Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Whites and Reds

Further to a previous blog where I highlighted the best Sparkling wines on display at the recent Laithwaites Autumn press tasting, here’s my top highlights from the red and white wines on show.

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White Wines

Tiago Cabaco Encruzado 2014, Alentejo, Portugal, 13%, £12.99

I must have visibly lingered over this wine a little too long as the wine buyer came over to chat to me about it.  Winemaker Tiago is only in his mid-thirties, and this is his signature eponymous bottling which is limited to about 2000 bottles.

The blend is pretty unique and perhaps one that people will either like or hate, with traces of minerality alongside wood notes and a salty finish.  There’s a good warmth from the alcohol and a long length, and it has the right structure to pair well with food.

Savage White 2015, Western Cape, South Africa, 14%, £27.50

I adore nice touches to a wine’s presentation and the old-school wax seal on this bottle looks great, as does the minimalistic label.

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The new world sunshine gives you lots of well ripened tropical and gooseberry fruit here, and a lovely smoky finish sets it off perfectly.  This is another white that would be greater with food as it has tons of power to match up to the flavours, whilst not being over-powering to drink on its own.

Newton Johnson Southend Chardonnay, South Africa, 13%, £14.99

Hailing from a family run winery, this has a lovely spicy creamy nose and bags of creamy flavour on the palate.  The lemon citrus plays the central role but there are also traces of orange peel and white pepper spice.

Rounded off with a good long finish this is great at this price point, but sadly not available through Laithwaites.co.uk at this time.

Red Wines

Chateaux Sixtine 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, 15%, £30

This Grenache based blend had a rich blackcurrant nose and was absolutely rammed full of spice, cassis, mocha and chocolate.  Warmth from the alcohol and a grippy tannin keep this wine happily lingering in the mouth for a long time.

Again this is another wine that is unavailable from Laithwaites at this time.

Chateau Belgrave 2000, Haut-Médoc, 5éme Cru Classé, France, 13%, £45

Inky dark in colour, this Cabernet based blend had an intense nose of bitter chocolate.  Alongside the blackcurrant and spice there remained a generous acid matching well with the grippy tannins.

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The finish was rounded and refined if not a little too short.  In fairness this is perhaps to be expected from a wine of this age, and it was tasted alongside a lot of youthful wines on the day.  Although great, this feels like a wine to drink sooner rather than later, so grab it while you can.

Gran Fontal Syrah 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain, 15%, £28

Using grapes grown at an altitude of 830m this cheery wine packed a decent weight punch and balanced it’s powerful black cherry and spice with a vanilla note and a lovely fresh acid.  For a wine with 15% alcohol this kept it mouth filling and not overpowering.

Alongside the core fruit I could also detect traces of herbal tea and menthol so there’s a good degree of complexity to be found from the 8 years of age. Points are deducted for the heavy glass bottle but loads of bonus points are given back as this is currently down from £28 to £12.99 on Laithwaites.co.uk.

Vina Tondonia Reserva 2003, Rioja, Spain, 13%, £28

The colour of this 13 year old wine was moving towards garnet and the nose has picked up tertiary tea-like characters.  The acid is still fresh though and ensures that this is an easy drinking refreshing wine with mature character.  I doubt this will last much longer so it’s one to drink soon.

As you can see there were certainly some impressive wines on display although a few are frustratingly not currently available.  At an event level, what I did find incredibly interesting was the lack of the wines that Laithwaites frequently laud as their ‘Customer Favourites’ – the likes of Black Stump, Il Papavero, Calabria etc.

None of these wines made an appearance and I was unable to source any member of the team on my way out to find out exactly why.

The range on offer certainly made me re-evaluate my thoughts towards Laithwaites and, although I have widely blogged about my wine-plan wines and their Premiere range, this felt like a company that I had only barely scratched the surface of.

I’ll certainly be paying more attention in the future.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – October 2016

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A Laithwaites Premiere tasting now and the two choices for October 2016, both of which are completely new to me.

Journey’s End Pathfinder 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 13.5%, £12.99

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This is apparently a ‘top tip’ from Laithwaites, handcrafted and offering a Bordeaux blend with a New World ripeness.  It’s a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.  Founded in 1995 by an Englishman, his ethos is all about creating an amazing wine from a small scale quantity.

