Monthly Archives: December 2012

A wino is born!

Now my Dad has never been a drinker. He likes the odd pint of lager but I don’t ever remember him drinking a whole glass of wine. A sip and a grimace definitely; a glass, absolutely not. This Xmas things have certainly taken a turn. Whether its for better or worse really depends on your perspective!

Dad has got interested in wine since I started writing the blog. This is great as I appreciate his support… But his interest is real! When we talk on the phone the first question he asks is about something he’s read in a post and he’s forever sending me photos of wines to ask if they’re any good. But he still doesn’t like the stuff. Or he didn’t… Until I took him a case at Xmas.

I took a few of my favourites from the past few months and he loved them. So much so that when the fifth bottle was finished (there were 4 of us and it was Xmas!) out came a bottle of Echo Falls Merlot from the cupboard. And his reaction? “I’m not drinking that sh*t; its thin and tastes of vinegar!” I am so proud of him!

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Here are the wines we drank – Dad asked not to be quoted so my reactions will have to do!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2008, West Sussex, UK (Waitrose £29.99, reduced to £23.99)
This was Dad’s favourite. Lovely aromas of peaches and apricots with a dry but very fruity palate. The fruity flavours are delivered in a stream of deliciously light bubbles, with a delicious yeasty and long finish. 88 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)
Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

Domaine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse Prestige 2008, Macon, Burgundy (Wine & the Vine £22.99)
Aromas and flavours of peaches and honeysuckle. Good weight in the mouth and well integrated oak, although no new oak has been used. Lots of acidity and a lovely clean finish. Quite a modern and delicious Pouilly Fuisse. 89 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)
Yes it’s this one again! I couldn’t give Dad a selection of good stuff without including this gem! Aromas of dark cherries and brambly blackberries and black currant. Loads of spicy Xmas goodness and pepper. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. 95 points

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey les Beaune 2010, Burgundy (Waitrose £15.99, reduced to £11.99)
Lots of raspberry and cherry fruit and a lovely fresh palate. Secondary aromas and flavours of leather and forest floor. Maybe a bit young but delightful and a great value introduction to red Burgundy. 87 points

We didn’t get to the bottle of Sauternes so I’ll get back to you on that one!

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Best value wine list… No Bull

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Going back home to Anglesey for New Year, what I had really been looking forward to was a visit to The Loft restaurant at Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris. I hadn’t been there for a few years as we never seem to be on Anglesey for long enough to squeeze it in. So on the first night on “The Rock” me, The Fish, Mum and Peter headed off to Beaumaris for a culinary feast. The food was superb and every bit as good as I remembered (sample menu here!) but what was of more interest to me was the wine list. Below is a sample from the offering:

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 £27.00
Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 £52.00
Château Talbot, Grand Cru Classé, Saint Julien 2001 £49.50
Domaine de Vallouit, Hermitage 1999 £43.50
Sori Ginestra Conterno Fantino, Barolo, 2000 Piedmont £56.50
Henschke Julius Dry Riesling 2005, Eden Valley South Australia £24.50
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough NZ £36.50

You can view the whole list here

A very nice list of wines but just look at the prices. This is not a retail price list, this is a restaurant price list! At first I thought they had printed their purchase prices! I was so astounded by this that I did a bit of investigating for these wines on winesearcher.com as well as looking for their price in some top London restaurants. I won’t name the restaurants but they all have at least one Michelin star.

The Chablis (tasting notes later) retail price is around £17 – I couldn’t find the same wine on another restaurant list but a £10 mark-up is definitely acceptable. Domaine Dujac has a fine reputation and rightly so; £52 for a decent vintage from Morey Saint Denis was enough to make me go for it. The cheapest I could find this bottle on sale to the public? £66.67. How do they do it?

How about Bordeaux? The 2001 Chateau Talbot, yours for £49.50 at The Bull or £43 from Fine & Rare. If you want to buy this wine in a London 2-star establishment then expect to pay a whopping £175! The only bottle with more than a 100% increase on the retail price was Cloudy Bay. £36.50 at The Bull or £18 online. I would expect this as Cloudy Bay is a recognised brand that will draw the crowds and 100% mark-up isn’t ridiculous. Expect to pay over £60 in London!

Needless to say, this is the most impressive and value for money price list I have have ever come across. And with 10 reds and 10 whites by the half bottle also at great prices, it is a must visit if you find yourself on Anglesey or anywhere near North Wales. Don’t forget the food is also top-notch!

