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Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Twitter Bottleswap - Serafini & Vidotto, Phigaia After the Red 2017

An unusual Italian red from Harper Wells

So, what exactly is Dan Kirby's twitter bottleswap?

The who

Dan Kirby is bearded East Anglian hipster with too much time on his hands; more formally, he is the self-described wine guy for @Tavershams & @suffolkcellar.

He's also crowd-funding to become a Master of Wine.

The what 

In a wine-related lockdown secret Santa, Dan arranged for 20 of us to post a bottle of wine to another person and in turn receive a bottle from an unknown swapper.

Then, at an agreed time, we all met up on Zoom to taste our wines and attempt to guess our mystery benefactor.

My wine swappee was Manchester-based PR, Francesca Gaffey and the wine I had chosen for her was an unusual aged southern Rhône from Cambridge Wine Merchants which you can read about here.

Francesca said of it: Really unusual style - lots of liquorice and blueberry / dark red fruits. It was almost brown / mahogany in colour.

The how

I had included a clue with my wine by wrapping it in paper from Cambridge Wine Merchants before boxing it up. With CWM owner Hal Wilson also taking part, I figured that at least I had narrowed it down to two people.

Once Francesca had guessed me correctly, it was then my turn to go.

Unfortunately for my swapper, Sam Howard of Norwich-based wine merchants Harper Wells, an overly assiduous warehouse hand had added a strip of corporate gaffer tape to the box before couriering, thereby rendering the sender instantly recognisable.

This left little room for guessing, but allowed more time for Sam to explain the origin of both the wine and how he had come to sell it.

The wine

Phigaia is a play on the super-Tuscan tendency to name their wines Sassicaia, Ornellaia and so on. The wine is a Veneto take on a super-Tuscan using French grapes and methods.

Cut out all the middle bits and essentially what you have here is a Bordeaux-style red from north east Italy. This makes it French with an Italian accent - or Italian with a French accent.

Serafini & Vidotto was founded in 1986 by school friends  Francesco Serafini, an exuberant extrovert, and Antonello Vidotto, the quieter of the two and most at home in his vineyards.

Together they have created one of Veneto’s finest wineries at Nervesa della Battaglia, in the heart of Prosecco country just north of Venice. But they have done a better job of making their wines than telling their story, as they remain somewhat under the radar.

The wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with 13 to 18 months in French oak and at least a further year in the bottle before release.

Serafini & Vidotto, Phigaia After the Red 2017 (c. £20, HarperWells, Harvey Nichols) sour cherries and blackcurrants, green herbs and peppery spice with coffee and vanilla; fresh and fruity with rounded tannins; elegant, supple and long.


Match with roast red meats or beef stews.

Ten Years - Sara Rawlinson

A guest post by Cambridge-based fine art photographer Sara Rawlinson (pictured, at work, above)

A combination of a ten-year wedding anniversary, lockdown and a socially-distanced road tour give Sara a challenge to find the right wines for a romantic meal à trois.

Ten years.

We were so excited for our anniversary trip to Sardinia - what better way to celebrate 10 years than by soaking up some much-needed sunshine and amazing wine. But it was not to be: covid claimed yet another plan.

During the consolatory (and amazing) three weeks of hiking through our old stomping grounds in the rural parts of northern Scotland, I stumbled on our old favourite - the 15-year-old Mortlach. A bit on the sweet side, but with such a variety of flavours I’d be sure to create a fantastic meal with it and have at least half the bottle left for a bit of a present.

You see, the plan had been for each of us to cook a surprise dinner for the others. Yes, plural. Our 7-year-old munchkin wanted in on it too!

Nick created a dish for us based on firey fish on open flames. Little Esther cooked nachos - and was very proud!

And then it was my turn.

I wanted a three-course meal, with the Mortlach to shine for each. Research required!

I did some tasting and reading to try to figure it out - apple, caramel, pineapple, toast, honey, cherry, and of course the lovely peppery warmth. I dug into my Scottish memories for what pairs well with whisky and consulted a few of our favourite cookbooks.

Whisky Kitchen by Sheila McConachie & Graham Harvey:

Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Soup by Nick Sandler & Johnny Acton

Then I did what I do best; I mixed them all up and found my flavours. I wanted:

- mussel+saffron+whisky starter, followed by

- fish+pineapple+whisky, and 

- dessert of shortbread+fruit drizzle+whisky.

Woah, how on earth am I ever going to pair wine with this?! I had better ask Tom and Cambridge Wine Merchants for help.


A semi-regular Mussel and Saffron Soup recipe was adulterated with a drizzle of a reduction-concoction containing mostly saffron, Mortlach, shallot, lemon. It was served with our standard homemade “pot bread”, but of course since I always have to shake things up a bit, it was modified slightly to be almond-chia pot bread (we were out of hazelnut flour, or I would have used that instead of almond).

