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Monday, 30 December 2019

Soave Gregoris, Antonio Fattori, Italy 2018

A very elegant and versatile Soave from Private Cellar

I don't drink Italian wines regularly and that's nothing to do with how much I do or don't like them; I've been to plenty of Italian tastings and encountered lots of Italian wines I enjoyed.

The problem (for me, at least) is more one of classification, ordering and reliability; I simply don't have the same go-to mental shortcuts with Italian wine that I do with other countries.

In France, I'll take a Chablis and a Bordeaux; in Germany, a Mosel Riesling and a Spaetburgunder; in Spain a Txakoli alongside a Rioja. And I'll know what they should taste like and what sort of quality to expect for the price.

In Italy, I don't really know where to start - or what's reliable.

Maybe I just need to get to know Italy better by visiting it more often; but in the absence of persuading the family to spend a couple of weeks there as part of an oenological experiment, I contacted Private Cellar.

Private Cellar have an MW buying their wines and a trainee MW advising, so expect elegance and plenty of varietal / regional typicity; I have known Private Cellar for many years and I'm always been impressed with the quality of their wines.

Soave Gregoris, Antonio Fattori, Italy 2018 (£10.75, Private Cellar) melon, lime and white stone fruits with honeysuckle and pebbly minerality. Textured, elegant and precise.


Improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

A versatile food wine, drink as an aperitif, with light starters, creamy risottos or lean white met such as chicken or fish.

It is also available in magnums for those "we're gonna need a bigger bottle" occasions.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Targa Rioja Tempranillo Blanco 2018

An unusual and elegant white Rioja from Virgin Wines

Rioja is best known for its oaked red wines made from mostly Tempranillo.

If white Rioja is less well known, white Rioja from Tempranillo Blanco is almost unheard of; the grape, a mutation of Tempranillo, was discovered only in 1988.

Tempranillo Blanco is not, by the way, the only red-white grape pairing - Pinot Gris / Grigio is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir and Garnacha also comes in red and white variants.

The rarity of the grape is reflected in the price to an extent, but this is a very well-made and elegant wine indeed. Plus it is one of the rarest grapes you are ever likely to try.

Targa Rioja Tempranillo Blanco 2018 (£16.99) fresh, citrussy and elegant with melon fruit, white flowers and some sweet spice. Very well-made and adept.

A versatile wine, match with roast white meat, such as pork or chicken.

Improves with aeration and likely to repay some cellaring.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc

A substantial and classy Languedoc varietal Cabernet Franc from Domaine Gayda

You can find Cabernet Franc pretty much anywhere down France's western, Atlantic side - in the cool northerly Loire, it produces a fresh varietal wine; in moderate Bordeaux it is mostly a blending grape. And in the warmth of Languedoc, anything goes.

This Domaine Gayda Cab Franc is reminiscent of a Bordeaux, albeit one from a warm year; it is substantial yet refined and supple. Drinking nicely now, it is sure to improve with further aging.

Priced in the mid-teens, it represents value for money; you could pay more for a Bordeaux Cab Franc blend that is not as well made.

Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2017, Pays d'Oc (£17.99, independents) dark berries, bramble fruits and sour cherries with raspberry leaf and oaky spice. Ripe, very fine tannins. Dense and concentrated, supple and substantial.


Improves with aeration.

Match with roast lamb with garlic and rosemary or darker game.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Antakari Syrah, Laithwaites

A Big-and-Blowsy, but well-enough-made Chilean Syrah from Laithwaites

I feel like I've been on a run of overextracted, chewy, chunky Big Reds from Laithwaites; as a result, I have started to have a bit of a thing about over-extraction.

This latest Laithwaites wine is another Big Red to be sure, but what it does have in its favour is that at least it's not overextracted. There's not much else to recommend it, however; even Laithwaites' own customers only give it 3.4 out of 5.

Antakari Syrah 2017 (£9.99)  lots of up-front dark fruit, spice and mintiness; warming and alcoholic; reasonable tannins and acidity.

Overblown, overpriced and underwhelming.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The (Mostly) French Classics Road Trip with Private Cellar

A tasting of (mostly) French classics from Private Cellar

At the request of our CEO, I organised a tasting of six wines for colleague just before Christmas; with no specific requests, budget or theme, I decided to go for French classics - mostly.

The wines came from Private Cellar and made for a road trip through France, zig-zagging our way from the east to the Atlantic coast and back before crossing over the Alps into Italy. As you might expect with an MW buying, all the wines were absolutely textbook and flawless, so if you want to get familiar with a particular style, these are as good a place to start as any.

For a bit of fun, I asked people to estimate selling prices for the wines and, in the main, they guessed around £5 - £10 high. So either a) my colleagues spend too much on their wine for the quality or b) Private Cellar are sourcing wines that outperform for the price. Or both.

In a number of cases, the wines carry a relatively unassuming official classification but are of a much higher standard that you would expect from the label alone; this is an area where smaller, better independent wine merchants can punch above their weight. And everyone apart from label snobs benefits.

