Moser XV Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – Chinese Wine v.2

With the news back in January that Sainsbury’s were stocking two Chinese wines it’s not entirely surprising to find that Tesco have now followed suit.  It’s also no surprise to find out that China’s premiere winery Changyu are involved once again; this time alongside Austrian stalwart Lenz Moser.

Whilst both names might be unfamiliar to the UK market, Changyu have been producing wines for over 120 years and the Moser family have 15 generations of experience so both are old hands.  What was a surprise, perhaps even a shame, was that (just like the Sainsbury’s Chinese range) I found this wine tucked away on the bottom shelf in the furthest corner and you would really have to be looking for it to find it.

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Moser XV Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Ningxia, China, 14%, £8.50

The 2015 vintage was widely hailed as a good one for China, and the vines used to produce this Cabernet Sauvignon range between a very respectable 12-18 years of age.

Ningxia is in the northern-central part of China, and this wine is produced in the ‘up-and-coming’ Helen Mountain region.  At 1,100 metres above sea level, the grapes are able to fuse the cooler high altitude temperatures with the arid soils and long sunlight hours (a third longer than Bordeaux) seen during the growing season. The warmth allows the grapes and their flavours to ripen fully whilst the cooler temperatures allow the berries to keep their freshness.

The bottle itself was very attractively packaged and similar in style to a classic Bordeaux.  Finished with a red foil cap and branded cork, the white label displayed classic chateau imagery and scripted text (some of which was still in Chinese). The front and back labels also both proudly stated that the wine was chateau bottled, just like their Bordeaux counterparts.

On to the tasting and this was a medium youthful purple in colour, although slightly muted in tone and not shining bright like many young wines.

The nose came in several layers, beginning with ripe redcurrant fruit, before being joined by the pronounced floral perfumes of both vanilla and violet.  This fragrance continued with a second wave of light red fruit, very reminiscent of strawberries and cream.

The palate contained darker fruit and was more black cherry in nature, and there was a very distinctive light and drying tannin, almost tea-like in quality.  For a nation as tea-loving as the Chinese that seems fair enough!

Knowing that this wine was unoaked, overall it had quite a woody herbaceous feel and lots of green herb notes and a touch of bell pepper.  Whilst this did add an almost sour element to the palate, the overriding sensation was of ripe fruit, a peppery smoothness and a spicy velvet quality.  The palate was fairly long, carried by fruit warmth and alcohol.

The label suggested a food match of either beef or lamb and I think it would be a good match to make, just to round out some of the herbaceous and sour tones buried in the layers.

The Moser XV is available now from Tesco priced at £8.50 and carries a recommended drinking window of now to 8 years of age.

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Chilean Cabernet 2015 vs. Chilean Cabernet 2015

I very nearly did it.

I very nearly day-dreamed my way through a wine purchase at a supermarket by simply half-looking at the label and assuming that I knew what I was picking up.

Nestled right next door to the Chilean stalwart Casillero del Diablo was Camino del Angel, a new offering from Sainsbury’s whose label bears more than a little passing resemblance to the former.

camino

Filtering out the generics of a plain white label with a black band below and a circular motif, the main font for the brand name is blatantly emulated and the sub-conscious mind sees the capitalised C and lower case d.

Of course it’s not the first time that a particular wine from a particular country has slipped in to a ‘house’ style across brands and retailers.  A clear example is the number of line drawings of mountain ranges that can be found on Argentinian Malbec.

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Both Camino and Casillero are from the Central Valley in Chile, both are from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and the 2015 harvest.  Both are 13.5% in alcohol and both are similarly labelled so, will they be similar in taste?

I awoke from my daydream, knowingly purchased them both, and decided to put them through the taste test.

Camino del Angel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £7

The nose of this wine was clean and full of ripe fruits.  I could detect intense blackcurrants, plums and damson blue fruit, mixed in with a whiff of cake and pepper spice and touches of vanilla florality.  The overall impression of this wine, even before tasting it, was rich with the tertiary characters of both liquorice and meat.

