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Friday, 28 August 2020

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo - Lidl

An inexpensive juicy, glugging Italian red from Lidl

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2018

On a visit up to my parents', I took Dad on a boys' trip to buy wine; we drove to the nearest Lidl, put on our masks and headed for the wine aisle to fill up the trolley with wines from Richard Bampfield's latest New World Wine Tour.

"How about one of these?", I asked, pointing to an Italian red. "Ooh, I like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo," said Dad, "Get a couple."

It's not a wine or a region I know well, but Dad explained that it was his regular lunchtime red on trips to Media City.

It gets 86 points for less than a fiver, so why not? And Lidl's Abruzzo white, the Botte de Conti Pecorino, has become something of a staple in our household.

So in they went - plus one extra for me.

I'm now rather wishing I'd bought a few more, but that's the nature of Lidl's WIGIG approach.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (£4.29, Lidl) fresh, juicy red and black cherries; spice and savouriness with some sour-cherry rasp.

Faultless and thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with salami, beefy pasta dishes or griddled vegetables.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Robert Oatley Great Southern Riesling

A Riesling from Western Australia

Robert Oatley Great Southern Riesling, 2019

Riesling is something of a wine geek's wine; traditionally, German Riesling was one of the great wines of the world. My 1971 World Atlas of  Wine places Germany immediately after France and gives 25 pages to the country and its Rieslings. By contrast, Italy and Spain come later and get just a few pages each.

Riesling is a late-ripening, high acidity grape that can be made dry, off-dry or very sweet indeed, needs no oak and gains a distinctive dieselly nose with age. It is this versatility, variety and ability to age that make Riesling one of the world's great noble grapes.

Like all Robert Oatley's wines, it is a well-made and sophisticated easy-drinker in its youth, but has the potential for greater complexity from cellaring.

Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2019 – Great Southern, Western Australia (£13.95, Cambridge Wines, Finewinestore.co.uk, Peake wines, Solent Wine Cellar , Seriously Good Wine Company, Russell Vintners) lemon blossom, passion fruit and the beginnings of some aged, diesel; grapefruit, zingy lemon, and lime, sherbet, yellow stone fruit with sweet spices and fresh green apple and pea shoots; steely, pebbly, slatey minerality. Very elegant and harmonious.


Drinking nicely now and will improve further with age.

Serve as an aperitif or match with seared tuna, smoked salmon or pork rillettes.

For more ideas on food matches, see this article from Fiona Beckett: THE BEST FOOD PAIRINGS FOR DRY (OR OFF-DRY) RIESLING

Friday, 21 August 2020

A Toast to South Africa

Three Tesco wines from South Africa

South Africa has the planet's oldest soils and a wine-making history that goes back to the 1650s.

The country has no problem with ripeness; the challenge is more about maintaining acidity.

These three Tesco finest* wines from South Africa are all expressive, warm-climate easy-drinkers with plenty of fruit ripeness; screw-capped, they are suitable for picnics and barbecues. That said, they improve with a little aeration.

With a ban on alcohol sales in South Africa now lifted, we can drink a toast to South Africa, safe in the knowledge there will be Saffer wines to enjoy next year and beyond.

Tesco finest* Chenin Blanc, W.O. Breede River Valley, South Africa (£7.50) zippy, sherbetty lemon-lime citrus, florality and fresh herby dill and cress with white stone fruit; focused saline minerality.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Tesco Finest Shiraz, W.O. Breede River Valley, South Africa (£7.50) expressive and lifted with dark fruits and burnt rubber; concentrated, jammy fruit, spice, some savouriness and just enough acidity to keep it in check.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Tesco finest* Malbec, W.O. Western Cape, South Africa (£7.50) slightly jammy plum and blackberry fruit with spice, dark chocolate and cherries; supple with inky pencil shavings.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Here is Fiona Beckett's take on Tesco's finest* range.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet

A zippy Languedoc white for oysters and seafood

Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet 2019 Côteaux du Languedoc

Picpoul is a classic zippy Languedoc white; an easy-drinker for hot, summery days when you need citrussy refreshment with a mineral edge. It is a wine for picnics or the local oysters which come into season from September.

