Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Whites and Reds

Further to a previous blog where I highlighted the best Sparkling wines on display at the recent Laithwaites Autumn press tasting, here’s my top highlights from the red and white wines on show.

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White Wines

Tiago Cabaco Encruzado 2014, Alentejo, Portugal, 13%, £12.99

I must have visibly lingered over this wine a little too long as the wine buyer came over to chat to me about it.  Winemaker Tiago is only in his mid-thirties, and this is his signature eponymous bottling which is limited to about 2000 bottles.

The blend is pretty unique and perhaps one that people will either like or hate, with traces of minerality alongside wood notes and a salty finish.  There’s a good warmth from the alcohol and a long length, and it has the right structure to pair well with food.

Savage White 2015, Western Cape, South Africa, 14%, £27.50

I adore nice touches to a wine’s presentation and the old-school wax seal on this bottle looks great, as does the minimalistic label.

savage-white

The new world sunshine gives you lots of well ripened tropical and gooseberry fruit here, and a lovely smoky finish sets it off perfectly.  This is another white that would be greater with food as it has tons of power to match up to the flavours, whilst not being over-powering to drink on its own.

Newton Johnson Southend Chardonnay, South Africa, 13%, £14.99

Hailing from a family run winery, this has a lovely spicy creamy nose and bags of creamy flavour on the palate.  The lemon citrus plays the central role but there are also traces of orange peel and white pepper spice.

Rounded off with a good long finish this is great at this price point, but sadly not available through Laithwaites.co.uk at this time.

Red Wines

Chateaux Sixtine 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, 15%, £30

This Grenache based blend had a rich blackcurrant nose and was absolutely rammed full of spice, cassis, mocha and chocolate.  Warmth from the alcohol and a grippy tannin keep this wine happily lingering in the mouth for a long time.

Again this is another wine that is unavailable from Laithwaites at this time.

Chateau Belgrave 2000, Haut-Médoc, 5éme Cru Classé, France, 13%, £45

Inky dark in colour, this Cabernet based blend had an intense nose of bitter chocolate.  Alongside the blackcurrant and spice there remained a generous acid matching well with the grippy tannins.

chateau-belgrave

The finish was rounded and refined if not a little too short.  In fairness this is perhaps to be expected from a wine of this age, and it was tasted alongside a lot of youthful wines on the day.  Although great, this feels like a wine to drink sooner rather than later, so grab it while you can.

Gran Fontal Syrah 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain, 15%, £28

Using grapes grown at an altitude of 830m this cheery wine packed a decent weight punch and balanced it’s powerful black cherry and spice with a vanilla note and a lovely fresh acid.  For a wine with 15% alcohol this kept it mouth filling and not overpowering.

Alongside the core fruit I could also detect traces of herbal tea and menthol so there’s a good degree of complexity to be found from the 8 years of age. Points are deducted for the heavy glass bottle but loads of bonus points are given back as this is currently down from £28 to £12.99 on Laithwaites.co.uk.

Vina Tondonia Reserva 2003, Rioja, Spain, 13%, £28

The colour of this 13 year old wine was moving towards garnet and the nose has picked up tertiary tea-like characters.  The acid is still fresh though and ensures that this is an easy drinking refreshing wine with mature character.  I doubt this will last much longer so it’s one to drink soon.

As you can see there were certainly some impressive wines on display although a few are frustratingly not currently available.  At an event level, what I did find incredibly interesting was the lack of the wines that Laithwaites frequently laud as their ‘Customer Favourites’ – the likes of Black Stump, Il Papavero, Calabria etc.

None of these wines made an appearance and I was unable to source any member of the team on my way out to find out exactly why.

The range on offer certainly made me re-evaluate my thoughts towards Laithwaites and, although I have widely blogged about my wine-plan wines and their Premiere range, this felt like a company that I had only barely scratched the surface of.

I’ll certainly be paying more attention in the future.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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Laithwaites Premiere 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.

LaithMar16

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.

