Yours Sancerre-ly….. R.I.P. Tesco Wine Community

TWC Close Montage

Following the recent shock announcement, this Friday sees the sad closure of the Tesco Wine Community (TWC). Launched to great fanfare in December 2011, the site attracted such high profile names as wine expert Oz Clarke and chef John Torode, and quickly became a hive of activity with users discussing their latest purchases, hot tips and swapping information ranging from favourite producers to what wine goes best with a Chicken Caesar Salad. When added to the regular competitions to fine dine, meet winemakers, and win both bottles and cases of wine, the site became a magnet for new members and grew in popularity.

When I first joined I wasn’t aware of just how unique it was in the marketplace, and I double/triple checked all the other main players to ensure that they didn’t offer such an opportunity to get involved. This makes the closure of the site doubly sad as it throws away a true USP (unique selling point) for Tesco and is another nail in the well secured coffin of commercialism over community.

Being one of the core of active members, I could see first-hand the effects of the loss of this outlet, be that one of sadness, deflated expectancy, denial, and subdued anger as to how this was being allowed to happen. Ever hungry for a story, the media both in (The Drinks Business, The Grocer) and outside (The Telegraph, The Guardian) of the wine trade ran the story. Although the TWC was a public forum, it is particularly sad that virtually all of the articles actually lift user comments and include them out of context and without permission. These are friends talking to friends after hearing a piece of sad news, and not meant to be the sound bites of a wide reaching media piece.

Users had been lamenting for many months the continuing range reductions and favouring of bulk brands in place of well-loved favourites or new discoveries. In truth, ever since it was widely reported in late 2014 that the Tesco balance sheets had a £264m ‘black hole’, and that new CEO Dave Lewis had to make some huge cost-cutting measures, the writing was on the wall that the TWC days were numbered. Goodwill promotional exercises where wine lovers are free to pick apart any and every bottle in the range would be very ‘on-the-ball’ when it came to feeding back their thoughts on range culling and simplification. The undercurrent of confused loyalty had already begun.

The closure of the site leaves behind a perfect opportunity for another retailer to jump in and secure a ready base of advocates with a hunger to buy, try and discuss their wine range. Although the number of people registered for the TWC ran to several thousand, it was kept in motion by a core of perhaps 100 people, many of whom have their own blogs and wine forums and would be of a beneficial nature from a promotional perspective. Thanks to the community I have been in receipt of many wines I wouldn’t have tasted and dined with winemakers I would never have met. I’ve also engaged with (and in some cases met) fellow wine lovers and chatted happily about our mutual love of fermented grape juice.

R.I.P. TWC.

As a thank you to ‘Gold’ level contributors over the past 4 years, Tesco were extremely kind in providing a parting gift of a bottle of Sancerre. It seems fitting then, for one last time, that I conduct a Tesco taste panel review:

                        Tesco Sancerre

Tesco Finest Sancerre, France 2014 – 12.5% abv – £11.99

Produced under the Tesco Finest banner, this Sauvignon Blanc based wine is produced by important Sancerre estate Fournier Pere et Fils. Claude Fournier is the 10th generation of his family to be winemaker, and if this wine is anything to go by, he certainly knows what he is doing.

In the glass it’s a pale lemon yellow, but the fun begins when you nose the wine. You immediately get an intense mix of fruit, floral notes and tertiary creamy characters. White peach and green apples and pears spring to mind, as well as a little white spice and touches of the pips. The structure is creamy and seriously rounded – full, complete and inviting.

The palate is simply melt-in-the-mouth good. At the same time as being effortlessly light and refreshing, the taste is again full, juicy and complex – bursting with flavour. This wine manages to be completely intense, whilst retaining a crafted lightness of touch. I first get a golden sunshine feeling from the ripened green fruit blending well with the tropical peachy notes. This juiciness is underwritten by the refreshing acidity and the lemon and lime citrus notes. The palate, like the nose is rounded out with a generous voluptuous creaminess.

The wine clocks in at 12.5% and the seriously long-lasting finish is completely rested on the fleshy green fruit. I’d gone upstairs to do some chores, and made it all the way back downstairs with the finish still lingering long. A beautiful well-crafted wine that this red wine drinker will be buying again. I do hope that, as the Tesco range contracts whilst they get their business back on track, they don’t do away with wines in the ‘slightly more than entry level’ bracket, especially wines of this quality.

