you like Beaujolais and want to know what a superior version offers, this will show you.

Domaine Matray Saint-Amour 2016 (£16.60, Alpine Wines) juicy red, black and sour cherry fruit with florality and spices. Fresh, substantial, supple and complex.

Good.

Match with antipasti or plain roast chicken.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Bordeaux For Chinese New Year

Two Bordeaux wines for celebrating Chinese New Year - from Ocado and The Wine Society

China loves Bordeaux; it is the top export market for Bordeaux's wines - and growing.

And it's not all about prized First Growths to be given as gifts and consumed far too young mixed with fizzy drinks.

Bordeaux is a  versatile region with white, rosé, sweet and fizz to be found, at more affordable prices than the overpriced Crus Classés; these wines are also a better match for Chinese food.

So, step forward a Crémant de Bordeaux fizz to kick off your celebrations and a substantial pink to match with Spicy Sichuan Prawns.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut 2015 (£9.50, Ocado) Sémillon-Cabernet Franc blend, made by the traditional Champagne method. Fresh, citrussy and yeasty; orchard fruits, autolysis and linear minerality. Fine mousse and a persistent finish.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as an aperitif; will cut through rich starters such as mixed antipasti, bread and olive oil, asparagus and mayonnaise.

Château Bel Air Perponcher Reserve Rosé 2017 (£9.50, The Wine Society Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc blend. Delicious strawberry and redcurrant fruit, some toastiness and weighty, substantial underpinnings. Harmonious, balanced and adept.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Great for summer sipping, match with picnic food, prawns or salmon.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Clos du Gaimont Vouvray Demi Sec 2015

A Loire Chenin from Virgin Wines

If you have not experienced the delights of an off-dry Loire Chenin, you don't know what you are missing.

Nowhere else makes wines quite like this and nowhere showcase Chenin's aromas and flavours to the same extent with dry, fizz and sweet wines, so don't try to think of Vouvray in terms of more familiar styles.

If you want only the familiar, have another kiwi Sauvignon; if you are open to something new, interesting and delicious, well here you are.

Clos du Gaimont Vouvray Demi Sec 2015 (£12.99) ripe yellow stone fruits, dried fruits honeysuckle and complexity; rich and off-dry yet fresh and mineral. Very accomplished. Will age.

Good.

Match with seafood starters, such as scallops, salmon in a creamy sauce or pork with apple sauce.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Jacob's Creek - The Co-op

Australia's Jacob's Creek at The Co-op

I was a long-haired student when I first heard of Jacob's Creek. In those days, the Student Union's subsidised northern ale was my alcoholic staple; I was incredulous at the idea that Australia could make drinkable wine. With a francophile father who rarely holidayed outside Europe, I had grown up innately suspicious of anything that came from the New World.

Even the name, Jacobs Creek, struck me as ugly and iconoclastic - as if the wine had somehow been dredged up from the bottom of a foetid outback gully. No, if it didn't come from France, or perhaps Italy, I wasn't interested.

And anyway you can't neck glasses of wine whilst moshing in a sweaty nightclub playing wall-to-wall grunge.

Fast forward more time than I care to acknowledge and I now rather like Australian wine; I think we've both probably changed quite a bit.

Jacobs Creek is still an iconoclastic name, in-yer-face and resolutely New World, even if the logos have become more sophisticated.

Some will argue that Jacobs Creek is Big-Brand Wine and therefore A Bad Thing, mass-produced plonk for the hoi polloi. I have the advantage of approaching it for the first time.

Yes, really. I have never tried Jacob's Creek before (I know).

Chardonnay (£7.85, the Co-op) toasty, oaky, spicy tropical-fruited Chardie; melon, pineapple, citrus and zippy lime. Fresh, substantial and supple. Deft and harmonious, sunshine in a glass.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with chicken liver pâté, roast pork belly or coconut curry.

Shiraz (£7.85, the Co-op) ripe black fruits, cassis and blackcurrant pastilles, pencil shavings and spice. Very fresh with soft, gentle tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

More a white wine coloured red, match with prawn starters, antipasti or pasta with tomato sauce.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Chateau de Belleverne Saint-Amour

A romantically-named Beaujolais Cru from Rannochscott Wines

Nothing says "I love you" like a bunch of drooping carnations smelling of petrol forecourt.

However, if you really want to impress on Valentine's day, a bottle of romantically-named wine with some appropriate food, might do the trick.

