What’s in a name?

The name of a grape variety will undoubtedly tell you something about what you’re drinking.  In its simplest form this could be as straight-forward as “I like Chardonnay, I’ve had Chardonnay before”, or it could be as intuitive as a name like Feteasca Neagra, which may highlight that it’s likely to be from an Eastern European country.

The names of many common varieties actually contain hidden clues as to their history or as to how they are grown and, whilst it is highly likely that it won’t affect the pleasure of drinking the wine, if you’re interested in deepening your wine knowledge these simple hints can help you to understand the wine a little more.  It can even give you hints about other facets of the wine (for example, whether a grape is thick or thin skinned).

Here’s my top 5.

Spain – Tempranillo – Spain’s premier red grape has a few synonyms, but is commonly referred to as Tempranillo.  The first part of the name (Temp) derives from the Spanish word for ‘early’ (Temprano), therefore highlighting that it is an early ripening variety.  The French word Temps means ‘time’ which is also a signpost that time is a critical factor when growing this variety.  What this means in terms of the final wine is one that is lower in alcohol due to less grape (ergo sugar) ripening time, and higher in acidity (when balanced against the unconverted sugars).

Italy – Primitivo – Like Tempranillo, this variety has other synonyms (Originally known as Tribidrag in Croatia, and well known as Zinfandel in the US), but the Italian grape name refers to Primo, which means ‘First’ in that language.  This again refers to the fact that this variety is one of the first to ripen, and will develop characteristics based on sun exposure.  More technically the Latin word primativus means ‘first to ripen’ and so Primitivo is almost a direct translation.

South America – Tannat – Well at home in the south of France, and now ‘the’ grape in Uruguay, it is thought that the name of this grape comes from the word tanat, a local French dialect meaning ‘coloured like tan’.  It is therefore quite coincidental that the berry is known to produce austere wines deeply coloured and, similar to its name, very high in tannins.  This one fact allows you to draw several further conclusions about the grape, including that it is a thick skinned variety that gives a lot of its character to the finished product.  This in turn tells you that it is better suited to a warmer climate in order to allow the grapes to ripen fully, and that it makes a better blending partner rather than being served up as a single variety wine.

France – Cabernet Sauvignon – OK, so it doesn’t really tell you much about the finished product, but with this variety name-checking other grapes varieties, it does indeed hint to it’s history and parentage.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, although these lighter characteristics will not tend to show themselves in the final wine.

South Africa – Pinotage – A bit more oblique than the fairly obvious parentage mentioned above, but South African grape Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (which was then known in the country as Hermitage).  The warmer SA climate needs to be taken in to account, giving a wine that is fresh as well as fragrant, and Pinotage seems to have inherited the fussy growing issues of Pinot Noir, ensuring that it is a troublesome variety to grow.

There’s obviously plenty more references out there if you look – from anything ending ‘Noir’ telling you that it is a red grape (never take anything for granted!!), to Gewurztraminer speaking of its north Italian origins.

Have fun looking!

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

Laithwaites Premiere Wines – February 2016

Time for another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, and for February we’ve been selected a South African Sauvignon Blanc and a Portuguese Red blend.  Both of these wines are new to me, so the scheme continues to offer up a low price way of trying new wines.

Laith Prem Feb16

Farmhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Breedekloof WO, South Africa – 13.5%, £9.99

Another top price offering for the Premiere wines (they generally cap at £10), and an interesting one to receive, coming as it did with a case of my current favourite New World Sauvignon Blanc (which, for the record, was a former discovery via the Premiere scheme!).

Made by award winning estate Spier, this wine hails from the world famous Stellenbosch region of South Africa, which gives a clue as to the full body and ripe fruits one can expect from such a bottle.

Visually the wine is a nice clear pale lemon in colour, and on the palate there are the usual Sauvignon Blanc character traits of a green grassiness, gooseberries, passion fruit and bell pepper.  The body is mid-weight and adds cream as well as yellow pepper, dried tropical fruit, and a hefty dose of lime juice.  The acidity keeps the pace moving and, whilst refreshing, the wine for me fails to make the huge impression I expect of a New World SB.

The wine has ripe fruits and gives a decent length so perhaps I need to try it again with food, or perhaps not so close to the Chilean SB I bought it with (at the same price-point), which for me is a world class example of how to treat the grape in a New World climate.  In summary, a perfectly good weekday wine, but not top of my list for this grape at this price-point.

Stones & Bones (Red Blend) 2013, Lisboa VR, Portugal – 14%, £8.99

Not for any particular reason it has been a while since I’ve had anything from Portugal.  Loving Spanish reds as much as I do, this country tends to get pushed to the side (pun intended!).

