Popular Posts

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Abbots & Delaunay Alto Stratus 2010

This Abbots & Delaunay Alto Stratus 2010 is made from 100% Carignan, traditionally something of a workhorse grape of southern France and next-door Spain.

However, when made from old vines, it reveals a distinctive and characterful crowd-pleasing complexity.

Although labelled as nothing more than a basic Vin de France, it is from Languedoc and is a very good wine indeed with a gold from Decanter and a Silver from IWSC. A bit of internet research reveals that the vines are 100 years old but AOC restrictions mean that a single-variety wine cannot be labelled as AOC Minervois as the wine is required to be a blend of at least two varieties.

Purple in the glass, there are dark fruits, spice and a touch of undergrowth on the nose.

The palate is complex with more ripe smokey damson, pine dust and elderberry fruit with black and red cherries, some garrigue herbs good acidity and vanilla spice.

The tannins are ripe and smooth and there is good depth of flavour. The texture is creamy-custardy smooth.

The finish is persistent with just a touch of gentle grip and some more smokey-spicy-funkiness.

It's priced a little out of everyday drinking territory, but is very good indeed and worth the cost. It drinks very well straight out of the bottle, but improves slightly with air.

Match with herby butcher's sausages or roast lamb with rosemary.

£16.99 from Avery's; provided for review.


Avery's - http://www.averys.com/
Abbots & Delaunay - http://www.abbottsetdelaunay.com/

Friday, 27 July 2012

Ayala Champagne Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants

The reason why Ayala does not sound like a French name for a Champagne house is because it is not French at all

In the mid-C19th Edmond de Ayala - a Colombian of Spanish ancestry - married the daughter of the Viscount de Mareuil, thus setting himself up to inherit the Champenois Chateau d'Aÿ and its vineyards.

Now owned by Bollinger, Ayala has been making Champagne since 1860; their approach is to use low dosage and a lower Pinot Noir content than Bollinger.

I sampled a range of their wines at the Cambridge Wine Merchants wine bar on Cherry Hinton Road as a guest of CWM owner, Hal Wilson.

There is definitely something of a family resemblance amongst these wines - an elegance that comes from gentle extraction, good fruit expression, leesy persistence and a grippy, pleasantly rasping sharpness to the acidity.

Brut Nature NV, £28.99
Made from 40% PN, 40% Ch and 20% Pinot Meunier with zero dosage; very pale sandy colour in the glass due to using the "coeur de cuvee" (i.e. excluding the watery, dusty first, and overly extracted last parts of the pressing and taking only the middle section).

The nose is quite restrained but with hints of orchard fruits and vegetal Pinot character.

The palate is leesy, with Pinot fruitiness, focused but rounded linear acidity and gentle fruit sweetness. A creaminess develops and the finish is persistent.

There is a good, fine mousse, good complexity and perfect fruit expression.

Brut Majeur NV, £25
This is made from the same base wine as the Nature, but has 8 g/l of added sugar.

The flavour profile is essentially the same but with added sugar, so the Majeur is a little fuller, weightier and more suited to food.

This wine proved more popular amongst those in the room, but I found the extra sugar did not bring anything more interesting to the wine and would have preferred the weightiness to come from complex fruit sugars.

Rich Majeur NV, £28
The same base wine again, but this time with 40 g/l of dosage, giving a wine that, whilst perceptibly sweet, is not a full-on dessert wine.

Again, the additional sugar did nothing to enhance the wine and felt like an unnecessary appendage.

Ginette our presenter, likened dosage to make-up for wine in that "it allows you to smooth over any imperfections". Later we learnt from her that this allows them to use different reserve wines in the blend, which also goes some way to explaining the different pricing.

It also means that the best reserve wines go into the Brut Nature which has to rely on pure fruit expression for quality and not added sugar.

Viewed in these terms, the Nature is a quintessentially natural beauty, the Majeur needs to put its face on before it goes out and the Rich Majeur is nipped, tucked, pushed up and squeezed in all over the place.

Brut Majeur Rosé NV, £33
An unusual rosé, this is 51% Chardonnay with the balance a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and some still Pinot Noir for colour.

It is a pale salmon pink in the glass and froths enthusiastically on first pouring.

Initially, it has a sharp bite - there is red berry fruit and a touch of Pinot vegetality. Good acidity and leesy persistence.

I can't quite get my head around a rose that is mostly Chardonnay and does not have the weightiness of a Pinot-based pink fizz.

Light, elegant and subtle if a little confusing.

Blanc de Blanc 2004, £54
From 100% Chardonnay, it shows citrus, white flowers and honey on the nose.

On the palate, there is the sharp crispness of green apples, sherbet, grippy acidity and yeasty brioche.

Leesy and persistent, it feels extremely elegant.

I'm a little surprised to find this is the most expensive wine of the night as it's neither the oldest nor the most complex.

However, it is perhaps the most elegant wine and the price is driven by rigorous fruit selection, but to me this merely highlights the inherent limitations of a Blanc de Blanc.

Brut Millesime 1999, £48.50
By contrast, this slighly older, rather cheaper blend I found much more interesting.

Incredibly powerful, expressive and complex nose - fruity, vegetal, sour-hay and oxidative cellar mustiness.

Sharp, linear, fresh acidity; developed red berry fruit sweetness; a leesiness that become creaminess on the palate; persistent finish.

Great complexity and for me, the best wine of the evening. Not cheap in absolute terms, but worth the money as Champagnes go.

Recommended wines
The Brut Nature NV is a great bottle of elegant, well-made youthful, non-vintage fizz.

If your pockets are a little deeper, however - or your rich uncle's paying - the Millesime 1999 demonstrates the added complexity that comes from an aged, vintage wine.