I like the label of this wine as it evokes the simple detail displayed by the classics, and with Stellenbosch being the absolute epicentre for fine wine making in South Africa, the £12.99 price-point (which is slightly above average for the Premiere scheme) created high expectations.  The wine is sealed under screwcap.

In colour this is a dark (but not opaque) youthful purple with a nice clear water white rim.  The nose is full of clean and pure fruit but again speaks of its relative youth (although we are talking 2+ years at this point).  There’s a clear hit of blackberry and crunchy cherry (from the Cabernet), cake and spice (from the Merlot) and light vanilla florals (from the Cabernet Franc), and so this is a wine that absolutely shows its constituent parts.

When I first had a taste shortly after opening the bottle there was a distinct spritz on the palate, again highlighting the vibrancy and youth of the wine.  After a while this disappeared, but it is still an important indicator of where this wine is on a trajectory of its ageing cycle.

The palate continues the dark cherry notes and blackcurrant, as well as showing touches of both dark chocolate and coffee, but we’re still very much in pure fruit territory.  There’s a light chalky tannin as well as a vibrant acidity that works through the palate, but the overall tone is one of youth.

If I’m honest the wine feels pretty one-dimensional and I could maybe, if I tried really hard, imagine other core fruits such as damson in the mix.  It’s certainly a powerful palate giving the best of what it has got, but the price-point and the youth it shows work at odds for me.

The end palate, long as it is, shows some smoke, but was still a bit too ‘tomato’ tangy for my liking.  It would be tempting to say ‘try with food’ as that is sometimes a way to mask an imbalance within a wine, but my over-riding thought here is that this needs more time. Whilst there’s a certain silk to the palate there is still a rustic nature.

The provided tasting notes state that this wine is best consumed by 2021 which isn’t that far away really.  This leaves me a bit confused as to how far this one can go, and I’m not sure that £12.99 is a fair price for something that needs a bit of love and warmth to make it come alive.

Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015, Venezie, Italy, 13%, £8.99

Next up is the white wine offering, and what a very good looking bottle this is.

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The simple, factual front label makes it almost look like the faceless bottle you can sometimes find as the house wine in restaurant, but don’t be deceived.  There are plus points, from the fact that the wine is sealed under cork, but even to the fact that they’ve gone for a slightly arched bottle shape giving a subtle notion of premium.

The wine hails from the mountainous northeast of Italy and, coming from the strategic frontier of the Roman Empire, is named after the hill that (as legend states) Attila the Hun’s soldiers built out of their helmets in AD 452.  It comprises the native grape variety Ribolla Gialla alongside Chardonnay, 20% of which was aged in oak.

In colour, even for a wine as young as 2015 there is a nice deep lemon yellow colour with gold hints. The nose is clean and full of fresh lemon and lime, a touch of dried pineapple, pear drops and a hint of honeysuckle and golden syrup.

The palate is full of bruised green apple, pear drops, honey, and there’s also the cream and butter from a good Chardonnay.  Medium and gloopy in weight, there’s an almost bronze quality to the palate adding a stability and a depth to the core fruit.  Whilst the last wine showed its youth, this wine hides it, despite it being the younger of the two bottles.

Layers of flavour envelop each other and I continually jostle between the core fruit and the deeper flavour profiles.  This is great on its own, and would be even better with food.

A clear winner this month, and it is the cheaper of the two bottles, I recommend the Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015.

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Cru Bourgeois Tasting – 2014 Official Selection

I recently had the pleasure of attending the trade tasting of the wines that make up the 2014 Official Selection of Cru Bourgeois de Médoc.  Set within the splendour of the British Academy in London, three rather large rooms were given over to showcasing some 183 different wines.

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The Cru Bourgeois quality system incorporates those wines from the Medoc peninsula that sit outside of the famous ‘1855’ classification.  To qualify as Cru Bourgeois a wine must be blind tested and approved by a panel of wine professionals two years after the harvest.

The 2014 selection features 278 Cháteaux producing 30 million bottles of wine.  That’s equivalent to 33% of the Medoc’s production.

With 68 wines on show from the Medoc and another 68 from the Haut-Medoc I was already sensing palate fatigue from going through these larger appellations, and so decided to focus my tasting on getting close to the smaller appellations.  These included Listrac-Médoc (7 wines on show), Moulis (12), Margaux (10), Pauillac (3) and Saint-Estéphe (15).

