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Sunday, 27 June 2021

Sangre de Toro

Spain's Sangre de Toro from Familia Torres - at Sainsbury's, Asda and Tesco 

Sangre de Toro was created in 1954 as a classic Mediterranean wine and has since grown into a global brand sold in 130 countries, offering a wide range of wines that reflect the vinicultural diversity of Spain.

It is also an official sponsor of the Spanish national football team - for those that enjoy that sort of thing.

More relevant to the non-football-following wine enthusiast is that it is part of the Torres stable of wines, and is made in Catalunya from Garnacha, aka Grenache.

Garnacha likes the heat and produces wines with a soft, spicy, berry flavours suitable for early drinking.

Sangre de Toro, 2018 (£6.50, Sainsburys, Asda and Tesco)

black fruits, dried prunes, cherry and toasty-oaky spice with some liquorice, dried herbs and cocoa; good structure with juicy fresh acidity and very gentle tannins. Some aged complexity and savouriness.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value.

Match with barbecue and picnic foods, duck liver pate or roasted red meats.

Tom Cannavan's review here:

From the Sangre de Toro website

Sangre de Toro is all about the Spanish way of life and enjoying traditions around the world. Football and wine bring people together and build friendships, watching a match together and then toasting the victories.

Look out for several competitions from neck collar promotions on shelf in supermarket to social media events, to coincide with the Euro 2021 tournament, where prizes can be won from team kit, footballs, and even tickets to Ciudad del Fútbol (the Spanish National Team’s training facility in Madrid) in November 2021*.

Sangre de Toro are committed to supporting Spain’s men, women, and under-21 national football teams over the next three years which will see two European Championships, a World Cup, and the Olympic Games in that time.

* Covid travel regulations permitting 

Friday, 25 June 2021

Three Summer Wines From Tesco


Three summer wines from Tesco

Summer has taken a long time arriving in the UK. But at some point, we will want to meet up again with others in the fresh air and do summery stuff.

Summer drinking is all about freshness - wines that refresh and cut through barbecue foods, such as hot dogs and burgers or quiches and chicken drumsticks. Wines that are easy to drink, that you can sip in a deck chair.

Here are three refreshing summery wines from Tesco that don't have to be consumed at a garden party - but it helps.

The Loire is a great source of inexpensive lively wines with great freshness; a pink fizz from other parts of France could cost a lot more than this.

Spanish Albariño from Rias Baixas is the next step on from kiwi Sauvignon Blanc; grown in Spain's cool, damp north west, it has all the same aromatic zingy freshness.

Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy, but grows different grapes on different soils right in the south; juicy, easy-drinking dark-berry fruits are the hallmark of Beaujolais which makes it a great wine for food.

Gratien & Meyer Crémant De Loire Rosé NV - £12

Founded in 1864, Gratien & Meyer are one of the leading producers of Cremant (traditional method sparkling wines) in the Loire. These are produced in the same way as Champagne, but sell for much less, making them a great value alternative for celebrations and special occasions.

A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin, Cabernet Franc; yeasty, biscuity brioche, creamy oatmeal and white pepper with citrus, florality and red berry fruits. Adept, with complex, savoury underpinnings.


Serve as an aperitif or match with shellfish, lighter curries and picnic foods such as hams, quiches and chicken drumsticks.

Paco & Lola Albariño - £12

From the O Rosal Valley is in the south of Rías Baixas; the climate is mild, due to the Miño River and Atlantic ocean, with mineral-rich soils.

aromatic zesty citrus, acacia, cut grass and musky melonskin; fresh stone fruit, lychees and honeysuckle with zingy grapefruit and lime; intense, mineral and persistent.

Good; thoroughly pleasant on first pouring but improves noticeably with some aeration.

Match with strongly flavoured seafood, such as prawns and calamari with garlic, ginger and herbs, cod in a herby broth or herby-garlic cream cheese on crusty bread.

Tesco Beaujolais Rouge, 2020 - £5 (vegetarian) 

floral and aromatic with dark berries and earthiness; juicy cherry, redcurrant and elderberry fruit, with spices and rubbed sage; vibrant, supple and fresh.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value

Serve slightly chilled with barbecue or picnic foods, such as burgers and hot dogs.


Further reviews

Paco & Lola Albariño

Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 Platinum Medal - 97pts

'Scintillating. Stone-fresh, crunchy, vivid and pungent: everything you want on the palate, and more. An outstanding effort with beguiling and satisfying lime oil, pith and pounded rock to finish. Exquisite wine with a long appetising finish.'

Monday, 21 June 2021

Crisp White and Big Red - Antipodean-Style


A Crisp White and Big Red from Down Under

Crisp White and Big Red is a classic wine pairing for food; white for aperitif and starters, red with meaty main.

In the northern hemisphere, you might look to Chablis or unoaked white Burgundy alongside Bordeaux or Rioja.

Most major European wine-producing countries have food-friendly whites as well as complex reds, so the possibilities are almost endless.

If you want to take the same approach with Antipodean wines, New Zealand Sauvignon has to be on the list of crisp, zingy whites. For reds, Western Australia produces elegant, restrained, food-friendly reds and is one of the few places in the world that suits varietal Cab.

