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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Three Hill-Smith Wines from South Australia

Three elegant summer wines from Australia's Hill-Smith, including Tasmania'Jansz and Dalrymple

Not to be confused with the Fresh Price of Bel Air, Hill-Smith is a fifth generation family-run wine estate based in South Australia with a sporting history.

The website explains: over five generations, members of the Hill-Smith family have been pioneers in locating exceptional vineyard sites that maximise the personality of their wines. These wines honour the contribution that Wyndham Hill-Smith OBE (1909 - 1989) made to wine, sport and life in Australia.

Well known as a cricketer, Wyndham Hill-Smith both shared the crease with Bradman and faced Larwood at his peak. He was a keen thoroughbred owner, with more than 500 race wins, and well recognised as a generous host and charming raconteur.

Importantly, Wyndham oversaw in the 1960s and ’70s the innovative return of viticulture from the floor of the Barossa Valley to the cooler climes of the high altitude Barossa ranges, known as Eden Valley. In these conditions, finesse, elegance and understated power replace the robust and earthy style of the lower altitudes.

Beyond South Australia, Hill-Smith also owns wineries in cool-climate Tasmania. These three wines are perfect for an elegant summer garden party or picnic - if you thought Australia was just hefty, high-alcohol blockbusters, these elegant Burgundian-style wines will invite you to think again.


Aperitif

Jansz Tasmania Premium Rosé (£18.99, Slurp Frazier’s Wines, Noble Green Wines, Liquorice Wines, www.winedirect.co.uk)

Cool-climate traditional method (aka Methode Tasmanoise) Tasmanian fizz from the very best Tasmanian vineyards, Australia’s home of premium sparkling wine. 

The cool latitude and maritime climate are a major contributory factor to the success of these wines. The fruit is grown on specially selected sites, handpicked and crafted as individual batches resulting in a stylish and complex wine.

Very pale salmon pink, yeasty-brioche biscuit nose, delicate redcurrants, soft red fruit and orchard fruits, creamy-oatmealy brazil nut and saline minerality; vibrant, fresh, elegant and persistent.

Very Good - and better value than an equivalent Champagne.

Drink as an aperitif; match with prawns, salmon, ham or picnic foods..

White

Hill-Smith Eden Valley Chardonnay 2019 (£11.99, Waitrose) 

The rugged, undulating high country of Eden Valley is one of Australia’s premier cool climate wine regions and home to some of the Hill-Smith family’s favourite vineyards where plantings of special Burgundian clones have now come of age for this blend.

The finer flavours, produced by these clones, combined with the use of natural ‘wild yeast’ fermentation and careful crafting results in a more complex and elegant wine with rich creamy flavour and acidity.

The wine has extended lees aging and some new oak

Pale straw with green tints, fragrant aromas of fresh stone fruit, quince and citrus zest with oaky spice minerality; fresh peach and citrus curd with grapefruit acidity, savoury leesiness and a fine creamy texture. Deft, elegant and complex.

Drinking nicely now and will improve further with some cellaring.

Good and Good Value for the quality.

A versatile food wine, match with anything from fish and white meats to salmon fillet with Asian greens or chickpea falafel.

Red

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2019 (£32.99, Vinvm Flagship Wines)

Cooler than mainland Australia, Tasmania specialises in styles usually found towards the north of France. This Pinot Noir is a blend of different parcels of fruit, from vineyards across the Pipers River region in the northern part of Tasmania.

An easterly aspect, red basalt soils, natural flora and cool sea breezes combine to encourage slow and even ripening of the grapes allowing their natural flavours to shine through.


Dark, deep garnet-purple; intense blackberry, dark cherry and ripe plum with charred spices, dried herbs and liquorice; juicy plum and dark fruits with blue fruits and five spice; fine yet firm tannins; fresh, supple and elegant.

Drinks nicely on first opening, opens up with some aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Very Good.

A versatile food wine, match with game, spiced foods and cured meats.

Friday, 11 June 2021

The CWB Supermarket New World Red-off


Two widely-available New World reds

Carignan and Pinot Noir both produce soft, silky wines with a delicate, supple texture.

The main difference is that Pinot is expensive to make and always carries a price premium, due to the reputation of Burgundy; by contrast, Carignan is a "wine lake" grape, historically producing high yields in hot parts of France with no classic heritage.

If you have heard of Pinot but not of Carignan, this is possibly why; it's the darling vs the ugly duckling.

Another reason is that Carignan is typically a blending wine; late-ripening and heat-loving, it provides colour, acidity and tannins but can prove difficult to make into an elegant varietal wine.

Both these wine are relative bargains, then and punch above their price tag; New Zealand makes some of the best Pinots outside Burgundy for a fraction of the price. And Carignan has the soft texture of Pinot but without the premium.

They are both drinking nicely now, but have the concentration and complexity to improve with some age.

Indomita Gran Reserva Carignan, Chile, 2019 (£7.50, Co-op)

Chile has been getting better and better for a decade or so and is finally starting to reach its potential now.

Lifted red and black fruits with florality and oaky, peppery spice, garrigue herbs, cocoa and savouriness; fresh, full and supple with a dense inky texture; very harmonious and well-made.

Good and Good Value.

Drinks nicely on first opening but can be cellared.

Match with roast red meat or barbecue foods.

Tesco Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir, 2020 (Tesco, £13)

Made by Villa Maria, New Zealand's most awarded winery and always a source of highly enjoyable, well-made, good-value wines.

Farmyardy sous-bois and complex spices; lifted dark berry fruits, black cherries and black olives with some toasty savouriness; fresh, supple, concentrated and long.

Very Good.

Drinks nicely on first opening, but will improve further with some aging.

A fresh, versatile red, match with rich, strongly-flavoured foods, from lamb to salmon steak, venison to guinea fowl, pâté to charcuterie.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

The CWB Limestone Coast Red-Off


Australia has not historically focused so much on the concept of terroir, that somewhat undefinable "sense of place" that is untranslatable from the French.

It was, after all, the country that gave us varietal labelling and told us that the Chardonnay in your glass was the same grape as you get in a White Burgundy.

However, as the country matures, certain sites prove to be better than others for winemaking, so labelling by location as well as by grape variety starts to make more sense - especially for the more ambitious wines that convey a sense of place rather than just "sunshine in a  glass".

As one Australian winemaker once told me: Australian wine needs to get big, or get fine.

The Limestone Coast is in the south east of South Australia. and consists of a number of sub-regions, including Coonawarra and Wrattonbully.

It does not quite equate to a European region in the sense of ever-more specific names ranking higher for quality, such as Bordeaux -> Medoc -> Pauillac. Rather it is more of a general, loose geographic grouping with a shared geological history.

Halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, the greater Limestone Coast Region was historically submerged under the sea for over 25 million years, during which time marine crustaceans and shells on the sea floor formed limestone reefs.

Approximately one million years ago, the region began rising out of the sea; as the sea receded, it left in its wake fourteen stranded coastlines or ranges between the Naracoorte range and the current coastline.

Wind-blown organic material accumulated on top of these limestone reefs and formed the famous terra rossa soils found particularly in the Coonawarra and Wrattonbully wine regions.

The Second Fleet Shiraz £ 6.99 (90 BampWine Points)

The Second Fleet Shiraz - at Lidl UK - www.lidl.co.uk

Being close to the ocean, the Limestone Coast has a naturally cool climate, giving this Shiraz a fine, peppery freshness.

Dark berries and black fruits with tobacco, liquorice and oaky spice; full and supple.

Good.

Match with grilled meats, pepper steak or an earthy wild mushroom tart.

Hollick Old Vine Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (£17.50)

At four years old there is already some bricking of the colour and aged aromas.