So long, and thanks for all the wine…..

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Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Chardonnay 2013 – Taste Panel

Off to Adelaide in Southern Australia for this months’ tasting note, and to sample the Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise 2013 Chardonnay. The vineyards were originally established in 1894, but the modern day story starts in 1969 when two cousins (Greg and Roger Trott) re-built the abandoned winery from scratch, and produced their first wines in 1972.

Wirra Wirra takes its name from a local tribe who built a viewing platform (nicknamed The Jetty) to look over the majestic Scrubby Rise vineyards below (which are ironically flat and bereft of scrub). The charming front label artwork by Andrew Baines takes its cue from the fact that The Jetty overlooks a sea of vines as opposed to a body of water, and depicts a bowler-hatted man rowing a red boat through the vineyard.

                   Wirra Label

The Scrubby Rise range are the entry level wines for Wirra Wirra, and I was drawn to try this Chardonnay in part due to the fact that they are clear to state that this is an unoaked version. Although heavily oaked Aussie Chardonnays are now firmly a thing of the past and to do an unoaked version is hardly the latest trend, if it’s clearly stated on the label as a taste cue, I find it interesting to see how the producer fills out the palate.

Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Chardonnay 2013 – Adelaide, Australia 12.5% – £8.49

The colour of the wine is an inviting pale lemon, with slight green hints to the rim. The nose has a medium intensity of dense yellow tropical fruits, and I can pick up smoky tones and a buttery richness which lets you know that this is Chardonnay through and through.

The palate has a decent medium weight to it, and feels extremely round and mouth-filling.  Chardonnay is a well-known neutral grape variety, and the fruit notes do indeed play second fiddle to the weightier butter and oil.  This gives it a rich and full quality but it hits you first and slightly drowns out the clean lines of the fruit. What fruit I do detect is a continuation of the yellow tropical, such as melon and dried pineapple, along with the generous flesh of stoned fruits such as nectarine (the official notes say white peach, but I’ve never had one, so couldn’t say). There’s a slight touch of lemon citrus in the mix, and I will say that the juicy fruits and refreshing acidity counter balance the richness well.

The end palate and finish are then infused with touches of brown spice and a whiff of smoke. As the acidity drops away, a slight sour grapefruit note comes through, and indicates that this is a wine that is the sum of its parts, as opposed to a clean varietal. The finish is commensurately fairly long and brooding.

                    WirraWirra TP

This is an interesting wine and if I didn’t know better, would have said that it had seen at least some older cask ageing. The official tasting notes state that this is a fresh and clean wine, but the net result to me based on this tasting was that the producer had carved a wine that is less about the fruit and more about the tertiary characters (not necessarily just woody notes, but also the rich cream from lees ageing, and the touches of nutmeg spices). Strange.

That said, this is an enjoyable entry level wine, with perceptible complexity for the (slightly above) entry level price, and potentially better with food (alas, I tried it on its own). Anyone looking for unoaked Chardonnay in the French style (even accepting the differences in climate) may, however, be disappointed.

Many Thanks to Tesco, Wirra Wirra and Gonzalez Byass for the opportunity to taste this wine.

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Bodegas Beronia ‘Dos Maderas’ 2009 Rioja Reserva – Taste Panel

Wine tasting, food matching and dressing up – could there be a more interesting way to spend the evening?!

Beronia Kit

This latest taste panel comes courtesy of the fine people of Bodegas Beronia who hail from the world famous northern Spanish region of Rioja. What was supplied, however, gave more than the usual opportunity to try a wine and reel off a tasting note. Alongside the wine were several food items, recipe cards, moustache, and a traditional woollen beret, in order that you could recreate traditional Txoko (pronounced Chock-Oh) conditions in northern Spain. The preparation of food is a group activity there and friends form societies (Txoko’s) where they prepare the meal together, eat together, occasionally sing together, and wash it all down with great wine.