Ayala - http://www.champagne-ayala.fr/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Two Reds from Naked Wines - South Africa and Portugal‏ (and Lot18 UK)

At the end of a very challenging week in the day job, not being able to get to the Wines of South Africa braaiday lunch and tasting last Friday due to yet another very sudden, very heavy downpour was mildly disappointing to say the least.

It was held at a restaurant a mere five minutes' walk from my office and the stream of excitable tweets from fellow bloggers who'd made it there was as relentless and depressing as the rain.

I decided to make up for it by keeping the theme South African with an Arabella Shiraz from Naked Wines for dinner that evening.

Naked Wines have been hugely successful as a business since their launch a mere 4 years ago. Reports that Lot18 UK (another internet only wine retail start-up) have closed down operations after just 4 months throw Naked's success into sharp relief.

Lot18's press release blamed the supermarkets in a somewhat huffy parting shot - but that's a bit like blaming the wind for blowing or the rain for falling.

I don't know the details, but clearly Lot18 failed to find a commercially-robust strategy in this country (they are faring somewhat better in the US) and I can't help again drawing a comparison with Naked Wines' founder Rowan Gormley - a savvy, commercial, entrepreneurial finance guy.

Arabella Shiraz, 2011, South Africa - £8.49 / £6.25 for Angels

After a long week at work, an uncomplicated, ripe, fruit-driven quaffer was exactly what I needed - the oenological equivalent of burger and chips or the sausage and mash that we served it with.

Lots of sweet, sunshine-filled plummy fruit, hints of spice and liquorice and a slap of leather on the finish.

Balanced and ripe - pleasant acidity and soft tannins. Top-end fruit appeal without any bottom-end complexity, it's a well-brought-up girl-next-door of a wine.

Friendly and pleasant to have around, reliable and well-behaved; won't challenge or thrill you too much; pretty much what its IWC commendation says about it.

Montaria 2010, Alantejano, Portugal - £9.99 / £7.49 for Angels

With that bottle gone, we picked out another from Naked - a Montaria 2010 from Alantejano in Portgal.

Made from the native Trincadeira plus Aragonez (Spain's Tempranillo) and the less well-known Alicante Bouschet grapes, it displays the Naked house-style qualities of being extremely pleasant and balanced.

There are touches of Portuguese typicity - red and black cherry fruit, some roughed-up herbs and eucalpytus, prominent acidity. But the tannins, which are so often a touch astringent in Portuguese wines, owe more to Naked's preference for gentle softness than to their country of origin.

Less full-on New World in style, this is not as quite as ripe and sweet as the Arabella and the texture improves with air by the following day when the left overs (plus a second bottle) match well with a roast beef dinner.

Well-made, reliable, perfectly ripe, enjoyably crowd-pleasing wines for easy quaffing - is it any wonder Naked has been such a success story ?


Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.co.uk/
Arabella Wines - http://www.arabellawines.com/

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Spectacular Summer Entertaining Case from Tesco

If you send a case of wines off to be reviewed online, you'd better make it a good one.

This Spectacular Summer Entertaining case from Tesco is something of a mixed bag - a couple of quite pleasant ones, the rest somewhere between middling and disappointing.

A review with the extended CWB family provoked some discussion about who the intended audience might be. The conclusion was summer spectacular = party wines = quantity rather than quality.

Here are my own reviews - the department of brutal truth, I like to call it (some of the family were more inclined to be polite).

Swingbridge Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia 2010 - lacks complexity and is somewhat unbalanced; tartly acidic with orchard fruit sweetness. Clumsy; extended time on the lees adds something, but does not redeem.

Colpasso Nero d'Avola, Sicily 2009 - suffers much the same stylistic faults as the chardie; harsh acidity and too much primary fruit sweetness. Harsh on the finish. Lacks balance, texture and complexity.

Ch Laroche Viella, Madiran 1996 - greater complexity with developed aromas and more texture on the palate. The tannins are drying on the finish and the acidity is again rather harsh.

Marques de Monistrol Cava Rosé 2008 - pleasant enough and inoffensive, lacks interest or complexity, but no stylistic faults as such, making it the best wine so far (albeit that's not saying much) - sweet red berry fruit, leesiness, some persistence on the finish.

Faustino Rivero Ulecia Rioja Reserva 2005 - IWSC silver; at last, no stylistic faults here: balanced, with ripe tannins.

Red and black cherry fruit, sweet vanilla spice, prominent acidity, mouthfilling texture, good finish, mellowness from aging.

With air, a touch of truffleyness and meaty aromas, but the fruit is gone by the following day, so drink in a single sitting.

Old Renwick Road Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand  - good, well-made textbook Marlborough SB; zesty and herbaceous, mineral, linear acidity. Well-made with good structure.


So, something of a mixed bag and an odd selection with no obvious theme - cheap Spanish pink fizz, yes, but why a 15 year-old rustic French wine for summer entertaining ?

You could almost see this as a case study (no pun intended) - a couple of good textbook wines, a couple of older wines to show the effects of age, a couple of borderline stylistically faulty ones.

Overall it feels more like a random collection of bin ends that needed shifting than a well-thought out case - but there is certainly some enjoyment to be found here and at an average price of £6.25 a bottle, I would happily drink the Rioja and Sauvignon again.

You have the chance to find out for yourself by entering my competition to win this case - here: http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/mixed-case-from-tesco-to-be-won.html


Tesco Wines - http://www.tesco.com/wine/
Spectacular Summer Entertaining case - http://www.tesco.com/wine/product/details/default.aspx?searchBox=spectacular&id=273581008

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ch La Claymore Lussac St Emilion, 2007 - Joseph Barnes Wines

This half bottle of right-bank Bordeaux was a gift from Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines; I had reviewed a series of wines for the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux Campaign and found a number of them to be rather underwhelming, so began compiling a list of good Bordeaux from local independents around Cambridge as alternatives.

Charles kindly gave me a half bottle of this Ch La Claymore as his recommended "everyday Bordeaux" to try - according to Charles' website, the name of the estate is an apparent reference to the big sword (Claimh mhor) of the Scottish Highlanders who invaded the region in 1370.

