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Sunday, 27 February 2022

Four Dinner Party Wines from Hill-Smith Family Vineyards

Four wines from Hill-Smith for a dinner party

I've long maintained that a pre-requisite for turning a meal into an event is to add an aperitif and a dessert wine.

Amuses bouches, a cheese course and a digestif then turn that event into a memorable evening, but the key difference between mere eating vs a dining event is the extended time to talk, to catch up and swap stories over drinks that do not necessarily accompany food.

These four wines from Hill Smith make for an instant dinner party assortment; there is a lean and zippy aperitif, a complex white for starters, red for main and a luscious dessert wine.

The all have New World fruit purity with a poised, adept, balance and tension.


The Hill-Smith family for over six generations have explored and planted exceptional vineyard sites to maximise the personality of the wines they produce.

The wines are a Marlborough Chardonnay from New Zealand, a Cabernet from the Margaret River coastline and two very different Rieslings, a dry Riesling and a Botrytis from Eden Valley to celebrate International Riesling Day (13th March). 


Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling 2020 (£15.99 – £17.99, Ocado, Hennings Wine Merchants, Specialist Cellars)

In the rugged, undulating high country of Eden Valley, 250 metres above the Barossa Valley floor, lies Pewsey Vale, a vineyard dedicated to Riesling. Named after the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, the UK home of Joseph Gilbert who, in 1839 emigrated to Australia and in 1847 planted a one-acre site, thus establishing Eden Valley’s first vineyard and one of Australia’s first high-altitude cool climate sites. Today, Louisa Rose oversees the winemaking.

With lean soils, rocky outcrops, and finicky microclimates, it is not an easy vineyard to manage. Louisa manages each block according to its specific needs, whilst nurturing the surrounding fauna and flora, important to the biodiversity of the vineyard to ensure the wines are consistent and reflect the terroir of Pewsey Vale.

The 2020 is a classic example, showing the distinctive, generous flavours.

white stone fruits, pineapple, line, grapefruit and melonskin; fresh and pure ripe orchard fruits, topical citrus with savouriness, slatey minerality, zesty, aromatic green herbs and a hint of kerosene. Poised, precise and linear.

Very Good.

Drinks nicely on first opening; can be cellared.

Match with fresh oysters, seared scallops, salt and pepper squid, Thai beef salad or a tomato salad with fresh basil.


Nautilus Chardonnay 2019 (£23.99, Majestic, Specialist Cellars)

Nautilus Chardonnay is made with fruit from the Hill-Smith’s Renwick vineyard in Marlborough, New Zealand. The grapes are blended with a Burgundian clone from long-time growers and friends of the family, Jim and Debbie Greer.

In 2006, a dedicated winery was built for white wine, where every step of the winemaking process takes place. Less handling leads to better results and for this wine, the hand-picked grapes are chilled and pressed directly into barrel where it is fermented.

This hard-fought refinement of the winemaking process has led to no fining of the wine, making it vegan friendly.

Marlborough Chardonnay is known for its cool climate intensity and this one has great longevity and depth. 

orchard and yellow stone fruits, musky lime zest, white flowers and a toasty-savoury spiciness; fresh ripe peach and apricot, tropical guava, pineapple and lime marmalade; broad and savoury with toasty-oak spice, buttery-creamy oatmeal, brazil nut and a saline minerality.

Drinks nicely on first pouring and will gain complexity with cellaring.

Very Good.

A versatile food wine, match with smoked fish, coconut curries, roasted white meats, such as chicken or pork or cream-and-mushroom pasta or leek, mushroom and mustard chicken pie (try it in a pie).

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (£10 Tesco)

A vibrant Cabernet from Australia’s Margaret River, a wine region embraced by two oceans, the Indian and the Southern; the temperate, maritime climate with high winter rainfall and sea breezes are wonderful growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon.

The grapes for this wine are grown on a small selection of sites with a range of aspects and soil types, and it is these variances and selective blending that provide Ringbolt with much of its complexity. 

expressive cassis, dark-berry fruits, violets and dark green herbs; blackberries, blueberries and ripe black cherry fruit with cocoa and spices; fresh, supple and savoury with ripe, rounded tannins.

