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Sunday, 27 March 2022

Contemporary Georgia

An overview of contemporary Georgia, with tasting notes for 13 wines

They could out-eat us, out-drink us, out-dance us. They had the fierce gaiety of the Italians, and the physical energy of the Burgundians. Everything they did was done with flair…nothing can break the individuality of their spirit.

- John Steinbeck, on Georgia and Georgians, in ‘A Russian Journal’, 1948.

Georgian wine links


This small country, of high mountains and huge hearts, has an unbroken wine making heritage of 8,000 years.

‘Mother Georgia’ – the symbolic statue of the nation that overlooks the capital city – is pictured holding a wine cup for guests and a sword against invaders.

Georgia is a country of wine, of poetry, of fierce spirit, of plucky scrum halves, and of sublime food. Wine is in the blood. But Georgia’s strategic location – on the silk route, bounded by powerful and sometimes covetous neighbours – has interrupted her undoubted potential for making world-class wine. 

With hundreds of native varieties – including the thrilling red wine grape Saperavi – and a flourishing wine culture, Georgian wine was famous even in the 18th century.

Soviet rule homogenised the exuberant, individualistic native wine culture. The wine focus moved – with a few honorable exceptions – to quantity and homogeneity.

Since 1991 – and Georgia’s full independence – the country’s wine scene has mirrored the progress and confidence of this creative, poetic, dynamic and exuberant nation.

Georgian wine exports to the UK increased by 200% in 2020. Many producers and wines are already imported into the UK. Many more are looking for new partners. 

Regions and statistics

167 wines, 107 wineries 

46% red
26% white
22% orange
7% rosé

Georgia is dominated by mountains and wine. Vines are grown across the country. 

The south-eastern region of Kakheti produces three-quarters of all Georgian wine. Kakheti’s climate is transitional continental with subtropical influences. Kakheti makes Georgia’s ripest wines. But craggy faults and valleys make for scores of sub-zones, some of them expressed through official PDOs. 

Grape Varieties 

Major grape varieties grown in Kakheti are the white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi.


Common wines styles include contemporary dry whites and reds, the iconic amber wines made in traditional clay qvevri, and off-dry reds. Large producers and former state-owned wineries are well established in Kakheti. 


Moving westward, regions are Kartli, Meskheti, Imereti, Racha-Lechkumi, Samegrelo, Guria, Adjara and Abkhazia (occupied by Russia). 

Kartli, like Kakheti, is influenced by weather systems from the east. In the west, the Black Sea and higher altitudes moderate the climate.

Every region has its own distinctive vine varieties, as well as cultural, gastronomic and wine making traditions.

Food matching

Think of Georgian wines as similar to sherry - versatile, complex and food-friendly, they match well with salty cheese and dried hams.

The Wines

From lighter to richer, starting in western Georgia with its cooler climate due to higher altitude

The Whites

Solomone - Tsitska, Tsolikouri, Krakhuna 2020  Tsitska, Tsolikouri, Krakhuna 12.3% (Seeking importer)

qvevri-made wine, using indigenous Imeretian varieties; winery founded in 2010, 2019 was the first vintage released; Imeretian qvevri, called churi, are smaller leading to a lower fermenting temperature and only about 20% - 30% of grape skins are included with skins for a lighter wine

naturally clear, it is unfined and unfiltered

vibrant fruit; fresh and saline with lovely grapefruit acidity and green banana flavours; delicate, textured and intense 

Churi Chinebuli - Churi Chinebuli 2018 Krakhuna 13% (£15 approx, Imported by Degustate.co.uk)

varietal Krakhuna from a young winery, founded by Dr Giga Gotsadze; churi-made wine with two months on the lees in stainless steel, indigenous Imeretian variety

floral and textured with yellow stone fruit, apricot-skin flavours and a rich savouriness; graceful 

Koncho & Company - Mtsvivani Kakhuri 2017 Mtsvivani 14% (Seeking Importer)

from a large producer; non-qvevri wine, fermented in stainless steel and aged on lees on oak for 12m

bruised apple flesh, cidery with savoury creamy leesiness and exotic tropical fruit; warming and rich

Matrobela Wines - Kisi Qvevri 2019 Kisi 13% (£20, Imported by www.tasteofgeorgia.co.uk)

family winery, founded in 2015 by a professor of languages, using one of Georgia's most talent young winemaker; native Kisi grape variety native to Kakheti with 100% of skins in qvevri with 6m aging on skins

bright amber, fragrant with crunchy green apple and bruised fruit flavours; grippy, well-integrated white-tea tannins, fuller and more substantial

Amber wines

Satsnakheli/Tchotiashvili Vineyards - Khikhvi 2016 Khikhvi 13% (£20, Imported by www.degustate.co.uk)

vines planted in 2002 at 450m altitude, qvevri-fermented with 8m skin contact; unfined, unfiltered, low sulphite; quasi-natural wine with high attention to detail

golden amber; aromatic, complex and evolved with dried apricots and green herbs; fresh, textured and mineral with dried yellow stone fruits and a dense, muscular core

Bolero & Company - Sabado Mtsvane Qvevri 2018 Mtsvane 13% (Seeking importer)

larger producer dating back to 1929; fermented in qvevri and aged for 6m on skins, slightly lighter Kakhetian style with a touch of RS to offset the tannins

aromatic and floral; dried yellow stone fruits, orchard fruits, white pepper and wild herbs; complex with gentle, well-integrated tannins

