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Friday, 16 August 2019

Roberto Sarotto Barbaresco DOCG Riserva 2013 - Virgin Wines

A compelling aged Italian red from Virgin Wines

Italy's Nebbiolo grape is the "ladyboy of wines", says Winebird Helena Nicklin; in north west Italy, Nebbiolo makes big, tough reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme.

Helena's self-styled vinalogy is based on Nebbiolo's delicate, perfumed nature that is reminiscent of Pinot Noir but with firm assertive tannins that need time to soften.

My analogy is a jangly indie kid with knuckle dusters in his cardigan pocket and this Barbaresco is just my kind of disaffected youth.

This part of Italy is a region of hills and forests with truffles that borders France; not coincidentally, it shares France's love of gamey foods with hedonistic ageworthy red wines.

Essentially Italy's answer to Burgundy, its wines, like Burgundy, generally command something of a price premium, so this one is also reasonable value for the quality and age.

Roberto Sarotto Barbaresco DOCG Riserva 2013 (£19.99) cherries, plums roses, tar, old leather and spice with fine, assertive tannins. Fresh, vibrant and precise; focused, pure and very compelling.

Still youthful even at over five years old, it is drinking nicely now but will continue to develop for years.


Match with darker game, such as venison or hard yellow cheeses.

To learn more about Helena's wine vinalogies, see her book: Winebird's Vinalogy: Wine Basics with a Twist!

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Rocksand Shiraz 2017 - Laithwaites

A Portuguese Shiraz from Laithwaites

I'm not quite sure what to make of this Shiraz from Laithwaites; my sister declared that she does not like Shiraz, so we opened a Bordeaux with her instead (that I rather liked) and had this one later on.

I'll admit, I was intrigued by the bottle shape; a sign of the winemaker's quirkiness and ambition.

The label aesthetic is New World evoking Australia, but look closer and the wine is actually Portuguese; Shiraz / Syrah does well in Portugal, even though the country has plenty of native grapes to explore.

For most of the bottle it was fresh and well-balanced; but then towards the end, a heaviness of started to become more apparent.

Rocksand Shiraz 2017, Vinho Regional Península de Setubal (£9.99, Laithwaites) ripe dark-berry fruit, spice and balanced freshness; supple with fine tannins. Generous extraction levels become more apparent over time.

Match with red meat.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Chateau Mayne Guyon 2015 - Laithwaites

A classy but expensive 2015 right bank Bordeaux from Laithwaites

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux is essentially a slightly better appellation than basic Bordeaux; based on the right bank, Merlot dominates here.

2015 was a very good year in Bordeaux, so this ticks all the boxes.

And it delivers on quality, too; however, the price is a little toppy - even for a right bank Bordeaux.

Chateau Mayne Guyon Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2015 (Laithwaites, £16.99) ripe dark berries, sour cherry and some oaky spice; supple and fresh; concentrated and harmonious with fine tannins.

Still youthful and will age further.

Good (but not great value).

Match with a Sunday roast.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Four Summer Pinks from Virgin

Four summer rosés from Virgin Wines

Rosé is perhaps unique in being the only wine style defined by its colour alone; if you want to learn more about rosé wine, there is Elizabeth Gabay's book "Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution".

If you just want to sip it (and why not?), here are four Virgin pinks wines made from different grapes and in different countries.

Domaine Michel Girard Sancerre Rosé 2018 (£13.99) Pinot Noir rosé from the Loire

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017 (£10.99) Chilean Cinsault from one of the country's more progressive producers

Mountain View Marlborough Rose 2018 (£11.99) Pinot Noir-meets-Arneis from New Zealand

Solpiantez Spumante Brut Rose Millesimato 2017 (£9.99) Garganega-and-Sangiovese Italian pink fizz

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Calvet Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc 2018

A Loire Sauvignon from Calvet via Waitrose

Loire Sauvignon tends to be more textured and complex than kiwi-style examples; this makes it a more versatile and food-friendly wine.

The Loire is perhaps France's most diverse wine region; Menetou-Salon is in the Centre-Val de Loire and consists of 10 villages.

Calvet Menetou-Salon Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£14.99, Waitrose) fresh and mineral with lemon and lime fruit; full, supple, complex and mineral. Elegant and linear, very adept and assured.


Match with goat's cheese tart or asparagus.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2018

A remarkable De Martino Chilean red from Virgin Wines

There is quite a back-story to the winery behind this Chilean red; you don't need to know it to enjoy the wine, but for those interested, the longer version of De Martino is here.

The TL:DR is this: Chilean winemaker gets the backing of the winery owner to put the bigger-is-better machine into reverse and starts making more elegant, subtle, European-style wines.

This Cinsault is made in old amphoras - giant clay pots or "Viejas tinajas" - and has a lovely, juicy-vibrant quality for easy drinking with plenty of freshness and low tannins.