On the palate the overall sensation continued with a somewhat beefy rich texture.  Even though there was a fairly high acid to match this out, the combination of the stewed dark fruit and almost chewy grainy tannins meant this was a tough taste.  Alongside the sour fruit, touches of ash and bitterness added further to this austerity, and the stalky raw finish is what you have left in your mouth on the end palate.

On day 1 I didn’t get the feeling of a particular blend or style and it did feel mass produced.  In the spirit of fairness, on day 2, the blend did feel a little more structured, but nonetheless fairly forgettable.

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Casillero del Diabo Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £6.50 (on offer, usually £7.50)

On the nose this wine was no less full of activity and flavour, but this time was of a silky/velvet quality.  We still have the blackcurrant fruit, but this time we also see the addition of some red cherry.  This slightly deeper complexity is matched by a subtle vanilla florality, and the whole is both bright and uplifting.

On the palate there is a good medium mouth weight, light grippy tannins with a medium matching acidity.  Black cherry is the predominant fruit alongside blackcurrant and pepper spices.  Overall the mouth sensation is dark and brooding, more given over to bitter chocolate and mocha.

These tertiary characters are testament to the blending, with the damson and blue fruits taking a backseat in this wine.  There’s still a touch of raw quality (green and stalky characters), but the overall sensation feels more complete.

Summary: One interesting aside from the tasting was looking at the bottles once they were empty.  As you can see from the picture below the Camino bottle is significantly lighter in colour.

empty-chile-bottles

Whilst there are environmental benefits from this (with a weight of 421 grams as opposed to 520 for the Casillero) including travel expenses and glass wastage, it is well known that the darker the glass, the less light penetration there is.  With light being one of the enemies of wine storage, this ability to repel will contribute to a wines ageing potential.

In summary, consumers should keep their eyes open and be aware of what they purchase.  Whilst the labels on these bottles may be similar, it is interesting to debate whether the extra 50p for the Casillero has gone on the increased cost of the glass used.

If it has, would you happily trade up on taste at a small cost per bottle to the environment?

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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.

chateau-belgrave

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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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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Le Petit Ballon – Clos de l’ours Rosé Tasting

I was recently introduced to Le Petit Ballon, a French wine subscription service who have amassed over 40,000 customers, making them the number one choice in the country. Since their 2011 launch, this success has seen them expanding in to both Belgium and the UK in 2015 and, in the current age of ‘time-poor’ consumers favouring convenience at every step, monthly subscription boxes are booming.

In the UK wine market things remain fairly uncrowded with perhaps half a dozen players vying for your custom, and so it is a ripe time to be offering a new option.

Le Petit Ballon

The no-commitment service operates at two different price-points to ensure that you stay in control of the types of wines that you’d like to try.  Each monthly package consists of two full (75cl) bottles of wine and a full colour magazine (‘The Gazette’) telling you all you need to know about the wines you will be tasting.  Membership also brings the added benefit of receiving at least 20% off the range of artisan wines offered in their online shop, and this ensures that should you find your dream wine on the scheme, you’ll be able to order further supplies no matter how rare the producer.

The first package on offer is ‘Grape Expectations’ which focuses on showcasing great value wines from artisan producers you won’t find on the high-street.  The second, higher tier is the ‘Age of Raisin’ package, focusing on more prestigious labels.

All of the wines featured in the service have been personally selected by Jean-Michel Deluc, a former Sommelier Chef at The Ritz and a man with many other culinary credits to his name, so is a palate you can trust.

For summer 2016 Le Petit Ballon have just launched a new cache of Rosé wines, and I leapt at the chance to give one a try from producer Clos de l’ours.  Ours translates as ‘bear’ which is a nod to the bear-like qualities of winemaker Michel (who would easily be able to give you a bear hug) and he is also referenced in the name of the blend ‘Grizzly’ (Michel has a big beard!).

