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Monday, 24 August 2015

Oreanda Brut NV - Ukraine

A clean, elegant Ukrainian fizz from Global Spirits

With its continental climate and a preference for spirits, Ukraine is not naturally a wine country; however, the southern areas, especially Crimea, are home to various styles including plenty of enjoyable if basic fizz.

This Oreanda Brut NV, produced by Global Spirits, is from nowhere more specific than "South Ukraine"; grapes are international varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc) and alcohol a sensible 12.5%.

Fresh and citrussy with orchard fruits and something distinctly redcurranty, it is clean, light and elegant. Prosecco-esque and thoroughly enjoyable.

Serve well-chilled as an apertif, ideally at a summer garden party with canapes.

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Nemiroff Horilka

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Wine By Numbers - James Anderson's Numbers Collection

Three Languedoc wines from cricketer James Anderson available from Milton Sandford Wines

The Numbers Collection is a new range of wines that cricketer James Anderson has developed with Robert Vic Domaine Preignes Le Vieux in Beziers, Languedoc.

They are available in the UK through independent wine merchant, Milton Sandford Wines’ online wine store (www.winecellarclub.co.uk) price at £9.95.

There's little for the generalist not to enjoy here; pleasant, basic quaffers in a modern, ripe style. On the downside, they are uncomplicated and insubstantial.

They score better for marketing chutzpah - all are labelled "Reserve" and priced aspirationally.

Reserve Blanc 2014 Pays d'Oc floral with white stone fruit; toasty, fat and waxy but a little harsh.

Reserve Rosé 2014 vin de France full of ripe red berries, pleasantly substantial, mineral and rounded.

Reserve Rouge 2014 Pays d'Oc lifted perfumey berries; fresh and juicy with a supple texture

The rosé is the most interesting.

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Striking French!
Château la Tulipe de la Garde, Bordeaux Superieur 2012

Friday, 21 August 2015

Madeira Tasting At Blandy's Wine Lodge

A tasting of aged and vintage Madeiras at Blandy's Wine Lodge, Funchal - including a rare vintage Terrantez

Madeira is a fortified, "cooked" wine made by exposure to both heat and air on the Atlantic island of the same name.

Madeira must be aged for a minimum of three years; somewhat confusingly, for blends the age indication is stylistic rather than literal, whereas vintage Madeira is actually from a single year.

At the end of a very well-run tour through the Blandy's Wine Lodge, we were recommended to compare the blend against the vintage for each style. In all cases, the vintage wines were more complex than the blends.

The older wines were also more nuanced and complex than the younger wines.

The revelation of the tasting, however, was a Terrantez 1976 - a rare, almost-extinct grape, it is "the Pinot Noir of Madeira" producing elegant, elusive, sherry-like wines.

Dryness is a relative term in Madeira - with very high acidity levels, all wines contain residual sugar, so indicated sweetness levels are more perceived than actual.
Dry - match with roasted almonds

Sercial 10 Amber mahogany, aromatic and refreshing with roasted nuts and caramel; lingering finish.

Sercial 1998 Colheita less aromatic and more complex; fuller, plumper and more balanced on the finish


Verdelho 10 Years more up-front, more immediate and less complex

Verdelho 1998 plumper, rounder; more assured, complex and balanced

Semi-sweet - match with Madeiran molasses cake

Bual 10 rich fruitcake and freshness

Bual 2002 Colheita more complex, balanced and harmonious; very long and intense
Older Vintages

Terrantez 1976 from a great year; balsamic and tobacco with cigar box, less aromatic but still fragrant, more sherry-like; fresh acidity, roasted spices and pepperiness. Very harmonious and mellow; elegant and deftly muscular.

Verdelho 1973 declared as a vintage earlier this year; incredibly concentrated and intense; long and complex with roasted spices on the finish .

Other related articles
On Madeira - The Tasting
On Madeira - The Background
On Madeira - The Low-Down‏

Monday, 17 August 2015

Rioja And Tapas

Three Riojas from Spain's CVNE with matching tapas - as recommended by the winemakers themselves

CVNE’s winemakers have selected three wines from Cune, Viña Real and Contino and suggested their favourite tapas pairings to go with them.

Cune Crianza 2011, (£10.25, Majestic, Booths, Wine Rack, independents) juicy red and black cherries with some spice.

