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Sunday, 18 July 2021

Fourth of July Wines

Four Wines for the Fourth of July

And I can remember the fourth of July / 
Runnin' through the backwoods bare./
And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin',/
Chasin' down a hoodoo there,/
Chasin' down a hoodoo there.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Born on the Bayou (1969)

J Vineyards ‘J Cuvée 20 Brut’ Russian River Valley (£24.99 or £19.99 as a mix of 6 from Majestic )

Located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, J’s vineyards offer the ideal climate for growing expressive, world-class sparkling wines. Marked 96 points at the Decanter World Wine Awards, J Cuvée 20 Brut NV has an elegant mousse and a complex palate.

ripe orchard fruit, biscuity brioche and florality; lemon curd, yellow stone fruit, ginger snaps and sherbet. Full, generous and supple with a fine mousse. Ripe fruit and easy-drinking.


Match with pork belly or king prawns.

Bearflag Zinfandel 2017, Sonoma County ( £24.99 or £22.49 mix of 6 from Majestic)

Sonoma County native Aaron Piotter harnesses the wild, untamed Zinfandel vines to create this bold, powerful red that's a tribute to the Bear Flag revolt of 1846.

Sweet, ripe baked black cherries, blueberries and plums with vanilla spice, minty eucalyptus and a custardy texture. Juicy acidity and gentle, well-integrated tannins; very balanced and harmonious.


Match with smokey barbecue meats, lamb with rosemary and garlic or an indulgent cottage pie.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa Valley (£36.42 from Vivino, soon to be available through Majestic)

Made with fruit from several Napa Valley vineyards, both high elevation and valley floor. Includes some Petite Syrah in the blend; aged in French and American oak, around 1/3rd new; 15% alcohol.

lifted blackcurrants, bramble fruits, complex spices and dried herbs with some aged character; baked dark fruits and cherries, leather, tobacco and cedarwood, oaky spice with hints of caramel and sweet coconut; dense and concentrated with ripe harmonious tannins. Long, complex, warming finish.

Very Good.

Match with rosemary-and-garlic lamb or herby wild boar sausages.

Klinker Brick 2017 Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi) 

From Mokelumne River, alcohol 15.9%, this is the top Zinfandel from Klinker Brick's range made from vineyard blocks up to 120 years old

Lifted black fruits and dark berries, complex spices, porty eucalyptus, liquorice and botanical florality; juicy, mouth-watering baked blueberry and black cherry fruit with dried herbs, tobacco leaf and cocoa; complex and savoury with roasted spices and old-vine concentration. Dense, supple and very harmonious with gentle, very fine tannins.

Very Good.

Match with a well seasoned steak.


Further reviews 

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon

92 PTS

"A fruity red with currants, blueberries, black olives and a hint of dark chocolate. Medium to full body, creamy tannins and a flavorful finish. Drink or hold."

- James Suckling, Jan 2020

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

The CWB Right-Bank-Bordeaux-Red-Off

Four Right-Bank reds from Bordeaux

Red Bordeaux is one of the world's great wines; it exists at price points from everyday to some of the most expensive bottles on the planet. And all points in between.

Most red Bordeaux is a blend with either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot dominating; in simple terms, Left Bank Cabs have more grippy tannin and Right Bank Merlots gain their texture from acidity

With flavours of plum, cedarwood and bramble fruit in their youth, Bordeaux wines have the ability to age, becoming more mellow and hedonistic. They are very much food wines, matching best with red meats, roast chicken or meaty fish.

Here are four red wines all from the Right Bank of Bordeaux where Merlot dominates.

Château Monconseil-Gazin 2018, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (£9.75, The Wine Society)

Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec blend from Blaye, just across the river from the Médoc.

forest fruits, plums, cherries and raspberries with sous bois earthiness and spice; fruit-forward and approachable; fresh, supple and easy-drinking with ripe, gentle-yet-firm tannins.


An easy-drinker, match with pizza, herby sausages, burgers or roast chicken.

Lidl Saint Emilion Grand Cru (£11.99, Lidl)

2016 vintage:

Bramble fruit, spice, savouriness and length; good underpinnings, with firm, fine tannins.

Improves with extended aeration and will age.

Good; may need some aging.

Match with roast beef now and darker game in a couple of years. 

2017 vintage:

lighter, fresher and more opened-up, with ripe fruit, spice and gentle tannins. Very well made with decent structure; elegant and focused.

Thoroughly enjoyable - drinking nicely now.

Match with midweight dishes, such as pork rillettes, salami or roast chicken.

89 points from Richard Bampfield.

Chateau Barbe Blanche St Lussac- Emilion, 2016 (Daniel Lambert)

Part-owned by the Lurton family and based in a satellite region of St-Emilion.

