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Sunday, 24 January 2021

South Africa's Journey's End

Four wines from South Africa's Journey's End

The story of South Africa's Journey's End starts with Roger Gabb in the 1980s. Based in Shropshire, he had worked on the drinks trade for some time when he founded Western Wines which he grew and eventually sold for £135m.

Seeing the end of apartheid and the potential for high-quality South African wines, he bought Journey's End. He describes it as "an estate with a house and vineyard which, although I am chairman, operates under [son] Rollo’s direction and is now making extremely good wine sold all over the world."

South Africa has the oldest soils on the planet and it has no problem with ripeness, the challenge is more about preserving acidity and freshness.

Journey’s End is situated just 6km from the coast at the point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.in the Stellenbosch Appellation in the Western Cape.

With views across False Bay to the Cape of Good Hope, the south-eastern sea winds and proximity of the Schaabenberg mountain makes the area much cooler and give the wines a hint of salinity.

The company's website says: located in Stellenbosch, with vineyards adjacent to Vergelegen and Morgenster, Journey’s End is right at the heart of one of the cape’s most exciting terroirs. Our coastal location benefits from cooling winds coming off the Atlantic ocean, helping to create wines with great elegance and natural acidity. Following a belief that ‘Less is More’.

Bought and replanted by the Gabb family in 1996, the last ten years have seen the estate grow into one of the most talked about in the region. The wines have won accolades and medals at wine competitions around the world ever since the maiden vintages.

Here in the cellar we combine traditional winemaking methods, modern technology and a degree of experimentation to produce dynamic fruit driven wines with great elegance and complexity. The philosophy in both the vineyards and cellar follows a minimum intervention approach to ensure the quality of the fruit shines through.

We are 100% committed to producing top quality single vineyard and appellation wines that are intricate, integrated and true to our terroir and the climatic benefits of the region.

A note on aeration: I found all of these wines improved with extensive aeration. Not just more opened-up on the second day, but fundamentally more interesting over three days later with still somewhere to go.

Perhaps it's partly my palate and partly the squeaky clean, low-oxygen winemaking from high quality fruit, but these wines all feel like they will repay some cellaring and reveal greater underlying complexities that do not necessarily show beyond the ripe fruit on first opening.

They all drink nicely out of the bottle, but several hours in the decanter will reveal something more complex and nuanced.

Journeys End Weather Station Sauvignon Blanc (£14, independents) expressive and aromatic with lemongrass, white pepper, lychees, guava, passionfruit and ripe tropical fruits; fresh and citrussy with lime marmalade and a saline-mineral core.


Journeys End Destination Chardonnay (£23, independents) Meursault-style Chardonnay; toasty lemon meringue and lime marmalade, white stone fruits, bitter lemon and grapefruit with honeysuckle; buttery, creamy-leesy oatmeal and toasty vanilla spice; saline minerality.

Improves for several days after opening; will repay cellaring.

Very Good.

Journeys End Huntsman Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2018 (£10, independents) fresh and juicy with bramble fruits and black cherries; more Beaujolais than Rhône in style; fruity with spice and herbaceous eucalyptus and good underpinnings. Well-made.

Improves with aeration; can also be served lightly chilled.


Journeys End Single Vineyard Merlot 2015 (£15, independents) single vineyard wine; earthy, forest fruits and cherries with spicy vanilla and white pepper; dark forest berries, blackcurrants and raspberries with sweet violet blossoms and spicy oak, hints of eucalyptus. Very adept and harmonious.

Improves with aeration.



Saturday, 23 January 2021

Dinner With Mark Poynton

A bespoke 4-course dinner from Mark Poynton of MJP@TheShepherds - and some matching wines

The combination of a "significant birthday" and yet another lockdown meant that the celebrations would have to be confined to something at home.

Looking for a way to make it memorable, I took up Mark Poynton's offer of a bespoke four-course meal.

Mark is chef patron of MJP@TheShepherds in Fen Ditton, just outside Cambridge, and formerly of Michelin-starred Alimentum.

Mark, who has appeared on Great British Menu, started his career aged 15 in Chester; after several quick promotions, he moved to Cambridge to work under Daniel Clifford for seven years at the two Michelin-starred Midsummer House. 

He then moved to Alimentum as Head Chef, became Chef Patron within a year and went on to gain a Michelin star and three AA rosettes.

Mark sent me a suggested menu and outlined the sorts of wines that would go with them.

The food needed little more than assembling or warming up and came with full instructions.