The Reds

Solomone -Dzelshavi 2020 Dzelshavi 11.5% (Seeking importer)

dzelshavi grape; ancient, rare and revived variety; thin skinned, fragrant and scented

floral with cherry fruit and grassy meadow flowers; fresh, juicy red and black berries with vibrant acidity and gentle, well-integrated tannins; light, fresh and fragrant

Papari Valley - 3 Qvevri Terraces Saperavi 2019  Saperavi 16% (£24.99, Imported by Georgian Wine Society)

organic, natural yeasts only, father-and-son winery, fermentation in qvevri terraces using gravity to rack from higher levels (fermentation) to lower levels (elevage and aging)

inky and viscous in the glass; lifted, floral dark pastille fruits; ripe cassis, baked blueberries and black fruits with tobacco leaf, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon spice; a sweet wine fermented to dryness, quirky and characterful

Gurian Wines of Amiran Dolidze - Ckhaveri, Qvevri 2018 Ckhaveri 13.3% (Seeking importer)

native (and resurgent) thick-skinned late-ripening Ckhaveri grape grown in western Georgia near the Black Sea; thrives in high humidity areas, producing aromatic candy-pink wines even when fermented on the skins; qvevri-fermented

bright, floral, aromatic; fresh and floral with delicate, pretty soft red-berry fruits with sumac spices

Tsulukidze Wine Yards – Aleksandrouli 2019 Aleksandrouli/ Mujuretuli 13.5% (Seeking importer)

young, small winery in the high north west, altitude 550m; qvevri-fermented, unfined, unfiltered; native Aleksandrouli grape, picked late with natural RS and high acidity

floral, perfumed parma violets and spice; fresh, juicy dark berries with wild green herbs; long and savoury with very fine tannins

Itsis Marani - Bimbili 2019 Mudjuretuli 14% (Seeking importer)

Mudjuretuli grape, grown at 400m - 500m, late harvested in October, fermented in stainless steel

aromatic red and black berry fruits; sweet, ripe, juicy jammy berry fruits with spice and florality; fresh, savoury and long with fine tannins

Odjaleshe - Odjaleche Salkhino 2018 Ojaleshi 13% (Seeking importer)

Ojaleshi grape from a young producer; qvevri wine

vibrant wild strawberry and bramble fruits and menthol; summer berry compote with spice and mint; intense with gentle tannins

Lipartiani Wine House - Chateau Lipartiani 2012 Saperavi 14.5% (Imported by Geo Naturals)

lifted cassis and baked blueberries with some volatile acidity; sweet, ripe dark berries and black fruits with minty eucalyptus; porty, concentrated and substantial in a Soviet old-school sort of way; long, complex and yet still primary for its age

Saturday, 26 March 2022

The CWB Spain-Off

A Spanish red and white from Beronia and Torres

If it feels like wines from Spain have been getting more interesting and diverse for as long as you can remember, that's probably because they have.

How did Spain go from Rioja, sherry and inexpensive rustic reds to a vibrant and dynamic country with more Michelin-starred restaurants than France?

The simple answer is democracy, trade and economics.

As Eastern Europe will attest, dictatorships of any political persuasion tend not to produce great wine. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Spain peacefully and successfully transition into a democracy; by 1986, it was enjoying the benefits of increased trade and rising wealth as a result of joining the European Union.

With lower land prices than in Big Name parts of France and Italy plus plentiful established regions filled with old vines, Spain became a more attractive destination for younger and more ambitious but less affluent winemakers wanting to make a name for themselves.

And a rising tide lifts all boats; inland Spain's harsh, high-altitude marginal climates became a reason to command a price premium rather than simply an expensive place for family-owned  farms to make small amounts of wine.

Bodegas Beronia

Founded in 1973 by friends with a passion for fine food and the shared desire to produce wines worthy of pairing with their culinary creations, Beronia set out to create the perfect blend between tradition and innovation. The Beronia portfolio celebrates the long-standing traditions of the Rioja region, while paving way for a sustainable future.

Beronia Rueda 2020 (£8.99, Waitrose, Ocado, Sainsbury’s)

The grapes are harvested mechanically at night to retain freshness. The fruit is pressed gently in an inert atmosphere with fermentation using selected yeasts and the temperature control for 10-15 days in stainless steel for aromatics and concrete for complexity.

 After 2 to 3 months' ageing on its lees with weekly remuage, the wine is clarified and filtered prior to creating the perfect blend and bottling.

bright pale yellow with green hints; intensely aromatic and herbaceous with mint, fennel, citrus and white pepper; fresh and precise with ripe stone fruits, tropical melon and pineapple fruit, fresh herbs and creamy-leesy savouriness.

Drinks nicely on first opening and gains complexity with aeration.


Match with pork and sage, garlic and herb roulade or white fish in a herby broth. 

Beronia Crianza 2018 (£11.99, Waitrose, Ocado, Majestic)

Made from selected Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo grapes. Upon arrival at the winery the fruit was macerated for a few days prior to fermentation. Temperature controlled alcoholic fermentation followed, with the temperature kept below 26ºC. The must was pumped over regularly to extract the desired colour and aromas, then the wine was left for twelve months in barrels made of American oak staves and French oak ends to create the unmistakable “Beronia style”. 

Lastly, the wine was bottled and left to rest for three months prior to release.

deep cherry red with a garnet edge; clean, bright and complex on the nose, with of cherry, raspberry and herbal notes of rosemary and thyme, as well as cinnamon and tobacco; blackcurrant, blueberry, cherry, fig, plum Very fresh vanilla and chocolate. Supple and full.

Improves significantly with aeration and can be cellared.