At the end of the tasting, I asked people to name their favourite wine; there were a range of answers which is always a good sign when the wines shown are all of a similar price.

The final indicator was to see which bottles, when we sat down to drink with some food, emptied the most quickly.On this basis, the Bordeaux was a clear winner, closely followed by the Barbera and the fizz.

The wines in detail:

Crémant de Bourgogne Brut P100 Blanc de Noir Simonnet Febvre NV, Burgundy (£18.85)

Les Rafelières Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Val de Loire 2018 (£9.96)

Mâcon Uchizy, Mallory & Benjamin Talmard 2018 (£14.50)

Château Tayet, Bordeaux Supérieur 2015 (£14.95)

Château Beauchêne Premier Terroir, Côtes du Rhône 2016 (£14.70)

Barbera d'Alba, Rocche Costamagna 2017(£15.30)

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

De Martino Niebla Sauvigon Blanc

A classy Chilean Sauvignon from Virgin Wines

De Martino is one of the most interesting wineries in Chile - eschewing alcoholic, heavy-handed, US-pleasing styles, they focus on elegance, subtlety and restraint in their wines and are leading the way for many Chilean winemakers.

This Sauvignon is well-made and distinctly New World, almost kiwi in style; priced in the low teens, it is a good purchase for Christmas or any other occasion where you want a slightly superior version of a familiar wine.

If you are serving to guests and want a couple of dinner party facts:

- Niebla means "fog" and refers to daily fogs of the Casablanca Valley during early summer mornings
- This fog keeps the grapes cool and ensures freshness in the wine
- Niebla is also the name of the vineyard, a small block of vines just 11 miles from the sea

De Martino Niebla Sauvigon Blanc 2019 (£13.99) lifted aromatics and herby-nettley cut-grass; ripe tropical fruits with pea pod, asparagus and lime, white pepper and florality. Pure and precise, deft and elegant with a saline-minerality.


Serve as an aperitif, with goat's cheese tartines or herby fish dishes.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Blue of The Danube; Tasting Notes

Blaufraenkisch, aka Kekfrankos, is arguably Central Europe's signature black grape; a dark-skinned, late-ripening variety, it has cherry and bramble fruit, spice and fine tannins.

This trade tasting of Blaufraenkisch / Kekfrankos was the largest in the UK and featured wines of different countries, colours, styles and production methods all based on this great grape.

Blended: Hungary

Blends included Merlot, Cabernet Saubignon, Cabernet Franc, Zweigelt, Blauburger

Ostoros Family Winery, Soltesz Egri Bikaver Pajados 2016 (K, M, CS, CF) meaty, spicy, bramble fruits, woodsiness; fresh, elegant and supple with fine tannins. Very Good

BOJT Boraszat es Szolobirtok, Bikaver Classic, 2017 (K, CS, Z, B) oaky vanilla spice, bramble fruit, pepper, and minty eucalyptus. Fresh, elegant, long and supple. Very Good.

Bonis Reitter, Patrik Cuvee, 2017 (K, Z, CS) cherry fruit, very fine tannins; assertive and substantial. Good.

Varietal: Hungary

Bodri, Faluhely, 2017 soft, supple, cherry fruit, rounded with good underpinnings and very fine tannins

Bodri, Gurovica 2017, black cherrries and dark fruits, supple and substantial with very fine tannins and an assertive, muscular core. Very Good.

Linzer Orosz, PS Kekfrankos, 2015 oaky nose, red and sour cherry fruit with minty eucalyptus; pure and precise. Good.

Gal, Kekfrankos, 2017, SS-fermented, woodsy and truffly with cherry fruit; fresh and supple. Good.

Gal Kekfrankos, 2018, barrel-aged, woodsy-sulphurous nose, cherry fruit and truffles. Supple and soft. Very Good.

Koch, Kekfrankos, 2017 cherries and undergrowth, fresh and elegant with fine tannins. Good.

Koch PR Kekfrankos, 2017 more complex, nuanced and textured. Very Good. 
Varietal: Slovakia

Bott Frigyes Kekfrankos Faricka 2018 fresh, elegant, peppery spice and vibrant cheery fruit. Good.

Matyas Andras Kekfrankos 2018 cherry fruit and spice, soft and supple, very fine tannins

Matyas Andras Kekfrankos 2017 drier, more rosehip fruit

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Il Colmo Prosecco Brut

A deft Prosecco from Virgin Wines

Come on, let me entertain you
- Let me entertain you, Robbie Williams (1998)

It may be harsh but fair to say that Prosecco is something a poor relation in the fizz family - but that doesn't mean it can't scrub up well.

If vintage Champagne is Bryn Terfel, then Prosecco is Robbie Williams. And sometimes we eschew complexity and just want to Rock DJ.

If you are looking for inexpensive bubbles that will slip down easily, this is spot on. And being Italian, it looks gorgeous too.