Lussac St-Emilion is a lesser, satellite region of the right-bank area of St Emilion. At this price level, that's no bad thing, actually.

The right bank is mainly Merlot dominated, meaning generally softer, quicker-maturing wines, with aromas of plums and coffee.

Purple in the glass, there are touches of brick red age; immediately on first pouring, there is mostly oakiness on the nose and it is initially a little lacking in fruit; however, this all changes after around 30 minutes.

With time and air, there is dark cherry fruit and developed oaky aromas on the nose, with touches of spice.

The palate shows lovely bramble and black cherry fruit, a touch of pencil shavings and coffee grounds.

At five years old now, it is showing nicely developed secondary aromas, but will also keep for a little longer - a note that a standard sized bottle will generally age more slowly, all other things being equal.

Good acidity, with a supple and mouthfillling texture; perfectly ripe tannins and nicely balanced finish. Extremely well made indeed.

Continues to improve with some air - resealed and sampled the next day, it is better again, so don't be afraid to decant for a while before serving.

Match with slow-cooked, plain roast beef or roast duck.

£16.99 per full-size bottle; provided for review.


Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/home.aspx

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Wine in Threes

Three is a magic number,
Yes it is, it's a magic number.

- De La Soul, The Magic Number

With something of a backlog of review wines to get through chez CWB, we invited some friends round to help us try them out in flights of three.

Three New World Chardonnays

Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Unwooded Chardonnay, 2011, McLaren Vale, Australia Lean, unoaked Aussie style of chardie, with lots of tropical citrus and zesty kiwi; sharp, grapefruit and pith, tart and a bit unbalanced, especially on the finish, not generally popular.

Vinas Del Vero, Chardonnay 2010, Somontano, Spain From Spain, this is technically a European wine, but non-traditional Spanish = New World style. Golden in the glass, there is some gentle oak on the nose, floral aromas and sweet vanilla; weightier, fuller and more complex than the previous wine; supple with good acidity, it was generally popular, but for me a bit straightforward.

Match with sweetish white fish such as lightly cooked sole.

Jackson Estate Shelter Belt, 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand Toasty, yeasty nose with tropical fruit; on the palate sweet vanilla spice, good leesy depth and balance, rounded prominent acidity; nice pungent yeastiness from thick-skinned grapes.

The popular favourite of the three.

A versatile wine, it will match with hard yellow cheese, pasta with creamy sauce or chicken.

Recommended Wine

My favourite was the Jackson Estate for its complexity and tangy yeastiness.

Three Louis Jadot Red Burgundies

Louis Jadot is a leading grower and negociant based in Beaune with around 150ha of its own vineyards which produce only AOC wines.

Louis Jadot Chateau Des Chaques, Moulin a Vent, 2007 (£14.49, independents) A Gamay, this was smokey-herby on nose and a touch of damp forest. Light on the palate with red berry fruit; pleasant enough, but felt rather overpriced and not universally popular. A bit acidic and astringent on the finish. However, I found it improved the following day and was much more balanced on the finish.

Quaff in the garden in summer, or match with a light game terrine, cold cuts or coq au vin.

Louis Jadot Beaune Premier Cru, 2008 (£16.75, Majestic, independents) Textbook nose of truffley undergrowth,with cherry fruit. Good, soft, strawberry-ish texture and balanced finish; elegant with good structure and length. Match with something gamey, such as pigeon, quail or pheasant.

Louis Jadot, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Le Vaucrain, 2008 (£18.75, independents) This wine, which had the potential (i.e. price tag) to be the best, was sadly spoilt - thin, vinegary and with no fruit, something had clearly gone wrong under the cork.

Recommended Wine

Whilst I suspect the Côtes de Nuits should or could have been the best wine here, on the day it was the Beaune.

Three red Rhônes from Jean-Luc Colombo

Jean-Luc Colombo is something of a maverick moderniser of the northern Rhone - his wines are often GSM blends, but use modern techniques.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône Le Vent Rouge, 2010 (£9.25, Oddbins) This wine had a nose of dark berry fruit and garrigue herbs, lots of elderberry and black cherry fruit on the palate with prominent acidity and a good finish. A well-made, juicy characterful red to match with salami.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône Bonne Roche, 2009 (£9.99, independents) For just a few pennies more this wine had a more interesting texture and greater complexity. Match with roast beef or garlic and rosemary lamb.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Cornas Mejeans, 2009 (£22.99, independents) This was really a step up from the previous two in terms of complexity and intensity - great texture, lovely balance, long finish.

Recommended Wine

The Mejeans is the best wine of these three, but given the pricing, the Bonne Roche represents the best value for money.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Mixed Case From Tesco To Be Won‏

A mixed case of best sellers from a retailer is, for me, just about the best way to get a sense of whether their "house style" is your thing or not.

I've done this with a few retailers now and have a reasonably good sense of what to expect from the main big internet players as well my local independents in Cambridge.

This time it is the turn of Tesco who recently sent me a mixed Summer Spectacular Case to try with the promise of an additional case of the same wines as a competition prize.

The case itself is a diverse collection, including a vintage pink Spanish fizz, a New World Chardie and a red from the traditionally rustic and characterful region of South West France.

Due to something of a backlog at CWB Towers of review wines to get through, I'm launching the competition now and will review the wines in the next few weeks.

The competition is very simple - I want you to tell me about the most memorable bottle of wine you've had and why. It could be special because of the wine itself, the person you drank it with or the occasion of your drinking.

It doesn't have to be expensive - or even that good. It just has to be memorable.

Obviously, it helps if it was very good, and if it also led to a life-changing experience for you, I'll be deeply impressed; a lunch reunion with a long-lost relative, the wine you had when you proposed to your other half, the bottle that convinced you to love sherry, or a nice chianti that you had with some liver and fava beans.