Match with roasted red meats, chargrilled chops, Ibérico cured meats and mature cheese. 

Familia Torres

With more than 150 years of experience as winemakers and viticulturists, and eager to experiment with a different terroir, Torres produced their first Tempranillo from the DO Ribera del Duero in northern Spain in 2004.

Celeste Crianza proved such a success, a winery soon followed, named Pago del Cielo in reference to the vines that grow at nearly 900 metres above sea level, and appear to form a magical connection with the heavens above. Celeste Verdejo joined the fold in 2020, and the starry labels on both wines reflect the star-filled sky seen from the winery at night.

Familia Torres Celeste Verdejo 2019 (£12.99 from Wine Direct, Soho Wines, Handford Wines, Signarellis Deli, The Grape to Glass Wine (Wales), Christopher Keiller (by the case))

a new wine from Rueda, known for its crisp white Verdejo

Celeste Verdejo is modern in style and shows remarkable freshness and aromatic intensity. Made from 100% Verdejo, a grape variety exclusive to the region of Rueda, from a wine-making area situated on the highest part of the northern plateau. The vineyards in Villafranca del Duero are on the left bank of a wide river, which meanders its way through the first foothills of the valley amid a landscape of gentle slopes.

The iron-rich alluvial soils contain lots of pebbles characteristic of the riverbed giving good drainage which combined with the continental climate of cold winters and hot summers make this an ideal spot for growing this native white variety.

The grapes are harvested at night, under the star-lit sky to control the temperature and then fermented in stainless steel.

aromatic and intense with herbaceous fennel, anise, white pepper and citrussy pineapple; fresh yet broad with sweet mango, exotic tropical fruits and yellow stone fruits; elegant and harmonious with good underpinnings.


Fresh and aromatic enough for an aperitif; match with seafood, fresh and fried fish and herbaceous salads

Familia Torres Celeste Crianza 2018 (£12.99 from Waitrose, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Roberts and Speight, Vinvum, TheDrinkShop.com, Wine Direct (Sussex), Noble Green Wines, Connolly’s Wine Merchants (W.Midlands), Lattitude (Yorkshire), Handford Wines)

an expressive Tempranillo from the high-altitude vineyards of Ribera del Duero

Celeste Crianza was the first Torres wine to be produced in the Ribera Del Duero region. The wine is made from 100% Tempranillo, Spain’s most widely planted grape, known locally as Tinto Fino.

The vines thrive in the extremes of scorching summers, freezing winters and mountain winds in the high-altitude vineyards planted in Ribera’s diverse soils. Low yields resulting from conscientiously tended old vines give Celeste Crianza its distinctive depth and complexity.

expressive dark-berry fruit with complex oaky spice, mushrooms and leather; fresh, concentrated and dense with blackberries, black cherries, cassis and black olive; liquorice, vanilla and minty, slightly warming eucalyptus; full and supple with harmonious, perfectly ripe and well-integrated tannins.

Benefits from aeration and will repay further cellaring.

Very Good.

Match with with hearty red meat dishes such as barbecued or grilled steak, lamb chops and sausages.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Food and Wine Matching with Kindling Restaurant - White Chocolate Fudge with Dark Chocolate Crumb

A dessert recipe from Kindling Restaurant, Brighton - with some attempted wine matches

Kindling Restaurant in Brighton is about more than just the delicious food, it is a community of people: staff, customers and suppliers all sharing and celebrating local produce. Nature writes the menu as the seasons inspire the dishes. Kindling is featured in the Michelin Guide and is a member of the Sustainable Restaurants Association.

Chef Holly Taylor: credit Jo Hunt

The Food - White chocolate fudge with dark chocolate crumb 

This is Kindling’s signature petit four, but it also makes an excellent Mother’s Day gift. Sweet, creamy and soft this fudge is perfect with a cup of coffee or espresso martini.

The Wines

The fundamental rule of matching sweet foods is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food. Fudge is about as sweet and rich as desserts come, so this is a tricky match.

Cream sherry or whisky would be the traditional options but for something lighter, fresher and a little more unusual, serve the fudge in very small pieces and match with either a botrytised Riesling or an Italian red fizz. .

New Zealand dessert Riesling:

aromas of roses, orange marmalade, dried apricots and butterscotch; unctuously sweet and opulent, very concentrated and intense yet also fresh and balanced; complex botrytis flavours of beeswax, aromatic scrubland bitter herbs and hedonistic overripe peaches.

This is a very sophisticated dessert wine that stands up to the sweetness of the fudge.

Made from Brachetto grapes, this red fizz is fermented in stainless steel for freshness and aromatics, with some lees aging for complexity and just 7.4% alcohol.

intensely aromatic with roses and soft red berries; elegant soft red fruits with hints of almond and nutmeg; sweet yet refreshing; very elegant with crisp red berries and some leesy complexity

Light and moreish, the wine is not overpowered by the fudge but plays a supporting role, with the sweetness of the fudge enhancing the freshness of the wine.

The Recipe

To make the dark chocolate crumb:

30g water
125g sugar
60g dark chocolate

1. Put the water and sugar in a pan and cook to 168C, checking the temperature with a thermometer suitable for high temperatures.