We almost added chillies to the soup to offset the sweetness but decided to let the saffron-Mortlach reduction shine instead.

Despite my attempts to get the exact wine that Tom recommended, someone else beat me to it. CWM recommended instead the Dr Leimbrock Riesling Spatlese 2006 - which was quite a nice accompaniment although a bit too sweet.


For the main course, I had a tough time combining the flavours into one recipe but decided to just have fun and cross my fingers that it would work out. It was my munchkin who suggested it could be like a pineapple upside-down cake - which turned into a brilliant suggestion. I used a fairly standard fish tagine recipe from Wolfert’s (totally fantastically amazing!) book, but of course added a few flavours to make it my own.

The base flavour focused on red onion, cashews, pineapple, and chickpeas. At the last minute before popping into the oven, I added more fresh pineapple rings topped with the salmon, which in turn was dusted with crushed cashews, salt and pepper.

The fish had crisped so nicely, that I decided to serve the pineapple upside-down salmon upside down, or rather, right side up. This was all served with the saffron-Mortlach-lemon drizzle from above, and leafy salad with honey-mustard dressing. 

From both Tom and CWM’s advice, we ended up with Domaine Bouchard Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru Blanc 2016. This was the perfect combination - slight sweet oak with a touch of lemon. The wine was the perfect pair, nicely complimenting the pineapple, salmon and saffron-whisky.


Dessert was Italian shortbread in a doughnut shape topped with a circle of honey-oak ice cream and artfully drizzled with a trio of coulis - pineapple, grapefruit and lemon - served with a dram of the Mortlach. The flavours were a delightful combination.

We all voted that the lemon coulis was the best with the pineapple a close second. Poor grapefruit was a resounding last (or should we just throw it out). Besides the excellence of the flavours, I’m afraid to say the dessert wasn’t a resounding success. The shortbread was indeed flavourful but sadly had fallen flat in the oven (oops) and the homemade honeyed ice cream was way too honeyed. Oh well.

We have a motto in our house: what we lack in skill, we make up for with enthusiasm. So while the dinner wasn’t perfect (is anything?), it was full of enthusiasm and encouragement - the sort that we’ve been sharing with each other for over ten years.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

La Tirela Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014 DOCG, Veneto, Italy

An inoffensive, almost personality-less, Italian red from Laithwaites / Sunday Time Wine Club

My usual complaint about my parents' wines from Laithwaites is that they are overextracted, with too much of everything apart from subtlety, restraint or elegance.

Just occasionally, the opposite proves true and you find a wine that is technically well-made, without rough edges and not too much of anything.

Unfortunately, what gets lost with the bathwater of over-extraction here is the baby of personality. What's there with this wine is pleasant enough, it's just it is lacking in fruit expression and - ironically, any noticeable amarone character (the richness that comes from using partially dried grapes in the fermentation).

Interestingly, there is quite a bit of behavioural nudging going on with the packaging - the bottle is heavy, the label sophisticated and there's that paper DOCG tag which coneys an artisan feel.

Picking up the bottle and pouring it in the glass unthinkingly, I found myself (with hindsight) primed to expect something superior; when the first couple of sips were underwhelming, I instinctively wondered if I was missing something and thought "I need to pay a bit more attention to this, there must be more to it".

In practice I wasn't missing anything. There was nothing more to it and it is just another mediocre wine.

La Tirela Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014 (Laithwaites) dark fruited with cherries and plums; harmonious, supple and moderately substantial with little if any amarone character.

Pleasant enough.

Pretty In Pink - Two Provence Rosés

Two classy rosés from Provence

Rosé has been increasing in popularity for a long time now and it's not difficult to see why; it combines the freshness of a white with a bit of red-wine texture, giving it the flexibility to be an aperitif or versatile food wine.

In stylistic terms, rosé can be seen as kiwi Sauvignon's more-attractive sibling; prettier in pink, it often has Sauvignon's aromatic zip with a bit of skin-contact tannic buzz.

A good rosé will combine substance and style, being both instagrammable and enjoyable to consume. These two meet the brief perfectly and will work well with a range of autumnal and even wintry foods - think prawn risotto, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for Christmas breakfast, or Boxing Day cold cuts.

Both these wines are old friends: I first tried the Sanglière around a decade ago; I have tasted Le Grand Cros' wines a few times, notably at this Chinese food and rosé event.

La Sanglière, Cuvée Speciale, Côtes de Provence, 2019, (£22.95, South Down Cellars) floral, spicy and slightly toasty with ripe, fresh yellow stone fruits, spices and pink grapefruit. Savoury and concentrated, supple, well structured and long.


Drink as an aperitif or match with posh picnic foods, cold cuts or shellfish.

