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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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – July 2016

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Time for the latest Laithwaites Premiere wines now and, after a good year in the scheme, this is the first time that I’ve received a wine that I’m already familiar with.  When you’ve found a wine that you know you like it’s easy to enjoy it, forgetting about the mechanics, so I welcome the opportunity to critically evaluate it again.

First we head over to Spain and the north-west central region of Rueda which is known mainly for white wines, including their speciality grape Verdejo.  A nicely warm continental climate gives the vines hot sunshine during the day and, when twinned with the high altitude of the plantings, cool temperatures at night allowing the grapes to fully develop their aromas and flavours.

Tesoro de Castilla Verdejo 2015, Castilla, Spain, 12.5%, £7.99

In the glass this is a pale lemon colour with subtle golden green hints.  The nose is full of waxy lemon citrus, white florality (reminiscent of a lily) and has a good level of intensity to draw you towards it.

The palate has a good medium weight with a waxy oily quality much like a Chardonnay.  The first fruit hit is the generous lemon and lime citrus followed by a touch of grassiness.  By law some Verdejo’s (not labelled as Rueda Verdejo) can include as little as 50% Verdejo in the blend with the rest topped up with either Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo (Viura), and this can account for the SB like grassy qualities.  In this case though the wine is 100% Verdejo and so it is down to mere grape similarity.

The acid is well balanced with the fruit creating a juicy, gloopy, almost voluptuous mouth-feel.  There’s a tangy fruity end to the palate which lasts for some time, and even perhaps a small amount of tannin.

The wine is clearly all about the core citrus fruits and I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.  Having conducted some research on the Laithwaites website I found that this wine has scored slightly less than 2 stars out 5.  Added to this was the fairly low price-point of £7.99 (when compared to other Premiere offerings) and I was ready to treat this as a fairly academic review.  When reviewing a wine I usually conduct it based on my initial thoughts from the first appearance, returning to clarify my views with a glass later in the day or even in the following days.

Imagine my surprise then when I was fully about to start my third glass without writing even the first line of a tasting note.  I tasted this on a gloriously warm day which perhaps worked to the wine’s advantage, but many of the lower starred reviews had commented on an unbalanced acidity of which I saw no sign at all.  A good bottle and one which I would happily purchase again.

Papavero

Il Papavero Primitivo 2014, Puglia, Italy, 14%, £8.99

Primitivo (aka Zinfandel in the US or Tribidrag in Croatia) is a spicy plummy grape from Puglia in southern Italy.  This bottle is a Laithwaites customer favourite (me included) so it is no surprise that I have enjoyed it on many occasions.  I do find it odd that it forms part of the palate-expanding Premiere scheme when it is so widely recognised, and perhaps Laithwaites could have included the equally well-rated, but not so best-selling white or rosato from the range.

If the map view of Italy is shaped like a boot, then Puglia is situated at the heel of the boot. The land here is flat and rolling and one respected wine academic once described it to me as ‘the heel without the hills’.

Care has gone in to the presentation of the bottle with the label (highlighting the English translation of ‘Il Papavero’) depicting a poppy.  In the glass this is a dense, dark (but not quite opaque), ruby purple.

The nose is forthcoming and full of ripened black cherry, pepper spice, brambles and vanilla, and feels warm, velvety, rich and rewarding.  Nestled amongst the vibrantly youthful fruit there are also tertiary characters lurking and I could detect leather and tobacco.

The Palate, like the nose, is rich and fresh and full of black cherry, pepper spice and meaty characters.  The overall palate feels complex yet smooth and mellow, and thoroughly impressive at this price-point.

There’s also the Italian hallmark of high acidity (allowing the wine to be enjoyed with the local cuisine of tomato and meat dishes) but it counterpoints equally with the richer meatier aspects of the wine.  A pleasure to drink.

Verdict: A tough one this month as the Il Papavero absolutely has the upfront complex qualities, but there’s kudos points for the hidden charms of the Tesoro de Castilla, so I’ll call it a draw.

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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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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting -April 2016

April may well and truly be over, but I’ve still got the two Laithwaites Premiere bottles to review, so here goes.

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First up is the Campanula Pinot Grigio which is actually already something of a best-selling white from Laithwaites, so it is great that it forms part of the Premiere range as these schemes can so often be for pushing wines that aren’t selling well.  Whilst I’m familiar with their (now unavailable) Pinot Noir, I’ve never tried any of their white offerings, so this is a good opportunity.

Another point of interest here is the fact that this wine is from Hungary and not, as you may well initially expect, from the Pinot Grigio stronghold of northern Italy.  There’s a good historical reason for the grape making the journey to Hungary, dating back to when the King of Naples’ daughter married the Hungarian King and he became a great patron of her Italian roots, culture, arts and science.