With warm days and maritime influences giving cool nights, Ormarine’s Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet is zingy with floral and white flesh peach/apple aromas and a touch of salinity from the nearby Mediterranean.

Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet 2019 (£9.99 or £7.49/mix six, Majestic) floral with white pepper and musky melonskin; orchard fruits, white peach and some sweet spice. Fresh, zippy line and fresh green herbs and minerality.

Improves with some aeration.


A great garden sipper, match with oysters, other seafood or picnics.

Also reviewed in The Independent.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Does a £7.99 Barolo Make Sense?

A £7.99 Barolo from German no-frills discounter Lidl

Wine journalists have an occasional tendency to wring their hands at various perceived injustices in the oenological world without necessarily offering actionable solutions. In this respect, they are just like the rest of us.

A few months ago, Susy Atkins tweeted her shock at at £3.49 Cava at Lidl; I wrote about it here: Arestel Cava Brut - Lidl. I liked the wine and bought several bottles of it.

This week's "outraged of west London" is Jamie Goode who also takes aim at the German no-frills discounter for its £7.99 Barolo (which I have not tried).

Jamie's comments echo Susy's; "Something is very broken in the world of wine when you can buy a Barolo at £7.99 great British pesos".

The argument here is essentially that the pricing is not sustainable and therefore, whilst ostensibly a bargain for the consumer in the short term, quality will need to be sacrificed in the longer term in order to produce wine at this sort of price point.

Oz Clarke said much the same thing about the Australian wine industry in an introduction to his Wine Guide back in 2004, so there's nothing new under the sun here.
In the case of the Cava, I tend to agree with Susy that the entire category is suffering from an image and therefore pricing challenge and that the only way out of it will be to strengthen the overall brand of Cava to the point where it can command a commercially sustainable price.

Given this, Lidl's £3.49 Cava is just one example of a more widespread issue that Cava faces as a category.

The Barolo situation is, I think, a little different, and there may be many reasons why a £7.99 Barolo makes more sense than a £3.49 Cava.

- the retailer may be taking a hit on the selling price and making up the difference on the rest of the shopper's basket, aka the classic "loss-leader" approach, as part of a growth strategy targeted at, for example, more affluent middle-class wine drinkers

- the supplier may be taking a hit on the price in order to shift volume and ensure certain cashflow with the opportunity to make up margin on other sales

Business craves certainty and accountants crave cashflow certainty in particular; in this context, a high volume order that generates a predictable cash flow from a large, creditworthy customer is highly desirable and provides much-needed funds to pay regular bills, such as payroll, rent and quarterly taxes.

The standard retail price of the Barolo at Lidl is £11.99, well above the national average purchase price of around a fiver per bottle. And this is a wine that, unlike the Cava, requires no expensive secondary fermentation in bottle.

It is worth noting that the Barolo has been listed at Lidl for years, so it seems that the public, the retailer and the supplier are all happy enough with the arrangement.

The reason I have not tried it is simple - at £11.99 (£7.99) for a 88-point wine, it is not as good value as other wines in the Lidl range where I can get a 90-pointer for £6.99 regular price.

Price promotion is not, however, without its downsides and it is impossible to tell at this stage whether these will create longer-term issues:

As marketing expert Les Binet points out, the more you discount prices, the more you train your customers to expect discounts. Discounting is a form of Sales Activation. The advantage of Activation is that it drives sales in the short term but these effects wear out quickly and they also increase consumer price sensitivity - i.e. your customers get used to paying less and therefore become more reluctant to pay more.

Businesses with good marketing departments use a mixture of 1) Sales Activation to drive short-term volume and 2) Brand Building to support and increase prices, with 3) an optimal split between Sales Activation and Brand Building being 60% Brand Building vs 40% Sales activation.

Are Lidl and the producer of the Barolo adhering to this best-practice approach? I do not know. Yes, a £7.99 Barolo to some extent tarnishes the overall reputation of Barolo as a premium category, so some brand-building is needed to offset this.