Simply add a comment to this post and in a couple of weeks, I'll review them all and declare a winner.

You can enter as many times as you like, but my decision is final and don't forget to ensure I know how to contact you in the event you are the lucky winner.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Champagne Dinner at Alimentum

Alimentum was perhaps the restaurant in Cambridge that kicked off the whole foodie scene - it arrived early in the new millennium before Hotel du Vin, The Punter and the make-over of Fitzbillies at a time when the only good restaurant in town was Midsummer House (even before it got its Michelin stars).

In those days, a good meal in Cambridge involved a drive to The Tickell, The Three Horseshoes or The Pink Geranium - all of which have changed hands since.

We went to Alimentum once in the early days - and were underwhelmed; the location was terrible - a street corner out of the centre opposite the leisure park and a petrol station.

The decor, dark wood with an S&M-infused black and red sub-theme, tried rather too hard to be edgy and ended up not working, whilst the food was good enough, but nothing special and served in smallish portions.

Whenever I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for Alimentum to local foodies, the response was always "You must go back, it's a lot better now".

I got my chance a few weeks ago when, as a result of some quick-fingered googling, I got the answer right to a question and won a seat at a Champagne tasting and dinner with Nick Adams MW.

The full story is that chef Mark Poynton moved from Midsummer House to Alimentum in about 2008 and then added proprietor to his responsibilities after buying the place out of liquidation in 2010.

The restaurant has now set its sights on becoming Cambridge's second Michelin-awarded establishment, which I think is more of a necessity than vanity, since with nothing remotely interesting in the immediate area, it needs to be a destination in its own right.

The interior has changed a little for the better - not completely made over, it no longer feels quite so darkly, so boudoir-ishly oppressive.

The location has not - but the partial misting-effect of floor-to-ceiling glass windows smooths out some of the rougher edges of the views. And, simply put, the food is now worthy of that coveted Michelin star.

My highly unscientific rule-of thumb is that one star gets you very good food indeed, two gets you dishes that bear no resemblance to anything you've had before, whilst three is reserved for the kind of over-top theatre of El Bulli and The Fat Duck.

After the Champagne tasting, we started on the four course menu created by Mark Poynton with a matching fizz for each course.

Amuse bouche and starter

The amuse bouche of courgette mousse with feta and black olive was light and fluffy but intensely flavoured - the herbaceousness of the mousse was perfectly offset by the strong salty cheese crumbled on top and the earthiness of the delicate slices of black olive.

The wine match for both this and the starter was a Roland Bauchet Selection NV; with mostly Chardonnay in the blend plus around 25% Pinot Noir, it was crisp, refreshing and able to cut through the strong, salty starter, but with enough body to stand up to the weight of the rich-yet-light food.

The starter of lemon sole a la veronique with pickled fennel, grapes and black olive was equally exquisite - a delicate and delicious piece of fish with a foamed creamy sauce and dainty, sweet-sharp-salty slices of grapes, fennel and olives.


The main course of quail featured breast, hay smoked legs and cep puree with lentils and truffle. It was, appropriately, a little more substantial than the two previous courses and again absolutely delicious.

The heart of the dish, for me, was the wonderful cep puree which pulled together the gamey, pink, tender and perfectly cooked meat with the earthiness of the lentils.

The wine match of Drappier Carte d'Or NV also worked really well with this - with a higher proportion of Pinot, it had more of the earthy, forestey, gamey aromas found in the food, as well as the body to stand up to protein-rich meat and lentils.

Pre-dessert and dessert

The pre-dessert of apple and cucumber sorbet with apple and rapeseed oil matched to a Moscato Casa Sant' Orsola NV provided the one bum-note of the night.

Correctly light, delicious and refreshing, the sorbet's sharp greenness from the apple and cucumber jarred with the sweet, primary fruitiness of the Moscato - although both were very good indeed, this was on no level a good match.

However, the Moscato made complete sense when the dessert itself was served - the sweetness of the jelly, apricot sorbet and mousse with basil meringue matched perfectly this time.

And like all the previous courses, it was beautifully made, elegantly presented and deliciously balanced.

Excellent ingredients, perfectly cooked, beautifully presented; a traditional dish served with a couple of twists; the addition of the unexpected flavours from the grapes and black olive; the way it just all came together and worked beautifully - this was highly intelligent cooking that did not wear its status too flashily.


It is one of the best meals I have had in a long time and clearly had its sights firmly set on at least one, if not two, Michelin stars for inventiveness, execution and elegance.

For me, it had that quality that all great, memorable meals should possess - a lively intelligence, a touch of the unexpected, a hint of quirky humour, a sense of theatricality that enhances but does not overshadow the food.

This then was a meal whose aspirations went beyond being mere food and aimed to be an experience, an artistic statement.

And overall, it worked very well indeed; aside from the schoolboy error of the Moscato and pre-dessert the only other "room-for-improvement" comment I can add is my neighbour's comment that more of the ticket price had gone on the wines than the food; the quality of each was uniformly excellent, but a re-balancing of the quantities would not have been a bad thing.

The ticket price was £75pp which, given the quantity and quality of the wines, the presentation by a Master of Wine and the Michelin-star quality of the food, was extremely reasonable.

Other related articles
Fischer's of Baslow
Lunch at Hotel du Vin
L'Alembic, Nuits St Georges
The Box Tree at 50 (written for Jancis Robinson)


Alimentum - http://restaurantalimentum.co.uk/

Champagne tasting with Nick Adams - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/champagne-tasting-at-alimentum.html

Sunday, 8 July 2012

South West France Wines with Anthony Rose at Comptoir Gascon

South West France is, according to The Wine Gang's Anthony Rose, part of La France Profonde - a dark and mysterious region.

To me, it evokes Cyrano de Bergerac's proud Gascon heritage and is a sort of French Balkans - a place of strong foods, simmering historical tensions and intense passions.