For, despite being the great international red grape, Cabernet Sauvignon most often needs blending to round out its "tannic doughnut", that is a lack of tannins on the mid-palate.

Coonawarra and Western Australia have found that they hvae just the right conditions to avoid this and to be able to produce pure, varietal Cab.

New Zealand's Villa Maria is one the country's most awarded wineries, producing enjoyable, well-made and inexpensive wines year in, year out.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2019 (£12, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Majestic, Co-op)

Aromatic and lifted with gooseberry, lime, grapefruit, musky rubbed sage and white pepper; ripe stone fruits, pineapple, melon and passionfruit with fresh, green apple acidity, honeysuckle, sweet spices and fresh-cut grass; full, supple and and adept.

Drinks well on first pouring and opens up further with some air.


Serve as an aperitif or match with meaty meat with herbs, such as cod in a herb broth or pork and parsley terrine.

Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (£14.99 - £17.99, Specialist Cellars, Aus Wines Online, windirect.co.uk)

Bramble and dark berry fruits with spice and damp earth; black fruits, black cherries and complex, toasty spices with grilled fruits, dried herbs and iodine. Full and supple with rounded, well-integrated tannins and lots of fresh acidity; very harmonious and adept.

Shows lots of primary fruit on first opening and becomes more savoury with extended aeration.


Drink with grilled meats such as barbecue foods; decanted for several hours, it will match with plain roast red meats.


From the Vasse Felix website:

Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong heritage at Vasse Felix, being one of the first red wines made at the estate and Margaret River’s first Cabernet.

This is a brilliant expression of the region and a glorious vintage. A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with a dollop of Malbec added to the blend.

It has the structure, power and tannins of classic Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, but made as an earlier drinking style.

Succulent fruit is sourced from each of the four Vasse Felix vineyards and vinified and matured in French oak for 11 months as individual batches prior to blending.

The result is a tangy wine, with ripe black cherry fruit and lingering black forest gateau flavours. The acidity is fresh and cleansing, while the fine-grained tannins bely its youth.

Vasse Felix, almost single-handedly, put Margaret River on the world wine map when regional pioneer Dr Tom Cullity founded the winery back in 1967. What he uncovered was world class potential for great wines. Filius, which translates as ‘son of’ from Latin, are the offspring of the flagship Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays for which Vasse Felix are justly famous.

This range of wines is more approachable in their youth than their elder siblings. They are versatile weekday wines, perfect for entertaining on all levels, brilliant with food, ideal as an aperitif, simply delicious and great value for money.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

The CWB Fizz-Off: England vs France

Two celebratory wines with bubbles: Hambledon vs De Saint Gall

English fizz is truly world class; we have the cool-climate and chalk soils to make a sparkling wine that can stand up against anything the rest of the world can offer.

Yet Champagne remains the benchmark for sparkling wine, even if only for historic and marketing reasons.

You will pay about the same for an English wine vs an equivalent Champagne; English wines are inherently more expensive to make (smaller scale, cooler climate), whereas the French wines carry more of a price premium.

Here I put two sparkling wines to the test - appropriately, at the start of English Wine Week.

The English fizz is from Virgin Wines, the Champagne is imported by Daniel Lambert Wines.

The Young Turk

Hambledon Vineyards Classic Cuvee Brut NV (£30, Virgin Wines) 

From one of the oldest commercial vineyards in the UK, established in 1952 in Hampshire; the wines have been served on the QE2, in British Embassies, the Houses of Parliament and around the world.

Yeasty brioche with complex, musky toastiness; apple-and-pear fruits with creamy brazil nut and oatmeal, florality and biscuity richness; fresh, precise and linear. Rich, expressive and adept.

Very Good.

Serve as an aperitif or match with seafood, such as prawn vol-au-vent starters or a salmon main.

The Old Master

De St Gall Blanc de Blanc Premier Cru N/V

Blessed with an exceptional terroir, De St Gall takes a collective approach to winemaking with expertise passed down from generation to generation. Thanks to the unrelenting passion of its winegrowers and winemakers, the winery has honed its methods to produce highly singular Grand Cru and Premier Cru Champagne wines of a pure, elegant style, united by a common passion for winemaking, a sense of duty and a desire to share this precious knowledge: they are the guardians of an invaluable legacy that must be carefully preserved as it is brought to fruition.

Pale yellow, expressive with florality, fresh hazelnut, apple flesh, yellow stone fruit, citrus, biscuity brioche and creamy leesiness; full and generous with fine bubbles and freshness; persistent, full and precise.

Very Good.

Serve as an aperitif or match with sophisticated hors d'oevres.

The judgement of Paris?

So, which of these two wines is the better?

That's almost impossible to answer as, within their style, they are both quite different.

Both being traditional method sparklers, they are citrussy and fresh with bubbles in. So far, so similar. They also sit broadly in the same price bracket (if you are fussing over a few £s, you are missing the point at this level).

The English fizz is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, giving more richness, weight and expressiveness to the wine, despite it being from much further north.