What follows is my thoughts on the style offered up by each appellation followed by my standout wine.

Listrac-Medoc

Overall the wines from Listrac-Medoc would best be described as rustic and crunchy with good grippy tannins.  Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were the dominant grape varieties here with small amounts of Petit Verdot peppered throughout.  Stylistically the wines had dark cherry overtones topped up with spice, wood and fruitcake.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Capdet.  70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A vibrant colour in the glass with a wonderful perfumed nose full of fruit and vanilla.  Red cherries led the way with a soft and gentle blend working well with the grippy tannins.  Good weight.  N/A UK

Moulis

Everything moved in to more subtle and silky territory as we moved just slightly south to Moulis.  There were good powerful wines that had been made with such a lightness of touch that pure clean fruit abounded and the length of each was long.  Many wines were incredibly perfumed and tannins were evident, but lighter in texture.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Lalaudey.  This was a tough one to call but this wine just pipped the others for me.  It was full of black cherry and even a touch of meat, but in amongst the darker notes I could find menthol and vanilla as well.  The palate was pure silk in a glass.  66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25.5(!)% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Petit Verdot.  N/A UK

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Margaux

As we headed towards the banks of the Gironde the colour of the wines on show seemed to take on a darker, inky black colour.  The silky texture and vanilla fragrance which I adore was still evident and I made several references to both chocolate and confection throughout my notes.

Standout Wine: Cháteau la Fortune.  I used several punchy adjectives for this wine including rich, dense and chewy.  The principal fruit is of black cherry with savoury notes coming through.  Again, this was made with a lovely fragrant nose and a silky smooth palate.  Good fortune indeed!  74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot.  N/A UK

Pauillac

With only 3 wines on show from this appellation it was pretty hard to gauge the full parameters, especially as one wine did nothing for me whatsoever.  I did note that the alcohol levels were also going up as I moved onwards, and were sitting at 14% here as opposed to 13% in Margaux.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Plantey.  This Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (55%/45%) combined the lightness of fragrance on the nose with a powerful and weighty body filled with ripe black cherry, confectionate notes and a good grippy tannin.  Very pleasing to taste whilst being brooding at the same time, I was left thinking that this would have been taken to an even higher level with the right food. N/A UK

Saint-Estéphe

As we move northwards up the banks of the Gironde, the rusticity seemed to creep back in to the wines of Saint-Estéphe.  There was lots of power and tannin on display, alongside spice and vanilla/wood fragrances.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Tour des Termes.  A Merlot heavy blend (60%) with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, and some Petit Verdot along for the ride too.  A lovely deep nose, crunchy black cherry, fruitcake and spice.  The blend has been extremely well executed to form a rich and weighty palate.  This one is actually available in the UK too – £25 from Nicolas.

Following a spot of lunch I did spend some time tasting through the various highlights of the Medoc and Haut-Medoc just to ensure I had covered them off.

In closing it was a real privilege to taste through the classification, especially nestled alongside some noted professional palates.  It’s a real shame that a good majority of the wines are not available in the UK, but conversely, that also made the tasting more unique.

With thanks to Jo at Belleville Marketing for the invite.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – September 2016

Thanks to welcoming a new addition to my family in the last four weeks my Laithwaites Premiere September review comes in the dying hours of the month.  Better late than never though, here are my thoughts on the current bottles, and they’re both ones which I have never tried before which is always a treat.

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Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina, 11%, £10.49

Interestingly enough the literature which I received with the wine was referring to the 2015 vintage as opposed to the 2016 (an incredibly young wine) which is what I am tasting today.  It also stated that the alcohol level was 13%, whereas the bottle label describes it as just 11% which is a bit of a difference.  A quick internet search does indeed show that the literature is wrong and this wine is positioned at the lower alcohol point.

The vineyards that the grapes are sourced from are located at the characteristically high levels you expect from Argentina; some 1,000 metres above sea level.  The constant sunshine but reduced temperatures of the high altitude ensures you have well ripened fruit whilst retaining the lighter floral characters of gently ripened grapes.

In colour this is lemon yellow with green-gold tints. The nose is light, fresh and bright with green apple and pear flesh, citrus lime, watermelon, grapefruit, and a touch of cream.