For his talk at Comptoir Gascon, Anthony gave us both a literal and metaphorical flavour of the regional identities within South West France - 16 PDOs (AOCs), 12 PGIs (VdPs) and around 20% exports except Gascony with 75%.

PGI Cotes de Gascogne
The Domaine de Maubet 2011 (Oxford Wine Company, POA), mostly Colombard but with Ugni Blanc, Gros Mansend and Sauvignon, had a smokey, spicy nose with mineral, herbaceous and elderflower aromas. The palate shows crisp, rounded gooseberry and some spice. Well made, it is a good early drinker.

The Domaine de Bordes 2011 (CA Rookes, £6.66) was a similar blend, but less aromatic on the nose and more leesy, with a zesty, refreshing palate of sweet pear fruit and leesiness.

PDO St Mont
The Tesco Finest St Mont (Tesco, £6.64) made from Pyrennean varieties, Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac was neutral on the nose with a touch of grapefruit and zest. The palate is citrussy and zesty with a persistent finish. Well made, I found it a little dull and uncharacterful.

The Plaimont Le Faite (£14.99 Adnams) is mainly Gros Manseng with some Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu. A deeper golden colour in the glass, it has a salty tang and aromas of dry straw or candied peel with apricot and tropical fruit.

Late harvested, it concentrated and has a honeyed botrytis-esque palate of mango and apricot with a persistent, mineral, leesy finish.

PDO Gaillac
Domaine d'Escausses 2010 (£14.49 Les Caves de Pyrene) is a roughly equal blend of Sauvignon, Mauzac and Muscadelle. Aged in oak with battonage, Anthony described this as a Graves-style white with the oaky character present but not dominant.

It has creamy, nutty spice on the nose and a creamy, leesy, buttery palate with crisp, fresh tropical acidity. There is pleasant oak on the finish with a touch of spice. Weighty and complex, it needs to accompany food.

PDO Fronton
Domaine le Roc, La Saignee 2011 (Les Caves de Pyrene, POA) is a rose from mainly Negrette with Syrah and Cab Franc.

A deep translucent red, it is the colour of cranberry juice. On the nose there are violets, wild flowers, and something herbal or pine resin, with spicy liquorice hints and bubblegum on the palate.

A full-bodied palate shows sweet red berries, savouriness and spice.

Overall, fairly OK but not my thing.

Chateau Bouissel 2009 (£9, Waitrose, M&S) is 50% Negrette with the rest Syrah, Cab and Cot.

Blackcurrant, tar and mintiness on the nose, minty cassis on the palate and lots of grip on the finish. Also a touch of oxidation - or lack of freshness, 2009 being a very hot year.

Overall, I did not enjoy this one.

PDO Gaillac
Domaine de Pialentou, Les Gentilles Pierres 2006 (£8.75, The Wine Society) is a real mixture of grapes, with equal-ish proportions of Braucol, Syrah, Merlot and Cab.

The nose shows spice, cassis and earthiness, whilst the palate has a creamy texture, herbaceous smokiness and grainy tannins with a grippy slightly astringent finish.

The combination of an herbaceous palate and the grippy finish led some people to consider it somewhat Portuguese in style. In any case, this was very good and for me the best of the reds.

PDO Madiran
Chateau Aydie 2009 (Waitrose, POA) is 100% Tannat and had been previously decanted to soften the tannins.

Described by Anthony as Barolo-esque, it had a nose of raspberries and floral violets. The palate is supple with good grip and it feels elegant, but lacks fruit.

This wine did not work for me - subjected to modern techniques of micro-oxygenation to soften the tannins, the softness felt artificial and unconvincing - like tenderised steak or a facelifted aging actress.

Much better, I thought, was the wine next to it in the brochure but which was not included in the tasting - Domaine Berthoumieu, which I have reviewed earlier courtesy of Vinopic.

PDO Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh
We finished with a luscious sticky; Prelude a L'Hernival 2010 (Cave de Crouseilles POA) is 60% Petit Manseng, 40% Petit Courbu and is bright gold in the glass.

With an aromatic, botrytised nose of marmalade, overripe peach and nectarine and curiously, ground almonds, it has a complex buttery palate with peach, nectarine and candied exotic fruit, orange and apricot, a touch of spicy oak and a fresh acidity.

Very well-balanced and very delicious - my favourite wine of the tasting.

Recommended Wine
My favourite wine overall was the sticky and of the dry wines, I found the whites to be the most interesting generally.

White: Domaine d'Escausses for its food-friendly, gently-oaked weightiness.

Red: Domaine de Pialentou, Les Gentilles Pierres for its individualism, balance and texture. Or the Domaine Berthoumieu.

Anyone interested in trying out some wines from this region may like to know that Anthony concluded his talk by mentioning that Comptoir Gascon has 91 wines from South West France on tasting at lunchtimes - even better, they are free to sample.


Anthony Rose - http://www.anthonyrosewine.com/
The Wine Gang - http://www.thewinegang.com/
South West France Wines - http://southwestfrancewines.com/
Comptoir Gascon - http://www.comptoirgascon.com/

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Wine of the Month - July (and a Pie on the Side)

Now that Wine of the Month is into its second year, I thought it might be interesting to start mixing things up a little by adding a matching food element - and a competition.

Whilst Cambridge may still not be a great dining-out city (due in part to the large numbers of tourists we get who want only recognisably familiar, high-street chain restaurants), there has been something of a food revolution on the last half decade or so with a vast increase in the number of smart eating establishments.

At a more grass-roots level, there is foodie heaven to be found in the various delis, farm shops and the like that have opened up, too.

Amongst these is a relative new-comer, Pavitt's Pies; founded by Carri Pavitt who gave up a career in events at CIE less than a year ago, the award-winning pies are hand-made from fresh local ingredients.

