Thursday, December 24, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 24 December 2009

2008 Marks & Spencer Petit Chablis
Fresh, delicate, nutty-straw nose; clean, lemony fruit and a touch of crème fraîche on the palate; crisp finish. Great value. Made for M&S by the co-operative La Chablisienne. Michael Schuster, who runs one of the best UK wine schools, at Bordeaux Index in London, shows this Petit Chablis alongside a Premier Cru Chablis on his fine wine course. The idea is to demonstrate differences in quality and complexity, which the comparison does, but it also always shows just how good the £7 wine is – and it’s only 11.5% abv.
£6.99, Marks & Spencer

2007 Asda Extra Special Chablis, Domaine de la Levée
Sappy, lemony and nutty with a nicely textured, creamy texture and a steely, fresh finish. One of the best supermarket own label Chablis, made for Asda by Jean-Marc Brocard. 12% abv.
£8.98, Asda

2005 Pavillon de Poyferré, Saint-Julien
The second wine of Château Leoville-Poyferré. Spicy, almost meaty black-fruit aromas with appetising mineral, graphite flavours; full and dry with softening tannins and a fresh, ripe finish. Just about ready for drinking and will be good for another 7 years. Perhaps not the perfect match for the Christmas bird, but perfect with roast beef or lamb and a very good present. 13% abv.
£19.99, Majestic

2007 Côtes du Rhône Belleruche, M Chapoutier
Ripe, fleshy, generous Côtes du Rhône from a great vintage. Packed with sweet raspberry fruit, spice and earthy sun-baked stone flavours; solid, dry finish. A good wine for the festive fowl and all the trimmings, although it’s 14.5% abv, so be prepared to nod off. A great buy at the 2-bottle price.
£7.49 or £5.99 if you buy 2 or more, Majestic

Friday, December 18, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 18 December 2009

Some more champagnes this week – and some still wines later. Berry Bros’ full range of grower’s champagnes is worth exploring further.

J-L Vergnon, Grand Cru, £24.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
Fine, floral, honeyed nose with a nicely dry, mineral, chalky-textured palate. Relatively low dosage (about 6gm/l). I hadn’t come across this blanc de blancs grower in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger until Berry Bros’ October tasting. In fact it was one of ten interesting growers’ champagnes that BBR showed.

Benoît Lahaye Cuvée Prestige Blanc de Noirs, £27.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
Powerful and toasty with rich pinot noir fruit balanced by steely acidity and a long dry finish. Vine Trail does Lahaye’s grand cru 80:20 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, which is also very good.

2002 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, £29.99, Waitrose
Honeyed, citrussy fruit, biscuity, creamy, intense and refined. This comes from the small, admirably reliable, quality-oriented Le Mesnil co-operative in the grand cru chardonnay village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The non vintage is also well worth buying.

2002 Oudinot, £23.99, Marks & Spencer
Good value vintage blanc de blancs. Lots of perfume, a buttery richness to the palate, good depth and freshness. Mainly from grand cru vineyards.

Veuve Clicquot yellow label, £25-£30, widely available
In a blind-tasting , mainly of own-labels, this stood out of the crowd. Attractive floral nose, peachy, appley fruit, toasty, biscuity flavours and a supple texture.

Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noirs, £15.98
Not in the same league as all the above, and certainly not complex, but rounded, well-made, crowd-pleasingly fresh, fruity, biscuity and soft. And cheap.

Friday, December 11, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 11 December 2009

A festive selection of champagnes this week. Brief notes only, as there are more than the usual three wines, but they’re all champagnes to which I’ve given a score of at least 90 (out of 100) in the last couple of months and they're all under £30. There’ll be more next week.

Marc Chauvet Brut Tradition, £18.99, The Real Wine Company
Biscuity, yeasty, fruity and rounded. Great value grower’s champagne made from equal quantities of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

2003 Marguet Rosé, Grand Cru, £23, The Wine Society
Vintage pink champagne from grand cru vineyards around Ambonnay and Bouzy. Lovely, ripe strawberry fruit, a creamy, chalky texture and a fresh, pure finish. A steal.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, £29.99, Corney & Barrow
Polished, biscuity and creamy with a hint of honey. Supremely elegant, all-chardonnay champagne from the sister-house of Salon.

J Dumangin Fils Grande Réserve, £24.50, Yapp Brothers
Richly fruity, toasty and wheaty. Made from a high proportion of pinot meunier.

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Cuis 1er Cru, £29.99 (or £23.99 when you buy 12); £168 per 6, Armit
Floral perfume, with touches of lemon, malt and chocolate on the palate, a creamy texture and fresh acidity. Stylish blanc de blancs from the excellent Gimonnet family of growers.

Philipponnat Non Dosé Royale Réserve, £28.50, Les Caves de Pyrène
Toasty, honeyed and mineral with with candied citrus-peel fruit. Drier than bone-dry (non dosé means completely unsweetened), but properly ripe. Made from a high proportion of pinot noir and vinified in wood.

Friday, December 4, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 4 December 2009

2007 Sequillo (white), Swartland
Dry and full-bodied, with opulent, spicy apricot flavours, steely minerality and good acidity. It’s not shy on oak, but it’s got the concentration and complexity to take it. I showed this on my ‘wine walks’ at The Wine Gang Christmas Fair last month and it went down a storm every time. It’s chenin blanc-based, with some marsanne, roussanne and viognier, but is more Rhône than Loire in inspiration despite the chenin. Made by Eben Sadie. 14% abv. If you’re not a member of The Wine Society, there’s still time to put it on your Christmas list.
£15.50, The Wine Society

2007 Gulfi Rossojbleo Nero d’Avola
Yes, looks like a spelling mistake, but it isn’t. It’s from Sicily and and it’s made from nero d’avola grapes (which are not called black for nothing). Which give it a comforting smell of baked cherries, chocolate and roasting chesnuts. It’s ripe, smooth and spicy with appetising – and slightly unexpected – freshness. 13% abv.
£8.99, Virgin Wines

2005 Perez Burton Rioja
Modern red Rioja made entirely from tempranillo and aged in French oak by the indefatigable Telmo Rodriguez. It’s medium-full, supple and attractively oaky with flavours of honeyed spice, red berries and darker, more savoury notes. 13.5% abv.
£8.99, Marks & Spencer

Friday, November 27, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 27 November 2009

2007 Cedro do Noval, Duriense
Vivid, deep purple; aromatic with cherry, berry, almond and vanilla flavours. Lovely breadth, freshness and minerality on the palate and a silky texture. Cedro is the understudy to the red wine under the Quinta do Noval name and it’s a Vinho Regional Duriense, rather than a Douro DOC, because there’s 30% syrah in the blend. The rest is classic Douro - touriga franca and touriga nacional (30% each) and tinta roriz (10%). It’s delicious now, but it’ll probably be better in two years and will last several more. 13.5% abv.
£13.99, Tanners

2007 Viña Mayu Syrah Reserva, Elqui
I’ve just been to the Elqui Valley, Chile’s northernmost wine region, for the first time. Extraordinary – near-desert, or ‘pre-desert’, as they call it. The wines all come from one pioneering Italian-owned and run operation (where we were served solar-cooked bread and about half-a-lamb each). There are two lines, Mayu and Falernia. This 2007 Mayu Reserva is richly fruity, dense, spicy, peppery and smoky. Essence of Syrah. 14% abv. Watch out for the arrival in the UK of the non-reserva 2008 Mayu Syrah which is particularly good.
£10.99, or £8.79 when you buy any 2 Chilean bottles, Majestic.
Asda may still have some of the 2006 left; if so, worth buying.

2008 Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi Classico
This is such good value – and it’s as happy with food as it is on its own. A medium-bodied, fresh Italian white with more flavour and weight than the average pinot grigio (not difficult, that), but not so much that it wants to take centre stage all the time. Rounded, nutty, herbal flavours and a crisp, lemony finish. 12.8% abv.
£4.99, Waitrose

Thursday, November 19, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 20 November 2009

2007 Kleos Aglianico, Luigi Maffini, IGT Paestum
The aglianico grape is one of Italy’s red gems. It grows in the far south – in Calabria, Basilicata and, as in this wine, in Campania – but that’s more or less it. There’s interest from the new world, not least because it keeps its acidity well, but nothing very interesting has emerged so far. This wine smells enticingly of blackberries and raspberries with a hint of bonfire smoke. In the mouth it’s full, dry and cherry-fresh with an attractive smokiness, good length and a fine balance of weight and freshness. 14% abv.
£11.95, Lea & Sandeman

2008 Ribolla Gialla, Visintini, Colli Orientali del Friuli
Beautifully crisp, expressive north Italian white from the indigenous ribolla gialla grape. It has a fragrance of pears and peaches and a mountain-fresh minerality; It’s medium-full on the palate, with a smoothness – almost an oiliness – cut by its peppery mineral flavour. 13.5% abv.
£10.95, Lea & Sandeman

Les Grands Cyprès Vacqueyras, Gabriel Meffre
I’m probably repeating myself, but the red Rhône selection shown at the recent Waitrose tasting was strikingly good – and in the context of a strikingly good tasting. This Vacqueyras, from the great 2007 vintage, is big, savoury and perfectly proportioned, with earthy, spicy fruit and a supple texture. 14% abv. It’s worth its £11.99, so it’s a steal at the current offer price.
£7.99 until December 1, Waitrose

Thursday, November 12, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 13 November 2009

Some of the old Oddbins magic is back. Quite a bit, actually. So hats off to Simon Baile who’s turned it round – the range at least – in 15 months.

2007 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz/Viognier
This is Michel Chapoutier of the Rhône in his joint venture in Victoria and it’s one of the best new Australian wines I’ve tasted in ages. Its full, ripe, succulent, but not jammy, and has an evocative, spicy, stony, sweet-herb character that’s far more Rhône-like than Australian. The tannins, such as they are, are smooth and fleshy and the finish is dry and clean. 14%. There’s also a denser, more aromatic version which will age longer – Lieu Dit Malakoff – at twice the price.
£14.99, or £11.99 by the case, Oddbins

2006 Castello di Farnetella, Chianti Colli Senesi
This is a lovely, accessible Chianti – nicely supple, but with a convincing chewiness, sweet cherry fruit and earthy spice. 13% abv. Just the sort of wine to spend a cold, wet weekend with. But not me – I’m off to Chile.
£12.99, or £10.39 by the case

2008 Onda Nova Verdelho, Algarve
You don’t need to be a fan of Sir Cliff to like this verdelho. Equally you shouldn’t let the connection put you off. His name is on the label, but it’s just a small scrawl – sorry, signature – on the back. It’s a full-bodied, zesty white with tropical lime-jelly and lime-marmalade flavours. Refreshing, but somehow comforting too. 13.5% abv.