But it makes me realise that I’m being taken for a ride in London. I know that wine is the tool for money making in the restaurant business, but please be reasonable or I’m just going to go for the house wine and save my money and buy four bottles of what I actually want online!

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 (£27.00)
Lots of apple with a fresh citrus streak on the nose. The wine has good body, quite “fat” for Chablis but very good nevertheless. The appley fruit is very pronounced but so is the cool, dry limestone flavour, which is beautifully integrated with the fruit. Very decent, especially at this price. 88 points

Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 (£52.00)
I’ve had plenty of good bottles from the Burgundy 2001 vintage this year and this is no different. Lovely cherry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavours. In fact, for a wine of its age the fruit is very prominent. Hints of undergrowth and mushroom but pretty linear and very delicious. 90 points

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora Special Late Harvest 2010, Australia (£12.50)
A great all-rounder to go with our selection of desserts. Lovely orange blossom, tropical fruit and honey sweetness. Simple, fun and nothing here to dislike! 86 points

What an end to Xmas

I love Xmas and this year has not been a disappointment. I’ve eaten some fantastic food, most thanks to the father-in-law (Dennis) and drunk some fabulous wines. The Xmas wines I wrote about a few weeks have been incredible and Dennis’ shopping in Tesco, Majestic and Naked Wines has also comes up trumps. Below are the three best I’ve tried this Xmas from Den’s cellar:

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Tesco Finest Chablis Premier Cru (Tesco £14.49)

You would think this was from further south in Burgundy. Lots of peachy fruit but with a lovely citrus steak and bone-dry stones minerality. Possibly the best own label wine I’ve drunk. 90 points

Tesco Finest Barolo 2007 (Tesco £14.99)

Had this with cheese in Xmas day and it was delicious. Lovely structure with tight, fine tannins but also lots of black cherry fruit and leathery spice. Very nice wine at a very welcome price. I’ll be adding a couple to the collection. 89 points

Montaria Reserva 2010, Alentejo Portugal (Naked Wines £9.99)

Very fruity nose with definite hints of wax, almost soapy but definitely agreeable. Lots of upfront fruit, especially damson and blueberry. This is very intense and very interesting. Definitely one to add to the collection when you want something deep and warm. 88 points

To say thank you, on our final day in Worcester I cooked a Goodmans goose – I’ve been looking forward to a goose for about 365 days now. To make things even better, our good friend Richard, who lives next door to the in- laws, came around with a bottle of Lynch Bages 2003… And what a marvellous feast we had. Thank you so much Richard!

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Chateau Lynch Bages 2003, Pauillac Bordeaux (Lea & Sandeman £135)

Decanted 3 hours before… When the goose went in! Very young looking, only a little bit of brick. Huge aromas of black currant and black cherries, old leather and sweet vanilla spice plus a lovely hint of graphite. Huge powerful and concentration of flavour on the palate, very warm alcohol but not overbearing. Big tannins with deep cassis liqueur-like fruit, leather, vanilla and another sweet spice I can’t quite get. Super warm and comforting but silky – very classy, very sophisticated. Seems to linger forever. 95 points

A great end to 5 magnificent Xmas days… Now off to my folks on Anglesey for New Year!

Looking forward to 2013

2012 was a magnificent wine year for me, the highlight being our 2 week voyage through the Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. I tried some brilliant wines, attended some great events and, most important of all, started writing my blog. 2013 has a lot to live up to…

The summer trip for 2013 is already in the planning and will be two weeks in western France. The principle stop off points will be Bordeaux and The Loire valley so plenty to look forward to there.

I am also going to give a lot more thought to Italy. In the past I’ve flirted with the country and may have been scared off by the many wine regions and unusual sounding grapes, but I’m going for it in 2013 and am particularly excited by the reds of Piedmont and the whites of Friuli. Other countries I plan on giving more of my attention to are Australia and USA. I’ve tried some excellent wines from both countries in 2012 but plan to go deeper in 2013.

As for grape varieties, exploring the virtues of Chardonnay across growing regions fills me with excitement, as does investigating the Cabernet Sauvignon options out there. Luckily I can combine this with the Australia/USA research assignment!

What I do promise is to write about it all and offer some advice as a result. I’m putting my money on 2013 being a fine vintage for drinking and writing!

Ducks don’t quack, they sing

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I apologise. I did my “best of 2012” a week early. I did it before I went to the Hand & Flowers on Friday night. I did it before the best meal I’ve eaten in 2012.

