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Saturday, 28 September 2019

English Fizz and South African Pinotage from The Co-op

Two wines from the Co-op - for British Food Fortnight and International Pinotage Day

Naming your range "Irresistible" is quite the statement of intent; the good news here is that the Co-op's buyers reliably source a collection of well-made, easy-drinking yet sophisticated wines.

If you have marked your diary for British Food Fortnight (21 September - 6 October) and International Pinotage Day (12 October), then you could do a lot worse than these two:

Irresistible Eight Acres Sparkling Rosé (£18) a fresh and elegant English classic-blend pink fizz from Hush Heath Estate in Kent.

Co-op Irresistible Pinotage (£7) a good value and well-made juicy saffer with dark fruit, spice and herbs.

At any other time, you can serve the fizz with canapé starters and the red with a main of darker game.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Robert Oatley Signature Series G-18 McLaren Vale Grenache

A genre-defying juicy Grenache from Australia's Robert Oatley

Grenache is a warm-climate grape typically producing high-alcohol wines; think Big Southern Rhônes or chunky Spanish reds.

This G-18 from Australia's Robert Oatley, however, is something rather different; more Beaujolais than Barossa, it is cool-fermented with no oak for a light and juicy wine.

It scores highly for elegance and finesse, a late-summery red that can be slightly chilled.

If you need an Old World reference point beyond Beaujolais, think of pale, fruited Pinots from Alsace and the lighter reds of the Loire, Switzerland or Germany.

Robert Oatley Signature Series G-18 McLaren Vale Grenache (£13.95, The Old Bridge, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants) red plums, raspberries, spice, raspberry leaf and dried green herbs; supple texture with low tannins and a juicy freshness. Elegant and easy-drinking.


Drink chilled as an aperitif; match with a plate of shellfish or rare tuna steak.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

My Four (plus) Wine Cellar

My fantasy 4-wine cellar - with a few additions

As a regular wine reviewer, I don't actually have many wines stashed away under the stairs; most wines need to be tasted, assessed and written up fairly quickly. There might be the remnants of a summer holiday's haul from a driving holiday in France and Spain plus a few special bottles that will really benefit from being laid down for a while, but not a cellar of any significance.

However, when Fiona Beckett pulled together a four-wine cellar recommendation of everyday staples, as a bit of twitter banter I suggested that four wines is not even a moderately expansive meal.

That's not four bottles per head, by the way, just four different wines served in appropriate measures; for tasting event, the rule of thumb is 15 - 20 servings per bottle and 8 - 12 wines, giving around 2/3rds of a bottle per person, which is not excessive by most people's standards. I make no comment on those who think that is actually rather mean.

So, assuming we have friends coming round for dinner, what would be the four (and more) wines I would need in my cellar?

Here is a very personal, stylistic guide to how I would do it and, since an editor once told me "I think people like recommendations", I've linked to some suggested wines - just click through to anything that looks interesting.

On Arrival

It pretty much has to be fizz on arrival - nothing else quite makes the same welcoming, joyous statement and peps up palates whilst your various guests arrive.

For fizz, you need a good reason not to serve Champagne; so it is either that (to show you know what you are doing) or an appropriate alternative (to show you've put some thought into it).

Other French fizz includes Crémants from Loire, Bourgogne and Jura. There's also English fizz, and elegant, chalky Franciacorta from Italy. Really good Prosecco and Cava are harder to find, but possible.


For an aperitif with an amuse-bouche, I would serve fino or manzanilla sherry with roasted almonds, olives and bread dipped in olive oil.

If you want to stay in Spain but head north, there's crisp, tangy Txakoli with pintxos or stay with France and go for a Petit Chablis with a oysters or other light seafood.

With Starters

Starters need something a little fuller than the aperitif wine, but not too big, so think midweight white with plenty of acidity to match fish, soft cheese, creamy pasta or lighter game. A gently-oaked white, such as Chardonnay, a mature Chablis Grand Cru or aged Mosel Riesling would be perfect here. For something more off-the-beaten track, Austrian Gruener is one of my favourites.

This would also be a good point to bring in a midweight rosé  - either old world or new - if you are having seafood, such as a plate of langoustines, smoked salmon or gravadlax.

With Mains

The main is where, I believe, you should pull all the stops out - for the wine. This means keeping the food simple and some sort of darker game with a sauce is my go-to main. Venison or game stew is easy to serve; mature Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo / Nebbiolo are absolute classic matches.

