Laithwaites Premiere Taste Panel – September 2015

I wrote back in July about the Premiere selections from leading online wine merchant Laithwaites where, for a one-off yearly charge, they send you 2 additional bottles to try every time you purchase a case of wine.  These additions are specially picked wines by the Laithwaites team, the idea being that, because you haven’t ordered them, you probably won’t have tried them, and this promotes a good way to expanding your wine horizons.  In my first 3 months as a member I noted that the selections provided seemed firmly rooted at the £8.99 price-point, so I was pleased and interested when this months’ selections turned up with recommended retail prices set at £9.49 and £9.99.

Time to see if the extra pennies would add much in terms of the quality of these new discoveries.

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Pago Centro Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – San Antonio, Chile – 13.5% abv – £9.49

A pleasing pale straw colour, with visible tears in the glass hinting at the high alcohol level from the well ripened grapes.  The San Antonio valley is coastal and so the natural heat of the climate is moderated with the cool sea air, giving a long balanced growing season.

The nose is extremely full with a myriad of fruits and fragrances vying for attention.  Alongside the grassiness that you would expect from Sauvignon Blanc is a touch of dried tropical fruit alongside apples and pears, citrus, kiwi and asparagus.

This medium bodied wine is packed with a mouth-watering acidity.  The key notes are fleshy green apple, intense lime, cream, and just a touch of oil.  The interesting thing about this wine is the way that the layers approach you – one minute you are experiencing the fresh citrus, the next is a fruit medley, and then it is back to the citrus.  This carries on throughout the finish, which is extremely long and enjoyable.

After I raved about the Tesco Finest Sancerre last month, I am now completely converted to Sauvignon Blanc around the £10-£12 price-point.  Being primarily a red wine drinker, and well aware of the fashion for Sauvignon Blanc and the (too) abundant choice in the entry level arena, it has not been something that I have gravitated towards.  The producer here is top Chilean estate Luis Felipe Edwards, who have teamed up with award winning New Zealand winemaker Matt Thomson.  Clearly winemakers from New Zealand know a thing or two about producing Sauvignon Blanc, and the team effort here and the strict selection of grapes has produced a beautiful wine.

I’m definitely going to pick up more of this.

Don Mendo Gran Reserva 2008 – Carinena DO, Spain – 13% abv – £ 9.99

From the north-eastern Spanish region of Carinena, this wine is a blend of Tempranillo (60%), Grenache (30%) and Carinena (10%).

6 years maturing in both barrel and bottle have helped to give this wine an opaque dark appearance.  The nose is an austere, dark, stewed and confected mixture, with hints of red cherry sweetness and notable liquorice, and was actually incredibly similar to the nose of a Port.

The palate is smooth like velvet, but in contrast to the heaviness of the nose, the body comes though as medium and not over-bearing at all.  Dark cherry hits you straight away, and this gives way to a slightly distracting acidity which floods the mid-palate somewhat.  The finish is of a decent length and does retrieve some of the fully ripe fruits, but I detected a slight alcohol burn (which is odd as this isn’t that high alcohol).  After the first glass I left the wine to air for an hour and came back to it.  In fairness, the acidity had dropped away, the weight had rounded out and newer flavours of dark chocolate appeared to give the wine the body it needed.  This is a wine that I would recommend to decant first, and I don’t think I saw it at its best.

In summary, I think I need to try a further bottle to fully evaluate it.  It didn’t grab me straight away, which a good wine should be able to do, but there is clear evidence of good wine-making technique.

Even allowing for the need to re-try the Don Mendo, I adore the Pago Centro, which gives the ‘try a new wine’ experience a 50% success rate, and keeps me an advocate of the Premiere scheme.  I’m already looking forward to next month.

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To ‘Premier’ or not to ‘Premiere’

As a quick primer to start, just in case wider readers are unaware, Laithwaites are one of the UK’s leading online and mail order wine merchants.  Over time they have expanded to include a growing number of retail outlets, as well as being the hidden face behind other mail order wine clubs (for example, ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper offering).  If you google ‘Laithwaites Premier’ you will pull back a handful of results, mainly for their Premier Cru Brut Champagne, but if you add the ‘e’ and search for ‘Laithwaites Premiere’, you will pull back different results altogether.