Lidl has no interest in the brand strength of Barolo - it is a general retailer, not a Barolo promoter - so it falls to the Barolo wine trade association to have an opinion on Barolo pricing.

Certain wine regions have a better track record than others of managing their pricing strategies - Austria and New Zealand are the most obvious examples where trade marketing bodies have successfully helped producers to command higher prices for their output. First Growth Bordeaux, Champagne and the entire rosé category also command good-to-generous price premiums.

So, my advice to you rather depends on whether you are buying or selling wine.

For sellers, it is to invest in building your brand, with tactical activation to drive volume for cashflow, and use that to create a price premium. I know it's a lot harder than that in practice, but that just makes it important-but-difficult, not irrelevant.

For consumers, it is to seek out the underpriced bargains; unfashionable wines like sherry or Greece, up-and-coming areas like Languedoc, southern Italy, South Africa and South America and, yes, take advantage of short-term, special offer price discounts and markdowns.

There is, however, one final point that makes everything that I have just written completely irrelevant: the more you pay for a wine, the better it tastes. On this basis, you should never buy wine on discount, never buy cheap wine and always pay a premium.

It's not advice I live by personally, but here is the research by Baba Siv, published by Standford.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Valle Secreto Syrah - The Co-op

A crowd-pleasing yet sophisticated Chilean Syrah from The Co-op

Valle de Secreto Syrah, 2018

I have long had a soft spot for Chile; it's a fascinatingly contradictory sort of place.

Blessed with amazing and varied terroir, it has the potential to be one of the great wine producing countries of the world. And yet far too many of its wines are pumped out in a bigger-is-better style that the US, in particular, loves.

Forward-thinking winemakers in Chile are increasingly making sophisticated, European-style wines and this is one of them; there's plenty of New World fruit and ripeness, but there's also balance and freshness. It treads a fine line between crowd-pleasing over-extraction and sophisticated nuance.

Valle Secreto Syrah 2018 (£11, The Co-op) plum and black fruits with plenty of oaky spice and port-like minty eucalyptus; blackcurrant leaf florality and sour-cherry freshness; savoury, supple and inky with good underpinnings; fine, grippy tannins.


Match with roast lamb with garlic and rosemary.

Friday, 14 August 2020

Côtes du Rhône Villages - Roaix and Laudun

Three Côtes du Rhône Villages wines with food

Domaine Pique Basse L'Atout Du Pique
Les Templiers, Roaix
Rocca Maura ‘Les Barryes’

The southern Rhône is one of my favourite wine areas: if you have ever been there in summer, the name alone can be enough to evoke lavender-scented fields at the foot of the Alps. Its wines balance a southern warmth and substance with complexity and a fresh food-friendliness.

With overseas travel proving something of a gamble this year, I opened up a supper box from Côtes du Rhône with three bottles of their wine in the garden one evening and tuned into a podcast on the region from writer Matt Walls and presenter Joe Wadsack.

After all, if you can't get to the Rhône, why not bring the Rhône to your home?
The supper box contained local salami and cheeses with bread, pickles and all sorts gastronomic loveliness. But the really immersive touch was the bunch of lavender which instantly took me back to lazy summer holidays with rocky mountains and winding country roads.

Two of the wines were from the very small Roaix sub-region which I think could become my new favourite wine area. The white is a highly-unusual single vineyard Grenache blanc (the region is almost exclusively red) which, due to its elevation and aspect, feels more northerly in style than the more-typical waxy-style of southern Rhône whites.
Matt suggests chilling the red, which on a hot day is a good idea, and in any event keeps its big personality a little more in check.

Domaine Pique Basse L'Atout Du Pique, Côtes Du Rhone Villages florality and lime zest on the nose with honeysuckle, marzipan, brazil nuts and creamy oatmeal, fresh apple-and-pear fruit. Concentrated, saline-mineral with leesiness. Harmonious, elegant and long.

Improves with aeration and will age.


Match with chicken, pork or meaty fish dishes.

Les Templiers, Roaix Côtes Du Rhone Villages, France GSM blend; tarry with damp earth, dark fruits and spices; dark berries, black cherry fruit and minty eucalyptus; fresh acidity and fine, gentle tannins. Long, supple, complex and adept.