Il Colmo Prosecco Brut (£11.99) citrussy, lemony fruit with ripe apples and pears; some sweet spice and florality; good freshness. Well made and deft.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif or serve with light starters.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Virgin Wines for New Year's Eve

Six Virgin wines for New Year's Eve

The routines and rituals of Christmas tend to be fairly standard - a shared family meal based around a roast followed by some indulgent puddings. And then more sweet treats.

New Year's eve tends to be less prescriptive, allowing more flexibility; bubbles of some sort are de rigueur to mark the beginning of a new year. From there, you can go classic or hedonistic. Either way, with the rest of a long, dark winter to see out, you should definitely ensure you have a few superior bottles around.

Il Colmo Prosecco Brut (£11.99) modern-style Prosecco

Corvezzo Prosecco DOC Treviso Extra Dry Organic NV (£14.99) Prosecco from Corvezzo, just outside Venice with real character, style and freshness,

Targa Rioja Organic Tempranillo Blanco 2018 (£16.99) made from Tempranillo Blanco, a unique but classic white wine

Trimbach Riesling 2017 (£15.99) classic Riesling with a nose of floral aromatics, precise and direct citrus and a vibrant bone-dry palate

5OS Project Shiraz Viognier 2017 (£16.99) 14.5% Shiraz-Viognier blend from a windswept site along the Willunga escarpment in Australia's McLaren Vale

La Dama Aramone della Valpolicella Classico (2016) made from 65-year-old vines in Puglia that yield few, small and highly-concentrated Primitivo grapes with six months in fine French oak - a warm (i.e. hot!) climate wine

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Domaine Alary Tradition, Cairanne

A wine-and-vinyl pairing from Stylus

Wine and vinyl share a common feature of being both expensive and inconvenient compared to more-straightforward alternatives.

The routines, rituals and awkwardness of putting on a vinyl record are not dissimilar to those of buying, storing and serving a bottle of wine.

 And, at a certain level, the tasting of wine, like that of listening to music, becomes more a cerebral than visceral experience.

Vinyl-and-wine service Stylus have tapped into this market and offer a monthly record, bottle of wine and magazine subscription.

Cairanne and Phoenix box

The wine

Domaine Alary Tradition, Cairanne, 2017 red fruits, elderberries and cassis, sous bois and truffles, oaky vanilla spice. Warming, expressive and substantial with very fine tannins.

The vinyl

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixParisian indie synth pop; think Daft Punk-meets-The-1975- meets-The Strokes. Melodic, tight and energetic.

Review by wineninjas: https://wineninjas.org/2019/10/23/stylus-wine-and-vinyl-cairanne/

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Cantalric Sentiers du Sud Colombard, Pays d'Oc

A well-made easy-drinking white from Pays d'Oc

Colombard is a high-acidity grape from France's southern Atlantic coast area that was historically used for distilling into Cognac.

These days, it makes an interesting, pleasant and usually inexpensive dry white - something of a Sauvignon alternative.

Cantalric Sentier du Sud Colombard, 2018, Pays d'Oc fresh and floral with a whiff of pepper; citrus and white stone-fruit. Linear and saline-mineral with good underpinnings; well-made.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif or match with fishy starters or a herby chicken stew.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Twelfth Night Wines for Christmas from Virgin

Three subversive wines for Christmas wines from Virgin - and two superior standards

My general rule-of-thumb at Christmas is not to try anything too different - keep to stuff you like and maybe spend a bit more on a slightly better version; Bordeaux from a smarter appellation and a superior vintage, say, or Grand Cru Chablis rather than Petit Chablis.

But what's the point of Christmas if you can't break a few rule and have some fun? So here are three wines from Virgin that, like Twelfth Night when everything gets turned upside down and all the rules are reversed, will both subvert your expectations and entertain in equal measure

Chiarli Medaglie Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC 2018 (£11.99) get the party started with some red fizz. Lambrusco has a bit of historic baggage in this country, but done properly this light sparkling red from Emilia Romagna matches brilliantly with local parma ham, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. Or just serve it lightly chilled as a pick-me-up.

Schnaitmann Simonroth Lemberger 2016 (£24.99) Lemberger, aka Blaufraenkisch, is the great black grape of central Europe and shows great versatility. In milder climates, it is cherry-fruited and elegant, a lighter, fresher yet serious red that rivals Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. As with this wine from southern Germany, warmer temperatures bring something more akin to Bordeaux with deeper colour, plumper fruit and more tannins.

Solevari Reserve Feteasca Neagra 2017 (£12.99) Romania makes wonderful wines from international varieties, but Feteasca Neagra is its signature red variety - plump, supple and spicily dark-fruited, it matches brilliantly with steak or rare roast beef. Serve as an alternative to a Rhone or a northern Italian red.

