Another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, with the below bottles comprising the November offerings. I was pleasantly pleased (but not 100% surprised with Christmas coming) that the slightly higher price-point recently seen has been maintained, with these bottles coming in at £9.49 and £8.99 respectively.
La Croix de Bordeaux 2014, Bordeaux AOC France, 100% Merlot, 12.5%, £9.49
This AOC Bordeaux comes from Entre Deux Mers (literally translating as ‘the entry-point of two seas’, sitting as it does at the meeting point of the Gironde and the Garonne). We’re in the southerly part of Bordeaux here, and this wine is particularly championed by Laithwaites as their ‘house’ claret, taking their buyer through 50 different blends before he settled on this one.
In appearance it is an opaque deep inky purple – the solid colour coming from thermo-vinification for maximum results.
On the nose you can detect ripe, slightly tinned fruit, both red and black. Of the confectionate notes that take the fore, there is solid red cherry, alongside brambles and earth. On the whole it is a dense and solid nose, much like the appearance.
The palate is a touch drying, and I wasn’t surprised when I later read the tasting notes that highlight time and again that this is a food wine. The characteristics of Merlot are evident in their tick-list fashion – spicy black cherry fruit giving a subtle warmth, alongside the raisined fruitcake. I can also detect further fruit, with touches of blueberry, and there is a refreshing acidity to balance out the drying character and grippy grainy tannins that persist. The tasting note describes them as ‘minimal’, so perhaps I was doing this wine a dis-service by not trying it with food to get the full winemaker vision. Overall though, this is a smooth, soft and fruity example of Merlot if not one I would pick up at this price point. But that’s what the Premiere service is for!
Bees Knees Chenin Blanc Viognier 2015 – South Africa (Western Cape), Chenin Blanc/Viogier blend, 14%, £8.99
Globe-trotting winemaker Leon Esterhuizen has returned to his South African home to work with his beloved Chenin Blanc (known as Steen in South Africa) in the terroir that brings out the best from this this French varietal. Indeed, Laithwaites loved it so much that they christened it ‘The Bees Knees’, which is high praise indeed for an inaugural offering (although the wider family who produce this wine have been involved in production some 30 years). The wine is listed as Western Cape which is a fairly sizeable area, but this white is produced in Somerset West, which overlooks False Bay (the horseshoe shape bay in the southwest), and draws in premium grapes from nearby Stellenbosch.
I always find it amusing to try youthful wines from the southern hemisphere as, with this 2015 vintage, it’s easy to forget with our harvest only just over, this has still managed to have some age attached to it, the grapes being picked towards the start of our calendar year.
Pale lemon in colour, a controlled cool vinification followed by two months of lees (dead yeast cells) contact, ensures that this wine has a good, medium weighted mouthfeel. The Chenin grape gives off its naturally oily notes, and the sum of this with the lees ageing is a dense and satisfying palate full of honey and cream. Alongside the majority (80%) of Steen we have 20% of Rhone grape Viognier added, just to balance out the oiliness and give florality and lightness to the overall palate. True to form we get touches of both florality (white flowers and vanilla spice) and hints of tropical fruits added, with both peach and dried yellow melon evident.
The linear and persisting acid ensures that the blend remains balanced, and draws the tropical fruit to a warm conclusion.
At £8.99 this is a lovely fresh, full and ‘touching on complex’ example of where South Africa can excel and produce wine that is thoughtful, and highlights the positive characters that belie the fact that the region is fairly new in terms of production. This was actually the cheaper of the two bottles presented this month but (and like previous months I say this as primarily a red wine drinker), the Laithwaites selection for November has again turned up a White winner for me.