Named after the bluebells that grew around the vineyards, this wine is produced by winemaker Gábor Laczkó in the northern central village of Etyek, some 50 kilometres from Budapest.  This Pinot Grigio was ‘commended’ at the International Wines & Spirits Challenge 2015.

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Campanula Pinot Grigio 2014, Dunántúl, Hungary, 12%, £8.49

The wine is a light pale lemon yellow in colour with inviting golden hints to the rim.  The nose is pronounced, strong and intense, with clear green apple flesh, citrus, some cream and a whiff of spice.  The depth of the nose is suggestive of a nicely weighted palate, and this is indeed what you receive.

On the palate the fresh green flesh notes last throughout, and are added to with apple pips and pear.  There’s prominent lemon and lime and a mouth-watering acidity that means the overall sensation is fresh and more-ish.

The end palate is rounded out with a slight woodiness to match the ripe fruit, and the finish is all about the fresh apple and cream texture.

Overall this is a very nice white, and well crafted, but at £8.49 a bottle, it might just be a touch expensive.

Next up is a Spanish red blend from Extremadura, which is towards the south-west of the country, bordering Portugal.  The label tells us that the ‘Silver Route’, of which the wine takes its name, was the principal trade route used by the Roman Empire.  Cutting Spain north to south, the route allowed the Romans to move localised specialities such as wine and the famous iberico hams, to different parts of the country to trade for other materials.

The Extremadura region has deep red soils, and the Tempranillo (70%) and Syrah (30%) used for this bottling are from old vines based in Badajoz, just south of Merida.  From the combination of using the naturally spicy Syrah grape, a hot Spanish climate, and the intensity that comes from the concentrated lower yields of older vines, I’m expecting this to be a punchy wine.

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The Silver Route 2014 Tempranillo/Syrah Blend, Extremadura VdT, Spain, 14.5%, £8.99

The bottle looks great with the silver design setting off the dark colour of the wine superbly.  The kaleidoscope label is carried across to the top of the screw-cap which is a nice touch and shows a good bit of thought and care for the overall design.

In colour this a nice deep youthful purple colour, and the strong ripe fruity nose greets you well before your nose reaches the glass.  This is still a youthful intense, slightly confectionate black fruit-forward wine, with warmth and spice, and a definite nod towards currant fruit puddings.

For all that you detect on the nose, the palate is surprisingly not over-powering and has a medium weight, but it is crammed full of flavour.  Initially it is rich and spicy with dark fruit cake notes alongside bitter dark cocoa, and coffee.  You also get the hit of the ripe black fruits as well as a little light grainy (chalky) tannin.

A fresh medium acid keeps this gliding across the palate, but the overall sensation is quite moody and dark, with the fruit playing second fiddle to the more complex secondary notes such as the cake and cocoa.  This is the character of the wine, more than the complexity, but this is still an enjoyable easy drink.

The length is medium and really makes the most of the chocolate.  I like this one for the price and it gets an overall thumbs up.

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Laithwaites Premiere March 2016

Another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, taking a look at the bottles they select each month, in a bid to get the regular wine purchaser out of their comfort zone and trying something new.  As usual there’s one bottle of white and one bottle of red, falling anywhere in the £7.99 to £12 price bracket.

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Da Silva Amoras 2014, Lisboa VR, Portugal, 12.5%, £7.99

Laithwaites became ‘Portuguese Wine Importer of the year’ in 2010, so it’s no surprise that they’re promoting unique wines from that part of the world.  At £7.99 it’s certainly not one of the most expensive offerings from the scheme, so a ‘try-before-you-buy’ tasting is good news.

The first thing that’s great about this wine is that it is from the ‘Santos Lima’ family estate, owned by the da Silva family for several generations, which ensures a serious attention to detail.  Secondly, they have access to the long sunny Portuguese days and perfect growing conditions that comprise “slopes, soil and breezy conditions close to the Atlantic”.

On a third note, this wine was also a treat for me as it comprises a blend of four very different and unusual grape varieties – Fernao Pires (30%), Arinto (30%), Vital (30%) and Moscatel (10%), two of which I’d never tried before.

Each of the grapes plays a clear part in to the final palate, with the Fernao Pires providing the weight and spice, the Arinto giving the crisp citrics, and the Vital and Moscatel providing the grapey characters.

In colour the wine is an almost luminous golden yellow, both clean and bright and evocative of its youth.  What the nose has in the depth of flavour, it seems to unfortunately lack in its intensity. All the scents are there, but the wine is quite closed and I felt that you really needed to search to find them.  Usually this ‘closed’ nature could be down to over chilling the wine, but this wasn’t a factor in this case.

This is a mid-weight wine, creamy with a low-key but present acidity, making it both crisp and refreshing.  The citrus comes primarily from lemon and to a lesser extent lime, but both apples and grapes are the heavy hitters.  Whilst the green notes are offset by the yellow fruits, the palate is quite dark, almost sour.  When you consider that the ‘grapey’ aspect should only come from 40% of the blend, this is quite interesting.