Le Grand Cros, L’Esprit de Provence, Côtes de Provence, 2019 (£17.95, BBR) bright and crisp with wild strawberries, pink grapefruit, redcurrant and verbena; floral with white pepper and minerality; focused and precise.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as an aperitif, or match with any of the following:

- salads
- seafood pasta 
- pea, courgette and artichoke risotto.
- fragrant Thai curry 
- Provençal herb and lemon roasted chicken.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Two Organic Yalumba Wines

Two organic wines from Australia's Yalumba

Yalumba is based in Australia's Barossa Valley; it was founded in 1849 and remains a sixth-generation family-run company with a strong focus on sustainability.

Yalumba was one of the first major Australian wineries to put organic wine on the market back in 2006. Minimal intervention winemaking is a natural fit for sustainable practices and Yalumba is committed to making as little impact on the natural environment as possible during the winemaking process, from the vineyard to the cellar. For every hectare of vineyard Yalumba owns, they dedicate at least one hectare to native vegetation.

Their teams are continuously trialling new ways to reduce their water consumption and lessen their impact on the environment. In recognition of their efforts, Yalumba has been awarded 43 accolades globally for sustainable practices, including sustainable wine growing.

The Sauvignon Blanc is zesty and somewhat kiwi in style; the Cab-Merlot is ripe and fruit-forward, but with good underpinnings. Both wines are clean and pure with a deft muscularity.

Yalumba Organic Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 (The Co-op, £10)
organically grown grapes from the Carypidis Family vineyard located in Virginia, on the outskirts of Adelaide.

Aromatic and expressive with exotic fruits, lemongrass, white-pepper spice and toastiness; juicy tropical fruits, cut through with citrus, fennel and herbaceous celery leaf. Full, supple and long; very well made.


Match with salt and lemon pepper squid, stuffed courgettes with ricotta and lemon zest, or with a rich creamy cheese or a pesto pasta. 

Yalumba Organic Cabernet Merlot, 2019 (£10, Tesco) fermented with 100% wild yeast with grapes from four family-owned, organically certified vineyards located throughout South Australia. 

Ripe cassis, black fruits and red-berry compote with blackcurrant leaf, liquorice and herbaceous, minty fennel and spice. Supple and long with very fine, well-integrated tannins. Vibrant and juicy with lots of ripe up-front fruit initially; with extended aeration, the more complex underpinnings become apparent. Harmonious, adept and well-made.


Match with red meats, especially rosemary and garlic lamb or bbq burgers.

Wine Pages' Tom Cannavan reviews the Cab-Merlot here: Review of two organic wines, both priced at £10 in UK supermarkets - YouTube

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada En Rama

A very special Manzanilla from Barbadillo

Barbadillo is one of the great sherry houses, a 7th-generation family-run business  based in San Lucar, the home of Manzanilla.

The Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada En Rama was the first Manzanilla ever to appear on the market in bottle, back in 1827 when Manzanilla was mostly sold in local wine bars by the glass, and to customers who bought in their own containers to be filled.

Pastora Manzanilla Pasada En Rama was resurrected by Barbadillo in 2015 to replicate the original sherry, and it is made in the traditional style, using a solera system, a process for ageing sherry by fractional blending to maintain a reliable style and quality.

This Manzanilla is special for two reasons:

- it is aged for an extra two years to give more complexity and depth; the standard Manzanilla is aged for six years, whereas this is eight years old (on average)

- it is bottled En Rama (meaning ‘raw’); this is, without fining or filtration so you are effectively tasting a barrel sample. 

Barbadillo Pastora En Rama (£9-£14, half-bottle, Avery’s, Roberts & Speight, Fareham Wines, VINVM, Laithwaites, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols, Amazon) bright gold in colour; yeasty with a complex, salty floral tang; toasted hazelnuts, crisp green apple, salted butter and bitter herbs with chamomile tea; dense, mineral, concentrated and savoury. Fresh and energetic. Very elegant.

Very Good.

It positively demands food, such as roasted almonds, jamon, oilives and bread with olive oil. Also think smoked salmon canapés, 

It also comes as a Barbadillo Pastora En Rama and Olives gift box from Laithwaites (£35) and Amazon (£28.90).

Friday, 13 November 2020

Whites from NW Spain with Tim Atkin MW

Notes from a Masterclass tasting with Tim Atkin MW of Three Wine Men interviewing three Spanish winemakers

Covering the northern half of the central Spanish plain known as the ‘meseta’, Castilla y León is among the most diverse wine regions of the country, encompassing 9 DOs, the most famous of which are red-wine areas - Ribera del Duero and Toro.

However, this area also produces some 40% of Spain's white wine, notably in Rueda, due to altitude and diurnal variation giving a longer, cooler growing season.

Climate is varied here, with influences from both the Mediterranean (warm and dry) and the Atlantic (cool and wet). An "Atlantic" year is not a good one for local winemakers. The grape varieties grown are a mixture of Spanish classics, international varieties and a some vary rare grapes.