Dark fruits, spice and complex leathery sous bois; ripe, slightly baked dark berry, plum and cassis fruit with leathery tobacco, cocoa and spice; warming minty eucalyptus and mouthwatering acidity. Very fine, gentle tannins, very harmonious.

New World fruit and New World ripeness with Old World complexity.

Drinks nicely on first pouring as a sophisticated ripe quaffer; the complexity becomes more apparent with a little aeration as the overt fruit blows off.

Good.

Match with barbecue foods or red meat stews.

From the Hollick Estates website:



Hollick Estates is a boutique winery located on the famed terra rossa soils of Coonawarra. Renowned for their extensive range of premium table wines, including several alternative varietals. All of which can be sampled in Cellar Door.

The Hollick Estate's cellar door oozes charm, a charming stone cottage leads the way toward the tasting room and restaurant where a wall of windows overlooks vines planted by Ian and Wendy Hollick. Their three primary vineyards are Neilson's Block, Wilgha, and the Red Ridge vineyard in Wrattonbully (developed in 1998).

The fruit for the Cabernet Sauvignon is selected from old vine material from the Wilgha and Neilson's Block vineyards at the cooler, southern end of Coonawarra. Located on the famous terra rossa soil, these vineyards were originally planted in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It will effortlessly cellar for at least 10 years. 

The wine was matured in French oak, adding to its structure, but not dominating the pure Coonawarra Cabernet fruit characters.

Tasting Notes 

Aromas of blackcurrant and mulberry fruit provide the introduction to lingering chocolate and spicy fruit. On the palate blackberries & plums, with a touch of spice. A mouth -watering wine. The subtle tannins provide balance whilst the lingering chocolate adds an elegant finish. Serve alongside steak with roasted piccolo tomatoes, rocket salad and shaved parmesan.



Tuesday, 8 June 2021

On Wine And Branding


Creating labels/packaging for your wine that says BUY ME
By Richard Horwell, Brand Relations

Let me start with a bold statement. Your branding is as important as the product itself. You can have the best tasting wine on the market but if no one picks it up and tries it, no one will ever know, 90% of a first-time purchase is based on the branding; it’s why a consumer will pick your product over their regular choice or your competition.

But don’t confuse design with branding, as many agencies do. Branding is the message you want to give your target consumer - and that message on your packaging should be ‘BUY ME’.

Education

In developing any product, including a wine brand, the starting point is asking a LOT of questions. These questions will be much the same as the ones your target audience will ask. For example: ‘what is unique about this product?’; ‘why is it better than the competition’; ‘should I risk spending money on this untried brand?’; ’does this product offer value for money?’ Your branding needs to answer all these questions.

The MOST expensive word in the Food & Drink category is ‘education’, if you need to take time to educate the consumer, away from the packaging, then you will either spend millions or fail, or both.

The best place to educate your target audience is on your wine’s label and other packaging, so your branding needs to be clear and perfect.

That’s what the branding is for; to provide instant education.

Link to what your audience already understands

We all tend to Pigeonhole everything in our lives and whether we are conscious of it or not, when we see a new brand, we put it in its place. So, if you are attempting to break new ground – perhaps with a mixed product including wine - then you need to add something to the mix that the consumer knows.

To take one related example to illustrate this point, we have just developed a drink based on the Stinging Nettle called Emunity, so to help consumers to reach out and try this we have added ingredients and flavours they recognise, like gooseberry, cucumber and wild strawberry.

The key is to make sure the messaging is easy to understand and include elements that consumers can understand instantly, which helps then to choose your product fast.

Ask Questions

In order to get your branding right, you need to ask yourself and others some questions:

1/ Where will this wine sell and what brands will sit alongside it? How will my product stand out against them?

2/ What is my brand message? For example, is it based on spoiling yourself or great taste?

3/ Will my consumer be able to read the messages I have on the label from a distance, without picking it up?

4/ Does my brand look premium enough for the selling price?

5/ Why should a consumer buy my brand instead of their regular choice?

Getting the answers to these questions is the first step to creating brilliant branding and perfect labels/packaging.

It’s about them, not you

When I lived in Australia, I knew a very successful businessman who could turn his hand to anything. When I asked him his secret to success, his response was ‘when you explain something to someone and they don’t understand, it’s not them that’s stupid, it’s you for not explaining it properly’. This is the same with branding for wine, just putting your brand name on the front and thinking the brand will sell is crazy, Consumers don’t care about a ‘new’ brand name, they care about what’s in it for them.

So, make sure your message conveys this. Always focus on them, not you.

Point of Difference

In order to have any chance of success in today’s market you must have a point of difference. This needs to be very clear in your branding and messaging on the packaging. Just being vegan wine, for example, is not enough - there are masses of vegan brands now, and when it comes to drinks most of them are already vegan.

What makes your brand different? The MOST important points of difference should highlight on the packaging. The less important ones still need to be on there, but they can go on areas the consumer will read once they pick the product up.

Be wary of minimalism

Minimalism has become a trend in recent years with many designs jumping on the bandwagon. However, be careful not to make it too minimal. I have seen some laughable branding where a designer has tried to be cool but forgotten about selling the brand. This has led to the consumer ignoring it completely and reaching for the safer option, in other words, one of the established wine brands they already know. Find the right balance between doing too much or too little. You also don’t want to waffle; let your branding do the talking.

Your Values

Consumers want brands to be transparent and they want to understand the brand’s heritage and values. The history and tradition of the wine region is clearly important. Also is the product certified to be Vegan, Fairtrade or Organic? Which of these will resonate with your target audience? More recently consumers are looking for certifications like ‘B Corporation’, which commends businesses that give as much consideration to their social and environmental impact as they do to their financial returns.

This move towards wanting to buy from companies with matching values is an opportunity for new, indie brands as the established companies can’t adapt quickly. It takes time to remove artificial ingredients and replace them with natural ones, to change supply chains to Fairtrade or a more ethical source or create a business that cares about the environment and its impact on our future. This is what today’s consumers are looking for and this is what your branding should communicate about your wine business.

Conclusion

Your packaging needs to communicate your brand so that your target consumer back that vital initial purchase. It should also say ‘buy ME’ in a way that they simply cannot ignore!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Richard Horwell is the owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London. Over the last 13 years, Brand Relations has been behind the launch and development of over 100 brands in the UK. Richard has also built up and sold companies of his own in the Food and Beverage sector. He has over 30 years’ experience in marketing FMCG brands around the world, having lived and worked in the UK, USA, Australia and the Middle East.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

The CWB Soave-Off

A tasting of two Soaves - Tesco vs Private Cellar

Soave - pronounced SWAH-vey and meaning suave - is a region of north east Italy producing white wines. It is just north of Venice in the Veneto region, not far from Verona, where (mostly) Garganega is grown.

Sommelier and all-round charismatic bon viveur Donald Edwards informs me that Soave is grown on volcanic soils, which add to the elegance, precision and linear minerality of the wine.

Soave is Italy's answer to basic white Burgundy; a neutral, medium-bodied, orchard-fruited, lemony white wine with the versatility to accompany a wide range of foods.

Soave was once a best-seller of Italian wines; now eclipsed by the ubiquitous pub white Pinot Grigio, it is making something of a comeback.

Put another way, now is a good time to buy Soave, since quality is ahead of general recognition and therefore pricing.

Tesco Finest Soave Classico Superiore (£7.50, Tesco)

Garganega grown on the Soave Classico hills, partially aged in oak for 10 months.

Rich, ripe pear, white stone fruits and baked apple with citrus, almond blossom, minerality and sweet spices. Elegant and adept.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with spaghetti carbonara or meaty white fish in a creamy sauce.

