Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – November 2016

As December is fast approaching, it’s high time for a quick run-down of the November offerings from the Laithwaites Premiere scheme.

black-stump-chard

The Black Stump Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio 2016, SE Australia, 12.5%, £9.49

The Black Stump Shiraz is very familiar to me and also probably to the majority of Laithwaites customers as it remains ever-present in many mixed cases and is always at the top of their bestsellers lists.  What remains a lesser known quantity to me is their white offering – a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio blend.

Plantings of Pinot Grigio are still a rare thing to find in Australia and comprises a solid 35% of the blend here.  The name ‘Black Stump’ comes from a mythical place in the Australian outback to which locals would remark that a quality product was “the best thing this side of the black stump”.

We have a different saying here in England, so let’s see if this wine is indeed the best thing since sliced bread!

The lemon colour in the glass sparkles with a lovely golden and warming hue.  On the nose there is a broad range of aromas to pick up, a veritable compote of the warming ripened summer fruits promised by the golden colouring.

There’s touches of apricots, peach, yellow melon and pineapple, and I can also detect the green fleshiness of apple.  Visible tears (another hint towards the well ripened fruits and sugars) rounds out the full appearance of the wine.

On the palate this is a ripe and citrus forward wine, with the freshness, grassiness and florality from the Pinot Grigio working with the weight and butter creaminess from the Chardonnay.  Alongside the notable citrus you again get the full sensation of the tropical golden fruits.  A good gloopy mouth-filling weight pairs well with the lovely tangy acid that runs throughout.

A touch of spice on the finish hints to an underlying complexity and I think this wine will evolve nicely with a little further bottle ageing.  A good persistent finish, and a very nice wine.

Casa Rural 2012.JPG

Casa Rural 2012 (100% Tempranillo), Vino de la Tierra Castilla, Spain, 12.5%, £11.99

Castilla seems to be popping up a lot for me recently so I was very interested to see this bottle arrive.  Even as recently as 5 years ago La Mancha in central Spain was known as a seriously hot flat central plain good only for growing workhorse varieties, but here we are with a pure Tempranillo reminiscent of the Riojan style of the north.

Grown at high altitude to counteract the heat and aged for 6 months in American oak barrels to flesh out the palate, this wine is very interesting to view in the glass.  Most wines have a subtle difference between the central (core) part of the glass as opposed to the colour of the rim, but with this wine there was a wide distinction between the darker rim and cherry-light core.

On the nose there was light red cherry and redcurrants and a very defined florality.  Kicking off with fresh violets, this then added the vanilla from the oak ageing and moved on to the confection of liquorice.  Tertiary notes such as these are good indications of the ageing that has taken place.

For all of the power on the nose the actual body was, although medium, something of a lighter overall sensation and incredibly silky and smooth.   The blackcurrant fruits were packed to the brim and followed by the redcurrants and cherry, and perhaps even a touch of strawberry.  For all of the clean well ripened fruit this remained a light and airy wine, perfect for drinking on its own.

Lightly chewy in texture and retaining meaty and lightly leathery characters, the acid remained just less than medium and kept everything fresh.  The florality carried straight through to the pleasant and medium length aftertaste, keeping this as an entirely respectable ‘higher than average’ priced wine.

Result: It’s hard to pick a winner out of these two wines as I like them both for different reasons.  Happy that the scheme has thrown up two interesting wines instead of one, this month I’m calling it a draw.  Happy drinking!

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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.

laithwaites-trade-autumn

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 Tasting – July 2016

Laith Prem July 16

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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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #2

The next two bottles from the latest Aldi Wine Club tasting panel arrived recently.  Both were sourced from their ‘Exquisite’ range and with no red this time, we have a white and a rosé to try.

Aldi Albarino

Exquisite Collection Albariño 2015, Rias Baixas, Spain, 12%, £5.99

Well-known within wine loving circles, the region of Rias Baixas and the Albariño grape variety might not be the most familiar of Spanish offerings to the general public, but the good news is that this is another case of the right grape growing in the right place.  Albariño (known as Alvarinho in Portugal) produces distinctive wines and works well in the Atlantic Ocean influenced wetter conditions of the north-western corner of Spain, just north of the Portuguese border.

Bottled under screw-cap, this wine is a nice clean lemon yellow in colour, with a fresh and inviting nose.  There’s a good sprinkling of zesty citrus with heaps of lemon backed up by lime, fresh grass and floral notes, clean green fruit of both apples and pears, and a slight toastiness which rounds out the good full, intense experience.