Fruit-forward on first-opening, its savoury complexity becomes more apparent with aeration. Can be cellared.


Match with Angus roast beef or rosemary-and-garlic leg of lamb.


Heggies Vineyard Estate Botrytis Riesling (Waitrose £14.99 / half bottle)

Heggies Vineyard is nestled in an idyllic place in the high country of Eden Valley at 500m above sea level. The grapes for Botrytis Riesling are grown on a gentle western facing slope, with trees providing shelter and a dam at the base of the vineyard which provides a gentle morning fog, essential for the development of the all-important Botrytis.

The grapes are selectively hand-harvested in two separate batches, the first is juicy with delicate Botrytis character, and the second develops further to give more concentration of Botrytis and flavour. 

The grapes are whole bunch pressed followed by cool fermentation to retain freshness and purity. The combination of innovative viticultural practises and its unique terroir result in a distinctive balanced wine with beautiful structure and long in flavour.

aromatic and floral with musky roasted butter peaches and sweet spices; fresh-yet overripe yellow stone fruits, pineapples pieces and orange marmalade with candied citrus peel and beeswax; rich, unctuous and complex.

Very Good.

Match with a cheeseboard, fruit tarts or roasted peaches. Also drink as an aperitif with a pâté starter.


Other reviews:

Joanna Simon on Nautilus Chardonnay: www.joannasimon.com 

And on the Ringbolt: www.joannasimon.com

Tom Canavan on the Pewsey Vale: Pewsey Vale, Riesling 2020 - wine-pages

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Easter Wines from Virgin - The New World

Five New World Wines from Virgin Wines for Easter

In (overly) simple terms, the New World means plenty of ripe fruit, while the Old World is food-friendly savouriness.

Over time, of course, the New World has started seeking out cooler sites and making fresher wines with a gentler hand.

And some parts of Old World Europe are warm enough and sunny enough to make crowd-pleasing "sunshine in a glass" wines with plenty of easy-drinking ripeness.

These five wines are all New World in the loose sense of being warmer-climate, non-classic regions, mostly outside Europe.

As well as more of a focus on fruit, it also means more reliability and generally better value for money compared to Big Name established appellations.

These are all well-made and easy-drinking with increasing complexity as you move the up the scale; ripe enough just to sip, the fruit and freshness will also match with sharing foods such as picnics, mezze, anti-pasti, pizza and almost any mixed starters.

The whites

Ripper Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2021 (£11.99)

Australian Chardonnay has yo-yoed between sunshine-in-a-glass, oaky monoliths then lean and skeletal. These days, you are increasingly likely to find a European freshness and balance, especially from the cool-climate Adelaide Hills.

Classy and refreshingly crisp Chardonnay from the cool altitude of Adelaide Hills, leaves flavours of apricot, yuzu and peach, retaining a refreshing streak of acidity.

ABV: 13% Region: Adelaide Hills, Australia Grape Type: Chardonnay 

citrussy and floral; white stone fruits and orchard fruit with lemongrass, sherbet, lime marmalade and green herbs; sleek, elegant and poised.


Match with meaty white fish or roasted white meat.

Three Gables Reserve Swartland Chenin Marsanne Grenache Blanc 2021 (£9.99) 

Despite its New World location, South Africa has been making wine for almost four centuries; after more than its fair share of issues, it is now emerging as an undervalued region to watch.

An equal split blend between Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc creates an impeccable wine! The result is a tangy lemon freshness on the nose which follows through to the palate, accompanied by notes of baked apple and barley.

ABV: 12.5% Region: Swartland, South Africa Grape Type: Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc 

lifted, floral and aromatic with fresh, minty herbs; ripe yellow stone fruits and tropical citrus, honeysuckle, sherbet, lemongrass and sweet spices; fresh, saline-mineral and long.


Match with grilled tuna, roast pork or spiced seafood such as calamari or prawns.

Rupenera Grillo Sicilia DOC Appassimento 2020 (£13.99)

Historically, volcanic Sicily is not so much Italian as Greek, Levantine and North African. Oenologically, it is a source of plentiful well-made ripe, fruit-forward wines.