Merlot blend with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; lifted plums, black fruits fruit, cassis and complex, spicy oak; substantial, supple and inky with generous fruit, minty herbs, mushroomy-woodsy undergrowth and toasty oak. Firm yet fine and well-integrated tannins.

Very Good.

Improves with aeration and will age further.

Match with robust red-meat dishes, such as venison steaks

Chateau La Petite Roque Cotes de Blaye 2018 (Daniel Lambert)

The second wine of Monconseil-Gazin, above.

Cherries, coffee grounds, raspberry leaves and spice; fresh and juicy with dark plums and blackberries, some spice.

Easy-drinking and thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with pizza, salami or herby sausages.

Further reviews:

Chateau Barbe Blanche St Lussac- Emilion, 2016
Some new-wood aging and a goodly proportion of Cabernet Franc have produced an elegant, balanced wine. Blackcurrant fruits and firm tannins are now well integrated to give a wine that is both fruity and attractively structured. Drink now.


90-91 / 100 by James Suckling.

A warm, richly layered, full-bodied red. Aromas of cassis, smoke and oak with a smooth finish.
90/100 Natalie Maclean

Chateau La Petite Roque Cotes de Blaye 2018
Decanter Bronze medal

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Versatile, Varied and Multi-Coloured - Bordeaux

Five Bordeaux Wines

Bordeaux was pretty much the first wine area I realised I liked. I'd had wine previously, of course, but I'd never really got to know and understand a region; it was just "wine".

A long weekend break in Bruges via northern France found us stopping off on the return home to buy a bootful of wines from a local supermarket, all chosen pretty much at random.

It set a pattern that I have repeated for decades ever since: go to France and buy lots of lovely inexpensive wines based on what looks best from the local the area of wherever we happen to be.

The northern Pas-de-Calais region is not a wine-producing area, so the supermarket shelves there were mostly full of plentiful wines from the larger, better-known regions regions.

I had previously regarded Bordeaux as being all about exorbitantly-priced reds. What I found once I started opening up the various bottles we brought back was something completely different; inexpensive wines that were vibrant and fresh with plenty of stuffing. Sophisticated, yet accessible and easy to enjoy.

And Bordeaux is not just red wines, either; these days, there's rosé and fizz as well as whites, both dry and sweet. Far from monolithic, Bordeaux is pretty much all things to all occasions; there are very few situations it cannot cater for.

If the region's wines share a common trait, it is that they go well with food and have an ability to age, meaning that they often improve with a bit of air.

If you are used to ripe, fruit-forward New World wines that drink easily on first opening, you will find the fruit on  Bordeaux often emerges more noticeably after an hour or two in the decanter.

Here are five mid-range Bordeaux wines that showcase the variety and versatility of the region.

Comtesse de Saint-Pey Brut NV, Crémant de Bordeaux (£14, L’ami Jac)

Bordeaux fizz has the complexity of traditional method sparklers with the ripe fruit of a warmer, more southerly region; a price tag somewhere below Champagne just makes it better value.

Sémillon / Cabernet Franc blend.

orchard fruits, fresh citrus, florality and white pepper; ripe pear, white peach and honeysuckle with some biscuity leesiness; fine mousse and a savoury persistence.


Serve as an aperitif or match with sushi, seafood or other light starters.

Château Haut Rian, 2019 Bordeaux Rosé (£13, Harvey Nichols)

Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

red fruits, cranberry and wild strawberry with fresh mint, grapefruit zest, white pepper and minerality. Pure and adept with good savoury underpinnings.


Match with picnic foods, salmon or shellfish.

L'Emigré Blanc 2020, Graves (£14.99, Virgin Wines)

From the Graves sub-region south east of Bordeaux, named for its gravelly soils; the wine is organic and sees a little of oak.

aromatic with white pepper and tropical fruits; intensely mineral and leesy with grapefruit, elderflower, lime kaffir and racy acidity; weighty, concentrated and long.

Very Good.

Demands food; match with salmon carpaccio or baked goat's cheese tarts.

Château Monconseil-Gazin 2018, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (£9.75, The Wine Society)

Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec blend from Blaye, just across the river from the Médoc.

forest fruits, plums, cherries and raspberries with sous bois earthiness and spice; fruit-forward and approachable; fresh, supple and easy-drinking with ripe, gentle-yet-firm tannins.


An easy-drinker, match with pizza, herby sausages, burgers or roast chicken.

SO Sauternes, Bastor-Lamontagne (£9.99, 37.5cl, Waitrose)

Botrytised dessert wine from Sauternes.

roasted buttery peaches with vanilla sugar, honeysuckle, beeswax and orange blossom; sweet, waxy and viscous with apricotty-peachy sweetness, sweet spices, ginger and tropical citrus freshness. Long, savoury and complex. And utterly delicious.