And if you want to keep it straightforward and conventional, here are two superior classic wines:

De Martino Niebla Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (£13.99) De Martino is one of the pioneering wineries of Chile, making subtle, nuanced wines in an elegant food-friendly European style. This is a single vineyard Sauvignon from the cool, foggy Casablanca Valley. Drink this with smoked salmon on Boxing Day.

Heranca Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012 (£14.99) with figgy, raisiny flavours and a warming sweetness, port is synonymous with Christmas. Best served with mince pies, a crackling fire and the Queen's Speech, LBV is a vintage port that is aged in barrel for several years and is ready to drink without further aging. If you manage not to finish it off all at once, drink it on Boxing day with a plate of cheeses or a chocolate-and-cherry torte.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Wines of the French Alps: Wink Lorch

Wink Lorch's tasting of Alpine wines and book celebration at Terroirs, London

Cheese, wine and bread is a simple and classic combination. Yet simple need not mean unsophisticated; a flight of 28 Alpine wines chosen with impeccable taste, superb Alpine cheeses and fresh baguettes plus chat with Alpine vignerons and merchants.

I have long agreed with Wink's view that Alpine wines have their own particular character, a certain light freshness, reminiscent of an Alpine meadow.

The wines selected by Wink were not so much defined by their Alpine nature as all bearing a family resemblance.
There was fizz (in two colours), whites and reds, youg wines, old wines, magnums, aromatic wines and versatile wines, varietals and blends with obscure grapes such as Gringet, Mondeuse, Chasselas, Persan. There were even cross-border wines from French, Swiss and Italian-grown grapes and a pair of bottles from the year the Berlin Wall came down.
In general, the whites were lemony and leesy-oatmealy with white stone fruit; the reds showed red berry fruits with fine tannins. Delicate wines with a Burgundian elegance, they were harmonious, balanced and savoury and of a very good standard all round.

Head to any of the merchants who supported the event and try some of these wonderful wines - ideally, two or three bottles for a comparative tasting over some Gruyere and Comte.

Vine Trail
Alpine Wines
Caves de Pyrene

And if that piques your interest, check out Wink's book, Wines of the French Alps: Savoie, Bugey and beyond.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Calmel & Joseph, Villa Blanche Malbec 2018

A substantial and dense Malbec from Pays d'Oc's Calmel &Joseph

In a free-association wordplay game, if you say "Malbec", I think "fruit-driven, often blowsy New World wines".

Malbec is, of course, a French grape and its spiritual home is Cahors in the South West. So, approach this wine not so much as a Malbec, and more as Pays d'Oc; it is dense, inky and substantial, a great food wine and not at all Big-and-Blowsy New World in style at all.

Calmel & Joseph, Villa Blanche Malbec black fruits, black olives and black pepper; inky texture, freshness and a dense, muscular core. A serious, substantial, textured wine.

Opens up with aeration and will improve with age.


Match with plain roast meat.

Imported by Daniel Lambert Wines

Friday, 22 November 2019

Taylor's Select Reserve Port - The Co-op

A warming winter fortified wine from The Co-op

If autumn starts with your first Big Spicy Red of the season, then port ushers in Christmas.

Port comes in various guises and this Taylor's Select Reserve is a good example of the most common style for everyday drinking.

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

Taylor’s Select Reserve Port (£7.00 in E&W, £7.50 in S, from 6 November to 2 January, The Co-op) 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.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The CWB South-Off

Two Southern-hemisphere wine - a South African White and Aussie Red

At the end of the Australia Blind Tasting Club, we were invited to take a couple of bottles of left-overs. I picked these two pretty much at random; the standard was high and none of the wines was in any way disappointing.

Ghost Corner Semillon 2016, South Africa (Waitrose, £16.99) toasty, citrussy with some florality; fresh zippy lemon-lime, sage and mint, and linear, saline minerality. Clean, pure and elegant.


Kalleske Old Vine Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, Australia (New Generation Wines, £44.70) red fruits and sous bois; floral, fresh and elegant with red-berry fruits and mintiness. Complex, elegant and adept with very fine tannins.

Drinking nicely now and will age.


Saturday, 16 November 2019

Wine Australia - TBC

Blind Tasting with Wine Australia

For me, wine has always been as much a cerebral pleasure as visceral. I still remember sitting in a restaurant on a business trip to Vienna with just a newspaper for company and experiencing my first Wachau Gruener Veltliner. At first sip, I thought it was a good wine and carried on with whatever I was reading. By the end of the second glass, I had put down my paper and instinctively started to assess and interrogate it, to consider and reflect.

It was the start of a journey in which wine would be something not merely to be consumed but more akin to entering a conversation. Of course, there's quaffing plonk and plenty of basic wines that are thoroughly enjoyable but not memorable. These wines have little to say and what they do utter is at best bland small talk.

But beyond this, wine is a more cerebral experience, with tension, contrast, nuance and complexity. Like architecture, it has a structure; like painting it has depth; like sculpture, it has physical form. At this level, wine has a personality, it transcends mere entertainment to become art, conveying emotions and making a statement.