Friday, November 6, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 6 November 2009

2007 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza
Very different from Cahors, but not as different as the flashier, riper, more obviously oaky Argentine Malbecs. There are violets and black fruit on the nose, dense, ripe but not overripe fruit on the palate and an undertow of minerally graphite. The tannins are obvious, but plush and velvety, and there’s some acidity to remind us that this is made from the same grape as in Cahors. Very good wine. 13.5% abv.
£12.49, Corney & Barrow.

2007 Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé
You could buy three bottles of bog-standard Mâcon or one bottle of this. You pays your money and takes... but if you go for this, you’ll be getting Côte d’Or quality and style – creamy, buttery flavours and textures pinioned by the magical perfume and freshness of quinces and a fine streak of minerality. 13.0% abv.
£17.49, Corney & Barrow.

2008 Majestic Peaks Pinot Noir, Central Otago
Central Otago pinot noir has been dropping in price as all the new vineyards come into production, but even so this is a drop further than most, especially at the two-bottle price. It’s not a complex wine, but is an opportunity to get a flavour of the pure, crystalline style of New Zealand’s fashionable South Island region. It smells of a raspberry jam-filled Victoria sponge and tastes of raspberry shortcake; it’s fresh, supple and at the lighter end of medium bodied. 13.5% abv.
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy two or more, Majestic.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 30 October 2009

2007 Carmen Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley
Toasty, smoky oak on the nose, but fresh, too, with crisp, apple and citrus aromas. Concentrated fruit on the palate, nutty richness and fine acidity. A tad toasty-oaky, perhaps, but this wine will age. 14% abv.
£9.99, or £7.99 if you buy 2 or more, Majestic

2007 Passo delle Mule Nero d’Avola, Sicily
Cherry, smoke and delicate spice on the nose; spicy, almost sour cherries and smoky, mineral flavours on the palate. Subtly oaked, medium-full, dry and persistent. 13.5% abv. It comes from the Suormarchesa estate, near Gela and is one of a new range in a special bay in called Delicious Discoveries in 220 stores. Quite the most interesting group of wines shown at the press tasting this month. £7.99, Sainsbury’s

2007 Pietracupa Bolgheri, Tenuta Moraia
If you want a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, why choose Tuscany? If it’s good and distinctive, why not? Lovely, quite complex, ‘meaty’ Cabernet nose, with penetrating black fruit and savoury, cedary, gamey flavours. Medium-full, long, polished. 13.5% abv. Another Italian red from the new Delicious Discoveries range.
£11.99, Sainsbury’s

Thursday, October 22, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 23 October 2009

2008 Tim Adams Semillon, Clare Valley
Latest vintage of this brilliant oak-aged Australian semillon. Mouthfilling, dry and fresh, with smoky, lemon-oil aromas and flavours, textured richness and brisk acidity. This will age well, like previous vintages, so if you find an earlier vintage on the shelves, don’t worry, just buy it to keep you going until the new one arrives. 13% abv. Tesco also has Tim Adams’ dry riesling, grenache-based The Fergus red and The Aberfeldy shiraz - all highly recommended.
£9.99, Tesco

2006 Clos Bortier, Hautes Côtes de Beaune
From Domaine Jean Noël Gagnard, no less, from vines planted by Caroline l’Estimé since she took over in 1989. Delightful red burgundy – pale but bright, with an expressive, fragrant nose, sweet, cherryish fruit on the palate, a supple texture and refined tannins. Pure and perfectly balanced. A very fair price. 13% abv.
£13.95, Berry Bros & Rudd.

2007 Silex Rouge, Côtes du Rhône Massif D’Uchaux, Brugalière/Viguier
Black pepper, raspberry and smoky bacon on the nose and a palate with intensity and unusual elegance (unusual for the southern Rhône). It’s made from more or less equal quantities of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre, old vines included, in the Massif d’Uchaux, which has recently been promoted to Côtes du Rhône Villages status. £13.5% abv.
£9.95, Berry Bros & Rudd.

Friday, October 16, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 16 October 2009

2007 Domaine du Joncier Le Classique, Lirac
Waitrose has beefed up its Rhône range to great effect, and not just at the top end where there are wines like the superb 2007 Côte-Rôtie from Stephane Ogier (£39.99, Waitrose Wine Direct). This red Lirac, from a domaine which I think the Rhône buyer Andrew Shaw discovered during his Stone,Vine & Sun days, is like a mini Châteauneuf – full and fleshy, with nutty, sweet fruit and milk chocolate suppleness alongside savoury, stony, spicy flavours. 14.5% abv. Good value at its full price; even better at the current offer price.
£7.49 until November 3, then back to £9.99, Waitrose.

2008 Tasmania Sauvignon Blanc
The autumn press tastings so far have been loaded with sauvignon blancs (just as they used to be with chardonnays) and a lot of them are sound, but completely unremarkable. This one from Andrew Pirie’s Tamar Ridge operation in Tasmania wasn’t shown at the recent M&S tasting, but I tasted it again last week (drank it, actually) and thought it pretty well unbeatable at the price, as I did when I tasted it in the spring. It’s got the brilliant sauvignon crunch factor, but without the aggressive tendency, and really interesting, sustained smoky, gooseberry flavours. 13% abv.
£7.99, Marks & Spencer.

2007 M de Murviedro Syrah, Utiel-Requena
Asda hasn’t featured here much and I can’t pretend I was inspired by its recent press tasting, but there are some good bottles if you look hard. This Spanish syrah is one of trio of good wines from Bodegas Murviedro in Utiel-Requena. It’s full and generous with ripe but fresh blackberry fruit and a nice touch of pepper and bonfire smokiness. There’s no oak and it doesn’t need it. 13.5% abv. The other two wines are a young white blend of sauvignon and viura (£5.48) and a 2005 oak-aged blend of tempranillo, monastrell and cabernet sauvignon (£6.98)
£5.48, Asda.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 9 October 2009

2008 Circumstance Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Rich, toasty and honeyed with dazzling fresh lime flavours, a creamy texture and pithy acidity. It comes from old bush vines, growing close to the ocean in Helderberg, and was barrel-fermented using the naturally present yeasts. They took their time: fermentation ground to a halt nine months later, leaving just under 5g/l of residual sugar and 14% abv. It’s delicious now, but will develop. The producer is Waterkloof which is owned by Paul Boutinot (UK).
£8.99, D Byrne; £9.25, Fintry Wines

2008 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, Marlborough
New vintage of an old favourite. Pinot noir at its most seductive, with the sweetness of ripe cherries and raspberries, a seasoning of lightly spicy, vanilla-scented oak and a whisper of something more savoury and burgundian. Round, fleshy and pretty well irresistible. 14% abv.
£12.99, Majestic and Wine Rack

2008 Otra Vida Malbec, Mendoza
Sweet raspberry fruit with toasty oak, dark chocolate flavours and a clean, spicy, savoury finish. Medium-bodied, rather than massive, and ripe without being jammy or flaccid. 13% abv. This is a branded wine well worth remembering – and how often can you say that? No, not often. The chardonnay is OK too.
£5.99, Tesco

Saturday, October 3, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 2 October 2009

2008 The Loom Riesling, Clare Valley
Smoky mineral notes on the nose with fresh, intense apple and lime flavours, a suggestion of petrol, refreshing acidity and just a touch of sweetness to balance it. This is textbook dry Clare Valley riesling at a very reasonable price. Drink it as an aperitif or with lightweight, lightly spiced dishes. 13% abv.

2007 Nos Riqueza Ribera del Duero
Full, savoury and gamey with polished, sweet, spicy fruit. There’s an attractive feeling of maturity and balance about this, but it’s fresh, too. Not one to lay down for long, but excellent, affordable Ribera del Duero. 13.5%
£9.99, Marks & Spencer

1990 Vin Santo del Chanti Rufina
M&S brought this in last year and I’ve just tasted it again. Fabulous stuff. Deep amber in colour, with a nose that combines sherry-like rancio characters with dried fruit, ginger, marmalade, baked toffee and toasted almonds. It all comes through in wonderful concentration and length on the palate – dried apricots, sultanas, marmalade, ginger, nuts, a mellow woodiness and orangey acidity. The effect is medium sweet, so don’t sabotage it with a sticky, creamy pudding. Sip it on its own or with Parmesan, nuts, biscuits, panettone, spicy almond or citrus cakes. 17% abv.
£14.99 for 37.5cl, Marks & Spencer

Friday, September 25, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 25 September 2009

2007 Domaine Yves Cuilleron Syrah Signé, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes
This is a brilliant, benchmark northern Rhône syrah – with a little viognier, co-fermented in Côte Rôtie style. If you’re not a member of The Wine Society, its worth the £40 life membership just to be able to buy this wine - glorious black pepper, raspberry and tar aromas, a silky, supple texture and only 12.5% abv. Drink any time over the next two to three years.
£12.95, The Wine Society

2008 Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz
A very different style of syrah from the one above, but also true to type. To call it ‘benchmark’ is pushing it a bit, especially as it’s a wine to drink, not keep, but it’s got real Australian shiraz character – a rarity at this sort of price these days. It’s plump and smooth, with sweet, but not jammy, blackberry fruit, milk chocolate and fresh peppery spice flavours. 14.5% abv.
£6.49, Booth; £5.95 The Wine Society

2008 Domaine Bellegarde Jurançon Sec
Lightly peachy, nutty nose; dry, tangy, quince and peach flavours on the palate; medium-bodied with citrus zest acidity. A delicious, reviving aperitif and a good accompaniment to seafood or salad/veggie first courses. Made from gros manseng and a little petit manseng, and oak-free. 13.5% abv.
£10.95, Yapp Brothers

Friday, September 18, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 18 September 2009

2008 Matahiwi Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Wairarapa
Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s North Island, as opposed to Marlborough on the South Island. It has the classic grass, ripe gooseberry and mineral flavours and the vibrant freshness of New Zealand’s signature sauvignons, but in a richer, more textured style – and yet it’s still only 12.5% abv. Drink it on its own or with something like a goats’ cheese tart, caesar salad, seafood risotto or crab fettuccine with a touch of chilli.
£8.49, Oddbins

2007 Viña Somoza Classico, Godello, Valdeorras
If you’re an albariño fan, you’ll love this godello. In fact, it’s much better than many of the albariños on offer in bars and restaurants. It has a cracklingly fresh, apple nose and a concentrated, smoky-apple palate with a touch of spicy peach and an appetising, fresh, dry finish. 13.5% abv. If you know Flint Wines at all (two men and a dog called Flint), you probably think of them as burgundy specialists, which they are, but the rest of the list is well worth a look too.
£11.95, Flint Wines