The wine has a full rounded gloopy body that is filled with flavour.  Alongside the lime citrus and cream from the nose there is a full on dollop of gooseberry that melds with the green flesh of apple.  The acidity is crisp and well balanced against the lighter profile of the wine and the end palate has a lovely dash of zippy zinginess to keep things juicy and lifted in to the good length finish.

This is a pleasant little number which is full of flavour but delicate at the same time, and you need to be careful not to over-chill which would kill some of the subtler nuances.  The £10.49 price tag is just a little over and above what I’d expect to pay for this, but it’s a good example of New World meets Old World Sauvignon Blanc.

I can imagine this would pair very well with fish, but I had fish for dinner last night, and it’s steak for me tonight.  What better time then to move on to the red selection!

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Cuvée du Vatican Réserve de l’Abbé 2014 Cótes du Rhone, France, 14%, £9.99

Well known for its power and full flavour this Rhone wine (comprised of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah) comes with the suggestion of giving it an hour decant ahead of drinking.  Always looking for a good taste comparison I decided to do just that, but also to take a glass straight out of the bottle to gauge the difference.  Now that summer has died out and there are a lot less flies about I’m happy to get my decanter back in to commission.

Happily the bottle supplied matches the one I was expecting and, sure enough with a little air time, the raw flavours and hollowed out mid-palate spread and expanded in to a rich finish.

A dark brambly purple in colour, the nose of this wine is full of Syrah spice and the crunchy black fruit from the Grenache.  There’s also hints of pepper and cloves, blackberry, redcurrant and a nice warmth from the alcohol.

On the palate there is the instant hit of black cherry and berry alongside a medium chalky tannin.  The mid-palate adds spice, bitterness, dark chocolate and prune, and the overall sensation is quite brooding with traits of meat, tobacco and leather.

A fresh acidity sears through the top of the palate, nicely cutting through the darker notes of the wine and the fatty elements of my steak.  Even after a bit of decanting this wine still retains a ‘rustic’ profile, but paired with the food it is well balanced and in character.

At the £9.99 price-point this one sits about right for me value-wise and, whilst both were well structured wines, on that point it ensures that the red wine comes out top of the two Laithwaites Premiere offerings this month.

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Zampa Syrah 2014 – A Taste of India

A friend of mine was over from India recently on a UK visit and happened to ask if there was anything that I’d like to be brought over.  Of course, the first and only thing I thought of was a bottle of wine and, sure enough, he kindly obliged.

What he presented me with was a bottle from Grover Zampa, India’s second most popular brand, just behind market leaders Sula Vineyards.  Producing around 100,000 cases of wine per year, the grapes used for this bottling come from their vineyard holdings in Maharashtra state which is in the centre of India on the western side.  This is a hot-bed of agricultural activity with two thirds of the population employed in farming roles.

More specifically this wine comes from the Nashik valley which is India’s largest grape growing area, just north of Mumbai and Pune (where my friend is from), and this bottle was chosen as an example of his local wine.

Nashik Valley is located at 20° latitude and well outside of the usual grape growing comfort zone of 50-30°, meaning winemaking is a definite challenge in the hot and humid conditions.  Aggressive pruning to avoid the monsoon season and plantings at high altitude to take advantage of the cooler night temperatures both help to carve out wines that can balance acidity levels with the ripened fruit flavours.

Wine making in India has seen a lot of investment in recent years and made good strides forward in terms of the quality (a Sauvignon Blanc from the aforementioned Sula Vineyards made headlines when it won a Decanter Silver Medal award in 2011).  Plantings are focused on the main international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and back in 2011 this particular wine was one of the handful of Indian wines chosen to be stocked by supermarket Waitrose as part of their ‘World of Wine’ showcase.  As I write, the bottle no longer forms part of their range.

Zampa Syrah

Zampa ‘Hand Crafted’ Syrah, Nashik Valley, India, 2014, 14%, ~£7.00 (N/A UK)

In colour the wine is a dark purple, almost to the point of being opaque.  The colour of the main body has just started to lose the vibrant signs of youth but the rim manages to keep the light hues in sight with a touch of a ruby red visible.

The nose of the wine is incredibly rich, warm and spicy.  In addition to the dark blackberry, plummy stewed fruit, there are clear tertiary characteristics of both wood (this wine clearly states on the bottle that it is oak aged) and, more prominently, diesel.  Overall, the sensation is chunky and one of deep intensity and fills every last part of your nasal cavity.