I don't especially enjoy the wine geeks' parlour game of blind tasting, just as I don't enjoy crosswords or accountancy exams; it's too much like the homework after the lesson and wine is after all not my job. But an opportunity on a quiet Monday night to taste a dozen wines blind at The Australia Centre was something different.

The organisers had enough of a sense of fun to make the questions more interesting than merely name the grape and region, and whilst we were invited to identify these, there were also questions about blends vs varietal, spotting the oldest wine in a flight and one ringer, a non-Aussie wine.

Flight #1 whites

I suspected this to be Semillon pretty much from the first sniff; it it has a characteristic toasty, dieselly nose and zippy limey acidity.

Arriving late to the party, the first wine I tried was low in acidity - for a Semillon; with hindsight, it had clearly been out a while. When it was replaced with a fresh bottle at the right temperature, the flavour profile was much more typical and it was an easier spot.

The ringer in the group was a South African Semillon from Ghost Corner, available at Waitrose. Whilst Australian Semillon, especially Hunter Valley, is A Thing, Saffer Semillon is a new one on me.

Flight #2 reds

Pale in the glass, cherry fruited and undergrowthy, I had these down as Pinots from the off. One wine was a brick red colour with dried out rosehip fruit and I concluded it was just past its peak.

More fool me; these were Nebbiolos and Sangiovese blends (yes, Australian Sangiovese - and not even my first encounter with this phenomenon).

Oh, and my "past-peak" wine was a Nebbiolo that was just going through a dumb phase and which, a fellow taster assured me, would open up again in a few more years.

Flight #3 reds

With ruby colour, spice and mintiness, fine tannins and some florality I was thinking Grenache for these and with one exception, they were all varietal Grenaches.

The Kalleske Old Vine Grenache 2015 from this flight was perhaps the best wine on show of the evening; and yet, unlike other ambitious Aussie wines I have tasted before, it was not merely a pumped-up, pimped-up version of a standard wine. Rather it was more delicate, subtle and nuanced, something that only fully revealed itself on subsequent assessment.


Australia and Australian wine is clearly on a journey; that much was very obvious. It has done the "sunshine in a glass thing" and it has had the anti-warm-climate / steely white backlash phase; it has done the dumbed-down bulk wine thing and Big-Ass Trophy Wine. It has done the New Old World Burgundian thing and the New New World Western Australia thing.

Where Australia seems most exciting right now is in the sweet spot between everyday quaffers and over-priced, overambitious garagiste / Trophy Wines; wines mostly from independent merchants and mostly priced in the teens. These are wines with elegance and complexity, precision and structure; they show a European sophistication with an antipodean accent.

This is where the future of Australian wine lies, I believe - in business, the middle ground is the always hardest place to be and you can really only compete on price or quality.

A drive for better quality supported by sustainable pricing will benefit both Australian wine, by making it a more profitable sector, and also consumers, by offering a greater choice of well-made, elegant wines. More choice and more competition make everybody's world a more interesting place.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Chateau Purcari Maluri de Prut Feteasca Neagră Rara Neagră 2016

An ambitious Purcari wine from a corner of Eastern Europe via Virgin Wines

Would you pay £15+ for a bottle of Moldovan wine? Have you had a Moldovan wine before? Or even seen one?

This is certainly an off-the-beaten-track wine as far as geography and grape varieties go - anyone had a Feteasca Neagră / Rara Neagră blend before?

I once went through a stage of trying the most obscure wines I could find - partly due to a series of jobs that took me to plenty of small, little-visited countries in central and Eastern Europe.

So, I have something of a fondness for Feteasca Neagră, which is sort of Romania's answer to Syrah - plump, dark-fruited and spicy, even if Rara Neagră is completely new to me.

And checking my notes, I have tried Moldovan wines before - and been impressed. Just not very often.

Oenologically, it helps to think of Moldova as an extension of Romania; as well as linguistic, historic and cultural links between the two countries, many of the same grape varieties are cultivated and the styles (in my limited experience) are similar - clean, pure and fresh, food-friendly wines.

If you want a full deconstruction of the chateau and the wine:

- the chateau is located in the southern part of Moldova near the Black Sea between Odesa (Ukraine) and the Danube Delta (Romania)

- the Prut is a river and the fruit for this wine comes from vineyards on both sides of the river

- Feteasca Neagră and Rara Neagră are both indigenous Moldovan grape varieties

Maluri de Prut Feteasca Neagră and Rara Neagră 2016 (£15.99, Virgin Wines) deep plum, dark cherry and dark berry fruit with oaky spice; complex and fresh, full and supple. Harmonious with very fine, well-integrated tannins. A pleasing sour-cherry rasp develops with air. Very assured and adept.

Drinking nicely now, will improve with age.


Match with red meat.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Blue of The Danube - Wines to Buy

A selection of wines from Wines of Hungary's Blue of The Danube Tasting

Many of the wines shown at the Blue of The Danube are not yet commercially available in the UK. Here are the ones that are.