2005 Castello di Potentino, Sacromonte, Montecucco Rosso
This is a dark, velvety, sangiovese with succulent sweet fruit and supple oak. Very definitely sangiovese, but not the dry, astringent school of Tuscan sangiovese or the jammy new world style. It carries its 14.5% abv effortlessly and is perfect for drinking now, but has plenty of life in it. Montecucco is a relatively new DOC in the province of Grosseto in the south of Tuscany between Montalcino and Scansano. Castello di Potentino is owned by Graham C Greene and the wine is made by Charlotte Horton.
£9.95, From Vineyards Direct

Thursday, September 10, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 11 September 2009

2007 Peter Jakob Kühn Rheingau Riesling Trocken
Wonderfully intense, fabulously light - with just 11% abv. It’s also biodynamic and has a screwcap. The nose is smoky, mineral and piercingly fresh; the palate is dry, tangy, mineral and honeyed, with citrus and apple fruit and a tantalising minty, herbal hint. The Winery is in Maida Vale; no website, but a pretty shop with an unusual range of dry German wines.
£11.99, The Winery, 020 7286 6475

2007 Domaine Haut-Chassis, Les Galets, Crozes-Hermitage
This Crozes estate is new to me (and to Berry Bros). Les Galets is the top wine and it’s barrel-matured for 10 months, but the oak is seamlessly integrated. You feel it in the silky texture, but you barely taste it. It has a lovely smoky, almost iodiney Crozes character, with sweet raspberry fruit and savoury bay leaf, black pepper and graphite flavours. A real find (by BBR, not me).
£15.95, Berry Bros & Rudd

2009 Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc
Old vines, new wine. Very young and lively, brimming with pear and apple fruit, but also with Chenin’s rounded nutty-straw and spice flavours. Pure, well-balanced (yes, with 14% abv), bright and engaging.
£5.99, Waitrose

Friday, September 4, 2009

WINES of the WEEK, 4 September 2009

No time to be wordy this week, some of you will be pleased to hear (all of you perhaps), but three stellar wines.

2008 Viña Leyda Loica Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosado
Smart Chilean rosé with focused cherry and raspberry fruit and a touch of spice. Combines pinot noir’s silky, supple texture with a lively, fresh, dry finish. 13.5% abv.
£8.95, The Wine Society

2008 Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Debut vintage from Errazuriz’s new Chilean estate just nine miles from the Pacific. I’m sure I can taste the sea in the tangy, salty, mineral flavour. Delicious green, herbal, citrus flavours too. 13.5% abv.
£10.99, Booths and; £75 per 6 bottles, including delivery, Harper Wells. (It’ll be on a 3 for 2 deal in Booths from October 1-24.)

2004 Barón de Ley 7 Viñas Rioja Reserva
Latest vintage of this rich, complex, cellar-worthy Rioja – and 2004 was a very good year for Rioja. Plump damson fruit with spice, dark chocolate and glossy oak. 14.5% abv.
£15.49, selected Tesco

Friday, August 28, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 28 August 2009

2007 Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Verdon
This is a cracking little pinot noir for the money, made in the the Var (Provence) by Louis Latour of burgundy fame. It’s medium-bodied, nicely shaped by gentle tannin and acidity and has convincing raspberry and cherry aromas together with some more savoury flavours.13.5% alcohol.
£8.49 or £7.99 if you buy two or more bottles, Majestic.

2006 Pouilly-Vinzelles En Paradis, Louis Latour
Another cracker from Louis Latour via Majestic, but this time from Burgundy itself. This is fresh, yet supple and rounded, with lightly toasted wheat and walnut notes, scented white peach, steelier, more mineral flavours and a fine texture. 13% alcohol.
£9.99 or £8.99 if you buy two or more bottles, Majestic.

2008 Cuvée Pecheur, Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan
I promised something cheaper this week, so here’s a wine that’ll give you decent change from a fiver while delivering a simple, refreshingly light, zesty, and fruity mouthful. It’s from Gascony, source of Armagnac and lots of inexpensive fresh whites under this and other Vins de Pays designations (eg Gascogne and Gers). 11.5% alcohol.
£3.99, Waitrose

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 21 August 2009

2003 Château d’Or et de Gueles Trassegum, Costières de Nîmes
I’ve just tasted this Syrah-based southern French red again, more than a year since I last tried it, and if anything it’s even better than before. It’s a big wine (14% alcohol) with sweet, but fresh cherry fruit, a nutty kernel richness and a stony mineral character. It’s become softer and more complex with age, but retains a vitality which is all the more impressive coming from the heatwave 2003 vintage. Trassegum is the top label from Château d’Or et de Gueles, made only in the best years and from particular parts of the vineyard. It’s back in stock at The Real Wine Co, a gem of a merchant selling wines chosen with passion and expertise by ex-supermarket wine buyer Mark Hughes.
£11.75, The Real Wine Company.

2007 Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay
First-class chardonnay from the Piccadilly Valley in South Australia – as good a demonstration as there is of the quality being achieved in some of the vineyards in Australia chosen for their combination of cool climate and suitable soils. This has white-peach and citrus flavours, a nuttiness that comes from both the chardonnay and the French oak barriques (used for fermentation and ageing) and a beautifully polished, creamy texture. It’s elegant, fascinating and can only become more complex. I expect it to become richer, nuttier, less lemony, more honeyed, but also more savoury. If you keep it until 2017, it may look quite cheap, too.
£29.99-£43.99, Last Drop Wines, Edencroft Fine Wines, The Sampler, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges.

2007 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir
Pinot noir at it’s purest and most seductive, with plum and cherry aromas, a hint of oriental spice, the silkiest of textures and an underpinning of delicate acidity and supple tannins. Brian Croser says that the next vintage of this wine, the 2008, is the most exciting that his 41 years of being a vigneron have produced. Can’t wait.
£21.50, Edencroft Fine Wines

A bit of background: Tapanappa is a partnership of Brian Croser, who founded Petaluma, with Champagne Bollinger and the Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages. The other wines, equally recommended, are Whalebone Vineyard Cabernet Shiraz and Whalebone Merlot (both around £30-£36). I’ve held back on my Tapanappa recommendations because they don’t look very recession-friendly, but they would be a great way to celebrate at home instead of going out and would make ideal presents for wine lovers (thanks, my birthday is in January, but Christmas will do).

And next week… I’ll find something cheaper.

Friday, August 14, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 14 August 2009

2008 Pieropan Soave
Classico in all but name. Nino Pieropan, one of Soave Classico’s top producers, has elected to use screwcap instead of cork for his 2008, which means foregoing the Classico designation. Daft, but that’s Italian DOCG wine law for you. The wine is excellent – dry, crisp and lingering with lovely, clear lemon fruit and hints of blossom and honey. 12% alcohol.
£10.75-£11.75, Lea & Sandeman, Reserve Wines, Noel Young Wines, Bennetts Fine Wines, Harrods

2006 Balcon de la Villa Tinta de Toro
The reds of Toro in northwest Spain have improved enormously in the last few years. The region has always had the benefit of old vines, but the wines were generally rustic and chewy. Largely thanks to outside investment (much of it from Rioja and Ribera del Duero), that’s not the case now. This wine, made from 50-year-old Tinta de Toro vines (a clone of Tempranillo), is powerful, succulent and complex, with juicy blackberry fruit and vanilla-scented chocolaty oak. Great value, particularly because all that outside investment means that prices have soared. 14.5% alcohol.
£5.99, Marks & Spencer

2007 ‘T’ Toro Roble
This Toro comes from the same co-operative as the Balcon de la Villa above, but is a year younger and is aged in French as well as American barrels. It’s another full-bodied, rich wine, but with stylish fresh raspberry and spicy, mineral flavours. Again, very reasonably priced. 14.5% alcohol.
£6.99, Waitrose

Friday, August 7, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 7 August 2009

An Iberian trio this week. No particular reason – just good wines. The Tinto da Anfora is perfect barbecue material, but also comes into its own with comforting casseroles. The Rioja is a bit more refined: grouse, anybody, or lamb threaded with rosemary and garlic? And the dry Vinho Verde is exactly that – proper dry Vinho Verde.

2006 Tinto da Anfora, Alentejo
This is the kind of wine I sometimes overlook because it’s been around for so long. What’s impressive is that the style has moved with the times without its distinctive personality being compromised. So it’s become a bit more refined in recent years, but continues to be a traditional full-bodied, oak-aged Portuguese red made from indigenous grape varieties (5% cabernet sauvignon excepted). It’s packed with ripe plummy fruit, bayleaf and chocolate flavours and finishes on a dry, spicy-oak note. 14% alcohol.
£5.99-£6.49, Sainsbury’s; Waitrose.

2008 Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde
A piercingly fresh, zesty white with herbal green-apple flavours and a fleeting hint of peach. Authentically dry and low in alcohol and not remotely like the vapid cheap Vinho Verde that used to be sent over from Portugal specially sweetened for the British market. 10.5% alcohol.
£5.99 or £4.99 when you buy two bottles, Majestic.

2006 Torres Ibérico Rioja Crianza
There are few more famous names among Spanish wine producers than Torres, but the Torres family has never been in Spain’s most famous wine region - until now. So this is the first Torres Rioja, and very good it is, with an inviting smell of ripe blueberries, cedary oak and spicy mocha and a smooth, dry, well-defined palate. 14%.
£8.99, Waitrose.

Friday, July 31, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 31 July 2009

2008 Bisol Credo, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut
This is more expensive than the average Prosecco, but it isn’t average Prosecco. Like everything that comes from the Bisol family’s vineyards in the Valdobbiadene region, Credo is a step above – mouthwateringly fresh and appley, with touches of orange and peach, a softness in the middle and a fresh, dill-like finish. The grape blend is 85% prosecco, 10% pinot blanc and 5% verdiso and the alcohol is 11.5%. It would make a crowd-pleasing wedding fizz.
£85.50 per six bottles (plus £15 delivery), Bibendum Wine.

2007 Castell del Remei Oda Blanc, Costers del Segre
An oak-fermented blend of chardonnay and macabeo from the Costers del Segre region in northeast Spain. Does Spain really need to do chardonnay? You could argue that growers should concentrate on indigenous white grape varieties, rather than dabbling with the international set, but chardonnay is clearly so at home here and the blend works so well that it would be daft to argue against it. The nose is richly fruity but fresh, with lemon, peach and pineapple, and the oak fills out the texture and gives a seasoning of buttered-toast. Medium-bodied; 13.5% alcohol. The only stockist I’ve found is D Byrne, but it’s well worth the detour to Clitheroe for its terrific range of wines at pared-down prices.
£9.99, D. Byrne & Co.

