Popular Posts

Friday, 14 January 2022

Less-But-Better January

Two superior classic wines from Tesco for Less-But-Better January

What do you do after Christmas and New Year?

Dry January.

Try January.

There are plenty of options for anyone wanting to mix things up a little at the beginning of a new year

Whatever you choose to do, or not do, this month, there's much to be said for having less-but-better wine; it's an opportunity to try something different-yet-superior, without the pressure of ensuring that the assembled masses of family remain happy and content with wines they find familiar and reassuring.

Here are two wines from Tesco that are superior classics - well-made in a familiar style and great food matches.

Chardonnay is arguably the world's greatest white grape; its spiritual home is Burgundy but Western Australia's Margaret River makes it in a cool-climate European style; vines were first planted in the region in the late 20th century, so it is very much the New New World.

Chardonnay grows in a wide-range of climates, from chilly Champagne to sunshine-in-a-glass outback; cool-climate Chardonnay with a bit of new oak shows florality and vanilla spice.

Aristocratic Barolo is Italy's answer to Pinot Noir; from the Piedmont region of North-West Italy, it is made from the Nebbiolo grape and produces a red-fruited, juicy and fresh wine with earthy, hedonistic aromas.

Tesco Finest Brooks Road Chardonnay (£15)

Made from premium Chardonnay grapes grown in Margaret River, one of Australia's most celebrated wine regions.

Dry with complex notes of stone fruits and vanilla oak with an elegant minerality and a classic, balanced lengthy finish.

floral, honeysuckle with white stone fruits and vanilla; melon, white peach and orchard fruits with zesty lime curd, savoury, creamy complexity and cool, minty menthol; saline, mineral and long. Very adept and well-made.

Very Good.

Improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Match with fresh seafood, pasta or grilled fish.

Ascheri Barolo D.O.C.G (£23)

The Nebbiolo grapes, from La Morra, Verduno and Serralunga d'Alba, are harvested in the first half of October and fermented in stainless steel tanks for about 2 weeks. After 6 months in stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged in oak for 22 months, followed by an aging in the bottle of at least 12 months before releasing. 

fragrant and floral with cherries, dried cranberries, red berry fruit and old leather, spice and woodsy sous bois; fresh and supple with ripe, dried red berry fruits, cedar, aromatic black tea tannins and menthol; long and harmonious with firm yet very fine tannins.

Very Good.

Drinks well on first pouring but benefits from aeration and will age.

Match with darker game, such as venison or duck, also lamb shoulder with rosemary.


The Ascheri is also reviewed by Paula Goddard who calls it a "top-notch Italian Barolo ... a nice example": Ascheri Barolo 2017 review - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

Sunday, 9 January 2022

Jatone Cognac

A brandy from Ukraine - and some holiday plans

If you had two weeks to visit Ukraine, where would you go?

A neighbour's daughter, over from Berlin to see her parents for Christmas, asked us for some advice on visiting the largest country in Europe.

Ukraine has been easy to visit for many years now - after winning the Eurovision song contest one year and needing to host it the next, they opted to allow foreign visitors to enter the country for up to 90 days visa-free, despite the lack of reciprocity from western European nations.

It was, I believe, a smart move as tourists from wealthier neighbouring countries coming to visit is rarely a bad thing and the money they spend on hotels, entrance fees and dining out and can be reinvested in maintaining and developing historic sights, ancient cathedrals and all the sorts of things that foreign visitors like to see generally.

For me, greater freedom of movement is generally a win:win all round.

On the back of the visa decision and the opening up of Kyiv's hotel development market, budget airlines also started flying between the UK and the Ukrainian capital making it easily accessible.

With two, possibly three weeks to spare, Alexandra had asked what should she see in Ukraine and what should she avoid.

