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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.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Irresistible Eight Acres Sparkling Rosé - The Co-op

A classy English barely-pink fizz from the Co-op

Hush Heath is a Kent-based vineyard making excellent English fizz.

I have to confess to finding the shiny purple packaging for this sparkler a little garish; it brings to mind more a basic Prosecco than a traditional-method fizz

It is a pink fizz, but only just a rosé - on colour alone you could argue either way for it being a dark standard issue or a rosé. However, on the palate there is lots of red fruit which makes it a rosé by flavour if not colour.

It is also reasonable value within its category; priced in the high teens, it is certainly not "everyday cheap", but the contents are excellent and worth every penny.

And being home grown, you can enjoy being patriotic in a more progressive way than, say, putting a brick through someone's window.

Irresistible Eight Acres Sparkling Rosé (£18) traditional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier blend; very pale pink in colour, with brioche and autolysis; clean, fresh and vibrant with orchard fruits, wild strawberry, lime and redcurrant. Textured, minerally and well-structured with a fine mousse.


Drink as an aperitif or match with canapes such as seafood vol-au-vents.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Tenuta Olim Bauda Gavi di Gavi 2018

A complex and elegant Italian white from Virgin wines

Piemonte, in North West Italy, is that country's answer to Burgundy - a place of forested hills, truffles, game and complex wines, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from Nebbiolo.

This makes Gavi, a white wine from the Cortese grape, Italy's equivalent of a white Burgundy - a serious, versatile white wine.

For me, good Gavi is hedonistic and autumnal, evoking creamy pasta dishes with mushrooms or lighter game such as guinea fowl.

That said, you can drink it any time of the year; fresh enough for a summer salad, it would also go perfectly well with a Christmas turkey.

Tenuta Olim Bauda Gavi di Gavi 2018 (£15.99, Virgin Wines) citrus, orchard and melon fruit; floral and musky yet fresh with sweet spices and saline minerality. Assertive, complex and concentrated. Harmonious and well-made with good underpinnings. Drinking nicely now and will improve with age.


 A versatile food wine, match with pasta, lighter game, scallops or meaty white fish.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Viña Tarapacá Malbec Shiraz

A chewy Chilean Big Red from Laithwaites

To be fair, this wine has warning signs written all over it - Laithwaites, Chile, Malbec and Shiraz all tell you this is going to be a Big Wine, probably with a chewy, over-extracted style to it.

Why so?

Firstly, that's pretty much Laithwaites' house style; secondly, it has become Chile's house style (albeit not universally and some more interesting producers are doing the elegance thing rather well these days). Finally, Malbec and Shiraz are unlikely ever to give you a delicate wine, albeit elegance is eminently achievable.

It need not be this way; I've had good wines from Chile and I've had excellent Malbecs and Shirazes - just not from Laithwaites.

It only gets 3.1 / 5 on Laithwaites own website, so even their own customers seem rather underwhelmed.

Viña Tarapacá Malbec Shiraz 2018 (£10.49, Laithwaites) sweet, ripe dark fruits with herbs and spice, rather jammy and overcooked; heavily-stewed, over-extracted texture. Not pleasant.

One to avoid.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Ch'ti Blonde

A sophisticated northern French beer from Castelain

Driving holidays in France are an opportunity to bring back a few bottles of wine; this summer we mixed it up a bit with cider and beer as well.

North East France is too cold for grape cultivation, but as in neighbouring Belgium and Germany,  the French make an art form of producing beers with a strength and complexity beyond mere quaffers.

Ch'ti, by the way, is slang for this part of France - as evidenced by the comedy film, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (translated as "Welcome to the Sticks") about a man who is moved by his firm from the south of France to the North where it is very cold, rainy, and "they talk funny".

This beer is marked as a "biere de garde", a beer that will also improve with aging - even if this one did not get the chance.

Ch'ti Blonde (around €2 for 75cl, Intermarché) 6.4% alcohol; a strong, malty blonde ale, rich with some balanced sweetness and gently hopped for aromatic bitterness; fresh, supple and yeasty with mixed fruit and some sweet spice. Adept and complex.


Match with sausages, tarte flambee or picnic food such as pork pies and cold cuts.