This wine gets its name from the landscape from whence it hails, which is scattered with ancient boulders and fossils.  Winemaker Diogo Sepúlveda has previously worked in both Pomerol and Barossa, and so brings a wealth of talent, capable of bringing richness to this blend of Touriga Nacional (40%), Syrah (30%), Tinta Roriz (20%) and Alicante (10%).

The colour is a nice clear youthful purple, and the nose is at once full of ripe black fruits and brambles, as well as touches of milk chocolate and vanilla.  From the richness and depth of the nose alone you can get a sense of the warmth that will come from the alcohol (14%), as well as the touches of sweet well ripened grapes.

The palate is voluptuous, well rounded, and as full as the nose suggested.  The fruits continue to be led by black cherries and berries, joined by the spices and chocolate (erring towards dark chocolate now).  Tannins are light, and there is a lush lean refreshing acid running throughout.  This keeps the overall sensation nice and clean, even though I could describe the overall weight of the wine as ‘chewy’.  The length of the wine is substantial and somewhere over medium plus.

The literature says that the wine is best enjoyed by 2021 and I can well believe it.  My own notes describe this wine as having a palate that you can almost tell is on the cusp of something greater.  There is a complexity just waiting to burst out and, as pleasant as this is to drink right now, it will be really interesting to try this again in a few years time.  A well-made wine and a good find.

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

7th Annual New York City Winter Wine Festival


I was in New York City last week and managed to catch the 7th annual ‘Winter Wine Festival’ at the PlayStation Theatre in the heart of Times Square.  I’ve often wanted, but have never attended a US wine tasting, and the ones I’d read about in Wine Spectator magazine had looked incredibly inviting, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up.  Even better was that my hotel was a mere two blocks away, described in the best British tradition as ‘stumbling distance’.

I booked the afternoon session of 3pm-6pm and was a little perturbed when, turning up a 2:55pm, the queue stretched to the next block and it was a full 20 minutes before I was allowed inside the venue.  I’m not clear as to whether it’s an accepted norm in the US to pay for a slot and then have to queue for nearly 1/6th of it in the street, but I certainly wasn’t very happy.  It would make more sense to let people in to the venue (there was space in the main auditorium) and advise wineries not to pour until 3pm.  This is how it works in the UK and I’ve never seen any issues.  Judging by some of the local accents in the queue echoing my thoughts, perhaps it was just bad organisation?


The venue itself was large and split in to several sections (with bleachers to allow you to chill for a while) accommodating the 68 stalls.  Circa 40% of these stalls were given over to sponsors or food outlets and I’m surprised that this wasn’t advertised as a ‘Food & Wine’ festival, as the food had to be seen to be believed.  UK tastings will often provide crackers or light refreshments in terms of antipasto, but here there were full on banquet tables filled with wheels of cheese, grapes, meats and numerous other light bites.  I was interested to see that, when I finally got in to the venue some 20 minutes in to the event, the food tables were heaving with people all with overfilled plates, so clearly they weren’t too interested in the wine?!


This ambivalence continued as I observed lunging arms to the front of the tasting tables saying “Just pour me what you’ve poured her”.  One person even said to me “You’re not actually writing notes are you?”

I was, but clearly this wasn’t expected as the show guide didn’t include any space to write notes beneath each wine.  In fact the guide was a bit of a let-down, being merely 4 sheets of printed A4 paper folded down the middle.  Another flag to differences between a US and a UK event was when I was seen taking pictures with my (admittedly, fairly decent) camera and hearing my British accent, I was asked if I was from the BBC.  Strange days…

On to business, and my top 10 takeaways from the event include:

  1. Top Wine: Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2013 (60/40 Nero D’Avola/Frappato). Awesome with the cooked meats available.
  2. Top Wine: Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2013 – Intense Lime with clear wooded notes from 7-9 months in French oak.
  3. Top Wine: Brotherhood Holiday Spice NV, Hudson Valley USA – OK, so not the most expensive wine (circa $7), and I may have been focusing on the cold weather and the nice labels, but this was a warming, spicy wine that we don’t really get here in the UK. The literature makes claim to them being ‘America’s Oldest Winery’, and the leaflet they provide gives a whole host of festive wine drink options to try.  Nice one.
  4. Sponsor of Interest: Three Brothers Winery, Alexandria Bay, Finger Lakes, NY. The largest winery in North NY, established in 2002 and situated in the majestic St. Lawrence River.  Lots of interesting wines to be tasted here that probably don’t make it to the UK, and a few varieties I hadn’t tasted.
  5. New Grape: Winemonger Zahel Orangetraube 2014 – 100% Varietal. Something I’d never tasted before from Austria, with an inviting orange/peachy nose.
  6. New Grape: Three Brothers Estate Reserve Chambourcin, Finger Lakes USA 2013 (100% Varietal). A hybrid grape that is jammy, (very) sweet and red fruit oriented.
  7. New Grape: Kellerei Kaltern Pfarrhof Schiava 2014 (100% Varietal). Again, a variety I’ve never had the pleasure of.  Light but full of intensity.
  8. Winner Winner 3 x New Grape: Thousand Island Winery, New York, St Lawrence Red (a blend of Chambourcin, Marechal Foch, Vincent)
  9. Biggest Shock: Pazdar Winery were offering many wines, some with the title of ‘Revenge’, ‘Fury’ and ‘Vengeance’. These are made with selected Chilli’s.  I tried the Dragon’s Fury, made with the Ghost Chilli.    An experience, but a palate cleanser needed.  According to the guys on the stall, people drink their wines (and mine was probably the weakest of the lot) by the glass!
  10. New BFF’s: After nearly a full year, my article on Barefoot is still a winner with my readers. The team at the show couldn’t have been more helpful with providing me with merchandise and, with their ‘roulette’ wheel of prizes, they were the coolest table on show.

