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 Notes – November 2015

Another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, with the below bottles comprising the November offerings.  I was pleasantly pleased (but not 100% surprised with Christmas coming) that the slightly higher price-point recently seen has been maintained, with these bottles coming in at £9.49 and £8.99 respectively.

LaithNov15

La Croix de Bordeaux 2014, Bordeaux AOC France, 100% Merlot, 12.5%, £9.49

This AOC Bordeaux comes from Entre Deux Mers (literally translating as ‘the entry-point of two seas’, sitting as it does at the meeting point of the Gironde and the Garonne).  We’re in the southerly part of Bordeaux here, and this wine is particularly championed by Laithwaites as their ‘house’ claret, taking their buyer through 50 different blends before he settled on this one.

In appearance it is an opaque deep inky purple – the solid colour coming from thermo-vinification for maximum results.

On the nose you can detect ripe, slightly tinned fruit, both red and black.  Of the confectionate notes that take the fore, there is solid red cherry, alongside brambles and earth.  On the whole it is a dense and solid nose, much like the appearance.

The palate is a touch drying, and I wasn’t surprised when I later read the tasting notes that highlight time and again that this is a food wine.  The characteristics of Merlot are evident in their tick-list fashion – spicy black cherry fruit giving a subtle warmth, alongside the raisined fruitcake.  I can also detect further fruit, with touches of blueberry, and there is a refreshing acidity to balance out the drying character and grippy grainy tannins that persist.  The tasting note describes them as ‘minimal’, so perhaps I was doing this wine a dis-service by not trying it with food to get the full winemaker vision.    Overall though, this is a smooth, soft and fruity example of Merlot if not one I would pick up at this price point.  But that’s what the Premiere service is for!

Bees Knees Chenin Blanc Viognier 2015 – South Africa (Western Cape), Chenin Blanc/Viogier blend, 14%, £8.99

Globe-trotting winemaker Leon Esterhuizen has returned to his South African home to work with his beloved Chenin Blanc (known as Steen in South Africa) in the terroir that brings out the best from this this French varietal.  Indeed, Laithwaites loved it so much that they christened it ‘The Bees Knees’, which is high praise indeed for an inaugural offering (although the wider family who produce this wine have been involved in production some 30 years).  The wine is listed as Western Cape which is a fairly sizeable area, but this white is produced in Somerset West, which overlooks False Bay (the horseshoe shape bay in the southwest), and draws in premium grapes from nearby Stellenbosch.

I always find it amusing to try youthful wines from the southern hemisphere as, with this 2015 vintage, it’s easy to forget with our harvest only just over, this has still managed to have some age attached to it, the grapes being picked towards the start of our calendar year.

Pale lemon in colour, a controlled cool vinification followed by two months of lees (dead yeast cells) contact, ensures that this wine has a good, medium weighted mouthfeel.  The Chenin grape gives off its naturally oily notes, and the sum of this with the lees ageing is a dense and satisfying palate full of honey and cream.  Alongside the majority (80%) of Steen we have 20% of Rhone grape Viognier added, just to balance out the oiliness and give florality and lightness to the overall palate.  True to form we get touches of both florality (white flowers and vanilla spice) and hints of tropical fruits added, with both peach and dried yellow melon evident.

The linear and persisting acid ensures that the blend remains balanced, and draws the tropical fruit to a warm conclusion.

At £8.99 this is a lovely fresh, full and ‘touching on complex’ example of where South Africa can excel and produce wine that is thoughtful, and highlights the positive characters that belie the fact that the region is fairly new in terms of production.  This was actually the cheaper of the two bottles presented this month but (and like previous months I say this as primarily a red wine drinker), the Laithwaites selection for November has again turned up a White winner for me.

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Crisis 1865: 150 Years of Phylloxera #MWWC18

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The below essay is in response to the monthly wine writing challenge (#mwwc18). The subject matter for this month is ‘crisis’.

I’ve read a lot recently about Bordeaux being in crisis, and how another year has crept by with a less than successful En Primeur campaign. With the top rated vintages of 2009 and 2010 now slipping further away, many drinkers around the world are slowly losing faith in the once exalted wines, and are seeking solace elsewhere. Whilst it is true that the Bordeaux En Primeur campaign only features what amounts to a handful of estates, the knock on effect is felt further afield and, along with the Chinese-Bordeaux love affair significantly cooling of late, ‘Brand Bordeaux’ has taken a knock that will affect any producer in the wider area. Customers are therefore having to be creative about where they spend their wine money, and the net result actually forms a positive, giving a spectrum of other producers an opportunity to increase their sales. With the limited Burgundy production pretty much already spoken for, people are reported to have been gravitating towards the Rhone as a quality French alternative.

My point is thus: From within a crisis, lies opportunity.

