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Friday, 20 September 2019

Robert Oatley Signature Series G-18 McLaren Vale Grenache

A genre-defying juicy Grenache from Australia's Robert Oatley

Grenache is a warm-climate grape typically producing high-alcohol wines; think Big Southern Rhônes or chunky Spanish reds.

This G-18 from Australia's Robert Oatley, however, is something rather different; more Beaujolais than Barossa, it is cool-fermented with no oak for a light and juicy wine.

It scores highly for elegance and finesse, a late-summery red that can be slightly chilled.

If you need an Old World reference point beyond Beaujolais, think of pale, fruited Pinots from Alsace and the lighter reds of the Loire, Switzerland or Germany.

Robert Oatley Signature Series G-18 McLaren Vale Grenache (£13.95, The Old Bridge, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants) red plums, raspberries, spice, raspberry leaf and dried green herbs; supple texture with low tannins and a juicy freshness. Elegant and easy-drinking.


Drink chilled as an aperitif; match with a plate of shellfish or rare tuna steak.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

My Four (plus) Wine Cellar

My fantasy 4-wine cellar - with a few additions

As a regular wine reviewer, I don't actually have many wines stashed away under the stairs; most wines need to be tasted, assessed and written up fairly quickly. There might be the remnants of a summer holiday's haul from a driving holiday in France and Spain plus a few special bottles that will really benefit from being laid down for a while, but not a cellar of any significance.

However, when Fiona Beckett pulled together a four-wine cellar recommendation of everyday staples, as a bit of twitter banter I suggested that four wines is not even a moderately expansive meal.

That's not four bottles per head, by the way, just four different wines served in appropriate measures; for tasting event, the rule of thumb is 15 - 20 servings per bottle and 8 - 12 wines, giving around 2/3rds of a bottle per person, which is not excessive by most people's standards. I make no comment on those who think that is actually rather mean.

So, assuming we have friends coming round for dinner, what would be the four (and more) wines I would need in my cellar?

Here is a very personal, stylistic guide to how I would do it and, since an editor once told me "I think people like recommendations", I've linked to some suggested wines - just click through to anything that looks interesting.

On Arrival

It pretty much has to be fizz on arrival - nothing else quite makes the same welcoming, joyous statement and peps up palates whilst your various guests arrive.

For fizz, you need a good reason not to serve Champagne; so it is either that (to show you know what you are doing) or an appropriate alternative (to show you've put some thought into it).

Other French fizz includes Crémants from Loire, Bourgogne and Jura. There's also English fizz, and elegant, chalky Franciacorta from Italy. Really good Prosecco and Cava are harder to find, but possible.


For an aperitif with an amuse-bouche, I would serve fino or manzanilla sherry with roasted almonds, olives and bread dipped in olive oil.

If you want to stay in Spain but head north, there's crisp, tangy Txakoli with pintxos or stay with France and go for a Petit Chablis with a oysters or other light seafood.

With Starters

Starters need something a little fuller than the aperitif wine, but not too big, so think midweight white with plenty of acidity to match fish, soft cheese, creamy pasta or lighter game. A gently-oaked white, such as Chardonnay, a mature Chablis Grand Cru or aged Mosel Riesling would be perfect here. For something more off-the-beaten track, Austrian Gruener is one of my favourites.

This would also be a good point to bring in a midweight rosé  - either old world or new - if you are having seafood, such as a plate of langoustines, smoked salmon or gravadlax.

With Mains

The main is where, I believe, you should pull all the stops out - for the wine. This means keeping the food simple and some sort of darker game with a sauce is my go-to main. Venison or game stew is easy to serve; mature Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo / Nebbiolo are absolute classic matches.

Cheese course

Every meal needs a cheese course in my opinion and as few as three good-quality cheeses is fine. Cheese and wine matching is a whole topic in itself, but mature hard yellow cheese (Cheddar, Ossau Iraty, Manchego) and a good value Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux works fine.

If you want to make the cheese course a bridge between main and dessert, serve a blue cheese with a sweet wine (Roquefort and Sauternes is another classic here).


My favourite dessert wine is Barsac, but Sauternes (of which Barsac is a sub-region) comes a close second.

With a wine this nuanced and complex, you don't want to overwhelm it, so keep the food classic with crème brûlée or panna cotta.


Vintage port or a sweet Madeira is almost a dessert in itself; when in season, both work well with mince pies and Christmas pudding.


Finally, a sip of something to round the evening off - a good 12yo single malt.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Chateau de Champteloup Crémant de Loire Tete de Cuvee Brut, Loire, France

A classy, inexpensive fizz from northern France

On holiday in France at our final evening's dinner, #1 child decided she "quite liked" Crémant de Loire, so we bought a few bottles the next day on our final shopping trip.

Standard procedures applied: medal-winner for around €5 from the supermarket (in this case, Intermarché).

Crémant is basically just another word for fizz and uses the Champagne-method of secondary fermentation; aging is a minimum of 12 months in bottle and, for Crémant de Loire, permitted grapes are a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc.

