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Thursday, 26 March 2020

Noveltea Earl Grey Gin

An Earl-Grey infused gin from Virgin Wines Sendagift

Early Grey tea and gin - what could be more British?

If you are looking for a gift or need something to cheer up a loved one in self-isolation lockdown, Noveltea's Earl Grey gin will put a smile on their faces.

The gift set comes with a teapot for serving the gin warm - or you can add ice and have it chilled.

Noveltea Teapot Gift Set With Earl Grey Gin (£26.99) cold-brewed loose-leaf Earl Grey tea and gin blended; citrus, florality and bergamot with sweetness, ripe peach and botanicals. Think iced tea cocktail.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Serve as part of a boozy afternoon tea.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

House of Townend

Two wines from independent, fourth-generation wine merchant House of Townend

A good independent wine merchant will be able to get hold of interesting wines in relatively small quantities that you will not find from larger retailers.

There are a couple of ways to establish if the merchant is good 1) longevity 2) try a few wines at random.

Independent wine merchant House of Townend has something of a grand history dating back four generations to the early 1900s, so clearly they have been doing something right.

These days they have a couple of commendations from Decanter, but what really matters is whether the wines are any good.

These two wines were not selected at random, but they provide something of an introduction.

Below £10, you are generally not looking at "classic" regions and these two bottles are from areas noted more for value than for heritage. What this means in practice is that you get a modern style of mainstream wine with more of your money going into quality than badging for label-snobs.

They are both well made, sophisticated, fault-free and very easy-to-enjoy.

Le Charme Sauvignon Blanc by Christine Cabri, IGP Pays du Gers (£7.99) made by SW French heroes Producteurs Plaimont, Oz Clarke describes this as "one of the best value Sauvignons in Britain"; expressive, aromatic and zippy in a kiwi style, with fresh green apple and lime acidity, minerality and good, structured underpinnings.

Well made and thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as an aperitif or match with light starters; goat's cheese crostini or prawns with coriander leaves.

Animado Malbec, Argentina (£9.49) from Argentina's Zuccardi winery, this drinks nicely straight out of the bottle but opens up with some air; juicy blueberry and black cherry fruit with soft strawberries and raspberries and some spice. Fresh, harmonious and easy-drinking with a supple texture. Very deft and elegant.

Fresh and juicy enough to quaff, match with pâté, salami or steak.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Top Selection Portfolio Tasting

A portfolio tasting of Top Selection's wines

Top Selection is not a great name for a wine merchant; it has something of a budget supermarket's premium own brand about it. Which is a pity because the wines themselves are superb.

From traditional classics, to emerging regions and some really off-piste wines, if you are prepared to start buying in low double-digits and move up from there, there is a huge breadth to explore.

I liked every wine I tried and scored all of them at least a Good, so here are my highlights:

- more Hungarian dry Furmint, especially Szepsy, and Heimann's red Kekfrankos

- Styrian Sauvignon from Tement; it is lovely to see these wines back in the UK, steely, precise and mineral, they are some of my favourite Sauvignons

- elegant Swiss wines; they're not cheap, they're not good value but they are unique, pure and sometimes so silent that it takes time to hear them

- Nathan Kendall New York whites; fresh and distinctive

- Anton Bauer Austrian Gruener, a long-time favourite, plus his Blaufraenkisch and superb sweet wines from Burgenland's Kracher

- Moroccan wines from Meknes; a first for me

- aged Italian wines are really quite amazing; Campaperi, Ca' la Bionda, Terenzi

- really outstanding Cahors wines from Lagrezette; at £80 the Paragon is pricy but still exceptional value for the quality

- Yves Cuilleron Condrieu; not cheap but lovely

- 100yo solera sherries from Bodegas Yuste

- Canadian aged ice cider is a thing; Leduc -Piedemonte 2011

- Frederiksdal Kirsebaervin's Danish cherry wine; complex and savoury from long fermentations

- German Riesling beer; a "personal project" blend of 1/3rd Riesling with 2/3rds beer to give fruit-pickers something refreshing after a long day in the vineyard

Thursday, 19 March 2020

M&S Port Decanter 50cl 20%

An enjoyable, textbook ruby port from M&S

This is a basic ruby port, thoroughly pleasant and very typical with nothing not to like here - a good entry-level example.