In contrast to the big money, sprawling chateau and significant foreign investment we see today, at one time wine production in France could have been a byword for disaster. In fact, disaster is too small a word for it, and crisis is far better suited. The diminishing En Primeur interest is small fry compared to the destruction seen during the years of conflict and occupation of the first and second world wars. Not only were the dreams and potential of an entire generation wiped out in the battlefield, but also those of a younger generation, as many children died in the vineyards collecting the grapes to keep businesses afloat.

France was in serious trouble and, adding insult to injury, the scars of war followed another crisis that was only just being resolved. A crisis that, even 150 years after it first occurred, still influences pretty much every bottle of wine that we drink today. From pretty much anywhere in the world.

Phylloxera.

I’m sure most readers of a wine website will be familiar with its cause, the effects, and the struggle to understand and combat it (If not, there are a handful of very good books that go in to immense detail about it). What these books rarely touch on is the opportunities that came out of the biggest crisis ever to hit winemaking. With hindsight, and with the ability to leave aside the human factor (the vineyards grubbed up, lost fortunes, and broken livelihoods and the debate of whether the end justified the means), Vintners were able to start afresh. With this came the ability to re-choose, or simplify the varieties that they were growing, perhaps even planting to fashions of the day. It gave them the opportunity to re-think their plots, and perhaps move away from the plains on to hillside slopes. It allowed the botanists to further their understanding in to the lifecycle of vineyard pests and what a vine needs to survive. It developed the concept of grafting vines, which is still practised today to be able to quickly change which varietals are being grown. In a perverse way, it even fuelled the notion of a wine nirvana – the untouchable ‘pre-phylloxera’ wine, which creates interest at auction, or provides a unique selling point. Champagne such as Krug’s Clos du Mesnil, for example, comes from a tiny walled and un-grafted plot, and because of this very fact sell for hundreds of pounds per bottle. The even rarer Clos d’Ambonnay can sell for thousands per bottle.

Following Phlloxera, and the destruction of thousands of hectares of French vineyards, cheap wines were imported from Spain and re-labelled as French, in order to satisfy the continuing customer demand. To stop this adulteration and to control production levels, the appellation contróllée system was developed and introduced. This fierce protection of place spearheaded by France has been now copied in virtually every part of the winemaking world, from American AVA’s to the German Pradikat system. If it wasn’t for Phylloxera, the appellation system may never have been developed, certainly not as early as it was, and perhaps even the notion of terroir would not be so prevalent.

Of course the stringent (certainly in France) appellation system has its critics, and I look on with amusement as the infant English wine market already looks to impose strict boundaries on production (based on county divisions as opposed to anything terroir linked). What does make Sussex better than Kent? Perhaps Kent will then try harder than Sussex, and go on to produce better wine?

From one big crisis 150 years ago, come so many opportunities.

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Spring in to Summer!

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I popped along to my local Majestic last week for their ‘Jump into Summer’ tasting night where they’d selected 10 wines to show, running across Red, White, Rosé and Sparkling. Not surprisingly the majority were light and fruity Whites/Rosé’s which are great in the warmer weather, but I’m glad that they didn’t shy away from showing some Reds too – my BBQ is never far away in the summer months, and so these wines do still have their place when partnering with food. I participated in a wine poll recently which asked drinkers if they would be switching away from Red wine to lighter styles throughout the summer, and can say that the majority said that they wouldn’t change their habits, so I’m clearly not alone.

Obviously any standard tasting is catering for a generalised palate and with price point/current offers also a key factor, the tasting stayed firmly in the classics. This is fine for what it is, but does make me also yearn for more specialised tastings from these merchants as they can have plenty of gems hidden away. I would also argue that you need to be more guided towards those odd purchases, as opposed to merely steering people towards more Sauvignon Blanc (regular readers will know it isn’t my favourite grape) which they probably would have purchased anyway. I wonder if they believe that more obscure wine tastings would be somewhat less popular?

That said, it did give me a chance to try the St Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which was superb. It kicked off with a fantastically full nose and both that and the palate were full of everything that Sauvignon Blanc from NZ should deliver on; green fruits, tropical fruits, citrus, lovely acid and a full refreshing mouthfeel. Retail (pre any discounts) on this bottle is £25, so it isn’t only the palate that is rich, and I’ll have to make do with remembering the tasting.

They also showed a 2005 Bordeaux – Chateau Moulinet Lasserre from Pomerol. The 2005 vintage for Bordeaux needs little introduction, and this was everything you’d want; Tertiary characteristics leading the nose – old wood, cigars and faint dried fruit, and then the palate adds velvet and silk. A great long finish is built upon the 13.5% alcohol which has mellowed nicely over time. This bottle retails at £30 (no discounts apply) but I’d be happy to stump up for this one. Funny how the mind works isn’t it!? After all, a good wine is a good wine…….