Soave Gregoris, Antonio Fattori, Italy 2018 (£10.75, Private Cellar)

Costing only a few pounds more, but selected by Private Cellar's MW buyer, this is recognisably from the same region and grape, but just a little bit better in every way.

Melon, lime and white stone fruits with orchard fruits, honeysuckle and pebbly minerality. Textured, elegant and precise.

Good.

Improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

A versatile food wine, drink as an aperitif, with light starters, creamy risottos or lean white met such as chicken or fish.

It is also available in magnums for those "we're gonna need a bigger bottle" occasions.


Saturday, 5 June 2021

The CWB Southern-Rhône-Off

 

Two very different Southern Rhônes - Fontbonau and Tesco *Finest

If you like wines with the spice and fruit of a warm climate, yet also the classic substance and structure of the Old World while avoiding the heavy-hitting price tag of a Big Name Region, then the Southern Rhône pretty much ticks all boxes.

The Southern Rhône is a large and diverse wine-producing area, producing wines of all colours; wine-making here dates back 2,000 years and there are over 5,000 winemakers and merchants.

The valley has had a turbulent geological past, as is typical for riverscapes, creating steep slopes, rolling hillsides and a huge variety of different soil types. It is theses different soils, aspects and slopes that bring variety and interest to the wines of the region. The southerly climate with high levels of sunshine brings ripeness, body and darker fruit flavours.

In quality terms, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages is a step up the classification  ladder from the catch-all Côtes-du-Rhône, but sits below more-specific appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueyras.

Southern Rhône reds are usually a blend of Grenache for vibrancy with Syrah for colour / tannins and dark fruit / spice as well as Mourvèdre which likes the heat and provides flavours of wild game, earthiness and red fruits.

Tesco Finest Cotes Du Rhone Villages, 2020 (Tesco, £7) 

From the Côtes-du-Rhône village of Signargues, a blend of mainly Syrah and Grenache.

Baked red and dark berry fruits with sweet vanilla spice and some leathery gaminess; hefty and warming, but with enough freshness and very fine, gentle tannins.

Drinks nicely on first opening, then continues to improve with aeration.

Well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.

A crowd-pleasing Big Red, this would be a great summer barbecue wine; in autumn, with bangers and mash or beef stew.


Domaine de Fontbonau Cotes-du-Rhone 2012 (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) 

Despite its more lowly classification, this is a very different wine; the price also belies its quality somewhat. Around £20 would be a fairer reflection of its quality and age, but it was a fire-sale lot picked up by CWM's buyers for well below market price.

Mature southern Rhônes are somewhat unusual; they tend to drink well in their youth so do not require the same level of aging as, say, Bordeaux to become approachable.

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.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Three South African Sparklers

Three traditional method fizzes from South Africa

South Africa has the planet's oldest soils and its winemaking dates back to the 1600s.

As well as the usual table wines, it also makes a traditional method fizz, with in-bottle fermentation; previously known as MCC, it is now called Cap Classique.

2021 is a landmark year for South Africa’s premium sparkling wine producers as they celebrate 50 years. Bottle-fermented and produced using the Methode Champenoise, they compete in quality with the world’s top sparkling wines but don’t carry the price tag. They are hailed as ‘the world’s best value bubbles’, offering the perfect celebratory bottle for those reuniting after time spent apart.

The elegant aperitif

Laborie (KWV) Laborie Blanc de Blancs 2015 (c. £15, Majestic)

Made from just Chardonnay grapes (aka "Blanc de Blancs"), it is a warmer-climate Champagne-alike with more generous flavours; ripe orchard fruits, green apples and pears with citrus and classic biscuity-yeasty nutty brioche.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif.

The food wine

Villiera Tradition Brut NV (£16 - £18 Simply Wines Direct, Handford Wines, Broadway Wines)

Aromatic with green apple and ripe orchard fruits, citrus and toasty brioche; baked apple fruit sprinkled with sugar and sweet spices, gingerbread and creamy-nutty oatmeal. Ripe, weighty and full with some residual sugar but cut through with fresh acidity to a dry finish.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with seafood vol-au-vents or salmon en croute.

The pink one

Pongracz Brut Rosé NV (£15 - £18, Harvey Nichols, Master of Malt, The Champagne Company)

Chardonnay - Pinot Noir rosé blend from Stellenbosch.

Red berries, orchard fruits and citrus with yeasty brioche; full, complex and rounded; elegant, fresh and linear with  bright acidity and saline-minerality.

Good.

Match with mixed starters and buffet food.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

The CWB Burgundian Chardonnay-Off

Two Chardonnays - Burgundy and Western Australia

Easy to grow, easy to vinify, easy to pronounce and easy to drink; Chardonnay is one of the world's most widely grown grapes and arguably the most versatile.

From cool-climate fizz, to oaky sunshine-in-a-glass, it is made into a range of styles; its spiritual home is Burgundy where it makes complex, elegant food-friendly wines with, at most, moderate oaking.

Western Australia has been called the new New World, but has something of an Old World restraint and balance, with sea breezes on two sides. Its Chardonnays are distinctly Burgundian.

Mâcon Uchizy, Mallory & Benjamin Talmard 2019 (£14.85)

At the south of Burgundy, Macon is the George Harrison of the region, often overshadowed by more northerly appellations and therefore proving excellent value compared to the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. 2019 was a great year for wines giving more concentration and intensity.

Floral with acacia and orchard fruits; ripe white stone fruit, ripe and supple yet fresh with sweet spices and savouriness and white pepper on the finish; saline-mineral; full, concentrated and supple;  Lively and adept.

Very Good.

Match with roast white meats, cheese or seafood.

2019 Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay (£14.99–17.99 Majestic, Specialist Cellars, Aus Wines Online)

The natural freshness of Margaret River stands out. Ample sunshine and strong daily sea breezes preserve the vibrant fruit notes and acidity. The fruit for Filius Chardonnay is selected from multiple clones and sites that produce elegant, lighter fruit flavours and it’s this style of fruit from these patches of the vineyard that makes the finesse of this wine harmonious. The result is a fine Chardonnay with a clean bright palate, gently softened texture and delicate balanced creaminess.

Orchard fruits, honeysuckle and and complex toasty-oaky spices; beeswax, pineapple, lemon sherbet and ginger with citrussy freshness and lime marmalade zest plus savoury-buttery-oatmealy leesiness. Ripe yet taut, full yet linear.

Very Good.

Enjoy with or without food. Pair with summer salads, white fish, seafood, creamy pasta and roast chicken. Perfect for summer grazing and al fresco dining.

---xxx---

Further notes from Vasse Felix:

All Vasse Felix wines, from vine to bottle, are controlled within the estate. The fruit is chosen from Vasse Felix’s four vineyards where each site is planted with the best suited grape variety and clone to correspond with the unique topography and micro-climates of each block. Virginia Willcock, one of the most awarded winemakers in Australia, adopts a 'hands-off' approach in order to capture the flavours and qualities found in the vineyards. The grapes are harvested, fermented and matured in small, separate parcels before each barrel is graded and blended for the final wine. The land is farmed using traditional and organic (NASAA Organic Certified) and by nurturing the soils, achieve better health and balance and ultimately higher quality fruit.


Further notes from Private Cellar:

With all 30 hectares planted out to Chardonnay, it would be easy to imagine that Mallory and Benjamin Talmard might become a touch habituated to one style of wine but, instead, they celebrate the differences between their crus, which perfectly illustrate the importance of soil. Their Mâcon Uchizy comes from limestone rich soils, giving it immense poise and elegance with a lovely lovely citrus thread running through it. Superb in magnum as well.