Rupenera Grillo Sicilia DOC Appassimento | Virgin Wines

Made from Grillo grapes that are left on the vines to partially dry before being brought into the winery, Rupenera is flush with citrus, stone fruit, floral hints and lashings of honey without being sweet.

ABV: 13% Region: Sicily, Italy Grape Type: Grillo

floral and aromatic with roasted butter peaches and savoury-spicy beeswax; rich and ripe with dried yellow stone fruits, musky melonskin, dried pineapple pieces, melon and lime marmalade; complex and fresh with good underpinnings.


Drinks nicely on first opening; can be cellared.

Match with roasted pork belly, blue cheese or seared scallops.

The reds

Itata Old Vine Cinsault 2020 (£14.99)

With no natural pests, complex terroir and cooling breezes plus altitude, Chile is almost the perfect place to make wine.

Despite this, for too long, it churned out bigger-is-better jammy wines; these days, however, elegance is back on the agenda, thanks in large part to the efforts of De Martino, who make this wine.

Made from ungrafted vines that are farmed using sustainable agriculture, including dry farming and ploughing with horses, to create a wine with delightful ripe red fruits mingled with hints of violet and stony salinity.

ABV: 13.5% Region: Itata Valley, Chile Grape Type: Cinsault

complex oaky spices, sweet vanilla, old leather and woodsy undergrowth; dark bramble fruits, red and black cherries, red berries and spice; firm with a dense, muscular core and very fine, slightly grippy tannins; fresh, savoury and adept.

Drinks nicely on opening; can be cellared.

Very Good.

Match with darker game, such as venison ragout.

16 Little Black Pigs Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (£9.99) 

Cab is one of the most widely planted grapes on the planet, but is rarely made into a varietal wine, needing something else in the blend to achieve balance and harmony.

South Australia is one of the few places where Cab does well as a varietal wine; this one is made in a fresh and juicy style this is more quaffable Beaujolais or Loire than serious Bordeaux.

That's a good thing.

In true South Australian style, this red is fruit-forward, ripe and full bodied. Masses of blackcurrant and bramble with minty, herbaceous notes 

ABV: 14% Region: South Eastern Australia Grape Type: Cabernet Sauvignon

bramble fruits, eucalyptus and spice; fruit-forward with ripe, juicy dark-berry fruits, plums, red and black cherries, liquorice and mint; fresh and supple with good underpinnings. Well-made and easy-drinking.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Fresh enough to drink on its own; will also match well with anti-pasti, salami or almost any mixed starters

Friday, 18 February 2022

Bordeaux Wines With Chinese New Year Foods

Five wines for Chinese New Year foods from Bordeaux

Five wines from Bordeaux to go with Chinese foods; none of them are red. And they include a fizz and a dessert wine.

Food matches and tasting notes from Bordeaux Wines UK.

Bordeaux intro

Bordeaux is one of the great wine regions of France and therefore of the world.

Rightly most famous for its reds, it also makes excellent dessert wines, top whites and good fizz.

The best value-wines are perhaps the stickies; painstakingly produced and yet deeply unfashionable, they are seriously under-priced.

Bordeaux fizz is also something of a bargain; it is made via the traditional method of in-bottle fermentation, but is somewhat riper, more fruited and cheaper than Champagne.

Bordeaux and Chinese food

The festivities may be over, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy Chinese food all year round! 

With the year of the Tiger only just beginning, discover just why choosing a white wine from Bordeaux will earn you your stripes this year.

The Chinese Year of the Tiger started on Tuesday 1st February. But if you enjoy Asian food all year round, you might be wondering what wines pair well with Chinese dishes?

With so many different regional cuisines, typically delivering bold flavours, umami depth and chilli heat, all of which are notoriously difficult to pair, finding the perfect pairing can be tricky.

From lively crémants to rounded, stone fruit-scented dry whites that deliver great value, Bordeaux’s white wines offer a thrilling array of great quality styles with depth of flavour and racy acidity that make them a great match for oriental cuisines.