2. Remove from the heat, stir in chocolate to create the soil.

3. Cool on a baking paper lined tray, then chop to a medium crumb.

To make the fudge:

500g of caster sugar
150g of glucose syrup
280g of double cream
330g of white chocolate, chopped
75g of butter

1. Line an 8 inch cake tin with non-stick paper.
2. Place the sugar, glucose syrup and double cream in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook whilst stirring to a temperature of 114C. Be careful not to heat the mixture too strongly because it can bubble and spit. Be patient, heat it steadily and keep stirring at all times.
3. Once the mixture is at the correct temperature, remove it from the heat and add the butter and chopped white chocolate. Stir well until everything is melted together. If the mixture is a little stiff, you might want to return it to the heat for a few seconds to ensure it is liquid enough to pour into your tin.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and immediately sprinkle the top with the chocolate soil.
5. Allow to cool at room temperature, then wrap the tin in clingfilm and chill overnight in the fridge.
6. The fudge is easiest to cut when cold and should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

Friday, 18 March 2022

The CWB Eastern France-Off - A Deeper Dive

Five wines from Eastern France

Draw a straight line down the Eastern side of France from the English Channel to the Mediterranean and you will pass through three great wine regions; Champagne, Burgundy and the Rhône.

It is around 800 miles end-to-end, and can be a pleasant drive to sunnier climes if you add in a stop-over - lunch in Reims, dinner somewhere between Dijon and Macon then an onward drive the following day to the Rhône, Provence or Côte d'Azur for a week of R&R.

We have done it many times over the years with the children and like to mix up the journey with various scenic detours, including, on one occasion, a side-trip to Chablis.

Visiting a wine region and spending time there is the best way I have found to understand its geography, terroir, history, gastronomy as well as the sources of its diversity.

So, in anticipation of a long European summer drive south to sun-kissed beaches and shimmering seas, here is a deeper dive in to a few regions along the way.


At the the far north of Burgundy, Chablis is perhaps better understood as a southerly outpost of Champagne.

Chablis has four levels of classification from Petit up to Grand Cru. Premier Cru is, somewhat confusingly, the second rank of wines, tending to be well structured and long, but needing 5-10 years of ageing to show their best.

There are 40 Premier Cru sites scattered across the appellation, with 17 main ‘Climats’.

Chardonnay is the only permitted grape across the region so there is a distinct Chablis flavour profile - lean and steely in its youth, golden and complex with age.

Vintage aside, the differences are more about quality as a result of location, aspect and soil type - and prices charged will reflect this, of course.

At Premier Cru level, a key distinction is Left Bank vs Right Bank; the Left Bank of the Serein River is cooler giving steelier wines that benefit more from ageing, whereas the Right Bank tends to produce fuller, richer, more powerful wines that are more expressive and approachable when younger.

Here, we have two younger left bankers and a right bank Premier Cru Chablis with more age.

The age vs bank dynamic accentuates the differences in the wines; the older Right Bank wine is showing better right now and for immediate drinking would be my recommendation.

However, with an eye on the future, you should also consider the two Left Bankers and tuck them away somewhere dark and cool, then dig them out in several years and consider what an excellent investment you made.

Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2020 (WaitroseCellar.com: £25.49, Great Grog: £32.29, FL Dickins, Thedrinkshop.com: £28.54) 

This is from the left bank which faces southeast, enjoying the morning sun, but it is colder and windier throughout the day, meaning the wines are often more restrained and emphasising classic minerality.

Wines from Montmains are more mineral than fruit driven, because of the stony minerality from the chalk soils.

This has a mineral touch and is powerful with predominant aromas of flowers. It is a supple and rounded wine which has a real sense of its terroir.

restrained orchard fruits and citrus; orchard and white stone fruits, delicate florality and hints of honeysuckle with saline minerality; fresh, supple and pure.

Drinks well on first opening, but better to aerate and also preferably cellar for several years to allow it to develop and show its best.

Very Good.

Match with fish in sauce or white meats.

Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Vaillons 2019 (WaitroseCellar.com (£28.99), Small Beer, Whole Foods Market, Thedrinkshop.com (£28.91))

This wine enjoys soils on the left bank that are less clay-like than those on the right bank. Vaillons is one of the largest and well-known of the Chablis Premiers Crus and this wine is an excellent example of a highly rated left bank Chablis.

Pure and focused, it has aromas of delicate white flowers and fruit. Well-rounded and charming this wine has a note of minerality on the palate and a good balance between acidity and fruit.

A generous, beautifully balanced wine with good length and very typical of Chablis.

fresh zippy citrus and delicate florality; orchard and white stone fruits with saline minerality, white pepper and a savoury leesiness; elegant, precise and poised.

Drinks nicely on first opening, but will improve with cellaring and some aeration.

Very Good.

Drink with seafood, grilled fish and white meats in sauce.

Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Fourchaume 2018 (Tesco: £25-£30, Thedrinkshop.com: £31.99) 

This is from the Right Bank which tends to produce richer and more powerful wines.

The Fourchaume vineyard borders the northern limits of the town of Chablis and is one of the most well-known and highly respected crus, with a reputation for generosity of flavours. Exposed to the west and southwest, the area sees many hours of sunshine and being downstream, it benefits from the rich terroir created from the alluvium carried by the river. The grapes from the vines here have an average age of 30 years. 

Aged on lees, in stainless steel, for 10-12 months, this is classically elegant, powerful, and round with lovely aromas of citrus fruit, fresh mint and spicy notes alongside ripe fruits and honey flavours.

honeysuckle and yellow stone fruits with white pepper and herbaceous mint; full and supple with saline minerality; stone fruits, honey and savoury, creamy brazil nut leesiness.

Very Good.

Match with fruits de mer, lobster, oysters, clams, prawns, or pork medallions in a cream-and-mushroom sauce.