Marίa Larrea, Cune, recommends: Jamón Iberico and Olive Oil

Viña Real Crianza 2011, (£11.05, Wine Rack, Fortnum & Mason, Drinkshop.com and other independents) Oaky spice and ripe cherries with a touch of undergrowth; fresh and accomplished.


Eva de Benito, Viña Real, recommends: Rump Steak and Morcilla meatballs

Contino Reserva 2008, (£20.50, Tesco, The drinkshop.com, Fortnum & Mason, The Oxford Wine Company, Wimbledon Wine Cellars, independents) ripe cherry and damson fruits, well-integrated oaky spice with some aged leathery gaminess. Supple plump and harmonious - a very adept wine.

Very Good.

Jesús Madrazo, Contino, recommends: lamb chops cooked over vine prunings

Other related articles
Red Wine for Beginners - CVNE Rioja Reserva 2010
Four CVNE Wines
Two Aged Riojas From CVNE

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Madeira - A Guide

Madeira: a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Africa settled in the early 1400s by the Portuguese and once, briefly, part of Britain.

The south side is dry, rocky and populated; the north wetter, lusher and rural. With years of EU development subsidies, it is safe and clean with good roads and infrastructure.


Located just 15 minutes from airport, and away from the main hotel area west of Funchal, Palheiro Village has apartments and villas commanding an impressive view over the capital.

You'll need a car to get around - Blandy Travel can arrange a hire.


Set back from the harbour, Funchal's old town has a Mediterranean feel with touches of colonial outpost; ornate cathedrals with gilded interiors and churches, fortresses, a governor's residence and narrow cobbled streets.

More modern additions include a cable-car ride over the city and up to the botanical gardens.


The grapes for Madeira are grown around the island, but the magical transformation of the base wine into Madeira takes place via a process of Canteiro, for the best wines, over several floors of the Madeira Houses in central Funchal.
Blandy's, one of the largest producers has regular tours of their working Madeira House, Blandy's Wine Lodge, ending with a tasting.
Round the corner, the D'Oliveiras experience is less polished-corporate and offers the chance to taste their "bottled electricity".

Eat Out

Next to Blandy's, Dos Combatentes is a small restaurant serving well-made food and Portuguese wines. The char-grilled squid is a speciality; the traditional Madeiran beef skewer is also excellent.

Drive up to Pico do Areira, one of the island's highest peaks, for breathtaking views in all directions.
If you're feeling energetic, walk along part of the narrow, dizzying track that was once used to carry goods from Santana to Funchal.
And look out for the local wildlife.


If you need a change from the heated pool at Palheiro, there is a sandy beach 30 minutes' drive away at Machico.

Eat Local

Set on a cliff top with views along the dramatic rocky coastline, Quinta Do Furão is an hotel and restaurant between Santana and São Jorge with a traditional Madeiran menu.
Try local specialities, limpets
And, with beef skewer, local table wine, Terras do Avô


Whilst you are in the area, check out the local traditional thatched triangular houses in Santana and around.

Eat In

Most of Madeira's food is imported from, and subsidised by, Portugal. The main exception is seafood which is incredibly fresh and ridiculously inexpensive.
There is plenty of cheese, too.
Drink Well, Drink Local

The supermarkets are well-stocked with delicious, inexpensive Portuguese wines, costing only a few euros. It would be remiss not to try the local Madeira; a strong, fresh fortified wine, it matches best with a simple supper of olives, strong cheese and tuna steak.

Other related articles
On Madeira
Terras do Avô

Friday, 14 August 2015

On Wine, Branding And Behavioural Economics

Talking to Robert Joseph about wine and branding at the IPA

I have always enjoyed reading Robert Joseph's irreverent but commercial jottings.

We met up at the home of branding, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, to talk about wine and brands. Robert is researching an innovative interactive book; for me it was the opportunity to share a mix of personal views and IPA insights with him.

Robert's starting point is that the Brits have an uneasy relationship with luxury goods and status symbols - we inherently suspect expensive things to be no more that cheap things with a fancy label added; walk around the IOD and you'll see company directors with £200 M&S suits in preference to something costing five times the amount with an Armani label.

We have coined the term label-snob as if to indicate that inverted snobbery about labels is the only correct way of looking at things and that a positive, aspirational attitude towards brands is an aberration.

We share this cost-conscious attitude with the Dutch, and Robert attributes it to us having had a Dutch monarchy in the late 1600s - a tantalising if elusive argument.