Whilst showing a bit of a tangy after-taste, it has a good long length which manages to retain the musky fruit.  When looking at the online comments for this wine it appears that it is a bit of fence-sitter, with as many liking this as disliking the final product, but I enjoyed it and would potentially purchase in future.

Inca Tree Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5%, £10.49

With this wine sitting in the top part of the price category I was initially hopeful (most recent Premiere examples have peaked at the £9.99 bracket).  As many will know, Malbec is the French originated, but Argentine adopted grape variety, so a wine of this variety in this country (and at this price) should be top notch.

The bottle is well presented, with the image of the Jaguar (almost evoking that of the Ram on the 2000 Mouton) on the label to pay tribute to local folklore, where the animal is sacred and elusive.

In the glass this is a nice deep youthful purple, and the nose hits you even before you get to the glass which is always a good sign of complexity.  The first impressions of the nose are of sweet red cherry, plums and damsons.

Whilst the body was medium, the high acid actually kept the overall sensation fairly light. On the first day I tried this wine the fruit disappeared pretty quickly on the mid-palate, leaving only a spiciness rather than the fruit.  In lieu of a satisfactory tasting I decided to give this wine another go on a second date and it was well worth it.  Keeping the wine the extra day allowed the mid-palate to fill out with plummy fruits, and this melded well with the aforementioned spice and warmth.

So, decanting is definitely recommended for this wine but, even when doing that, I’m not sure I would put in the +£10 bracket.  There was a distinct complexity missing for me that would elevate it to anything above the £8 level and I was perhaps doing more than I should have, trying to coax something out of it.  It’s clearly a wine that is all about primary fruit and upfront exposure and, based on this tasting, is not something I would buy again.

So the Premiere story this month seems to be the cheaper white wine turned out to show better than the more expensive red.  Interesting stuff.

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Laithwaites Premiere Wines – February 2016

Time for another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, and for February we’ve been selected a South African Sauvignon Blanc and a Portuguese Red blend.  Both of these wines are new to me, so the scheme continues to offer up a low price way of trying new wines.

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Farmhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Breedekloof WO, South Africa – 13.5%, £9.99

Another top price offering for the Premiere wines (they generally cap at £10), and an interesting one to receive, coming as it did with a case of my current favourite New World Sauvignon Blanc (which, for the record, was a former discovery via the Premiere scheme!).

Made by award winning estate Spier, this wine hails from the world famous Stellenbosch region of South Africa, which gives a clue as to the full body and ripe fruits one can expect from such a bottle.

Visually the wine is a nice clear pale lemon in colour, and on the palate there are the usual Sauvignon Blanc character traits of a green grassiness, gooseberries, passion fruit and bell pepper.  The body is mid-weight and adds cream as well as yellow pepper, dried tropical fruit, and a hefty dose of lime juice.  The acidity keeps the pace moving and, whilst refreshing, the wine for me fails to make the huge impression I expect of a New World SB.

The wine has ripe fruits and gives a decent length so perhaps I need to try it again with food, or perhaps not so close to the Chilean SB I bought it with (at the same price-point), which for me is a world class example of how to treat the grape in a New World climate.  In summary, a perfectly good weekday wine, but not top of my list for this grape at this price-point.

Stones & Bones (Red Blend) 2013, Lisboa VR, Portugal – 14%, £8.99

Not for any particular reason it has been a while since I’ve had anything from Portugal.  Loving Spanish reds as much as I do, this country tends to get pushed to the side (pun intended!).

This wine gets its name from the landscape from whence it hails, which is scattered with ancient boulders and fossils.  Winemaker Diogo Sepúlveda has previously worked in both Pomerol and Barossa, and so brings a wealth of talent, capable of bringing richness to this blend of Touriga Nacional (40%), Syrah (30%), Tinta Roriz (20%) and Alicante (10%).

The colour is a nice clear youthful purple, and the nose is at once full of ripe black fruits and brambles, as well as touches of milk chocolate and vanilla.  From the richness and depth of the nose alone you can get a sense of the warmth that will come from the alcohol (14%), as well as the touches of sweet well ripened grapes.

The palate is voluptuous, well rounded, and as full as the nose suggested.  The fruits continue to be led by black cherries and berries, joined by the spices and chocolate (erring towards dark chocolate now).  Tannins are light, and there is a lush lean refreshing acid running throughout.  This keeps the overall sensation nice and clean, even though I could describe the overall weight of the wine as ‘chewy’.  The length of the wine is substantial and somewhere over medium plus.

The literature says that the wine is best enjoyed by 2021 and I can well believe it.  My own notes describe this wine as having a palate that you can almost tell is on the cusp of something greater.  There is a complexity just waiting to burst out and, as pleasant as this is to drink right now, it will be really interesting to try this again in a few years time.  A well-made wine and a good find.

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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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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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