Northern Rhône

Drive past Lyon and out of Burgundy and, as the mercury rises, you start heading head towards the dusty, rocky, lavender-scented region of Provence via the Rhône valley.

The Northern Rhône is Syrah's spiritual home and predominantly a red-wine area.

Saint-Péray, then, is something of an anomaly; small and little-known, it is an exclusively white region, producing mainly sparkling wines that were once more highly-regarded than Champagne.

Oenologically, it dates back to Roman times, grows mainly Roussanne and was apparently Napoleon's first taste of wine as a Cadet in nearby Valence.

UK Rhône expert Matt Walls says of the region: stylistically, it is most similar to St. Joseph. It has both granite and limestone soils, so the specific wine style depends on where the vines are planted, but it’s usually marginally softer than a typical St Joseph. It can be lovely

US-based Jeb Dunnuck adds: it's more limestone soils as opposed to granite soils; the wines rarely seem to have the density of a top Hermitage or Saint Joseph, but always seem to shows a terrific sense of minerality as well as salinity. Most great Hermitage Blancs come from the more limestone and loess soils on the eastern part of the hill, so there are some similarities from a soil standpoint, but Saint-Péray is more east-facing, so it doesn't have the incredible exposure of Hermitage.

This wine is an anomaly within an anomaly; neither sparkling nor made from Roussanne. It is also very impressive.

Saint-Péray 2020, Vidal-Fleury 

Made from 100% Marsanne grown on granitic soil covered with silt, lœss and limestone debris. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and and aged 30% in oak barrels and 70% in stainless steel on the lees with some batonnage.

bright yellow and green with white flowers, lemon zest and subtle hawthorn, violet, and acacia with hints of honey; sweet lemon, apricot, pear and creamy-leesy almond with aromatic fennel, white pepper and aniseed;  rounded, decadent and long yet fresh.

Very Good

Match with fish, white meat or regional cheese.

Southern Rhône

Hedonistic where the North can be haughty, the Southern Rhône is home to a wider range of grapes, colours and styles of wine. 

I've been very impressed with Cellier des Princes previously; the wines are not only consistently well-made and at least enjoyable, if not generally rather better than that, they have a characteristic, atypical vibrant freshness.

The winery dates back to 1925 and is the first and only cooperative in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, overseeing production from vine to the bottle. 

Hérosé, IGP Méditerranée, 2021

Grown on clay and silicious soils, a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 15% Cinsault; fermented at low temperature in stainless steel for freshness and aromatics. 

bright and aromatic with citrus flowers and red fruits; soft red fruits and berries with citrus freshness; elegant and well-made with good, savoury underpinnings.


Serve as an aperitif or match with fish dishes, summer salads, grilled meats and Provence-style dished.

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Is This It? Hungarian Pinot Blanc from The Co-op

Is This It? A Pinot Blanc from Hungary via The Co-op

Can't you see I'm trying? I don't even like it
I just lied to get to your apartment
Now I'm staying there just for a while
I can't think 'cause I'm just way too tired

- The Strokes, Is This It? (2001)

I cannot lie, a Hungarian wine that references one of the greatest albums of the 21st century, if not of all time, got my interest.

Budapest was one of the later great eastern European capitals to smarten up; Vienna had always been beautiful, if somewhat sleepy, and Prague, full of scruffy backpackers followed by braying stag-dos, seemed to improve continuously before your eyes but Budapest took another decade-or-so to get with the programme and reveal its charms.

In the early '00s, it was still all Socialist faded glamour, but by the end of the new century's first decade it had some become attractive and vibrant, with a sophisticated, cosmopolitan feel and a newly burnished hedonistic, hipster vibe.

The same, to an extent, is true of Hungarian wines; our local MD at the advertising agency that I used to drop in on periodically twenty-odd years ago could always be relied on to find a good restaurant with an impressive wine list, but these were pioneering exceptions more than the rule.

These days, the Hungarian wine scene is more of a movement and more confident, with plenty of good wines and some that are rather better than that.

This Pinot Blanc from The Co-op fits firmly into the well-made, inexpensive and enjoyable category. Elegant more than complex, it is a perfect everyday wine; an easy sipper for when the weather is good, a barbecue or party wine if you want something easy-drinking and well made with broad appeal or an aperitif / starters wine.

It is also good value even at the list price, before special-offer discounts.

For more on discovering Hungary, see this from Lonely Planet: Hit the road for the best experiences in Hungary – Lonely Planet

Is This It? Pinot Blanc (£6.50, The Co-op)

arestrained nose of citrus and florality; fresh conference pear and green apple, citrus, white flowers and a touch of white pepper; good linear acidity and minerality; well-made, very adept and elegant.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink as a summer sipper or with light starters, such as mozzarella, scallops or chicken salad.

Special offer details 

Reduced to £5.50 from £6.50 from 16 March – 05 April 2022.

Saturday, 12 March 2022

Yalumba Y Series

Y drink anything else?  Yalumba's Y Series range of wines

Yalumba ‘Y Series’ wines are for everyone to enjoy and explore. A range of different varieties, at an affordable price point, to experiment and discover. Refreshing, fruit-driven wines from a trusted family-owned winery, created with the lightest of touch, allowing the natural varieties to sing. Authentically crafted with fruit from South Australia’s most celebrated wine regions.

Artwork, by South Australian artist, Cindy Durant, on the Y Series wine labels, depict a layer of the vineyards from sun to soil to wind.

All vegan friendly, 100% wild fermented, and sustainably produced to create an approachable, medium bodied style.