We’ve wanted to go here for quite some time, since first seeing Tom Kerridge on the Great British Menu I think. And I’ve wanted to eat his signature duck & chips since that day too. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Hand & Flowers is a beautiful pub in Marlow; it looks like a pub, it feels like a pub; and it holds two Michelin stars. What I love is that you get the impression they haven’t gone looking for 2 stars, more like the stars have found them.

The staff are superbly knowledgable and friendly and the food and wine selection is very tough… You want to try everything! We started with a couple of glasses from the by the glass list. Fish had the Balfour Rose from Kent (wild strawberries and lovely smooth bubbles – like a drinking a super-mousse… Remember them?) and I had the Mittnacht Pinot Blanc, which was lovely citrusy, full and round. For starters I had the crispy pigs head and Fish went for the blow-torched scallops. They were delicious – and delivered so much more than the simple menu descriptions. I had to have the duck for my main course and Fish went for the beef fillet. Wonderfully cooked, beautifully seasoned and just about perfect in every way.

We enjoyed a very nice bottle of Volnay from Domaine Regis Rossignol-Changarnier from the excellent 2005 vintage. The wine was deliciously elegant and improved when paired with the food, not something I expect from Volnay but hey-ho!

We finished off with dessert (Tonka bean pana cottoa, Chocolate cake) and pudding wine, again delicious. The other great thing about the Hand & Flowers is the pricing. Most of the starters are under £10 and main courses around £25. For this level of cooking and service that is spectacular.

I promise not to turn the site into a restaurant review site, but thought you should know about this one!

My 2012 “best-of”

When I was a teenager, this was my favourite time of the year. Not because of Xmas or the presents that might await, but because the annual review editions of NME and Melody Maker were released and I could see how many of their top 100 singles and albums I had managed to collect over the past 12 months. Anyway, the subject may have changed (I haven’t bought any “new” music since 2002!) but I still love “best of” lists. So here’s a few of my wine highlights of 2012.

Favourite reds

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, 2001, Volnay, Burgundy (The Wine Society £46.00)

Not noted for being a great vintage but this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! (I’ve got a 2004 from the tiny vintage to enjoy over Xmas) 96 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)

Wow. What aromas of dark brambly fruit. There are cherries and blackberries and even hints of black currant. Loads of spicy goodness including black pepper and Xmas spice. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. This is the real thing. Having this with the Xmas goose. 95 points

Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Waitrose £12.99)

Inky black in the glass. Chocolate, black pepper and autumn hedgerow, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! 92 points

Favourite whites

Maison de Tastelune Chassagne Montrachet 2008, Burgundy (M&S £30.00)

The Fish bought me the first bottle of this wine for my birthday – thank you Fish! Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I really could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy and spicy and long. Lovely texture excellent weight. Love it. 92 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)

Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

First Press Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £16.99)

Overripe, fruity sweet melon fruit. Supercharged fruit with a lovely brioche waft and some nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points

Favourite fizz

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2008, Cornwall, UK (direct @ £30)

We drank this at the beginning of December with my brother in law and his other half, The L’s, Luke & Laura. Lovely red-fruity aromas and summery taste of strawberries and red currants. Very pleasant with a delightfully yeasty and biscuity finish. Thought it tasted like a Rose but wonderfully clear in the glass! 91 points

Favourite restaurant

We had some amazing meals on our French odyssey in the summer, especially the Crazy Carafe in Tournon, Cave du Madelaine in Beaune and Le Chambolle in Chambolle Musigny. However, I cannot go past The River Cafe in Hammersmith. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there twice this year and can’t wait to return in 2013. Wonderfully sourced, seasonal ingredients, cooked to perfection with minimal fuss. The food for people who like eating! Amazing all Italian wine list; hopefully the guide I wrote recently will help you make a great choice!

Favourite bar

In 2012 I discovered Gordon’s wine bar, near Embankment tube station. The place is mental busy and great fun. The wine list is pretty eclectic and you can get a bottle of Latour Corton Grand Cru 1998 for £45! Well it’s better than most village Burgundys you pay more than £50 for when drinking out of home! Also a great place to get smashed with Hanski and George! I haven’t been able to get to Sager & Wilde yet, but I’m guessing it will be near the top of my 2013 list.