There is little information on the back label of this wine; the winery is based in Anjou and alcohol is 12%, plus it has a Gold medal from Paris,

Chateau de Champteloup Crémant de Loire Tete de Cuvee Brut, Loire (around €5, Intermarché) brioche, autolysis, citrus, orchard fruits and minerality with taught, linear acidity; fine mousse and very textured; with time a more honeyed florality and a leesy assertiveness develops, the texture becoming more creamy. Pure, precise and elegant.

Will improve with age.

Good and Good value.

Drink as an aperitif or match with white fish, goat's cheese or lighter game.

Tom Cannavan is also a fan and it is (was) apparently available at Iceland: wine pages review.

Monday, 16 September 2019

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017

A late-summer rosé from Chile's De Martino via Virgin Wines

Late summer is when the days are still warm but the sun is lower in the sky and there is more of a chill in the air at each end of the day. Back from our holidays, we want something that reminds us of sunnier climes but that also works in a northern climate.

This Chilean rosé from one of the country's most progressive winemakers does exactly what we need - it's zesty like a summer white but also full and substantial.

A versatile rosé, it will complement a picnic, or even a barbecue, but still has a summery freshness to it.

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017, Itata, Chile (£12.99, Virgin Wines) delicate red-berry fruit with florality and green herbs; fresh, citrussy and zesty with a touch of quinine bitterness. Full, supple and adept.


Drink as an aperitif; match with smoked salmon, a plate of prawns or picnic foods.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Wines of the Gard at Thirsty

A tasting of Gard wines with Thirsty Cambridge

Sam Owens' vision for his Thirsty wine bars in Cambridge is that they should do more than just sell bottles of wine; they should be part of a European-style scene where you come for the local produce - artisan bread, cheese and coffee as well as a glass of wine - and stay for the atmosphere.

Go to more or less any French town and this is a way of life; you can make up an inexpensive "market picnic" from local produce. It is only a couple of weeks since I introduced the family to the joys of oysters and white wine at on the banks of the Charente. For just a few euros, we had six oysters, served on ice, with a wedge of lemon and unlimited fresh bread.

This sort of thing is rather harder to do in Britain, however, where regional artisan food is virtually non-existent and the combination of high shop rents and a northern, protestant work ethic discourages lingering in cafes.

However, none of that is stopping Sam from pressing ahead with plans to create a food-and-drink culture scene in Cambridge, of which more in due course.

Just back from a holiday in the Gard in southern France, Sam had brought some local wines to try out with a view to stocking them if they proved popular enough..

Gard is not an especially well-known region - just west of the Rhône but technically in Occitanie, it includes the appellation of Costières de Nîmes, but little else of any fame. This makes it a place of innovation and experimentation, with cheap land, plentiful sunshine and no heritage to maintain or be constrained by.

Most of these wines were labelled as vin de France as they are somewhat iconoclastic in style and do not conform to any regional archetypes.

I tasted through all of them with Sam and the style will be familiar to anyone who knows his palate - vibrant, fresh and drinkable with low tannins and low alcohol, a world apart from the standard Rhône characteristics of dark-berry fruit, spice, supple tannins and plenty of ripeness.

Mostly southern GSM-blends, there were also a couple of curveballs; a Sangiovese and a very funky-nosed Cinsault. However, the doozy of the pack was Partouze; made from 13 grape varieties, it is cloudy reddish-pink, chilled and tastes somewhere between fermenting grape must, cider and a hoppy ale. All of this in a good way.
Topping and tailing the tasting were perhaps my two favourite wines of the evening; Gard du Nord, a vibrant, juicy and compelling Grenache with lots of flavour yet just 12% alcohol and Mont de Marie, a more conventional Rhône-esque red with dark fruit and a supple texture.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Mountain View Marlborough Rosé 2018

An elegant blended pink from New Zealand - via Virgin Wines

Not to be confused with a sweet fizzy citrus beverage, Mountain View is a Marlborough rosé.

Yes, the place synonymous with zesty Sauvignon has vinified a red grape (Pinot Noir) and then turned it into a rosé with a touch of the Italian white grape Arneis in the blend.

It's a lovely wine, but I am genuinely curious as to why they have made it instead of, say, making a red Pinot Noir and an Arneis separately.

For starters, the two grapes are not natural bedfellows; drinks consultant Douglas Blyde describes blending them as a thrillingly masochistic challenge of unification of two little rascals.

Then, the price for red Burgundy provides a higher benchmark than the price for a pink, so they must be losing out there.

It could be that the grapes struggle to ripen, suggests Kevin Powell, and so a pink works better than a red. But why not just plant grapes that can ripen?

Or maybe it's just a punt on something different to see if it will fly (NZ is around 75% SB, so it has to start trying out new grapes and styles before fashions change).

The most convincing suggestion came from Languedoc winemaker Jonathan Hesford and pink wine expert Elizabeth Gabay MW - the juice for this wine is bled off early in the process to make a rosé  and the remainder turned into a deeper, more concentrated Pinot (think skimmed milk and cream).

Jonathan adds "the winery may have a particular financial reason for putting out an earlier release wine that frees up tank space and brings in money much quickly than a more expensive, barrel-aged red Pinot noir. Not all wineries have limitless pockets or space to make their best Burgundy-lookalikes."

