Popular Posts

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

English Wines for Christmas At Waitrose

English Wines for Christmas At Waitrose

I've been through a number of English wine phases - I have always (mostly) enjoyed them, but it has never resulted in an unqualified devotion to patriotic oenology.

English wines' main challenges are climate, price and range; and that's before you factor in awareness and branding issues.

My advice to people wanting to try English wines is generally to go for the fizz - at the top end it can be much better than equivalent-priced Champagne.

Lower down, still whites can be thoroughly enjoyable, yes there are occasionally interesting (pale) reds and if you seek it out, you can even find a dessert wine.

Waitrose stock a total of 110 wines from England and Wales, many of them available only locally (within 10 miles of the vineyard).

At this Christmas tasting, there were English Wines of all styles and all were thoroughly enjoyable. A couple were even rather Good.

Here are the ones I enjoyed most.

Furleigh Estate Dorset Coast Special Reserve, NV elegant, Champagne method sparkler, mineral and autolytic. Good.

Leckford Estate Brut, 2013 finer and more elegant, still youthful; will gain complexity with age. Good.

Winbirri Bacchus Reserve, 2015 typical aromatic Bacchus hedgerow aromas and freshness; atypically substantial.

Stopham Estate Pinot Gris, 2015 floral and fresh with gooseberry and ripe pear fruit. Think restrained Sauvignon.

Also consider:

Litmus Element 20, 2012 deft and mineral with an intriguing cidery tang.

Bolney Estate Pinot Noir, 2015 very light, fresh Pinot with gentle cherry fruit; think Alsace rather than Burgundy. Deftly made with an appropriately gentle hand.

Denbies Noble Harvest Ortega 2014/15 sweet, botrytised English sticky with beeswax and honeycomb. Fades quickly, though.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Going Austro-Hungarian with Virgin Wines

A Wachau Gruener and a dry Tokaji from Virgin Wines

Students of central European history will be especially pleased by this geopolitical combination from Virgin Wines; oenologists will find they highlight stylistic differences between these now neighbouring, once-joined, countries. 

Both are very well-made; the Austrian wine is linear and precise, whereas the Hungarian is fruitier and, although dry, shares the hedonistic flavour profile of sweet Tokaji.

Gruener Veltliner Wachau Selection (£13.99) made by the Wachau's excellent co-op, Domaene Wachau. Poised, elegant citrus and white stone fruits with hints of Gruener's signature celery and lentils; pure and fresh with a saline pebbly minerality, white flowers and a whiff of pepper. Improves with extensive aeration.


Drink as an aperitif or with light starters.

2015 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji Furmint Dry 2015 (£10.99) dried apricots, marmelade and beeswax-honeysuckle with freshness and a saline minerality, white pepper and sweet spices. Floral, eaxy and rich.


Drink with rich foods such as pâté.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Villa Maria and 25 Years of Gimblett Gravels

New Zealand's Villa Maria - some museum pieces

So, the New World does fruit and the Old World does aging, right? These Villa Maria wines, going back to almost the last century, were in better shape than some equivalent Bordeaux.

Villa Maria Library Release Merlot / Cabernet 2010 sweet spices, dark fruits and cocoa beans; fine, well-integrated tannins. Dense with a muscular core. Very Good.

Villa Maria Library Release Cabernet 2009 black olives, sweet spices and dark berries; fine, integrated tannins and seamless texture. Still young. Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2008 berry and cassis fruit, dried herbs and spices; soft yet concentrated. Good.

Vidal Reserve Chardonnay 2007 citrus, floral and nutty with stone fruits and some aged character.
Esk Valley Winemaker Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2007 dark fruits, herbs, cocoa and spice; restrained and substantial, still tightly wound and closed up even at a decade. Firm and assertive. Very impressive. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2006 red and black berry fruit with pepper and liquorice. Fresh, vibrant, floral and spicy but above all substantial. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2002 blackberry, plum and violets. Concentrated and harmonious. Fresh, vibrant and lively. Substantial. Very Good.

Vidal Reserve Cabernet 2002 ripe black plum, coffee and earthiness with cigarbox. Substantial. Good.

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2000 black fruits, chocolate and spice with aged gamey-woodsy-earthiness; vibrant, fresh and mineral. Still very lively but also substantial and harmonious. Very Good Indeed.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Camino de Seda 2014 - Laithwaites

A typically overbearing Laithwaites wine from Jumilla, Spain

Laithwaites specialise in sourcing unsophisticated wines from cheap areas, billing them as "BIG reds" and selling them at a high mark-up to the sort of people who write "Supple mouthfeel, smooth as silk...."