Favourite shop

It will be no surprise to any of you that this goes to Wine & the Vine at Battlers Green, near Radlett. Jez is a constant source of inspiration and keeps me up to date with what’s new and interesting… And long may it continue. Special mention also to Waitrose, who’s selection just gets better and better… Especially at 25% off!

Favourite website

No competition this year. http://www.winetravelguides.com was an essential resource in putting together our 2 week fantasy through The Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. If you are looking for advice on anything to do with wine on your holidays then make this website your first stop. Use this code for a 30% discount D2Blog12

So that’s it for 2012. I hope you all have a superb Xmas, and I look forward to sharing more wine words with you in 2013… CHEERS!

Not another pair of socks!

Lets be honest, only 50% of Xmas present buying is fun. That’s the 50% where you know exactly what you’re going to buy. The other 50%, those names on the list with blanks next to them, can be very stressful. Dads and Uncles seem to be the worst. Another golf towel, a motor racing DVD they will never watch, or the old fail safe, a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape?

The recent upsurge of “experience” gifts certainly gives you options, but what about creating your own experience, or more specifically your own wine experience? You could go for a couple of good bottles from different countries, maybe made using the same grape, or a subscription to a wine club (please don’t!). But to my mind there are two wine gifts that will give hours, even years of pleasure to the receiver.

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The first of these is membership of The Wine Society. £40 buys you a share in the society for life and is the best investment you will ever make in your wine buying life. The Society has over 1,800 wines available, catering for all tastes and all pockets (200 wines under £8). As well as a lovely introduction pack, you also get tasting notes for all of the wines you buy and plenty of great offers through the post at regular intervals. The prices are nearly always cheaper than anywhere else and the service is superb.

link to The Wine Socirty

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The second option I have written about before and have no reservations in writing about it again – Drink along with Floyd. ‘Floyd Uncorked’ was first aired in November 1998 and consists of 8 half hour episodes featuring the wonderful Keith Floyd and Master of Wine Jonathan Pedley. The pair travel around eight wine regions in France; each episode features two wines from the region as well as local recipes and lots and lots of useful and easy to understand information about wine. You can buy the DVD on Amazon for about £8 and the accompanying book for one pence! So why not buy a couple of bottles to go with it? The first episode is Burgundy and the white wine featured is a Chablis, the red option a Savigny les Beaune (available for £15 in Waitrose). At the end of each episode Floyd tells you what to buy in before the next episode. Brilliant! We’ve had dinner parties based on different episodes; watch half an hour of Floyd then eat and drink what you’ve just seen.

link to amazon

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Happy Xmas pressie buying!

Navigating Italy

Understand Italian wine? Me neither! The country really is a vinous nightmare, with so many indigenous grapes and so many wine regions. The biggest problem with Italian wine is working out what is the region (usually on the label) and what is the grape (generally not!)… Except for Montepulciano, which is both, but the grape isn’t used in the wine that bears its name! So I’ve done some digging and tried to come up with a (fairly!) simple way of negotiating an Italian wine list.

The word “Classico” on an Italian label doesn’t necessarily mean its better, it just means the vineyard is in the originally defined area. The Chianti region, for example, has grown over time so “Classico” simply means it is produced in the original area. In the regions where the “Classico” area is often better I will mention it! “Riserva” on the label means it’s been aged before release… But the time required is different by region… And you thought French wine was difficult to understand!

I’ll start in the north and go through by region. I’ll then look at the more “famous” wines from each region, attach an area name and the principle grape(s). There are 20 regions in Italy and I’ve picked the 11 you might expect see on a decent wine list.

Trentino-Alto Adige

A stellar white wine region, using more international grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco (same as Pinot Blanc) and Gewürztraminer. Most of the wines in the region are produced by small, quality-conscious growers, making wines that really represent the grapes and the vineyards, so very mineral and very fresh and often very complex.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Some of Italy’s best wines come from the Friuli area. The area has the lowest yields in Italy and is a highly quality conscious wine region. The wines are mainly blends containing Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (plus two local varietals Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia). What you’re looking for on the label is simply the region, Friuli. This is the area to look for if you’re into Pinot Grigio. I’ve had a lot of pretty poor Italian Pinot Grigio, usually because the yields are so high so there’s no concentration and zero complexity, but the grape is taken seriously here and can deliver some truly outstanding wines.