Very Good and Good Value.

Pour as an apéritif with tapas, or later in the meal with cheese and sweet puddings.


Further reviews:

Finding value-for-money in Bordeaux 2020 by Liz Gabay: Finding value-for-money in Bordeaux 2020 - Elizabeth Gabay MW

Saturday, 10 July 2021

The CWB French Sticky-Off

Two dessert wines from France - Waitrose and Daniel Lambert / The Wine Society

I have always loved dessert wines; I can't quite say why, but I have always had a sweet tooth. Maybe it's my '70s upbringing. Or just a preference for the sweeter things in life.

But it's not mere sweetness; I also like umami (aka "savouriness") and a bit of freshness in the mix, too.

The best dessert wines walk a tightrope of sweet, fresh and savoury - with a touch of complex bitterness added in.

One region, one grape and one phenomenon dominate here: botrytised Semillon from the Bordeaux sub-region of Sauternes. Nobly-rotten grapes are expensive to produce and expensive to vinify, yet relatively inexpensive to buy due to being largely unfashionable.

Sweet wines are Bordeaux's secret wine hiding in plain sight; delicious, fresh and complex, most command nothing like the premium of their illustrious red wine counterparts.

The best sweet wines of Sauternes are a dessert in their own right and need minimal food accompaniment; a Crème brûlée or blue cheese is often the best match.

Elsewhere in South West France, Petit Manseng also makes delicious dessert wines in Jurancon: it is aromatic with high sweetness and high, natural acidity and complex candied fruit, with exotic flavours.

Domaine Cabidos, Petit Manseng Doux, Jurancon 2015 (£9.95, The Wine Society, independents)

For bragging rights, Domaine du Chateau de Cabidos Petit Manseng Doux is the only known* 100% Petit Manseng dessert wine; it comes from a family producer in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

What's more, Tim Atkin MW puts Petit Manseng in his list of world-class white grapes.

Beeswax, roasted stone fruits, honeysuckle and sweet spices; fresh and juicy with tropical fruits, pineapple, candied fruit, honey and overripe peaches; with high acidity, it finishes almost dry despite the sweetness. 

Very Good and Good Value.

Serve as an aperitif or match with a fruit cheesecake or blue cheese.

Also consider sea-food such as scallops and lobster, and all white meat, for example turkey with cranberry sauce. It also goes well with aged hard ewe’s milk cheese.

SO Sauternes, Bastor-Lamontagne (£9.99, 37.5cl, Waitrose) 

An organic sweet wine that shows off its straw-gold colour beautifully 

Aromas of roasted buttery peaches with vanilla sugar, honeysuckle, beeswax and orange blossom; sweet, waxy and viscous with apricotty-peachy sweetness, sweet spices, ginger and tropical citrus freshness. Long, savoury and complex. And utterly delicious.

Very Good and Good Value.

Pour as an apéritif with tapas, or later in the meal with cheese and sweet puddings.


Update 11/07/21: several people contacted me to let me know that various other wineries make a varietal Petit Manseng dessert wine:


The viticultural domaine of the Château of Cabidos is family owned and consists of twenty acres located just below the village of Cabidos, in the north of the Béarn, near the famous slopes of Jurançon in south-western France.

The family wine business was revived by Isabelle de Nazelle in 1992 and developed by her son Vivien, with his wife Maleine and brother Edouard, together with Jean-Michel Novelle, a Swiss oenologist of international renown. In 2002, an air-conditioned cellar was built to ensure the wine was properly stored and in 2007, Mrs. Méo Sakorn-Sériès became the Maitre de Chai, or Cellar Master, who is the person responsible for making and ageing the wine.

Méo Sakorn-Sériès is unique in being the only Thai woman to be a director of a vineyard and winery in the whole of France. In 2015, new owners acquired Château de Cabidos with the aim of continuing its legacy and traditions and producing more of its exceptionally prized wines.

The Petit Manseng grape, which comes from the Pyrenean region of France, is the predominant variety occupying 16 acres of our vineyards, and produces both sweet and dry white wines. The vineyard also has an acre of Chardonnay and an acre of Sauvignon, which work well as a dry blend. The fourth grape is Syrah grown on 2 acres to produce our red wine.

It is so popular that we have been gradually increasing the acreage. Petit Manseng is a grape that ripens late in the season and is particularly well suited for the production of great, sweet wines. It is an aromatic variety, which is distinguished in its youth by notes of peach, citrus and medlar, with a hint of cinnamon.

It is remarkable for its ability to concentrate the sugar in the berries during maturation, whilst maintaining a high, natural acidity. It is an ideal grape for the climate in the Béarn because we are blessed with long, sunny autumns that allow ‘passerillage’. That is to say, the grapes can dry naturally on the vine, which gives them a high sugar concentration and the development of complex aromas of candied fruit, ideal for exquisite sweet wines.