Taking a step back, I’ll allow my story to unfold. Whilst using cashback site Quidco for a general Laithwaites purchase, I was browsing user feedback comments and happened to notice someone mention that, when twinned with the Laithwaites Premiere service, buying wine became even better value. I was comfortable with the idea of using a cashback site – an easy way to get anywhere between 5-10% of the (pre-VAT) order amount back to your account, simply by making the purchase through their web portal. When buying (for example) a £100 case of 12 bottles of wine, it is virtually the equivalent of getting one bottle entirely for free, which for me has quickly become a no-brainer. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was what Laithwaites Premiere was, and I’d been an active customer of theirs for several years. Premiere means ‘the first instance’ and Premier equates to ‘first in importance’ or a luxury top level tier. Was this a one-off service that I’d missed, or a premium service that I didn’t qualify for?

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Even when you google the name correctly, you will literally find only a couple of web pages for this un-advertised service, but it gives you a flavour of the top level detail. For a one-off payment of £40 per year, Laithwaites will add two bottles to each 12-bottle order you make – one red, and one white. What is impressive is that this includes the 12-bottle cases that you buy as part of your mail order wine plans (one case per quarter – surely the entry level point of being a mail order customer) and so that already gets you 8 additional bottles per year. Based on the £40 charge, this equates to just £5 per bottle, which is a fair bargain as it is. Buy any other cases throughout the year, and the price per bottle dilutes even further.

I contacted Laithwaites to ask why the service wasn’t advertised as it seemed to offer very good value to anything over and above the most dormant of their base. It puzzled me that they are very quick to publicise bolt-on offers to reduce delivery charges (pay a one-off cost and then all further deliveries are free), but not this offer. The response that I received detailed that Premiere wasn’t a hidden proposition, but was only offered to customers at certain times in the year.   This seems odd as I have bought from them for years and make a beeline for this sort of offer. I would have surely noticed it (as I did when spotting the comment on Quidco) and to this day, the links seem buried on their website and I can only easily retrieve them via google.

On to the wines themselves, the site describes them as being to the value of £15 – joint value, not per bottle (I was initially very excited!), and the plan is described as being all about the discovery of new wines that you may have not tried before. Here’s what I have received:

May 2015

Le XV du Président 2014, Cotes Catalanes IGP, France – £8.99 LINK

Elqui River Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Chile – £8.99 LINK

June 2015

Santa Julia Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina – £8.99 LINK

Lime Leaf Verdejo 2014, Vino Blanco, Spain – £7.99 LINK

July 2015

Picco Attila 2013, Venezie IGP, Italy – £8.99 LINK

McPherson ‘The Full Fifteen’ Chardonnay 2014, SE Australia – £8.99 LINK

I won’t go in to my tasting notes for each of these wines, but safe to say the price-point is circa £8.99 and these are solid entry (or slightly above) level wines all garnering 3 or 4 star ratings (out of 5) from customers. They also cover a multitude of regions, both new and old world, and an array of grape varieties, with no duplication over the last quarter. The plan delivers exactly what it claims in that these are well made wines, not quite in the customer favourites camp yet, but ones you may wish to try in order to get them there.

In summary, I certainly think the plan is well worth a punt. Just today I purchased a case of customer favourites red wines and their premium reserve counterparts. These 12 bottles came with a free bottle of Opi Malbec from Argentina (which serendipitously happens to be one of my go-to bottles from Laithwaites) added free on a deal as I purchased prior to the 5th August. When added with the 2 Premiere bottles and subtracting the Quidco cashback, this comes to an amazing £6 per bottle – awesome value for tried and trusted reds, and even better than general supermarket value.

Hence, I’m spreading the word. Give ‘Laithwaites Premiere’ a google.

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