Overall, this was a unique event for me to get a first-hand taste of an American wine event and, for all the logistical things I think could be improved, would not have missed it for the world.

On a final note, I always love a tasting where you get to keep the glass, especially a logo’d glass that comes from a different country (it made it back to the UK in one piece I’m glad to say).  The show guide exclaimed on the opening page “stop by our glass pick up area to receive a bag to transport it home”, and I was quite excited by this, loving a freebie.  I’ll give over the last word (or picture) of this piece as to what greeted me at the counter.  Cheers!


Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 – Review

One particular bottle that I have been really looking forward to trying for some time is the Bodegas Faustino I.  It’s a wine that comes with impressive critical acclaim and, with the ease of the availability of other wines in the full range (V, VII, for example), it represents something that is within touching distance, and yet has remained elusive to me until now.

Wine is a product that is inherently limited, but in the main isn’t sold on a ‘Limited Edition’ basis.  I’ve tried many English wines that, when you see the low thousands of bottles produced each year, you feel truly honoured to be able to taste them at all.  The Faustino I is clearly labelled with the edition number of 226,400 bottles produced for this vintage and, with the full clarity that this is no small production run, it was still absolutely interesting to me that I was tasting bottle 39,797 and bottle 39,856 (not on the same day I might add!).  I’ve often been interested in small facts like this, and I do think it really helps towards the ‘artisan’ element of the production, even if some production volumes are what others would consider ‘industrial’.

With both the Gran Reserva 2001 and 2004 available to me at this time (both rated as ‘Excelente’ vintages), I opted for the older 2001.  Not only was this vintage slightly smaller than surrounding vintages, I also noted that it was likely to age longer than the ’04 (due to damp conditions that year), and would therefore represent more of a longer term trajectory.

I was also swayed by the inclusion of a neck brace on the bottle proudly proclaiming that this wine was a Decanter ‘Wine of the Year’ in 2013, scoring 19.25 points out of 20.

Pic Faustino

Bodegas Faustino, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain, 13.5% (~£18)

Before we get to looking at the wine itself, the first thing to discern is the care that has gone in to the bottle appearance.  The frosted glass is adorned with a completely distinct label – a 1641 portrait of Dutch merchant/trader Nicolaas Van Bambeeck by revered artist Rembrandt.  This particular portrait was chosen in order to symbolise the family’s passions for both art and commerce.

When looking at the wine in the glass, it was a dark and opaque dense cherry red in colour, clear with almost no hint of a lighter rim.  On the nose there was an immediate hit of dark chocolate, and sweet notes of spices and cloves.  The red cherry fruits then came to the fore, brushing alongside wood, vanilla, giving an incredibly full, layered and vivid nose.  At once, this wine was serious, intense, and inviting.  The literature for the wine confirms that they put an immense amount of focus on berry grape selection in order to preserve that quality of grape, and overall composure.

The initial palate was given over to the cherry fruits (both black and red), although my immediate view was that the fruits were just slightly over-ripe, almost confectionate and sweet, which isn’t something that appeals to me.  This wasn’t a negative for the wine however, as it still forged a good strawberry line, and held that ‘creamy’ texture that you can find in a good aged Rioja.  Subtle integrated acid and a light tannin kept it moreish and pleasant, whilst touches of dark chocolate and bitter characters brought up the rear.  The palate is absolutely still all about the fruit as opposed to the tertiary characters, and it’s a testament to a 15 year old wine that the fruit can remain such a pivotal point of the focus and be so rounded, full and velvety smooth.

They certainly weren’t wrong in the official reviews that this wine has a life ahead of it, and I’d be very interested to revisit this in a few years time.  This was a wonderful wine and it didn’t disappoint.

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!