Improves with aeration and will age.


Match now with roast red meats and, when aged, with darker game.

Rocca Maura ‘Les Barryes’, Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun dark-berry fruits, black cherries, rubbed sage and complex roasted spices; full, fresh and supple and inky with rounded tannins and good underpinnings. Very well-made


Match with salamis or darker game.

If you want to listen to the podcast, here's the link to Matt's tweet about it: https://twitter.com/mattwallswine/status/1292787180226654210

Photo credit for Brian Elliott: https://twitter.com/midweekwines/status/1288084639647703042

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Thanh Binh, Cambridge

A midweek dinner at Thanh Binh Vietnamese restaurant, Cambridge

With two bored teenagers requiring summer entertainment and foreign holidays only for those brave and agile enough to make - and re-make - plans on the hoof, we opted to create the holiday vibe at home with weekend trips and family meals out.

So, we have a dining plan of restaurants to visit in Cambridge in the remaining weeks of the summer.

This week saw us at Thanh Binh, something of a hidden gem in the Cambridge dining scene, albeit one hiding in plain sight; located on a stretch of Bridge Street between the river and the road up to the castle, it is in a part of Cambridge that I tend to travel through more than consider as a destination in its own right.

Notwithstanding my two decades in the city, Thanh Binh has somehow never quite made it onto my radar as a place to visit. I can't really explain why other than it is the sort of place one rarely, if ever, reads about or hears mentioned.

This is all my loss of course; it's a neat and charming restaurant doing that most unfashionable of things - making consistently good, well-presented, unpretentious food.

And clearly there are people in the know; on a hot Tuesday evening in August in the middle of a pandemic, the place was full (all safely socially-distanced).

It helps, of course, that with #eatouttohelpout, the altruism of stimulating the local economy is a subsidised experience, but even at full price, it is not expensive.

Thanh Binh is a traditional, authentic, family-run Vietnamese restaurant with, apparently, one of the best chefs from Vietnam. I can't vouch for the latter claim, but this is pretty much all you need to know.

With starters and mains ordered, we all tried a bit of everything and found nothing that wasn't delicious - flavours, ingredients, seasoning, cooking and presentation were all faultless.

Those acquainted with Vietnamese food will find the menu familiar; newcomers can check out the restaurant website in advance or, like me, just ask the staff for recommendations; we ended up opting for soft shell crab, spring rolls, pancakes Phở Bò (beef soup) and a spicy duck curry.

Add in attentive waiting staff, a neat, if conservative, decor and there's really nothing not to like here. And in a touristy city like Cambridge, where few establishments need to rely on repeat business, that is no mean feat.

Another plus is the corkage policy; with no alcohol license, you just bring along one or more bottles of whatever you want to drink with your meal and pay a token amount for glasses - Cambridge Wine Merchants is just across the road if you plan to buy something en route.

Pro-tip: pre-chill your whites as they do not offer an ice bucket; and don't expect the standard-issue glasses to show off every nuance of your Grand Cru wines. We opted for a bottle of very pleasant and inexpensive fizz, the traditional-method Arestel Cava Brut from Lidl; fresh, uncomplicated and citrussy, it worked perfectly as an aperitif and a foil to the strongly-flavoured food.

A two-course meal for four with corkage and non-alcoholic drinks costs around £50 after the government discount.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Oxford - A Brief Guide

Entering Oxford, I wondered if I might have to show my passport; I've lived in Cambridge for longer than anywhere else and it is fair to say there is a degree of rivalry between the two cities.

I've always characterised the two places thus: as a city, Cambridge is nicer, but as a county, Oxfordshire is more interesting.

Oxford is the slightly larger of the two; everything is on a grander scale and with more of it: two rivers, rather than just one; a more-extensive leafy suburban hinterland; wider streets, bigger parks and a larger city centre.

Cambridge has long struck me as a cosmopolitan global city, up there with London and NY - albeit a tiny one that retains its mediaeval street layout; it is essentially a grand university and vast teaching hospital-cum-research campus with an provincial fenland market town wedged in between.