Mountain View Marlborough Rosé 2018 (£11.99, Virgin Wines) aromatic, floral and spicy nose, soft red fruits, aromatic herbs and a saline minerality. Textured and structured; clean, pure and crystalline-fresh with more spice and florality on the finish.


Drink as an aperitif or match with picnic foods such as cold cuts, quiche or goat's cheese tart.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Two Wines from Portugal

Two elegant, stylish and good value wines from Portugal - Manz and Quinta da Romaneira 

Portugal does not so much have a quality problem as an image problem; when I think of Portuguese wine, I'm not really sure what it stands for.

There's port - of course - in all its wonderful guises. And Vinho Verde, the light, fresh, Atlantic wine.

But with numerous regions, climates and terroirs, hundreds of native grape varieties and a history of somewhat rustic methods, it's hard to fix on something and say "That is typical Portugal!" in the way you think of kiwi Sauvignon, Aussia Shiraz or Argentinean Malbec.

Every time I taste Portuguese table wines, I generally find them to be well-made, elegant and balanced. But I am still searching for that one, single, defining thing that makes them typically Portuguese.

These two wines prove to be typically modern Portuguese - made from native grapes with a clean, pure elegance.

They are also great value for the price; the flipside of Portugal's lack of a strong identity is that the good wines do not command the same premiums as better-known wine regions. As a reference point for the Jampal, think of a white Burgundy; the red blend has the structure and sophistication of a Bordeaux.

Manz Dona Fátima Jampal 2017 (£16.50, Oddbins) made from the rare, revived grape Jampal; floral with ripe exotic fruits, citrus, saline minerality and buttery, oatmealy, nutty spice. Fresh, pure and very adept with a Burgundian elegance.

Very Good and good value.

A versatile wine, match with fish, vegetables dishes, creamy pasta or white meats.

Sino da Romaneira (£15.95, Lea & Sandman) a table wine made from a blend of port grapes by Christian Seely; dark, plummy fruit, garrigue herbs, fresh with a mineral backbone and fine tannins. Very elegant.

Very Good and good value.

Match with red meat, especially darker game.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Ninety Six Pinot Grigio - Virgin Wines

A Hungarian Pinot Grigio from Virgin Wines

Ninety Six Tears - Question Mark & The Mysterians

Pinot Grigio is the same wine as Pinot Gris - the Italian form of the name here is no more than a stylistic indicator. You can reasonably expect a Pinot Grigio to be taught, citrussy-mineral and fairly neutral.

By contrast, a winemaker who puts Pinot Gris on the label is giving you a hint that it will probably be fuller, richer and more perfumed.

This Hungarian Pinot Grigio sits somewhere between the two; Hungary has a fairly warm climate resulting in more fruit ripeness, so although labelled Grigio, it's bigger and fuller.

You could call this a slightly confused Hungarian that does not know whether it wants to be French or Italian - but then a Hungarian friend of mine thought I was writing about her ...

Ninety Six Pinot Grigio (£8.99) ripe stone fruit and a waxy, honeyed florality that is just held in check by a saline-mineral acidity; shows the warmth of its climate.

Match with roast chicken or pork rillettes.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Rex Mundi Shiraz Grenache 2017, Laithwaites

A stewed, extracted Languedoc wine from Laithwaites

Another trip up to my parents', another bottle of heavy-handed Laithwaite's wine.

If the three stages of palate development can be summarised as: expressiveness, complexity, elegance, then Laithwaite's wines generally show well for expressiveness (often over-delivering in this area) with moderate amounts of complexity and very little elegance.

So, the question can be framed not so much as "Is this a good wine?" as "Do you have a Laithwaite's palate?".

Not to put too fine a point on it, if you are not bothered about elegance or complexity and want a wine that makes a BIG statement, then this is perfectly fine for you.

To my mind, it's heavy-handed, unsubtle and over-priced. Languedoc can do much better than this.

That said, Laithwaite's customers give it 4.4 out of 5 and 93% approve. Clearly, I don't have a Laithwaite's palate.

Rex Mundi Shiraz Grenache 2017 (£9.99, Laithwaites) stewed plums, porty eucalyptus, spice and alcohol; it just doesn't hold together. It promises everything, like a newly-formed Conservative government, then falls apart just as quickly.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Rigal Oltesse, Cahors, 2014

A Cahors wine with a bit of age to go with a dish of prawns

On holiday just outside Cahors, Mrs CWB asked to try a bottle of something local so I picked out a range of award-winners at the supermarket.

Back at Tour de Belfort, I realised that was seafood, so I picked out one of the older wines I'd bought and gave it some time in an impromptu decanter to soften up.

As it happens, it also has a lower alcohol content and some Merlot in the blend, so worked well for the classic Bond-villain combination of red wine and seafood.

Rigal Oltesse, Cahors, 2014 (€5, widely available in France) Malbec/Merlot blend; red fruits, cherries, dried green herbs, old leather and oaky spice. Supple and fresh with fine, firm slightly drying tannins. Warming on the finish, despite just 12% alcohol. Becomes more adept and harmonious with aeration.


