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Sunday, 26 April 2020

Gewürztraminer vs Riesling

An MW-study lesson in blind tasting with a Gewürztraminer from Cambridge Wine and a Riesling blend from Lidl 

Gewürztraminer and Riesling are both somewhat geeky wines and, in this country at least, a bit of a niche interest.

Both have a spiritual home in Germany, as well as Alsace (which is either a bit Germanic or an actual part of Germany, depending on which period of history you consider).

In the glass however, they are very different grapes; Gewürztraminer is typically rich and perfumed ("lychees and roses" is the standard descriptor) whereas Riesling is higher in acidity, lower in alcohol and develops a "dieselly" nose with age.

Gewürztraminer's key non-flavour characteristic is a fuller body with a waxy-oily exture, whilst Riesling's is a precise linearity to its acidic structure.

Of the two varieties, Riesling is probably the easier to find in the UK; the Riesling blend was selected by MW Richard Bampfield for Lidl.

Gewurztraminer Réserve, 2018, Cave Hunawihr (£14, Cambridge Wine Merchants) sweet spices, ripe yellow stone fruits, pineapple and passionfruit; supple and full with a rich, waxy-oily texture balanced by gentle acidity; off-dry with some residual sugar but finishes dry.


Match with rich Alsatian dishes, such as tarte flambee or liver pate.

Riesling Scheurebe Halbtrocken, Rheinhessen, 2018 (£5.99, Lidl)  citrussy and fresh with floral aromatics, yellow stone fruit, minerality and some herbaceous blackurrant leaf. Supremely elegant and well-balanced; finishes dry.


Drink as an aperitif or a garden sipper.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Montalto Collezione di Famiglia Syrah 2018 Terre Siciliane

A good-value Sicilian Syrah from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Syrah is a late-ripening, warm-climate grape; originally from the Northern Rhône, it also likes the heat of Australia and California.

It produces dark-coloured wines with plenty of fruit, acidity and tannins that are expressive in youth and that can also be aged.

This example is from Sicily which has no particular tradition of producing Syrah; nonetheless, this one has turned out very well.

Montalto Collezione di Famiglia Syrah 2018 Terre Siciliane (£10.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) ripe, juicy bramble fruits, dark berries and plums with florality, a dusting of sweet spice and a twist of mint; fresh, mineral and supple with perfectly ripe tannins and good underpinnings.

Drinking nicely now and will also age.


Match with rare roast beef or steak.

Vinovalie, Les Galets d'Olt, Cahors, 2015

A fresh and elegant aged Cahors Malbec from Vinovalie

Malbec was, until the 1950s, a blending grape in Bordeaux for beefing up lighter, paler wines; now representing just 1% of the Bordeaux vineyard, its French home has become Cahors where it is traditionally dark, chewy and rather rustic.

A driving holiday last year took us to the region where we stocked up on everyday medal-winners. This wine, like all the others purchased locally, is very different from the stereotype for Cahors; paler, fresher, lower in alcohol and tannins, it has been made with quite the gentle hand in the cellar.

Vinovalie, Les Galets d'Olt, Cahors 2015 (c. €5, Intermarché) juicy red and dark berries, plums and blueberries with vanilla spice and freshness; very fine, well-integrated, gentle tannins. Savoury, with good underpinnings.


Match with pork rillettes or paté.

For more background on the history of Cahors wine and its three informal classifications (Tradition, Prestige and Speciale), see this excellent summary from Tom Cannavan on his wine-pages site.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2012

An aged Aussie Grenache from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Hot-climate Grenache is one of the world's most widely planted red wine grapes and is often blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre - the classic "GSM blend".

Low in acid and tannin, not suited for oak aging (it oxidises easily), mature varietal Grenache is something of a rarity. Which makes this example all the more interesting; eight years old now, made from sixty year-old vines and aged in old oak.

Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache, Clare Valley, 2012 (£22, Cambridge Wine Merchants) tar, leather, soft red fruits and spice, complex and evolved with supple, old-vine concentration, freshness and well-integrated, very fine tannins.

Fully mature and drinking nicely now, but opens up with some aeration.


Match with darker game, such as roast duck.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Support Your Local Wine Merchant - Sauvignon vs Semillon

A kiwi Sauvignon vs an Aussie Semillon

Week two of our taste-off with MW-student friends; we are comparing and contrasting Sauvignon and Semillon. The Sauvignon is from the cellar; the Semillon is an oaked Aussie from Cambridge Wine Merchants.