As to the wines, I picked out a few highlights of recent months and lined them up; this was not a time to be experimenting with anything new or unusual.


Marks and Spencer Very Rare Dry Oloroso Sherry made by Lustau, this is a complex and warming yet bone dry Oloroso; rich and intense with spiced Christmas cake prunes, toasted hazelnuts and exotic citrus peel.

Colesel 'Cartizze Dry' Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG despite the name, a sweeter style of Prosecco from Cartizze, Prosecco's top region. Golden sandy yellow, delicate, fresh and elegant with a creamy mousse and aromas of ripe stone fruit; full and off-dry with white-flesh fruit and a mineral persistence. Very deft and precise.


MJP treacle and ale sourdough loaf, whipped butter
Cauliflower soup, pickled cucumber and smoked salmon, sourdough croutons

Very easy to make; just warm the soup and add the garnishes; serve with the bread and butter.

Wine match:

Von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 2014 a light Mosel Riesling with plenty of age and evolution, at 8.5% it is generally too light for food, but went perfectly with a creamy soup. Complex, evolved nose of beeswax, old leather and diesel with yellow stone fruits, honeysuckle and citrussy sherbet with lively acidity and a zippy finish.


Red wine and oxtail suet pudding, creamed potato and glazed carrots.

Again, easy to make, just warm up the pudding and carrots in the oven, the mash in the microwave and the gravy (very rich) in the pan.

Wine match:

Red - as big as you like, were Mark's instructions, so there was only one contender here.

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 leather, mushrooms and sous bois with ripe berries, cool mint and complex, well-integrated, oaky vanilla spice; ripe yet savoury, intense and supple with very fine tannins.

Cheese course

Wensleydale and ale rarebit on sourdough crumpet, with apple and ale chutney.

A little bit more assembly work required here but still very straightforward; toast the crumpets, spread on chutney, then squeeze over the cheese before grilling until golden

Wine match: port. Tawny port is generally the best match for cheese, but I opted for a mature ruby.

Barao de Vilar, Lagarada Ruby Port lifted, dried red and black fruits, minty eucalyptus and aromatic roasted spices; fresh, supple, complex, substantial and harmonious. Being a bin-end, there is now a little bricking of the colour, the flavours are more evolved and the tannins are mellowing.


Apple tarte tatin, calvados cream

Warm the tarte, serve with the cream.

A thing of beauty, the tarte was a single piece of peeled apple, wrapped up and cooked, as Mark's pictures show:

Wine match: Sauternes

Sauternes and tarte tatin is a classic match, so this was an easy choice.

Tesco Finest* Sauternes, 2015 sweet and luscious with evolved flavours of beeswax, honey, dried apricots, Seville orange marmalade, baked fruits with a citrussy refreshing finish; complex and concentrated.


The meal was very easy to prepare and serve and good value for both quality and quantity. It was delivered during the day all packed up with a full set of instructions.

What I realised from serving at home is just how much attention to detail goes into great restaurant service:

- ensuring everything (including crockery) is all at the right temperature at the right time
- getting the timing between courses just right
- getting just the right proportions of sauces so that there is plenty but not too much
- serving the right amount of several different wines with the food on a multi-course meal

Delivered meals from MJP@TheShepherds are  individually priced with 2 courses for £15, or 3 courses for a bargain £18.50 - that's probably cheaper than your Chinese takeaway from those other Delivery people!

The food will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days, and is also freezable. Instructions are provided with your order. There is an optional cheese course for an additional £6 per person if you wish.

Orders can be placed through the website: Home - Mark J Poynton (mjprestaurant.com)

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Artesano de Argento organic Fairtrade Malbec 2019

An organic Malbec from Argentina via Tesco

Artesano de Argento organic Fairtrade Malbec was launched in the UK late last year and is the second wine from the Artesano de Argento range (you can read about the first here).

Argento is the largest organic wine producer in Mendoza  with over 300 hectares of organic vineyards and plans to raise this to over 400 in 2021.

Malbec originated in France where it is also known as Côt; it was once a major grape in Bordeaux until it was replaced by the more reliable Merlot in the 1950s.

It has now become Argentina's signature red grape; it is thin-skinned and needs both sunshine and heat (both of which Argentina has in abundance) to ripen. Main characteristics are deep color, ample tannins and plummy flavours.

With plenty of acidity and tannin, Malbec is a great match for red meat, but if Argentine steaks are not your thing, or if you are doing Veganuary, Bodega Argento has teamed up with supergoldenbakes.com to create delicious vegan recipes to match their Artesano de Argento range (which are vegan, organic and Fairtrade).