Here are our top 5 matches for the Year of the Tiger and beyond.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Blanc (£12, Ocado)

Pair with Salt & Pepper Chicken

This traditional method sparkling wine made from Sémillon and Cabernet Franc is fresh and fruit-forward with a ripe, appealing palate, offering notes of pear, peach and honeysuckle.

Presenting an attractive mousse and a lively acidity, this Crémant works perfectly with breaded fried dishes such as salt & pepper chicken.

Château Vignol, Entre-deux-Mers (£13.80, Friarwood)

Pair with Pan-fried Seabass with Ginger & Spring onion 

This dry white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon & Muscadelle offers plenty of complexity yet is still fresh and vibrant. The wine offers aromas of apple, pear and melon, which carry on to the palate met by a refreshing citrus note which matches perfectly with this Asian style fish dish. 

Château Peybonhomme-Les-Tours, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (£21.80, Q Wines)

Pair with Cantonese Aubergine

Not only is this oaked white from Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux organic & biodynamic, it is also vegan making it a great choice for vegan dishes such as Cantonese Aubergine.

A 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc/ Sémillon blend, this wine has a fresh, citrus acidity which balances perfectly the tropical fruits and subtle creamy notes from one third of the wine being aged in French oak barrels.  

Château de Cérons, Graves (£19.95, Lea & Sandeman)

Pair with Prawn Chow Mein

This elegant, richer style of dry white from Graves stands up perfectly to heartier dishes such as Asian Pork of Prawn Chow Mein.

This white Bordeaux is grown on classic Graves terroir made up of gravel and seashells. The result is a wine with a wonderful texture and notes of elderflower, blackcurrant leaf and ripe grapefruit, concluding with a refreshing mineral note.

Berry Bros & Rudd Sauternes by Château Climens (£14.95, BBR)

Pair with Crispy Pork Dumplings

From biodynamic sweet wine producer Château Climens in Sauternes, this elegant wine is made exclusively for Berry Bros & Rudd.

Delicate and refined, this classic blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc shows notes of orange blossom, toast and honey on the nose, balanced by a tingling acidity and a beautifully complex, refreshing finish.

It’s the perfect partner for rich, Asian dishes like pork dumplings as it cuts through the fattiness of the dish; it works equally well with sweet and sour sauces. 

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Journey’s End Spekboom Sauvignon Blanc 2021

A new Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa's Journey's End

Journey’s End are launching a new wine, Spekboom Sauvignon Blanc, and it's as good as the rest of their range.

Journey's End - the winery

Journey's End was the final of a series of businesses founded by Shropshire-born Roger Gabb in the late 1990s; located in Stellenbosch and just 6km from the coast, it is cooled by the Indian and Atlantic oceans. As a result, the wines have a freshness that is more European than South African.

Gabb is now Chairman and son Rollo runs the business "making extremely good wine sold all over the world".


Journey’s End has always been wholly committed to sustainably and ethically producing wines; their new wine is named after the vineyard’s latest green project, the recent planting of 6,000 spekboom plants on the farm.

The wine’s namesake, spekboom (Portulacaria afra, also known as ‘Elephant Bush’) is a succulent, native to South Africa.

The team at Journey’s End is committed to reducing carbon emissions and Spekboom, is widely considered to be a ‘wonder plant’ due to its impressive abilities to absorb carbon dioxide; one hectare of mature spekboom thicket can up to 7.5 times more than the equivalent area of mature woodland.

Winemaking style

When I reviewed four Journey's End wines in 2021, a common feature to them all was that they improved significantly with aeration. On a call with the winemaker, I learnt that they are made in an extremely low-oxygen environment to preserve the fruit aromas of the wine. This is a play towards US and Asian palates, who tend to emphasise freshness of primary fruit over the savoury complexity that is more associated with European preferences, and certainly my own.

As a result, I found most of the wines the wines opening up and generally still improving even after 5 days of first opening, especially the reds and the more ambitious whites.

In the case of both the Weather Station Sauvignon and this Spekboom, the low-oxygen regime accentuates the delicate aromatics of the grape, so it drinks well on first pouring and doesn't actively require time in the decanter.