Varietal: Hungary

Szent Donat Magma Kekfrankos 2018 (£17.99, Novel) fresh and elegant. Good.

Szent Donat Single Vineyard Kekfrankos 2017 (£25.50, Novel) very adept cherries-and-pepper, concentrated and muscular, supple and harmonious. Very Good.

Gilvessy Kekfrankos (£18.95, Davy's) earthiness and cherry fruit, supple and soft with fine tannins. Fresh and vibrant. Good.

Blended: Croatia

Danjanic, Clemente, 2013 (£25, Croatian Fine Wines - M, CS, Teran, Borgonja) dark and inky with black fruits, beetroot, sweet spices and florality; grippy with very fine tannins. Very Good.

Varietal: Romania

Nachbil Blaufrankisch 2017 (£21, Boutinot) aged 2m in amphora, fresh, supple and elegant; textured and grippy with very fine tannins. Somewhat curious - in a good way. Good.

Balla Geza Blaufrankisch Stonewine 2017 (£18.90, Novel) woodsy-earthy nose, fresh, lifted cherry fruit, very fine tannins. Good.

Varietal: Austria

R+G Triebaumer Blaufraenkisch Reserve 2016 (£34.26, Alpine Wines) oaky and concentrated with dark cherry fruit; assertive and grippy with a muscular core. Very Good.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Freestyle

Two wines from Languedoc's Domaine Gayda

Freestyler... rock the microphone
Straight from the top of my dome
Freestyler... rock the microphone
Carry on with the freestyler

Freestyler, BomFunk MC's (1999)

Domaine Gayda's classy and elegant wines, with plenty of Languedoc warmth are perfect for that time of year when the days get chillier and the food heartier.

Big and substantial wines need big and substantial - and preferably autumnal - food to match; think pasta with mushrooms and cream or game, such as venison steak.

The philosophy behind Gayda's Figure Libre Freestyle is iconoclastic; turning its back on rules, it favours freedom, a desire to think outside the box and bring together grape varieties that would otherwise never have met in the same bottle.

And on that subject, both wines come in a heavy bottle, which makes the wine taste better (this is a true fact).

Jancis Robinson staffer Tamlyn Currin, makes it wine of the week (27/12/19) and calls it "stunningly good value and scrumptiousness from the Languedoc" in this review.

Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc 2017 southern white blend of Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Marsanne and Roussanne; floral and toasty, citrus, melon and tropical fruits with sweet spices. Saline, full and supple. Deft, waxy and warming. Substantial and will age.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with lighter game or mushroomy pasta.

Figure Libre Freestyle Rouge 2017 GSM+C blend. Dark fruits, dried green minty herbs, woodsy undergrowth and oaky spice; full, supple and warming with fine tannins. Generously but not excessively extracted. Drinking nicely now and will age.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with big, autumnal foods, such as hearty casseroles or venison steak.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Andresen LBV Port

An LBV Port from Andresen via Laithwaite's

LBV is the impatient drinker's vintage port - it is a vintage port, as in being from a single year and not blended across years. However, unlike actual vintage port, LBV (late-bottled vintage) is aged in wood for several years and then bottled as a ready-to-drink port.

Vintage port, by contrast, goes straight into bottle and generally requires years, if not decades, of quiet maturing (and often a lot of decanting to remove sediment) before being ready to drink.

LBV has the plumpness and primary fruit of youth, the richness and sweetness of port and if it is not as complex as a vintage port, it is a step-up from a basic ruby.

I'm generally not a fan of Laithwaite's wines, but I found myself appreciating this; you can probably get better ports for less elsewhere, but there is no reason to avoid this one. It has an IWSC Bronze medal, which roughly translates as "perfectly fine with no rough edges, but nothing really special".

Andresen LBV port 2011 (£16.99, Laithwaite's) sweet, ripe red and black cherry fruit, dark plum and cassis, oaky vanilla spice, eucalytpus and warming alcohol. Full, concentrated and expressive; fresh with very fine tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as a digestif; match with dark chocolate, mince pies or Christmas pudding.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Calvet At London Restaurant Festival Awards

A tasting of Calvet wines at London Restaurant Festival Awards

I had never actually heard of the London Restaurant Festival. Or was aware that it had an awards party. Whoever knew?

Well, Calvet obviously did, as they sponsored it and invited me along to try some of their wines.

Overall, this was very good winemaking from good fruit; fresh, elegant wines, well-made and well-judged with no faults and a deft hand in the cellar.

All the wines scored highly for consistency, but the fizzes particularly stood out as vibrant and compelling. How often do you go to a Bordeaux tasting and get struck by the sparklers?
Calvet Cremant de Bordeaux Brut White 2015 fresh, elegant, chalky saline-mineral with some brioche and autolysis and florality; fine mousse. Vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable.