The recipes have been developed by supergoldenbakes’ Lucy Parissi, as vegan takes on classic winter favourites - perfect for hearty suppers or cosy lunches.

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie, served with Artesano de Argento organic Fairtrade Malbec 2019

This vegan Shepherd’s Pie is a plant-based twist on the British classic. A rich jackfruit ragu, topped with mashed potatoes and baked until irresistibly golden. Simply the best for a comforting dinner and best enjoyed lingering over a glass of smooth, silky red.’, comments author Lucy Parissi. 

‘The Artesano de Argento Malbec is a great match for this dish and I love its vegan, organic and Fairtrade credentials too.’ Artesano de Argento organic Fairtrade Malbec 2019 is a silky, elegant Argentinian Malbec, bursting with dark cherries, plums and a hint of violet. It is a perfect match for stews and hearty dishes but can equally be enjoyed on its own.

Artesano de Argento organic Fairtrade Malbec 2019 (£10, Tesco online and selected stores) ripe black fruits, cassis and pastilles, with herbs and spice; supple texture, fresh, inky and vibrant with harmonious, well-integrated tannins and good underpinnings.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Copper Crew - The Red

A red wine in a can from Copper Crew

Last year, I reviewed two canned wines from newly-formed Copper Crew, a white and a rosé, both from South Africa and both perfectly drinkable wines in their own right.

If wine in a bottle is a sit-down meal, canned wine is the equivalent of a take-away; it's all about the convenience and spontaneity and Copper Crew drinkers have made an art form of taking the wines to instagrammable locations:

Copper Crew named their business after the fact that they are all gingers, so it's slightly ironic that they left their red wine until last.

There are just three of them, a winemaker, a management consultant and an ex-academic turned promotional guy. Spotting a gap in the market, they launched in early 2020 - just before the pandemic and lockdown.

The wines are pitched at the pleasant-and-interesting level; this is the sweet spot for on-the-go drinking. They are good enough that you will want to go back for more after the first can, but not so refined that you need to serve them in just the right shape of drinking glass to appreciate all the nuances.

Where I think they've got everything right is that there is plenty of easy-drinking South African fruit, but also a balanced freshness and enough substance to match them with on-the-go snacks and picnic foods.

I found the rosé to be the most interesting of the range with some complexity and sophistication. The white has a personality, but is marginally less compelling. The red is equally well-made and as pleasantly unassuming as an accountant eager for a promotion at a corporate dinner.

The Copper Crew Merlot 2019 (25cl can) ripe red fruits, plums, cherries and strawberries and a touch of spice; plush with fine-grained tannins and some persistence. Technically well-made and fault free.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drinks nicely on its own straight from the can, match with picnic foods such as quiche, cold cuts and pork pies.

Friday, 8 January 2021

The CWB Lidl Beaujolais-Off

Two Beaujolais from Lidl

Beaujolais is one of my favourite wines; I rather prefer it to red Burgundy, from just up the road, which costs many times more.

Beaujolais is based at the southern end of Burgundy and grows mainly thin-skinned Gamay on schisty or sandy soils. The wines are fresh, juicy and light.

As you move up the Villages to the Crus, they gain complexity and substance.

Say Beaujolais and many people will automatically think of Nouveau, the overhyped, oversold, over here current-vintage wine released in the November after the harvest.

Away from this somewhat discredited style, top Beaujolais can be a serious wine with substance and aging potential. And all points in between.

Although Beaujolais has become unfashionable due to Nouveau shenanigans, it remains popular in nearby Switzerland. As a result, prices at the bottom tend to be relatively high (due to well-heeled demand) so the best price / quality value is to be found nearer the top, where it does not command the premiums of Burgundy.

The hierarchy is:

- Beaujolais

- Beaujolais-Villages

- Cru Beaujolais from a named village

Both wines here were bought on discount.

L'Escarpe Beaujolais 2018 (Lidl, £5.99 - £3.50 on special offer) soft red fruits of strawberry, red cherry and red plum with some spice and herbaceousness. Juicy, fresh and well made with nothing not to like.

Thoroughly pleasant, if a little straightforward.

Fresh enough for a winter aperitif, match with pizza, salamis or parma ham.

Juliénas Collin-Bourisset, 2018 (Lidl, £7.99 - £4 bin-end) there's an extra degree of alcohol and so much more going on here - more tension, and concentration; dark berry fruits, black cherries, elderberries and blueberries, florality and vibrant juiciness; complexity and firm-but-gentle tannins.