It has very exotic flavours, such as pineapple and mango, and with time the wine reveals aromas of white truffles.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Tesco Bordeaux Blanc 2018

A white Bordeaux from Tesco

Bordeaux is most famous for its red wines which range from the everyday to some of the most expensive in the world.

Increasingly, it is gaining (or re-gaining) a reputation for other colours and styles.

There are several permitted grapes for white Bordeaux, but this wine is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world's most popular and recognised white grapes; from its spiritual home of the Loire in France, it has travelled pretty much all around the world and is perhaps most commonly associated with New Zealand, where the aromatic, pungent Marlborough style has become a modern benchmark.

Further south than the Loire, Bordeaux Sauvignon is slightly weightier and fuller, a little less austere with a bit of warmth but still plenty of lively acidity.

Another way to think of it is as being like a kiwi Sauvignon for freshness and expressive aromatics, but with more of a European accent.

Tesco Bordeaux Blanc 2018 (£6.75, Tesco)

Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blend; lemon, elderflower, white blossom and white pepper; white peach and pear with citrus, gooseberry and cut grass; fresh and crisp with a mineral finish.

Thoroughly pleasant and Good Value.

Drink well-chilled as a picnic or barbecue wine, match with goats cheese or white meat, such as pork and sage terrine.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The CWB 3-Way Iberian-Atlantic-Off

Three refreshing whites from Iberia's Atlantic Coast

Iberia is, geologically speaking, a newcomer to Europe; it crashed into the continent around 100 million years ago creating rock formations known as "flysch".

The cool, damp Atlantic coast of Iberia (northern Spain plus Portugal) produces zingy, crisp wines - often from Albariño (Spanish) or Alvarinho (Portuguese). Further inland, away from the cooling breezes, it becomes riper and fuller.

Portugal's Vinho Verde is an anachronistic but delicious wine; refreshing, spritzy and low in alcohol, it is a perfect summer sipper.

Slightly further north in Rias Baixas, Albariño is made in a weightier style more reminiscent of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, with higher alcohol, lifted aromatics and some tannic buzz from skin contact maceration.

Vale Dos Pombos Vinho Verde, Portugal (£6 or 2 for £11, The Co-op)

Vinho Verde is a light, fresh zippy style of wine from the cool Portuguese Atlantic coast; it is a great summer sipper, barbecue wine or a match for fresh shellfish.

A blend of Arinto de Bucelas, Loureiro and Trajadura from Quinta da Lixa based in Minho.

Spritzy, with crisp apples-and-pears, tropical citrus, sherbet and white stone fruit; orange blossom, briny sea-spray and minerality.

Good and Good Value.

Serve as a spitzy aperitif on a hot day or match with fresh shellfish.

Also recommended by David Williams in The Guardian.

Terra de Asorei, Pazo Torrado Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2019 (Daniel Lambert Wines)

Imported by Daniel Lambert.

Terra de Asorei is an association of eight top growers belonging to the Rias Baixas Designation of Origin who have banded together to produce premium 100% Albariño wines.

With their own 70 Ha of Albariño vineyards they went from a family company to a professional organization producing three wonderful wines: 

The winery is located in the Salnés Valley, close to the city of Cambados, the capital of Albariño. The wine-producers provide the combination of experience and the most innovative technological abilities and their total capacity of production is up to one million bottles.

The vineyards, on average are 20 years old , which are located in the Salnés Valley, in the Rias Baixas region of Spain. One of the main tourist areas of Galicia, with a privileged climate of Atlantic influence, mild temperatures and an abundance of rainfall .

The Salnés Valley is located on the left bank of the estuary of Arousa. 

floral with ripe yellow stone fruits, honeysuckle and a waxy texture; full, supple and saline-mineral with excellent underpinnings and a long finish.

Very Good.

Match with roast white meat, such as pork belly with apple sauce and horseradish.

Paco & Lola Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain (£12, Virgin Wines)

From the O Rosal Valley 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.


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.

If you want more Portuguese Alvarinho, albeit in a fuller Spanish style, check out this Céu na Terra Alvarinho from Liam Steevenson's Vineyard Productions:

Monday, 5 July 2021

Three Summer Wines From Virgin Wines

Three summer wines from Virgin Wines

More than halfway through the year and summer has still not yet fully arrived in the UK.

If you dream of rocking up to a friend's for a weekend afternoon of outdoor eating-and-drinking, here are three wines to take with you.