Laith Prem Feb16

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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Break the (w)in(e)ternet

Food lovers everywhere will have some knowledge of the ‘Delia effect’. This is the rushed purchasing of non-everyday ingredients that cookery legend Delia Smith has used in her recipes. Following the broadcast of her TV tutorials, literally thousands descend upon supermarkets and wipe out the entire stock of odd items such as pine nuts or glacé cherries.

Last month this phenomenon hit the UK wine world following the broadcast of popular cookery show Saturday Kitchen. As usual, a wine expert (more often than not either Peter Richards, Olly Smith, Tim Atkin, Susie Barrie or Suzy Atkins) is on hand to match a suitable bottle to the meals prepared, to which both host and guest display courteous compliments. The televised episode on the 4th July however, caused the Majestic website to crash, and led to their biggest ever online sales hour, taking 1000 orders for this particular wine. The sensational instant demand was akin to getting a top Parker recommendation mixed up with a Kim Kardashian ‘break the internet’ attempt. Three hours later, the entire Majestic stock of this wine was wiped out and they had taken back orders for a further 30,000 bottles.

So, what is this amazing wine?

   Porta 6 Bottle v2

At the beginning of 2015, Holly Ninnes (Majestic wine buyer for Portugal) added a new wine to their range – Porta 6. Hailing from the sunny hillside vineyards of Alenquer and Cadaval in Lisboa, north of Lisbon, the wine is a blend of 50% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), 40% Castelao and 10% Touriga Nacional. The 2012 spent 3 months in oak barrels and clocks in at 13.5% abv.

The wine was quickly picked out by Decanter magazine (Feb 2015) as a ‘Weekday Wine’ – an exciting and accessible wine at a decent price-point. This wine was then picked last month by wine expert Susie Barrie MW to go with the Saturday Kitchen dish of barbecued lamb, salsa verde, tomato salad, toasted couscous and fromage blanc (you can find the recipe here). Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef James Martin was clearly pleased, stating that it was one of the nicest wines he’d had in ten years of doing the programme, and had bought 3 cases of it for himself!

Majestic were then subsequently besieged with orders and ended up buying all remaining stock from the producer – some six times their original consignment. After being virtually out of stock since, the Majestic Twitter feeds have this week been chirping that it is now available again. I decided to pick up a case.

Porta 6 Vinho Regional, Lisboa 2012 Vinho Tinto, 13.5% abv

Before we get to the contents, first mention must go to the wonderful label – an original painting by eccentric German painter Hauke Vagt, giving a colourful depiction of a tram thundering around the corner of a tight rustic cobbled street. The bottle itself is fairly weighty – something which has both positive (prestige) and negative (additional cost and environmental footprint) connotations, depending on your viewpoint. When twinned with the great label, I’m erring on the side of prestige, as they seem to be mindful of a well presented package. The bottle would make a great gift – if the wine lives up to its’ reputation!

The appearance is a deep dark, inky purple. The nose is equally deep, with a big dollop of wood and vanilla combined with dark ripe red fruit, raspberries and cream. Alongside this you have a darker undertone of plum and pepper spices.

The initial palate is full of weight, with creamy fullness, vanilla and violets and followed by dark cherry and currants, spice and densely packed forest fruits. I want to highlight here the distinction of weight from power, as this wine is a lolloping, rich and creamy dream where everything flows gently in to one another, as opposed to being a hit of flavour and then dissipating.

Tannins are medium, slightly grippy, but nicely round out the mouthfeel and guide the length of the wine which is amply carried by clean ripe fruit, and built upon with touches of bitter chocolate. You also get a good reminder of the overall warmth of the palate, coming from both the alcohol content and the pleasing ripeness of the combined fruits. A refreshing acidity runs through this end palate which makes you yearn for the next taste, or mouthful of food.

Overall, this is a great wine and one that will definitely make it on to my shortlist of everyday recommendations. It helps that it is a style that I really enjoy and will be a sound alternative to my usual staples of Argentinian Malbec and aged Rioja’s. Well worth the price.

Porta 6 is available from Majestic, currently on offer for £7.49 when you buy two bottles (£9.99 for a single bottle).

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