Piedmont

The region is home to the world famous Barolo and Barbaresco red wines, which are 2 adjacent regions, both made from Nebbiolo grapes. Barolo must age minimum 3 years before release, 5 years for Riserva (Barbaresco is 2 & 4). These wines don’t come cheap and are still very tannic when young but,given time, they can be absolutely amazing. Most Italian red wines are almost designed to be drunk with food, given the country’s fame and love of eating, so big tannins are to be expected.

Also look out for Nebbiolo from Alba and Asti, labelled Nebbiolo d’Alba or Nebbiolo d’Asti, for a bit more value. The other two red grapes to look for in Piedmont are Barbera and Dolcetto, again from the areas of Alba and Asti – Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba & Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Asti. These wines are far more approachable young, and have a softer edge.

The major white wine production is from the Gavi region. The wines are made from Cortese grapes, but you won’t see this anywhere on the bottle. Gavi di Gavi means “Gavi from Gavi”, so it is grown in the town itself but is not necessarily better than simply Gavi(their version of Classico). I’m a big fan of these wines and find the quality pretty consistent.

Veneto

Valpolicella is probably the best known red wine from the Veneto region. Lots of fruity deliciousness and very approachable, like drinking a Summer Pudding. The main grape in the blend is Corvina with smaller amounts of Rondinella and Molinara. This is one area where you should go for Classico on the label as the Classico region generally does deliver a higher quality. If you want a sturdy, rich wine then go for Amarone della Valpolicella, which is made with the same grapes, but they are left out to dry for a period of 2 or 3 months. If you want the good stuff, don’t pay less than £20 for a bottle; it will be money well spent.

The most famous white wine area of Veneto is Soave, which is primarily made from Garganega grapes, often blended with up to 15% of other varieties. Like Valpolicella, most good Soave comes from the Classico region. These are often simple, fresh and delicious wines, very underrated and often the best value on a wine list. Another region to look out for is Lugana. Lugana is made from the Trebbiano grape, which often makes very flaccid and cheap but dull wine (it is the most planted white grape in Italy). But the wines I have tried from Lugana have been full-bodied, complex and delicious.

We can’t talk about Veneto without mentioning Prosecco. The full name of the wine is Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Prosecco is the grape variety, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene being the names of the two villages in the region. The second fermentation of this fizz occurs in big steel tanks, so it’s cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy than Champagne. Great party wine!

Tuscany

The home of the Chianti region, one of the most famous names in red wine. The principle grape in Chianti is Sangiovese, and has to make up at least 80% of the blend. The two sub-regions I look for are Classico and Ruffina – both produce excellent wines. But also look out for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both regions within Chianti, and both made using Sangiovese. In the case of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Montepulcciano is the town, not the grape! There is also a Chianti Superiore, where the winemakers have to adhere to stricter rules on which grapes can be included, but it is not necessarily of better quality.

A development over the past 30 years in Tuscany has the appearance of the so-called “Super Tuscans”. These are wines that are produced using more “international” grape varieties, very often led by Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are named after neither the grape nor the area, but they do have fancy brand names and very fancy prices. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia. If you get the chance to try one expect maybe more Bordeaux than Tuscany… and a call from your bank manager.

Umbria

Orvieto is the main wine producing region of Umbria, making white wines using the Trebbiano and Grechetto (new one for me!) grapes. These are fruity and fun wines. Maybe not one for the connoisseur, but great with shellfish.

Lazio

The region may not be a wine powerhouse but it does produce a white wine that most of you will recognise from the supermarket shelves – Frascati. The wine is made using Italian favourites Trebbiano, Greco and Malvasia and often delivers a lovely fresh wine, perfect for a sunny afternoon in the garden.

Abruzzo

The most notable wine of the region is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – this is the one made using the Montepulciano grape! You will often find this very close to the top (or bottom?) of a wine list, as it is relatively cheap and there is a lot of the stuff made. I find these wines very approachable, not overly tannic and delivering a good mouthful of deep, dark fruit. A pretty safe go-to wine on any list.

Campania

The two white wines that make Campania famous are Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. And very handily, they give you the name of the grape (Greco and Fiano) as well as the name of the region (Tufo and Avellino)! Both of these grapes are capable of making big and strong flavoured wines. I was lucky enough to try an excellent Greco di Tufo at a recent tasting, which really made me think I need to try plenty more. Another white grape variety to be found in the region is Falanghina, another great match your spaghetti di frutti de mare.