It was this group mentality that led to the founding of Bodegas Beronia in the Rioja Alta in 1973. Four local businessmen decided to take their get-togethers a step further, and actually make the wines themselves, with a commitment to producing Reserva and Gran Reserva wines in the traditional Rioja style. From this humble beginning, Beronia have worked their way up to be in the top 10 Rioja wineries in the Spanish market. Spanish wine giant Gonzalez Byass recognised the quality of their production early on and have invested in to the company since 1982, ensuring that Beronia delivers both tradition and innovation at the same time.

The Reserva 2009 ‘Dos Maderas’ is comprised of 94% Tempranillo, with dashes of both Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano rounding the blend out. This is then aged for 18 months in barrels made exclusively for Beronia, and comprised of two distinct types of oak. The French oak barrelheads bring touches of spice to the wine, whilst the American oak staves add seductive vanilla flavours. It is this unique ageing touch that gives the wine its name: ‘Dos Maderas’ literally translates as ‘two woods’.

The tapas selection supplied included snacking chorizo, a dried nut/fruit selection, and a tin of anchovy stuffed olives. To turn this in to a full meal to share, I took inspiration from one of the recipe cards and served lamb shank with creamy mash, asparagus, and an onion, garlic and red wine jus. All cooked, of course, whilst wearing my traditional costume! The wine was left in an open top decanter for one hour before serving.

Beronia Selfie     Beronia Bottle

Visually the wine was a reassuring assertive inky dark colour, almost opaque. The nose was amazingly powerful and full of flavour, and it hit you before your nose was fully in the glass. The aroma was like falling face first in to a blackberry bush (without the ‘ouch’!). Strong hits of dark cherry were followed by blackcurrant, and then topped up with mocha and finally refreshing vanilla and violets from the American oak.

The palate initially showed fine grained medium tannins, but when paired with the fatty Lamb, they disappeared, leaving the ripe black cherry to take the lead. There was also upfront spice from the French wood, and the full body of the wine is kitted out with blackberries, bramble, tobacco and molasses. American wood also makes its mark on the palate with a lovely hint of coconut marrying in to the vanilla tones and it’s no surprise at all that this stunning wine won a Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge in 2013. The alcohol level is 14% but, given this and the amazing powerful concentration of fruit, the wine is in no way overpowering. A gentle balanced acidity glides it through, and a little alcohol warmth provides the backbone.

Wonderful stuff on its own, and it went amazingly with the fatty meat cutting through the tannin and the silky fruits matching the creamy mash. Even though this wine can easily be enjoyed now it has the backbone and fruit stamina to keep for another decade. World class.

With thanks to both Bodegas Beronia and Tesco for providing the wine, tapas selection and Txoko costume used in this tasting.

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Barefoot Refresh – Crisp Red review

Off to California for this weeks’ tasting note, to try part of the ‘Refresh’ range from Barefoot. This is a new range in the UK and consists of a Crisp Red, a Crisp White, and a Perfectly Pink Rosé wine, each blended specifically to be served over ice. Hmmm, Red wine over Ice??

Barefoot

The seeds of Barefoot were sown within the California wine explosion of the 1960’s but the real story starts in the mid 1980’s when founders Michael and Bonnie Harvey set up Barefoot cellars and created the footprint logo that still adorns their labels today. Since 2005 they have been part of the wine behemoth Gallo.

The ‘Refresh’ range has been available in the USA for a year or two now (they have already added two extra wines – a Summer Red and a Sweet White), but as summer approaches the UK and thoughts turn to refreshing al fresco drinking, the appearance of this wine is well timed to tap in to what is a growing market. Spearheaded some time ago by the trend of cider with ice, the momentum is building, and you may recall that in April I reported on the new Champagne-over-ice blend that Moét have just launched here.

Maybe on one or two occasions I’ve popped an ice cube in a glass of White or Rosé if the bottle has not been cold enough, but I’ve never had the inclination to do that with a red wine, and for that reason I’ve decided to review the Crisp Red from the range, which is a blend of Pinots Noir, Rosé and Grigio.

The clear bottle (unusual for a red wine) shows a vibrant clear dark cherry red wine, and the screw cap opens with a subtle pfffft. The spritz in this wine comes from carbonation (the bottle clearly states this is an ‘aerated semi-sparkling wine’ from the addition of carbon dioxide) as opposed to anything approaching the methods used to create the bubbles found in Champagne etc.