2008 Grove Mill Riesling, Marlborough
Intense, herbal, lime and floral aromas with a vivacious, fruity, apple-and-lime palate. Light-bodied, medium-dry New Zealand Riesling with only 11.5% alcohol, but no shortage of flavour. It comes into its own as an aperitif, a party wine or something to go with spicy food.
£9.99 (or £6.66 if you buy three bottles), Wine Rack.

Friday, July 24, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 24 July 2009

I know that science says that wine can’t taste of its soil, because there’s no transfer of minerals and flavour compounds from soil to root to grape to wine – but Saint-Chinian grown on schist can have an extraordinarily intense, ‘stony’ smell and taste, in some cases reminiscent of the fresh smell of stones and earth after rain. I love it - and this wine, a syrah-dominant blend with some carignan and grenache. As well as the stony character, there’s sweet redcurrant fruit, black pepper and black olive flavours and a gentle nuttiness (13.5% alcohol). The estate has been handed down in the Etienne family from mother to daughter for six generations and the current incumbernt, Véronique, also makes a very good, more expensive red, called Elise, which comes from a specific plot and is partly aged in new oak barrels, and a rosé - also highly recommended. The importer is Indigo Wine.
£9.25, The Grape Shop, 020 7924 3638; £10, Dégustation, 020 8691 0857.

Another red Languedoc, another female winemaker. Let me explain. There’s a women winemakers group in Languedoc, called Vinifilles, and I tasted some of their wines recently and was impressed (the Picpoul de Pinet, one of my Wines of the Week on 3 July, is another). Back to the 2006 La Dame. This comes from just outside Saint-Chinian and is blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah (50:30:20). It’s medium-full (13% alcohol), warm, ripe, spicy and earthy, with a lovely freshness of berry fruit, hints of graphite, olive and chocolate and a velvety texture.
£7.75, Berry Bros & Rudd

The first sip of any Pouilly Fumé should make you sit up. If it doesn’t, I reckon it’s not doing it’s job. No fears here on that score. This has a stirringly intense elderflower and goosberry nose, a good depth of spicy, grassy, green fruit on the palate and refreshing, mineral length (12.5% alcohol).
£10.98, Sainsbury’s

Friday, July 17, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 17 July 2009

2008 Moulin de Gassac Grande Réserve de Gassac Rouge
A medium-full, dry and supple southern French red, with a scent of the garrigue and spicy, raspberry and cherry flavours. If Gassac rings bells, it’s because it’s a second label from the Guibert family of Mas de Daumas Gassac, a Vin de Pays de l’Hérault once famously described as the Lafite of Languedoc. This has no pretensions to be in such distinguished company, but it's an appealing and individual wine that stands out from the vin de pays varietal crowd. Not surprising when you look at the grape varieties – a Bordeaux-meets-the-Rhône blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Alicante and Grenache 13%.
£41.94 for 6 bottles (£6.99 a bottle), Laithwaites

2008 Storie di Vite Pinot Grigio Trentino
The first Italian pinot grigio to feature in these weekly recommendations – not that it’s going to become a habit because so much pinot grigio is deadly dull. This, though, is much more interesting than the average and is a perfect, refreshing summer white. It has more stuffing than most and yet retains its effortlessly light, crisp Italian signature – a million miles from the richness and ripeness of Alsace pinot gris. What else? A flavour of pears with hints of almond, fennel, citrus peel and honey. It’s from the mountainous Trentino region in the northeast. 12.5%.
£6.99, Waitrose

2008 Palataia Pinot Grigio
I said it wouldn’t beome a habit and it hasn’t. This one’s not Italian but German, from the Haardt Mountains in the Pfalz region. It’s just as refreshing, but a little softer and more overtly fruity and spicy (think peaches and lemons) and it has a touch of sweetness. 12.5%.
£6.99, Marks & Spencer

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 10 July 2009

The eagle-eyed will spot that this week’s wines are being posted early. It’s a belt-and-braces approach because on Friday I shall be in a part of France from which internet connections, wifi etc are frequently absent. Some of you have already observed that Friday is a strange day of the week to do the weekly post anyway, so I’m trying to decide which is the best day. If you have any views on this, do email me.

2007 Mt Beautiful Riesling
2008 Mt Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Mt Beautiful Pinot Noir

It seemed a waste to choose just one of these wines when I liked all three and they’re new to the UK. In fact, not just new wines, but a new region in New Zealand. The Cheviot Hills region is in North Canterbury which is on the east of the South Island, south of Marlborough (got that?). For the geographically-challenged, that’s well below Marlborough and to the left a bit. It’s slightly cooler than Marlborough down there.
The riesling is mouthwateringly fragrant with textbook smoky-petrol, lime, green-apple and peach aromas. The palate is fine-boned, racy and intense, with refreshing acidity and real persistence. It’s off-dry and 12% alcohol.
The sauvignon blanc has ripe tropical fruit (think mangoes) combined with steely herbal, mineral and smoky flavours. I also find a suggestion of green fig and coffee, which I like, but people always look blank whenever I say I can taste coffee in sauvignon (it being a flavour usually associated with oaked red wines), so feel free to ignore that. (For the record, I think it’s a reductive note.) The acidity is brisk and well-balanced and the alcohol is 13.5%.
And so to the pinot noir: fresh, juicy, cherry and cranberry aromas, together with a hint of roses. Medium-bodied, fresh and supple with subtle oak and a dry, delicately spicy finish. An elegant 12.5% alcohol. Well done, Genesis, for bringing these over.
£8.75 for the whites; £12.75 for the pinot noir, Genesis Wines

2008 Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc
I know what you’re thinking: you don’t need yet another sauvignon blanc. But it’s summer and you might - and this is a particularly good value one from Bordeaux. Dourthe No 1 is always dependable, but this recently released 2008 is another step up in quality. It has vivid grass and citrus notes filled out with some riper peach and tropical fruit, an attractively textured mid-palate and a lively, lingering finish. 12% alcohol.
£6.99, Waitrose, Booths; £8.99 (or three for the price of two), Wine Rack

Thursday, July 2, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 3 July 2009

2008 Château Pontet Bagatelle, La Rosée de Bagatelle
I thought the quality of the first vintage from this winery in Coteaux d’Aix en Provence might be beginner’s luck, but this second Rosée (rosée = dew) is just as dazzling, although dazzling is a bit of a misnoma. Far from being bright pink and bumptiously fruity, it’s very pale and beautifully, but delicately, perfumed with touches of peach and redcurrant, spice and orange. It’s fresh, dry and elegant and yet has a mouthfilling silkiness. Just so you know: it’s 90% grenache and 10% syrah and the alcohol is 13.5%.
£9.99, Great Northern Wine

2008 Domaine Félines Jourdan, Picpoul de Pinet
Picpoul is the grape variety here, valued for producing crisp, bone-dry, modestly herby whites in the hot climate of Languedoc – wines which famously go with oysters. But there’s always more to the picpouls made by Claude Jourdan (a female Claude, incidentally) and they have a wider food application than seafood. This 2008 is as breezily fresh, crisp and dry as you could want, but there is a real intensity of fruit, with snatches of citrus and fresh grapes (have you noticed how few wines actually taste of grapes?), white peach and herbs. 13%.
£7.25, The Wine Society (you need to be a member, which means buying a £40 life share, but the range is very good and competitively priced); £8.45, Weavers of Nottingham

2007 Valpolicella Ripasso, Cantina de Merlara
A convincing Valpolicella Ripasso at an old-fashioned price - I’m not sure how Aldi does it. It has a smoky-nutty nose with spicy, cherryish fruit and there’s a hint of rich dark fruitcake. It’s fairly full and properly dry. Ideal barbecue wine, but it could easily handle some game in the autumn or something with a bit of sweetness like rabbit with prunes. 13.5%.
£5.99, Aldi

Friday, June 26, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 26 June 2009

2008 Deakin Estate Viognier
I’m not a huge fan of viognier. Condrieu, yes, but not the vast majority of viogniers at under £20, let alone at under £10. But this unoaked Australian is delicious – not complex, but vibrant, fruity and balanced with lovely clarity of flavour (peach, grapefruit, passionfruit). It’s so clean and well-balanced - and probably because it’s got a tiny bit of residual sugar (3g/l) - it’s a good match for lightly spicy food and takes vinaigrette dressings in its stride. It even coped with a lemony, smoked salmon and crème fraiche pasta dish. It’s only available in six-bottle quantities, but drinking them won’t be a hardship. 13.5%.
£39.88 for 6 bottles, Bibendum Wine

2007 Ara Composite Sauvignon Blanc
It’s surprising to see a 2007 vintage of New Zealand Sauvignon still available. And in some ways it’s surprising it’s still good, but Ara, a relatively new wine-growing area in Marlborough (on an ancient river terrace) tends to produce a grassy, mineral style of sauvignon, rather than the riper, tropical fruit style which can fall apart quite quickly. This has some peach and candied peel fruit alongside the green grassy notes, but with age it’s also become more smoky and - dare I say it? – more Sancerre-like. Given current Sancerre prices, that makes it tempting. The nominal price is £9.99, but the £7.99 offer seems to be longterm. 13%.
£7.99, Majestic

2006 Château Plaisance, Fronton
The vineyards of Fronton were threatened with destruction by the re-siting of Toulouse airport a few years ago. Fortunately the French government saw sense: Toulouse airport hasn’t moved in and the rare red négrette grape has been saved. Négrette pops up in a couple of appellations in southwest France, but Fronton is it’s heartland. This is a textbook example – deep coloured with perfumed raspberry and elderberry fruit, typical tar and graphite notes, lightly toasty oak and gently chewy, velvety texture. Loves duck, red meat, game and sausages of all sorts.
£8.50, Les Caves de Pyrène

Friday, June 19, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 19 June 2009

2008 Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Santorini
If you want something deliciously wild for the weekend, or any other time, this is it: a dry, smoky, mineral white, bristling with flavours of lemon peel, toasted, smoky wheat and olive oil and carried aloft by piercing acidity. As it says, it’s wild ferment, meaning no added yeasts, and it’s made from the assyrtiko grape on Greece’s windswept, volcanic island of Santorini - so windswept, in fact, that the vines are wind round into basket shapes so that the bunches of grapes grow inside, sheltered from the wind, or that’s the idea anyway. Drink it on its own or with fish or tapas. Novum Wines is a young operation with a portfolio of interesting, high quality wines bought for them by the company’s co-founder who was head buyer at Oddbins for 17 years – the years when Oddbins was great. 13.5%
£14.00 Novum Wines