Over tea and mince pies, we established that she was quite adventurous, so we suggested:

- a week in Kyiv to see orthodox churches, monasteries, Soviet-era memorials, the holodomor museum and so on; she was also planning a day-trip from Kyiv to Chornobyl, which struck me as brave if Romantic

- from there, a couple of days exploring the Carpathians, the forested mountain range between Ukraine and Poland / Slovakia / Hungary / Romania

Also consider other cities close to the Carpathians:

- Kamianets-Podilsky, the former capital with a mediaeval fortress on a natural island formed by a river

- Chernivtsi, larger, buzzier and closer to the Carpathians

- Ivano-Frankivsk, formerly Polish as well as Habsburg, also a former capital

To avoid:

- Crimea, part of Ukraine, but now occupied by Russia, is off-limits and Eastern Ukraine, richer and more industrial, is less exciting and more unstable the further you go

- Odesa, on the Black Sea Coast, is historically significant (the Potemkin Steps are iconic), but it is a working port, mostly charmless and a long way from anywhere else

- there are plentiful beaches on the southern Black Sea coast, but this was to be an exploring trip, not a lazing one

Travelling overland back to Berlin would afford her the opportunity to take more locally-sourced presents than a flight would allow, so some Ukrainian brandy is a must for its longevity-to-rucksack-space ratio.

Jatone Cognac V.S.O.P

raisins, sultanas, cooked mixed fruit, caramel and spice; citrus, custardy sweet vanilla, bonfire toffee and roasted Christmas spices with dried figs and prunes; warming and persistent.

Expressive more than elegant; thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as a nightcap or match with dark chocolate, mature hard cheeses or sticky toffee pudding.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

The CWB Co-op Southern Hemisphere Chardonnay-Off

Two southern hemisphere Chardonnays from The Co-op

Oaky Chardonnay might be a bit Bridget Jones, but it is one of the world's great grape varieties and styles.

It all started with white Burgundy and Chardonnay's affinity to new oak; a relatively neutral grape, it is fresh, savoury and food-friendly when made in a cool-climate; oak-aging adds to the flavour profile and complexity.

The reason New World Chardonnay went out of fashion was more to do with too many overripe, over-oaked versions than any inherent weakness and, increasingly, the New World is making it in a cooler, more restrained, gently oaked Burgundian style.

Just without the price tag.

The Hidden Sea recycle 10 plastic bottles from oceans and rivers for every bottle of wine sold; if that isn't a reason to drink their wines, I don't know what is.

You won't find too much technical information about the wines on their website, but there's plenty about their ambition to remove plastic from the oceans and how they are going about it.

It may be something of a cliche but passion is the best brand.

Montes Reserva Chardonnay, Chile (£8)

ripe tropical pineapple and melon fruit, toasty vanilla oak and creamy brazil-nut savoury leesiness. Fresh and mineral; supple, harmonious and well-made.

Good and Good Value.

A versatile food wine, match with herby sausages, roast chicken or wiener schnitzel.

The Hidden Sea Chardonnay (£8)

aromatic floral with musky melonskin and some sweet spices; ripe peach and apricot with butterscotch, creamy brazil nut and a hint of toasty oak; fresh and saline-mineral with good savouriness. Very well made and harmonious.

Drinks well on first pouring and further improves with aeration.

Good and Good Value.

Another versatile food wine, match the freshness to cream cheese starters, white fish or plain roast white meats.

Where next?

If you like these wines and want dive deeper into Burgundian Chardonnay, look at:

The CWB International Chardonnay-Off - Chardies from all over the world: The Cambridge Wine Blogger: The CWB International Chardonnay-Off


Note on pricing:

The Montes Chardonnay is reduced from £8 to £7 until February 1st 2022.

Hidden Sea mission:

The Hidden Sea Chardonnay is part of The Co-op's vegan range and suitable for anyone doing Veganuary.

This is their story:

We exist for socially conscious consumers who love great tasting wine, and want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. We remove and recycle 10 plastic bottles from oceans and rivers for every bottle of wine we sell.


Because we want to leave the world better than it was when we came in, and our wines carry a heritage born from the sea. 26 million years ago, South Australia’s incredible Limestone Coast was submerged by a vast ocean that was home to a thriving marine ecosystem.

A series of dramatic ice ages caused the ocean to recede, leaving the area rich with deep limestone deposits containing majestic marine fossils. Ancient mineralised relics, and an extensive museum of marine life, now lay buried beneath the alluvial soils of this World Heritage site.

One of these relics is the fossilised remains of an ancient whale which contributes to the rich, fertile soil in our vineyard. It also provides a natural and unique filtration system - perfect for growing the grapes that produce our award-winning wine.

So that’s our story.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene - The OG

Six wines from Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG

#1 child returned from university and announced she was interested in learning a bit about wine, so we started with some Prosecco lessons.