- an Italian pink fizz with style and elegance

- a sophisticated Saffer white

- a fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing, sophisticated easy-drinking Big Red to go with burgers and relish

Solpiantez Spumante Brut Rose Millesimato 2019 (£9.99)

The son of a Tuscan winemaker, Umberto grew up with vines in the blood. His 40-year career in the wine industry has seen him making wine for some of the most famous producers in Italy, as well as specialising in, and lecturing on,

Organic methods of production and, most recently, working as an international consultant to some of the most well known producers in the Veneto, Puglia and beyond. His hallmark is precision, both in terms of varietal expression and balance as well as vineyard typicity.

A blend of Trebbiano, Garganega and Sangiovese.

Delicate red-berry fruits, watermelon, citrus freshness and sea-shell minerality; very textured and linear with a precise, muscular core. Fine mousse and no rough edges.

Good and Good Value

Serve as a crisp aperitif or match with shellfish.

Wildeberg Terroir Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£16.99)

This wine is made from older vines that cling to Simonsberg in the tiny, mountainous ward of Banhoek within Stellenbosch. Dry grown vines grow thin and weedy on these vertiginous slopes, but produce an excellent crop of grapes. These are then hand-picked, crushed and fermented at the Wildeberg winery. Location, location, location. That is the magic. Difficult soils and a difficult site produce an interesting wine.

Tim Atkin gives this 91pts 

Hand-picked and naturally-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, with only 2926 bottles of this vintage made. A wave of rich tropical, leafy notes on the nose sway to a broad palate of tight lime-leaf, bay and silky texture with a super-bright, naturally acid finish. Delicious with brightly-flavoured seafood dishes, Thai salads, citrus dressings or indeed by the glass on its own!

Aromatic, floral and zesty-pungent with lemongrass, grapefruit, white pepper and some quinine bitterness; full and supple with melon, stone fruit and pineapple plus zippy lemon-and-lime and sweet spices; concentrated and long with very good underpinnings.

Very Good.

Black Flag Winemakers Limestone Coast Shiraz Cabernet 2018  (£12.99)

This bespoke ripper is made from premium parcels of Padthaway and Limestone Coast fruit. The oak is present but far from prominent, beautiful and finely tuned ensuring the sweet red fruits, which first poke their heads up in the aromatics, carry through to the front palate and lead seamlessly into the soft, vanilla infused mid palate.

The final element of this wine is the most intriguing: it has a really strong presence yet remains inviting and warm. There are typical varietal flavours of chocolate and malt, which counters the regional hallmarks of mint and fresh herbs, and a lovely crisp tannin profile.

Lifted super-ripe, juicy plums and dark berry fruit with oaky spice, rubbed sage, sous bois and earthy-mushroominess; juicy cassis, vanilla and morello cherries; full and supple with an inky texture, and a slap of cocoa, leather and liquorice.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with charred meaty or veggie delights from the barbecue. 

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Yalumba Shiraz Masterclass

A tasting of four Yalumba Shirazes with winemaker Kevin Glastonbury

Australia's Yalumba is based in the Barossa Valley, an area synonymous with Shiraz.

This deeper dive into Yalumba's Shirazes had a theme of lighter, fresher wines, made with a gentler hand. Where Australia was once "sunshine in a glass", these days it's more about drinkability, elegance, refinement and restraint.

These are all good things, in my view.

The vine and the winemaker

Shiraz is one of the original grapes of Barossa and it has been planted there since the 1840s; everyone in Barossa grows Shiraz and it is the "star and hero" of the region.

Kevin Glastonbury, known as KG, knows the Barossa like the back of his hand. With a winemaking career that started as soon as he finished school, KG had several years of hard work, experimentation and innovation behind him by the time he joined Yalumba in 1999.

A hands-on, get dirty approach has been his key to success as a winemaker. His knowledge of the Barossa helps him understand the environment and innovate as Senior Red Winemaker for Yalumba.

KG also looks after the sourcing and purchasing of oak for the crafting of barrels — a proud tradition at the on-site cooperage.

KG’s blend of passion and expertise has been recognised with numerous accolades, such as becoming a Len Evan tutorial scholar, respected wine judge, and Winestate ​‘Winemaker of the Year’.

Galway Vintage Shiraz 2018

Yalumba's entry-point Shiraz; lots of easy-drinking fruit with no oak; everything is reigned back here and the vintage character is more apparent - drink as a barbecue red, slightly chilled.

Crunchy red and black fruits fruits, spice and freshness;  mulberries, mocha / cocoa and some beetroot; rich, generous and full-flavoured.


Samuel's Collection Barossa Shiraz 2018

This wine has more robust fruit, more spice and is more savoury; it is from a more traditional vintage after a cool year; it is a more complex and generous wine. It includes some fruit from Eden Valley and sees some oak, around 10% new.

Fresh-yet-plus red and black fruits with spice and some eucalyptus; more complex and generous; full and supple with fine tannins.