Carri suggested that I try her Label Anglais Chicken and Mushroom pie, so I asked the merchants to provide something to match.

For details of the chance to win a couple of Carri's pies, see the bottom of this piece.

Domaine de Menard, Cuvee Marine, 2011 - £8.99, Joseph Barnes Wines

From Gascony in South West France, the name of this wine is a reference to the subsoil which is full of shellfish fossils and gives this wine a minerally, slightly smokey elegance.

Made from a blend of local varieties Ugni blanc and Gros Manseng, it is aromatic on the nose, with zesty grapefruit, orchard fruits and some white flowers.

On the palate it is crisp and fresh, zesty and slightly herbaceous with peach and pear fruit, zippy acidity and a persistent, minerally finish.

Pure and focused, it makes a great summer sipper, aperitif or a match for mozzarella with oil and basil or oily fish such as mackerel.

Gayda Figure Libra Freestyle Blanc, IGP Pays d'Oc 2010 - £13.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

Gayda is a relatively new winery, established in just 2003 in Languedoc. This Figure Libre (meaning "freestyle") is a curious mixture of varieties - 43% Grenache Blanc, 20% Maccabeu, 20% Marsanne, 14% Chenin Blanc, 3% Roussanne - and as a result carries merely a humble Pays d'Oc tag.

Each variety is fermented separately in oak before blending and further aging in vat - on the nose there is citrus, orchard fruit, blossom and spice. The palate is full-bodied and complex with more ripe stone fruit, buttery, vanilla-spice oak, fresh acidity, a peachy texture and a savoury, toasty leesiness that persists on the finish.

Quirky and characterful in a typically Languedoc way, this is a great food wine that would match with roast chicken or pork.

La Forge Estate Chardonnay, IGP Pays d'Oc, 2010 - £9.29, Bacchanalia

A decade or so ago, oaky Chardonnay was synonymous with "a glass of white" - then it started becoming too big, sweet and monolithic and the ABC ("Anything But Chardonnay") backlash against oaked whites began, first with kiwi SB and then Pinot Grigio.

This oak-fermented Chardonnay is grown on limestone and gravel near Carcassone, with grapes are picked at night to retain freshness. Fermentation is in a mixture of new oak and stainless steel with extended aging on the lees. The end result of all this is a balanced, elegant wine, with good depth of flavour, gentle oaking and good acidity.

On the nose there is tropical fruit, blossom and spice, whilst the palate is full and supple, with lovely toasty, sweet, vanilla oak cut through with tropical fruit acidity and a savoury, leesy finish.

This to me is exactly what a warm-climate, nicely-oaked Chardonnay should be - elegant yet crowd-pleasing, it is a lovely, easy-drinking, food-friendly wine in a textbook style.

As with the previous wine, match with pretty much any dish based on white meats - roasted, stews, with cream and pasta. Also with cheese.

Papaioannou 'Saint George' Agiorgitiko 2011 - £10.49 Noel Young Wines

This organic Greek red from Noel Young wines is from the Nemea region of the Peleponnese and was spotted by Noel at the International Wine Challenge.

Made from the agiorgitiko grape, whose name translates as St George, it is pale ruby red in the glass with cherry fruit, aromatic green herbs and a touch of spice of the nose.

The palate shows cherry fruit, smokey toasty, slightly herbaceous aromas and vibrant, juicy acidity. Good depth of flavour and a balanced, poised finish.

It feels very well-made with a clean freshness that I associate with organic wines.

It has soft and velvety on the palate with an almost Pinot-esque texture - and, like Pinot, can be served slightly chilled.

Chicken and Mushroom Pie - Pavitt's Pies, £2.50

Made from free-range Label Anglais chicken thighs and chestnut mushrooms, this is is a rather superb pie indeed. Deeply filled, with a thick sauce of butter, cream and sherry, it is one of the best pies I have ever had. There is absolutely nothing fancy about it - nothing unusual, quirky or overly fussy - just a really well-made and extremely tasty home-made pie from great ingredients.

Recommended wine and pie match

As ever, this is a great collection of wines, but the winner this month is the elegant yet crowd-pleasing Chardonnay from Bacchanalia.

The best-matching wine with the pie is either the Chardonnay or, even better, the Figure Libre.

Pavitt's Pies are available from Urban Larder, The Larder at Burwash Manor or direct from Pavitt's Pies via home delivery; full details here.


To win a couple of Carri's award-winning chicken and mushroom pies, just answer the following questions:

- If you could ask Carri to make you any pie at all what would it be ?
- Why ?
- Where would you serve it, and with whom ?
To enter the competition, just leave your answer as a comment to this article. Carri will judge all the answers and pick a winner to be announced some time next month. Please make sure you leave some contact details, so we can let you know if you are the lucky winner.

Competition rules are that Carri's decision is final and she will deliver the pies to the winner in Cambridge, otherwise you'll need to come to this wonderfully historic university town to collect.


Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Pavitt's Pies - http://www.pavittspies.co.uk/
Urban Larder - http://urbanlarder.co.uk/
The Larder at Burwash Manor - http://www.burwashlarder.com/

Friday, 6 July 2012

Viña Real Gran Reserva 2005‏

This 2005 Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva from CVNE arrived on the day of our company summer party, so I decided to open it up for an impromptu Wine Club between announcements and a trip to Hyde Park to play rounders.

Made from 90% Tempranillo and 10% other grapes including Graciano, it is a Gran Reserva and aged extensively in oak - the notes tell me it is first fermented in stainless steel (for freshness), followed by malolactic fermentation (for softness) in French and American oak (for vanilla spice) and ageing in vats (for roundedness).

Poured into the company decanter, it reveals a complex, developed and intense nose of cooked dark berry fruit, liquorice, coffee and roasted spices with earthy hints.

Dark purple in the glass, there is some paleness around the rim, but few signs of age.