Cheese course

Every meal needs a cheese course in my opinion and as few as three good-quality cheeses is fine. Cheese and wine matching is a whole topic in itself, but mature hard yellow cheese (Cheddar, Ossau Iraty, Manchego) and a good value Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux works fine.

If you want to make the cheese course a bridge between main and dessert, serve a blue cheese with a sweet wine (Roquefort and Sauternes is another classic here).


My favourite dessert wine is Barsac, but Sauternes (of which Barsac is a sub-region) comes a close second.

With a wine this nuanced and complex, you don't want to overwhelm it, so keep the food classic with crème brûlée or panna cotta.


Vintage port or a sweet Madeira is almost a dessert in itself; when in season, both work well with mince pies and Christmas pudding.


Finally, a sip of something to round the evening off - a good 12yo single malt.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Chateau de Champteloup Crémant de Loire Tete de Cuvee Brut, Loire, France

A classy, inexpensive fizz from northern France

On holiday in France at our final evening's dinner, #1 child decided she "quite liked" Crémant de Loire, so we bought a few bottles the next day on our final shopping trip.

Standard procedures applied: medal-winner for around €5 from the supermarket (in this case, Intermarché).

Crémant is basically just another word for fizz and uses the Champagne-method of secondary fermentation; aging is a minimum of 12 months in bottle and, for Crémant de Loire, permitted grapes are a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc.

There is little information on the back label of this wine; the winery is based in Anjou and alcohol is 12%, plus it has a Gold medal from Paris,

Chateau de Champteloup Crémant de Loire Tete de Cuvee Brut, Loire (around €5, Intermarché) brioche, autolysis, citrus, orchard fruits and minerality with taught, linear acidity; fine mousse and very textured; with time a more honeyed florality and a leesy assertiveness develops, the texture becoming more creamy. Pure, precise and elegant.

Will improve with age.

Good and Good value.

Drink as an aperitif or match with white fish, goat's cheese or lighter game.

Tom Cannavan is also a fan and it is (was) apparently available at Iceland: wine pages review.

Monday, 16 September 2019

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017

A late-summer rosé from Chile's De Martino via Virgin Wines

Late summer is when the days are still warm but the sun is lower in the sky and there is more of a chill in the air at each end of the day. Back from our holidays, we want something that reminds us of sunnier climes but that also works in a northern climate.

This Chilean rosé from one of the country's most progressive winemakers does exactly what we need - it's zesty like a summer white but also full and substantial.

A versatile rosé, it will complement a picnic, or even a barbecue, but still has a summery freshness to it.

De Martino Gallardia Cinsault Rosé 2017, Itata, Chile (£12.99, Virgin Wines) delicate red-berry fruit with florality and green herbs; fresh, citrussy and zesty with a touch of quinine bitterness. Full, supple and adept.


Drink as an aperitif; match with smoked salmon, a plate of prawns or picnic foods.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Wines of the Gard at Thirsty

A tasting of Gard wines with Thirsty Cambridge

Sam Owens' vision for his Thirsty wine bars in Cambridge is that they should do more than just sell bottles of wine; they should be part of a European-style scene where you come for the local produce - artisan bread, cheese and coffee as well as a glass of wine - and stay for the atmosphere.

Go to more or less any French town and this is a way of life; you can make up an inexpensive "market picnic" from local produce. It is only a couple of weeks since I introduced the family to the joys of oysters and white wine at on the banks of the Charente. For just a few euros, we had six oysters, served on ice, with a wedge of lemon and unlimited fresh bread.

This sort of thing is rather harder to do in Britain, however, where regional artisan food is virtually non-existent and the combination of high shop rents and a northern, protestant work ethic discourages lingering in cafes.

However, none of that is stopping Sam from pressing ahead with plans to create a food-and-drink culture scene in Cambridge, of which more in due course.

Just back from a holiday in the Gard in southern France, Sam had brought some local wines to try out with a view to stocking them if they proved popular enough..

Gard is not an especially well-known region - just west of the Rhône but technically in Occitanie, it includes the appellation of Costières de Nîmes, but little else of any fame. This makes it a place of innovation and experimentation, with cheap land, plentiful sunshine and no heritage to maintain or be constrained by.

Most of these wines were labelled as vin de France as they are somewhat iconoclastic in style and do not conform to any regional archetypes.