Hand-Picked Shiraz + Viognier 2016

A classic Rhône blend, this has just 2% Viognier, down from 15% previously for a more subtle influence. All the fruit is from Eden Valley and there is around 20% new oak.

From an exceptional vintage, the wine is at a peak now.

Evolved nose of cherry fruit, sous bois, spice and eucalyptus; dried sour cherries and soft red fruits, with spice and herbal mintiness. Supple with very fine tannins.


The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz 2018

Still primary and youthful, this needs a few hours in the decanter to become fully harmonious.

Lifted, ripe dark berry and cassis aromas with violets, spice and eucalyptus; concentrated with a full mid-palate; very fine tannins. Generous and elegant.

Very Good.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Cava Tasting - Meeting the Winemakers

A transatlantic tasting of Cava with David KermodeKatherine Cole and three winemakers

Cava has something of a Van Westendorp problem; a traditional-method fizz, it is costly to make, yet is often priced so inexpensively that it arouses suspicion: at this price, how can it be any good?

Cava's response has been to re-focus on quality and standards with a new hierarchy pyramid, instantly satirised by Fake Booze.

I can't help feeling that Cava's challenge is not so much around its inherent qualityas actually having some kind of identity and emotional connection with potential buyers.

Neither Prosecco, nor Champagne, it uses the Traditional (aka Champagne) Method but with, mostly, indigenous grapes; it is almost defined by what it is not rather than what it is. It needs to stand for something easily understandable.

MW Rose Murray Brown suggested that Cava is a logical next step for Prosecco drinkers and she may have a point; Cava is more complex than Prosecco but riper and less expensive than Champagne.

The wines we tried had around 10 g/l dosage, giving them an easy-drinking generosity, while retaining freshness.

I prefer more dryness, so chilling the wines for longer to increase perceived acidity is the solution for that.

The history

Winemaking in Catalonia dates back to Roman times; the anti-oxidant properties of indigenous grape Xarel-lo preserved it on long sea-and-river journeys to supply the norther parts of the Roman empire.

Unlike much of southern Spain, Catalonia has an almost uninterrupted history of winemaking and in the 1860s, wines were sent north to France to replace production destroyed by phylloxera; Once again, the the wines were able to survive the journey north without fortification.

By the 20th Century the name cava was coined, referencing the caves in which the wine is matured and aged on the lees in bottle.

The new quality pyramid specifies a minimum aging of 9 months for entry-level Cava de Guarda, up to 36 months for Cavas de Paraje Calificado (which must also be from a special plot)

The winemakers - and the wines

Mireia Pujol-Busquets Guillén, Deputy Director of Alta Alella

Mireia is a second generation winemaker from a famliy owned company.

The appellation is very small and very old; just 10km up the coast from Barcelonait benefits from sea breezes. Farming has been organic from the beginning in 1991 and sulphite-free since 2006.

Eva Plazas Torné, Head Winemaker, Vilarnau 

Vilarnau is based in Penedès at altitude and surrounded by mountains; the company is owned by Gonzalez-Byass and increasingly uses later-ripening non-native grapes, such as Pinot Noir due to climate change.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva Organic (£10, Ocado and Amazon)

golden sandy yellow, primary orchard fruit and citrus with brioche and buttery shortbread.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Serve as an aperitif or match with pintxos.

Andrea Cerezo, UK e-Commerce and On-Trade Manager, Codorniu 

Raventós Codorníu is a large producer with a significant market share; they maintain standards by simply by focusing on quality throughout the production process.

The name of the Anna BdB comes from Anna Codorníu, an ancestor of the company.

Anna Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva (£13, The Champagne Company, The Fine Wine Co, Taurus Wines, VINVM Ltd, Beviqua Ltd, GP Brands)

70% Chardonnay with Parrellada and Macabeo; golden delicious apple, pear and white peach fruit; creamy-almondy with florality and freshness.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Serve as an aperitif, a summer sipper or with picnic food such as cold cuts, chicken drumsticks or quiche.

To learn more about cava, check out: CAVA ACADEMY

Friday, 2 July 2021

Georgian Wines With Swirl Group

Georgian wine tasting with Sarah Abbott MW of Swirl Wine Group

Not fully European, not quite Asian, Georgia is all things and nothing, a true borderland with a rich history where everything is quite new.

It is a tiny, ancient country sandwiched on a land bridge between Europe and Asia; a mountainous region, it has huge potential for oenological diversity with wine is made all over the country. The main regions to know are Kakheti and Karthi.

The country is surrounded by water with the Black Sea on one side and the Caspian on the other; to the South is Turkey, to the north Russia.

It is protected from the cold by the Caucasus Mountains; on its eastern side it is warmer and sub-topical, the western side is cooler due to the altitude and the moderating effects of the Black Sea.