Match ideally with darker game or cheeses; also shellfish

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Two Wines From South West France

Two local wines on a holiday in South West France

My rule of thumb for buying wines when on holiday in France is to go for something local for around €5 from the supermarket with some sort of award.

If time allows, tasting and buying directly from the producer is even better, but family holidays are holidays, not wine-tasting-and-buying trips.

Saint Mont is a region in South West France of transformed fortunes; formerly a vast brandy-producer, it is now a smaller, more focused wine area cultivating local, often forgotten grapes and dominated by the Plaimont co-op.

Fronton, just north of Toulouse, is an ancient vineyard area dating back to Roman times with a reputation for rustic wines made from a minimum 50% of local variety Negrette.

Duc de Meynan, 2017, Saint Mont (widely available in France, around €5) aromatic Gascon blend of local heroes, Gros Manseng, Petit Corbu and Arrufiac. Zesty lime, white flowers and citrussy tropical fruits with rich waxiness and a shake of white pepper; supple and full with sweet spices and minerality. Very adept, very pure and very well made.


Drink as an aperitif, a picnic wine or match with salmon en croute or tarragon chicken.

Château Clamens Cuvée Prestige Fronton Rouge, 2016 (widely available in France for €5, £10 at Gerrad Steel in UK) Negrette / Syrah blend from south west France. Black cherry, elderberry and blueberry fruit, dried green herbs, pencil shavings and fine, persistent tannins. Fresh, inky and harmonious.


Match with darker game, such as duck or venison.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Eugene's Unicorn Wine - Pink Fizz

Tasting a unicorn pink fizz with winery owner Eugene Lismonde of Tour de Belfort

I have written before (extensively) about Eugene Lismonde and his Tour de Belfort wines - in semi-retirement, he renovated a run-down chateau in his wife's village of Belfort de Quercy, then with a consultant winemaker assisting him, he planted a vineyard and built a winery to make the most elegant wine possible.

Cahors is traditionally a deep, heavy, tannic, slightly rustic wine; Eugene's wines are Cahors in name only - and his whites are not even sold as Cahors, but rather as Cotes de Lot because Cahors has no appellation for whites and Eugene refused to sell them as vins de table.

The winery is pristine and gravity-fed on three levels with bespoke fermenting vats that fill bottom-up to reduce air contact. In the vineyard at harvest time, Eugene monitors the separate pickers and basket carriers, keeps them all working at the same rate and in line and arranges for two rounds of sorting, prior to a final sorting in the winery. The vines are planted at greater than standard density to reduce yields and increase concentration.

There is no romance, no tradition, no "we've always done it this way" about Eugene's winemaking - just an absolute focus on quality, cleanliness and the highest possible quality of fruit. The sort of order, hygiene and innovation that you might expect from a Dutch businessman with a Swiss scientist running the place.

After 15 years, however, Eugene decided he was getting too old to manage the harvest and winemaking process himself, so arranged to sell his grapes to the local co-op; he mothballed the winery and sold off his barrels.

Ever the businessman, he refused permission for the wines to be sold under his brand name of Tour de Belfort unless the wines were made to his (rather exacting) standards.

Eugene is now considering his next move, possibly getting in someone to run the winery on his behalf, but one evening we set aside business issues to taste a few museum pieces wines from his extensive library (100 bottles of each wine from each year), which is carved out of the limestone hill on which the domaine stands.

With the sun setting over the causses (limestone plateaus) of Quercy, Eugene explained that in wine just as in life or business, there is no accounting for chance and the Syrah vines that he planted (along with Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc for reds) did not produce good enough wine; with poor tannic structure, it was just one of those "terroir" things. So he decided to turn it into a traditional method pink fizz.

He picks a week or so early, carries out the first vinification himself and sends off the resulting base wine off secondary fermentation and aging in the chalk cellars.

What comes back is an elegant pink sparkler, one of the best non-Pinot pink fizzes I can remember tasting.

Made from the Rhone grape in Cahors using the Champagne method, it is typically iconoclastic in approach - and typically elegant to taste.

Tour de Belfort Methode Traditionelle Brut Rosé (NV, N/A) vibrant, crunchy red-berry fruits with Syrah spice; citrussy freshness and minerality with a structured, muscular core; harmonious, deft and elegant; very pure and very precise.

Very Good.

Fresh enough for an aperitif, it also has the substance to stand up to canapes such as crostini, goat's cheese tart or quiche.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Bancroft At Virgin Wines

Bancroft at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

As well as their own wines, Virgin also sell a selection from Bancroft whom I've always found impressive.

Here are four that I got to try at Virgin's Cambridge tasting earlier this year. With the exception of the Garnacha, they are in a higher price bracket than one would normally associate with Virgin.

Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis 2016 (£22) pure and clean, rounded and supple with citrus and honey; lovely textbook Chablis. Good.

Hubert Lamy La Princee Saint-Aubin 2016 (£37) herbs, citrus and ripe lime marmalade; fresh, vibrant white Burgundy with excellent underpinnings. Will improve further with age. very Good.