I tasted through all of them with Sam and the style will be familiar to anyone who knows his palate - vibrant, fresh and drinkable with low tannins and low alcohol, a world apart from the standard Rhône characteristics of dark-berry fruit, spice, supple tannins and plenty of ripeness.

Mostly southern GSM-blends, there were also a couple of curveballs; a Sangiovese and a very funky-nosed Cinsault. However, the doozy of the pack was Partouze; made from 13 grape varieties, it is cloudy reddish-pink, chilled and tastes somewhere between fermenting grape must, cider and a hoppy ale. All of this in a good way.
Topping and tailing the tasting were perhaps my two favourite wines of the evening; Gard du Nord, a vibrant, juicy and compelling Grenache with lots of flavour yet just 12% alcohol and Mont de Marie, a more conventional Rhône-esque red with dark fruit and a supple texture.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Mountain View Marlborough Rosé 2018

An elegant blended pink from New Zealand - via Virgin Wines

Not to be confused with a sweet fizzy citrus beverage, Mountain View is a Marlborough rosé.

Yes, the place synonymous with zesty Sauvignon has vinified a red grape (Pinot Noir) and then turned it into a rosé with a touch of the Italian white grape Arneis in the blend.

It's a lovely wine, but I am genuinely curious as to why they have made it instead of, say, making a red Pinot Noir and an Arneis separately.

For starters, the two grapes are not natural bedfellows; drinks consultant Douglas Blyde describes blending them as a thrillingly masochistic challenge of unification of two little rascals.

Then, the price for red Burgundy provides a higher benchmark than the price for a pink, so they must be losing out there.

It could be that the grapes struggle to ripen, suggests Kevin Powell, and so a pink works better than a red. But why not just plant grapes that can ripen?

Or maybe it's just a punt on something different to see if it will fly (NZ is around 75% SB, so it has to start trying out new grapes and styles before fashions change).

The most convincing suggestion came from Languedoc winemaker Jonathan Hesford and pink wine expert Elizabeth Gabay MW - the juice for this wine is bled off early in the process to make a rosé  and the remainder turned into a deeper, more concentrated Pinot (think skimmed milk and cream).

Jonathan adds "the winery may have a particular financial reason for putting out an earlier release wine that frees up tank space and brings in money much quickly than a more expensive, barrel-aged red Pinot noir. Not all wineries have limitless pockets or space to make their best Burgundy-lookalikes."

Mountain View Marlborough Rosé 2018 (£11.99, Virgin Wines) aromatic, floral and spicy nose, soft red fruits, aromatic herbs and a saline minerality. Textured and structured; clean, pure and crystalline-fresh with more spice and florality on the finish.


Drink as an aperitif or match with picnic foods such as cold cuts, quiche or goat's cheese tart.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Two Wines from Portugal

Two elegant, stylish and good value wines from Portugal - Manz and Quinta da Romaneira 

Portugal does not so much have a quality problem as an image problem; when I think of Portuguese wine, I'm not really sure what it stands for.

There's port - of course - in all its wonderful guises. And Vinho Verde, the light, fresh, Atlantic wine.

But with numerous regions, climates and terroirs, hundreds of native grape varieties and a history of somewhat rustic methods, it's hard to fix on something and say "That is typical Portugal!" in the way you think of kiwi Sauvignon, Aussia Shiraz or Argentinean Malbec.

Every time I taste Portuguese table wines, I generally find them to be well-made, elegant and balanced. But I am still searching for that one, single, defining thing that makes them typically Portuguese.

These two wines prove to be typically modern Portuguese - made from native grapes with a clean, pure elegance.

They are also great value for the price; the flipside of Portugal's lack of a strong identity is that the good wines do not command the same premiums as better-known wine regions. As a reference point for the Jampal, think of a white Burgundy; the red blend has the structure and sophistication of a Bordeaux.

Manz Dona Fátima Jampal 2017 (£16.50, Oddbins) made from the rare, revived grape Jampal; floral with ripe exotic fruits, citrus, saline minerality and buttery, oatmealy, nutty spice. Fresh, pure and very adept with a Burgundian elegance.

Very Good and good value.

A versatile wine, match with fish, vegetables dishes, creamy pasta or white meats.