Yalumba believes that one good wine leads to another. The Y Series was created with this in mind, so pick up a bottle or two and share a love of wine.

Details from Yalumba (scroll down further for my tasting notes)

Y Series Riesling 

The Y Series Riesling is fun, aromatic and refreshingly crisp. A white wine with classic Riesling floral aromas of citrus and generous flavours of grapefruit, citrus pith and green apple and a vibrant acidity. The grapes were harvested in the cool of the night to help retain the lovely aromatics for which Riesling is famous.

This is a wine that can handle some heat, try it with Jamaican jerk chicken or Sri Lankan vegetable curry, or simply enjoy with cucumber sandwiches or fresh cooked prawns and lime aioli.

The Y Series Riesling label depicts the gum leaf. Gum leaves represent Yalumba’s commitment to the natural environment and to biodiversity, whereby for every hectare of vineyard they own, at least one hectare is dedicated to native vegetation.

Y Series Viognier 

Louisa Rose is one of Australia's most respected winemakers and chief winemaker at Yalumba for more than 20 years. She knows a thing or two about Viognier. This award-winning wine is on the fresher, lighter end of the Viognier spectrum.

It shows all the unique characteristics of this exotic variety, without being too rich on the palate. Fresh, light and creamy, with notes of orange blossom, fresh ginger and hints of honeysuckle. Delicious with Harissa chicken or crispy pancakes with potato and chickpeas.

The Y Series Viognier label depicts a healthy vine representing Yalumba’s winemaking ethos and holistic approach to sustainability. 100% of the vintage output is recycled, re-used or re-purposed. Nurturing the environment that provide healthy grapes ready for harvest year after year.

The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé 

 The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé is made from the classic Italian variety. This light, bright and dry Rosé leaps from the glass with floral and berry aromatics.

A vibrant watermelon pink in colour. Red fruit aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberries, and cream with a hint of fuchsia. The bright, luscious palate with pomegranate and cranberry flavours is completed by a refreshing citrus finish.

Delicious with Parma ham and melon, Thai-style corn fritters with a sweet chilli dipping sauce or a slow roast pork shoulder served with an Asian style coleslaw.

The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé label depicts the dragonfly. Dragonflies are a sign of a healthy environment and represent our plantings of native flowering shrubs throughout our vineyards to encourage insects that eradicate pests and to reduce pesticides.

Y Series Merlot 

This enticing and youthful Merlot will light up the room with its jovial presence. Fresh and bright, it displays fresh plum, mulberry and violet aromatics with beautiful, long tannins. Strong notes of fresh, ripe figs, strawberries and boysenberries burst from the glass combined with an attractive cool mint lift. The palate is generous, round and succulent. Soft tannins glide over the mid palate which shows lovely synergy with a burst of fruit and hints of exotic spices.

A real Sunday afternoon wine. Perfect with a slow cooked cassoulet or chickpeas, garlic, spinach and red onion pasta dish or enjoy with a roast leg of lamb or a beef casserole, roast chicken or tomato-based pasta dishes.

The Y Series Merlot label depicts the ground cover in and around the vineyard. Cover crops are grown between vine rows to protect the soil, prevent erosion, suppress weeds, provide nutrition to the vines and reduce temperature during warmer months. 

Prices, availability and my detailed tasting notes

These wines are all very well made, reliable and sophisticated beyond their price point.

Y Series Riesling 2021 (£8.50, Sainsbury’s)

green apple and fresh herbs; white stone fruits, fresh, zippy tropical fruits, lemon, pineapple and zippy lime, grapefruit, aromatic hoppiness and a savoury persistence.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

A versatile food wine match with roast pork with fennel, meaty white fish with herbs or creamy curries.

Y Series Viognier 2021 (£7.50, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Majestic)

white flowers, white pepper and stone fruit; waxy yet crisp with peach, apricot and pineapple fruit, some grapefruit and lemon pitch; honeysuckle and minerality with good, savoury underpinnings.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with spicy and rich dishes such as a Sri Lankan vegetable or chicken curry.

The Y Series Sangiovese Rosé 2021 (£7.50, Wine Society, from Easter and also available in the ‘Easter Wine Without Fuss’ case)

delicate redcurrant fruit; juicy, refreshing soft red berries, full and supple with saline minerality and some leesy savouriness; well made with good underpinnings.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with picnic foods, mezze or anti-pasti.

Y Series Merlot 2019 ( £8.00, Tesco, Majestic)

plummy fruit, violets and coffee grounds; ripe, juicy berry fruits with spice, coffee grounds and refreshing acidity.

Well made and thoroughly enjoyable.

Fresh enough to match with picnic or barbecue foods, mixed starters or red-meat stews and roasts.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Easter Wines from Virgin Wines - The Old World

Five Old World Wines from Virgin Wines for Easter

In (overly) simple terms, the New World means plenty of ripe fruit, while the Old World does nuanced, complex, 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 geographically Old World Europe are warm and sunny enough to make crowd-pleasing "sunshine in a glass" wines with plenty of easy-drinking ripeness.

So, clear distinctions are not always easy to make, but do help with a broad understanding.

These five wines from Virgin are all Old World in the sense of being from cooler parts of the European continent with an emphasis on texture and structure as much as on fruit.

They are also largely from classic regions, meaning they cost a few pennies for the prestige of the name and are of an instantly recognisable style.

All these wines have aging potential and, if you do drink them young, will benefit from significant aeration to show their best - think several hours in the decanter for the still wines.

Match to classic foods, generally from the region of the wine itself - think scallops with pea puree, roast fowl or game, a cheese plate or beef bourguinon.