The palate is led by the fresh lemon citrus and followed by tropical yellow fruit of melon and pineapple along with peach skin and light floral touches.  Even though this wine is absolutely all about the fresh clean fruits (which it has in good measure and pairs well with the steely crisp high acid) I found it slightly lacking in the mid-palate.  This dipped the intensity leaving just the acid and also had a knock on effect to the length, which wasn’t overly long.

All in all, this is an easy enough wine to drink with or without food, but I will have to re-taste before I can recommend or fully evaluate it.  One last thing to add is that if I can’t make a full decision on a wine, I leave the rest of the bottle for a re-taste the next evening.  In this case, it was good enough to be gone in one evening, which does draw conclusions of its own.

Aldi Provence

Exquisite Collection Cótes de Provence Rosé NV, France, 13.5%, £5.99

This wine, like the Albariño above, was picked out by The Telegraph newspaper as a key wine for the summer of 2014, and right from pouring, I can see I’m going to like it.

In a subtle and canny way of keeping quality in line with price, this wine isn’t from any particular vintage, but is rather a blend of years (NV meaning ‘Non Vintage’).  In the classic Provence style it is comprised of four different grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and Cinsault) which is the regional speciality both in the southern Rhone and continuing in to the south-east of France.

My initial description of how the wine looked in the glass started with the word ‘luminous’ – it had a clear vibrancy (and I use this word often, so it surpassed even that!) with a colour that blended onion skin and wild salmon.  It was clear that this wine would have depth.

The nose was intense as expected, with fresh strawberries and cream leading the way, followed by the stone fruit of peach and nectarine.  There was a little extra sweetness to the nose that suggested all things confectionary, but it wasn’t overplayed.

On the palate the signature strawberries and cream continued, alongside peach, lemon and watermelon, all giving a good weighted mouthfeel.  The acid was placed lower in the mix and kept the palate refreshing whilst allowing ripe fruits to come to the fore.  The length was good and added smoke and further darker notes.

I’ve never been able to put my finger on the dark notes at the end of some rosé wines and often end up listing them as something like ‘a pleasant bitterness’.  Utilising the internet, apparently they are known as ‘salty minerality’ which comprises black skinned olives, brine, and even meat.  Once aware I could instantly pick out these characteristics.  Being fairly unusual characters in wine this was a good eye-opener for me.

The labelling for this bottle is in-keeping with the rest of the ‘Exquisite’ range (the use of the colour blue to offset the contents, clear good looking scripts and fonts, the winemakers signature etc.), but if I had one negative against this wine it would be the funny shaped bottle.  At best it looks like a novelty, but at worst appears simply as a wine ‘alternative’ or soft drink (Orangina springs to mind).

Overall this wine embodies what it is to be part of the Aldi Wine Club, in that it has allowed me to try a wine that I perhaps would not have picked off the shelf, it has enabled me to learn something new about the world of wine, and it again has me scratching my head as to how Aldi can bring in such quality at such market-friendly prices.

I’ll be picking up more of this when I pop in to get the replacement bottle of Albariño.

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

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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.

Laith Prem April16

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.

Laith Campanula

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.

Laith Silver Route

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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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #4 – Toro Loco Superior 2014

I first heard of Toro Loco in 2012 when it managed to scoop a prestigious IWSC (International Wines & Spirits Challenge) Silver medal.  That’s no mean feat by itself, but when you consider that Toro Loco is the Aldi own-brand Spanish offering and priced at the crazy low price of £3.49, the win was all the more special.  It’s no wonder that journalists were queuing up to publicise the ‘find’ (you can read more on the triumph here) and very soon it was ‘out of stock’.  Astonishingly the wine remains at the same £3.49 price-point in 2016.

The wine hails from Utiel-Requena, in the province of Valencia on the mid-eastern coast of Spain.  Using leading red Spanish grape variety Tempranillo alongside a healthy helping of another local variety (Bobal) this is a wine that wants to highlight it’s Spanish roots.  The name Toro Loco translates as ‘Crazy Bull’ (hence the label bull/corkscrew design) and was chosen to personify the essence of Spain, from the local custom of bull fighting to the ‘living-life-to-the-full’ ethos of its residents.

When I first heard about Toro Loco back then I went straight out and bought a bottle to see if the fuss was justified.  I wasn’t disappointed and, having purchased it a couple of times since, this tasting was a great chance to re-visit the current vintage on offer.

Aldi Toro Loco

Toro Loco Superior 2014, Tempranillo (75%) & Bobal (25%), Utiel-Requena, Spain, 12.5%, £3.49

The wine is bottled under screw-cap and is a youthful vibrant clean purple in colour with a fine watery white rim.

