Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #1 and #2

Nearly a full year after I first joined up with the Aldi Wine Club to review half a dozen bottles in their 7th panel, I’m very pleased to once again be linking in with them for their 13th panel.  In a happy coincidence, the first wine I’m trying is the sister act to the first wine I ever reviewed for them; the Vignobles Roussellet Malbec.

ALDI Wine Club Logo

As a quick reminder for anyone not familiar with the club, every other month Aldi select 30 would-be wine experts to become their next tasting panel.  Each month over the following 3 months you are sent two bottles to taste and rate.  You’re free to be as honest as you want with the wines, and they won’t stop sending them to you if one isn’t to your taste.  All you need to do is be prepared to share your views via social media.

Applying to be on the panel is free and you can find all of the application details here (UK only).

Here’s my thoughts on the first two wines that I have been sent for this 13th panel.

Vignobles Roussellet Sauvignon Blanc, France, 11.5% £4.49

Reminding myself of my notes on the Merlot I tasted a year prior, one of the first things I mentioned was that the bottle came under screwcap (largely not favoured by the traditionally led French) and didn’t feature either a production year or a region of production other than the general label of ‘France’.

All of this is exactly the same for this Sauvignon Blanc, but a tiny note on the back label and a Google later tells me that this wine was produced by Grands Chais de France (LGCF), who partner smaller winegrowers all over France and have access to some 2,000 hectares of vines.

In colour this is a medium lemon yellow with golden tints to the rim.  Even before I am six inches close to the glass I’m greeted by a fully fragrant nose of green, be it lime, apple flesh or grassy florality.  There’s also touches of yellow tropical fruit in the form of pineapple and melon.

On the palate you are immediately hit by a big dash of lime and an overwhelming sense of bright sun ripened fruit.  There’s a good medium weight, full of creamy, fleshy, tropical fruit (distinct melon), along with both pink grapefruit and satsuma on the end palate.

Along with a refreshing and precise acidity, the creamy lime carries on for ages and is incredibly satisfying.  With such a lovely, focused and textured wine of multi-layers it is hard to believe that such a full package can be achieved at just 11.5% alcohol.  There is absolutely no restraint in character and this in itself is a revelation.

This is amazingly good value at £4.49 and I would happily pay twice the price for it.  An easy wine to recommend, and by the time you read this I will probably have bought some more.

Aldi WC13 1st batch

Castellore Pinot Grigio Blush 2015, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%, £4.29

Usually each panel will pair off a red and a white wine but this month, for whatever reason (I’m assuming low stock/supply issues as the bottle currently shows ‘unavailable’ on the Aldi website), a Chilean Malbec was set aside to make way for this Italian Rosado.  This bottle hails from the Veneto in north-eastern Italy which is the heartland of Pinot Grigio production.

I was trying this wine on one of the handful of nice sunny days we’ve seen this year, and with the bottle up to the light the medium farmed salmon pink seemed almost luminous.  The nose was a bit more subtle and I spent a little time trying to draw something out other than the red fruit that you would expect.  Apart from being able to discern that there was a healthy amount of redcurrant alongside the expected strawberry, my conclusion was that this wine was all about the pure up-front fruit.

The palate hovered somewhere between light to low medium weight, and continued the red fruits found on the nose.  There were also good traces of the classic Pinot Grigio characteristics coming through, with an abundance of pear and green apple.  If there was any peach in place it was sucked in to the general red fruit medley, but overall this was fleshy and fruity.

Sadly this was where the problems began and, when pitched against the high acid, the singular fruits felt a little too sweet for me.  It isn’t, of course, a sweet wine, but the perception was further highlighted by the lower alcohol level of 11.5%.  As a result, much of the guts and weight were missing for me, and the finish was fairly short.

In the spirit of finding a way of balancing things out I decided to leave the bottle out of the fridge to warm it a touch, even though fully chilled is recommended.  Whilst this did shave a bit of the harshness off of the acidity, the overall whole still felt pretty water thin, and perhaps it is one to retry with food?  I’m not 100% what was vintage about this wine, and would think that it was in no way different to the style produced every other year.

Even though the sun was out whilst I tried the bottle it wasn’t that warm and, knowing that Rosé/Rosado wines fair better in the summer, perhaps Aldi shouldn’t have bought this bottle forward from the later delivery?

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

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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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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #2 – Kooliburra Rosé (Blend)

In a follow up to my previous tasting note for the Aldi Wine Club, this next bottle takes us to the other side of the world, and the south of Australia.

Named after the Aboriginal word for small lizard, the Kooliburra Rosé appropriately has a depiction of one on the label and, not only does the red colour of the label offset the deep wild salmon colouring of the wine, it’s also nicely textured with a dimpled sandy sensation.

The wine is bottled under screw-cap and, in a similar fashion to the previous Aldi tasting, again shows a real respect for the design and labelling of the bottle.  At the same time, it is what the label doesn’t tell you that actually has just as much impact.  Again we have no year of vintage specified, and the wine is simply labelled as being from ‘South East Australia’ (which is a big place!).  Thirdly, there’s not even a grape variety specified, so from this we can surmise that the final product is a blend of grapes, different years of production, and grown over an extremely large production region.

Whilst this doesn’t allow the drinker to pull out any details of typicity or origin, it does allow for a standardised house-blend to be achieved year after year, and in the vast production levels that allow the extremely light price-point of £3.79 to be achieved.

