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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.