2006 Belles Pierres Les Clauzes de Jo, Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge
This red wine is a bit wild, too, in that it smells intensely of the aromatic herb-studded garrigue of southern France – all bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and mint - but interwoven with succulent, sweet berry fruit and a full, velvety texture. The grapes are syrah and grenache with a bit of mourvèdre, and Jo is Joseph, father of Damien Coste who is now in charge. 14%.
£8.95, Stone, Vine & Sun

2007 Leasingham Magnus Riesling, Clare Valley
Zingy, dry Australian riesling with exuberant, fresh lime, apple and tropical fruit aromas, and a juicy lime-peel palate. Medium-bodied with refreshing, pithy acidity. A good aperitif, but also an option with spices and the intensity and sweetness of grilled red peppers, tomatoes and so on. 12.5%.
£7.99 Sainsbury’s; £9.99 (or £6.33 if you buy three bottles), Wine Rack

Saturday, June 13, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 12 June 2009

2008 Yali Winemaker’s Selection Wetland Sauvignon Blanc
Even without giving the name of the producer and the country and region, the name is a bit of a mouthful, but the wine is appetisingly elegant and fresh. The aromas and flavours - gooseberries, elderflowers, nettles, pink grapefruit - are textbook sauvignon, but they’re not at knockout strength, so, you could easily imagine having a second or third glass. Nearly forgot to tell you: it’s Chilean, from Patacon, coastal Lolol, just 30km from the Pacific and it’s made by Viña Ventisquero. A donation is made to the Wildflower & Wetlands Trust (WWT) for every case of Yali wine sold in the UK. 12.5%.
£5.61 (and only £4.49 if you buy 2 or more Chilean wines), Majestic

2005 Château La Lauzette Declercq
A red Bordeaux from Listrac-Médoc that would win anyone over to the idea of drinking Bordeaux. Or at least it ought to. The nose is seductively sweet and cedary and it’s full and velvety in the mouth with touches of fruitcake, cedar, graphite and gentle oak. It’s ready now, but you could hang on to it for another four years or so. To give you a bit of background: it’s more cabernet sauvignon than merlot (60% vs 32%) with a little bit of petit verdot and cabernet franc and it’s a cru bourgeois estate belonging to the family that also owns the Saint-Emilion grand cru Château Cantenac. And, of course, it’s from the excellent 2005 vintage. 13%.
£12.99, Averys of Bristol

Friday, June 5, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 5 June 2009

2006 John Duval Wines Plexus
If you can have a wine that is seriously sumptuous, this is it: a Barossa Valley red made by John Duval, the man who, for many years, made Penfolds Grange. It’s a blend of shiraz, grenache and mourvedre (52:30:15) and the fruit is succulent, fresh and focused (to Duval its red fruits; to me it’s more blueberries). There’s a seam of crisp black pepper and the oak is supple and subtle, rather than a heavy presence. For all its mouthfilling richness, there is real elegance here – and if you serve it cool, which you might want to at this time of year, you’ll get a hint of mint, too. 14%.
£18.00-£19.99, HarperWells Ltd, Noel Young Wines, The Secret Cellar

2001 Crémant de Bourgogne Grande Cuvée, Albert Sounit
Matured for six years as if it was vintage champagne and made from 100% chardonnay – and, yes, it’s been worth the time and effort. Toasty, biscuity with touches of brioche and macaroon on the nose; ample and creamy on the palate with grilled brioche flavours and lively, balancing acidity. 12%. This Crémant is a good cheaper alternative to vintage champagne, but if you want something younger and more floral, Berrys Extra Dry Crémant de Limoux made by Jean Louis Denois is well worth having (£8.75)
£14.60, Berry Bros & Rudd

2007 Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier
There’s a lot of viognier in the south of France and a lot of it tastes like the diluted syrup from a can of peaches. This wine shows what can be done. Textbook fresh, ripe peach and apricot flavours with citrus freshness, good acidity and just enough oak to add interest, but not to shout. It costs about a quarter as much as Condrieu, but is at least half as good. 13.5%
£8.49, Tesco

Thursday, May 28, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 29 May 2009

2005 Clos Lapeyre Vitatge Vielh Jurançon Sec
This is not the easiest dry Jurançon, but patience is rewarded. Give it time in the glass and drink it with food – preferably something with some richness and a salty, lemony tang (I had it recently with an organic chicken baked with olives and wafer-thin slices of unpeeled lemon). It has an enticing smell of honeysuckle and apricot with a touch of vanilla cream (from the oak used) and just a faint whiff of fino sherry. The flavours in the mouth are similar, but powerful, dry and dense with grapefruity acidity. Have I made that sound delicious? I hope so, because it is. It comes, incidentally, from a vineyard planted in the 1940s with the three grape varieties, gros manseng, petit manseng and courbu, mixed up (complantés). 13.5%.
£13.75, Les Caves de Pyrène

2008 Colle Stefano Verdicchio di Matelica
This is the kind of wine that often gets overlooked, or rather underestimated at a big tasting. It’s water-white and doesn’t give away much on the nose, although what there is – a delicate jasmine-like perfume – is worth having. The palate is both piercingly fresh and nicely rounded, with straw and pears, lemon and herbs. It’s not a wine that shouts, but you can’t ignore it either and you wouldn’t want to. Try it with fish, including shellfish. 13%.
£8.90, Les Caves de Pyrène

2007 Wirra Wirra Church Block
The first vintage of this Australian red was 1972 and it’s much loved on its home territory. If you think that means it must be full-bodied, richly fruity, oaky and high in alcohol, you’re dead right. But wait: there’s more to it. The blueberry fruit has a lovely brightness, the oak gives flavours of coffee and chocolate, but they don’t dominate, the tannins are unobtrusive and there’s a real freshness and cleanness to the finish, which they say is thanks to McLaren Vale’s cooling sea breezes. The blend is cabernet sauvignon (just over half) with shiraz and merlot. And it’s a winner with meat – beef, lamb, pork, liver, kidneys. Wheel it out as soon as you’ve warmed up the barbie. 14.5%.
£9.99, Waitrose

Friday, May 22, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 22 May 2009

Champagne Benoit Lahaye, Grand Cru Brut
This combines some lush pinot noir aromas of sweet red berries and peaches with delicate nuttiness and dry mineral notes, giving a champagne that has real interest and style at a modest price. I’ve deliberately chosen from the bottom end of Vine Trail’s champagne list, but I highly recommend trying others (there are several under £30 and nothing over £44). They’re all from independent growers, rather than big houses, which is no guarantee of quality – far from it – but Nick Brookes (Vine Trail) has done an excellent job of finding some of the region’s finest. I’m leading a tour to Champagne next month (thank you for asking: it’s with Specialtours), so this has got me in the mood. Actually, I’m always in the mood for champagne. 12%.
£22.95, Vine Trail

2008 Les Hauts de Médian Petit Verdot
This is such good value - a red Vin de Pays d’Oc packed with blackcurrants, violets and freshly ground black pepper; succulent and smooth, yet fresh. It’s produced by the extensive Vic family, who own something like 300 hectares (don’t quote me) of vineyards in Languedoc, and it has Aurélie Trebuchon’s name on the label. But don’t be fooled: she’s married to a Vic. Look out for the name Preignes, which the family also uses, and investigate other wines from Stone, Vine & Sun. It’s a very good little operation. 13%.
£6.95, Stone, Vine & Sun

2008 Cabernet Franc Rosé
Give me a little bit of sunny weather and I’ll give you a rosé – not that drinking pink wine is the summer-only habit it used to be (which is a good thing because last year we didn’t have a summer, as I may have mentioned before). This pale salmon pink number is Italian through and through, despite the French grape variety and the word rosé, not rosato. It comes from the far northeast, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and is made for M&S by Bidoli which also does M&S’s stylish red Friuli merlot (put that on your shopping list, too). Back to the rosé: it’s an elegant dry style with a raspberry perfume and a flavour of blackcurrants and currant-bush leaves – the latter giving a fresh lift to the flavours. Not a complex wine, but delicious on a sunny bank holiday (fingers crossed). 12%.
£6.99, Marks & Spencer

Thursday, May 14, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 15 May 2009

2008 Mullineux Syrah
This syrah is from South Africa’s Swartland district, an area north of Cape Town which traditionally produced chunky, rather rustic reds. Not this one. It’s a northern Rhône style red, with perfumy, smoky, black pepper aromas, refined black fruit, smoke and herb flavours and a lovely silky texture. You can drink it now, but it’s not a wine that’s going to fall apart soon – not that I say that with knowledge of previous vintages, because there aren’t any. This is the debut vintage for Mullineux Family Vineyards, although Chris Mullineux is well-known as the winemaker who put Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards on the map. 13.5% alcohol. There’s a fine dry chenin-based white as well.
£16.50, Berry Bros & Rudd

2008 Cono Sur Gewürztraminer
This inexpensive gewürztraminer from Chile has all the good things about the gewürz grape and none of the off-putting ones – ie its flavours aren’t over-the-top in the perfume department and it isn’t oily, heavy or over-alcoholic. In fact, it’s great value, textbook with exotic spice and lemon on the nose, ginger and candied orange peel on the palate and delightful tangy freshness. It’s just off-dry and could be brought into service with lightly spicy food or as a summer garden party wine. Anorak background: most of the grapes (85%) are from Chile’s most southerly wine region, Bío Bío; the rest are from Casablanca Valley – further north, but also cool by Chilean standards. 13.5% alcohol.
£5.99, Sainsbury’s (more than two-thirds of branches)

2005 Château de la Guimonière Anjou Sec
This is dry, oak-matured, chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, with toast, honey and straw on the nose and oak, peppery spice and sweet citrus fruit on the palate It’s quite rich and toasty, but perfectly balanced by its sustained citrus freshness. It would go well with dishes in or with cream sauces (fish, seafood, chicken, mushrooms), because it’s got the richness, but also the fresh acidity to off-set it, but it would also be a treat with a lemony roast chicken, roast pork or herby grilled fish. I thought you’d also like to know that the soils are ‘silica, phtanite, shales and sandstone’. 13.5% alcohol.
£8.99 (or £5.99 if you buy 3 bottles), Wine Rack ( has a store locator)

Friday, May 8, 2009


2008 Pikes The White Mullet
2006 Pikes The Red Mullet

These two unsual blends from the Pike brothers’ operation in Clare Valley, Australia are on offer at a tempting £5.98 until 9 June, so I’m highlighting both together in plenty of time (on 10 June they revert to £9.99 for a single bottle or £6.66 each if you buy three). The white, a blend of riesling, viognier, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, has viognier’s heady, floral aromas and some of its creamy texture, combined with riesling’s citrus fruit and pithy lime acidity (12% abv).
The red, which rumour has it was originally called ‘red herring’, is a blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvedre and tempranillo (rumour also has it that the blend came about when the Pikes produced some lovely tempranillo grapes, but found that nobody was interested in Australian tempranillo). It has a perfumy nose of cherries and chocolate, ripe, plummy, red-fruit flavours with a touch of spice, and soft tannins – and it carries its 14.5% alcohol well. Delicious and easy to drink wines, but interesting, too.
£5.98, Wine Rack ( has a store locator).