Sino da Romaneira (£15.95, Lea & Sandman) a table wine made from a blend of port grapes by Christian Seely; dark, plummy fruit, garrigue herbs, fresh with a mineral backbone and fine tannins. Very elegant.

Very Good and good value.

Match with red meat, especially darker game.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Ninety Six Pinot Grigio - Virgin Wines

A Hungarian Pinot Grigio from Virgin Wines

Ninety Six Tears - Question Mark & The Mysterians

Pinot Grigio is the same wine as Pinot Gris - the Italian form of the name here is no more than a stylistic indicator. You can reasonably expect a Pinot Grigio to be taught, citrussy-mineral and fairly neutral.

By contrast, a winemaker who puts Pinot Gris on the label is giving you a hint that it will probably be fuller, richer and more perfumed.

This Hungarian Pinot Grigio sits somewhere between the two; Hungary has a fairly warm climate resulting in more fruit ripeness, so although labelled Grigio, it's bigger and fuller.

You could call this a slightly confused Hungarian that does not know whether it wants to be French or Italian - but then a Hungarian friend of mine thought I was writing about her ...

Ninety Six Pinot Grigio (£8.99) ripe stone fruit and a waxy, honeyed florality that is just held in check by a saline-mineral acidity; shows the warmth of its climate.

Match with roast chicken or pork rillettes.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Rex Mundi Shiraz Grenache 2017, Laithwaites

A stewed, extracted Languedoc wine from Laithwaites

Another trip up to my parents', another bottle of heavy-handed Laithwaite's wine.

If the three stages of palate development can be summarised as: expressiveness, complexity, elegance, then Laithwaite's wines generally show well for expressiveness (often over-delivering in this area) with moderate amounts of complexity and very little elegance.

So, the question can be framed not so much as "Is this a good wine?" as "Do you have a Laithwaite's palate?".

Not to put too fine a point on it, if you are not bothered about elegance or complexity and want a wine that makes a BIG statement, then this is perfectly fine for you.

To my mind, it's heavy-handed, unsubtle and over-priced. Languedoc can do much better than this.

That said, Laithwaite's customers give it 4.4 out of 5 and 93% approve. Clearly, I don't have a Laithwaite's palate.

Rex Mundi Shiraz Grenache 2017 (£9.99, Laithwaites) stewed plums, porty eucalyptus, spice and alcohol; it just doesn't hold together. It promises everything, like a newly-formed Conservative government, then falls apart just as quickly.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Rigal Oltesse, Cahors, 2014

A Cahors wine with a bit of age to go with a dish of prawns

On holiday just outside Cahors, Mrs CWB asked to try a bottle of something local so I picked out a range of award-winners at the supermarket.

Back at Tour de Belfort, I realised that dinner was seafood, so I picked out one of the older wines I'd bought and gave it some time in an impromptu decanter to soften up.

As it happens, it also has a lower alcohol content and some Merlot in the blend, so worked well for the classic Bond-villain combination of red wine and seafood.

Rigal Oltesse, Cahors, 2014 (€5, widely available in France) Malbec/Merlot blend; red fruits, cherries, dried green herbs, old leather and oaky spice. Supple and fresh with fine, firm slightly drying tannins. Warming on the finish, despite just 12% alcohol. Becomes more adept and harmonious with aeration.


Match ideally with darker game or cheeses; also shellfish

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Two Wines From South West France

Two local wines on a holiday in South West France

My rule of thumb for buying wines when on holiday in France is to go for something local for around €5 from the supermarket with some sort of award.

If time allows, tasting and buying directly from the producer is even better, but family holidays are holidays, not wine-tasting-and-buying trips.

Saint Mont is a region in South West France of transformed fortunes; formerly a vast brandy-producer, it is now a smaller, more focused wine area cultivating local, often forgotten grapes and dominated by the Plaimont co-op.

Fronton, just north of Toulouse, is an ancient vineyard area dating back to Roman times with a reputation for rustic wines made from a minimum 50% of local variety Negrette.

Duc de Meynan, 2017, Saint Mont (widely available in France, around €5) aromatic Gascon blend of local heroes, Gros Manseng, Petit Corbu and Arrufiac. Zesty lime, white flowers and citrussy tropical fruits with rich waxiness and a shake of white pepper; supple and full with sweet spices and minerality. Very adept, very pure and very well made.


Drink as an aperitif, a picnic wine or match with salmon en croute or tarragon chicken.