Journey’s End Spekboom Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (£10, Sainsbury's)

Made from 100% sustainably-sourced Sauvignon Blanc, it spends five months on the lees for savoury complexity

floral and aromatic zesty grapefruit and tropical citrus; melon and pineapple fruit with zippy lemon-lime and fresh geen herbs; supple, harmonious and fresh with saline minerality


Match with garlic-and-herb soft white cheeses, white fish in a herby broth or aromatic chicken salads.

Other reviews:

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Two South African Wines from The Co-op

Two South African wines from the Co-op

These two Co-op Fairtrade wine are on special offer from 23 February to 15 March 2022 inclusive, and reduced from their quoted prices below.

South Africa does not have a problem with ripeness; a warm country with plenty of sunshine, it never struggles to ripen grapes.

Rather, the challenge is more in maintaining freshness, even more so the further you get from the moderating sea breezes of coastal areas.

At the lower end of the price range, this means you get plenty of warmth and sunshine in the glass. If, as here, the wines are well-enough made, expect them to be full and expressive. And best matched with hearty foods.

Stylistically, they are as mainstream and familiar as you would expect.

Co-op and Fairtrade

Both these wines are Fairtrade and Co-op is the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade Wine, continuing to champion Fairtrade producers to ensure they’re paid a fair wage. Stocking 57 Fairtrade wines in total, in 2020 Co-op sold 14.5million litres of Fairtrade wine.

The premium wines from Co-op sales have helped to build a school and a secure water supply in Tilimuqui, to name but a few, and Co-op continues to work with suppliers and producers to help them gain Fairtrade accreditation.

So easy to enjoy, inexpensive and does good.

What's not to like?

Weather Man Sauvignon Blanc (£6.50)

kiwi lookalike

expressive kiwi-style pungent aromatics with guava, passionfruit and lemongrass; fresh citrus and lime zest, tropical fruits and gentle tannins. Harmonious and fault free.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Will stand up to strongly-flavoured foods; think creamy curries, grilled mackerel with garlic or hot dogs with relish. In warmer weather, it will work with barbecues or picnics.

Bruce Jack Shiraz (£7.25)

porty - in a good way

expressive with lifted dark fruits, leathery-earthy oaky spice and herbaceous minty eucalyptus; sweet, ripe plum, blueberry and dark berry fruit with cassis, oak, cocoa and black pepper. Supple and harmonious.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Match with strongly flavoured red-meat dishes such as burgers, sausages with relish or, chilled, with a rogan josh curry.

Friday, 11 February 2022

New York State of Wine: The Cabernet Franc-Off

NY State vs the World Cab Franc-Off, hosted by Oz Clarke

I'm from the Empire State

- Empire State of Mind: Jay-Z ft Alicia Keys (2009)

Part two of a series of tastings, pitting varietal wines from New York State against classics from the rest of the world.

The first NY State tasting of Rieslings from the Finger Lakes was enough to put New York wines properly on my radar.

The three Rieslings from New York State more than held their own against examples from Western Australia, Alsace and Rheinhessen.

Think of US wines and mostly what we see in this country is warm-climate, fruit-forward Cali-juice. But with pretty much all US states making wine, the potential for variety and nuance is much greater.

The wines here were from two sub-regions within the state:

Finger Lakes: on the same latitude as Spain, but without the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream, it has a cold winter and short, hot summer. Large diurnal temperature variation preserves acidity and vintage variation is significant.

Long Island:
 a wine region for just 40 years, it has a maritime climate with a much longer growing season and is home to mostly Bordeaux grapes.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is something of an ancient grape with a new look; its origins are uncertain, but the general consensus is Atlantic France, where it is still grown in the Loire, Bordeaux and further south.

It is a parent of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but sits somewhere between the two in flavour profile. It does well in cooler climates, but also preserves freshness and varietal character in the heat.

Dark and juicy, you might say that it has the freshness of a white wine yet with the colour and fruit flavours of a red.