2007 Taste the Difference Côtes du Rhône-Villages
The 2007 vintage was excellent in the southern Rhône. Inevitably that doesn’t mean absolutely everything is brilliant, but Sainsbury’s, or rather the producer Michel Chapoutier, has got this one right: lots of warm, sunny fruit flavours, lots of black pepper and spice, rounded tannins, and a stony mineral undertow which balances the sweetness of the fruit with dryness and freshness. A full-bodied, but balanced 14.5% alcohol.
£5.99, Sainsbury’s (about two-thirds of branches).

Friday, May 1, 2009



2007 Chinon, Les Bernabés, Olga Raffault
The first of the summer’s Chinons and what a good start. It’s not that I stop drinking Chinon or other red Loires in the winter, it’s just that at this time of year they seem so full of the promise of the summer to come. OK, so it never arrived last year, but we live in hope. This tastes as authentic and true as wine can - with a vivid aroma of blackcurrants and raspberries and a juicy, supple palate with a gravelly-earthy character that seems to come straight from the soil. The scientists say, of course, that grapes can’t possibly take up flavours from the soil, so I suppose I should say it seems to come straight from cabernet franc grown in Chinon, but how much duller does that sound? 12.5%.
£8.95, FromVineyardsDirect

2006 Climbing Merlot
A rounded, medium-full merlot with red fruit flavours, a leafy freshness, lightly toasty vanilla-flavoured oak and a soft dry finish. I probably wouldn’t be making this a Wine of the Week at its full price of £9.99, but at £7.99 (when you buy two or more bottles - and you might as well, as Majestic’s minimum purchase is a mixed case), it’s a good buy. This merlot is all the more surprising because it comes from Australia, a country (indeed, a continent) that has always struggled with merlot. The key here is the location of the vineyards, high up - 600 metres - in the Orange region of New South Wales, where the days are bright and sunny, but the nights are (crucially) cool. 13.5%.
£7.99, Majestic

2006 Rully, Clos du Moulin à Vent, Domaine Anne-Sophie Debavelaere
At its best white Rully, from Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise, is a very handy cheaper alternative to Côte d’Or white burgundy, but this wine is much more than just a poor relation. It’s rich and nutty on the nose and palate, but also fine, mineral and long with a crisp apple and pear fruitiness. You can drink it now – hard not to, really – but there’s no rush to finish it this year or next, provided you’ve got somewhere relatively cool and dark to keep it. 12.5%.
£13.50, Private Cellar

Thursday, April 23, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 24 April 2009

2008 Lagar de Cervera Albariño
The latest vintage of what is always one of the best albariños: textbook peach aromas and flavours with youthful tangy grapefruit notes and a mineral spine. Perfect with seafood. I’d drink it this summer or next, although some people like albariño when it’s developed a slighty fatter, nuttier character. I wish this wine was cheaper, but you’re never going to get really cheap albariño, partly because it’s fashionable, including in Spain where they haven’t got huge numbers of interesting white wines, but also because production costs are relatively high in the Rías Baixas region with its small, hilly vineyards. It’s also a bit of a one-off. Apart from godello, of which there is even less planted, there’s nothing else quite like it and little planted outside northwest Spain and over the border in Portugal. In fact, there’s even less worldwide than was thought now that the Australians have discovered that the variety they’d started planting as albariño is savagnin, which comes from the Jura region of France. Whoops! 12.5%.
£11.75-£15.49, Jeroboams; Laymont & Shaw

2006 Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine, Lirac
On the ‘if it’s easy to pronounce it’ll be popular in the UK’ principle, Lirac should be everywhere. Admittedly, it’s not a very big appellation, but even so I’m surprised not to see it more often, especially as it has such a famous neighbour, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This one is spot on: medium-full, with a peppery, spicy, stony character alongside the fragrant, crunchy red berry flavours. It’s not a wine to put away for a long time, but there’s no reason not to keep it three or four years – and by that time the stockist, Montrachet, might have a website. 13.5%.
£10.50, Montrachet Fine Wine Merchants

2006 Doña Dominga Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
Nobody could pretend that this red from Chile's Colchagua Valley is a little light luncheon wine at 14.5% alcohol, but for all its warmth, weight and flavour it has freshness. Together with the sweet, ripe cassis, the spicy sweet-earth, smoky black olive, and dark chocolate flavours and the supple tannins, there’s a refreshing note of currant leaf – enough to lift the wine without giving it a green edge. Good with duck, meaty casseroles, roasts and barbecues, and not bad with cheeses such as manchego and parmesan. 14.5%.
£9.99, Waitrose

Thursday, April 16, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 17 April 2009

Assero Bio Brut
This is a dry sparkling wine made from airén, Spain’s most boring grape variety, in the largely undistinguished La Mancha region in central Spain - which just goes to show that if you know what you’re doing you can occasionally make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – or if not a silk one, then a very nice crisp cotton one. It’s light-bodied and as fresh as a breeze, with crisp, lime-juice flavours and a soft clean finish. 11%.
£8.99, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen

2007 Reuilly, Château Gaillard
I’m not sure how much longer M&S will have this vintage and it’s not in all stores, but you can order it online. Reuilly is one of Sancerre’s hangers-on, but sometimes it outshines more expensive Sancerre. Step forward Château Gaillard. There’s a wonderfully refreshing purity and intensity of flavour - green, herby and mineral, bone dry and yet with the sweetness of properly ripe fruit. 12.5%.
£9.99, Marks & Spencer

2003 Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva, Navarra
Bodegas Julián Chivite is Navarra’s biggest and deservedly best known producer: the Gran Feudo wines are reliably enjoyable, while the more expensive Colección 125 range includes a plush red and a fine barrel-fermented chardonnay. But back to this week’s red. It’s based on tempranillo (the Rioja grape) beefed up with 20% cabernet sauvignon and merlot and it’s been aged in oak (hence the Reserva designation). The result is medium-bodied and well-rounded, with plummy fruit and a touch of cassis and soft, spicy, chocolaty oak. Try it with the Sunday roast or some herby sausages. 12.5%.
£7.19, Waitrose

Friday, April 10, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 10 April 2009

2007 Tesco Finest Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
Tesco’s Finest range is a bit hit and miss, but some of the wines, like this Australian pinot noir, hit the bullseye. There’s evident oak on the nose, but less than in many New Zealand pinot noirs and it’s balanced by sweet, fresh, red cherry and raspberry fruit and a suggestion of rose petals. The oak also contributes a savoury, almost burgundian flavour and adds some textural richness, which can’t be bad. All in all, a smart pinot noir, made for Tesco by De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley east of Melbourne.
£13.49, Tesco (357 branches)

2007 Camel Valley Bacchus Dry
Bristlingly fresh and zesty dry white from Cornwall - everything English wine should be. Sorry I‘m not able to arrange slightly better weather for the Bank Holiday, but this will cheer up the view as you sit inside looking out at the cloud and rain. It has crisp, sappy, floral fruit and a herby, slightly smoky mineral edge. Ideal as an aperitif, but it would go well with shellfish, other simple fish dishes, asparagus or salad.
£10.95-£11.95,; Great Western Wines,

2007 Poggiotondo Cerro del Masso Chianti
This is modern Chianti, with a deep colour and a degree of suppleness from ageing in French oak barrels, but it’s Chianti through and through – medium-bodied with cherryish fruit and an almondy, spicy patisserie character. It comes from outside Empoli (roughly halfway between Florence and Pisa), from the family estate of Alberto Antonini, a red winemaker and consultant of world renown. The 2007 has only just come in, so you may find your local Waitrose is still on the 2006, which is also good, though I think the 2007 just has the edge. I shall be tasting the first Poggiotondo white soon and will report back.
£7.59, Waitrose, including

Must try harder…
Tesco with its Big Kahuna White, a £4.99 chardonnay from Australia with a shrill pineapple and toothpick flavour. It’s in 223 stores (yes, 223 too many).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

WINES OF THE WEEK, 3 April 2009

2005 Point West Touriga Nacional
A warm, earthy, medium-full Portuguese red with slightly dusty vanilla-oak, sun-baked berry fruit and a touch of liquorice. It goes well with pork (roast with fennel and paprika or with mustard and honey-coated chops, for example), but it’s generally meat-friendly and, as it’s neither tannic nor acidic, you could also drink it on its own. A bit of background: it comes from Portugal’s western Estremadura region (hence Point West) and from one of the world’s great red grapes, touriga nacional. You don’t hear much about touriga nacional because its main claim to fame is as a component of port, but there’s a lot of interest suddenly from growers thinking about global warming around the world, because it’s well-adapted to high temperatures. One to watch out for. 13%.
£6.99, Oddbins; Morrisons

2007 Vesevo Greco di Tufo
Fresh and sappy with pears, herbs, cress and white pepper – and that’s only the nose. The palate is brimful of apple, pepper, candied citrus peel, apricot and a freshening twist of currant-leaf. But there’s nothing OTT about this dry Italian white: it’s medium-full, dry, zesty and perfectly balanced. I can’t stress too much how underrated Italian white grape varieties are – dreary pinot grigio excepted. This greco (of Greek origin, but it’s been in southern Italy for the last 2500 years) comes from Avellino in Campania’s Irpinian hills, so it’s from a long way south and yet it’s one of the last regions in Italy to harvest, thanks to the cooling breezes from the Bay of Naples and the altitude (over 450m). Tufo refers to the volcanic ash soil and Vesevo is the old name for Vesuvio. 13%.
£10.99, Majestic; Liberty Wines,

2007 Carrasviñas Verdejo
Appetisingly leafy and fresh, opening out into peach and pineapple fruit flavours, a crisp, yet rounded, medium-weight palate and a soft, breezy, lemony finish. Spain doesn’t have the same wealth of white grapes as Italy, but it, too, is discovering that white wines can be more than mere warm-ups act for the serious business of reds. If you want a reference point, think of the verdejo grape, grown in Rueda, as Spain’s answer to sauvignon blanc. 13%.
£7.50, Great Western Wine,

Friday, March 27, 2009


2005 Château Carignan, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux
This is a wine that will keep four or five years, if well-stored, so even if you think the last thing you need at the moment is a £14.50 red Bordeaux, you could always save it for a rainy or less economically-challenged day. You’ve got the best of the old and the new Bordeaux traditions here: a cedar-sweet nose, velvety black-fruit flavours, supple tannins, freshness and balance. What you haven’t got is old fashioned dryness or modern over-extraction. If you haven’t come across Cambridgeshire-based Private Cellar before, it was founded by ex-Corney & Barrow people in 2005 and they’ve put together a good list. 13%
£14.50, Private Cellar (