Puglia

Puglia is the “heel” of the Italian boot. Very hot, very dry and the perfect environment for producing concentrated and powerful red wines. The two main grapes in the area are Primitivo and Negroamaro. Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel and offers massive fruit flavours of blueberries and blackberries, with lovely hints of smoke and mocha. When I’m not sure what to go for on an Italian list this is often my default choice. Negroamaro makes some lovely, earthy and rustic wine with dark fruit flavours that taste of the sunny climate in which they were grown.

Sicily

The fortified Marsala is probably Sicily’s most famous wine. Made using the native Grillo, Catarratto and Inzola grapes, it can be made in sweet and dry styles, and makes a nice alternative to Port or Sherry. Also used in lots of Italian cooking to give real vigor to sauces accompanying meat.

When I first came across Nero d’Avola in a local pizza restaurant, I thought it was Italian for table wine! Maybe this wasn’t quite such a ridiculous thought as it is often the cheapest wine on an Italian list. It happens to Sicily’s most important red wine grape and is indigenous to the island. The wines have sweet fruit and pepper flavours and are a great match for pizza and tomato-based pasta dishes.

So next time your contemplating whether go have the thin and crispy or deep pan, give a bit of thought to which wonderful Italian wine wine to pair with it.

Buon appetito!

The Grape Escape

Not another French post! Well no actually, it isn’t. Well not really. I know I’ve written a fair bit about French wine over the past couple of months but I do think its the best place to start and is a great introduction to most of the well known grape varieties. But most of these varieties are grown all around the world, so this post highlights the places to look. I’ll use the recent articles about decoding French wine to take us on a trip around the world. It’s a bit like Amazon… If you liked that, then you might like this!

Pinot Noir

My love of Burgundy has also taken me to a few other places over the past year and back in February I even bought a case of 6 bottles from Majestic of Pinot Noir from everywhere but France! New World wines, particularly New Zealand and USA,I have found to be more fruit focused, which lots of people like, but often without the earthy, forest aromas and flavours of Burgundy. Getting any Pinot for under £10 is never easy, but it can be done, and the best example I’ve found comes from Pfalz in Germany (M&S – find it!). Ive been told that the best up and coming region for Pinot is Tasmania, owing to its cool climate, so I’ll keep my eye out for a couple to try for you. I really am sooooo selfless!

Cabernet Sauvignon

From the epicentre of fine wine in Bordeaux, Cab Sav is grown all over the world and thrives in hot climates. We only need to go back to the famous “Judgement in Paris” in 1976 when the Californian wines whooped the asses of the Borderlais in a blind taste test to realise there are great Cabernets around the globe (get yourself a copy of the film “Bottle Shock” to learn more and to enjoy another superb performance from Alan Rickman). Then there’s the fabulous region of Coonawarra in Australia, famed for Cab Sav. And for value head to South America – Argentina and Chile are making some great stuff.

Syrah/Shiraz

Same grape, different name! In fact Aussie Shiraz is probably better known to most casual wine drinkers in the UK than Syrah from the Northern Rhone! So where better to start than Oz! The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia produce some stunning Shiraz, as does the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Try “The Hedonist” from Waitrose at £12.99 – one of my favourite wines of the year.

Grenache

The Grenache blends of the Southern Rhone are available all over the World. In Oz they are often referred to as GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre). The famous Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Papes even transported and planted some of their wines in Paso Robles, California! I’ve also written a lot about my love of Priorat in north-east Spain, usually made primarily from Garnacha (yep, same grape!). Hot country = spicy and fruity and often excellent.

Chardonnay

This grand grape has had a tough time over the past 10 with the ABC gang getting into a tizz. Now it’s true that the supermarket shelves have been full of basically crap stuff from Oz and the States… But what do you expect at 3 for £10? There is so much great winemaking around the world now that Chardonnay is regaining its place as one of the most fantastic and flexible grapes out there, both with and without the use of oak. I’ve found some amazing wines from the US and Oz over the past 12 months and recently tasted a stunner from NZ. Also look to Chile for value. I also tasted truly excellent Spanish Chard on our recent trip.

Sauvignon Blanc

Where else to start but New Zealand? Since the inaugural 1986 vintage of Cloudy Bay ( not Oyster Bay, repeat not Oyster Bay – never pay more that £5 for it!) those clever Kiwis haven’t put a foot wrong. Supermarket shelves are packed with the stuff, and there is some great value to be found as well as some real class if you’re prepared to go above £10. The up and coming country for this often gregarious grape is Chile, but prices are rising with improved quality. Also look to the south of France for some lovely clean wines.