Match with toad-in-the-hole or roast chicken.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Chassenay d’Arce Vintage Champagnes

Two vintage Champagnes from Chassenay d’Arce - with something very unusual

The grapes

One of the first things I learnt about Champagne is that there are three Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Much later I learnt that Champagne actually permits a much wider range of varieties, including Pinots Blanc and Gris (which are clones or mutations of Pinot Noir).

The classic trio of Champagne grapes accounts for 99.7% of plantings, so you are unlikely to find anything else in a bottle of Champagne.

Chassenay d’Arce, however,  own a few blocks of Pinot Blanc; for the 2008 vintage, they blended a small amount of Pinot Blanc into their Champagne. In 2012, they made a 100% varietal vintage Pinot Blanc Champagne.

The House

Chassenay d’Arce was founded in in 1956 and is based in Ville-sur-Arce in the very South of the Champagne region. It covers 315 hectares and 12 villages along the Arce River in the Côte des Bar.

The House has grown from its five original founders to some 130 families with three generations of winemakers united by a self-declared spirit "of family, terroir and the high standards shared by our winemakers to ensure we produce only champagnes of the greatest quality."

Terroir and Technique

The Arce Valley is located at the southern end of Champagne and is shaped by a unique landscape alternating between vineyards and forests; it is also characterized by diverse varieties and integrated cultivation.

The soil is Kimmeridgian and was once covered by the sea. The climate is mild, the region is physically closer to Dijon in Burgundy than to Reims and this, the grapevines’ exposure and the soils of stony marl allow the fruit to be harvested at full maturity towards the end of summer.

The original operations endure with the same spirit of cooperation, solidarity and knowledge sharing; the winemakers use only their top grapes from the first pressing and all bottles are aged for a minimum of 36 months.

This attention to detail and commitment to quality creates a range of Champagnes with rich expression  great finesse and many awards.

2012 Pinot Blanc

Made from a few blocks of long-forgotten Pinot Blanc, this is a remarkable wine.

100% Pinot Blanc, vinification in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with barrels for 6% of the wine. Non-malolactic fermentation for 19%, aged in bottle for 6 years on the lees. Extra brut dosage: 3 g/l, 12% 

Pale yellow with green and a lively mousse, expressive, fresh aromas with white, yellow and citrus fruit and floral and delicately toasted notes. Rounded and generous, with a full body and texture, saline minerality.

It is initially quite shy aromatically and still tightly wound, but there is a pure, concentrate and muscular core that gradually opens up with aeration. This wine is only just at the beginning of its drinking window and will repay extensive cellaring.

Very Good.

Drink as an aperitif or match with shellfish and raw fish.

Vintage Brut 2008

A refined and delicate blend from a fantastic year.

58% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier & 3% Pinot Blanc; vinification in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and in barrels for 2.5% of the wine. with partial malolactic fermentation. 

Aged in bottle for 10 years on the lees; Brut Dosage of 9 g/l, 12 % alcohol.

Bright pale yellow with green and fine, generous mousse; expressive, complex and fresh aromas of citrus, white and yellow fruit and white flowers, with brioche, toast, and some hazelnut. Delicate yet precise and taut with good structure and minerality; persistent, fresh and long finish.

This is a very pure and precise Champagne, still closed up even at over a decade; dense, concentrated and textured, it opens up with aeration and will repay extensive cellaring.

Very Good.

Drink as an aperitif ort match with amuses bouches or fish

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Laithwaites Sauvignon Blanc 2019


A Bordeaux Sauvignon from Laithwaites

Bordeaux is one of the great wine regions of the world; it is known most for its reds which are some of the most expensive in the world.

Bordeaux whites are generally made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or a blend of both and come in two styles; crisp, fresh and modern or savoury and substantial.

This Laithwaites White Bordeaux is very much in the modern style - think zingy kiwi Sauvignon.

It is also, like so many Laithwaites wines, rather underwhelming yet overpriced for the quality.

It's not a bad wine, just somewhat half-hearted and mediocre. It adheres to Rory Sutherland's definition of a brand as being "a guarantee of non-crapness". It's typical and not unpleasant, that's about as much as you can say about it.

So who is this wine suitable for? If you don't mind paying a premium for a brand you've heard of and a wine that is not terrible, then it could be your thing.

It shows better when well-chilled.

Laithwaites Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Bordeaux (£11.99) expressive herbaceous aromatics and  blossom with grapefruit, citrus, green apple and white stone fruit; high acidity, light bodied, short finish.