2007 Asda Extra Special Chenin Blanc
You don’t get a lot for a fiver these days, but you get more flavour and personality from this Chenin from Paarl in South Africa than you do from most Pinot Grigio. The nose is fresh and lemony with a touch of tropical fruit and the palate is crisp, citrusy and soft-textured with some apricot sweetness on the finish. It's made from the fruit of old bush vines (age is important for quality) at the Douglas Green winery, which is part of the large DGB group. A good aperitif. 13%.
£4.98, Asda

2005 Bourgogne Blanc, Buisson-Battault
Basic Bourgogne can be, er, pretty basic, but this one, from a grower based in Meursault, is well above the average. It has rich, nutty, sweet-earth aromas together with a touch of fennel/celery and a full, nutty, flinty palate. A good bottle to take to a supper or dinner party, but, then again, perhaps not if you think your host won’t open it when you’re there. 12%.
£9.99, Majestic

Saturday, March 21, 2009


2006 Tim Adams Semillon, Clare Valley
Hats off to Tesco - and I certainly don’t always feel like saying that - for continuing to stock the wines of ace Australian producer Tim Adams. This one, made from semillon, is a dry, oak-aged white with a smoky, lemon-and-honey nose, rich, toasty lemon flavours on the palate and lovely fresh acidity. You can keep it in cellar conditions up to another five years or enjoy it now, either on its own or with things such as fish, salads, chicken, goat’s cheese and pasta, with or without garlic, herbs and light spices. All in all, it’s pretty food-friendly. 13%.
£9.22, Tesco (most stores).

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Belleruche, M Chapoutier
A credit-crunch alternative to red Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the ebullient Michel Chapoutier. It’s full, ripe, peppery and spicy with succulent sweet plum fruit and an appealing savoury finish. Try it with a roast, a meaty casserole or some roast root or Mediterranean veg. 14.5%.
£7.99; £5.99 when you buy 2 or more, Majestic

2007 La Sabrosita Old Vine Garnacha
A powerful but supple, easy-to-drink Spanish red made from 70-year-old vines. Although old vines don’t give very generous crops, they more than make up for it in the flavours they produce. This garnacha (grenache in French) is brimful of fragrant black cherry fruit, spice and a hint of cocoa. Bring on the barbecue. 14.5%.
£5.49, Marks & Spencer (not all stores); £59.29 per case,

Monday, March 16, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, March 22, 2009: Some Tuscan favourites

I have decided to indulge myself a bit this week with some personal favourites – not finest, rarest, greatest, but wines I’ve previously passed over because they haven’t fitted the space or the subject or haven’t been available.

The spotlight falls on four Tuscans, the first three from Chianti Classico: 2005 Il Molino di Grace - fragrant, savoury, balanced (£16.50, Selfridges, 0207 318 2375; £69 per six, Goedhuis & Co, 020 7793 7900); 2006 Rubiolo, Gagliolo – perfumed and spicy (£12.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300); and 2004 Bilaccio, Il Borgheto – modern, ripe, but true (£148.41 per 12, HS Liquid Assets, 020 7371 7383). The fourth, 2006 Insoglio del Cinghiale, is from the Maremma where French grape varieties grow - in this case syrah, cabernet franc and merlot to produce a supple, richly fruity red (£15.26-£22.99, Italian Continental Stores, 01628 770110, Wimbledon Wine Cellars, 0208 540 9979, Philglas & Swiggott 020 7402 0002).

This is my last Sauce column. In future look for my wine recommendations at and and read my recipes in upcoming issues of Style. And just for good measure, here are three favourite Spring-like whites

2007 Godello Gaba do Xil, £8.99
Zingy peach, citrus and spice notes from northwest Spain’s white godello grape (Adnams, 01502 727222).

2007 Cheverny, Le Vieux Clos, £7.49
Crisp, herbal, smoky Loire white; better value than most Sancerre (Majestic; £6.99 if you buy two or more).

2008 Saint Mont, £6.49
Tangy dry white with pear, apricot and citrus flavours from Gascony (Marks & Spencer).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009: Alpha male Cape reds

Women like rosé, sparkling wine and pinot grigio. Men favour big, macho reds. Right? Up to a point: the point being that men not only drink pink, fizz and pinot grigio, but recently they’ve been losing their taste for the biggest, most alcoholic reds. They still drink more red wines than women drink (and spend more), but increasingly they embrace 15 per cent abv with about as much enthusiasm as they muster for non-alcoholic beer, with the result that wine producers in areas where alcohol levels are highest (the southern hemisphere especially) need to change their practices, or go the way of the dinosaur.

Of course, some producers don’t believe in dinosaurs, but most have seen the light - which brings me to South African reds, a favourite of many an alpha-male. In recent years, the Cape has produced some of the most bruisingly alcoholic and tough wines, partly, it has to be said, because of viticultural and climatic quirks (including virused vines and high temperatures). But a new generation is making changes - not a moment too soon in my view, but then I’m only a woman. Try the three below.

2004 Meerlust Red, £9.99
A Cape take on a ripe, velvety Saint-Emilion (Handford Wines, 020 7589 6113;

2007 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Raptor Post, £11.50-£12.99
A succulent, peppery blend of syrah and cabernet (; Delilah Fine Foods, 0115 948 4461).

2005 Lammershoek Roulette Rouge, £11-£11.65
Rich cherry-scented, Rhône-like blend (Bintwo, 01841 532022; Bowland Forest Vintners, 01200 448688).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, March 8, 2009: Pinot Noir - getting better all the time

If tasting Australian chardonnays recently reminded me how good they can be, tasting pinot noirs from Australia reminded me how hit and miss they are - and how much better this fashionable, food-friendly red variety has become in some other countries. Australia’s handicap is that its traditional regions are mostly too warm to produce elegant pinot and there are only a limited number of new cooler sites at higher altitudes or closer to oceans.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has plenty of suitable areas and has developed a style, or styles, of its own, with the emphasis on purity and sweetness of fruit and seamless texture. The results are not like red burgundy (the original pinot noir wine) with its more savoury flavours, but most are not trying to be and that’s their strength. Better still, prices are stable, because so much pinot noir has been planted that more comes onstream with every harvest.

The other rising star is Chile, on a limited scale but with some notable bargains - and it’s rare for the words bargain and pinot noir to come together.

2008 Secano Estate Pinot Noir, £6.99
Fresh, supple, cherry-scented Chilean. Great value (Marks & Spencer).

2007 Tasmanian Pinot Noir, £7.99
Cool-climate Aussie with rose and raspberry fragrance (Marks & Spencer).

2007 Felton Road Pinot Noir, £26.99-£29.30
Not cheap, but stellar New Zealand pinot (Averys, 0845 8630995; Laithwaites, 0845 194 7755; Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, February 22, 2009: Loving Chardonnay

A tasting of 20 Australian chardonnays last month reminded me of two things: how much I like chardonnay and miss drinking it as often as I used to and, secondly, what good winemakers the Australians are. Come to think of it, make that a few more things, because it also demonstrated how Australia’s signature style has evolved from fat, buttery and oaky to crisp, elegant and polished and how, in a not unrelated development, alcohol levels have come down from the highs of a few years ago, mostly to a more balanced 13-13.5%.

Finally, if less positively, the tasting reminded me how expensive decent Australian chardonnay has become. The cheapest was £6.99 (McWilliams Hanwood Crisp Chardonnay, stocked by Tesco) and only one other was under a tenner (ignoring some optimistically low prices given on the day). The other 18 wines went from £11-plus to £45, with five over £20.

This wouldn’t matter for Australia if we didn’t have so many other countries’ chardonnays on offer and if so many people hadn’t fallen in love with other grape varieties. But if, like me, you’re still a chardonnay drinker, here are three to try.

2006 Shelmerdine Chardonnay, £11.49
From Australia’s Yarra Valley: toasty, concentrated and fresh (Oddbins).

2006 Coralillo Chardonnay, £9.99
From Chile’s San Antonio region: cashew nut richness and candied peel zing (Marks & Spencer).

2007 Taste the Difference Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, £7.99
Stylish, fresh, nutty and smoothly textured (Sainsbury’s).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, February 15, 2009: Stock up now while you can

Towards the end of 2008 the big supermarket buyers were promising - or threatening, depending on your view - that the wines on the shelves this year would be even more dominated by new world countries, with France, Italy, Spain and the rest of Europe squeezed out to make room. The reason, of course, was (and is) the strength of the euro, making Europe’s wines 20% more expensive to Britain’s importers than they were 12 months earlier.

But that was before the dollar’s dramatic rally against sterling, a rise which not only hikes the cost of California wines but of Chilean and Argentine wines too, because most importers buy them in dollars. So that leaves Australian wines (no longer flavour of the month), South Africa (in with a strong chance this year) and New Zealand (also in with a chance, partly thanks to overproduction of its fashionable sauvignon blancs and the likelihood of price falls as a result).

For wine drinkers, the outlook is clear. Supermarkets will prune their ranges and a lot of prices will go up. Painful as it might be, now is a good time to stock up for the year.

2006 Château Le Chec, Graves Blanc, £9.75
Toasty, creamy, fresh and stylish (Adnams, 01502 727222).

2006 Olivier Fichet Terroir de Burgy, Mâcon-Villages, £8.50
Buttery, nutty, apple-scented; great value white burgundy (Stone, Vine & Sun, 01962 712351).

2006 Tinto da Anfora, £6.49
Ever reliable Portuguese red with ripe blueberry fruit and spicy oak (Sainsbury’s).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, February 8, 2009: Pink fizz

I could be missing something, but Lanson’s claim that its new 20cl bottle of pink champagne is “the perfect size to share” seems extraordinary. I know no one wants to be seen flaunting money at present, but I would have thought that expecting 20cl - little more than quarter of a standard bottle – to stretch to two people was grounds for ending any relationship on the spot.

Size aside, it’s not bad in a fruity, easygoing style (£9.99, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Majestic), or £25.53 for a 75cl bottle, which I hardly need point out is a better deal (Tesco, at this price until February 14). But the point of high-profile brands is not value for money so much as buying a name. Less famous labels are cheaper. Two good value ones currently are De Castelnau Rosé (£16.99 instead of £26.99 until February 15, Co-op) and Carlin Rosé (£19.99, The Real Wine Company, 01753 885619).

If you’re happy to splash the cash or plastic, the rosés of Bollinger, Krug and Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque (the latter in its timelessly chic enamelled bottle) will show that you mean business (£59-£200). Good luck to you.