They are all very well-made and flawless examples of their style.

Sophisticated fizz to start

Henners Foxearle English Sparkling Brut 2016 (£39.99)

Handmade by a three-person team, this unique offering showcases the best grapes from the 2016 vintage. A fresh, lively and elegant sparkling wine with vibrant acidity. Packed full of flavours like toasted, buttered brioche, accompanied by slices of fresh red apple and lemon nougat.

ABV: 12.5% Region: Sussex, England Grape Type: Champagne Blend

orchard fruits, citrus, florality and nutty brioche; fresh, poised and linear with crisp green apple, citrus and conference pear, brazil nut, creamy oatmeal and toasty brioche; broad, savoury and complex.

Slightly shy on first opening, it opens up with aeration and can be aged further.

Very Good.

Serve as an aperitif; match with seafood starters or salmon wellington.

The Complex White

Pouilly Fuisse Domain Damien Martin 2020 (£22.99) 

Sustainable vineyard management, is used by Damien Martin (young winemaker of the year 2020) to gently nurture the 25-year-old vines to develop a beautifully balanced wine with apricot and pear flavours entwined with delicate oak and cream notes.

ABV: 13% Region: Burgundy - Maconnais, France Grape Type: Chardonnay 

complex, opulent dried yellow stone fruits, honeysuckle, beeswax and citrus; fresh, savoury and complex with citrus, dried pineapple, lime marmalade, sweet spices, creamy brazil nut, oatmeal richness and toasty spice; broad, long and saline.

Improves significantly with aeration, so don't be afraid to decant for a couple of hours; will repay some cellaring.

Very Good+.

Match with plain roast white meats, savoury mushroom-and-cream dishes or hard cheeses.

The Reds

Beaujolais Villages Lantignie Alexandre Burgaud 2018 (£13.99) 

Alex Burgaud is a producer to watch. His exemplary Beaujolais Lantignié is as good as any fine Fleurie! Expect lifted aromas of red berries and violets and, on the palate, mouth coating red fruits with mineral freshness and soft, supple tannins.

ABV: 14% Region: Burgundy – Beaujolais, France Grape Type: Gamay

fresh dark berry fruits, raspberry leaf and violets; fresh, juicy cassis, bramble fruits, minty eucalyptus and spice with a supple texture.

slightly grippy on first opening, the tannins become more rounded and harmonious with aeration; can be cellared.

Also drinks nicely chilled, like a fresh blackcurrant sorbet.

Very Good.

Match with herby sausages, salamis or pastrami.

Le Vendangeoir Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil 2020 (£11.99) 

Mature 40-year-old Cabernet Franc vines give this wine a very special concentration, with notes of racy red fruit and hints of graphite on the nose with a good acid backbone which enables it to maintain its pure fruity crunch.

ABV: 12.5% Region: Loire, France Grape Type: Cabernet Franc 

red berry fruits, red and black cherries with spice and raspberry leaf; fresh, juicy summer-berry fruits with mint leaves and graphite; supple and concentrated with rounded tannins and a savoury mineral backbone

Good; improves with aeration and can be cellared.

Match with herby sausages or roasted meats, such as lamb with rosemary or pork with sage.

Dominio de Laertes Rioja DOCa 2019 (£12.99) 

Made from old vines (55 years old), this wine is made from a family that have dedicated several generations to the cultivation of their vineyards. It is very aromatic with wild blueberries, and very bright on the palate with a long finish.

ABV: 14.5% Region: Rioja, Spain Grape Type: Graciano, Tempranillo and Garnacha 

dark fruits, complex old leather, oaky spice and florality; full and supple with savoury, grilled black fruits, black olives and roasted bitter spices; dense, inky and concentrated with firm yet perfectly ripe, rounded tannins.

Improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.


Match with char-grilled red meats and peppered rare roast beef.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Georgia - Masterclass with Sarah Abbott

A masterclass in Georgian wines with Sarah Abbott MW for Georgian Wine UK

Georgia has a long history and is full of culture but has had to re-invent its wine culture since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, making it both dynamic and diverse with a rich heritage.

A small country of just 4 million people, physically it is the same size as Scotland, surrounded by much larger neighbours and forms a land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

On a southerly, sub-tropical latitude, temperatures are moderated by the effects of the Black Sea to the East and shielded from cold air by the Caucasus Mountains to the North.

Georgia's continued existence in the midst of larger, sometimes aggressive empires is a testament to the sheer resilience of its people and their strong sense of identity; it is one the cradles of civilisation and one of the earliest Christian nations.

Climatically, the East is warmed by air from Iran whereas the West Coast is sub-tropical with a warm, benign, year-round climate with high humidity and high average annual temperatures of around 20C. Inland, the altitude of the mountains brings a more varied climate and this diversity is what has attracted potential conquerors over the centuries.

The vineyards can be at elevations of 400m to 700m+; historically, many of the (better) higher-altitude vineyards were abandoned under the Soviet regime, with its focus on low-cost quantity over quality.