M&S Port Decanter 50cl (NV) cherries, spice and eucalyptus with the warming sweetness of fruitcake. Fresh and harmonious.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Sip as an after-dinner drink or match with chocolate and cherry torte.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Daniel Lambert Portfolio Tasting

By Benjamin Marshall - Dictionary of National Biography. Original is now owned by Leicestershire Museums and Art Galleries., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10847154
If, like me, Adrian Mole and Richard III, you have a connection to Leicester, you can't help knowing that Daniel Lambert was once Britain's fattest man.

He claimed neither to have eaten nor drunk to excess and to have been reasonably active, but with no other medical symptoms, history's verdict is that this was probably a fib and he was just a lazy porker.

Still, he clearly enjoyed the good life and was even something of a celebrity, charging people to experience his enormous bulk "in the flesh", so to speak.

This, however, is not the Daniel Lambert you are looking for. Unrelated to my childhood local hero, award-winning Daniel Lambert Wines was established around 30 years ago just off the M4 in south Wales.

A simple test of a wine merchant is to pick a few wines at random; if they are all good, then you've probably found a reliable one.

There was nothing I didn't like at this tasting; all the wines were at least Good, many much better than that.

De Saint-Gall my new favourite Champagne house - excellent NV and an astonishing Grand Cru 2004

Montgomery well-made red and white wines from Wales

Domaine Philippe Raimbault elegant and concentrated Loires; Pouilly Fume and Sancerre

Cave OEdoria supple and elegant Beaujolais

Burgundy lots of lovely, elegant reds at varying price points from Domaine de la Galopiere, Domaine Lamy Pillot, Domaine Jean Fery, Fournier ets Fils, Domaine Marchand Grillot

Bordeaux amazing mature Pessac-Leognan from Couhins-Lurton (white, 2015) and La Louviere (red, 2010), plus a superb 2015 Sauternes from Filhot.

Calmel & Joseph the Languedoc Malbec that first turned me on to Daniel Lambert

Cotes du Rhone supple, inky, spicy Rhones from Pasquiers, Les Hauts de Mercurol and Fourmone

Rioja youthful, fresh Rioja with some age from Pascual Larrieta

Canada fresh and elegant cool-climate wines from Westcott

Dom Brial possibly the highlight of the tasting, a collection of superb Rivesaltes including a Rancio Sec 2000, sweet Ambre 2010 and a series of wines from the last century that, like Mick Jagger, just seemed to get better with age: 1999, 1979 and - my favourite - 1969.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Mothers' Day Wines from The Co-op

Two wines for Mothers' Day from Ramon Bilbao and Vinalba via the Co-op

Is your mum a red or white sort of person?

In her youth, my Mum smoked, drank coffee and was attracted to my Dad for his spontaneity, idiosyncrasy and charisma.

More recently, Mum managed to get herself into a bit of a scrape and, when three people had tried and failed to help her, ended up calling the Fire Brigade, making a point of her age, and asking to be rescued. They said "Madam, we're on our way" and within a few minutes a crew of burly Firefighters had come get her out of trouble.

As she told me the story, I asked her: But did you not actually, at any point, consider the risks of what you were doing? She replied; look dear, if you're going to be like that about it, I won't tell you these stories any more.

I love my Mum.

Of course, I didn't tell her that at the time; I just told her I needed to see pictures or it didn't happen. It turns out that a selfie with the Fire crew was not a priority for her.

My Mum likes red wines and whites with a bit of  something about them (which is essentially what a rosé is), so here are two that will suit her.

Ramon Bilbao El Viaje Rosé (£8) elegant with red berries, citrus and stone fruits; florality, white pepper and minerality; good underpinnings so will stand up to food.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as an aperitif or match with tapas, salmon or prawns.

Viñalba Finca La 70 Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (£9) red and black berries, plum, vanilla and clove spice with dried green herbs. Substantial with generous extraction.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with darker game, such as duck-liver pate or venison steak.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Domaine du Grand Cros, Le Grand Cros – L’Esprit de Provence, Côtes de Provence

A crisp and mineral Provence rosé from Berry Bros & Rudd

If Provence rosés are generally Dickie Greenleaf, this one is more Tom Ripley - externally conventional yet darker, edgier and more complex beneath it.

Domaine du Grand Cros, Le Grand Cros – L’Esprit de Provence, Côtes de Provence, 2018 (£15.50 Berry Bros & Rudd) bright and crisp with wild strawberries, pink grapefruit, redcurrant and verbena; floral with white pepper and minerality; focused and precise

Thoroughly enjoyable, in a slightly subversive way.