Pale gold with an intense, citrus-infused nose and creamily rich palate, this is racy and young and always impresses. A great wine for parties, weddings and events. "The Finest white I have tried this year." A glowing customer review in The Field, following our first Field Wine Club offer. 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

The CWB Bordeaux-Blend-Off

Two Cab-Merlot wines - aka Bordeaux Blends - from France and Australia

Château Tayet, Bordeaux Supérieur 2016
Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River 2019

Cabernet-plus-Merlot is the classic Bordeaux blend.

But why blend grape varieties?

For practical reasons, growing two grape varieties make commercial sense for vignerons in a marginal climate like Bordeaux where vintage variation is significant. Grown on stony soils, Cabernet likes the heat, so does well in a hot year; Merlot tolerates heavy clay soils and is an easier ripener for cooler, damper years.

For aesthetic reasons, Cabernet and Merlot blend well together and compliment each other's flavours and tannic profiles.

Completists will note that Bordeaux grows a number of other varieties that are on occasion also blended in, such as Cabernet Franc and Carmenere. Both these wines contain a small amount of a third grape; the Tayet has some Petit Verdot and the Vasse Felix some Malbec.

They are both similarly priced and of similar quality levels, so it really comes down to personal preference.

The Bordeaux is older with more aged complexity, is lower in alcohol and more of a food wine.

The Aussie wine has more ripeness, more fruit and a degree more alcohol; it is ripe enough to drink without food and its fruit flavours will stand up to more robust dishes such as barbecues. 

Château Tayet, Bordeaux Supérieur 2016 (£14.95, Private Cellar)

Tayet has more than a passing resemblance to Margaux as it is just metres from the boundary, with racy red and black fruits, a light tannic bite behind, to a rich, spiced finish, punching way above its weight.  Winemaker for over twenty years, Jean-Michel Garcion believes that all the wines should drink well in youth but have the wherewithal to age, and that each should reflect its location.

Bramble and berry fruit, cigar box and damp earth with roasted spices; ripe plums, cherries and blackberries with graphite, old leather and cedarwood; good acidity and very fine, supple well-integrated tannins.

Very well-made; harmonious and balanced and drinking very nicely now, but will gain further complexity with age.

Very Good; it has a Gold Medal from the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles

Match with plain roast red meat - perfect for Sunday lunch.

Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River, Western Australia, 2019 (£14.99–17.99 Booths, Specialist Cellars, Aus Wines Online, Winedirect.co.uk)

This wine incorporates fruit from each of the four Vasse Felix vineyards; a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon gives it a dry tannic structure with a generous portion of 42% Merlot making this a succulent wine with approachable tannins. A small amount of Malbec accentuates both varieties.

This vintage was particularly labour intensive as the Marri Blossom, which normally protects the fruit from birds, was non-existent, resulting in the largest netting programme ever seen at Vasse Felix, which resulted in beautiful quality fruit.

Ripe, spicy and blackcurranty with green herbs, dried oregano, sage and lavender, cut through with juicy acidity; full and supple with very fine tannins

Drinks nicely on first opening; the complexity becomes more evident with aeration.

 Very Good.

Match with with red meat - lamb, pork, beef - cooked on a barbecue or as a Sunday roast. 

---xxx---

Further reviews:

Tayet: 

"A classy Merlot-driven claret, from vineyards just outside the Margaux appellation. It's drinking beautifully at this age, showing savoury leather and cigar box notes plus ripe plum and blackberry. Fresh acidity, supple tannins and cedar oak spice complete the picture."

Decanter Magazine, Weekday Wines, December 2020 edition.

As a vintage, 2016 was 10/10 and this elegant, Merlot-rich beauty is gloriously approachable. Sloshed into a decanter it would pass for something far, far pricier."

Jonathan Ray, The Field, November 2020

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet 2020

A Languedoc Picpoul from Paul Mas

The only thing worse than Lockdown is Lockdown plus Bad Weather. 

All. Year.

From January to late May.

At least last year's summer-long heatwave meant that you could sit in the garden or enjoy going for a walk without having to pile on the layers.

The second year of Lockdown is proving even more of a drag than the first not least because the weather seems permanently stuck in late-winter mode; cold and wet.

But, with under a month until the longest day of the year, the weather must turn good soon, shouldn't it?

If you are still on the Big Reds, there's hope that things will improve and we can move onto summery whites soon.

Picpoul, from Languedoc, is a classic summer sipper that matches well with seafood, such as oysters.

It is light, refreshing and zippy; a southern alternative to Muscadet.

Vignobles Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet, 2020 (£7.50, Co-op)

Green apple, pear  and white peach with tropical lemon-and-lime fruit, acacia and and hawthorn blossom; herbaceous, mineral and refreshing, mouth-filling green apple; balanced and structured.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif, summer sipper or with seafood. Or take on a picnic.


Midweek Wines' Brian Elliot makes it his runner-up for Best Picpoul in 202: 


Friday, 21 May 2021

Two Provence Rosés

 

Two adept and elegant rosés from Provence - both available at Waitrose

Most places in the world make rosé; but Provence is the benchmark in the same way that Champagne sets the standard for sparkling wines.

Rosé is fast catching up with Champagne as a beautifully-presented aspirational drink that commands something of a premium. Unlike Champagne, rosé does not involve an elaborate production method and is relatively quick to make, so it has been easy to increase production in line with rising demand.

Provence rosés are typically pale and elegant in what has become perhaps the most-emulated style.

Both these wines exemplify all that the UK loves about rosé from Provence in the South of France: delicious, approachable and easy to drink, but with complexity of flavour, refinement and a winemaking pedigree that comes from centuries of winemaking at the highest level.


UP | Ultimate Provence 2020 (£17.99, Waitrose, The Wine Caverns, Kingscote Estate Vineyards retail shops in Bluewater and Lakeside)

A blend of Grenache Noir (30%) Cinsault (30%) Syrah (30%) Rolle (10%) 

Onionskin colour, grapefruit zest, pine and wild Mediterranean herbs on the nose; white stone fruit, pink grapefruit, zesty citrus, melon and ginger with white pepper spice; full, supple and long, concentrated and intense. Very textured

Very Good - 90 Points from Wine Enthusiast.

Drink as a summer sipper or match with roasted meats and classic Mediterranean flavours like Greek Souvlaki or charcuterie.

Château de Berne Or, Cotes de Provence 2020 (Waitrose, £13.49)

Grenache Noir / Cinsault / Syrah blend.

Ripe apricot and white stone fruits with citrus, redcurrants and strawberries; sage-and-rosemary herbal complexity; subtle and elegant

Very Good - 91 Points from Wine Enthusiast.

Drink as an aperitif or match with picnic foods.

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Further information on the wines

Ultimate Provence

Ultimate Provence prides itself in a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere allowing visitors to discover Provence and its wines here in a delightfully original setting.

At Ultimate Provence, the gentle pace of the seasons and vines is an ode to pleasure, fun experiences and enriching encounters. Sporting a casual decor and offering premium service, the Cellar introduces visitors to the vineyard's intensely-aromatic wines in an offbeat atmosphere. It is a temple of well-being, hedonistic pleasures, discovery and enriching encounters.

The Ultimate Provence vineyard spans 100 acres around the town of La Garde Freinet, at the northern foot of Notre Dame des Anges chapel.

Set in wild countryside and bordered by a vast evergreen oak forest, the vineyard is characterized by shallow soil, laid on a waterproof subsoil sandstone slab. This excellent terroir is nourished with a natural compost of oak leaves and vine stalks. Set in wild countryside and bordered by a vast evergreen oak forest, the Ultimate Provence vineyard is characterised by shallow soil, laid on a waterproof subsoil sandstone slab.