The three wines, some of Tim's highest rated, included a unique white Rioja, a high-altitude Rufete Blanco and a Rueda from vines over 100 years old; each one was introduced by the winemaker and all three showed excellent winemaking from superb fruit with a deft elegance and poised precision.

Cuatro Rayas Viñedos Centenarios 2019 (£10, 93 Atkin Points, Bibendum)

The winery dates back to 1935 and is a co-operative with over 300 members. The vines are 80 - 100 years old. The wine is 50% barrel-fermented and 50% SS with 5 months on the lees. Made from varietal Verdejo, an ancient grape native to this part of Spain. 

White peach and orchard fruit with pink grapefruit and wild herbs; concentrated, savoury and fresh. Very pure and poised.

Very Good.

A versatile food wine, match with roast pork and meaty white fish.

Hacienda El Ternero Barrel Fermented White 2017 (£16.95, 90 Atkin Points, Ellis Of Richmond)

High-altitude grapes from a cool site, hand-picked and barrel-fermented in new French oak with 6 months on the lees. The wine is a Rioja, even though the winery is located in Burgos

Bruised apple fruit and a sherry-esque tang with citrus, white stone fruits and oaky-leesy savouriness; fresh acidity and a long, savoury finish.

Very Good.

Match with pork dishes or mushrooms and cream with pasta.

Cámbrico Rufete Blanco Granito 2017 (£29, 94 Atkin Points, Berkmann Wine Cellars)

Based in a high-altitude natural park with granite soils that give structure; the Rufete Blanco grape is extremely rare, almost unique to this winery. With thick skins and pips, it produces a textured, almost tannic wine with the concentration of 100 year-old vines. The grapes are picked early for freshness and alcohol is only 12.5%. Fermentation is in SS for freshness with lees aging for savouriness.

Textured, focused and saline-mineral with leesiness; white peach and conference pear fruit with linear acidity; textured, substantial and fresh.

Very Good.

Match with lighter game, such as partridge, salmon or scallops. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020

CUNE Imperial Rioja Reserva - The Co-op

A classy Rioja from The Co-op

Rioja's character comes largely from aging in oak, a technique learned by the Spanish from the winemakers of Bordeaux in the nineteenth century. It is traditionally aged in new American oak, which gives it a pronounced flavour of sweet vanilla (as compared to other oaks, such as French or Slavonian).

In general, aging a wine in new oak adds spice, complexity and softness and Rioja is classified according to the amount of time it spends in oak:

- Crianza (minimum of one year in oak, and one in bottle)
- Reserva (minimum of one year in oak and two years in bottle)
- Gran Reserva (minimum of two years in oak and three years in bottle)

Rioja was historically Spain's greatest, perhaps only, fine red-wine region; these days, with investment and better techniques, plenty of other parts of Spain make good-to-great wine. Perhaps in response to this, there are now two distinct styles of red Rioja - the traditional, long-aged, American-oak approach and a fresher, more-modern style with younger, fruitier wines.

The main grape of Rioja is Tempranillo; however, most Rioja is a blend and likely to include a proportion of Garnacha, Graciano and / or Mazuelo (all these grapes have various other names).

The main characteristics of a traditional-style Rioja are ripe, brambly fruit, oaky spice, fresh acidity and mellowness. Good Rioja will age and improve as long as an equivalent Bordeaux, but will often be more approachable earlier in its evolution.

CVNE (say "coo-nay") is a family-owned winemaker dating back to 1879; the name is an acronym of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España and their wines give about as good an introduction to Rioja as you could wish for.

The traditional food match for Rioja is roast lamb (even better if it is with rosemary and garlic), but most red meats will work. 

CVNE Imperial Rioja Reserva 2015 (£19.75, The Co-op) an excellent Rioja from a top ("Muy Buena") year; it is made only in good years and only from the oldest vineyards. At under five years old, it is just ready for drinking (with some aeration - put it in the decanter and give the glass some swirls) and will continue improve further with age; the concentration, structure and underpinnings are excellent.

You could buy a couple of cases of this, drink one a year and the last bottle would still be in good shape as long as you store them well.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Consorzio Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

A virtual visit to Prosecco country in North East Italy

I've long held that wine really only makes sense in context. In Europe, at least, wines are more than merely a beverage; they are part of a centuries-old cultural heritage that includes geography and geology, of course, but also climate, agriculture, gastronomy, geopolitics and national - or regional - character.

To understand Prosecco, then, we need to take a deeper dive into the region and focus on the less-homogenous areas that provide all the nuance and subtle differences.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

First of all, the what? where? and when?

Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are two towns in Prosecco country, located between Venice on the Adriatic and the Dolomites.

Conegliano is the cultural capital and was awarded UNESCO status in 2019; Valdobbiadene is the production centre.