De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault 2018 (£14.99) toasty-smokey with juicy sour-cherry fruit and wild herbs; very fine tannins, Burgundian elegance and good underpinnings.


Serve slightly chilled as a summer aperitif or a picnic wine; match with beef carpaccio or salamis.

Doug Wregg's notes (quoted on Jancis Robinson's website): This wine rescues an old tradition deeply rooted in rural Chile: winemaking using large earthenware jars called tinajas. Once upon a time many farms used to make wine for their own consumption which they ferment and store in amphorae of various shapes and sizes.

The commercialisation of the Chilean wine industry has seen this tradition disappear, but a couple of years ago, the De Martino family decided to revive it and purchased as many clay pots as they could find including former ashtrays and holders of cactus plants!

This accords with De Martino's desire to row back from the throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it winemaking style towards a more natural, nuanced approach involving respect for terroir and vintage. De Martino have converted most of their vineyards to organic viticulture; they now use natural yeasts in the winemaking, and from 2011 eliminated all new oak from their winemaking practices – a huge departure for a relatively commercial Chilean winery.

Viejas Tinajas has been fermented and aged as naturally as possible in amphorae over 100 years old, without intervention and in search of a faithful reflection of its origin. An old, unirrigated vineyard in the heart of the Coastal Mountain Range in the Itata Valley gives life to this wine, some 400 kilometres to the south of Santiago and just 22 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean.

Consider this: Cinsault, old bush vines (35 hl/ha yields), on granitic soils, farmed with horses, whole berries, no punch down, gentle pressing. In the winter the malolactic is ready. The wine is not filtered or fined and there is no added sulphur. No pumps are used with the tinajas, only good old-fashioned sucking.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Calvet Muscadet White 2017

An inexpensive Calvet Loire from Sainsbury's

Muscadet is a classic white wine from the Loire - light, lemony and mineral, it is perfect for summer sipping or drinking with seafood.

Muscadet is the most widely-produced Loire wine and is made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes, which are grown pretty much nowhere else and have nothing to do with Burgundy (Bourgogne). 

Calvet Muscadet White 2017  (£5.75, Sainsburys) lemony-mineral with melon fruit; supple, fresh and easy-drinking. Well-made with no rough edges.

Thoroughly pleasant and good value.

Drink as an aperitif, a picnic wine or match with very light starters.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Armit At Virgin Wines

Armit Wines at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

Virgin Wines don't just sell their own wines; they also have some tie-ups with other merchants, including the Armit whose wines I knew little about.

They had chosen to show just four wines, so I tried them all.
Chateau Dereszla Furmint Dry 2016 (£11.99) unusual dry Tokaji made from Furmint; orchard fruits and citrus. Clean and elegant. Think Chablis or Viognier.

Domaine Auvigue Pouilly Fuisse Solutre 2017 (£24) ripe, oatmealy and nutty. Harmonious and adept. Very Good.

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2015 (£16.99) supple, harmonious and long with blackberry fruit, spice and ripasso richness; vibrant and fresh. Good.

Musella Amarone Riserva 2011 (£45) dark-cherry fruit, tannic and porty; still not fully settled and will benefit from extensive aging. Rich, big and alcoholic. Good.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Les Jamelles Pinot Gris 2018

A Languedoc Pinot Gris from Les Jamelles at Majestic

Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. Its spiritual home is Alsace, but this one is from Languedoc.

The difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio is not in the grape variety, but in the winemaking approach; Pinot Gris on the label suggests a fuller, riper, later-harvested style that will match with rich Alsatian food such as pork, tarte flambée or cervelas à l'alsacienne.

Les Jamelles Pinot Gris 2018 (£11.99 and £8.99 mix six, Majestic) ripe-yet-fresh with orchard fruits, citrus and grapefruit and white pepper; supple with good underpinnings, minerality and no rough edges..


Match with grilled meaty white fish, such as sea bream.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Chateau Musar At Virgin Wines

Lebanon's Chateau Musar at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

Lebanon's Chateau Musar is something of an iconic winery; growing Bordeaux grapes in Asia on the Eastern Mediterranean, it has seen its vineyards at times become battle lines in the country's civil war.

Lebanese wine has not really become A Thing and although there are other local wineries; Musar remains a benchmark.

Chateau Musar Jeune White 2016 (£13.99) nutty with fennel aromas, neutral and citrussy-fresh with excellent underpinnings. Good.

Chateau Musar Jeune Red 2016 (£13.99) fresh, vibrant and baked with classic Musar dried red fruits. Good.

Chateau Musar Organic 2011 (£27.99) sweet vanilla, ripe fruits and gamey leatheriness with a dense core; warming, supple and harmonious. Very Good.

Chateau Musar 2004 (£27.99) still very primary and youthful; does not show its age next to the 2011; apparently this is one of the strongest vintages, so you can buy this and allow it to lie for a long time. Very Good+.