Clos de l’ours was founded in 2012 (although the vineyards have been in operation much longer) and whilst they are still in the early years of business they have a clear philosophy of how they want to farm their land.  Respectful of the existing vines being farmed organically since 2000, they continue to use minimal intervention in the wine-making process to allow nature to take its own course.

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Clos de l’ours Grizzly Organic Rosé (blend) 2015, Provence, France, 14%, £13.90 (£11.90 to subscribers)

The colour of this wine is a pale-ish pink, conjuring up for me the colour of farmed salmon with hints of onion skin. It looks clear, clean, fresh and inviting, and the slate-grey colour of the label immediately sets off the pale colour of the wine superbly.  The blend is a veritable compendium of the classic southern french red grapes of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Carignan and Cinsault, with the addition of the white grape Rolle to finish it off.

The nose was nicely forthcoming and full of various red fruits, but in the main strawberries and redcurrant.  In addition to this there was a discernible dash of lemon citrus and a whiff of smokiness at the tail end.

The first thing I notice on the palate is the wonderful depth that the wine exudes, which is an instant hit of pure fruit and a silky creamy weight.  Once again the red fruits are clean, nicely ripe and balanced with a medium fresh acid that is present, but happy to let the juicy fruits come to the fore.  Once again we are mixing strawberry and redcurrants, with background notes of raspberry and pomegranate.

The finish is long and carried by the creaminess and the smoky salty minerality you always find in a decent Provence Rosé.

Even though this wine is all about showcasing well delivered pure fruit, there’s an inbuilt complexity that makes this absolutely worth the price.  In my search for more words to describe its creamy rich body I kept returning to the glass time and time again and, although I failed to find the words, I was still amply rewarded with a well-realised wine.

I absolutely look forward to trying other wines in the range, and indeed, others offered by Le Petit Ballon.  You can find out more, as well as getting more info on their subscription options by visiting http://www.lepetitballon.com/uk/

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Le Petit Ballon for the bottle used in this tasting.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – June 2016

I’ve been sent a couple of youthful 2015’s from the Laithwaites Premiere scheme this month and both come in at the £8.99 price-point.

First up is a white from New South Wales in Australia, and more specifically the Riverina region which is in the south-central part of the state.  Being fairly inland and away from the cooling coastal breezes this is a warm climate for viticulture and so you should be expecting some well ripened grapes and clean pronounced fruit flavours.

White Duck

White Duck Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio 2015, New South Wales, Australia, 13%, £8.99

The golden yellow colour of the wine hints at the good rich ripe fruit and, when you draw your nose close to the glass, you get further clues to the weight and body.  It’s a fairly intense and detailed aroma full of green apples and pears to begin with and then followed up with the tropical yellow fruits of melon and pineapple.  There’s also a touch of florality and vanilla spice melded in there too, creating a rich whole.

On the palate the weight instantly hits you and there is a gloopy oily sensation that is jammed packed full of various fruits.  This begins with both lemon and lime citrus and is followed up with a big dollop of yellow melon and pineapple.  I can also detect the green flesh of pear, a touch of watermelon which gives a sense of the liquid evaporating in your mouth just leaving the full fruit on the palate for some time to come.

This is a fresh and zingy wine which is mouth-watering, but at the same time the acidity is fairly restrained, and this also adds power to the fruit characters.  The end palate is also where we see much of the oiliness (more margarine than butter) and is very much a character of a warm climate Chardonnay.  It’s great to see both grape varieties playing their part in this wine with the Chardonnay (83% of the blend) adding the weight and body and the Pinot Grigio (17%) adding the florality and lighter fruits.

This is a well-balanced and realised wine from experienced winemaker Sam Trimboli and with good complexity for the price.  Recommended.