Saint-Amour is the northernmost of the Beaujolais Crus, one of ten sub-regions producing wines with a more specific, regional character. At their best, its wines are bold, with aromas of kirsch and spice, and will improve with up to four or five years of ageing.

Chateau de Belleverne Saint-Amour, Le Cru de Amoureux 2014 (Rannochscott Wines £9.49) juicy black cherry and kirsch fruit, florality and spice; elegant with fine tannins and peppery spice.

Good.

A versatile food wine, match with herby chicken, tuna or a simple plate of salamis, yellow cheeses, bread and oil.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Senti Prosecco Extra Dry - Virgin Wines

An elegant, inexpensive fizz from Virgin Wines

Whether you are celebrating the end of dry January, a romantic Valentine's dinner or just it being the end of the week, Prosecco can be a great, affordable fizz.

This Virgin Wines Senti Extra Dry is elegant and refined, with three awards including best fizz of 2018 and 2019.

Senti Prosecco Extra Dry (£10.99) apple-and-pear fruits with sherbetty citrus and fine, mineral backbone; fresh, elegant and refined.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif, or match with light dishes, such as mozzarella with rocket and tomatoes or soused mackerel.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Chateau Senejac 2015

A youthful and substantial left-bank Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux from The Co-op

Vintage and terroir matter in Bordeaux; 2015 was a good year and Haut-Medoc produces some lovely wines at affordable prices.

Cru Bourgeois are, quite literally, the middle class of Bordeaux wines from the Medoc - better than the basics, but neither as grand, nor as pricey, as the very top flight.

Château Sénéjac Cru Bourgeois 75cl (£17, The Co-op) ripe bramble fruit, inky pencil shavings, cool mint, minerality and fine tannins. Fresh, savoury and substantial. Very adept.

Good.

Still very youthful and will benefit from aeration or repay cellaring.

Match with plain roast red meats.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Beaujolais 2017 - Morrisons

A well-made and inexpensive Beaujolais from Morrisons

Beaujolais is a juicy, gluggable wine made from Gamay in the very south of Burgundy; the region's proximity to Switzerland has traditionally kept prices for entry-level wines in high single figures. By contrast, at the top end, its simple pleasure-giving style keeps prices rarely much above £20.

All but the very best Beaujolais should be drunk within a year or two of the vintage, so now is a good time to be drinking 2017s.

Beaujolais 2017 (£5, Morrisons) juicy dark cherry fruit, spice, florality and freshness with fine, soft tannins.

Good and Good Value.

Drink chilled as an aperitif or match with light starters, such as mozzarella with rocket and tomatoes.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Belvoir's Range of Presses

Belvoir's range of Pressés

If you are having a dry January, want to try something different or plan to get into cocktails, then Belvoir Fruit Farms has a range of real fruit Cordials and lightly sparkling Pressés made from fresh ingredients and natural fruit juices blended with flowers, fruits and spices.

Flavours include classic Elderflower, a bracing Ginger Beer, bittersweet Pink Grapefruit Pressé and complex Rhubarb & Apple Pressé.

More intriguing varieties include Cucumber & Mint Pressé that will have you reaching for the poppadums and a Botanical Juniper & Tonic.

They are, without exception, sophisticated, well-made and reasonably priced for the quality.

For the full range and mocktail recipes, visit www.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk

Widely available, the cordials retail for around £3.50 and the 75cl bottles of Pressé for around £3.10.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

RAW - Really Awesome Wine

A light and aromatic Spanish organic wine for Veganuary from the Co-op

If you are a vegan or committed to an organic lifestyle, these things matter. For the rest of us, what we eat or drink needs to be inherently of good quality and its organic / vegan status is at best a nice to have.

This RAW - Really Awesome Wine is a light, fresh, aromatic, zippy and very drinkable Spanish white blend.

RAW or Really Awesome Wine (8-, The Co-op) Airen, Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc blend; aromatic, floral and peppery with vibrant lemon-lime citrussy zip, gooseberries and freshly-cut grass. Fresh and mineral; light and easy drinking with no rough edges.

Good and Good Value.

Drink as an aperitif or with the lightest of starters - oysters or goat's cheese.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2016

A superior Petit Chablis from Louis Moreau via Waitrose


Petit Chablis is a "junior Chablis", an easy drinker with the character of Chablis in a lighter, simpler form.

This Petit Chablis punches above its weight in terms of complexity and fullness.

Louis Moreau Petit Chablis (£13, Waitrose, Virgin Wines) ripe orchard fruit, honeysuckle and beeswax - rich, full and mineral.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif or with light starters, such as griddled vegetables.