The nose, whilst being full of character, is fairly restrained and is more about the thoughtful reflection of a local style, rather than the ‘in-your-face’ blockbuster style.  I can pick up a good array of both primary and secondary aromas from the dark black cherry fruit, stewed prune and raisin, to bitter black chocolate, woody notes and floral vanilla.

After the nasal sensation, the medium body that follows has a surprising lightness of touch.  Once again you get the upfront hits of black cherry and sour plum, but this is closely followed up with a typical Spanish vanilla creaminess and a touch of pepper spice.  The fruits are succulent, ripe and juicy and the fresh acid drives an uplifting palate.

At the same time this wine manages to show sophistication and blends in darker touches and a medium tannin level which grips the inside of your mouth.  There’s a decent layering of bitter chocolate, leathery tones and tobacco which all add together to create a deep multi-layered flavour sensation.  The length is equally impressive and retains the bitter chocolate from the mid-palate.

In the spirit of delivering a balanced review, if I had to make one criticism about this wine it would be in regards to the lighter weight delivering so much character, and when I tasted this wine the following day a lot of the deeper mid-palate tones had started to disappear, almost as if too much had been forced in too soon (remember that the vintage is less than 2 years old at this point).

Clearly this is nit-picking, and on the day of opening this wine was as good as any in terms of being a fine food match.  It’s worth remembering that drinking wine with food is an inherent part of Spanish culture and over time they have created a balanced wine style that suit the local flavours.  I can imagine this wine pairing well with a whole host of tomato based meals, tapas dishes, stews and much more.

As a last thought, I simply can’t believe there is any way that this can be produced for £3.49 a bottle – it simply defies logic.  There are numerous costs that every bottle of wine has to bear including transportation, retailer mark-up, and packaging & labelling.  On top of these are the hefty VAT and Duty costs imposed by the Government which can easily make up 50% of the overall price on a standard bottle of wine.  Estimates show that on a £3.79 bottle of wine only about 15p actually goes on the wine itself, and that runs the whole process from growing the grapes, to harvesting them, to the final production.  To get all the above depth from 15p seems unbelievable, almost unreasonable.

It was sold out the last time I went to get it, but trust me, I’ll be buying it again very shortly if I can get it.  I may even ‘trade up’ to the Toro Loco Reserva, which sees additional ageing in oak and adds Garnacha and other international grape varieties (Merlot and Shiraz) to the blend.  As the premium offering for the brand, it still comes in at a very modest £4.99

Toro Loco is truly a gem of a wine and one that you don’t want to miss.

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

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Cuvée Reserve Wine Tasting Weekend 2016

Last weekend saw the approximate one year anniversary of me discovering and joining the Tesco Wine Community which, despite being a one-of-a-kind promotional tool for Tesco, sadly closed last August.  That, however, didn’t stop a core number of us staying in contact and organising a weekend away to do what we do best – talking about and trying new wine.  For me it was a wonderful and fitting way to celebrate the anniversary, by meeting in person some of the people I’d been chatting to online for some time.

Many attendees had met each other at previous Tesco winemaker events, but a rented house in Stratford-Upon-Avon last weekend marked the first time that a concerted effort had been made to bring together a wider group of us from all over the south of England.  Added to this, each attendee was bringing wines that they rated highly and wanted to present in the best possible light, so it was set to include a stellar list of top quality examples.

CR Wend Table

What follows isn’t an account about what transpired, or even a looooooong list of tasting notes – in order to preserve the relaxed atmosphere none of us were taking them.  I will however, as the one who took lots of photos of the bottles as they came and went, try to draw together a list of the 30 wines that were tasted as part of the weekend (including a few not available in the UK and shipped across from Germany).

I appreciate that a simple list of wines may make curious reading for some, but for 10 people in particular, it will remain a document of a wonderful weekend with great wine, great food and above all, great company.