This excellent terroir is nourished with a natural compost of oak leaves and vine stalks. The plots are marked out with grassy areas. A perfect wine to take to a BBQ and serve with grilled chicken and vegetable skewers. The spice notes will compliment roasted meats and classic Mediterranean flavors like Greek Souvlaki or charcuterie.

UP | Ultimate Provence is a forward-thinking and progressive winery, which makes a range of accessible, flavour-forward wines that benefit from a unique terroir and prime grape-growing conditions. Immediately recognisable from its chic, art-deco bottle, UP Rosé is a blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache and Rolle, with classic Provence rosé notes of red berries in addition to fresh citrus and herbaceous pine.

Known for its commitment to sustainability and its gorgeous location at the edge of the Maures Nature Preserve in Provence, UP | Ultimate Provence is also home to a beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel. With 15 rooms and a full range of apartment-style accommodation, in addition to its bistronomy-style UP Restaurant, cocktail bar, retail space and more, the destination is a paradise for wine lovers looking to get up close and personal with this quintessential Provence winemaker.

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Chateau de Berne

A vineyard that can trace its roots back almost two millennia, Château de Berne has been making classic Provence rosé from its beautiful 1,700-acre grounds for generations. Its flagship wine, Berne Or, is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, an elegant and refined wine with floral notes of freesia and stone-fruit notes, including peach and apricot, on the palate.

Château de Berne encompasses a five-star Relais & Château estate, including a hotel and spa, private villa accommodation, as well as a cocktail bar, Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Jardin de Berne, and a cookery school.

It carries a sustainable ethos in its hospitality operations as well as in its winemaking, sourcing seasonal and local ingredients in its restaurants and farming its grapes organically.

Berne Or is available exclusively from  (Currently on offer in Waitrose at £9.99) Both are sure to be a hit with British drinkers looking for high-quality and characterful wines and to further explore the world of Provence rosé, the perfect partner to sunshine, alfresco eating and good times.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Poshed-Up Crisp White and Big Red

Two wines for a sophisticated lunch, supper or dinner party - Pink Fizz and Classy Red

Crisp White and Big Red is something of a modern staple for Wines to Have with A Meal; something fresh to start with, followed by a full-bodied red to match with a hearty main course.

Plenty of wines will meet this brief and a more-special occasion often demands no more than trading up to a Chablis Cru or a Sancerre for the white followed by a slightly older Rioja / Bordeaux / Rhône for the main.

If, however, you want to go in a different direction, consider a pink fizz and a classy Spanish red - Henriot Rosé NV and Familia Torres Purgatori.

If you want to quietly impress someone - your boss, new neighbours, the in-laws - with your sophistication, knowledge and generosity, you could do much worse than to serve these two wines over a simple but exquisite supper of smoked salmon followed by venison casserole. 

Both these wines have back-stories worth telling once you've moved on to brandy and cigars, but what matters most is what's in the glass.

Starters

Henriot Rosé NV, Champagne (around £55 from Liquorice, North & South Wines (by the case), Loki Wines, Amazon) 

One of Champagne's oldest family-run houses, Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims is vinified as a red wine and is added to Chardonnay from the Cote des Blancs with some Pinot Meunier.

Aromatic yeasty brioche, red berries with florality, white pepper and cloves; redcurrant, red cherry and wild strawberry with freshly squeezed lemon, pink grapefruit, mandarin  and candied fruit; linear and textured with a persistent minerality. Intense yet elegant and balanced; linear yet rounded, precise yet generous, very sophisticated.

Very Good.

Match with marinated salmon, crab and pea shoots, chicken Caesar salad or smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caviar.

Mains

Familia Torres Purgatori, 2017, Costers del Segre, Spain (around £20, independents)

A blend of Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah, aged in French oak (40% new) for up to 18 months.

Red and black cherries with spice, damp soil, oaky spice and violets; plum, dark-berry fruits and sour cherries, scrubby garrigue herbs and grilled flavours with pencil shavings; assertive, very fine and well-integrated tannins; full and supple yet fresh. Concentrated, intense and complex.

Drinks nicely on first opening; can also be cellared.

Very Good.

Match with roasted, grilled or barbecued red meats or a plate of cheese and cold cuts, especially Ibérico ham.


Notes from the producers:

Henriot

Champagne Henriot, established in 1808, has remained in the same family-ownership for over 200 years and is now run by 8th generation family, Gilles de Larouzière Henriot.

The Champagne comes from one of the oldest family-owned houses in Champagne, enjoying seven generations of uninterrupted ownership since the late 1700s. Champagne Henriot's Rosé Brut is obtained by adding Pinot Noir vinified as a red wine to the assemblage.

Rosé Brut is made up of a majority of Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims and Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs. More than 15 crus are blended, including the following vilage crus: Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil sur Aÿ, Verzy, Verzenay, Avenay, Vertus, Trépail and Epernay. A small percentage of Pinot Meunier adds a delicate fruit note to the wine. 

As with all their Champagnes, Henriot select grapes from the very best vineyards in Champagne’s Grands Crus and Premier Crus. Each parcel of grapes is fermented separately to capture the individual characteristics of its terroir and village, allowing Henriot’s cellar master, Alice Tétienne, to reproduce the Henriot’s ‘house style’ blend each year.

Henriot Rosé is a blend that showcases the very best Pinot Noir grapes (50%) from the Montagne de Reims, whilst retaining the freshness of Chardonnay (40%) and a small percentage of Pinot Meunier (10%) adding a delicate fruity note.

Henriot Rosé also contains a proportion of precious reserve wines which make up 35% of the blend. Every bottle is left to rest in the cool, calm surrounds of Henriot’s cellars in the centre of Reims, for three years.

Torres

Familia Torres Purgatori was the first ever Torres’ single vineyard wine from the DO Costers del Segre, an area in the Penedès known for its arid lands, extreme climate and harsh conditions. The name of the wine pays homage to the wayward monks of Montserrat Abbey, who as far back as 1770, were sent here, to the Desterrats estate, to carry out their penance and provide food for the Diocese. They soon discovered this inhospitable place was perfect for growing grapes and making wine. Legend has it that enormous barrels of the wine they produced mysteriously disappeared, with some saying that ‘the angels have taken them away to heaven’.

The actual explanation is probably more earth-bound. As it was good enough for the monks to make wine, it posed an attractive proposition for Familia Torres, who acquired the historic 870-hectare L’Aranyó estate in 1999. Torres began the recovery of its wine-producing past, planting the vineyard with Cariñena, Garnacha and Syrah and preserving the centuries-old olive trees.

Thanks to the harshness of these conditions, these typically Mediterranean varieties adapted well to the terroir, contributing to the uniqueness and elegance of Purgatori. Familia Torres 

Stored under the right conditions, Purgatori will keep for 10 years. Patience really does have its rewards. Today there are 200 hectares of organic vineyards, distributed from 330m to 550m altitude at its highest point, of which 50 hectares are used to make Purgatori. 

The intense summer heat, lack of water and limestone soils favour slow ripening of the grapes giving rise to wines of great aromatic intensity. The vines produce some of the lowest yields in Catalonia and are hand harvested at perfect ripeness, often in lots two weeks apart. The grapes are manually processed into separate batches to preserve the integrity of the fruit, each of which adds a different profile and character to the wine.

This is one of Miguel Torres Maczassek’s personal favourite projects as the estate is also an excellent testing ground for ancestral grape varieties that the family has recovered in the last thirty years, not only for winemaking potential, but also to see if they are also resistant to climate change. Among them Querol and Gonfaus have adapted to the extreme climate of the area. A new winery was built in 2018 linking the old farmhouse built by the Benedictine monks, seamlessly blending the modern and old architecture. Stainless steel and custom-built concrete vats, using rocks from the vineyards themselves, are used for vinification. Familia Torres Purgatori 2017 – bringing the past to the present. Heaven can wait.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Two Riojas From Baron de Ley

Two Riojas from Spain's Baron de Ley

Rioja comes in both traditional and modern styles; traditional Rioja is aged extensively in oak for complexity and mellowness while the modern approach emphasises aromatics and freshness.