Winemaking here dates back to Roman times, but for our purposes, it starts in 1876 with the founding of Italy’s first School of Viticulture and Oenology.

The area is hilly, green and varied with winemaking on a small scale; average holdings are just 2.5 hectares of mostly Glera vines. Other permitted varieties can make up to 15% of a blend and include Verdiso (an ancient variety providing acidity and longevity) as well as Chardonnay, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene sits at the top of the quality pyramid for Prosecco; it achieved DOC status in 1969 and was elevated to DOCG in 2009 and is itself further sub-divided into Cartizze and 43 rive.

Three factors distinguish the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene:

  • the territory; the high-altitude "hogback" hills of the region make for nuanced differences between plots
  • its history of making sparkling wines
  • the human factor and Italian methods of viticulture and viniculture


The production method of Prosecco retains freshness and preserves the varietal characteristics of the grapes, resulting in a floral and fruited wine.

Fermentation usually takes around 30 days (with 60 - 90 days' lees aging) using the Martinotti method of in-tank fermentation brought to this region from north west Italy where it was used to make Moscato d'Asti.

Where in-bottle fermentation gives more structure and complexity, tank fermentation retains primary aromas, freshness and grape characteristics.


The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene lie in distinctive East-West hogback rows between the sea and the alpine foothills; they are steep and south-facing at an altitude of between 50m and 500m with vines retained for as long as possible before replacement - at least 20 years and sometimes up to 50 or 70. 

All these factors lead to better grapes - the high rainfall and good drainage suit Glera, the southern aspect provides exposure to the sun and breezes provide dryness and prevent pests. Steep slopes mean hand-harvesting and, with so much greenness, cows provide much of the organic fertilisation.

The landscape here is made up of a patchwork in a highly fragmented and interconnected configuration characterized by numerous small vineyard plots, interspersed with wooded areas and unproductive elements, making up an effective ecological network.

Geology: soil types, Cartizze and the Rive

There are five different soil types in Conegliano Valdobbiadene:

  • morenic in the east, giving roundness and persistence with more ripe fruits and spices
  • feletti to the south, an ancient clay that gives ripe fruits and richness
  • conglomerate, making up 60% - 70% of the hills  giving fruity florality, intensity and citrus
  • glacial, originally from the Dolomites, giving elegance and florality
  • marly soils around Valdobbiadene; clay soils with no stones that retain moisture with steep slopes for drainage giving soft, delicate wines with fruity, floral and balsamic aromas

Of all areas, the tiny "Golden Pentagon" of Cartizze is the most famous and prestigious; it produces low volumes from old vines with high quality. A narrower temperature range over the growing season makes for more even ripening with highly aromatic wines of ripe pear, stone fruit and florality.

A new designation are the 43 "rive" (ree-vay). If Cartizze is the Grand Cru at the very apex, then the rive are the next-level Cru vineyards; the oldest areas with the highest quality, low production and historic traditions.


The UNESCO protection of the area recognised three factors:

  • morphology; the East-West orientation of the hogback hills with southern slopes exposed to the sun for viticulture and the north-facing slopes given over to woodland
  • ciglioni; these are terraces held up not by stone walls but grassy soils
  • patchworks; small vineyard vineyard plots are intertwined with woodlands and meadows to create a varied and harmonious local eco-environment


Wine is fundamentally a mere sub-set of local gastronomy; to understand the wine, you need to start with the gastronomy. To understand the gastronomy, you need to understand the agriculture and local character.

A region of ancient woods and green valleys with mediaeval castles and fortresses, Conegliano Valdobbiadene has a tradition of fresh, simple foods with zero-miles markets and cichetti, simple mouthfuls of food to be consumed with the local wine in the same way as tapas or pintxos.

There is no olive oil production here and the climate is too damp for air-drying ham, so lardo (pork fat) is used for cooking and slices of garlic preserve the local salamis.

Rivers flowing down from the mountains provide trout and eels, with (unsalted) sun-dried cod landed on the coast near Venice; the hills provide game such as venison, duck and goose as well as mushrooms.

Vegetables are aromatic - chicory, endive asparagus and radicchio di Treviso - herbs are used widely and polenta or potatoes are the staple as well as rice for risotto.


The styles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG are based on levels of residual sugar, i.e. sweetness. Traditional styles are:

  • Dry, which can have a distinctly sweet 32g/l residual sugar
  • Extra Dry, the most popular style which still goes up to a sweetish 17 g/l
  • Brut, for between 6 g/l and 12g/l

Two more recently introduced styles are:

  • Extra Brut for properly dry wines of between 0g/l and 6g/l; these require full ripeness of fruit to remain balanced and when done well are more contemporary and refreshingly food friendly.

  • Sui Lieviti, a méthode ancestrale technique where the wine is left to continue fermenting in bottle, resulting in a fully dry style with plenty of lees flavour - and also a sediment.