Grand Gaillard

There’s definitely more to south-western France than just Bordeaux and next up we have a red wine hailing from nearby Bergerac.  This is one of a plethora of other wine producing areas crafting similar wines from the classic varieties but, standing in the wider Bordeaux shadow are perhaps not so well known to many wine consumers.  Will this one be able to stand up with the best of them?

Grand Gaillard Merlot 2015, Bergerac AOC, France, 13%, £8.99

In colour this is a nice vibrant youthful purple which highlights that this is a young wine.  On the nose there’s a good richness of black berries, figs and prunes, pepper spice and violets.

As smooth as the weight of the wine is, the palate is very earthy, rustic and fairly raw, with dry grippy grainy tannin.  The fruit is dark and dense and, for me, just a little bit too singular in tone.  It’s a big bomb of blackberry, spice and the characteristic fruit cake notes you get from Merlot, but all too quickly the flavour drops away leaving you with the tannin and the dry earthiness.  I think this wine is still too young and needs some more time to settle, or at the very least needs food to balance the fruit.  In my usual spirit of giving the wine every chance I tried this over several days but my conclusions all amounted to the same, and therefore I can’t recommend it at the £8.99 price tag.

This month’s winner: White Duck 2015 Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio blend

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – May 2016

Maybe it’s because the sun has finally arrived here in the UK or maybe it is just good labelling, but both the wines supplied as part of the May offering from Laithwaites Premier looked absolutely inviting and ready to drink.  Added to which they are two wines that I’ve never heard of before, let alone tried, so it’s another great opportunity.

Belle Saison

La Belle Saison Sauvignon Blanc 2015, France, 11.5%, £8.99

Unusually for this scheme, this white wine is on the low alcohol side clocking in at just 11.5%, but the price-point is still where you’d expect for a good quality Sauvignon Blanc.  The question is: can it deliver on the palate?

French Sauvignon Blanc traditionally hails from the Loire, but this wine is labelled simply as a ‘Vin de France’ and so no identifiable geographic indication is clearly given.  In fact, this wine hails from various vineyards across the south-west of the country, allowing the winemakers to create a consistent blend.  To me, £8.99 seems a little on the high side for a wine that is sourced from such a wide arena, but at least we can applaud the efforts to craft a typical French Sauvignon Blanc.

From the hands of winemaker Hervé Sabardeil (who also makes Laithwaites favourite Chante-Clair), this wine is bottled under a nice green screw-cap which well accentuates the lemon yellow wine.  The label, as mentioned above, speaks clearly of a summery floral wine, which is exactly what you get.

In the glass, the pale lemon yellow is joined by green tints to the rim.  A good intense nose is filled with the light fresh green fruits of apple and pears along with a touch of honey and peach.  There are also the signature fragrant notes of cut grass to add to the fresh lemon.

The palate dances between yellow and green fruits, delivering the flesh of green apples and pears and then jumps towards tropical yellow melon.  The varied fruit salad notes continue with both traces of banana and dried pineapple discernible.  Overall this is a zesty, slightly tart, mouth-watering wine.  The medium weight is balanced well against the lip-smacking acids, with the fruits delivering a good long satisfying length.

Refreshing, utterly drinkable without food, and a good example of a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc.  What isn’t noticeable, but you can raise a glass to, is the lower alcohol level.  This allows you to feel just that bit better about the next glass, even if the bottle price won’t.

Mulberry Bush

The Mulberry Bush Shiraz Merlot 2015, Robertson, South Africa, 14%, £8.99

I seem to be trying more and more South African wines recently which is probably testament to how much more accessible they have become.  In addition, in my continual bid to stay away from the well beaten track and broaden my horizons, I find myself trying less and less Shiraz and Merlot and so this is something of a homecoming.

This bottle (55% Shiraz, 45% Merlot) comes from third generation winemaker Jacques Bruwer and, with famed wine writer Hugh Johnson extolling the virtues of the Cape for quality and value, we should be in for a treat.