The diesel/burnt notes continue on the palate and, in addition to the seriously woody notes (which are freshly creosoted panels as opposed to subtle toasting) this wine packs a huge punch before you can even taste any fruit characters.  To see if I could restrain this wayward character I decanted the rest of the wine for 6 hours but, alas, it was still the same.

The woodiness has an immediate drying effect on the palate but, even with a good medium acidity to drive it through, it overtakes any other characteristics and is way too heavy handed for my liking.  There’s a light fine grained tannin with some dark fruit milling about in the background, but overall this is a chewy wine that only hints at the ‘smooth, mellow’ delivery promised on the bottle and is dominated by the woody spices.

Obviously I have no provenance on the bottle (it could well have stood on a hot Indian supermarket shelf for some time), and could not find any recommended drinking window on the web, so I do wonder what a few years in bottle would do for this wine.

As it stands this wine felt too over-oaked and a little too raw with not enough of the grape characteristics coming through, so perhaps it isn’t indicative of the brand/range as a whole.  Aside of a few quick tastings at Vinopolis this comprises my first serious critical appraisement of an Indian wine and I hope it won’t be my last.

Many thanks to Amit for giving me the chance to try a bottle.

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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #3 – Exquisite Limestone Coast 2014 Chardonnay

On to the third of my Aldi tastings now and we’re back in Australia, but this time dealing with something a little bit more special.

When reviewing a wine I like to consider all aspects of it and, if having the word ‘Exquisite’ in the name is not enough, this wine hails from the Limestone Coast, which I find quite an exotic term and it transports me immediately to sunnier and foreign climes.  For me, I can almost taste the minerality and warmth.

The Limestone Coast is fairly obviously named to highlight the geological make-up of the base soils of this region of Southern Australia, and that’s important when knowing that you’re about to try a Chardonnay.  Chardonnay is of course a French grape, happiest in the quality wine regions of both Champagne and Burgundy.  What may not be so well known is that both of these French regions have a Limestone base, and this bodes extremely well for this wine.  As they’ve planted the right grape in the right place you know you’re probably in for a good tasting.

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Exquisite Collection Chardonnay 2014, Limestone Coast, South Australia, 13.5%, £5.79

The wine is bottled under screw-cap, and I love the effect that the colour scheme has on the overall presentation of the bottle, with the ‘Royal’ blue off-setting the green/yellow of the bottle/contents very well.  A nice clean scripted label compliments the whole, which also tells us that this is the product of one year, and that the wine is unoaked.  This is an important point, as many New World Chardonnays faced a backlash a few years ago due to the addition of too much wood flavouring to bolster the sometimes neutral flavours of Old World Chardonnay.

Upon pouring the wine is a nice clear light straw colour with touches of gold.  The nose is good, clear and nicely intense, almost plump (if that’s possible for just a scent).  You can immediately understand that this is a rich creamy wine with a clear lemon and lime citrus hit, but also with deep honeyed characters and tropical pineapple.  It’s an incredibly fresh sensation which again brings me back to those warm and sunny days, and I swear (if it’s not too wine-geek-fanciful) that I could taste ‘blue skies’.  No?  Let’s just say then that it is a full, evocative nose.

On the palate you again get the sensations of a pleasing density and fullness and, alongside the good weight you get the fresh burst of yellow fruits including lemon, Galia melon, and the aforementioned pineapple.  There’s also a touch of florality, and a touch of honey (which I will assume to be the honeysuckle referenced on the label).

In addition to the clear fruits, this wine has much more to offer.  There’s the added warmth from the 13.5% alcohol, a lush creamy spice (which comes from its time ageing on its yeast) and a discreet smokiness that rounds out the end palate.  Overall this is a well-crafted, densely populated wine, and it’s easy to see why it forms part of the ‘Exquisite’ line.  The length was equally as impressive as I’d gone away to do something else and realised some five minutes later that I could still taste it.  Wonderful stuff.

I really like unoaked Chardonnay so didn’t actually pair this with food for this tasting.  Whilst it was absolutely perfect on its own, the smokiness and richness of the flavours would pair very well with a sauce of the same nature, or seafood and light bites in order to bring out the yellow fruit notes. A sure-fire winner and another one which, at the price-point of £5.79, is truly remarkable value for money.

With thanks to Aldi UK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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