The Champagne is a Blanc de Blancs, meaning 100% Chardonnay; this means more florality and elegance. Everything is just that little bit finer and, I suspect, it will improve with age in a more interesting way than the English fizz.

So, an honourable draw, then.


Other reviews

Jamie Goode calls the Hambledon "quite brilliant. 93/100 " - full review here: 

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Spain's Jean León - A Man, A Time, A Wine

Four Wines from Spain's Jean León, based in Penedès, with Mireia Torres and Lucas Gailhac

Jean León's back-story is that he emigrated from Spain to the USA in the 1940s, set up Hollywood’s La Scala restaurant with James Dean and returned to Spain in 1961 to make world-class wines from international varieties; in 1995, in failing health, he sold his estate to Miguel Torres to continue his legacy.


Picaresque details from his life include his real name of Ángel Ceferino Carrión Madrazo, a house fire that took the family from Santander to Barcelona, multiple attempts to stow away to the US from Le Havre, working as a New York taxi driver then starting his career as a restaurateur on the West Coast working for Frank Sinatra and going on to serve five Presidents of the USA.

A visionary with both huge ambitions and the relentless work ethic to back it up, he personifies the American Dream of the 1950s.

His winery is boutique, just 39ha are used for his single-vineyard wines, and is based in Penedès surrounded by mountains at an altitude of 300m.

Penedès is a warm-climate area and this is evident in the wines; they are big and ripe, yet with a balancing freshness.

All the wines are named after milestones in Jean León's life:

- Gigi is his daughter who still runs La Scala restaurant in Beverly Hills

- Vinya Palau pays tribute to Santander, his hometown

- It was from Le Havre that he set sail to America

The wines are available at Wine Direct, and Vinvm.

Vinya Gigi Chardonnay Single Vineyard, 2017

His charisma and discretion made Jean Leon a confidant to the stars, who embraced him as one of their own and trusted him with their unusual stories. Years later, when he had his own family, Jean Leon produced this organic wine in their honor.

One of Spain’s Chardonnay pioneers, Vinya Gigi was the first to undergo barrel fermentation. The wine originates in a small, exceptional 5-hectare vineyard planted in 1967. Jean Leon named the vineyard – and the wine it produces – after his daughter.

50% barrel-fermented with some lees aging and stirring, plus partial malo; aromatic and floral, with ripe pineapple and peach, some quince and honey, sweet spices and Mediterranean flowers. Intense, persistent and fresh, with a long, elegant mid-palate and a balanced, lush finish.

Very Good.

Match with meaty white fish in a creamy sauce, poultry or other white meat.

Vinya Palau Merlot Single Vineyard, 2015

From stowaway and New York cab driver to one of Hollywood’s most successful restaurant owners and founder of his own namesake winery: Jean Leon’s life is the timeless tale of the American dream. Vinya Palau remembers Jean Leon’s origins and pays tribute to his hometown, Santander, the starting point for a life marked by extraordinary success.

This organic, limited-production varietal wine originates from the Vinya Palau vineyard. The small 10-hectare lot is home to Merlot vines planted in 1991.

12 months' aging in barrel, 40% new oak; plums, ripe dark fruit; licorice, toastiness and balsamics with spices and garrigue herbs; warm, dusty earthiness and dark chocolate shavings with good acidity; fresh and sweetly-fruited with fine-grained tannins

Very Good.

Match with barbecue meats or game such as duck.

Vinya Le Havre Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Single Vineyard, 2015

At the French port of Le Havre, Jean Leon stowed away on a ship bound for the US. He was soon discovered by a sailor who decided to keep his presence a secret. This Reserva wine is a tribute to an unspoken pact with a stranger who changed Jean Leon’s life forever.

Made from Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% of Cabernet Franc, this limited-production wine originates in an exceptional 16-hectare vineyard that shares the same name.

12 months in barrel, mostly French with a small amount of American oak; roasted peppers, black fruits and cassis, iodine, ripe red fruit; spices; toast with a concentration of soft tannins; elegant palate; long and persistent finish

Match with game, such as venison or boar, or aged cheese.

Vinya La Scala Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Single Vineyard, 2013

This limited-production Gran Reserva is only made from exceptional vintages. It has its origins in the Vinya La Scala vineyard, a small eight-hectare parcel planted in 1963. Considered the first Spanish wine made primarily from the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, Vinya La Scala was selected as the official wine for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration at the White House in 1981.

Its name is a tribute to the restaurant Jean Leon opened in Beverly Hills during Hollywood’s Golden Age. The label of every new vintage features the work of a renowned artist.

The 2013 vintage come alive with the colourful label painted by Gloria Muñoz, which shows the Penedès scenery, immortalizing a sunset in the vineyards where she evokes the land chosen by Jean Leon to make wines with individuality, personality and unique identity.

From an excellent vintage, 24 months' aging in French oak with a further 3 years in bottle before release; ripe dark fruit, spices, complex, mature roasted notes with sage and tobacco; aged gamey-leather and mushrooms, with a full-bodied, firm structure; long and persistent finish.

Very Good.

Match with red meat in spiced sauces, especially green peppercorn.

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.


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..


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.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


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!


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.


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.