We’re in the south-west of the south-western tip of South Africa here, nestled between the mountain ranges of Langeberg and Riversonderend in the Robertson region.  Long sunny days are tempered with the cool misty nights and coastal breezes rolling in from the Indian Ocean, which allows the grapes to have an elongated hang time throughout the season, and fully ripen to maturity.

In colour this is an inky-dark youthful purple in colour.  On the nose there are dark plummy notes alongside redcurrant, damson and raisin, and the tertiary characters of fruitcake and coffee.  Overall it’s a winter warming scent with sweet spices and varnished wood.

As you would expect from the Syrah and Merlot grapes, the palate of this wine is heavy on the fruitcake and spice characters, alongside further notes of wood and brambles.  There’s redcurrants, black cherry, plums, damson, figs, all providing a well weighted body.  I’d also say, given the name of the wine that there’s some mulberry in there too!

The fruit is full, ripe and crunchy in character, and a medium acid draws the cherry and warmth from the relatively high alcohol (14%) in to the end palate.  Overall this is a smooth and mellow wine, perfect with meats or stews, or even on its own, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with these grape varieties after what has probably been too long.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: August

Here’s a quick update on my vines as we approach the middle of the month, and the lead-up to picking in approximately 8 weeks’ time. Both the Chardonnay and Ortega have failed to give any fruit – these are my newest vines and not yet 3 years in the ground, so this is to be expected. I had begun the season hopeful, especially with the Chardonnay which was very healthy, budded early, and showed characteristic vigour but, alas, it will have to wait until next year.

This leaves my Catarratto, which has been equally as vigorous as the Chardonnay. Many bunches are forming well – some individual grapes growing faster than others (as can be seen in the below picture). At this point I have in the back of my mind the word ‘millerandage’ which concerns bunches forming of grapes of different size and maturity, but all seem to be at the same stage of ripeness, so for now I believe that it is simply part of the growth process.

Catarratto in August

Now my full concentration is on the one variety, the next month will all be about getting the water availability right, as well as any canopy trimming I need to carry out. The weather since my last report has been more aligned to a British summer with many instances of rain (one extremely heavy day) and, whilst we have still seen warm days in the late teens / early twenties celcius, there has been widespread and continued cloud cover. More rain is forecasted ahead.

That said, all my winemaking equipment is sitting waiting to go, and I have my refractometer on standby!

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UK 2015 vine growth report: Two months in

It’s been just over two months now since my vines started their 2015 journey, and so here’s a further entry as to their progress, which will make interesting reading at the end of the season, and also year on year. If you want to remind yourself of the last progress entry, you can find it here.

The warm and sunny weather continues here in Berkshire and, although there was hail on one particular day, it was mercifully short in duration. As you will see from the pictures below, my Chardonnay is coming along nicely and has virtually doubled/tripled in height and a number of new vines have sprouted. Leaf canopies are also well established and growing well. It’s a similar situation for my Cataratto, which is also thriving, despite being in a slightly shadier position.

Month 2 Vines

 (l-r Chardonnay, Ortega, Catarratto)

The same cannot be said for the Ortega which, although it has seen progress, still seems fairly muted in its growth and is currently resembling something like a bush vine rather than one being trained. If it doesn’t speed up its growth in the next few weeks I think I’m going to have to do some digging to find out what its general lifecycle looks like. Being a Germanic variety and used to cool weather I thought it would be enjoying the unseasonal warm spell we are having, but clearly not.

To ensure I give all the vines every chance, I’ve replaced the trellising as promised, in readiness for when the grapes arrive and bring extra weight later in the season. This new trellising, which mimics those used professionally, should allow extra breezes through, hinder pests (my previous lattice trellising would have been easy for them to scale up), and allow sunshine to penetrate all sides of the vines.

As I write, the weather is a glorious 24° centigrade, with more of the same planned for tomorrow. Long may it continue!

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