Pablo Claro Garnacha 2017 (£10.99) organic, biodynamic Spanish red with a funky nose and ripe cherry fruit. Vibrant and pleasant in a slightly punky way.

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Malbec Verdot 2014 (£34.99) points-chasing, Argentinian red; something of a Parker-Points chaser. substantial with dark fruits, firm, ripe tannins and spice. Hefty yet deft. Technically very impressive; Very Good.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Roberto Sarotto Barbaresco DOCG Riserva 2013 - Virgin Wines

A compelling aged Italian red from Virgin Wines

Italy's Nebbiolo grape is the "ladyboy of wines", says Winebird Helena Nicklin; in north west Italy, Nebbiolo makes big, tough reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme.

Helena's self-styled vinalogy is based on Nebbiolo's delicate, perfumed nature that is reminiscent of Pinot Noir but with firm assertive tannins that need time to soften.

My analogy is a jangly indie kid with knuckle dusters in his cardigan pocket and this Barbaresco is just my kind of disaffected youth.

This part of Italy is a region of hills and forests with truffles that borders France; not coincidentally, it shares France's love of gamey foods with hedonistic ageworthy red wines.

Essentially Italy's answer to Burgundy, its wines, like Burgundy, generally command something of a price premium, so this one is also reasonable value for the quality and age.

Roberto Sarotto Barbaresco DOCG Riserva 2013 (£19.99) cherries, plums roses, tar, old leather and spice with fine, assertive tannins. Fresh, vibrant and precise; focused, pure and very compelling.

Still youthful even at over five years old, it is drinking nicely now but will continue to develop for years.


Match with darker game, such as venison or hard yellow cheeses.

To learn more about Helena's wine vinalogies, see her book: Winebird's Vinalogy: Wine Basics with a Twist!

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Rocksand Shiraz 2017 - Laithwaites

A Portuguese Shiraz from Laithwaites

I'm not quite sure what to make of this Shiraz from Laithwaites; my sister declared that she does not like Shiraz, so we opened a Bordeaux with her instead (that I rather liked) and had this one later on.

I'll admit, I was intrigued by the bottle shape; a sign of the winemaker's quirkiness and ambition.

The label aesthetic is New World evoking Australia, but look closer and the wine is actually Portuguese; Shiraz / Syrah does well in Portugal, even though the country has plenty of native grapes to explore.

For most of the bottle it was fresh and well-balanced; but then towards the end, a heaviness of started to become more apparent.

Rocksand Shiraz 2017, Vinho Regional Península de Setubal (£9.99, Laithwaites) ripe dark-berry fruit, spice and balanced freshness; supple with fine tannins. Generous extraction levels become more apparent over time.

Match with red meat.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Chateau Mayne Guyon 2015 - Laithwaites

A classy but expensive 2015 right bank Bordeaux from Laithwaites

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux is essentially a slightly better appellation than basic Bordeaux; based on the right bank, Merlot dominates here.

2015 was a very good year in Bordeaux, so this ticks all the boxes.

And it delivers on quality, too; however, the price is a little toppy - even for a right bank Bordeaux.

Chateau Mayne Guyon Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2015 (Laithwaites, £16.99) ripe dark berries, sour cherry and some oaky spice; supple and fresh; concentrated and harmonious with fine tannins.

Still youthful and will age further.

Good (but not great value).

Match with a Sunday roast.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Four Summer Pinks from Virgin

Four summer rosés from Virgin Wines

Rosé is perhaps unique in being the only wine style defined by its colour alone; if you want to learn more about rosé wine, there is Elizabeth Gabay's book "Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution".

If you just want to sip it (and why not?), here are four Virgin pinks wines made from different grapes and in different countries.

Domaine Michel Girard Sancerre Rosé 2018 (£13.99) Pinot Noir rosé from the Loire

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017 (£10.99) Chilean Cinsault from one of the country's more progressive producers

Mountain View Marlborough Rose 2018 (£11.99) Pinot Noir-meets-Arneis from New Zealand

Solpiantez Spumante Brut Rose Millesimato 2017 (£9.99) Garganega-and-Sangiovese Italian pink fizz

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Calvet Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc 2018

A Loire Sauvignon from Calvet via Waitrose

Loire Sauvignon tends to be more textured and complex than kiwi-style examples; this makes it a more versatile and food-friendly wine.

The Loire is perhaps France's most diverse wine region; Menetou-Salon is in the Centre-Val de Loire and consists of 10 villages.

Calvet Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£14.99, Waitrose) fresh and mineral with lemon and lime fruit; full, supple, complex and mineral. Elegant and linear, very adept and assured.


Match with goat's cheese tart or asparagus.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2018

A remarkable De Martino Chilean red from Virgin Wines

There is quite a back-story to the winery behind this Chilean red; you don't need to know it to enjoy the wine, but for those interested, the longer version of De Martino is here.

The TL:DR is this: Chilean winemaker gets the backing of the winery owner to put the bigger-is-better machine into reverse and starts making more elegant, subtle, European-style wines.

This Cinsault is made in old amphoras - giant clay pots or "Viejas tinajas" - and has a lovely, juicy-vibrant quality for easy drinking with plenty of freshness and low tannins.