Prosecco DOC is the basic stuff, whereas the DOCG region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is higher up the quality scale.

What is the difference between DOC and DOCG? The extra "G" stands for garantita, as if somehow the DOC classification is not quite as reliable.

In practice, it's not so much the words used as the hierarchy that matters; the DOCG is higher than DOC in the same way that an A** is higher than an A*.

Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG classification, there are further distinctions and sub-divisions, but if you only remember one thing, it's this: look for the "G".

Pretty much all Prosecco is made by the Charmat method of fermentation in tank - this is quicker than in-bottle fermentation, meaning that the wine is less expensive to produce (and buy).

Whilst a shorter second fermentation gives less savoury complexity to the wine, the fresher flavours match better with the local cichetti.

Moreover, the second fermentation is only part of the equation, the part that makes the bubbles. Fruit selection and ripeness, blending and the initial vinification all play a part in the overall quality of the final wine.

However, it seems not everyone has gotten the DOCG memo; expat winemaker Jonathan Hesford wondered what there is to learn in a Prosecco lesson, while wine-writer Jamie Goode referred to Prosecco as "cheap plonk", albeit later explaining he was joking and had actually recommended one in his newspaper column.

BORGO COL Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Follina 2020 (Looking for importer)

a steely rive wine: extra Brut

very small producer, just 9ha biscuity with citrus, white stone fruits and brioche; supple, rounded and elegant with orchard fruits


ADAMI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Farra di Soligo “Col Credas” 2019 (Astrum Wine Cellars)

extra Brut rive wine

family producer, from a stony, breezy area white flowers with brioche, gingerbread and sea-spray; sappy white stone fruit, conference pear and green apple; fresh and tangy with persistent saline-minerality.


CARPENÉ MALVOLTI Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di San Pietro di Barbozza 2020

delicate, floral and herbal; green apple and orchard fruits with fresh citrus and some brioche complexity; subtle and sensitive with a gentle mousse and acidity


These four wines were all non-rive assemblages with a soft broadness

MALIBRAN Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Ruio” 2020 (Vinhuset Nofra)

from gentle, rolling hills, single-vineyard wine

broad with an almost exotic fruit character, almost peachy roundedness, salty; a classic Conegliano style, plumper and more mouthfilling

IL COLLE Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2020 (Looking for importer)

family company dating back to Venetian traders, organically-farmed and uses a cut-the-cordon method for on-the-vine passito character

orchard fruit and melonskin; plush, broad and peachy with tropical citrussy freshness; aromatic, floral and tropical with pear fruit; clean, precise and very elegant.


BORTOLIN FRATELLI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry “Rù” Millesimato 2020

18g/l of residual sugar with fruit from both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene

delicately floral with camomile; white stone fruits and orchard fruit; weighty and saline, fresh and citrussy; finishes dry and mineral


Will match with slightly richer foods than the lighter, drier wines; think creamy risotto, soft white cheeses or mushroom-and-cream pasta.

Friday, 31 December 2021

Six Cru Bourgeois Wines

Six Bordeaux wines with Cru Bourgeois status

With #1 child home from university for Christmas and keen to learn a bit about wine, I suggested that she have some Bordeaux lessons.

Bordeaux, on France's Atlantic coast is one of the great wine regions of the world - but you knew that already, didn't you?

Bordeaux makes wine of all colours, but the reds are where it's at for wine enthusiasts.

Bordeaux is the overall, catch-all appellation; the more specific the sub-appellation, the better the wine - in general.

- Crus Bourgeois is literally the "middle class" of Right Bank Bordeaux wines; at the top end you have the Classed Growths, at the bottom everyone else

- the Right Bank of Bordeaux is the Medoc peninsula where the vines are majority Cabernet Sauvignon; Cab is blackcurranty and tannic, it has aging potential but can need a few years or some time in the decanter to become harmonious in its youth

- tannins are the "chewy", "grippy" feeling of a red wine, akin to stewed tea; drying on their own, they work well with the protein in red meats

- vintage matters in Bordeaux, perhaps more than anywhere else; the wines can range from baked and short-lived in hot years to lean and fresh in cold years

- the greatest years are typically Jancis Robinson's "rule of five": 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2020. Of recent-ish, non-5 years, 2016 - 2019 was a better run than the (mostly disastrous) 2011 - 2014.