As ever in life, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, plenty of fruit without losing complexity or food-friendliness.

These two wines from Baron de Ley are both very much in the modern style; pure, fresh and clean with generous fruit.

They are well-made and easy-drinking but also complex, sophisticated and adept.

Spain's Barón de Ley is based in Rioja; housed in a centuries-old monastery, where the monks made wine more than 500 years ago, Barón de Ley was founded in 1985 as a ground-breaking project in DOCa Rioja: a vineyard-focused winery inspired by the Médoc châteaux.

The winery owns more than 600 hectares of vineyard in different sub-regions guaranteeing top-quality wines with personality.


Rioja Blanco 2019 

A blend of Viura, Garnacha blanca and the somewhat rare Tempranillo blanco, grown at altitude for freshness.

Modern, fresh crisp and aromatic; white peach, white flowers, lemongrass, citrus and fresh green peppery herbs, white pepper, saline minerality and zesty lime and grapefruit zippiness; creamy brazil nut underpinnings; taut, precise and linear.

Good.

Match with herby chicken, saltimbocca, or cod in a parsley broth.


Rioja Reserva 2016

Varietal Tempranillo fermented in stainless steel for freshness, then aged in oak for complexity and bottle aged for mellowness.

Red fruits, spice and leathery balsamic; ripe yet fresh berry fruits, pepperiness and sweet spices, wild herbs; full and supple, harmonious with rounded, well-integrated tannins, concentrated and long.

Improves with aeration and will age further.

Good.

Match with roast red meat, darker game or roast chicken.

Baron de Ley recommend matching with Riojan potatoes, a pottage of potatoes and chorizo ​​with nuances of bay leaf and chorizo ​​pepper. It also pairs with white meat, mushrooms and mushrooms and vegetable stews.



Fuller details from Baron de Ley's website

Rioja Blanco 2019 

VARIETIES

Viura, Garnacha blanca, Tempranillo blanco

VINEYARD

The vineyards characterise the quality of the grapes for this vintage. Tempranillo Blanco grapes come from our vineyard Finca Carbonera, the highest growing point in the DOCa Rioja, with vineyards ranging from 700-950m (2300- 3100ft.) in elevation.

The natural farming characteristics of high altitude vineyards, including sandy permeable soil together with the Atlantic climatic influence, provide ideal conditions for making fresh white wines with elegant, crisp acidity.

Garnacha Blanca is grown in our estate in Rioja Oriental, Los Almendros, with Mediterranean climate and shallow sandy-limestone soils with calcareous gravel, this variety retains its fresh and fruity character.

Viura is from our Arenzana estate in Rioja Alta, which location provides the perfect conditions to farm Rioja’s most characteristic white variety.

The result is an utterly fresh and balanced wine perfectly rounded thanks to Garnacha’s fruity character.

VINIFICATION

Low temperature maceration and fermentation in temperature-controlled concrete vats preserve the aromatic expression and provide the tension, or long finish, which characterise the white wines of our Technical Director, Pablo Tascón.

ALCOHOL 12,5% vol 

Rioja Reserva 2016

VARIETIES

Tempranillo

VINEYARD

Barón de Ley Reserva is made using Tempranillo grapes from our vineyards in the Rioja Oritental subregion, mainly the estates in Mendavia and Los Almendros in Ausejo. The grapes from this area provide a concentrated, balanced and drinkable character to this wine.

VINIFICATION AND AGEING

Following manual harvest and manual selection, the grapes ferment in our temperature-controlled state-of-the-art stainless steal vats where we search for the ideal balance between extraction and aromatic preservation. After a minimum of 20 months ageing in American-oak casks, this wine finds its plenitude rounding off in the bottle.

ALCOHOL

14.5% vol

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Two Warm-Climate Chardonnays


Two warm-climate Chardonnays at different price points

Easy to grow and make into wine, easy to pronounce and easy to drink in a food-friendly sort of way, Chardonnay has a justifiable claim to being the world's most versatile grape, growing everywhere from chilly English chalk hills to sweltering Australian outback via Chablis, Burgundy and all points in between.

Chardonnay's strength is its relative neutrality which makes it highly versatile; it's the wine world's equivalent of chicken.

It also tolerates and responds to a wide range of growing conditions; in a cool climate, it is lean, citrussy and crisp with high acidity. In warmer climates, it has flavours of honey and tropical fruits.

Here are two distinctly warm-climate Chardonnays that show off the variety's tropical flavour profile.

If you find yourself liking the entry-level South African wine, the Spanish chardie is a good trade-up for more special occasions.

Eagle's Pass Chardonnay, South Africa (£7, Co-op - reduced to £5 until 18/05/21) 

South Africa has the planet's oldest soils and has no problem with ripeness; the challenge is more about maintaining acidity.

This wine comes from the Western Cape area which covers most of the wine-growing area and has the benefit of cooling sea breezes to help maintain freshness.

Honeysuckle, yellow stone fruit and toasty melonskin; rich, full and warming with sweet spices and ripe tropical fruits with some supporting oak.

Easy-drinking and thoroughly pleasant - serve well-chilled to enhance freshness.

An easy bbq / picnic quaffer, the ripeness will stand up to richer dishes, such as creamy curries or popcorn chicken.


Enate Chardonnay 234, Somontano, Spain (£12 - £14, Daniel Lambert, indies)

An area in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Jancis Robinson describes Somontano as "another Spanish wine region worthy of international attention". More specifically, she characterises it as a small and growing region, potentially one of Spain's most exciting, even if much of its produce tends to be fashioned in the image of international classics.

She singles out producer Enate, saying that they make some fine reds and whites from imported grape varieties.

Tasted blind, you'd be forgiven for having no idea where this wine comes from; it has a warm-climate topicality and breadth with a European complexity and elegance. It hints at the perfumed richness of Alsace with the waxiness of the Rhône.

Floral and aromatic with tropical citrus fruits and toasty leesiness; pineapple, melon and passionfruit with fennel, ginger and warming sweet spices; savoury, leesy and waxy with just enough freshness to hold everything together.

Very clean, pure and long.

Good.

Match with rich, Alsace-style dishes such as pork with creamy sauce or mature hard cheeses.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Calmel & Joseph Languedoc Reds from Daniel Lambert


Two Calmel & Joseph reds from Daniel Lambert

I've long been a fan of Languedoc in general and Calmel & Joseph in particular; I've also been impressed with pretty much everything I have tried from Daniel Lambert's range of well-made, technically adept wines that are complex enough to to be serious yet also easy to enjoy.

For years Europe's "wine lake", Languedoc has successfully reinvented itself as a go-ahead region of innovation and quality.

Much like indie or punk rock (in the very broadest sense), Languedoc wines combine stylish innovation with an edgy urgency over something very pleasing indeed.


Languedoc is, then, in the process of becoming a modern classic wine region.

This focus on quality and innovation but without the long-standing heritage is something of an advantage for the buyer; at its simplest, it means lower prices for the same if not better quality when compared to more established regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhône which can charge more of a premium for the name on the label regardless of what is in the bottle.

Calmel & Joseph Le Domaine Le Sentier 2019, Pays d’Oc, France (£14, independents) ripe black cherry fruit with raspberry, spice and something slightly herbaceous; fresh and savoury with very fine but persistent tannins. Well-made, precise and elegant.

Improves with some aeration.

Good. Match with tuna tartare or roast duck.