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2018 (£14.99) toasty-smokey with juicy sour-cherry fruit and wild herbs; very fine tannins, Burgundian elegance and good underpinnings.


Serve slightly chilled as a summer aperitif or a picnic wine; match with beef carpaccio or salamis.

Doug Wregg's notes (quoted on Jancis Robinson's website): This wine rescues an old tradition deeply rooted in rural Chile: winemaking using large earthenware jars called tinajas. Once upon a time many farms used to make wine for their own consumption which they ferment and store in amphorae of various shapes and sizes.

The commercialisation of the Chilean wine industry has seen this tradition disappear, but a couple of years ago, the De Martino family decided to revive it and purchased as many clay pots as they could find including former ashtrays and holders of cactus plants!

This accords with De Martino's desire to row back from the throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it winemaking style towards a more natural, nuanced approach involving respect for terroir and vintage. De Martino have converted most of their vineyards to organic viticulture; they now use natural yeasts in the winemaking, and from 2011 eliminated all new oak from their winemaking practices – a huge departure for a relatively commercial Chilean winery.

Viejas Tinajas has been fermented and aged as naturally as possible in amphorae over 100 years old, without intervention and in search of a faithful reflection of its origin. An old, unirrigated vineyard in the heart of the Coastal Mountain Range in the Itata Valley gives life to this wine, some 400 kilometres to the south of Santiago and just 22 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean.

Consider this: Cinsault, old bush vines (35 hl/ha yields), on granitic soils, farmed with horses, whole berries, no punch down, gentle pressing. In the winter the malolactic is ready. The wine is not filtered or fined and there is no added sulphur. No pumps are used with the tinajas, only good old-fashioned sucking.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Calvet Muscadet White 2017

An inexpensive Calvet Loire from Sainsbury's

Muscadet is a classic white wine from the Loire - light, lemony and mineral, it is perfect for summer sipping or drinking with seafood.

Muscadet is the most widely-produced Loire wine and is made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, which are grown pretty much nowhere else and have nothing to do with Burgundy (Bourgogne). 

Calvet Muscadet White 2017  (£5.75, Sainsburys) lemony-mineral with melon fruit; supple, fresh and easy-drinking. Well-made with no rough edges.

Thoroughly pleasant and good value.

Drink as an aperitif, a picnic wine or match with very light starters.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Armit At Virgin Wines

Armit Wines at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

Virgin Wines don't just sell their own wines; they also have some tie-ups with other merchants, including the Armit whose wines I knew little about.

They had chosen to show just four wines, so I tried them all.
Chateau Dereszla Furmint Dry 2016 (£11.99) unusual dry Tokaji made from Furmint; orchard fruits and citrus. Clean and elegant. Think Chablis or Viognier.

Domaine Auvigue Pouilly Fuisse Solutre 2017 (£24) ripe, oatmealy and nutty. Harmonious and adept. Very Good.

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2015 (£16.99) supple, harmonious and long with blackberry fruit, spice and ripasso richness; vibrant and fresh. Good.

Musella Amarone Riserva 2011 (£45) dark-cherry fruit, tannic and porty; still not fully settled and will benefit from extensive aging. Rich, big and alcoholic. Good.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Les Jamelles Pinot Gris 2018

A Languedoc Pinot Gris from Les Jamelles at Majestic

Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. Its spiritual home is Alsace, but this one is from Languedoc.

The difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio is not in the grape variety, but in the winemaking approach; Pinot Gris on the label suggests a fuller, riper, later-harvested style that will match with rich Alsatian food such as pork, tarte flambée or cervelas à l'alsacienne.

Les Jamelles Pinot Gris 2018 (£11.99 and £8.99 mix six, Majestic) ripe-yet-fresh with orchard fruits, citrus and grapefruit and white pepper; supple with good underpinnings, minerality and no rough edges..


Match with grilled meaty white fish, such as sea bream.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Chateau Musar At Virgin Wines

Lebanon's Chateau Musar at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

Lebanon's Chateau Musar is something of an iconic winery; growing Bordeaux grapes in Asia on the Eastern Mediterranean, it has seen its vineyards at times become battle lines in the country's civil war.

Lebanese wine has not really become A Thing and although there are other local wineries; Musar remains a benchmark.

Chateau Musar Jeune White 2016 (£13.99) nutty with fennel aromas, neutral and citrussy-fresh with excellent underpinnings. Good.

Chateau Musar Jeune Red 2016 (£13.99) fresh, vibrant and baked with classic Musar dried red fruits. Good.

Chateau Musar Organic 2011 (£27.99) sweet vanilla, ripe fruits and gamey leatheriness with a dense core; warming, supple and harmonious. Very Good.

Chateau Musar 2004 (£27.99) still very primary and youthful; does not show its age next to the 2011; apparently this is one of the strongest vintages, so you can buy this and allow it to lie for a long time. Very Good+.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Familia Zuccardi Chardonnay Q 2017 - Virgin Wines

A fresh and gently-oaked New World Chardie from Virgin

Chardonnay is perhaps the most versatile of all grapes - from steely cool-climates to warm, with oak and without, sparkling and still, it covers all the mainstream styles eschewing only sticky and fortified versions.