Deeper dive: Finger Lakes

144 Wineries

90-120 Day Growing Season

Located in the heart of New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region, the Finger Lakes wine country is centred around four main lakes with Native American names:

- Canandaigua (“The Chosen Spot” or “The Chosen Place”)
- Keuka (“Canoe Landing” or “Crooked Lake”)
- Seneca (“Place of the Stone”)
- Cayuga (“Boat Landing”) 

Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake are also recognized as separate AVA’s within the Finger Lakes AVA due to their unique grape-growing conditions.

Some of the newest growth in this region is coming around the “Little Lakes”:

– Conesus (“Always Beautiful”)
- Hemlock (the only lake named for European settlers) found in the west.

The smaller lakes in the east – Owasco (“Floating Bridge” or “Crossing Place”), Cazenovia (“Lake of the yellow perch “), and Skaneateles (“Long Lake”) are also seeing wineries open in their vicinity. This region specializes in Sparkling Wines, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Ice Wine, and is also known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, as well as several French-American and Native American varietals. 

Deeper dive: Long Island

82 Wineries

215-233 Day Growing Season

New York’s maritime influenced region, dating back about 40 years, Long Island, with its sandy soil and moderate climate, is best known for its superb reds – classic Bordeaux blends (called “Meritage” wines in the U.S.), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

At the city of Riverhead, Long Island splits into two forks, separated by Great Peconic Bay. These two regions have their own AVA recognition as North Fork, Long Island, where most of the region’s wineries are located, and The Hamptons, Long Island, (or the south fork) where a few more wineries in the overall AVA reside.

Moderating influences include: Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The wines

Lamoreaux Landing – T23 Cabernet Franc 2020, FINGER LAKES (£19.99, Daniel Lambert Wines)

Fruited and elegant

juicy and berry-fruited with herbal notes, savouriness and come coffee grounds; fresh, elegant and harmonious; concentrated and long.

Very Good.

Couly Dutheil, Clos de L’Echo 2018, CHINON, LOIRE, FRANCE (not currently available in the UK)

15.5% monster from the Loire

baked, jammy fruit aromas with pine leaves, dried herbs and raspberry leaves; inky, viscous and concentrated with stewed, jammy berry fruits pepper and roasted spices; just about retains freshness. More solidly impressive than juicily enjoyable.


Element Winery, Cabernet Franc 2014, FINGER LAKES (not currently available in the UK)

Mature, savoury and slightly dried-out

complex and evolved with dried red berries, mushrooms, old leather and earthy sous bois; fresh and supple with sweet, ripe rosehip, licorice and bruised apple fruit


Zuccardi, Apelación Cabernet Franc 2018, UCO VALLEY, ARGENTINA (£17.75,  The Oxford Wine Company, The Vineking, Wimbledon Wine Cellars, The Wine Reserve)

Spiced blueberry pie

aromatic berries and raspberry leaf with nutmeg and cinnamon; plush yet fresh with gentle tannins; supple and long.


Journey’s End, V5 Cabernet Franc 2019, STELLENBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA (£15.50, Tanners)

Savoury and scrubby

savoury, scrubby fynbos nose with roasted spices; fresh and juicy with berry fruits, spices, coffee grounds and fine tannins.

Very Good.

RG|NY, RG|NY Cabernet Franc 2019, NORTH FORK, LONG ISLAND (not currently available in the UK)

spiced cherries and cream

herbal raspberry leaf, fresh red berries - juicy raspberries, strawberries and cranberries - with sweet spices; creamy, fresh and concentrated; elegant savoury and long with fine tannins and a dense, muscular core.

Very Good.

Other reviews:

Tom Cannavan: Franc from New York vs The Rest - wine-pages

Susy Atkins: Susy Atkins on Twitter: "Fascinating cabernet franc zoom tasting just now with ever-engaging @ozclarke - opened my eyes much wider to CF. New York State CFs very impressive indeed - watch out for ‘em! @rgnywine @LamoreauxWine @elementwinery @NYWineGrapeFdn @RandRDrinkers" / Twitter

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Three Languedoc Wines

Three Pays d'Oc wines - plus tasting notes from Master of Wine, Liz Gabay

When the Pays d’Oc label was created in 1987, it was the inspiration of California and the freedom of expression its many permitted single varieties offered that inspired many winegrowers at the time throughout the Languedoc and Roussillon regions.