Calmel & Joseph say of their wine: An appealingly cherry red. Aromas of red and black fruit and pomegranate seeds announce a wine of great freshness and superb tension. An impression confirmed in the mouth that opens with fresh summer fruits such as wild cherry and finishes on more spicy, peppery and floral notes. A poised and magnificently balanced wine.


Calmel & Joseph Les Terroirs Vieux Carignan, IGP Côtes du Brian 2019 (£14, independents)

100% Carignan from vines planted in 1890 with a long growing season in 2019.

Ripe red and black cherries, dried blueberries and cinnamon spice with dried green herbs; rich, full and supple with very ripe tannins.

Good.

Match with robust dishes such as wild boar sausages.

Other reviews:

Calmel & Joseph Le Domaine Le Sentier 2019

Jancis Robinson.com (18/03/2020) Certified organic. Single vineyard. From their own property. Smells like cherry pie and stick cinnamon. Dry but ripe. Tannins like a comfortable cup of proper builder’s tea. Neither too much nor too little. Touch of green in the flavour (not the texture). Light-bodied, neat, pointed on the finish. Exceptionally good for a Pays d'Oc Pinot. Tamlyn Currin 16.0 / 20

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Two Wines from the Rhône's Vidal-Fleury

 

Two wines from the Rhône's Vidal-Fleury

The region - Rhône

The Rhône is one of France's great rivers. rising in Switzerland and draining into the Mediterranean in the Camargue delta; if its wine have a defining feature, it is that of being substantial.

As a vineyard, the Rhône divides neatly in to the North (cooler, smaller, more prestigious, more expensive) and the more diverse South.

The North makes red wines from Syrah and whites from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. By contrast, the South produces an array of red, white and rosé wines, often blends.

The Côtes du Rhône appellation covers all of the southern Rhône; the reds are usually dominated by Grenache, whites are more varied.


The history - Vidal-Fleury

Located in the Northern Rhône's Côte-Rôtie, Vidal-Fleury is the oldest continuously operating wine producer in the region.

It was founded by Joseph Vidal in 1781 and visited by Thomas Jefferson, then United States Ambassador to France, in 1787.

In the 1890s, Gustave Vidal married a young lady named Fleury and the estate became Vidal-Fleury. the bride's dowry was invested in replanting the vineyard after the devastating attacks of phylloxera.

In in 1984, with no heir to take on the estate, it was sold to the Guigal family who had a long and close history with Vidal-Fleury, allowing the the business to flourish whilst still operating independently.

The most substantial changes have taken place more recently; anew winery was opened in 2008 and a new winemaker Guy Sarton du Jonchay joined the company to set about reviewing and improving the Vidal-Fleury range.


The grapes - Viognier (white)

Viognier is something of a sun-worshipping hedonist; high in alcohol and low in acidity, it is full-bodied, perfumed and rich. Until relatively recently, Viognier was something of a niche grape - hard to find and expensive to buy - but it is starting to make a home for itself around the world

The Grapes - Grenache (red)

Grenache is a thin-skinned, low acidity / low-tannin red grape that needs warm temperatures to ripen and is most commonly blended with Syrah and Syrah and Mourvèdre - the classic "GSM blend".


Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2019 Vidal Fleury (£12 Majestic) 

A Viognier-dominated blend with some Clairette, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc; gown on clay, granitic and sand soil at 150m to 250m.

Rich and peachy-apricotty with acacia, honeysuckle, ginger and tropical citrus fruits; richly almondy and waxy with sweet spices and a herbal-minty edge.

Good.

Drinks nicely on first opening and continues to improve with aeration; serve well-chilled to enhance the freshness.

Match with richer dishes, such as chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, risotto with cream cheese or roast pork.

Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2017 Vidal Fleury (£12 Majestic) 

65% Grenache with Syrah, Mourvèdre and some Carignan; grown on a mix of soils including pebbly soils over clay, mostly from the southern Rhône Valley at an altitude of 150m to 250m.

Red and black cherries, bramble fruits and dark berries (elderberries and blueberries) with garrgiugue herbs, spice, mintiness and graphite; some gaminess and aged leather; warming yet fresh, full and supple with very fine tannins

Good.

Drinks nicely on first opening and continues to improve with aeration. Now four years old and will age further.

Match with Lyonnaise sausage or a herby cassoulet with duck confit.


Saturday, 1 May 2021

Two Rathfinny Wines

A brace of English fizzes from Sussex-based Rathfinny

Mark and Sarah Driver, owners of Sussex winery Rathfinney, are not short on vision - as they explain on their website:

Our ambition is that in twenty years’ time you will walk into a bar or restaurant in New York or Beijing and you’ll be asked, “Would you like a glass of Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex? I can recommend Rathfinny.”

Based on these two wines, that is not an unreasonable expectation; the quality is in no doubt, so the only challenge that remains is raising awareness.


How it all began - The Rathfinny vision

Mark and Sarah Driver established the Rathfinny wine estate in 2010 on a working arable farm with the express intention of producing some of the world’s finest quality sparkling wines. 

Their vision is about a great deal more than the production of outstanding Sussex sparkling wine. Rathfinny aims to contribute something special to the unique spirit of place in this beautiful part of the South Downs, which has been farmed since medieval times.


Where it all began - The perfect location

The estate is located on the same band of chalk that forms the Paris basin, running from northern France into southern England. This breath-taking south-facing slope in the south downs of Sussex is one of England’s exceptional natural landscapes. The climate, chalk, soil and aspect make it the perfect site for producing world-class sparkling wine.


Once a working arable farm in the South Downs of Sussex, Rathfinny’s first 50 acres of vines were planted in April 2012. All the grapes come from their single-site vineyard of 385,000 vines across 230 acres with plans to increase this to 350 acres eventually.

There are three principal grape varieties; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier as well as a small amount of Pinot Gris. The vines are set out on an ideal south-facing slope, just three miles from the English Channel where the unique local micro-climate and the free-draining chalky soils create superb grape-growing conditions.


Classic Cuvee 2017, Sussex (£29.00 at Harvey Nichols during May)

Made from a blend of predominantly Pinot Noir with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, aged for 36 months in the bottle. 

Red fruits, yeasty brioche and autolysis on the nose; ripe redcurrant and wild strawberry fruit with citrus and orchard fruits. Creamy and complex; precise and harmonious, supple yet linear and intense with flawless, complex underpinnings.

Improves with aeration; will age.

Very Good.


Serve as an aperitif or match with fish and chips, grilled prawn linguini or a home-cooked chicken pie.

Rathfinny match this wine with potato gnocchi, wild mushrooms, sage and pine nuts in their Flint Barns Dining Room restaurant.


Blanc de Blancs Brut 2017, Sussex

Frothy with citrus-sherbet, white flowers and honeysuckle; orchard fruits, brioche and creamy brazil nut and oatmeal savouriness; precise, linear and structured yet rich and rounded. Concentrated, intense and mineral 

Improves with aeration; will age.

Very Good Indeed.


Drink as an aperitif or match with seafood from oysters to langoustine in butter sauce or twice-baked cheese souffle.


Other reviews of Classic Cuvee


Jamie Goode: This is pure and focussed. It’s all about fruit, with precision and intensity. Zesty, citrussy, with hints of cherries and pear fruit – Jamie Goode, WineAnorak.com

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Slow Cooked Breast of Lamb - And a Pinot Noir


Slow Cooked Breast of Lamb, Pickled Red Onion, Mint Crème Fraiche and Spring Vegetables Created by Le Cordon Bleu, London to enjoy with Louis Latour Les Pierres Dorées Pinot Noir

Serves 4

Slow cooking the breast of lamb makes for a tender texture; here it is marinated and slow cooked in duck fat creating a rich flavour which is complemented the sweet-pickled onions and finished with green spring vegetables and a refreshing minty crème fraiche.