And so, in no particular order:

Sparkling wine

We covered a good number of the sparkling bases here, with an example from each of the major categories:

  • Cono Sur sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, Bio Bio Valley, Chile, 12%
  • I Duecento Prosecco Brut NV, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%
  • Freixenet Extra Vintage 2013 Brut Cava, Spain, 11.5%
  • Louis Delaunay Brut NV Champagne, France, 12.5%

White wine

Our white wine selection comprised:

  • Denis Dubourdieu 2010 Clos Floridene, Grand Vin De Graves (blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 47% Semillon, 3% Muscadelle), France, 13%. A nice chance to try a rare white example of Graves
  • Symbiose La Grande Olivette, Cuvee Florence, Piquepoul, Sauvignon Blanc blend, Cótes de Thau 2014, France, 12%. Piquepoul is something of a recent trend in the UK, so this was an interesting one to try
  • Karl Pfaffmann 2013 Weissburgunder, Trocken, Walsheim, Pfalz, Germany, 12.5%. The first of three wines sourced exclusively from Germany and rarely seen in the U.K.
  • Karl Pfaffmann 2014 Riesling, Trocken, Walsheim, Pfalz, Germany, 12.5%
  • Randersackerer Ewig Leben 2013er, Albalonga Auslese, Franken, Germany, 11%
  • Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva 2015 Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 14%
  • Alvi’s Drift 2015 Chenin Blanc, Worcester, South Africa, 13.5%
  • Calvet Reserve 2013 Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France, 12.5%
  • The Cup and Rings 2013 Godello Sobre Lias, Monterrai, Spain, 13%
  • Ara Single Vineyard 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5%

CR Wend German

Red wine

All the wines supplied were kept undisclosed to the other attendees prior to the day, and so it is interesting to notice the heavy red bias towards Spain.  Our full selection comprised:

  • Arjona (unoaked) 2014 Rioja (100% Tempranillo), Spain, 13.5%
  • Club Des Sommeliers, Morgon (100% Gamay) 2014 Beaujolais, France, 12.5%
  • J Opi 2014 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5%. This wine was decanted to bring out the rich flavour
  • Marques de Riscal Finca Torrea 2007 (Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 14%
  • Cháteau Hervé Laroque 2007 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon), Fronsac, France, 13%
  • La Cantera Reserva 2007 (Tempranillo based blend), Carinena, Spain, 13%, (from magnum)
  • Ermita de San Lorenzo 2008 Garnacha based blend, Rioja, Spain, 14%. Another one for the decanter
  • Mayu Syrah Reserva 2011, Elqui Valley, Chile, 14.5%. This wine was again decanted to allow the rich flavours to mellow
  • Piccini Memoro 2010 (Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero D’avola, Sangiovese blend), Regional blend across Tuscany, Basilicata, Veneto and Sicily, Italy, 14%. Decanted, but perhaps needed more time to open fully.
  • Cháteau Valfontaine 2012 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) Bordeaux, France, 12%
  • Stobi 2011 Petit Verdot Barrique, Tikves, Macedonia, 14%.  A rare opportunity to try this wine.
  • Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2007 (Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 13.5%
  • Les Vaucorneilles Cuvee Nathan 2005, Touraine, Loire Valley, France, 13.5% (Blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Cot)
  • Vox Populi 2012 Bobal, Utiel-Requena, Spain, 14%
  • Laurent Miquel L’Artisan 2014 (Syrah, Grenache), Faugeres, France, 13.5%

CR Wend Lineup

Thanks to Clare for organising what proved to be a successful event, and one that is already mooted to be taking place again next year.  Cheers!

CR Wend Table 2

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What’s in a name?

The name of a grape variety will undoubtedly tell you something about what you’re drinking.  In its simplest form this could be as straight-forward as “I like Chardonnay, I’ve had Chardonnay before”, or it could be as intuitive as a name like Feteasca Neagra, which may highlight that it’s likely to be from an Eastern European country.

The names of many common varieties actually contain hidden clues as to their history or as to how they are grown and, whilst it is highly likely that it won’t affect the pleasure of drinking the wine, if you’re interested in deepening your wine knowledge these simple hints can help you to understand the wine a little more.  It can even give you hints about other facets of the wine (for example, whether a grape is thick or thin skinned).

Here’s my top 5.

Spain – Tempranillo – Spain’s premier red grape has a few synonyms, but is commonly referred to as Tempranillo.  The first part of the name (Temp) derives from the Spanish word for ‘early’ (Temprano), therefore highlighting that it is an early ripening variety.  The French word Temps means ‘time’ which is also a signpost that time is a critical factor when growing this variety.  What this means in terms of the final wine is one that is lower in alcohol due to less grape (ergo sugar) ripening time, and higher in acidity (when balanced against the unconverted sugars).

Italy – Primitivo – Like Tempranillo, this variety has other synonyms (Originally known as Tribidrag in Croatia, and well known as Zinfandel in the US), but the Italian grape name refers to Primo, which means ‘First’ in that language.  This again refers to the fact that this variety is one of the first to ripen, and will develop characteristics based on sun exposure.  More technically the Latin word primativus means ‘first to ripen’ and so Primitivo is almost a direct translation.