The nose was clear red fruit – a summery fresh blend of strawberry, raspberry, red currants and Cranberry. The palate carries on the veritable fruit salad mix – but what impressed me the most was the body of the wine. I was expecting it to be a fairly light bodied, perhaps that of a Rosé but, retaining the character of a red wine, the body was medium.

I didn’t actually try the wine without ice to see how it tasted, but I assume it was sweet like concentrate. Without wishing to over-complicate the bottle, the specific blend was created by chilling the wine, which kills the yeast and stops the fermentation early (at approximately 10% abv). Sugar remains unconverted to alcohol, and it is this sweetness that allows the wine to retain its medium body without becoming washed out and tasteless through the dilution of melting ice cubes.

To sum up, this bottle was every bit as refreshing and moreish on a warm day as Sangria or Pimms, and the fruity length was pleasing, a touch sweet, but not cloying.

The only worry for me here is that this style of wine, and its lower alcohol level meant it was very easy to drink it – in many ways it didn’t feel like I was drinking wine at all, but some sort of wine alternative. Before I knew it I was halfway through the bottle! Oops.

Thanks to Barefoot/Gallo and Tesco for providing the bottle used in this tasting.

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Yalumba panel tasting

Time for another Tesco taste panel submission now, and this month it’s a double-whammy of two wines from respected South Australian producer Yalumba. Based in the Barossa Valley, Yalumba are a rarity in the wine world as they are still in the hands of the original family and are now run by the 5th generation descendants of founder Samuel Smith. Founded in 1879, they are notable for their commitment to the sustainability of the surrounding environment, and parts of their estate are farmed both bio-dynamically and organically. South Australia is fortunate to have some of oldest vines in the world, and Yalumba have made a clear commitment to their care and cultivation by establishing the Old Vine Charter – a guarantee that consumers have clear age provenance of the vines used to produce the wine, and to act as a barometer as to both the quantity and quality. The charter tracks vine age from 35 years to those that can be said to have been alive in 3 different centuries, and so there is some serious heritage to understand and protect. Yalumba also get bonus points from me as a producer leading the way preserving the Viognier grape (which I reference in my earlier article Missing in action).

Anyway, on to the tasting!

Yalumba Two

Yalumba Old Vine Bush Grenache 2013, South Australia – 14.5% abv – £11.99

The bush vines in the ‘Old’ category span between 35-80 years old and, due to both the nature of a bush (as opposed to larger trellised vines) and the reduced vigour of old age, crops are small but full of flavour.

The nose gives off clean deep fruit notes pairing rich red cherry with vanilla and violets from subtle oak influence. In conjunction with both the deep colour of the wine and the visible tears on the glass (betraying the alcohol level which clocks in at 14.5%), it prepares you for what could be a huge wine. What actually transpires is a full, rounded body, paired with an appealing acidity which glides the wine through your palate with such smoothness that it’s a pleasure to drink. In the mouth, the red fruits are now more towards berry and currants, with a little spice and warmth from the alcohol helping the fine tannins.

This is all at once juicy, chunky, subtle and extremely precise with its concentrated fruits. For me it truly melted over the palate and if tasted blind, I’m not sure I would have had the alcohol as high as it is. That said, there is a warmth from the alcohol that allows this wine to linger in the mouth for some time after. Delicious.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz/Viognier 2012, South Australia – 14% abv – £9.99

On opening the bottle, there is an immediate hit to the nose of ripe dark red cherry, clean fruits and spice. In the glass, this opens out and again we have vanilla and violets from wood influences. The palate is medium bodied with medium acidity and minimal tannin, and all about the primary fruit blend of cherries and berries which, for me, jumps between both black and red fruit.  The refreshment comes from the inclusion of Viognier in the blend, which both compliments and juxtaposes the Shiraz. Overall this is a pleasant everyday wine to drink with or without food, which is exactly what I think Yalumba were intending it to be according to their literature.

Comparing both of these wines side by side (bottles were served in Riedel glasses, un-decanted, and tasted over 2 separate days), I personally think it is definitely worth trading up from the Y series to the Old Vine. As pleasant as the Y series is, for just £2 extra per bottle you are in to a whole different world of quality, and from an everyday drinking wine to a wine that you would want to keep for those nights when you want to guarantee a good bottle.