The profiles of these two grapes could hardly be more different; Sauvignon Blanc is everyone's go-to white. Its home is the Alantic side of France from the Loire down to Bordeaux, but these days is New Zealand's signature grape and accounts for the vast majority of all plantings there.

New Zealand's distinctive style of Sauvignon is something of a happy accident; with no significant infrastructure to build off, early winemakers relied on plentiful dairy suppliers to make their wines in stainless steel under chilled conditions, giving a fresher, more aromatic result.

By contrast, varietal Semillon is much harder to find, much more of a niche grape and will probably set you back a bit more - basic, entry-level Semillons are rare. It is famous for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, blended with Sauvignon in white Bordeaux and uniquely produces ageworthy-yet-low-alcohol wines in Hunter Valley.

Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2016 from the cellar, this is aromatic and expressive with cut grass, blackcurrant leaf, gooseberries, zippy line and passionfruit. Mineral with good underpinnings and still very youthful.


Match with aromatic salads or white fish in a herby broth.

Kilikanoon, Pearce Road Semillon, Clare Valley, 2015 (£20, Cambridge Wine Merchants) aromatic, spicy and dieselly on first opening, the new oak then comes to the fore before it all settles down. By day four it has become harmonious and is showing beautifully with lemon curd, citrus, and creamy oatmealy savouriness.

Needs extensive aeration - several hours in the decanter to show its best; will age for years and decades.

Very Good.

A versatile food wine, match with plain roast chicken or pork.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Domaine du Chemin de Rabelais, Touraine Mesland 2017

An elegant and very assured Loire red

If Loire wines have a defining characteristic, it is freshness. Fresh and elegant, Loire reds have a vibrant juiciness that few other places quite manage.

Touraine Mesland is a sub-region of Touraine just outside Amboise. Its vineyards were planted by monks who were the first to introduce the Gamay grape to the area.

This red is a blend of all three permitted red grapes: juicy Gamay; deep Côt (aka Malbec) and herbaceous Cabernet Franc.

Domaine du Chemin de Rabelais, Touraine Mesland 2017 fresh juicy red berries and red plum fruit with raspberry leaf. Supple and elegant with good underpinnings and no rough edges. Very adept.

Drinks nicely out of the bottle and will age for another year or two; chill lightly for a summer sipper.


Match with mixed starters, salmon / tuna steaks or salami.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Château Tour De Mirambeau, Reserve Rosé 2018

A zippy Bordeaux rosé from Tanners

Bordeaux is rightly famous for its world-class First Growth reds, but you can find pretty much any style of table wine here and rosé is no exception.

With plenty of freshness, this Bordeaux rosé is a great accompaniment to food. What's more, it's from an independent wine merchant.

Château Tour De Mirambeau, Reserve Rosé 2018, Bordeaux £12.40, Tanners) white flowers and white pepper with strawberry fruit and zippy lime, grapefruit and minerality. Focused, linear and poised.


A versatile food wine, match with mixed starters or (garden-based) picnics.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Château de Bonhoste Rosé NV, Crémant de Bordeaux

An elegant and accomplished Bordeaux pink fizz from Chateau de Bonhoste via Hourlier Wines

Pink fizz from Bordeaux? Yes!

If you've never heard of Crémant de Bordeaux, that just makes this more of a bargain as you are not paying for the name.

It's made from Bordeaux grapes (mostly Cab Franc with some Merlot) according to the traditional (aka Champagne) method.

Fresh and elegant with a lovely, easy-drinking ripeness, this shows very nicely straight out of the bottle and works well as either an aperitif or with food.

A quick word on the seller; Hourlier Wines is a father-and-son wine merchant run by two Frenchmen in Melbourne, Derbyshire. If you want local independents like this to still be around, now's the time to think about re-purposing your commuting fund into keeping small businesses like these running.

You'll miss them when they're gone.

Château de Bonhoste Rosé NV, Crémant de Bordeaux (£15.75, Hourlier Wines) delicate strawberry and redcurrant fruits, yeasty autolysis and saline minerality. Fresh and linear with Brazil nut creamy leesiness. Very adept.


Drink as an aperitif, match with shellfish, mixed starters or lighter mains.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Support Your Local Wine Merchant - Merlot vs Cab

A Merlot vs Cab taste-off from Cambridge Wine Merchants

With local wine merchants needing our support, there are worse things to do than a midweek virtual taste-off with friends.

A friend studying for the MW tasting paper needed some practice and asked a group of us to get hold of one Merlot and one Cabernet Sauvignon - any country, any price, any age - and join her online for a compare-and-contrast session.