The last Aldi wine I tried hit exactly the same checkpoints and, despite my initial concerns, proved to be a very respectable wine.  The gauntlet is well and truly laid-down – can they do it again?

Kooliburra

Kooliburra Rosé Reserve, South Eastern Australia, Blend, 11%, £3.79

As mentioned above, first off the colour of the wine is a vibrant deep pink, which for me is reminiscent of the colour of wild salmon.  On the nose you get the notes of lighter red fruits such as strawberries and cranberries, but they’ve managed to deliver these with a great intensity and depth.  This means that the whole sensation of the nose has a dark and brooding character, rather than just being simple fruit.  I can also detect a confectionate air, which made me think of cherry drops and, along with noting that the alcohol is well under average at 11%, can start to give hints as to how the palate will deliver.

Sure enough, it kicks off with the clean, fresh, well ripened fruit notes of strawberries and cherries.  Whilst the wine is clearly all about the primary fruit, what it also delivers is a well-rounded blend that is totally full of flavour, and easily fills your mouth with a weight that carries through to the end of the palate.  The lush medium acidity is well balanced, but if I had one criticism, it would be that this wine has a good touch of sweetness from the lower alcohol.

As a quick primer to explain what this means – as sugar converts to alcohol in the fermentation process, if you have less alcohol in the finished product, you retain the unconverted sugars which will result in a sweeter wine.  Less alcohol in a wine isn’t a bad thing – it has a lot to do with the climate where the grapes are grown, so whilst Germany is at a marginal northern climate that naturally results in many wines of a lower alcohol, the year-round sunshine of southern Australia wouldn’t suggest this, so the sweetness is a stylistic choice.

To balance this out (if you’re not a fan of a sweeter wine) there’s a couple of things that will pair very well, and that’s either a warm summers day where the simple refreshment will ensure you could easily finish the bottle, or pairing it with a food dish.  In simple rule of thumb, a sweet wine will match best with a dish of equal sweetness, such as a dessert.  When the matching sweetness combines it creates the perception of a drier mouthfeel in the wine, and the acidity is cleaner.  I had this Rosé with Strawberries and Ice Cream and it was perfect.

In summary, this is a straight-forward, but well-realised blend, and absolutely stonking value for the price.  Online reviews agree, and this is currently a 5-star wine on the Aldi website which, whilst the introductory store offers are still in place, can be ordered with ‘Free Delivery’ in the UK.

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

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Barefoot Refresh – Crisp Red review

Off to California for this weeks’ tasting note, to try part of the ‘Refresh’ range from Barefoot. This is a new range in the UK and consists of a Crisp Red, a Crisp White, and a Perfectly Pink Rosé wine, each blended specifically to be served over ice. Hmmm, Red wine over Ice??

Barefoot

The seeds of Barefoot were sown within the California wine explosion of the 1960’s but the real story starts in the mid 1980’s when founders Michael and Bonnie Harvey set up Barefoot cellars and created the footprint logo that still adorns their labels today. Since 2005 they have been part of the wine behemoth Gallo.

The ‘Refresh’ range has been available in the USA for a year or two now (they have already added two extra wines – a Summer Red and a Sweet White), but as summer approaches the UK and thoughts turn to refreshing al fresco drinking, the appearance of this wine is well timed to tap in to what is a growing market. Spearheaded some time ago by the trend of cider with ice, the momentum is building, and you may recall that in April I reported on the new Champagne-over-ice blend that Moét have just launched here.

Maybe on one or two occasions I’ve popped an ice cube in a glass of White or Rosé if the bottle has not been cold enough, but I’ve never had the inclination to do that with a red wine, and for that reason I’ve decided to review the Crisp Red from the range, which is a blend of Pinots Noir, Rosé and Grigio.

The clear bottle (unusual for a red wine) shows a vibrant clear dark cherry red wine, and the screw cap opens with a subtle pfffft. The spritz in this wine comes from carbonation (the bottle clearly states this is an ‘aerated semi-sparkling wine’ from the addition of carbon dioxide) as opposed to anything approaching the methods used to create the bubbles found in Champagne etc.

The nose was clear red fruit – a summery fresh blend of strawberry, raspberry, red currants and Cranberry. The palate carries on the veritable fruit salad mix – but what impressed me the most was the body of the wine. I was expecting it to be a fairly light bodied, perhaps that of a Rosé but, retaining the character of a red wine, the body was medium.

I didn’t actually try the wine without ice to see how it tasted, but I assume it was sweet like concentrate. Without wishing to over-complicate the bottle, the specific blend was created by chilling the wine, which kills the yeast and stops the fermentation early (at approximately 10% abv). Sugar remains unconverted to alcohol, and it is this sweetness that allows the wine to retain its medium body without becoming washed out and tasteless through the dilution of melting ice cubes.

To sum up, this bottle was every bit as refreshing and moreish on a warm day as Sangria or Pimms, and the fruity length was pleasing, a touch sweet, but not cloying.

The only worry for me here is that this style of wine, and its lower alcohol level meant it was very easy to drink it – in many ways it didn’t feel like I was drinking wine at all, but some sort of wine alternative. Before I knew it I was halfway through the bottle! Oops.

Thanks to Barefoot/Gallo and Tesco for providing the bottle used in this tasting.

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