Many thanks to both Tesco and Yalumba for providing the bottles used in this tasting.

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Vinas Del Vero – Luces Rosado 2014 Review

I was reading a piece earlier in the week that was questioning the point of Rosé wine. The view put across was that Rosé wines lack the freshness of a white wine, and lack the depth and body of a red wine. Consequently, they end up somewhere in-between. I’m not much of a Rosé drinker, but when the weather turns to early sunshine as it has done this week, I’m looking for my shorts, dusting off the BBQ, and well up for a glass of Rosé to top it off. By lucky happenstance, thanks to the lovely people at Tesco, this week I’m reviewing for them a Rosado from Spanish Producer Vinas Del Vero (named after the River Vero which runs through their vineyards). The wine comes from a Northeastern Spanish region called Somontano, which is tucked in to the foothills of the Pyrennees (Somontano literally means ‘at the foot of the mountain’). It’s a well-known wine region, but I’d argue that it wouldn’t be the first one that comes to peoples mind when thinking of Northern Spain – that honour would probably go to places like Rioja, Priorat, Rueda, or maybe even to Penedés if they love their Cava.

The DO (Denominación de Origen) of Somontano is fairly youthful, having been created in 1984, and the Vinas del Vero were established only a short time later in 1986. They are owned by famed Sherry producer Gonzalez Byass.

VD Vero Rosado

The new range of wines is named ‘Luces’ (Spanish for Lights), and is marketed as a contemporary blend of internationally recognised grape varieties, with labels that draw from local culture, nature, architecture and tradition. They’ve certainly come up with a striking design for the Rosado, even down to the blue screw top setting off the dark colour of the wine. The 2014 vintage Rosado is comprised of 3 red grape varieties – The famed French grapes of Merlot and Syrah alongside the Spanish stalwart Tempranillo. All were planted between 1988 and 2000 in the sandy/stony vineyards that lie between 350-450 metres above sea level.

Nipping back for a second to the article I mentioned at the start of this review, part of it was given over to the best way to appreciate Rosé wine, and the recommendations were not to over-chill the wine, and to serve it in a red wine glass, treating it almost like a light red wine. So for this Rosado tasting that’s what I did, and for the sake of experimentation, I then chilled another standard glass down to white wine temperatures (i.e. straight from the fridge).

As mentioned earlier, the colour is towards the darker side for Rosado, something I would describe as wild salmon (as opposed to farmed). It probably picks up a lot of its colour from the combined use of three quite dark grapes. The nose is at odds with this darkness and is instantly light, clean and full of fresh ripe red fruits.

For the taste test I tried my over-chilled version first, and it wasn’t pleasing. The nose took a while to stand out, and the palate was almost exclusively water-like (from the high acidity), with just hints of red fruits on the centre of my tongue. Trying the less chilled version was a completely different story. The palate is at once refreshing from the instant tingling acidity, but you are then hit with a wave of red fruits led by cherry, on to hints of raspberry and strawberry, and then backed up with cranberry on the finish. What also appears is a decent weight to the wine which, when matched with the darker colour, creates a fuller overall experience.

The finish is an interesting thing – there was something there that I couldn’t put my finger on. It would have been easy to note it as ‘complexity’, but I don’t think we’re in that arena really, and this is still an everyday sunny day drinking wine. It can be drunk on its own quite easily, or with food – The back label suggests a food pairing with fish and so, as I loved the colour of the wine, paired mine with Salmon (farmed) and it went fabulously.

In the end I settled for the palate-closer being sweetness driven by the alcohol which clocks in at 13%. In the glass that I chilled right down, the finish was short and fresh, and I couldn’t really taste any sense of the slightly above average alcohol level. On the less chilled version, the fruits really round out at the end, you get a pleasing fuller finish, and more importantly, you get a much longer finish.

Don’t worry though if you do over-chill yours by accident and get the shorter finish. It’s such a pleasing moreish Rosado that it won’t be long before you’re reaching for your next glass.

With thanks to Tesco and Vinas Del Vero for providing the bottle used in this tasting.