It starts to open up after about 15 minutes aeration in the decanter, becoming more truffley on the nose and just keeps improving with time.

The palate is complex and mellow with flavours of slow roast plums, gently stewed elderberry fruit and sweet vanilla spice with good underpinning acidity.

Long, full and savoury on the palate, it is balanced and supple with a warming finish and a grip like a strict masseuse.

Very good indeed.

£21.49 from Majestic, BBR, Halisham Cellars, The Oxford Wine Company and other independents; provided for review.

CVNE - http://www.cvne.com/web/
Majestic - http://www.majestic.co.uk/

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Oddbins Bloggers' Case

When David Lowe, aka @BigPinots, called me the other week with an offer to get involved in a wine-blogging project, I was pretty much in from the start.

The Pitch

The idea was for six bloggers to choose two wines each from the newly-revived Oddbins' range to be promoted it jointly - we via our blogs and Oddbins on their websites.

The money element would be minimal, if anything initially; a minimum-wage internship to learn the ropes and prove we could do it.

However, it struck me as a genius idea for a number of reasons: different from the usual wine-of-the-week recommendations of the Big Established Names of wine writing, it was an opportunity for us as a group of bloggers to connect with our audience in a novel, possibly unique way.

Instead of just trying a pre-selected wine - either at a tasting or a sample - and then writing it up, this would be a chance to pick a couple of wines I really like and say "This is something that I really think is worth drinking".

On a personal level, it would also be a great opportunity to work with a team of fellow bloggers who all have different palates and outlooks, a chance to put forward my thoughts on what is a good wine and have it critiqued by fellow enthusiasts.

The Bloggers

So, my fellow Oddbins Bloggers are Andrew Barrow, David Lowe, Tara O'Leary, Belinda Stone and Paola Tich.

And as it turned out, we all brought something different to the mix - David and Tara came up with the idea and managed the relationship with Oddbins, Andrew provided the photographic skills whilst Paola and Belinda have the PR expertise. With my company director background, I dealt with a lot of the procedural and administrative issues.

The Wines

We met to choose the wines one afternoon at an Oddbins branch in south London, sampling and dividing the wines into yesses, noes and maybes.

Our remit was fairly broad - a mixed case of good wines that would not cost more than £100 aimed at neither the complete novice nor the wine snob.

Paola had sent round a copy of the Oddbins list in advance and from it I had marked down suitably-priced wines I thought might be interesting based on either regions, producers or grapes that liked and knew well enough to be able to tell straight away if they were good examples.

Sal'mon Groovey Gruener Veltliner 2010 Kremstal, Austria

Top of my list for whites was an Austrian Gruener Veltliner, of white I am a huge fan. Finding a good sub-£10 Gruener is no mean feat - £10 is pretty much entry level here - and a quick taste was enough to let me know I'd found my white; linear and mineral, it is a poised, elegant, food-friendly wine with great structure and a balanced finish.

However, choosing the red proved more difficult. I initially went for a high-altitude Spanish red from a producer whose wines I have tried before, but when we ended up with three inland Spanish reds and no consensus on which was the best, it was time for a re-think.

One of the ground rules we laid out was that all six bloggers should be happy with all the wines, so it would not be just a case of saying "Here's my two", but of getting agreement on all twelve wines with each blogger selecting their two favourites.

Some of the wines provoked more debate than others - my Gruener had both supporters and doubters, but was eventually carried by the level of support it commanded. Some wines were in and out more times than the hokey-cokey as detractors put them aside whilst supporters put them back.

With about 10 wines chosen and still no red in sight for me, we pulled a few more off the shelves - one proved good enough on quality to be included, but not on value; another was agreed to be bit too "international" in style - an oaky, ripe fruit-forward red that was good enough but could have been from anywhere in the New World.

Domaine de L'Arnesque, Cotes du Rhone 2009

At this point, I went for a wander round the shop looking for inspiration and my gaze chanced upon a medal-winning Rhone at just under a tenner. Just possibly, I thought, I might have found my red.

We opened it up, gave a swirl and out came aromas of dark berry fruit and a touch of garrigue herbs. On the palate it had an inky, mouthfilling texture and a nicely grippy finish; perfect with herby roast meats such as lamb with rosemary, or spicy salamis.

It proved to be one of the least controversial wines, a great discovery for me and at least as good as the red I had initially put forward.

With all 12 wines finally chosen, we marked the end of the first stage of The Oddbins Bloggers' Case with a few promotional photos and an agreement to deal with all the various admin bits and bobs in the coming weeks with the aim of launching in early July.

The Build-Up

Caricatures were commissioned and approved, we finalised terms with Oddbins, our tasting notes were drafted and subjected to group scrutiny - I was quizzed about my use of the word poised for the Gruener (which I insisted on keeping) and reference to garrigue herbs for the Rhone (which I eventually changed to wild mediterranean herbs as a sop).

A week or two later, we all went to the Oddbins Wine Fair in Bloomsbury where we saw the Oddbins Bloggers' Case being promoted for the first time alongside their The Palate competition. I also bumped into various wine friends: Michael Thurner from Austria's Fine Brands, De Martino from Chile and fellow CWW member Quentin Sadler, as well as meeting Stevens Garnier who are the importers of L'Arnesque.

The Launch

And finally, on Monday this week, we launched; the selling price of the case is £98 with free delivery, around a 15% discount as we agreed with Oddbins to reduce the price rather than take anything more for ourselves.

What Next ?

So all that remains is for people to buy it and let us know what they think - I say this not for the pocket-money commission levels, but because this is an opportunity for us to engage in a conversation about these wines and I would love to know what people think about them.

We, the six bloggers, have put our names and our reputations behind these wines and we hope they prove popular. But more than that, we want to know what you think of them and whether you share our enthusiasm for them.

We debated, discussed and haggled to find wines that we not only liked ourselves, but which stood up to the scrutiny of the whole group and which made sense as a collection.