Drink as an aperitif, or match with salads, seafood pasta or pea, courgette and artichoke risotto.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Château des Ferrages, Roumery, Côtes de Provence

Son of a gun: an elegant and beautifully-presented Provence rosé

You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht

- Carly Simon, You're So Vain (1972)

The sun is shining, the days are getting warmer and the sap is starting to rise. Time to get the Provence rosés out; this one is a Dickie Greeleaf of a wine - easy-going, expensively assured and unassuming.

Château des Ferrages, Roumery, Côtes de Provence, 2018 (£17.67, Blanco & Gomez) strawberry, citrus and peach with freshness and good underpinnings. Elegant, supple and understated

Thoroughly enjoyable

Drink as an aperitif or match with salads, seafood, grilled chicken or pasta.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Dark Corner Durif Shiraz 2019

Another chunky red from Laithwaites

According to the Laithwaite's website, this is the pet project of a rising-star winemaker who didn’t want anyone to take a look or taste it until he was absolutely ready.

The ambition is admirable, but it does not exactly live up to its ta-dah billing.

This is not a result I would want on my winemaking CV; in fact, if I'd worked for ages and all I'd come up with was this fruit-bomb mediocrity, I would be much more likely sell it off as quietly as possible with the under strict instruction that my name was never to be linked to it in any way.

Is it a terrible wine? Not really - it's just somewhat unsophisticated, overpriced, alcoholic fruit juice for people who either don't actually like wine or don't know any better (Laithwaite's customers give this 4.4 out of 5).

What's there is vaguely pleasant as long as you don't pay too much attention to the details.

Dark Corner Durif Shiraz 2019 (Laithwaites, £10.99) dark plum and dark berry fruit with spice and liquorice; no rough edges but rather unsophisticated. All fruit, no underpinnings.


Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Support Your Local Indie - Use Them or Lose Them

You'll miss them when they're gone ...

Retail is a brutal business; sectors and businesses that seemed solid a few decades ago are now a bloodbath - high-street retail in areas like banking and fashion have been well and truly disrupted by technology.

The sectors that continue to do well on the high street today are the sorts of activities that you can only do them in person - nail bars, hair dressers and coffee shops.

There is a saying that with every purchase you make, you are making a choice about the kind of world you want to live in.

Do you want a vibrant, thriving local scene of independent businesses; or a cut-price clone town of standardised, race-to-the-bottom chains?

If the former, then don't forget that you need to keep visiting local traders to ensure they stay in business.

If you want your local independent wine merchant to be around in, say, February, then maybe consider spending some money with them in January. Less-but-better January might just ensure that your local independent can pay staff wages and put food on the table in the quiet season and still be there for you on Valentine's day, throughout the summer and in the run up to Christmas party season again.

Local indies in the Cambridge area include:

- Cambridge Wine Merchants, who have bars as well as shops
- Noel Young Wines, have a new wine shop and bar
- Bacchanalia, two sites in Cambridge including one in the hub of independent shopping, Mill Road
- Private Cellar, MW-sourced wines from a small internet retailer
- Thirsty and Thirsty and Hungry, small, quirky and iconoclastic - and that's just the owner
- Joseph Barnes Wines, handcrafted wines from small, independent chateaux

And it's not just independent wine merchants.

Be it your local pub, café, bakery or Spanish private chef, remember to use them or lose them.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Estrada Douro White 2019 - The Co-op

A new Portuguese white from The Co-op

With hundreds of native varieties and varied terroirs, Portugal produces a huge range of wines.

This new Estrada Douro White is intended to be reminiscent of the Portuguese wines enjoyed by the growing number of British holidaymakers travelling to Portugal each year.

It also adds to the Co-op's range of green, organic, sustainably-sourced wines, made in harmony with the environment, adopting eco-friendly practices across its vineyards from minimalizing water wastage to reducing carbon emission through sustainable viticulture methods.

The Douro is known most for port and, increasingly, red wines; whites are something of a novelty - over here at least.

Estrada Douro White 2019 (£8, The Co-op) crisp, fresh and floral, it is a thirst-quencher with citrus, orchard fruit and minerality.

Improves with some aeration.

A versatile food wine, match with seafood or peri peri dishes.