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Prosecco a-go-go

I’ve recently become aware of the Tesco Wine Community – a group of like-minded individuals musing, comparing wines tasted and talking about new wine experiences. Loving a good chat about wine I immediately signed up. Forums on wine are nothing new, but this is one with a difference, and that comes directly from the ‘Wine Enthusiasts’ within Tesco. Every week they run a tasting panel – they choose a particular wine, open a new topic thread, and anyone interested in trying that particular wine can register to get a bottle – Free wine! Well, not quite – In exchange you agree to write up a tasting note on the wine and paste on to the forum and the Tesco website. Seeing the passion that other members have displayed when reviewing previous bottles makes you up your game, and many clearly spend a good deal of time and effort. It still sounds like a good deal… and it is.

The more lively a member you become, you move up ranking levels (Bronze, Silver and Gold). The higher the bracket you are, you may even be lucky enough to be chosen as forum ‘Member of the Month’, and you get a whole case of wine to taste and review! I haven’t quite earned that privilege yet, but I did manage to get on a tasting panel for Motivo Prosecco D.O.C Brut from Italian producer Borgo Molino.   From my regular blogging you will see that I have a love of all things sparkling, be that the classic Champagne, through to my recently tasted Slovenian sparklers, so this tasting seemed like a bottle right up my street. The good news is that there is absolute freedom as to how you conduct your tasting, with no set formats (I personally conducted mine in both ISO approved tasting glasses and standard flute). All levels are welcome on the forum so you don’t need any tutored expertise in tasting, just enthusiasm.

From a background perspective, Prosecco is a sparkling wine from northern Italy, and I would suggest, along with Spanish Cava (and maybe English Sparklers) the major competition to Champagne. There are probably three majors factors that will drive a purchase of Prosecco over Champagne (aside of patriotic duty), and these are quality, price and sweetness. Production of sparkling wines the world over run the gamut from wine spending years in bottle undergoing second fermentation and lees ageing, through to wines that undergo carbonation (think fizzy drinks). Thankfully we’re in the former territory here.

DSC_0557

The bottle in question is worthy of note and care has obviously gone in to the design and production. It’s fairly reminiscent to me of Ruinart Champagne, with its squat bottle, gold foil and beige logo, and the embossing on the front of the glass is a nice extra touch. When comparing this bottle of Prosecco to others in my local Tesco, it was a stand-out.  Some still have a light blue foil on the bottle – this to me says sweet wine (think Babycham), and it’s good that this one has erred to more ‘earthy’ colours, which make me think terroir, ergo rustic and well crafted. Of course, these extra touches all count towards the total cost of the bottle.

The next thing to notice is the extremely pale straw yellow of the wine, suggesting subtlety – again very similar to that of a Blanc de Blancs. The wine clocks in at 11% abv as you would expect from a Prosecco, and there’s no visible tears on the glass. A good barometer of the quality within the production methods of sparkling are the size of the bubbles – false carbonation gives a larger bubble. Thankfully, here we have a tiny bubble which in turn gives a subtle spritz of flavour rather than a gaseous overture.

On the nose I get a fresh and zesty lemon citric note, alongside pipped fruit – yellow melon, and green notes – at first this was pear, but it moved along to fleshy green apple. The initial palate is an explosion of froth – light and refreshing – and virtually evaporating in the mouth. Once this dissipates, the first hit is of clean youthful lemon and green fruit. This quickly gives way to a secondary note of something bordering on creamy tropical, stopping short of pineapple, more akin to passion fruit.

The vibrant acidity continues the refreshing notes of fleshy green apple. For such a light bodied wine, it is a compliment that it has such length of palate. Once the initial fruit gives way, I get hints of smoke and a calculated bitterness – something to give some sort of depth to the linear cleanse, and further indicating care in the winery. With the alcohol at a light 11% there are some noticeable touches of sweetness on the palate, but nothing cloying, and I could happily drink this as a refreshing aperitif. I tasted the wine on its own, but paired with food this would be an easy match with starters or hors d’oeuvre.

I really hope that Tesco continue this initiative in showing their commitment to their range, listening to their customers, and fostering a vibrant community. What with their recent well publicised financial troubles, this could be something that easily falls by the way-side as an unnecessary expense, but I really hope it doesn’t.

With thanks to Tesco and Borgo Molino for the bottle used in this tasting.

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