This was an outlet for their New World style wines towards export markets – 35 years on, it’s one of the region’s hugest success stories.

The character of Pays d'Oc IGP varietal wines is closely linked to the sunny, Mediterranean climate. Like an amphitheatre open to the Mediterranean Sea, it extends in an arc along the 200km of coastline formed by the Gulf of Lion, from Nîmes through the Camargue, and the Côte Vermeille to the Spanish border.

To the south, the mountain ranges formed by the Pyrenees, to the east the foothills of the Cévennes, delimit its territory. Spread over 120,000 hectares, the vineyard is divided into three zones of influence: the maritime plains in its coastal part, the first slopes and limestone soils, and finally the high-altitude vineyards.

The extent of the Pays d’Oc vineyard explains the extraordinary diversity of soils found there: they alternate between sandy soils along the sea, limestones, schists, clays or stony gravel on the plains and hillsides.

This mosaic of terroirs is the field of expression of varieties authorized by the label. The wines of Pays d’Oc IGP are made up of 45% red wines, 25% white and 30% rosé. Currently, fifty-eight varieties are permissible under the Pays d’Oc IGP denomination.

Varieties range from old traditional varieties to varieties normally found elsewhere to modern crosses either presented on their own as a single variety or in traditional or unusual blends.

While most emphasis is on the single varieties, it is important not to forget the varied styles of winemaking and enormous range of styles, from fresh, fruit forward wines to fuller bodied wines aged on the lees or in barrel, from dry through lightly moelleux to fuller sweetness, which make so many of these wines exciting choices for a range of festive occasions.

Ournac Frères, Mélasse 1ère qualité Pinot Noir 2020, Domaine Coudoulet

While politics is generally avoided at festive meals, this wine allows you to enjoy the political cartoon of the winemaker's great-great grandfather!

And every bottle is numbered.

This wine also surprises, showing the fine quality of a Burgundian-style Pinot Noir from the Languedoc.

Liz says: Cherry fruit compote with a hint of eucalyptus and menthol aromas. On the palate vibrant sour cherries, crunchy red currants and mineral fruit. Really delicious, silky tannins with fresh mouth-watering acidity. Benchmark Pinot that would partner a roast leg of lamb.

My note: Burgundian nose; juicy ripe-yet-fresh berry fruits, red plums and cherries with some oaky spice and green herbs; supple and fresh with savoury minerality.


Drinks nicely on first opening; can be cellared.

Cellar price in France: 18€ / Not Retailed in the UK

Nielluccio 2020, Domaine la Cendrillon - organic

Nielluccio, the Corsican name for Sangiovese, is relatively new to the region and is loved for its freshness even in the hottest of years.

Liz says: Juicy perfumed compote with a touch of violets on the nose. On the palate, rich bitter chocolate, black cherries, coffee and violets (think Chianti).

Velvety, rich black fruit with smooth supple ripe tannins - enough to give structure and weight but ready to drink, with long, fresh crisp acidity.

My note: black cherries, dried green herbs and complex roasted spices; plummy fruit, dark berries and cassis with coffee grounds, oaky spice, leather and herbs; complex, fresh and concentrated with supple, firm and perfectly ripe tannins.

Very Good.

Match with roasted darker game, pasta ragù or wild mushroom dishes.

Cellar price in France: 10€ / Not Retailed in the UK

Les P’tites Terrasses 2020, Domaine Sibille - organic 

This delicately sweet blend of 50% Viognier and 50% Roussanne gives a lovely opportunity to make a meal festive as aperitif or with dessert.

Dried grapes give the sweet intensity with none of the weightiness of added alcohol found in a VDN. 

Liz says: Delicate tinned peach aromas. Silky creamy richness with notes of Seville oranges, grapefruit and candied citrus peel and pears.

A pleasure to sip with the citrus freshness acidity, and an edgy minerality hidden on the finish, lifting to delicate prettiness.

My note: delicate and floral with tropical fruits and musky melonskin; sweet-sour freshness with honey, beeswax and dried pineapple pieces; complex sweet spices and white-pepper savouriness.

Very Good.