Historically, Bordeaux was unapproachable in its youth and needed many years of aging to soften and become harmonious; when I used to buy wines in France as part of regular driving holidays, I still found that at under three years old, most red wines needed quite a bit of aeration.

At two to three years of age, these wines now all drink well on first pouring with good fruit showing straight away. Yes they improve with aeration and yes you could cellar them, but there is not quite the same need to buy wines to lay down for an extended period before even contemplating opening them up.

This style of earlier-drinking wines may be a more contemporary approach, but it certainly makes sense for everyone that a wine be enjoyably drinkable on release.

The quality of the fruit and wine-making is also very consistent here.

Chateau Reysson Haut-Médoc, 2018

Unusually for a Right Bank wine, this estate has a very high percentage of Merlot vines - over 90%. Merlot is low in tannins, generously fruited and plush.

red and black fruits, complex sous bois and spice; ripe, mouthwatering red and black cherry fruit, dried green herbs, spices and inky graphite; long, supple and harmonious with good, savoury underpinnings

Drinks nicely on first opening but improves with aeration.


Match the freshness to roast chicken or a plate of salami and cheese.

Château de Villambis, Haut-Médoc, 2019

cherry and bramble fruits, vanilla spice and sous bois; ripe-yet-fresh red and dark berry fruits with spices and graphite; supple and inky with very fine tannins. Long and very well-made.

Drinks nicely on first opening but improves with aeration.


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.


Match with rare roast beef or a steak.

Château Charmail Haut-Médoc, 2019

dark fruit and plums; fresh, ripe, juicy dark berry fruits with green herbs; fresh, harmonious and supple


Match the freshness to lighter game or pate.

Château Roquegrave Médoc, 2018 

dark fruit and plums with some forest floor; cherry fruited with spice, oaky vanilla, cigar box, and leather. Fresh and harmonious.


Match with salamis, pate or pizza.

Château Guitignan, Moulis-en-Médoc, 2018

complex oaky spice, dark berry fruits and leathery undergrowth; ripe dark fruits, savoury black olives and dark green herbs with leathery, mushroomy sous bois; concentrated, supple and inky with rounded, very fine, well-integrated tannins

Will gain further complexity with some cellaring.


Match with rosemary-and-garlic lamb.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Three Christmas Wines - Retro, Old Classic, New Classic

Three Christmas wines - Retro, Old Classic, New Classic

I've long argued that Christmas is not a time for wild experimentation or straying too far out of your comfort zone.

With multi-generational family gatherings, lots of cooking and the general weight of expectation, I prefer to reduce the stress levels by keeping wine choices fairly simple.

The most straightforward approach can be simply to have slightly better versions of what you normally drink - with plenty of it to go round.

Here are three wines for Christmas that meet that requirement and should keep all-but-the-fussiest of drinkers happy.

The retro choice - pale cream sherry

Sherry has been enjoying something of a revival, but pale cream remains an anomaly.

Stuck in something of a time-warp, pale cream was only created as a category in the late 20th century but remains something that only one's parents or even grandparents drink.

Essentially a sweetened fino, it is an easier sipper than bone-dry sherries, but like its darker, more complex sibling Cream Sherry, it has not quite managed to shake off its "Maiden Aunt" image, which is a pity as it is a lovely accompaniment to all sorts of slightly sweeter foods.

Croft Original Sherry (£12, The Co-op)

yeasty flor, blossom, white pepper and baked white stone fruits; honey, baked apples with sweet spice, white flowers and candied pineapple; warming, substantial, unctuous and complex, yet also mellow and harmonious.


Serve as a strong-sweet aperitif or match with blue cheese, roasted nuts such as Brazils, melon and parma ham or rich pâté, such as goose liver.

Also consider:

- spicy chorizo or in a Martini in lieu of Vermouth

The Old-School Classic - Bordeaux

Red Bordeaux was my first oenological love and it's a wine I just keep coming back to for its food-friendly, savoury freshness, complexity and aging potential.

Crus Bourgeois are the better wines of the Médoc sub-region of the Left Bank before you get into the stratospheric prices of the Classed Growths; expect just a bit more of everything but without the trophy-wine price tag.