Chardonnay is the great grape of Champagne, white Burgundy and more latterly ripe-oaky New World styles.

After becoming everyone's go-to white in the 1990s, New World Chardonnays got ever bigger, riper and oakier in a sort of more-is-better cycle.

These days, a good New World Chardonnay is often a more restrained, more nuanced affair, with good fruit expression and subtle oaking. Outside of France, Chardonnay is perhaps most associated with Australia and California, but pretty much everywhere you've heard of makes some.

This Familia Zuccardi Chardonnay is, as the name suggests, from a family-run winery and is modern, classic New World style; clean, pure and deft; Burgundian yet better value than an equivalent Burgundy.

Familia Zuccardi Chardonnay Q 2017 (£15.99) citrus, melon and orchard fruits with zippy lime zest and deft oaking. Fresh and substantial. Pure, precise and mineral with excellent underpinnings.


A versatile wine, drink as an aperitif or match with white fish or white meats

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Abbotts & Delaunay Viogner 2018

 A Northern Rhône grape in Languedoc - Abbotts & Delaunay

Native to the northern Rhône, Viognier is not an easy grape to grow; I've never quite seen the appeal of its gently floral and peachy disposition. To me, it's always been a bit too girl-next-door-with -expensive-habits.

Transported to Languedoc by Badet Clement, this Viognier is deft, harmonious and reasonably priced. Try it if:

- you like Condrieu but are on a budget
- you like warm-climate Chardonnay or Pinot Gris and want something in a similar style
- you are open-minded enough to be interested generally

Abbotts & Delaunay Viogner 2018 (£10, Majestic) floral with peachy-apricotty fruit and sweet spice; waxy, full and supple; elegant and deft.

Good and good value at £8 for multi-buys.

Match with lighter starters including white fish or asparagus in butter.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Crisp White and Big Red from the Co-op

A Crisp White and Big Red from the Co-op - Peter Yealands and Fairtrade Malbec

Crisp White and Big Red is a classic combination for any meal.

If you are doing a "four-wine" meal, you might add in fizz or sherry to start and a dessert wine to finish, but the traditional core is white with starters and red with mains.

In the Old World, you might go for Chablis and Bordeaux, Soave and Barolo or Txakoli and Rioja.

Here are two New World wines from The Co-op that work well together:

Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, 2018 (£9.50, reduced to £7.50 from 17 July until 13 August) fresh, pure and aromatic with cut grass, white pepper, zippy lime, minerality and tropical fruits.


Match with seafood starters, such as white fish in a herby broth.

Co-op Irresistible Fairtrade Organic Malbec, Argentina 2017 (£7.50) spicy with ripe dark fruits, fine tannins and an oaky-inky texture. Generously extracted.

Match with steak or roast lamb with rosemary and garlic.

It has an IWC Silver and the Fairtrade trophy.

Drink outdoors or in.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Virgin Wines in Cambridge - Wine Advisor Top Picks

A Virgin Wines tasting in Cambridge

I've reviewed many Virgin wines over the years and have yet to find more than the odd one I didn't completely enjoy.

In keeping with the brand, Virgin's wines tend to be lively, iconoclastic and sophisticated.

These are the top picks of Wine Advisor Ian Long with my quickly-scribbled notes - as expected, these all scored a Good.

Kuehn Cremant d'Alsace Brut Cuvee Prestige (12.99, NV, France) crisp, fresh and fruited, precise and mineral

Le Pugiliste Albarino (14.99, 2018, France) citrus and orchard fruits with am almondy texture; stylistically, more Languedoc than Vinho Verde

Walnut Block Marlborough Organic Sauvignon Blanc (13.99, 2018, New Zealand) more restrained than classic Marlborough SB, more textured and less pungently aromatic

Vickery Eden Valley Riesling (18.99, 2016, Australia) citrussy-petrolly with yellow stone fruit; like a weightier Mosel, haromious, balanced, mineral and long

Targa Rioja Organic Tempranillo Blanco (16.99, 2018, Spain) Tempranillo Blanco is a recently-discovered mutation of Tempranillo; fresh, modern and clean this is a versatile wine with citrus, lime and tropical fruits

Le Zeitgeist Malbec (1.99, 2018, France) atypical Malbec from somewhere in southern France, fresh and vibrant with a substantial core

Conte di Campiano Negroamaro Salento IGT Passito (14.99, 2015, Italy) gamey, ripely-fruited, warming and spicy with appassimento richness

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Les Jamelles Syrah 2017

A Northern Rhône grape in Languedoc - Les Jamelles

Syrah, it seems, is becoming the Chardonnay of red grapes: once a noble grape confined to a small area producing rarified and expensive classics, it has found mainstream success as an all-rounder.

Syrah is native to the northern Rhône and, like Chardonnay, the great grape of Champagne and Burgundy, was transformed from a cult hero into a superstar by Australia's warmer climate. Rebranded as Shiraz, other innovative, warm regions followed, so you now find it in California and Languedoc.