Neither dry nor a full-on dessert wine, it makes a refreshingly sweet after-dinner sipper or will go nicely with a creme brulee.

Twitter came up with various savoury suggestions for food matches:


Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines suggests blue cheese.

Guardian columnists Fiona Beckett suggests mature goats cheese, mild creamy blue cheese

Joni Karanka suggests cheese fondue.


Northerly Boy went with Vietnamese Thit Kho Tau (pork belly)

Tim Butler suggests roasted pork belly with the wine substituting for apple sauce.


Jim-Bike/food/wine suggests seared scallops or salad nicoise.


Tim Needham suggested nasi goreng and James Hubbard offered Sichuan chicken stir-fry, Malay rendang, Moroccan-spiced fish or a smoked fish pie.

Cellar price in France: 12,20€ / Not Retailed in the UK.

Friday, 4 February 2022

Warwick Estate First Lady Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

Two First Lady Wines from South Africa's Warwick Estate at Tesco

If you have not heard of Warwick Estate, don't worry; it was founded in the 1980s and until recently exported little of its wine overseas.

Its back-story is fascinating, however.

Force-of-nature Canadian, Norma Ratcliffe was on holiday in Mykonos and met Stan Ratcliffe who won her heart and took her back to his South African farmstead in Stellenbosch around 40 km inland from Cape Town.

Once there, she decided she would make wine and taught herself from scratch. In rural South Africa. In the the days before the internet and YouTube.
Producing her first wine in 1984, just 6 barrels, she launched "Blue Lady" in 1986 and went on to achieve a string of firsts for the country - largely because she refused to accept people telling her that it "couldn't be done", including:

- one of South Africa's first female winemakers
- iconoclastic packaging design
- South Africa's first varietal Cabernet Franc

In 1994, she launched a "Cape Blend", including some Pinotage, and in 2006 the "First Lady" wines. In the mid-teens she finally retired and sold the business, unusually, to a US Private Equity firm.

More associated with rapidly-scaled, tech-enable disruptive offerings, the PE house's interest in Warwick was for the opportunity to increase volumes, through the acquisition of the Uitkyk vineyard, and pricing, as they believe South African wines are undervalued.

As current CEO Christiane Von Arnim explained, the development cycle of  a winery is very different to that of a tech business, but with neighbours including Kanonkop and just 20% of wines exported at the time, the scope for growth is there.

The First Lady Cab and Chardonnay are the two biggest sellers in the winery's portfolio and provide the funds for them to invest in higher-end projects and more sophisticated, individual wines.

Climate and terroir

The winery is 100ha and located around 40km inland from the cooling effects of False Bay, so it is a warm-climate region; there is some moderating influence from Simonsberg and the vines get good sun exposure all day.

There is limited irrigation to cope with the heat, around 4 times per year.

First Lady Chardonnay, 2020 (£8, Tesco)

The grapes, which are sourced from across different vineyards in Stellenbosch, picked in the cool of the early morning to keep them fresh and zingy. They are destemmed and crushed with no skin contact, and fermented mostly in stainless steel, with just 8% fermented in oak, adding a creamy structure to the palate. Extra complexity and roundness come from 100 days spent on lees, before bottling.

Expressive and aromatic with tropical fruits and leesiness; ripe apples-and-pears, yellow stone fruits, tropical citrus and limes with a savoury, leesy broadness.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value at the clubcard price of £6.

Match with roast chicken, pork kebabs, poached salmon with horseradish and dill or chicken korma.

First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 (£8, Tesco)

Warwick released its first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1984 and have been specialising in this variety ever since. Warwick use the vibrant younger vines for this energetic Cabernet, and the grapes deliver a wine that is full of life without the weight and seriousness of old age.

The grapes are harvested at optimal ripeness then aged for 18 months in a selection of oak (none new) before the final blending.

Expressive with black fruits, black olives, dark chocolate and dried herbs; fresh, juicy berries, very supple with gentle, perfectly ripe tannins and some pleasing hints of aged leather and savouriness.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value at the clubcard price of £6.

Match with grilled steak with a creamy mushroom sauce, tagliatelle with venison ragu or spicy salami.