Slow cooked breast of lamb
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
finely chopped rosemary leaves
10 g Maldon sea salt, 
500 g lamb breast off the bone, duck fat to cover (about 1 kg)
150 g flour
2 eggs beaten
500 g Panko breadcrumbs 

Mix garlic, rosemary and Maldon sea salt to combine and rub into the lamb. Leave in fridge for 3 to 6 hours. Wash lamb with cold water to remove the salt mixture and pat dry. Melt duck fat in a pan over a low heat. Place the lamb in a deep oven proof dish and pour over the warm duck fat and cook in oven at 150˚C for 3 hours until soft and tender. Allow lamb to cool before removing from fat. Roll the lamb tightly in clingfilm to make a cylindrical tube shape. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, until firm. Slice the lamb into 8 equal sized disks. Coat lamb in a thin layer of flour, then beaten eggs and finally breadcrumbs. Season and refrigerate until required.

Pickled red onion 
10 g granulated sugar
20 ml red wine vinegar
30 ml water
1 thyme sprig
1 red onion peeled and thinly sliced

Put sugar, vinegar, water and thyme in a pan and bring to a boil. Add onion and continue to boil for another minute. Remove from heat, lid pan and leave to infuse. When cool remove the red onion and discard the liquid.

Mint crème fraiche
50 g mint washed and finely chopped
200 g crème fraiche

Mix mint with crème fraiche and season. Set aside.

Spring vegetables
12 asparagus spears peeled
100g broad beans
100g peas
60g lambs lettuce washed
½ bunch French breakfast radish thinly sliced lengthways
20 g butter

Bring salted water to a boil in a saucepan and cook each vegetable separately so they retain a ‘bite’, around 3 minutes for asparagus, 2 minutes for broad beans and 1 minute for peas. Drain, refresh and set aside. Pod broad beans from their skins. Set aside with lambs lettuce and radish.

To serve: Heat oven to 200˚C. Cook lamb for around 20 minutes until breadcrumbs are golden brown and crispy. Reheat asparagus, peas and broad beans in a pan with butter and a tablespoon of water. Season to taste. On each plate, arrange warm vegetables, with two discs of lamb (per person), and top with radish slices, lambs lettuce and pickled onions. Finish with dots of mint crème fraiche.

Monday, 26 April 2021

The CWB Non-Burgundy French Pinot-Off

Two French Pinots that are not Burgundies

Burgundy will tell you that Pinot Noir is fickle, pale, elegant and expensive.

While all of this is true to a greater or lesser extent, other parts of France will invite you try Pinot's charms more reliably and more affordably.

There was a time when it was only Burgundy's white grape, Chardonnay, that had successfully gone around the world and become everyone's favourite "glass of white".

Now, increasingly, the red Pinot Noir is finding more areas to its liking - even if, being thin-skinned, prone to disease, and liking only cooler climates, it is never an easy grape to grow.

Its thin skin means paler, softer wines and this perhaps explains its popularity; with low colour and tannins, it occupies something of a middle ground between red wines and white in much the same way as other popular styles, such as rosé or kiwi Sauvignon.

Food-friendly yet easy-drinking, approachable in youth but with the potential to age, Pinot seemingly has it all.

These two Pinots are both from non-Burgundy France, and specifically from warmer climates than the Côte-d'Or.

They have more alcohol, colour and depth than many a red Burgundy - and a much lower price tag.

Calmel & Joseph Le Domaine Le Sentier 2019, Pays d’Oc, France (£14) ripe black cherry fruit with raspberry, spice and something slightly herbaceous; fresh and savoury with very fine but persistent tannins. Well-made, precise and elegant.

Improves with some aeration.

Good.

Match with tuna tartare or roast duck.

Calmel & Joseph say of their wine: An appealingly cherry red. Aromas of red and black fruit and pomegranate seeds announce a wine of great freshness and superb tension. An impression confirmed in the mouth that opens with fresh summer fruits such as wild cherry and finishes on more spicy, peppery and floral notes. A poised and magnificently balanced wine.


Louis Latour Pinot Noir Les Pierres Dorée (£20-22, Whitebridge Wines, Bakers and Larners of Holt, Mr Wheeler, La Zouch and The Drink Shop.com)

Les Pierres Dorées, (‘golden stones’) is a small sub-region of Beaujolais about 40km north west of Lyon, often referred to as ‘Little Tuscany’ thanks to its steep hills and landscape dotted with golden stone buildings.

The soils here are clay and limestone, very similar to those found in Burgundy. The vineyards are planted at the same altitude as Burgundy, so the grapes can ripen, yet retain their critical, natural acidity. This very specific terroir, coupled with ample sunshine, a warm climate and cool night-time temperatures give the wine its incredible aromatic complexity when vinified with Maison Louis Latour’s signature elegance.

Dark for a Pinot, with a complex, toasty nose of roasted spices and dark fruits; elderberry and dark plum with oaky spice and mint; cassis and cherry fruit; grippy and persistent. Savoury and complex with a full mid-palate.

Good.

Improves significantly with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Match with slow-cooked breast of lamb - recipe here: The Cambridge Wine Blogger: Slow Cooked Breast of Lamb - And a Pinot Noir

Louis Latour says of this wine: The calcareous soil rich in iron oxide which confers him a very particular ochre color, as well as altitude, contribute to produce this surprising wine which associates richness and freshness with a beautiful aromatic complexity. Bright and intense red colour with red-garnet lights.

On the nose, we discover a gourmet blend of flowers, red berries and soft spices. On the palate, it is crunchy, round and ample. The Pinot Noir from the Pierres Dorées terroir off ers a wine with a great freshness, underlined by concentrated black fruits aromas with a superb length. 

Vinification notes This region offers beautiful argilo-calcareous soils, the plots selected by Maison Louis Latour form two islands and are situated on the villages of Morancé and Theizé. With a continental moderate climate, vineyards benefit from an ideal period of sunshine but the temperatures are relatively fresh between 280 and 400 meters in altitude. Traditional vinification. 10 to 12 months ageing stainless steel vats and oak barrels  

Pro reviews of  Les Pierres Dorées:

JancisRobinson.com (2016) - 16 pts Sweet red fruit and a good herby note – great flavour definition here, and it finishes with fragrant floral character. Light and short, but satisfies the Pinot flavour criteria. (RH)

Wine Spectator (2015) - 88 pts Balanced and fresh, with cherry, ground spice and currant notes, this medium-bodied red shows undertones of mineral and herb through the tangy, lightly tannic finish. Drink now through 2020

James Suckling (2016) - 89 pts An attractively light and charming pinot noir with some nice, warm and dry tannins. There is also friendly acidity for this often-tart category. Drink now or in 2019. 

Pro reviews of  Le Sentier

Jancis Robinson  (18/03/2020) Certified organic. Single vineyard. From their own property. Smells like cherry pie and stick cinnamon. Dry but ripe. Tannins like a comfortable cup of proper builder’s tea. Neither too much nor too little. Touch of green in the flavour (not the texture). Light-bodied, neat, pointed on the finish. Exceptionally good for a Pays d'Oc Pinot. Tamlyn Currin 16.0 / 20

Jamie Goode: Organically farmed Pinot Noir. Aromatic cherry fruit nose with some cedar and spice notes. The palate is supple and sweetly fruited with plums and berries, a touch of raspberry, and some savoury cedar spice notes. It’s nicely balanced with some savoury grip on the finish. Amazing to have a Pinot Noir this fresh and balanced from a warm climate. Lovely weight, finishing dry and grippy. 91/100 (£14 UK retail)

Highlights: high-end wines from Calmel & Joseph – wineanorak.com