Blason de Bourgogne Rosé, £9.99
Great value, strawberry-scented fizz from Burgundy (Waitrose).

Devaux Cuvée Rosée Champagne, £26.99-£30
Lively and seductuvely fruity (Frank Stainton, 01539 731886;; Villeneuve Wines, 01721 729922; Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350) [can omit Liberty ]

Perrier Jouët Blason Champagne Rosé,
Stylish, sophisticated, deserves more stockists. No relation to the Bourgogne above (Majestic).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 25, 2009: Vodka - good news or bad?

With sales up a third in the five years to 2007, vodka has overtaken Scotch whisky as Britain’s favourite spirit. So, is that good news or bad news? It’s certainly awkward for the government - and not just because Scotch whisky is our own industry. Vodka has become the drink of the young - indeed the far too young - of binge drinking and the ladette culture (if ever there was an oxymoron it’s the coupling of those two words). In fact, it’s everything about alcohol that the government is (ineffectively) trying to deal with. Clearly it can’t look on the vodka boom with equanimity. But then again, how far can it afford not to, with duty and vat revenue from sales of 8 million cases?

It’s not even unequivocally good news for producers. Vodka’s main selling-point is that it’s a neutral alcoholic base – the very reason it suits unsophisticated palates intent on getting slaughtered. Producers who want to distance themselves usually try to add quality/value by harping on about purity and smoothness, but after that the ascent up the price ladder is largely about presentation and packaging; style more than substance.

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka, £15.99
Polish vodka with an aromatic herbal note (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose).

Snow Leopard Vodka, £30
Trendy Polish vodka made from spelt. Expensive, but 15% of profits go to conservation charities (Waitrose).

Wyborowa, £14.99-£15.99
Crisp with a hint of sweetness and spice. Ever reliable Polish rye vodka (Oddbins and supermarkets).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, February 1, 2009: Two money-saving ideas

As the sale season limps to a close, I have a couple of alternative money-saving ideas. Paying to go on a wine course might not sound like an economy measure, but learning how to taste and assess quality properly will save you money in the long run (even if you develop more expensive tastes). Michael Schuster runs excellent classes - beginners and fine wine - at Bordeaux Index in London and I’ve discovered you can offset the costs by signing up to wash the glasses at £10 an hour after each session (

Idea number two: sign up as a ‘wine angel’ at, a new business which founder Rowan Gormley likens to a combination of farmers’ market and Facebook. Wine angels pre-pay £5 a month towards a case of their chosen winemaker’s wines and get 33 per cent off the normal price. To kick off, they can also get six bottles of the winemaker’s wines for just £15.82 (the cost of duty and delivery). This strikes me as a bit more transparent than all the sham half-price offers that run almost continuously on big Australian and American brands.

2008 Raats Original Chenin Blanc, £5.66/£8.49
Delicious, dry, sappy South African white (; £5.66 is the ‘wine angel’ price).

Warre’s Warrior Special Reserve Port, £8.99
Great value, richly fruity ruby which Michael Schuster shows on his beginners’ wine course (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Booths).

2007 Domaine Haut-Lirou, Pic Saint-Loup, £6.99/£8.99
Stylish syrah-based French red with spicy, smoky, sweet fruit (Majestic; £6.99 if you buy two or more).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 18, 2009: Tips for tackling the sales

The shelves are alive with the sound of slashing wine prices, but there’s a problem with wine sales: unlike the jeans you can try on, you rarely get to taste the wine before you shell out, unless there’s time to buy a bottle to try at home first.

Still, there are things you can watch for. Top of the list are tired wines. Rosés don’t improve with keeping and the vast majority of whites don’t either. As a rough guide, the cheaper the white wine, the less likely it is to improve – and that’s a broadly useful guide for reds, too. Prosecco and Cava should also be drunk young; if you think they’ve been hanging about, pass by.

Know your grape varieties: the unfairly stigmatised riesling ages well - both southern hemisphere and European - whereas sauvignon, pinot grigio and viognier fade quickly. Among reds, pinot noir is short-lived, especially new world pinot; cabernet sauvignon and syrah/shiraz last longer. And remember that southern hemisphere wines are about six months older than those from the same year in Europe and America. As for ‘mystery cases’, if the wines were really good, the sellers would identify them.

2008 Finest Tapiwey Sauvignon Blanc, £3.99
Great half-price offer on this zesty, gooseberry-scented Chilean sauvignon (Tesco; normally £7.99).

2007 La Sabrosita Old Vine Garnacha, £4.39
Big, spicy, juicy Spanish red. Good value even at its usual prcie of £5.99 (Marks & Spencer)

2006 Anjou Le Clos des Rouliers, Leroy, £14.82
Superb dry white Loire to drink now or lay down. Price held for this month only (Vine Trail, 0117 921 1770).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 11, 2009: Lower alcohol - naturally

Late spring frosts, too much rain, abnormally low temperatures, sudden heat spikes, devastating hailstorms. The 2008 growing season was one to remember for all the wrong reasons in much of Europe. Even in regions where the weather finally came good in September and October, there wouldn’t be many takers for a repeat performance. And yet there is a positive side to the cool, damp summer: lower alcohol from the less ripe, less sugar-rich grapes.

A few years ago, that wouldn’t have been welcomed by wine drinkers or by producers, but in the last couple of years the tide has begun to turn against hefty alcohol: not indiscriminately - we still want some big, full-bodied wines, but we don’t want wines at 13.5-14.5 per cent abv to dominate the shelves.

Whether the main catalyst was a desire for fresher, more balanced tasting wines or consumer health concerns, producers around the world had already started to look at ways of reducing alcohol by managing their vineyards differently, trying alternative yeasts and using special techniques in the cellars. Nature just happened to come along with a helping hand in 2008.

2006 Salwey Oberrotweiler Käsleberg Spätburgunder, £11.60
Fine, plummy, spicy German pinot noir; 12% abv (Tanners, 01743 234500).

2006 Ferngrove Riesling, Western Australia, £7.49
Zesty, dry, lime and apple-flavoured riesling; 12% abv (Oddbins).

2007 Frédéric Mabileau Les Rouillères, Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, £9.79
Supple red Loire with gravelly raspberry perfume; 12% abv (Waitrose)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 4, 2009: What to expect in 2009

It maybe clutching at straws, but, looking for some good news for wine drinkers, this is what I’ve come with: if you were spending more than £6.07 per bottle before December 1, your wine should now be cheaper. £6.07 is the point where the lowering of vat to 15 per cent and the increase in duty to £1.57 cancel each other out. Below that, you can expect to see price increases, although some supermarkets have been pressing suppliers to take the pain instead.
Above £6.07, you ought to be paying less. Ought to. Don’t hold your breath: the wine trade is in a bad way and savings won’t necessarily be passed on.

The one area where you can see big reductions is right at the top. The fine wine market has slumped; so, if you’re still in the money, 2009 could be the time to buy those grands crus you’ve always dreamed of.

At less rarified levels, sweet spots to look for this year include 2007 wines from the Rhône, Languedoc, Loire, Germany, South Africa and Chile; 2006 and 2004 Italian reds; and 2005 and 2004 Riojas.

“Cabernet sauvignon is the second most widely planted grape variety”

AF: It’s beaten to the top spot by airen, a dreary white Spanish variety; chardonnay comes sixth.

2005 El Circulo Rioja Crianza, £6.99/£13.99
Dark, intensely-flavoured, oaky, modern Rioja (Wine Rack, half-price offer ends on January 7)

2006 Poggiotondo Cerro del Masso Chianti, £7.99
Nutty and spicy with cherry and tobacco flavours (Waitrose)

2007 La Tour de Marrenon, Côtes du Ventoux, £7.40
Succulent, peppery red from the southeast Rhône (Tesco).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 28, 2008: Cava for new year celebrations

I’m old enough to remember the last recession, or maybe it was officially only a downturn. Either way, I wouldn’t have been suggesting with any great enthusiasm that you to turn to cava on new year’s eve. I’m not saying now that you should swap champagne for cheap Spanish fizz if you can afford the £16 or so needed for the cheapest good champagne. What I am saying is that the quality of cava has improved enormously and it makes a cheering glass of fizz, as long as you don’t expect it to taste like champagne.

Cava doesn’t taste the same because it’s produced in a different country and, with few exceptions, from different grape varieties. There is now some chardonnay and pinot noir used to good effect, but most cava is made from macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo, a trio of grape varieties that sound like mafiosi and which I wouldn’t bother you with if I didn’t think you might need them for new year’s day trivia quizzes.

As a rule, the younger the cava the better, so vintage isn’t necessarily worth the premium. With non-vintage, you get roughly what you pay for.

Albet I Noya Cava Reserva, £9.95
Showpiece cava: contains chardonnay and it shows (Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992; reverts to full price, £10.95, on January 11)

Gran Campo Viejo Cava Reserva, £6.33-£6.99
Soft, fresh, fruity, medium-dry; a crowd pleaser (Thresher and Wine Rack, £6.33 when you buy 3; Sainsbury’s).

Prestige Cava, £6.99/£5
Crisp, sweet apple and herb flavours (Marks & Spencer, £5 when you buy two until January 3).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 21, 2008: WIne Wand: I wonder why?

I have been lent a Philip Stein Wine Wand – not to turn water into wine (alas), but to ‘let red wine breathe in minutes instead of hours’. I have the 15cm travel size, a glass tube containing five ’encapsulated crystals’ which are said to ‘use natural frequencies to perfectly aerate and decant wine’. No, I don’t know what it means either. I asked the neighbourhood scientists and they were sniffy. Mind you, I think they saw red when they spotted the words, ‘Philip Stein is the leader in mind-body wellness through frequency-based technology”.

Anyway, I put the wand in a glass of good, but young red and waited, sceptically, for three minutes. Guess what? The wine did seem to have developed. But why bother? You can aerate wine, bringing out its aromas and flavours, simply by taking your time over it and swirling it round in the glass, or by decanting the bottle (aka pouring it gently) into another bottle. And it will be much cheaper. The travel wand is £195; the large wand, for a bottle, is £325 (, 020 7873 2036). I’d rather have £195 worth of the reds below.

2005 Tesco Finest Gigondas, £7.99
Full-bodied, ripe and spicy; a great alternative to Chateauneuf (Tesco; reverts to full price of £10.99, January 6).

2002 Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc, £14.99
Supple, cedary, mature claret (Majestic, £12.99 when you buy two).

2006 Cosme Palacio Rioja, £5.49-£8.49
Medium-bodied, freshly fruity, soft, silky Rioja (Waitrose, at £5.49 until December 30; Tesco; Oddbins).