Camino de Seda 2014 (£8.99 plus delivery)  Jammy, extracted and alcoholic with no length; blowsy and all-front, the acidity just about holds it together - oversold, overpriced and overblown; it has as much finesse as a milky tea with two sugars.

Not actively unpleasant, it is thoroughly underwhelming unthinking drinking; just the sort of thing Laithwaites customers seem to like.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Spain's Herència Altés

Two Herència Altés wines from Bancroft

Described as a "very exciting producer making some serious modern expressions of red and white Grenache from the oft overlooked part of northern Spain, Terra Alta", Herència Altés is owned by husband and wife team Rafael de Haan and Nuria Altés whose backgrounds have been in wine for many years.

They started making wine together under the Herència Altés name in 2010, before purchasing their own old-vine Garnatxa vineyards in Gandesa, Tarragona.

Herència Altés specialises in the Garnatxa grape producing red wines and fresh white wines, full of elegance and built for ageing.

Herència Altés owns 3 vineyards totalling 55 hectares. Approximately half the vines are over 50 years old. They are predominantly planted with Garnatxa Blanca with small pockets of Garnatxa Negra and Carignan.

All Herència Altés’ vineyards are in conversion to organic viticulture; conservation is at the heart of the Herència Altés philosophy - the new winery runs off-grid, completely on solar power and represents a long-term investment for the future.

Both of these wines feel well-made and youthful; they improve with aeration and feel like they will gain added complexity with aging.

Garnatxa Blanc, Herencia Altes, 2015 fresh and zesty-citrussy with orchard fruits, celery and a whiff of white pepper. Saline and mineral. Clean elegant and pure. Technically, very well made. Good.

Garnatxa Negre, Herencia Altes, 2015 juicy and fresh with some bubblegum and fruit pastilles; dark berry and black cherry fruit, spice. Deft and supple, improves with aeration.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Lunch

Lunch at New Zealand House with Villa Maria's Karen Fistonich and The Modern Pantry

Villa Maria is a byword for well-made, classical-style wines with a typical New Zealand purity and crystalline freshness.

At this lunch, Karen Fistonich, Chair of Villa Maria, showed us the company's more ambitious side, including the new flagship wine, Ngakirikiri, as well as a few museum pieces.

With starters
Esk Valley Verdelho 2015 elegant, clean and pure with fresh acidity and exotic peach and passionfruit. Good.

Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2015 complex oaky, slightly sulphide nose; pure white nectarine fruit with toast. Sleek and tightly woven. Very elegant and adept. Will improve with age. Good.

With mains
Legacy Syrah 2011 dark cherry, plum, herbs and spice with savoury oaky complexity and fine tannins. Drinking nicely now and at a peak. Good.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve 2013 black fruits with spice and smoke; some fruitcake, cherry and chocolate. Complex and still very youthful with an excellent structure. Needs aging. Very Good.

Ngakirikiri, The Gravels, Hawkes Bay 2013 the first vintage of this super-prestige wine; Cab-based from a spectacular vintage. Intense and aromatic, with dark fruit, plum and herbs, coffee and cedarwood. Complex with fine tannins. Still very youthful and needs age. Very Good.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Copper Rivet Distillery

Copper Rivet Distillery tasting

Three spirits walk into a bar - they are extremely well made.

Copper Rivet Distillery is a family-owned distillery making spirits with a pronounced attention to detail; they oversee the entire process from grain to glass.

The spirits are rich, elegant and complex; there is a vodka that is delicate and creamy; the gin is sweet, spicy and nuanced.

Finally there is Son of a Gun - a unique spirit that is essentially a non-aged whisky. Deep and complex, it is floral with an oatmealy finish.
This well made, it seems almost a shame to put them into cocktails and mixers.

The spirits are available via the company's website for around £30 for 50cl.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Roussillon's Biodynamic Le Soula

A tasting of Roussillon's biodynamic Le Soula wines

When you think of Languedoc and next-door Roussillon, it is classy ripe, plump wines that spring to mind.

Le Soula is different.

Their wines are biodynamic, low-alcohol and grown at altitude.

They have the vibrancy of biodynamic wines - a funky, energetic freshness - with an ability to age that surpasses many a so-called classic wine.

If the winery is relatively young (it started in 2003), the vines are not - 100 year-old Carignan vines are not unusual here.

The vineyards have been organic from the outset with a subsequent transition to biodynamics.

At around five years of age, the current vintages are fresh and vibrant; the older wines, with more than a decade's age, are more complex but still very youthful.
As well as red and white, there is also an orange wine, the Maceration, which is elegant and approachable.

The wines are available at leading restaurants and independent merchants priced at around £25.