Tasting: five wines to try

Five wines from years, areas, grapes and using different production methods.

La Tordera, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Otreval Brut - Rive di Guia 2018 (Asahi)  a high-altitude vineyard, made in the drier Brut style which is increasingly popular. This is actually an Extra Dry wine, but labelled zero-dosage in accordance with regulations at the time. A blend of Glera and Verdiso  from old vines on fossil soils with long fermentation. Yeasty brioche and minerality, citrus and white stone fruit; dry and well-structured; pure, harmonious and long.

Canevel Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut 2019 - “Terre Del Faè” (Berkmann Wine Cellars) a small winery established in 1979 to focus on quality, with everything done in-house. Mineral-rich soils at 200m; made in a Brut style to be more food friendly. Fresh, mineral, citrussy and long with green apple and bitter almonds. Elegant and harmonious.

Valdo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2018 - “Cuvée del Fondatore” (cellars of Italy) founded in 1926 and purchased by the current owners in 1938. Developed in the 1980s to show the potential of Prosecco; with late-harvested fruit, this blend includes 10% Chardonnay aged in old oak. Fresh, ripe orchard fruit with citrus and gentle florality; long, elegant, harmonious and structured.

Mongarda Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2019 (The Modest Merchant) run by three generations since 1978; an artisanal winery of 12ha in San Martino in the central area. Soft rocks provide minerality and warmer temperatures provide more sapidity than freshness. A single-wineyard wine from south-facing old vines, natural yeasts for the base wine and a short second fermentation to preserve florality c. 2g/l RS. Floral, elegant and mineral with ripe orchard fruits. Long.

Biancavigna Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Sui Lieviti - Brut Nature 2019 (John Armit Wines) a project since 2004 inherited by a brother and sister with 32ha. All the wines undergo a much longer second fermentation from harvest time until spring of the following year. This Sui Lieviti wine looks like cloudy lemonade (unless left to settle for around a week), but has no primary or secondary flavours at all; it is all tertiary flavours from the yeasty lees. Long, savoury and compelling with a strong mid-palate.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Bordeaux Wines for Christmas

Five Bordeaux wines for Christmas

Bordeaux is one of the most varied wine areas in France; it produces fizz (in white or pink), dry whites (in zippy and savoury styles), rosé and reds from tannic Cabernet and juicy Merlot as well as luscious sweet wines from (often) botrytized grapes.

But it doesn't end there; France's largest wine region also produces wines at every price level from the everyday to the most expensive in the world, wines for early drinking and wines for aging, wines with both freshness and structure, fruit and savouriness.

If I had to pick the wines of just one region to drink for the rest of my life, it may well be Bordeaux.

Located on France's Atlantic coast and extending inland along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers in the Gironde département, Bordeaux is made up of 54 appellations and over 8,000 producers.

Winemaking was first introduced here by the Romans; by 1855, the best wines had been classified into a system that is still a reference point for the top reds of the region.

With different soil types, grapes and sub-regions, the watchword in Bordeaux is blending; a marginal climate area, vintage matters in Bordeaux and different blending grapes from different sites is a way to achieve consistency of style and quality.

For me, vintage rates more highly than location; warmer (but not too hot) years are better for reds, cooler years favour whites. Jancis Robinson has developed a "rule of five" - vintages ending in a 5 or a 0 tend to be the best.

In recent years, this has proven to be the case; 2015 followed a run of fairly cool and disappointing years for reds and the last great year before that was 2010. However 2016 outdid 2015 in some areas.

Bordeaux Wines are partnering with independent wine merchants up and down the country to offer bespoke Bordeaux Christmas cases featuring different styles to highlight the breadth of the offering and making sure that you have the perfect wines to enjoy over the festive period.

Here are five Bordeaux wines that are suitable for a family Christmas meal - if such a thing is allowed by then. The red is from the Excellent 2016 and will continue to improve with age; the Sauternes from the uniformly Excellent 2015.

On arrival / Christmas Morning

Château de Bonhoste Rosé NV, Crémant de Bordeaux (£15.85, Hourlier Wines) Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend produced by a 5th generation, brother and sister winemaking team, this rosé Crémant is bright and fragrant with persistent mousse supporting a fine palate of bright red berry fruit and brioche. Ideal with a wide selection of Christmas canapés.

With brunch / starters

Tesco Bordeaux Blanc 2018 (£6.75, Tesco) Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blend; herbal citrus, fresh notes of lemon, elderflower and white blossom. Cuts through rich vegan dishes like nut roasts or mushroom Wellington. 

Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Bordeaux Blanc (£9.99, Laithwaites) elegant dry white, fragrant with citrus and grassy; fresh with grapefruit and elderflower, followed by blackcurrant leaf and steely minerality. Match with goat’s cheese or salmon starters. 

