Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #5 and #6

Well, here we are already on to the final two wines of the 13th Aldi Wine Club panel, and once again it has been a great opportunity to try some wines not on my ordinary supermarket list.

As per the first two bottles received there was a last minute swap out by Aldi and, due to the nicer weather we’ve been seeing here in the UK recently, instead of the planned Chateau Peyredoulle Bordeaux I received:

Aldi Prosecco v3

Aldi Prosecco Superiore NV, Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy, 11%, £7.99

Prosecco is a tried and trusted crowd-pleaser when the weather is warmer, such is the light fresh and fruity nature of the style, and I’ve no doubt that this particular example will be a favourite for many.

A lovely vibrant medium yellow in colour, the nose was full of clean apple and citrus notes.

The palate was immediately light and quaffable with the soft bubble explosion literally melting in your mouth.  A well balanced and refreshing acid streaked down either side of my tongue giving a good spritz whilst allowing the fruit to stay in the centre of your palate.

Juxtaposing this lightness was the fruit character that the bottle described as autumnal, and they weren’t wrong.  Rather than the crunchy green ‘Granny Smith’ apple you usually find in these lighter styles, there was a definite broody yellow apple tone reminiscent of ‘Golden Delicious’.  Notably darker in character than ‘Granny Smith’, we had soft and sweet yellow flesh, both creamy and slightly bruised, with almost a touch of clove and cinnamon.

A touch of lemon citrus lifted the syrupy apple end palate which, at times, became almost cider-like.  The shift between light and dark certainly made this an interesting wine to try, and the sweet apple kept the finish going in the mouth for some time.

Aldi Andara Merlot v2

Andara Merlot 2015, Chile, 13%, £3.99

This particular Merlot was due in the first batch of wines a couple of months back but, in a similar way to the Prosecco above, was shifted out and joins us here in the final two.  Merlot is, of course, one of the French varieties that has made its home in Chile and thrives in popularity.

A medium youthful purple in colour with visible alcohol ‘tears’ in the glass, the nose was particularly full and interesting, with perceptible layers and density.  Included were liquorice notes, black pepper, dark black berry and cherry, and wood with a whiff of vanilla.  The overall sensation was slightly herbaceous with a cakey-bready thick complexion.

On the palate there were jammy blackberry fruits and a fairly high acidity, matched up against smoky dusky blue-skinned plummy fruit.  There were also secondary tones of bitter dark chocolate and a touch of mint on the aftertaste.  Whilst this should represent a veritable compote of flavour, all in all the palate felt a bit disparate with a raw unfinished quality, and not entirely well blended together.

Such was the imbalance of this wine, unusually for an Aldi Wine Club submission, I was able to discern the price prior to looking for it.  At £3.99, whilst there is a good argument that such imperfection should perhaps be expected, I would counter-argue that wines such as Toro Loco show that quality at this level is actively attainable.

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

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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.

malbec-mountains

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.

casillero

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 Premiere Taste Panel – September 2015

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

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

LaithPremSB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To ‘Premier’ or not to ‘Premiere’

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

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

           Laith Prem Pic

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

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

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

May 2015

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

Elqui River Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Chile – £8.99 LINK

June 2015

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

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

July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring in to Summer!

3 labels

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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Missing in action

With wine being such an everyday commodity, I find it fascinating that there’s the prospect of trying a magical elixir that we may never have been able to taste. The quest to taste the mythical ‘untainted’ pre-Phylloxera wines is something of a holy grail for both wine professionals and amateurs alike but, as time goes on its less and less likely that the opportunities will arise. There is an easy way, however, of getting a piece of the action when it comes to rare wine.

Something becoming increasingly common is the resurrection of lost or believed extinct grape varieties. In a market that probably doesn’t need another Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, searching out these obscure varieties can be a clear path to creating a unique wine that really stands out. For me the quest conjures up images of an Indiana Jones type character searching around distant fields in forgotten towns – perhaps talking to old locals in the hope that one of them remembers an elderly man who once had a vineyard. Now this may sound either dramatic or romantic (or both), but with the wine industry going through several reboots due to issues like Phylloxera or prohibition, the world markets stopped and started. This meant that plantings were grubbed up or even abandoned, and it’s finding these forgotten outposts that is the gateway to tasting wine from another time.

A book entitled ‘The Wild Vine’ by author Todd Kliman follows the near extinction of the Norton grape variety, which hailed from the US state of Virginia. Once upon a time at the 1873 Vienna convention, a bottle of Norton was awarded the very grand sounding award for ‘Best red wine of all nations’. In spite of this, fate had a different idea and Norton was forgotten. It was re-discovered in 1965, and with the persistence of grape crusader Jenni McCloud, it has come back from the brink and is now considered to be the only American vine variety good enough to make premium wine.

Legendary Spanish wine producer Miguel Torres is also striving to rediscover lost vines. As part of a caretaking exercise to respect and understand the tradition and history of his region, Miguel began placing advertisements in the local Barcelona press asking if anyone knew of any obscure varieties being made in vineyard outposts. Fast forward to today and Torres lays claim to have resurrected 45 grape varieties from obscurity since 1984. Certainly the last couple of times I’ve tasted through their ranges at wine fairs, they’ve included some weird wonders such as Querol, or the Samso and Garro varieties blended in to their Grans Muralles.

Now you may be thinking that this is all very well, but you’re unlikely to bump in to any of these grape varieties with ease and be able to taste them. You may be surprised then, to hear that there are some grape varieties saved from near extinction that are widely available in any reasonable supermarket selection. Potentially you may even have a bottle of them in the house now!

Viognier is a grape hailing from the Northern Rhone in France, and whilst today it is common (France had 4,395 hectares (10,869 acres) given over to Viognier in 2009), it’s astonishing to think that as recently as 1965 plantings had dwindled to just 14 hectares (35 acres). That’s roughly the size of 27 football pitches, and could have been 100% wiped out by just one bad frost or serious hail shower. The Viognier vine has a tendency to suffer from coulure (the failure of grape development following flowering) and was prone to providing low yields, and so many farmers simply gave up and moved on to easier to handle varieties. To see its’ resurgence is remarkable, and it’s now produced across the globe, faring well in diverse regions such the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

And then there’s Carménère. This Bordeaux variety disappeared following the outbreak of Phylloxera (for the same reasons as Viognier), and was thought lost forever. Thankfully it was later discovered thriving in Chile where it was mistakenly thought to have been Merlot.

Incidentally, whilst some regions do have smatterings of plantings that managed to escape Phylloxera, as Chile is surrounded by either desert, sea or mountains, it’s one of the few wine producing countries not to have seen the Phylloxera outbreak. As the Bordeaux varieties were imported from France before they themselves suffered from Phylloxera, Chile still grow grapes on ungrafted vines, and therefore they are probably your best bet today of trying a ‘pre-Phylloxera’ wine. Obviously production methods, wine style and all sorts of other aspects have changed over the years, so I only mention it with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Everyone loves an underdog story, and whenever I see or get to taste a Viognier or Carménère I tend to go for it. It reminds me that I may not have had the opportunity to do so, if things had been only slightly different.

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