I hope you like them. But more than that, I hope you'll let us all know what you think of them.

Please feel free to chat or comment either here via the blog, on Twitter or our Facebook page.


The Oddbins Bloggers' Case can be found here - http://www.oddbins.com/wine/Wine_Bloggers_Case.html

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Naked Wines in Cambridge

Is Naked Wines an online wine retailer, or an events and social media company with a sideline in quaffable crowd-pleasers ?

Last week, Naked brought their innovative approach to wine retailing (as well as a number of their winemakers) to Cambridge as part of their 2012 tour of UK cities; no formal presentation, limited technical information in the hand-out, just the chance to get up close and personal with the winemakers themselves.

I went along to try out some wines familiar and new - and in the process bumped into a large number of fellow Cambridge-based wine enthusiasts, including Davy Kurniawian who has already written up his thoughts on his Vinoremus blog.

Prices and full details are on the Naked Wines site, but unless otherwise, they were generally around £10 before Angel discounts.

New Zealand

Lay of the Land Destination SB 2011 is a half-step away from the typical, signature Marlborough Sauvignon; with three months spent on the lees it feels softer, fuller and more rounded out.

Small and Small Theodore SB 2011 is several steps away - with 10% of the blend spending 8 months in new oak, it has a mouthfillingly oaky, creamy texture.

The Riesling 2011 has a linear, citrus purity that is reminiscent of the Australian style; this wine has a Gold Medal from Sydney.

The Pinot Noir 2011 is pale in the glass, aromatic on the nose with sweet red berry fruit, a toasty smokiness, savoury depth and juicy acidity with good grip on the finish. Textbook entry-level Pinot.


Tilia Estate Pinot Gris 2011 has a smokey, toasty nose, rounded acidity and a touch of spice, with apples and pears as well as stone fruit.


Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz 2010 is a field blend of mainly Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, fermented half in stainless steel for freshness and half in vats for rounded fullness. It is crisp and aromatic with, unusually, aromas of bananas as well as spice and has a rounded, soft and creamy texture.

Landhaus Mayer Riesling 2011 is rounded and citrus-sherberty with a Mosel-esque sweet-sourness.


The Negreiros Douro 2008 has funky, herbaceous and struck-match aromas with red and black cherry fruit; balanced with good acidity.

The Filigrana Alvarinho 2011 showed aromas of petrol and sweat on the nose, with sherbert and zesty citrus pith on the palate. Crisp and linear with good depth of flavour.

The Montaria Reserva 2010 red shows cherry and prune fruit, with vanilla spice and liquorice. Complex, rounded and mouthfilling with gentle grip on the finish, it has an IWC Silver.


The Franck Massard Herbis Verdejo 2011 is grown at an altitude of 850m; aromatic on the nose, it is crisp and herbaceous yet rounded. It has an IWC Silver.

I tried, but was less inpressed with the wines from Carlos Rodriguez


Ryan O'Connell is an American who moved to Languedoc to make wine - his Domaine O'Vineyards Proprietor's Reserve 2008 is a Big, Oaky Red - a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan it has a perfumed nose of vanilla, liquorice and spice, with black cherry fruit, juicy acidity, an inky texture and an impressively complex palate.

Stylistically, a little too over-the-top for me - and not cheap at £17.49 even for Angels.

Recommended Wines

As ever, there were lots of affordable, well-made quaffers here - with a high degree of consistency.

The NZ Sauvignons were interesting as they suggest a new direction for this region. The Small and Small Pinot was also worthy of investigation as a reliable, textbook example.

My two favourites, however, were from Portugal; the Filigrana Alvarinho 2011 and the Montaria Reserva 2010.

Review by Davy Kurniawian on Vinoremus:

Part 1
Part 2


Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Chateau Baccarat Oenology Range - Final Thoughts

Some time ago, I was loaned a pair of Baccarat glasses to review; I was impressed by their stylish design and general build quality, but after an hour or so of comparative sniffing and sipping, less convinced that they were superior to any other glasses one might use for wine tasting.

I had bench-marked them against an ISO tasting glass, a Riedel Shiraz and Bormioli Rocco using a bottle of excellent Rousseau de Sipian Medoc 2005 from Cambridge Wine Merchants.

A few weeks later, the Baccarat range was launched in the UK with an event that I was unable to attend; but I read the twitter stream and exchanged a few tweets with JancisRobinson.com writer and aspiring MW, Richard Hemming, as well as @winerackd.

We came to the conclusion that the Baccarat glasses show best on the nose with wines straight out of the bottle, but with no difference on the palate - this makes sense as the Baccarat glasses are broad, flat and shallow - rather like a decanter. With a newly-opened wine, this will aid the aeration process significantly compared to a more tulip-shaped glass.

Richard noted that after about an hour, there was little or no difference between the Baccarat and the other glasses.

For my review of the Baccarat glasses, I first decanted the wine and generally allowed it a decent amount of air before sniffing. I also used quite small measures meaning a greater surface-area-to-volume ratio in the glass generally.

All this rather reconfirms my feeling that the superior performance that the Baccarats offer is to be found more in the dining room that at a tasting event - I re-ran the test using a pair of more traditional, non-bulbous glasses and without the extensive swirling and sniffing for comparison and found the Baccarats to be much better than a pair of U-shaped Royal Doultons.

Richard returns to his theme of Baccarat glasses in this piece for the FT on Buying and Investing in Wine Glasses - as someone who has broken more wine glasses than I care to remember (always the good ones, sadly), I particularly appreciate his comment that price is a consideration not so much of whether you can afford to buy them, but of whether you can afford to replace them if they break.

For the full review of the Baccarat glasses, see here: http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/chateau-baccarat-oenology-range-glasses.html


Baccarat - http://www.baccarat.com/
Riedel - http://www.riedel.co.uk/
Bormioli Rocco - http://www.bormiolirocco.com/home_en.htm