Christmas Dinner

Château Mille Anges 2016, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux (£13, Goedhuis & Co) Merlot-Cabernet Franc-Cabernet Sauvignon blend; bright, and fruit-forward; deep and complex yet with blackcurrant, cherries and damson, notes of tobacco and sweet spice. Decant for a few hours and serve with roast turkey.

With dessert

Tesco Finest Sauternes 2015 (£12.00, Tesco) Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend; ripe stone fruits, candied summer fruits, marmalade and honey. Luxurious sweetness and spicy vanilla with a clean and fresh finish. Match with lighter desserts, such as crème brûlée.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Manzanilla and Beyond: Barbadillo Masterclass from 67 Pall Mall

A virtual tasting of Barbadillo sherries with Tim Holt, hosted by 67 Pall Mall

The basics

The casual sherry enthusiast will know that the key constituents of sherry are:

- the Palomino grape

- Andalusia's chalky-spongy Albariza soil, and

- flor, a local fungus which feeds on the base wine, drying it out and leaving a distinctive tang.

Add to this the solera method of blending wines both to refresh the flor and achieve consistency, plus the distinction between biological and oxidative aging and you have pretty much all the basics covered.

For more on this, read about The Great Sherry Tasting.

The differences

Tim Holt of Barbadillo covered all these topics whilst also giving a deeper dive into his company's terroir, production methods and what distinguishes them from other producers.

Barbadillo are a 7th-generation family company and the world’s leading Manzanilla producer with 500ha of vineyard in Jerez Superior, and 15 Bodegas across Sanlucar de Barrameda collectively containing 30,000 sherry butts.

The company is based around San Lucar, where the Guadalquivir river meets the Atlantic Ocean; its vineyards are located inland where the climate is drier and there are fewer vineyard pests, meaning higher quality fruit.

Another difference is the production method of the base wine: the grapes are pressed whole-bunch with stems included to allow free-run juice to be collected and to oxygenate the must. It is centrifuged for clarity prior to fermentation at a lower temperature with cultivated local yeasts and no added sulphur.

All of this results in a superior base wine with an alcohol level of between 11% and 13%; but this is only the start of the process of creating a Manzanilla.

As Tim explained, flor is very delicate and needs just the right conditions to thrive; specifically cool, damp, fresh air. The flor grows thickest in one particular bodega located at the bend of the Guadalquivir, where the river is narrowest and the breezes blow cool, damp air into windows cut into the side of the bodega facing the sea.

The company has 16 bodegas and each sherry butt is moved to a specific bodega at different points during its aging process.

The design of the bodega is equally important to the development of the flor with a high roof and the barrels stored only three-high as further up the air becomes too warm and dry (pro-tip: finos can be stacked up to five-high as they have less flor influence)

The wines

Barbadilllo “Solear” Manzanilla

With an average age of 6 years, this is very pale due to the flor keeping the wine free of oxygen; it goes through nine stages of aging and the transfer of the wine between barrels feeds the flor and oxygenates the wine. Yeasty with camomile, smooth and even on the palate, full and long.

Price and availability: 37.5cl, £5.99-7.99 / full bottle £10.99, The Wine Society, Sandhams Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants, The Whiskey Exchange, Ultracomida Online, Waitrose

Barbadillo “Pastora” Manzanilla En Rama Pasada

The Manzanilla Pasada has an extra two years' aging which slows down the rate of refreshment of the wine and therefore results in less flor / more oxygenation; it is half-way to becoming an Amontillado. The colour is more golden with a richer, more pungent and camomile nose; it is richer on the palate with more nuttiness.

Price and availability:  37.5cl, £8.99, Roberts & Speight, TB Watson Wines, VINVM, Laithwaites, Pensitone Wines, Hedonism, Secret Bottle Shop 

Barbadillo “Principe” Amontillado 12 Year Old with an extra four years' aging, this is much darker and with more evaporation leading to greater acidity and concentration; complex, salty and dry with a toffee-caramel note.

Price and availability: 75cl, £28 TB Watson Vintage Wine & Port, Martinez Wines, Saxtys Wines, The Secret Bottle Shop, Roberts & Speight, The Whisky Exchange, Hedonism

Barbadillo “Principe” Amontillado VORS this is the same wine as the 12yo but is aged for around 50 years; it is darker with coconut and some sweetness; dry and powerful, it is long, concentrated and intense with nutty, complex, dried fruit, roasted nuts and orange peel.

Price and availability: 75cl, £63.10, Hedonism 

Barbadillo “Obispo Gascon” Palo Cortado VORS polished furniture, walnut husks, dried apricots and some roasted notes with vanilla; complex and and very elegant with dried orange peel, brine and tangy lemon with dark chocolate, toffee, caramelized nuts. Long and elegant.