South America – Tannat – Well at home in the south of France, and now ‘the’ grape in Uruguay, it is thought that the name of this grape comes from the word tanat, a local French dialect meaning ‘coloured like tan’.  It is therefore quite coincidental that the berry is known to produce austere wines deeply coloured and, similar to its name, very high in tannins.  This one fact allows you to draw several further conclusions about the grape, including that it is a thick skinned variety that gives a lot of its character to the finished product.  This in turn tells you that it is better suited to a warmer climate in order to allow the grapes to ripen fully, and that it makes a better blending partner rather than being served up as a single variety wine.

France – Cabernet Sauvignon – OK, so it doesn’t really tell you much about the finished product, but with this variety name-checking other grapes varieties, it does indeed hint to it’s history and parentage.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, although these lighter characteristics will not tend to show themselves in the final wine.

South Africa – Pinotage – A bit more oblique than the fairly obvious parentage mentioned above, but South African grape Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (which was then known in the country as Hermitage).  The warmer SA climate needs to be taken in to account, giving a wine that is fresh as well as fragrant, and Pinotage seems to have inherited the fussy growing issues of Pinot Noir, ensuring that it is a troublesome variety to grow.

There’s obviously plenty more references out there if you look – from anything ending ‘Noir’ telling you that it is a red grape (never take anything for granted!!), to Gewurztraminer speaking of its north Italian origins.

Have fun looking!

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Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 – Review

One particular bottle that I have been really looking forward to trying for some time is the Bodegas Faustino I.  It’s a wine that comes with impressive critical acclaim and, with the ease of the availability of other wines in the full range (V, VII, for example), it represents something that is within touching distance, and yet has remained elusive to me until now.

Wine is a product that is inherently limited, but in the main isn’t sold on a ‘Limited Edition’ basis.  I’ve tried many English wines that, when you see the low thousands of bottles produced each year, you feel truly honoured to be able to taste them at all.  The Faustino I is clearly labelled with the edition number of 226,400 bottles produced for this vintage and, with the full clarity that this is no small production run, it was still absolutely interesting to me that I was tasting bottle 39,797 and bottle 39,856 (not on the same day I might add!).  I’ve often been interested in small facts like this, and I do think it really helps towards the ‘artisan’ element of the production, even if some production volumes are what others would consider ‘industrial’.

With both the Gran Reserva 2001 and 2004 available to me at this time (both rated as ‘Excelente’ vintages), I opted for the older 2001.  Not only was this vintage slightly smaller than surrounding vintages, I also noted that it was likely to age longer than the ’04 (due to damp conditions that year), and would therefore represent more of a longer term trajectory.

I was also swayed by the inclusion of a neck brace on the bottle proudly proclaiming that this wine was a Decanter ‘Wine of the Year’ in 2013, scoring 19.25 points out of 20.

Pic Faustino

Bodegas Faustino, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain, 13.5% (~£18)

Before we get to looking at the wine itself, the first thing to discern is the care that has gone in to the bottle appearance.  The frosted glass is adorned with a completely distinct label – a 1641 portrait of Dutch merchant/trader Nicolaas Van Bambeeck by revered artist Rembrandt.  This particular portrait was chosen in order to symbolise the family’s passions for both art and commerce.

When looking at the wine in the glass, it was a dark and opaque dense cherry red in colour, clear with almost no hint of a lighter rim.  On the nose there was an immediate hit of dark chocolate, and sweet notes of spices and cloves.  The red cherry fruits then came to the fore, brushing alongside wood, vanilla, giving an incredibly full, layered and vivid nose.  At once, this wine was serious, intense, and inviting.  The literature for the wine confirms that they put an immense amount of focus on berry grape selection in order to preserve that quality of grape, and overall composure.

The initial palate was given over to the cherry fruits (both black and red), although my immediate view was that the fruits were just slightly over-ripe, almost confectionate and sweet, which isn’t something that appeals to me.  This wasn’t a negative for the wine however, as it still forged a good strawberry line, and held that ‘creamy’ texture that you can find in a good aged Rioja.  Subtle integrated acid and a light tannin kept it moreish and pleasant, whilst touches of dark chocolate and bitter characters brought up the rear.  The palate is absolutely still all about the fruit as opposed to the tertiary characters, and it’s a testament to a 15 year old wine that the fruit can remain such a pivotal point of the focus and be so rounded, full and velvety smooth.

They certainly weren’t wrong in the official reviews that this wine has a life ahead of it, and I’d be very interested to revisit this in a few years time.  This was a wonderful wine and it didn’t disappoint.

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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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