Kakheti in the South East corner, one of the warmest, sunniest, driest areas and accounts for almost 3/4 of all wines, which tend to be bigger, riper and more full-bodied

Kartli a breezy region in the middle of the country, an increasingly important region, the wines here are more aromatic

Imereti home to the former capital of Georgia and a major tourist destination, it has a long history and culture; more cut-off than Kakheti, it was less influenced by Soviet collective practices and now has a large number of small boutique wineries in a patchwork of highly-fragmented smallholdings that survived through the Soviet period due to its remoteness; parcels of rarer varieties and old vines

Racha and Lechkuni two beautiful emerging areas, high up in the foothills of the Caucasus, they specialise in bright mountain reds with a unique nervy, scented style; Racha is a national park

Meskheti on the Turkish border and historically occupied by the Ottomans, it has an interrupted history of winemaking

Guria sub-tropical and hazy-humid with mountains rising from the sea, the vineyards are at altitude and grapes picked as late as November but still maintain acidity; wine here is a monastic tradition


Rkatsiteli (white) a useful workhorse, 60% of total harvest; noble if well-treated; indigenous to Georgia with thick skins producing plentiful tannins; tangy and vigorous with aging potential - can be made into crisp dry, oaked and amber wines

Saperavi (red) 30% of harvest, indigenous, drought tolerant vines; produces wines with full body, rich tannins, high acidity and an intense ruby colour due to flesh being red as well as the skins; genetically unstable and responds to terroir like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo; can be made in bolder or more elegant styles; can be fermented in classical European stainless steel or traditional Georgian qvevri

The remaining 10% consists of over 500 endemic grape varieties of which over 400 are kept in collections and around 30 are in use commercially.

The level of indigenous grape diversity is on a par with countries such as Portugal. Italy and Greece; however, Georgian vines do not yet appear to have any relation to other families of vines in Asia or Western Europe.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

The CWB Spain-Off - Crisp Young White And Mature Big Red

An inexpensive Spanish crisp white and mature red from The Co-op

Crisp White and Big Red is the standard pairing for any meal.

A fresh, vibrant white serves as both aperitif and matches with starters such as fish, young cheeses or vegetables.

A big red matches with a substantial main of beef or lamb; if it's mature, it will match with something gamier such as venison or duck.

To avoid paying big money for grand-name appellations, you can seek out better-value wines from less well-known regions to get more wine for your pounds.

Even better, these two bottles from The Co-op are on special offer between February 23rd and March 15th, 2022 and both reduced to £5.

Raw Airen Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc Organic (£8, The Co-op)

A lighter, fresher alternative to entry-level Petit Chablis, Loire white or kiwi Sauvignon.

Airen, Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc blend; aromatic, floral and peppery with vibrant lemon-lime citrussy zip, gooseberries and freshly-cut grass. Fresh and mineral; light and easy drinking with no rough edges.

Good and Good Value.

Drink as an aperitif or with the lightest of starters - oysters or goat's cheese.

Anciano Gran Clasico 8-Year-Old (£9)

Tempranillo grapes hand picked from 30 year-old vines in late August/early September, 18 months in oak; this is a budget alternative to mature Rioja.

floral and spicy with bramble fruit, fresh with red berry fruits, red berry fruits, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herbs; evolved roasted nuts and old leather.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value for the age.

Match with robust red meat dishes, such as beef bourguignon or venison stew.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Two Classic Wines From Tesco

Two classic wines from Tesco - Riesling and Pinot Noir

Ask anyone who is enthusiastic about wine for their favourite grapes varieties and you will often hear Riesling and Pinot Noir cited.

They are wine geeks' grape varieties and until relatively recently were not that often seen in the mainstream; Riesling had fallen out of popularity while Pinot had a tendency to be expensive, unreliable and hard to find.

They are now coming back into fashion with plentiful reliable and inexpensive Pinot from cooler parts of the New World and Riesling providing a logical progression for those looking to move on from zippy, thrilling but slightly passé kiwi Sauvignon.

Both these wines are well-made and enjoyable with generous New World fruit; fresh enough to sip on a sunny day in the garden, but with enough structure to match up to food.

They are also made from two of the great classic grapes.

Tesco Finest Tingleup Riesling, Australia (£9)

Made by Howard Park, one of Western Australia's most celebrated wine producers, from grapes carefully cultivated in the Great Southern region.

Through all of the wine making stages, the Riesling grapes are managed under cool temperatures, allowing them to retain natural crisp, refreshing lime and citrus flavours with subtle hints of white pepper.

aromatic and floral with orchard and white stone fruits; crisp, refreshing, nettley zippy lime with pineapple, sherbet and white pepper; saline mineral and persistent.

Drinks nicely on first pouring, opens up with some air and can be cellared.


Serve as an aperitif or match the freshness to aromatic Asia/ Pac foods, oily fish or pork rillettes.

Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir, Chile (£12)

Leyda valley is nestled in the rolling hills of Chile's coastal mountain range. Located just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean it has a distinctly cool maritime climate. The Leyda winery created a new D.O. in Chile by being the first to plant grapes there in 1998.

Before then the valley was best known for the iconic blue train station that connected the capital city of Santiago with the Pacific coast and the port of San Antonio. Today Leyda is home to some of the most elegant, expressive cool climate wines from Chile.

Viña Leyda was founded in 1998, in Leyda Valley, today recognized as the last great innovation of Chilean viticulture. Traditionally, Leyda Valley has been an area of natural pasture lands and basic crops such as wheat and barley. 

Along the coast there is a strong influence from the Pacific Ocean, which is particularly cold because of the Humboldt Current. Granite soil along small rolling hills with up to 30° incline. Single blocks receive different levels of sunlight, resulting in a variety of ripeness and unique characteristics from each vineyard.

crushed, dried red berries with wild herbs and spice; fresh, juicy ripe strawberries, red cherries and herbs with a delicate smokiness and tobacco; persistent with very fine tannins.

Drinks nicely on first pouring, opens up with some aeration.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with Burgundian foods such as duck, escargots, beef bourguignon or coq au vin.