Riesling

Germany is the place to start as they probably produce some of the best anywhere in the world, but as usual the top stuff comes with a hefty price tag. However, if you like something really fun and a bit sweet then give the Dr. Loosen from Sainsburys a go. I’m a huge fan of Australian Riesling, especially from the Clare or Eden Valleys. They offer real concentration of limes and tropical fruit and lovely minerality. Also look to NZ who are really starting to get into the grape more and more. Recently I also tasted a lovely example from South Africa… Expect to see more and more on the shelves over the coming months.

Chenin Blanc

Not unlike Oz and Shiraz, Chenin has become synonymous with South Africa and there are bottles at all price levels. I am really getting into these wines at the moment and have a blockbuster lined up for Xmas day. Australia is another country making some Chenin waves and these are generally easier to find in the supermarkets than the French bottling from the Loire Valley.

When you’re having a dinner party, try buying a French and other country example of a white and red wine and see who prefers what… My guests are probably getting fed up of the same old game but I’m still enjoying it!

Decoding French Wine – Part 2, The Reds

Following on from my post on decoding French white wine it only seemed fair and decent to do the same with reds. Some of the best red wines in the world come from France and the names of Bordeaux and Burgundy are synonymous with fine wine. I love Burgundy and am fast becoming far too interested in Bordeaux so this post will concentrate on them, and the other wonderful red wine producing area of the Rhone. There are some other wonderful regions to explore red wine options in France, and more often than not, at far more affordable prices – I will cover these off next week.
I hope this guide helps you match grapes to regions as well as giving you a bit of inspiration to go and try out a few new wines over the festive season. Well we all need an excuse don’t we??

Bordeaux

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Probably the most famous red wine producing area in the world and commonly referred to as claret in the UK (and not anywhere else!). Most red Bordeaux you buy will be a blend of grapes, most likely containing at least 2 varieties of either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet Franc.

Red wine production is divided into 3 main sub-regions (there are many more!). On the left bank of the Gironde estuary you will find the Medoc, home to the famous first growth (Premier league – remember!) chateaux of Latour, Lafite, Mouton and Margaux. Medoc wines are made primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot and/or Cab Franc. On the left bank you will find the famous appellations of Pomerol (I’m sure you’ve all heard stories of business men in London spending thousands of pounds on Petrus to impress potential investors) and St. Emilion (Cheval Blanc is probably the most famous chateau here). Pomerol’s main grape in the blend is Merlot (Petrus is normally 100% Merlot), whereas Cabernet Franc becomes more important in St. Emilion.

Bordeaux wines are often characterised with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, pencil-shaving type minerality (sounds weird but it is wonderful!) and big tannins which mellow over time but work brilliantly with red meat. Other flavours and aromas often associated with Bordeaux are woody/cedar and even eucalyptus (especially if the main grape in the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon).

Prices for the top wines are astronomical but there is plenty of value on offer around the £10 mark. Also, most of these wines require a minimum of 10 years cellaring before reaching their best; not ideal if you’re after a nice bottle to go with your steak tonight! 2009 and 2010 were superb vintages and are starting to find their way onto supermarket shelves and merchant wine lists so keep an eye out.

Here’s a few to try from some of the different areas and at some different price-points:

Chateau Tour Chapoux, Bordeaux Superieur 2010 (Waitrose £8.89)
Chateau Labecorce Margaux 2002 (Majestic £8.99)
Chateau Givriere Medoc 2004 (Majestic £8.99)
Mouieux St Emilion 2009 (M&S £13.99)

Burgundy

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If Bordeaux is powerful, then Burgundy is spiritual! The home of Pinot Noir and the most expensive wine in the world, from Domaine de la Romanee Conti… £15,750 for a bottle of 2009 anyone??
From North to South we start in the Cote de Nuits, head down into the Cote de Beaune (together these make up the famous Cote D’Or), then comes the Cote Chalonnaise (you’ll find great value here) before we get to Beaujolais. All red wines from the Cotes are made using pinot noir. Beaujolais is made with Gamay.

