Popular Posts

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Arestel Cava Brut - Lidl

A controversially inexpensive fizz from Lidl - you should not buy it

Arestel Cava Brut, Lidl

Cava is Spain's Champagne, a traditional-method fizz made from local grapes. When well made, it is a fresh, elegant and linear aperitif.

It is often one of the cheapest fizzes you will find, despite being inherently more expensive to make than, say, Prosecco.

And there's the rub: this is a lovely, inexpensive, widely-available sparkler and you should not buy it.

Why not? Well, the argument goes that discounted to £3.49 as it was the other week, it is simply not sustainable. This picture was tweeted by Susy Atkins with the observation: Spotted in Lidl just now...! Cannot be good for Cava.

At this price, the retailer is probably making no profit, maybe even a loss. How much of this loss is shared between producer and retailer will be commercially sensitive but it is unlikely the producer is seeing much of a return on the cost of making this wine.

Cava has got itself into something of a downward spiral - it's now so cheap that people assume it can't be any good, so there is no incentive to improve quality and the temptation is to sell on price alone. But, now in the "suspiciously cheap" range, further price reductions are more likely to increase suspicion rather than stimulate demand.

So quality will have to be cut in order to manage costs, which further reinforces the perception of Cava as a bad wine.

There are two possible ways out of this conundrum:

- let things continue until the complete destruction of the Cava brand

- repositioning the brand now to stimulate demand at a sustainable price (something closer to the prices commanded by Champagne)

As for you, the consumer, your choices are:

- buy this inexpensive, easily available and very pleasant fizz whilst you can

- seek out a higher-priced Cava that is commercially sustainable for the long-term good of the Spanish fizz industry

As with so many things, there are no easy solutions here, just difficult choices.

I rather liked the wine and, don't judge me but I bought several bottles at the discounted price.

Arestel Cava Brut (£5.29, Lidl) fresh, linear and mineral with sherbetty citrus, florality and a touch of waxed jacket. Elegant, adept and poised.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif or match with mixed pintxos.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Mouton Cadet - White Bordeaux with Cheese

A white Bordeaux with cheese - from Vinatis

Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2018

If you were to think of a Bordeaux to match with cheese, chances are you might first think of something red, possibly with a bit of age.

I have long found that white wine matches better with cheese than red; the reason is tannins and flavour. Tannins in a wine don't work with cheesy saltiness and the fruit profile of a red often clashes with cheesey flavours.

By contrast, whites are cheese are a great match; no tannins, high acidity and mostly complimentary flavours.

This Mouton Cadet (from the owners of first growth Château Mouton Rothschild, but not the same wine - sadly) is recommended to match with stinking bishop, a washed-rind cow's cheese.

The vagaries of partial lockdown meant that I tasted this with a range of cheeses, none of which were stinking bishop.

Mouton Cadet, 2018, Bordeaux (£10.50, Vinatis) clean, modern and aromatic in a kiwi style; floral, herbaceous and peppery with zippy lime, fresh green apple; fresh, saline and mineral. Pure, elegant and poised.

Drinking nicely now; improves with aeration.


Matches well with younger, creamier cheeses, such as herby roulé, medium cheddar and pie d'angloys.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Zoom tasting: Chardonnay vs Pinot Noir

A zoom tasting of two Burgundian grapes from The Co-op and Cambridge Wine Merchants

Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay 2017
Thomas Bouley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two of the greatest grapes in the world – both are originally from Burgundy, but have had different international success.

Chardonnay is one of the world's most popular white grapes and possibly its most versatile; you will find it in Champagne and other fizzes, steely Chablis and big oaky Aussie / Californian / South African / South American whites.

By contrast, Pinot Noir is a finnicky cool-climate grape, prone to mutation, difficult to grow and, until recently, rarely seen outside Burgundy or as a blending component in Champagne. Nowadays, you can find examples from Germany, cooler parts of Chile, Australia, New Zealand and the US Pacific Northwest; there is also an increasing number of Pinot rosés as well.

Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay 2017 (£12, Co-op and CWM) stone fruit, citrus and passionfruit with elderflower and honeysuckle; fine acidity and gentle oak with creamy, buttery nuttiness; balanced, harmonious and elegant.

Improves with aeration and will age


A versatile wine, match with starters or white meats.

Thomas Bouley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013 (£17, Cambridge Wine Merchants) blackcurrant and morello cherry fruit with evolved, mushroomy undergrowth and savoury, peppery spice; lively acidity and fine tannins.

At a peak now.


Demands to be matched with substantial food; not a sipper - match with red meat, especially seared venison / tuna steaks.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018

A juicy, herbaceous red Loire from Intermarché 

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018

The main grape in the Loire's Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil sub-region is Cabernet Franc; it finds a home in most areas of Atlantic France and this far north, tends towards freshness and leafiness.

Intermarché "Expert Club" St Nicolas de Bourgueil, 2018 (around €5) red and black fruits, earthy beetroot, herbaceous rubbed sage and pencil shavings; fresh acidity and harmonious, supple texture with fine, gentle tannins. Light, juicy and elegant.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Light enough to sip in the garden on a summer's eve, match with picnic foods, herby sausages or lamb with rosemary.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 - Cambridge Wine Merchants

A mature Fontbonau Rhône from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012

I don't get to drink mature Rhônes that often; they are not so much of A Thing as mature Bordeaux and do not need the effects of time in the same way as Bordeaux.

This Fontbonau is a from a limited stock of wines intended for the restaurant trade; something of a fire-sale item, it represents a significant bargain for a wine that punches above its weight even at full price.

The estate has various links to Chateau Latour in Bordeaux and this shows in the quality of the winemaking. Mature now, at this price you should buy as many as you can physically get hold of and marvel at how something so good cost you so little.

Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) leather, mushrooms and sous bois with ripe berries, cool mint and complex, well-integrated, oaky vanilla spice; ripe yet savoury, intense and supple with very fine tannins.

Very Good.

Match with darker game or roast lamb.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Ricossa - Cambridge Wine Merchants

Two Ricossa wines from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Ricossa Roero Arneis 2018
Ricossa Lange Nebbiolo 2017

Both these Italian wines come from Piemonte in Italy's northwest; just across the border from France, Piemonte shares nearby Burgundy's love of hedonistic food-and-wine matching. Prices can also be somewhat Burgundian, but these two both represent good value.

Arneis is a Piedmontese grape whose fortunes are now reviving after becoming almost extinct in the late 20th century. The name, incidentally, means "little rascal" on account of it being a difficult grape to grow.

The red Langhe is a Nebbiolo - Italy's answer to Pinot Noir; a pale wine with perfumed, hedonistic aromas but notably higher tannins levels. Italy's greatest Nebbiolos come from Barolo, but you are looking at quite a different price bracket there.

Ricossa Roero Arneis 2018 (£8.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) straw yellow with fresh flowers and green apple; full and supple with ripe orchard and stone fruit, florality and some sweet spices.


Match with light starters or seafood.

Ricossa Langhe Nebbiolo 2018 (£11.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) surprisingly mature in both colour and aromas: old leather, truffles and undergrowth with florality, ripe, slightly dried red-berry fruits and well-integrated oaky spice; fresh and savoury with very fine, persistent tannins.


Match with darker game or roast red meat.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Botte de Conti Pecorino, Terre di Chieti

A light, elegant Italian white from Lidl

2018 Botte de Conti, Pecorino, Terre di Chieti

Pecorino is the grape here (not to be confused with the cheese of the same name) and Terre di Chieti is the region; it is in Abruzzo, just outside Rome.

This is a delicious classic Italian white to be consumed young; light, lemony and refreshing. It is also quite a bargain even at its full price of £5.49.

I managed to buy during it one of Lidl's regular promotional discounts where it was reduced to just £3.49. At this price, you'd be mad not to buy as much of this as you can carry home.

2018 Botte de Conti Pecorino Terre di Chieti, 12%vol, (£5.75, Lidl) citrus, apple, stone fruits and tropical fruit with some green herbs, minerality and a touch of spice. Very adept and well-made.

Improves with some aeration.

Very pleasant and Very Good Value.

Drink as an aperitif in the garden or match with with seafood, soft cheeses, white fish or plain roast pork.

It also gets a recommendation from Helen McGinn on Saturday Kitchen to match with carbonara.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

The English Whisky Company Smokey Single Malt Whisky With Jug - Virgin Wines

A Father's Day gift from Virgin Wines - English Whisky

The English Whisky Company Smokey Single Malt Whisky With Jug

To the list of things that you didn't know England did well you, can now add peaty whiskies.

The English Whisky was established in 2006 in Norfolk as a retirement project. Unlike vodka or gin which can be sold as soon as produced, whisky needs time in cask to mature; 8 years is considered entry-level, so it's a while before your project starts to pay back.

Is this a distinctively English whisky? Absolutely not - and that's no bad thing. Tasted blind, you'd be forgiven for placing it on Islay, home to Scotland's smoky, peaty whiskies.

It comes with a water jug and whilst it's all about personal preference, one rule-of-thumb is to add just a few drops, around 20% of an appropriate mineral water to your glass.

The English Whiskey Company Smokey Malt Whiskey with Jug (£46.99, Virgin Wines) complex and expressive; rich, sweet and full palate, viscous, saline and peppery with savoury fruitcake, roasted peaty spices and long, warming finish.

Very Good.

Drink as a digestif or match with sticky toffee pudding or espresso and dark, bitter chocolate.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The CWB Chardonnay Off: Burgundy vs California

A tale of Two Chardonnays - Burgundy and California

Pernot Belicard Bourgogne 2012
Talbott Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow, 2016

Winebird Helena Nicklin characterises Chardonnay as the "Kate" of wine; a highly versatile grape with many personas from lean and steely "supermodel Kate" (Moss) Chablis to oaky "buxom centrefold Katie" (Price) sunshine-in-a-glass.

Easy to grow and easy to say, Chardonnay was everyone's favourite white in the '90s; until we all went off it and moved on to kiwi Sauvignon.

These two Chardonnays are classy, sophisticated "Oscar-winning Katharine" (Hepburn). One is an actual white Burgundy, from a winemaker based in Puligny-Montrachet; the other a fair impression of it, in a Beaune style, from California. With its warmer climate, the Californian is the bigger of the two at 14.1% alcohol, but it doesn't feel blowsy.

Being a few years younger, the American is also more primary and fruited; this apparently appeals more to US palates in general who consider a mature wine to be past its best, but being European I rather like the more complex, secondary flavours that develop with evolution.

Pernot Belicard Bourgogne 2012 (£15, Cambridge Wine Merchants) evolved nose of old leather and cellar mustiness with dried orchard and stone fruits, savoury roasted nuts and beurre noisette. Focused and mineral.

Fully mature and drinking nicely now.


Needs food due to its savouriness; match with lighter game, such as partridge, monkfish with beurre noisette or hard cheeses.

Talbott Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow, 2016 (£35.99, Wine Rack) ripe orchard fruits, melon and creamy-buttery oatmeal flecked with vanilla, brioche and linear minerality. Concentrated, intense and adept.

Improves with aeration and will repay cellaring.

Very Good.

An easy sipper with plenty of fruit as well as a versatile food wine; match with plain roast white meats or creamy mushroom pasta.