Talking of good wine, the usual tasting table highlighting current staff picks and other offers was still open as usual, and so this gave you the chance to virtually double the number of wines tasted that evening. I was overjoyed to see that Chilean producer Mayu were represented in the form of their Pedro Ximenez, which is a newly stocked wine for Majestic. Mayu are still one of my go-to producers, and when Majestic stocked their Reserva Syrah it was never out of my trolley. I was genuinely distraught when they stopped selling it, but elated to find it in my local Sainsbury’s. At £10 it is great value but, being a supermarket with their regular ‘Buy 6 Save 25%’ offers, it can be had for £7.50 which is a steal for the quality.

The PX was lovely – loads of ripe green fruits, married with a creamy brooding body, and an excellent length. Price-wise it was down from £10.49 to £6.99, with a further 10% off as a featured wine – amazing value. It wasn’t long before I was raving about it to a poor unsuspecting couple, who gave it a try, and also loved it. About an hour later I was talking to another couple who told me that I must try the Mayu PX, and that it came recommended, pointing to the original couple I had spoken to. In addition to the case I bought, I noticed the other couples picking up several cases between them. My work here was done!

It does bring me back to my earlier point though – something like Pedro Ximenez might have been a hard sell on name alone (someone recently handed me back a glass of wine before tasting it on hearing that it was Romanian), but with a simple recommendation and a chance to try before you buy, it can have a really positive effect.

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Wine Epiphany – MWWC#17

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I read earlier in the week that wine blogging is dead.

This is bad news as my wine blog is only 5 months old, but happily, it seems the average time for a wine blog to operate before fatigue sets in can be something like 6 years, so I’ve still got a little way to go. A quick Google, initially to rediscover the article that I had misplaced, filled the page with a slurry of articles all predicting in equality the promising future or the sad demise of the wine blog. Some even offered up an obituary for the medium.

When faced with the question of Epiphany in wine from the MWWC I’m going to take it at face value – a standout moment of clarity that changed me from that point on. As a long time imbiber, I’m going to have to think way back. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. There’s been so many over so long a time that really only the watersheds from yesteryear still stick out. So sit back, and let me weave you on a tour that rides from 2007 to the present day.

In terms of a standout moment for red wine, I recall the time in 2010 that I found a bottle of Chateau Latour 2001, vaguely reduced at the Berry Bros outlet in Berkshire. Flush from a work bonus I snapped it up and kept it for as long as I could, which in reality was only a further year or two, before I savoured its contents and then deified the cork and empty bottle. I personally got a lot out of the experience; not least tasting the wine, but the full majesty of opening and decanting the bottle, and taking notes. Then tasting and re-tasting. The experience was somewhat marred at a wine dinner some time later in 2012, when I was openly lambasted by a fellow guest for pre-empting the experience, and wasting the opportunity of keeping the bottle cellared for another ten years.

Oops.

Sparkling (or should I clarify, Champagne) is still my alma mater for wine, and I remember at a job interview for a wine role, they asked me for my wine epiphany moment. I took them back to the glamorous location of Gatwick airport and my purchase of the Dom Pérignon 1995. I asked myself how something so priceless could have a price tag. £70 later, I had purchased the un-purchaseable but made a storage faux-pas by standing the bottle in my front room in direct sunlight on a shelf acting as some sort of make-shift shrine to that unique experience. On pouring, the bottle was OK (it was no 1996, let’s face it) but simply part of an experience that, in hindsight, was only available to me and only about 5 million other purchasers of DP 1995.

For whites and Rosé I have no real idea. My first Orange wine experience came last month at Selfridges in London, at my request. It wasn’t notable, and I was glad I had requested a sample as opposed to just blindly paying out for a bottle.

No, I think my real wine epiphany lies elsewhere. Was it when my wife bought me the birthday present of an internet only course for wine? A cheap, non-recognised qualification from an internet course provider that has since gone bust, rendering my qualification void. Whilst a waste of her £36, this did however, spur me on to sign up to the courses provided by the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) in London and, as an outsider to the trade, self-fund my way through to the Level 4 Diploma. This is probably the one wine moment more than any other that leads me to where I am today, which is looking to inspire others through the popularisation of wine education. And this is also the moment that brings me back to my initial point about wine blogging.

In what is already quite a crowded niche, I set up my site, and launched many a wine opinion on the world. Slowly but surely, my site has been not only building in content, but also building in subscribers, feedback and, inadvertently, the quality of what I write. Importantly, I feel that I have something valuable to say that others will enjoy reading. I try to keep my subject matter as broad as possible. This runs the gamut from what wine I have tried today, to nuggets of wine history, as well as giving hints and tips to those taking wine exams through organisations such as the WSET.

This has led to a good following on Twitter, to tweeting and conversing with many unknown fellow wine lovers around the globe. It is a direct result of this that has led me to contribute to websites such as the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

My wine epiphany? Well, you’re reading this aren’t you……?!

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