Calvet Cremant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé 2016 fresh and elegant, more weighty and substantial than the white; fine mousse. Overall, more textured, substantial and measured. Adept and thoroughly enjoyable.

Calvet Reserve Bordeaux Blanc 2018 floral and aromatic, fresh, citrussy with zingy lemongrass and lime fruit; creamy-leesy brazil nut and minerality. Well-made and elegant. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Calvet Reserve de Remparts St Emilion 2018 lifted and aromatic with red and black cherry fruit, liquorice, coffee grounds, oaky spice and some florality. Fresh, harmonious, balanced and long with fine, sinewy tannins. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Two Classy Reds from The Co-op

Two classic reds from The Co-op - Bordeaux and Rioja

As the nights get longer and the days chillier, we move inevitably towards bigger reds.

There are many reasons why you might want something a little classier, something with a few years' age that will impress, be it for a birthday, anniversary, dinner party or just to check out possible Christmas wines in advance.

Whatever your reasons, the Co-op has a Bordeaux and a Rioja that go beyond mere everyday quaffers.

Château Tour Du Pas, St-Georges-St-Emilion 2015 (£15) a right bank Bordeaux from a good year, this is  produced by former winemaker from Château Ausone

CUNE Imperial Rioja Reserva 2015 (£19.75) a great wine from a great producer that drinks nicely when still youthful and only improves with age

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Blue of The Danube

A tasting of mainly Kekfrankos from mainly Danubian countries, organised by Wines of Hungary with masterclasses from Liz Gabay MW

The so-called Blue Danube isn't actually blue; in reality it's a kind of grayish colour.

Blaufraenkisch and I go back many years, but like a mismatched couple in a RomCom, we've never quite hit it off properly.

There have been moments, of course, when we've looked into each others eyes and seen something meaningful, but that initial spark of attraction never really fanned into a flames of desire.

Central Europe was where I first learned to love wine - living and working in Vienna, first came taut, peppery Wachau whites, followed by the wines of Hungary and Romania. Slovakia, just up the road for a day's shopping trip, was a source of good beers but not a wine destination. Not then at least.

So what's changed - is it Blaufraenkisch or me?

As ever, it's probably a bit of both.
Her name means Blue Frankish, for which the Hungarian cognate is Kekfrankos (CAKE-frankosh) and the Slovak Modra Frankovka; unlike Pinot Gris vs Grigio, choice of language does not denote any stylistic connotation. The key influence on Blaufraenkisch's personality is temperature - in milder climates she is pale, delicately cherry fruited and Burgundian; more warmth brings out darker berry fruit, deeper colours and a minty Bordelais character.

So far, so versatile.

This tasting by Wines of Hungary, with several guest appearances, demonstrated the breadth of Kekfrankos ; red, rosé, still, sparkling, varietal, blended, oaked, stainless steel, young, aged, moderate climate and warm climate

All the wines here were at least well-made and thoroughly enjoyable with no technical faults. They were deft, harmonious and balanced with fresh acidity and fine tannins.

Some were paler and more elegant, others deeper and fuller. Many were Good and several were Very Good to Very Good Indeed.

Should you check out Central European Blaufraenkisch / Kekfrankos / Modra Frankovka? On the basis of this tasting, absolutely yes.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Domaine Michel Girard Sancerre Rosé

From the ice-age to the dole-age
There is but one concern
I have just discovered:
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers

- Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (The Smiths, 1986)

Some rosés are bigger than others.

Until recently, I would not have expected a Sancerre to be pink - it is much more famous for its flinty-gunsmoke Sauvignon.

But, it seems, pink Sancerre is becoming A Thing; and despite its northerly provenance, this is a substantial pink, full and supple.

Rosé expert Liz Gabay MW suggests this Sancerre rosé would historically have been aged for longer before release. It has the underpinnings and general stuffing to suggest it will keep for a couple more years but with pretty fruit and delicate florality, it does not feel like a full-on vin de garde.

In any case, it is drinking very nicely now but certainly won't harm from being cellared for a while. If you eat and drink seasonally, this is a good, substantial, late-autumnal rosé.

However, in the days of central heating and air-freighted food supply chains, you can enjoy it with appropriate food at pretty much any time of the year - try it with smoked salmon and scrambled egg bagels on Christmas day.

Domaine Michel Girard Sancerre Rosé (£13.99, Virgin Wines) floral and musky-spicy; soft red berries and orchard fruits with warming white pepper. Harmonious, pure and precise. Textured, full and supple with freshness, saline minerality and good underpinnings. Very adept, assured and understated.


Match with fuller autumnal foods such as squash risotto or prawn coconut curry.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Riesling Vielles Vignes 2015 - Paul Schneider

A complex and adept Alsace Riesling from Paul Schneider

A family holiday to the Black Forest via Alsace a couple of years ago saw a return visit to Paul Schneider in the pretty village of Eguisheim.

visit.alsace describes Eguisheim thus: surrounded by vineyards, nestling in a fold of green hills, Eguisheim is a medieval village whose narrow, concentric streets highlight the architectural merits of its half-timbered houses, lovingly decorated with flowers.
The wines are no less lovely.