There are, of course, many factors that influence the taste and feel of a wine; but the objective of this lesson was to exclude all the extraneous elements of terroir, age and winemaking quality to focus solely on the differences of grape variety.

In short, according to Jules the trainee MW:

- Cab is darker in the glass with darker fruits, and tends to be leaner and more austere.

- Merlot is plusher and slightly paler, with more red fruits.

My own rule-of-thumb is something I learnt from MW Richard Bampfield - Merlot is front palate (you feel the acidity on the tip of your tongue), whereas Cab is back palate (you feel the grip at the back of your tongue).

My Merlot was a Bordeaux, a Montagne-Saint-Emilion from a good-but-not great year. It is at a peak now, but needs extensive aeration to show its best.

The Cab, from Western Australia, shows well straight out of the bottle with plenty of fruit but also has the structure to age for years and decades.

Château Franc Baudron 2014, Montagne-Saint Emilion ( £11.52, Cambridge Wine Merchants) fresh, ripe, juicy plums and cherries with rubbed sage and spice; very fine, well-integrated tannins; savoury, mellow and harmonious. On first opening, the fruit is somewhat muted, but emerges the following day, so give this a few hours in the decanter.

Good - and good value.

Match with darker game, such as duck, guinea fowl or venison.

Robert Oatley Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017, Western Australia (£14, Cambridge Wine Merchants) minty blackcurrant and ripe, juicy dark fruits with spice, freshness and very fine tannins. Substantial, long and supple with minerality and good underpinnings.


Drinks nicely straight out of the bottle and will continue to improve for years.

Match with beef dishes, such as burgers, Bolognese or steak.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Vouvray, Domaine Les Perruches - The Co-op

A delicious off-dry Loire Chenin from The Co-op

If Loire wines have a defining characteristic, it is a light freshness. This gives them a subtle, understated elegance but no lack of character or personality.

Vouvray is something of an old-school, geek's wine; made from Chenin and often off-dry, it lacks the on-trend aromatic zinginess of Sauvignon.

This bottle was marked down as part of a seasonal sell-off by the Co-op, so clearly the buying public have yet to get the message. Which is a pity as it is a lovely wine and good value even at full price.

Vouvray, Domaine Les Perruches 2018 (£8.50) rich and luscious yet fresh; slightly off-dry with ripe yellow stone-fruit, honeysuckle and some late-harvest character. Well-made and elegant.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

A versatile food wine, match with ham terrine, creamy cheeses or a plate of prawns.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Lidl Saint Emilion Grand Cru Vertical

Two vintages of a right-bank Bordeaux from Lidl

It seems odd to be getting excited about the opening of a new budget supermarket in Cambridge, but desperate times and all that.

Right now, your local independent wine merchant needs your support, but Lidl's wine offering is interesting for two reasons:

- it includes a selection of wines rated by MW Richard Bampfield called the Wine Tour
- the wines are all scored (on the 100-point scale)

I purposely do not score wines myself unless absolutely required to; rather, I use a broader system of descriptive indicators from Thoroughly Pleasant up to Very Good Indeed.

However, I have long believed (and written) that, given every bottle of wine looks pretty much the same on the shelf, a scoring-system-plus-narrative would be of great assistance to most buyers. Online retailers do this to a greater or lesser extent, usually allowing customers to rate wines, but Lidl is the first high-street retailer I have come across that has a consistent approach to disclosing wine scores from a qualified professional.

This right Bank Bordeaux gets 89 points and costs just £10.99 which makes it good value; reduced to under £7 (for another day or so) it is quite the bargain.

Now, vintage is important in Bordeaux and 2016 was Very Good. But these '16s to my palate will benefit from further aging (in reality they are only a little over three years old), so I also bought bought several of the 2017s which is showing better now, albeit without the same aging potential.

On a technical note, St Emilion Grand Cru is not to be confused with the Grand Cru Classé wines of the region and is merely a slightly higher level of wine than everyday; lower yields, greater ripeness and alcohol levels plus longer aging before release, that sort of thing.

Lidl Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2016 still rather closed-up and not yet fully integrated; the fruit is somewhat hidden under the oak; the raw ingredients here are all good - bramble fruit, spice, savouriness and length - they just need a bit longer to become harmonious. Good underpinnings, with firm, fine tannins. Improves with extended aeration and will age.

Good - needs aging.

Match with roast beef now and darker game in a couple of years.

Lidl Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2017 lighter, fresher and more opened-up, with ripe fruit, spice and gentle tannins. Very well made with decent structure; elegant and focused.

Thoroughly enjoyable - drinking nicely now.

Match with midweight dishes, such as pork rillettes, salami or roast chicken.