Georgia has layers of history and feels like Vienna transported to Asia, in part due to being historically on the Silk Road.

Its wine culture is more reminiscent of France or Italy, a combination of gastronomy, oenology and lifestyle. Orange wines, often made in qvevri, are a big part of this, not least due to their food friendliness.

Georgia's wine culture is at once 8,000 and almost brand new; an independent country since 1991, it has moved away from the heavy-handed, old school styles popular in the former Soviet Union to something more sophisticated, international and European.

Qvevri are to Georgia what coopers are to France; artisan crafted vessels for the making of wine, qvevri are an ancient invention yet offer a solution to numerous challenges that has yet to be bettered.

Hand made from clay, qvevri are lined with beeswax to reduce porosity and provide a reductive environment for wine-making; qvevri are stored in the ground to regulate temperature.

Wines are fermented whole-bunch with natural yeasts; the qvevri is left uncovered with periodic punchdowns.

The size of the quevri also affects the temperature of the fermentation - larger qvevri ferment at a higher temperature due to the higher volume / surface area ratio.

Producing wines in qvevri is very labour-intensive and accounts for only about 10% of Georgian wine output.

The whites

Churi Chinebuli, Churi Chinebuli 2019, white - 12.5% Seeking importer

delicate florality, orchard fruits and white peach; pure and precise; very elegant and long - think Burgundian or Swiss in style

Baia’s Wine Baia's Krakhuna 2020, qvevri white - 13% Imported by: GvinoUK, Taste of Georgia

some skin contact: fresh, delicate and creamy almondy, orchard fruits, white peach and citrus; some delicate white flowers with honey and apricot

The amber wines

Ori Marani, Mariam 2020, qvevri amber - 12% Importer: 266 Wines

from a French winemaker using a blend of grapes: fragrant and floral, tangy and nutty, slightly cidery; long and delicate

Anapea Village, Mtsvivani (Kvareli Side) 2019, qvevri amber - 12.3% Importer: Okros Drinks

classic golden amber colour; fragrant with bruised apple fruit, rose petals and savouriness

Dakishvili Famiy Vineyards Kisi 2019, qvevri amber - 13% Importer: Clarke Foyster

tangy and aromatic, sherry-esque, quince freshness roasted nuts and spices; rich with dried fruits and green herbs

Tchotiashvili Vineyards Khikhvi 2016, qvevri amber - 13% Seeking importer

tangy, savoury and mellow; with marigold and saffron, leesy and nutty with a full mid-palate; complex and grippy; very fresh

Binekhi Tsolikauri Qvevri 2018, qvevri amber - 13.4% Seeking importer

aromatic and floral with roasted savoury flavours of dried fruits; fresh, long and broad with soft, supple tannins

The reds

Teleda Orgo, Saperavi 2019, qvevri red - 13.5% Importer: Clarke Foyster

floral and creamy with lifted baked blueberries, violets and cherry fruit; fresh and sleek with fine tannins

Sanavardo Estate Saperavi Qvevri 2019, qvevri red - 13% Seeking importer

very fresh, cherry-fruited and elegant; long and savoury

Papari Valley, 3 Qvevri Terraces Saperavi 2019, qvevri red - 16% Importer: Georgian Wine Society

something of a happy accident, a fully dry red originally intended as a dessert wines with 16% alcohol as a result; rich amarone-style; deep, bold, viscous and saturated

Itsis Marani Bimbili 2019, red - 14% Seeking importer

fresh, cherry-fruited, delicate pale and floral; Pinot-esque or think Cab Franc / Gamay

Lukasi Saperavi 2017, red - 14% Importer: Taste of Georgia

bloody with iodine and beetroot, dark berries ; concentrated fresh and supple

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Cool-Climate Australia: Adelaide Hills Chardonnay

A tasting of high-end Chardonnays from Australia's cool-climate Adelaide Hills

Until relatively recently, any reference to high-end Australian wines would have me thinking of bigger-is-better muscle-car wines with lots of alcohol and oak.

Less Daniel Day-Lewis; more Bruce Willis.

But all that is changing as Australia - which is, after all a continent more than a country - is bringing cooler-climate, more nuanced and elegant wines to our attention.

Chardonnay vines were first planted in the Adelaide Hills in the 1970s, its cool climate and elevation providing the ideal conditions for this French variety. The diversity of the Adelaide Hills’ micro-climates and winemaking styles results in a range of different Chardonnays.

In particular, the Adelaide Hills is a leader in ‘New Australian – New Wave’ Chardonnay, wines which are elegant, textured and lean but which have the acid structure to age and evolve.

Great chardonnays come from cooler regions, such as the Adelaide Hills, where the fruit has had time to ripen slowly and evenly, achieving full flavour while retaining acidity and freshness.