Paul Schneider Riesling Vielles Vignes 2015 (€9) with a bit of age now, the nose is evolving nicely; diesel, florality, honeysuckle and expressive vanilla spice; on the palate, citrus, beeswax, ginger and ripe yellow stone fruit; full, fresh and supple.

Will age further.


Match with seafood, smoked salmon or Thai coconut curries.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Solpiantez Spumante Brut Rosé Millesimato 2017 - Virgin Wines

A crisp, minerally pink fizz from Italy

It may be a while before we use the garden furniture again, but that's no excuse not to keep drinking pink fizz. Early autumn is still a great time for rosé, plus it makes a great aperitif or starter wine. Then, then there's Valentine's in February and before you know it, it will be late spring and we will be ready for something lighter and fresher again.

This Italian pink fizz from Virgin wines is beautifully packaged - as you might expect from Italy; pleasantly muscular and well-defined, it is made from local hero Garganega with a dash of Sangiovese.

Solpiantez Spumante Brut Rosé Millesimato 2017 (£9.99, Virgin Wines) delicate red-berry fruits, watermelon, citrus freshness and sea-shell minerality; very textured and linear with a precise, muscular core. Fine mousse and no rough edges.

Good and Good Value.

Serve as a crisp aperitif or match with shellfish.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Co-op Irresistible Pinotage

A good value saffer from The Co-op

A cross between the cool-climate Pinot Noir and sun-worshipping Cinsault, Pinotage is arguably South Africa's signature red grape; it was developed in South Africa and is not widely grown anywhere else. It is not considered a classic variety and tends to be something of an everyday wine rather than a top cuvee.

So, this £7 Pinotage from Cape Point Vineyards sits right in the sweet spot; it has plenty of fruit, is well-made and has as much complexity and elegance as you will find at this price point.

Co-op Irresistible Pinotage (£7, The Co-op) toasty-oaky, with sweet, ripe, juicy black fruits, fynbos (aka garrigue or scrubland herbiness) and spice; vibrant freshness and fine tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable with no rough edges.

Perfect for International Pinotage Day on 12 October; match with darker game, such as barbecued venison burgers.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Domaine Bisconte

A classy, if slightly jammy, Big Red from Roussillon

I've been drinking a lot of Laithwaites' reds recently - not entirely through choice, I must add.

They score highly for Look-At-Me expressiveness, but less so for elegance, tending to be somewhat chewy and overextracted.

This Domaine Bisconte is very much in the Laithwaites style of Big Red; high in alcohol with baked, jammy fruit but what sets it apart from the others is a degree of finesse, freshness and balance which so many of the others lack.

For my palate, it's something of a curate's egg; it's technically very well made and the tannins are faultless. I'm just not keen on the baked, jammy character, but if you drink a lot of Parker-esque California or Barossa, it may even seem quite restrained.

Domaine Bisconte 2017 (£13.99, Laithwaites) ripe, baked dark-berry fruits with damson and plum, slightly jammy and overcooked ; garrigue herbs, oaky spice and a balanced freshness that just about holds it in check; complex with very fine tannins.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Will age.

Match with roast red meat, especially garlic-and-rosemary leg of lamb.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Classic Christmas Wines From France

Three French wines for Christmas

I recently - only half-jokingly - suggested to Fiona Beckett that just four different wines is not enough for a moderately expansive meal and found that I would need over half-a-dozen.

In practice, multi-wine meals are complicated to organise, quite a special occasion and mostly shared with fellow wine enthusiasts.

For a set-piece such as Christmas with a general audience, three wines can be perfectly fine; an aperitif, starter and main.

At Christmas, I tend to keep the food simple and the wines classic - it is not a time to start being adventurous.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut NV (Ocado, £11.95) Sémillon / Cabernet Franc blend, delicate florality, crisp, crunchy orchard fruits with fresh citrus, a touch of brioche, fine mousse and an elegant minerality. Very adept.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value.

Serve as an aperitif or match with light seafood starters, such as prawn vol-au-vent.

Calvet Réserve Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux (Waitrose £9.39) expressive, aromatic and fresh with lemongrass, citrus, white stone fruits, white pepper, pithy lime zest, grapefruit and flinty, saline minerality; supple and textured, concentrated and long.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with a plate of antipasti, monkfish in a herb broth, Roulé or white meat, such as roast chicken.


Abbotts & Delaunay Mourvèdre 2017, Languedoc (Majestic £8.99) deep and intense with dark fruits, violets, black olives, dark-green herbs and spice; textured, concentrated and inky with a muscular core; supple and fresh with perfectly ripe, very fine tannins.

Drinking nicely now and will improve further with age.


A versatile red, match with roast chicken, Christmas turkey or red-meat dishes from burgers to roast lamb.