Oxford feels more like a well-to-do, upper-middle-class, southern English town that happens to have a university in it. Its colleges feel more shuttered away and inward looking; in the city but not really of it.


Staying in central Oxford is not cheap, but there are various inexpensive hotels nearby if you just need a bed for the night and don't mind a short drive. Premier Inn and Holiday Inn will (at the time of writing) both get you a room for less than an AirBnB in the city.

Eat - breakfast / brunch / lunch

Tourist cities are generally poor-value for eating out as they do not have to rely on repeat business. We headed out of the centre for coffee, cakes and melts at Jericho Cafe (Jericho is a Victorian hipster suburb a ten-minute walk from the centre).

Eat - dinner

The Killingworth Castle in Wootton is a 17th century coaching inn with its own beer range and a Good Pub Guide food award.

The Feathers in Woodstock also comes recommended, especially for its range of gins.

For more informal dining, Posh Fish in the suburb Headington does some of the best fish and chips in Oxford - with Bury Knowle Park just opposite, you can order and have an impromptu picnic on a sunny evening.

The only thing you need to bring is something to accompany it - in our case two Rhônes; a white Grenache blanc and a spicy red, both from Roaix.


The main purpose of any trip to Oxford has to be to see the city itself and especially the colleges; there is plenty of all-day parking around the edge of the city and from there you can spend a day wandering around all the main sights which are well signposted once you arrive.


In Cambridge, the best way to see the colleges is from the river; by contrast, punting in Oxford will take you alongside parks and river walks.

There is a short, circular route past the botanic garden starting from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse for novices and those pushed for time. The more adventurous can punt all the way down the Cherwell to the Thames - just take care not to get swept away to London and beyond.

Further afield

Beyond the city are Blenheim Palace and Gardens, birthplace of Winston Churchill, and next-door Woodstock with its wall-to-wall quaintness, as well as the Cotswolds themselves.

Friday, 7 August 2020

La Belle Angèle - Majestic

Two fruit forward wines with a distinctive label; made by Badet Clément and available at Majestic

La Belle Angèle Pinot Noir 2019
La Belle Angèle Rosé 2019

Inspired by the Belle Epoque era, La Belle Angèle is a range of easy-drinking wines, perfect for gardens and summer picnics.

These are well-made and enjoyable with no rough edges - the rosé is a Provence-style sipper, the Pinot, new this year, is dark, juicy and approachable.

La Belle Angèle Rosé 2019, (£8.99, £7.49/mix six, Majestic) ripe soft red-berry fruits, verbena, elderflower and minerality; a well-made easy-drinker

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Sip in the garden or take on a picnic.

La Belle Angèle Pinot Noir 2019 (£10.99, £8.99/mix six, Majestic) black cherry fruit, spice and some grip; fresh, juicy and well-made.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink lightly chilled on its own or match with salamis, pates or herby pork rillettes.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Abbotts & Delaunay Fleurs Sauvages Viognier 2018 - Majestic

A good value, well-made white Rhône grape transported to Languedoc

Abbotts & Delaunay Fleurs Sauvages Viognier, 2018

Condrieu, in the northern Rhône, is the spiritual home of the Viognier grape; it's a lovely wine and I've always enjoyed it. Made from late-ripening grapes, it is an easy-drinking glass of delicious peachy fruit.

However, you'll have to dig deep; even an "entry-level" bottle here can set you back north of £30, so it's not something I drink often.

At around £10, however, Viognier is a much more compelling proposition, especially if it's as well made as this one.

This Abbots & Delaunay Fleurs Sauvages Viognier, like all their wines balances New World purity with Burgundian elegance.

Abbotts & Delaunay Fleurs Sauvages Viognier, 2018 (£9.99, £7.99 mix six at Majestic) floral with honeysuckle, ripe stone fruit and sweet spices; melon, nectarine and pineapple with saline-minerality. Full, supple, elegant and very well-made from good fruit.


Improves with aeration; drinking nicely now but will also take a little aging.

A summer sipper, match with scallops, sole in butter or chicken liver pate.

Here's Tom Cannavan's video review.