The region is at the centre of a new generation of Australian chardonnays. The variety has now moved on from an earlier style when rich, over-ripe and over-oaky wines were favoured but eventually lost their attraction as our collective palates became more tuned to refreshment, subtlety, and more sophisticated expressions.

The popular transition to more vibrant and complex white wines, desired by both consumers and winemakers, has coincided with a parallel passion to grow and create modern, complex chardonnay in the Adelaide Hills. And even within the region, chardonnay’s renowned versatility produces many nuanced variations, different fruit flavour spectrums, textural lines and single vineyard creations.

A wide range of aspects, often sloping and steep, as well as soil variations and complex micro-climates across the region encourage the wide choice of styles. As do the winemakers behind them, all striving to put their chardonnays on the Adelaide Hills map.

The quality factor

All the wines here were Very Good to Very Good Indeed; all elegant, complex and nuanced, drinking nicely now but capable of aging.

Fresh, complex and concentrated, these are all extremely well-made wines from very high quality fruit.

The Pawn 2018 End Game Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 

There are aromas of nectarine, white peach & melon fruits coupled with roasted hazelnut and oak spice on the nose. Way-way off into the distance is the subtle hint of ginger and pink musk lollies—a unique character of the clonal selection. The palate displays citrus fruits, lemon curd and almond meal notes 

The Lane Heritage Chardonnay 2020

The Lane’s flagship white wine, made only in exceptional vintages and selected specially for our Heritage series from a single block on the estate. The wine ferments steadily and matures in our cool underground cellar over 9 months in custom coopered French oak 350L Hogsheads and 500L Puncheons, all 100% new oak.

This exclusive small batch Chardonnay has great mouthfeel and length, impeccable structure and natural acidity, fruit purity, balance and textural complexity. Enjoy now or cellaring will reward.

Nepenthe, 2018 Pinnacle Chardonnay

Paying homage to the beautiful Adelaide Hills, this Chardonnay seamlessly blends lemon blossom and nectarine with subtle oak complexity and freshness, complemented by the creamy mid-palate and tight, long finish. 

The aromas are powerful and complex with pure fruit characters of white peach and nectarine complemented by complex secondary aromatics of nutty oak. Palate Generous palate weight. Flavours of stone fruit and hazelnuts at the forefront, followed by grapefruit and lemon curd. Exceptional length and good natural acidity.

2019 Tilbury Chardonnay The hand picked grapes were part whole berry & whole bunch pressed, due to the natural balance of the fruit no acidification was required before fermentation in older French oak. Partial malolactic fermentation was allowed with a touch of lees stirring to add complexity and depth whilst being careful to keep the wine focused to display the unique qualities of the Adelaide Hills. 

Lifted with lime, white flowers supported with a wet stone and nutty complex character. Citrus, green apple and grapefruit driven on palate with a mineral textural element supported by lively acidity and structure

Penfolds Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2019

Reserve Bin A Chardonnay has evolved into a wine that is now a distinctive, single-region style in its own right, with a contemporary and expressive Adelaide Hills Chardonnay persona. Fruit is hand-picked into small bins and then whole-bunch pressed. A portion of the juice is incrementally filled to barrel directly from the press and allowed to undergo a natural fermentation, sans inoculation. Every new and seasoned French oak barrique is its own unique 225-litre ferment. Enhanced mouthfeel and complexity is achieved by fermenting and maturing on solids with regular yeast lees stirring. 100% malolactic fermentation (all natural).

Restrained upon first pour. Induce awakening via a sprightly decant, or vigorous swirl. Primary white peach and assorted stone fruits give way to tempting scents of fresh crème anglaise/ panna cotta. Oak (just) evident, yet impressively integrated (80% new) Wafts of struck-match prancing above; intense, smoky barrel-ferment notes lurking below. Complexingly challenging – an abundance of character, yet not saturated; aromatically bedazzling, yet not an assault.

Henschke 2018 Croft Chardonnay

The Chardonnay vineyard situated in Lenswood was planted from 1984 onwards. Its seven clones are some of the oldest vines in the Adelaide Hills. Viticulturist, Prue Henschke manages the vineyard using biodynamic practices and is surrounded by planting of native Bursaria Spinosa which assists with pest management. The wine has taken its name from Frederick Croft, an orchardist who took up a neighbouring property in 1938

Pale straw with green hues. Lifted and fragrant aromas of cut pear, white peach, nectarine, citrus and custard apple are supported by baking spices and toasted cashew. The palate shows richness and finesse with flavours of ripe peach and pear providing a fleshy textural quality, complimented by overtones of creme brulee and oatmeal. These characters are beautifully balanced by fresh citrus acidity and subtle oak nuances, giving the wine depth and finishing with incredible length.