We then move on to wine as a signifier - some purists would have us believe that the only thing that matters is the liquid in the bottle (often the same people, I find, who embrace other forms of oenological zealotry, such as an enthusiasm for low-intervention, natural wines).

Back in the real world, we may be happy with a simply-packaged screw-top for a midweek quaff, but come the weekend when our posh neighbours or boss come round, we want a heavier bottle with an embossed label and a cork - regardless of whether the contents are actually any better.

This leads on to the positioning of wine and Behavioural Economics, the idea that in a world of Spock-like rationality, we would make decisions about wine on a simple price-quality ratio and an objective assessment of our personal preferences.

In practice, however, emotional factors play at least as large a part if not more so - do we like the label, what would our choosing of a particular wine say about us, is it a gift and packaged in a carton (as whisky and Champagne so often are, yet table wines are not)?

Part of the problem that wine has created for itself is that it's just so complicated - the various appellations and informal hierarchies of Premier Cru and Grand Cru all date back to a pre-globalisation age when wine was not an FMCG product.

New World countries, with less heritage and a more gung-ho attitude, can cut through the burden of so much history to build brands that are more meaningful and easily understood with varietal labelling at one end and trendy areas at the other; Pinot Grigio, suggests Robert, is the Camembert of wine - a ubiquitous, go-to option - whilst Napa adds a high-end cachet to any bottle to which its name is appended.

Two factors account for the low margins in winemaking:

- a sense of inferiority that, given the best wines come from a small number of plots in Bordeaux and Burgundy, nothing else can be priced aspirationally

- a highly-fragmented market, production-side, in which no-one quite dare raise their prices above regional averages.

The people who in the Old World have most successfully overcome both of these limitations are the champenois; Champagne is not actually a wine at all these days but has evolved into a de rigeur synonym for celebrations of victory or life-events, a gift, a lifestyle we aspire to.

Even if the fizzy liquid in our flutes is actually Prosecco or Cremant, our universal reference point remains Champagne - and anything else with bubbles is a mere inferior alternative to the real thing.

So where does this leave the branding of wine? I share some IPA research findings with Robert:

- short term sales activation drives volumes but the effects fade rapidly and there is no overall cumulative effect; rational messages work best for this;

- longer-term brand building drives pricing advantages but needs a sustained effort over three years; emotional messages work best here.

To balance the competing demands of long-term value creation and short-term sales requirements, the ideal mix is 40% sales activation and 60% brand building.

More on branding from the IPA (registration required but free access to the website)
The Long And The Short of It
Behavioural Economics
What is a C21st Brand?
IPA Social Works

Follow the IPA

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Ceci n'est pas un Chablis

One of these wines is not a Chablis.
They both have the word Chablis on the label; they are both made from grapes grown around the northern French market town of that name.

But one is grown on crumbly, fossil-rich hillside slopes, while the other comes from denser, solid-chalk hilltops.

The latter of these ranks lower in Chablis' hierarchy - fossils, chalk and a sunnier aspect are all better for winemaking.

So the Petit Chablis - grown on hard rock hilltop - is not a actually a proper Chablis, but rather a  "junior Chablis".
Yet the Petit Chablis is slightly more expensive of the two, so we have a classic contest - is a more expensive but technically inferior Petit Chablis better than a Chablis proper? Is the price driven by label snobbery, is it simple quality-price ratio economics?

There was only one way to find out.

Union de Viticulteurs de Chablis, Petit Chablis, 2011 (£12.99, Majestic) pure, focused, vibrant and light; citrussy and mineral with a touch of leesiness.

Drink as an aperitif or match with light starters.


Philippe de Mery Chablis, 2012 (£11.99, Majestic) more complex and substantial, but less adept; a little clumsy next to the Petit Chablis.

Match with fish or chicken.
For me, the Petit  Chablis is demonstrably the better of the two - a  lesser wine, for sure, but much better executed.
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Saturday, 8 August 2015

Two Portuguese Wines - In Madeira

An autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira has reversed its historic role as a refuelling stop on the way to the New World and now has to import almost all its food.

Prices are heavily subsidised, so Portuguese wines are actually more plentiful and cheaper than the indigenous Madeira wine.