The classification of wines in Burgundy is actually pretty simple. On the Cote D’Or the entry level is Bourgogne, the next step is to sub-regional wine such as Côtes de Beaune Villages, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Hautes-Côtes de Beaune or Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. These, like the white wines, are from lesser know villages or a blend of grapes from here, there and everywhere. We then move up to Village wines, which have the name of the village where they were harvested on the label. Examples of these are Volnay, Alox-Corton, Nuits St George and Gevrey Chambertin. The next after this is to 1er Cru, which are vineyards that have been designated the best in the appellation (e.g. Volnay 1er Cru). Each of the vineyards also have their names on the label, for example Volnay (village name) 1er Cru (classification) Taillepieds (name of the vineyard). The top of the tree is Grand Cru. There are 25 red vineyards at this level and prices can be astronomical.

Now that seems pretty straightforward… but we’re talking about French wine here, so here’s the twist! In Bordeaux each plot of land is owned by a Chateau. In Burgundy, each vineyard is split between many producers, the Grand Cru of Clos de Vougeot has more than 100 different growers owning vines within its walls! So finding a god producer can be as important as choosing by classification. A great winemaker’s village wine may well be better than the poor winemakers Grand Cru.

Burgundy is far lighter in colour than Bordeaux, often looking a tad weak –but don’t be put off! Here, the fruits are raspberries and cherries, and the secondary flavours are earthier, mushroomy, and even meaty. A good bottle of aged Burgundy is an amazing thing. It sounds daft, but you could just smell the wine all day and feel very happy. Why not try some for yourself:

Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Pinot Noir (Majestic £11.99)
Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune 2010 (Waitrose £14.99)
Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune-Villages 2009 (Majestic £14.99)
Louis Max Cote du Nuits Village 2009 (Sainsburys £15.99)

Northern Rhone

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You will be more familiar with the wines of the southern Rhone, but the Northern Rhone is home to some wonderful inky, spicy red wines. The key grape of the region is Syrah, better known to most of us as Shiraz (yes, they are the same!).

There is no classification as such in the Northern Rhone, but possibly the pinnacle of the crop is Cote Rotie. Cote Rotie can be loosely translated as the “roasted slope” due to the many hours of hot sunshine the amazing aspect allows it. This is also expensive wine and there are 3 reasons for this. The first is that it is a small area and production is low and in demand (only 224 acres planted), secondly the slopes are so severe that special pulley systems have had to be implemented in many parts in order to harvest the grapes, and thirdly, it tastes bloody great!

The next big name of the Northern Rhone is Hermitage. Hermitage is an amazing hill which overlooks the town of Tain l’Hermitage, just on the right bank of the Rhone River. Again syrah is dominant, although up to 15% of the white wine grapes Marsanne and Rousanne are permitted in the blend, they are very rarely used (up to 20% of Viognier is also allowed in Core Rotie).
The surrounding areas of Hermitage are labelled Crozes Hermitage, and on the other side of the river is St Joseph. These two appellations produce some really excellent (and variable) wines at affordable prices. The other important appellation in the region is Cornas; and the most interesting fact is that this wine HAS to be 100% Syrah. I’ve got a couple of these from the 2007 vintage lying in wait for Xmas 2013!

And what should expect from these syrah-laden wines? Well lots of power, tannin and acidity. Inky dark colours, with blackberry fruit, dark chocolate, black pepper and… Wait for it… smoky bacon! Delicious!

Cave du Tain Crozes Hermitage 2009 (Majestic £9.99)
Sainsburys Taste the Difference St Joseph 2010 (Sainsburys £13.49)

Southern Rhone

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Spicy Grenache is the king grape of the Southern Rhone, and is usually more than 80% of the blend. In this region there is a classification, which is pretty straightforward and also a pretty fine indicator of quality!

We start with simple Cotes du Rhone. We’ve all had it and all thought, do you know what, that’s not half bad. And there are some very good ones out there. Many of the big name Rhone producers make a Cotes du Rhone – Guigal, possibly the biggest name in the Cote Rotie, makes one and you can buy it in Majestic for £10.99! We then move up to Cotes du Rhone Villages, which is a selection of 95 communes and then on to the “better” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which over the years have produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label. There are 18 of these villages and my faves are Sablet and Cairanne.

Next, and finally, we come to the “Crus”. These are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhone Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Gigondas and Chateuneuf du Pape. Again, like Burgundy, finding a producer you like and trust is key in these appellations, and certainly worth the effort to find.

Wines made primarily from Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes. Lots of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. Also you can often smell and taste the wonderful aromas in the southern French air.

M&S Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2010 (M&S £9.99)
La Bastide St-Vincent, Pavane Vacqueyras 2010 (Majestic £12.99)
Ogier Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Co-op £16.99)

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