Château Clamens Cuvée Prestige Fronton Rouge, 2016 (widely available in France for €5, £10 at Gerrad Steel in UK) Negrette / Syrah blend from south west France. Black cherry, elderberry and blueberry fruit, dried green herbs, pencil shavings and fine, persistent tannins. Fresh, inky and harmonious.


Match with darker game, such as duck or venison.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Eugene's Unicorn Wine - Pink Fizz

Tasting a unicorn pink fizz with winery owner Eugene Lismonde of Tour de Belfort

I have written before (extensively) about Eugene Lismonde and his Tour de Belfort wines - in semi-retirement, he renovated a run-down chateau in his wife's village of Belfort de Quercy, then with a consultant winemaker assisting him, he planted a vineyard and built a winery to make the most elegant wine possible.

Cahors is traditionally a deep, heavy, tannic, slightly rustic wine; Eugene's wines are Cahors in name only - and his whites are not even sold as Cahors, but rather as Cotes de Lot because Cahors has no appellation for whites and Eugene refused to sell them as vins de table.

The winery is pristine and gravity-fed on three levels with bespoke fermenting vats that fill bottom-up to reduce air contact. In the vineyard at harvest time, Eugene monitors the separate pickers and basket carriers, keeps them all working at the same rate and in line and arranges for two rounds of sorting, prior to a final sorting in the winery. The vines are planted at greater than standard density to reduce yields and increase concentration.

There is no romance, no tradition, no "we've always done it this way" about Eugene's winemaking - just an absolute focus on quality, cleanliness and the highest possible quality of fruit. The sort of order, hygiene and innovation that you might expect from a Dutch businessman with a Swiss scientist running the place.

After 15 years, however, Eugene decided he was getting too old to manage the harvest and winemaking process himself, so arranged to sell his grapes to the local co-op; he mothballed the winery and sold off his barrels.

Ever the businessman, he refused permission for the wines to be sold under his brand name of Tour de Belfort unless the wines were made to his (rather exacting) standards.

Eugene is now considering his next move, possibly getting in someone to run the winery on his behalf, but one evening we set aside business issues to taste a few museum pieces wines from his extensive library (100 bottles of each wine from each year), which is carved out of the limestone hill on which the domaine stands.

With the sun setting over the causses (limestone plateaus) of Quercy, Eugene explained that in wine just as in life or business, there is no accounting for chance and the Syrah vines that he planted (along with Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc for reds) did not produce good enough wine; with poor tannic structure, it was just one of those "terroir" things. So he decided to turn it into a traditional method pink fizz.

He picks a week or so early, carries out the first vinification himself and sends off the resulting base wine off secondary fermentation and aging in the chalk cellars.

What comes back is an elegant pink sparkler, one of the best non-Pinot pink fizzes I can remember tasting.

Made from the Rhone grape in Cahors using the Champagne method, it is typically iconoclastic in approach - and typically elegant to taste.

Tour de Belfort Methode Traditionelle Brut Rosé (NV, N/A) vibrant, crunchy red-berry fruits with Syrah spice; citrussy freshness and minerality with a structured, muscular core; harmonious, deft and elegant; very pure and very precise.

Very Good.

Fresh enough for an aperitif, it also has the substance to stand up to canapes such as crostini, goat's cheese tart or quiche.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Bancroft At Virgin Wines

Bancroft at Virgin Wines' Cambridge Tasting

As well as their own wines, Virgin also sell a selection from Bancroft whom I've always found impressive.

Here are four that I got to try at Virgin's Cambridge tasting earlier this year. With the exception of the Garnacha, they are in a higher price bracket than one would normally associate with Virgin.

Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis 2016 (£22) pure and clean, rounded and supple with citrus and honey; lovely textbook Chablis. Good.

Hubert Lamy La Princee Saint-Aubin 2016 (£37) herbs, citrus and ripe lime marmalade; fresh, vibrant white Burgundy with excellent underpinnings. Will improve further with age. very Good.

Pablo Claro Garnacha 2017 (£10.99) organic, biodynamic Spanish red with a funky nose and ripe cherry fruit. Vibrant and pleasant in a slightly punky way.

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Malbec Verdot 2014 (£34.99) points-chasing, Argentinian red; something of a Parker-Points chaser. substantial with dark fruits, firm, ripe tannins and spice. Hefty yet deft. Technically very impressive; Very Good.