These wine rub shoulders with some of the greatest and most expensive wines you can buy - and it shows.

Chateau Senejac Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux, 2018 (£17.50, The Co-op)

Vintage matters in Bordeaux perhaps more than anywhere else apart from Burgundy; 2018 is generally considered an exceptional year that favoured the red wines with plenty of warmth.

black cherry and dark plum fruit with complex spice and woodsy sous bois; ripe bramble fruits, raspberry, blackcurrant and plum with minty liquorice and peppery spice; fresh, savoury and supple; long and complex with perfect ripe, very well-integrated tannins

Very Good.

Drinks nicely with plenty of fruit to the fore on first pouring; improves with aeration and has the ability to age.

Match with plain roast red meats or toad-in-the-hole.

The New Classic - Languedoc

From Europe's wine lake to perhaps France's most exciting and innovative region. And almost certainly once of its best-value areas, also scoring well for reliability given its plentiful sunshine.

Languedoc just keeps getting better and better.

Domaine Gayda's first vintage was less than 20 years ago; this 2019 is two-thirds Syrah with one-third Grenache plus some Cinsault making up the balance.

The wine is aged for 21 months in oak in a range of sizes and ages.

Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou 2019 (£25, Cambridge Wine Merchants and other independents)

dark purple with complex dark fruits, scrubby garrigue herbs, spice and leathery sous bois; full, supple and fresh with an inky texture, red and black fruits, violets, complex spices and cool mint; plush yet firm; harmonious with well-rounded tannins. Very long.

Very Good.

Drinks nicely with plenty of fruit to the fore on first pouring; improves with aeration and has the ability to age.

Match with garlic-and-rosemary lamb or chicken with a sage-and-sausagemeat stuffing.

The first two wines are currently on special offer at The Co-op until January 4th, 2022 :

Croft Original Sherry - reduced to £10.50 
Chateau Senejac Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux, 2018 - reduced to £16.50

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Strong And Sweet for Christmas - From The Co-op

A sherry and port from The Co-op

Personally, I can happily drink both sherry and port all year round. But Christmas is an especially good time to have a couple of bottles on hand.

Dry, tangy fino sherry is a great accompaniment to the shorts of cold-cuts, nuts, cheeses and general lunches-from-leftovers meals that are often a staple of the post-Christmas period.

With its ripe fruit, alcohol and sweetness, port is rather more of a cold-weather drink than a summery one; it has the strength to stand up to mince pies and Christmas pudding, or can just be sipped after an expansive meal in your favourite armchair.

Tio Pepe Fino (£11)

Made from palomino grapes, grown on Albariza soils, fermented to dryness, then fortified lightly for strength, placed in barrels where flor grows and imparts a distinctive tang and finally blended across years via the solera method, sherry is one of the world's great wines.

Complex, elegant and versatile, it is a great match for food; neutral and strong enough not to be overpowered.

pungent with aromatic, floral chamomile; fresh, citrussy and briney-yeasty, with melon, white stone fruit, green apple, brioche, pastry shop, salty almond-and-brazil-nut savouriness; broad, long, complex and elegant.


The classic match for fino is slices of jamon with machego and bread with olive oil; but it will match almost any collection of "assembled food" meals.

Taylor's Select Reserve Port (£10.75)

Like sherry, port is a wine that has been fortified to keep it stable on the historically long sea voyage from Iberia to England.

Traditionally foot-trodden to extract more colour, flavour and preserving tannins, it is partially fermented then fortified whilst some residual sugar remains to preserve sweetness whilst adding strength.

Ruby is the entry-level of ports, a lighter, younger-drinking wine and whilst "Reserva" historically had no official status, it now indicates a premium ruby port approved by the IVDP's tasting panel, the Câmara de Provadores.

This has everything you want from a port; fruit, spice, warmth and sweetness. It's a lot of wine for not much money. 

red, black and sour cherries, eucalyptus and oaky spice with prunes, raisins and liquorice; sweet, warming and supple with very fine, well-integrated tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable and good value.

Sip as a digestif; drink with mince pies or chocolate and cherry torte.


Both wines are currently on special offer at the Co-op:

Tio Pepe Fino is reduced to £10 from December 1 - 14, 2021 and Taylor's Select Reserve Port is down to just £7.50 for the same period.