Price and availability: 75c; £75 Laithwaites, Turville Valley Wines, Hedonism, Averys 

Barbadillo “Ataman” Vermut production of Ataman began over 100 years ago, but then ceased in the 1970s; the stocks were left untouched until now and this Vermut was relaunched recently using small amounts of the original in the blend which also includes quassia tree bark, wormwood, quinine, rosemary, Seville orange and elderberry. Rich and herbal with bold bitter-sweet, roasted spice complexity; long and harmonious. Deep, savory, layered, uncious yet precise

Price and availability: 50cl, £18-20 The Good Spirits Company, The Solent Cellar, Noble Green Wines, Ultracomida Online, Wadebridge Wines

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Two Bonterra Wines

Two wines from California's Bonterra - via Waitrose

Bonterra is a quintessential Californian winery - think squeaky-clean, organic varietal wines from international grapes with plenty of Californian sunshine.

These two bottles are from Mendocino County in the north of the state; it is large, diverse region and a leading area for organic winemaking where the main grapes are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

California's key stylistic "tell" is typically ripeness and alcohol; the wines just can't help being bigger, often oakier and certainly more fruit-forward than Bordeaux and Burgundy.

But there is an increasing trend in California to dial down the heft, finding cooler sites and making wines with the freshness to match Bresse chicken, say, rather than burger and fries; European structure with New World fruit.

The Chardonnay is fermented in a mixture of old oak for complexity, stainless steel for freshness and 15% new oak for subtle toasty spiciness.

The Cabernet Sauvignon includes Petite Sirah, Merlot and Syrah in the blend and is fermented in stainless steel (to preserve the fruit), with 12 months' aging in oak for complexity (and 40% new oak for spiciness).

Of these two wines, I rather prefer the white, for a number of reasons: oaky Chardonnay is somewhat out of fashion these days and I like it; it's expressive and engaging, almost in the manner of a kiwi Sauvignon with its ripe tropical fruits, substance and structure.

However, if the Chardonnay can't help announcing its presence, the Cabernet seems to be trying a bit too hard to disappear, or at least avoid upsetting the other guests - it's big but well-groomed and plays everything very safe with lots of pleasing fruit, hiding its more assertive side.

Bonterra Estate Collection Chardonnay, Mendocino, 2019 (£15, Waitrose) floral, toasty nose leading to ripe lemon curd, topical citrus, baked apple, ripe pears and creamy-oatmealy, buttery, spicy oak; complex, fresh and linear, long and well-structured.

Still young and sealed under screwcap, improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.


Match with white meats or mushrooms with cream and pasta.

Bonterra Estate Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, 2018 (£15, Waitrose) baked red and black fruits, coffee grounds, oaky spice, some leather and tobacco with gentle, well-integrated tannins. Dense and concentrated with a warming finish; could be fresher.


Match with slow-cooked beef casserole - or burgers.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

(Another) CWB Pinot-Off

Two non-Burgundian Pinots Noirs

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the great Burgundian grapes; but while Chardonnay has gone around the world to runaway success in most wine-producing countries, Pinot's rise has been slower.

Unlike Chardonnay, Pinot is a difficult grape to grow, prone to mutation and thrives only in relatively cool conditions; it needs latitude, altitude, maritime coolness - or all three.

Burgundian Pinot is rarely an inexpensive wine; it tends to be somewhere between pricey and hair-raising - and it isn't even always that great. If you like Pinot but don't want to spend a fortune, or just want to see what the fuss is all about, more-affordable and more-reliable versions are starting to appear in other parts of the world.

While Burgundian-style Pinots often command Burgundian prices, countries like Chile prove that reliable, affordable Pinot is possible.

The second Pinot here is French, but not a Burgundy. Rather it is from Provence, an area much more associated with rosé. The Valmoissine Estate vineyards are made up of 120 hectares spread over four communes at an altitude of 500m giving a longer, more Burgundian growing season with warm sunny days during the summer months but cooler temperatures at night.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, Chile (£8, The Co-op) Burgundian nose of red fruits and farmyard; overripe, slightly cooked soft red fruits, spice and some dark green herbs. Well-made and easy-drinking with a silky texture.

Thoroughly pleasant. Good Value.

It has a Decanter silver medal.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir 2017 (£11.99, Majestic, Fine Wine Direct, House of Townend, North and South Wines, Small Beer, Tanners Wine Merchants, Thedrinkshop.com, Winebuyers, Winedirect) ripe-but-fresh wild raspberries, red and black cherries; spice and savouriness with liquorice; long and supple, well-made.


Match with autumnal Burgundian foods, such as truffles, mushrooms, duck in blackberry sauce. Later in the year, think of Christmas ham or turkey, grilled red meats such as lamb or a fish alternative of salmon.

Also reviewed by:

David Kermode: https://www.vinosaurus.co.uk/pinot-noir-provence-louis-latour/

Joanna Simon: WINE OF THE WEEK: Maison Louis Latour Bellevue Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir 2017, Var, France (joannasimon.com)