Quinta da Romeira Morgado de Sta. Catherina Reserva, 2012 - Bucelas, Portugal (around €8) citrus and floral notes, fresh acidity, nicely oaked. It's big but deft and suave, a Daniel Craig of a wine.
370 Léguas Tinto 2013, Douro D.O.C., Portugal (around €5) pure, fresh red and black cherries with some look-at-me spicy toasty oak. As intense and moody yet knowing as Christopher Lee playing Dracula

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Terras do Avô, Madeira

Friday, 7 August 2015

Château de Rayne Vigneau, Sauternes, 2007 - Private Cellar

A classy, substantial dessert wine with a bit of age from Private Cellar

The sweet wines of Sauternes have a balance between richness and freshness that few other wines can match. This Château de Rayne Vigneau is a wonderful example from a Premier Grand Cru Classé de Sauternes.

Dark straw yellow, almost mahogany - ripe roasted yellow stone fruit with zesty oranges and lemons; gentle oaking adds to the depth and body; honeyed sweetness, savouriness and freshness. Deft, assured, complex and balanced.

Drink by itself or match with a crème brûlée.

Very Good - and good value.

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Les Remparts de Bastor Lamontagne 2009, Sauternes - Waitrose
Taste The Difference Sauternes, 2005 - Sainsbury's

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Hotel du Vin - Summer of Pinot Tasting‏

A tasting of Pinots of various colours at Cambridge Hotel du Vin

I've always had a soft spot for Hotel du Vin; it's the sort of place that makes you feel a bit more sophisticated just by being there.

It had been too long since my last proper visit, so I went to their Summer Of Pinot tasting; the wines had been arranged in flights to highlight the differences between terroirs and were served with canapes.

Prosecco pale, light, refreshing, crisp and elegant - an aperitif

Cremant d'Alsace mostly Pinot Blanc; 6m on lees, sandy yellow, fuller, weightier, very fresh - match with light canapes
Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris

Lageder Pinot Blanc (Sudtirol) aromatic, floral and mineral; pure and precise with an alpine freshness. Very elegant.

Biecher Pinot Blanc (Alsace) honeysuckle, ripe orchard fruit and sweet spice; weightier, waxier and more substantial.

Biecher Pinot Gris (Alsace) yellower, full and hedonistic with citrussy tropical fruit and lychees. Lively, adept and assured.
Pinot Noir

Les Nuages (Loire) juicy, crunchy red fruits with a touch of spice - a light, fresh Pinot with excellent underpinnings

La Crema (Monterrey) 6m in oak; an all-you-can-eat Pinot with a heavy American accent; dark plum fruit with a toasty-oaky nose and a thwack of alcohol; ripe, sweet and substantial.
My top wines were the minerally Lageder Pinot Blanc and the ripe, adept Biecher Pinot Gris.

Other related articles
Gosset Champagne Dinner at Hotel Du Vin Cambridge
Cheese Masterclass at Cambridge Hotel du Vin
Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin
Noval Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin
Farmers' Market at Cambridge Hotel du Vin
Cigar Dinner‏ at Cambridge's Hotel du Vin

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Delamotte Brut NV, Corney & Barrow

A classy, elegant Blanc de Blancs fizz from Corney & Barrow

Very pale sandy yellow; toasty-leesy with ripe orchard fruit; fine mousse, pleasingly sharp and persistent, very well-structured.

Very Good - a perfect aperitif.

Provided for review - £28.96 per 75cl bottle.

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Champagne de Castelnau, Limited Release Edition 2015
Corney & Barrow Christmas Preview

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Two Everyday Bordeaux

Two everyday Bordeaux from Dourthe, via The Wine Society and Booth's

Dourthe SB No 1, Bordeaux, 2014 (£7.95, The Wine Society) zippy, zesty, aromatic Sauvignon from Bordeaux; modern and fresh with a waxy, saline texture and a whiff of white pepper.

Pure and clean yet weighty. Very Good - and excellent value.

Match with pork and sage terrine or monkfish and herb broth.

Chateaux de Ricaud, Bordeaux Superieur, 2012 (£9.95, Booth's) juicy Bordeaux full of cherries and coffee grounds with fresh acidity. It has an old-world firmness and structure, but is slightly hot and alcoholic.

Match with meaty stews and spicy sausages

Other related articles
Dourthe N° 1 Rouge 2011 - The Wine Society
Two Bordeaux Wines from The Wine Society‏