Unlike Chardonnay's neutral-but-versatile character, Syrah has a strong personality of dark fruits and spice.

This Jamelles Syrah from Languedoc is varietally typical and well enough made but for me feels a little more heavy-handed and less Burgundian than previous vintages. Some people will prefer that.

Les Jamelles Syrah 2017 (£7.25, the Co-op) dark fruit, cassis, leather and spice with persistent tannins. Plenty of extraction.

Match with charcuterie and salamis.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013

A classy English BdN fizz from Denbies

English fizz is now arguably an established classic; you can comfortably serve a glass of English fizz to guests at the start of a good meal and not feel the need to explain or apologise.

There are other wines with bubbles in, of course - of which some more sophisticated than others. Where English fizz excels is at the very top; crafted, complex, precise sparklers that can be as good as any you will find.

Wines this well-made and long-aged in a cool-climate are necessarily not cheap to produce or therefore buy; but they represent good value for the quality.

Established in 1986, Denbies in Surrey is now England's largest vineyard and accounts for a tenth of all UK plantings - I have historically always found their wines to be impressive.

For those with a technical interest, this is a vintage Blanc de Noirs fizz, meaning that it is a white wine made from black grapes, here Pinot Noir, with secondary fermentation in bottle and a low dosage, resulting in a weightier, more aromatic and more textured wine with some evolution at six years old.

I normally make it a principle not to drink vintage fizz until at least 10 years; this is drinking nicely now, and will improve further with aging.

Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013 (£34, Denbies, denbies.co.uk) ripe red-berry fruits, orchard fruits and citrus with leesy, yeasty brioche and autolysis. Substantial, savoury and well-structured with linear acidity and minerality; pure, precise and poised.

Very Good; and will continue to improve with age.

Drink as an aperitif; match with meaty white fish, such as monkfish, Dover Sole in butter or soft white cheese.

Also available from Denbies is a newly-released Sparkling Bacchus at £16.95.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Chateau Vieux Garrouilh 2016, Saint-Emilion

A Merlot-based right-bank Bordeaux from Auchan

Bordeaux is a region of two halves; the left bank of the Gironde is home to Cab-dominated wines and the 1855 Classification; on the right bank, it is mainly Merlot and some of the world's most expensive wines.

In simple terms - perhaps overly simple, but still relevant - right bank wines are more about fruit and front-palate, whereas the left bank is more about tannins and back-palate.

Saint-Émilion on the right bank is a fortified village and  UNESCO World Heritage Site, so is also a tourism destination in its own right.

Chateau Vieux Garrouilh 2016, Saint-Emilion Merlot and Cabernet Franc; vibrant, ripe black cherry and raspberry fruit with and coffee grounds, damp earth and spice. Bright acidity and fine tannins. Pure, focused and intense.

Very Good.

Drinking nicely now, will improve with cellaring.

Match with rare steak or darker game.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Hardy's Voyage

Sunshine in a glass from Hardy's - at The Co-op

The New World can sometimes be something of a misnomer; Australia's Hardy's dates back to 1853 - two years before the famous Bordeaux classification of 1855, for example.

"New World" is perhaps more a style or even a mindset than an indication of vineyard age or geographic location.

These two Hardy's wines are resolutely New World and modern in style - clean, fruit-forward, ripe and expressive. More nose than palate, sunshine in a glass.

With so much ripeness and warmth, they are good for summer barbecues or winter stews. Screw-capped, they are also suitable for picnics for a general audience.

Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio (£7.25, reduced to £5.25 to 16 July) floral and honeyed with citrus, melon fruit, sweet spice and minerality.

Match with herby roast chicken or griddled calimari.

Shiraz / Mourvedre (£7.25, reduced to £5.25 to 16 July) sweet, ripe, slightly jammy dark fruits with licorice, eucalyptus and spice; smooth, ripe tannins, fruit-forward warming and porty.

Match with a rich beef stew or a spicy merguez with relish.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Belle Roche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 - Laithwaites

A Languedoc Cab from Laithwaites

Mum seems to have ordered a case of Laithwaite's "most extracted wines" - not just big, ripe, fruit forward wines, but ones with lots of extraction too. A bit like over-stewed tea.

Sometimes you want a really strong cuppa or a heavily-seasoned stew. Me, I find that after a while, I long for something a bit lighter and less … heavy-handed.

This Laithwaites Languedoc Cab comes in a overweight bottle which is scientifically proven to make it taste better - this is not a joke, it is actually true.

It's big and Cabernet-like with lots of southern ripe fruit; so far, so standard.

The heavy bottle suggests a degree of winemaker ambition, so I consider it in more detail. It's technically well-made and my reservations are limited to stylistic issues. Checking it out on the website, I find that the winemaker is Jean-Marc Saboua, for whom I have a lot of respect.

Like a ballerina with a mohawk and day-glo socks, there is an elegance in there; it's just rather overshadowed by the look-at-me extraction. And it's not cheap either.

Belle Roche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (£10.99) aromatic with ripe dark fruits, cassis and spice. Fine tannins and balanced acidity with plenty of extraction. No rough edges but generously extracted.

Match with winter stews.

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.


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