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Burgundy 2011 En Primeur… A taste of things to come

En primeur is the process which allows consumers to buy wines early while a vintage is still in a barrel. One of the benefits to us is the opportunity to purchase the wines at a discounted price, before thy are bottled (although this is by no means guaranteed). Another benefit of the process is to secure an allocation of a wine only available in small quantities – only a barrel or two of some top wines are produced in Burgundy owing to the massive fragmentation of some vineyards. The benefit to the producer is improved cash flow and an opportunity to market their wines and encourage new consumers to savour their vinous delights.

But there is a downside… Most of these wines will need another 5 years or more before they are ready to drink!

This week is the en primeur kick off for the 2011 vintage, so these wines have been developing since the grapes were picked in September 2011. Many of the wines will be bottled in February, however some of the very best Grand Crus may spend many more months in their oak barrels to develop even more complexity.

2011 appears to be a good, if not great year. Elegance seems to be the buzzword, with light and fruity wines. The view from the experts are that the wines will be great for early drinking so that’s good news in my book.

So off I went to the Lay & Wheeler Burgundy 2011 En Primeur tasting:

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– 33 wine makers
– 98 Wines (37 whites and 61 reds)
– 2 hours to do it!

I managed 21 whites and 25 reds… And I know this sounds ridiculous but it was really hard work! The reason it was such hard work was because I found it so difficult to judge these young wines, many of which won’t be at their best for another 10 years. To give scores to any of these wines would be impossible for me, and made me realise how much I have to learn. Also, 40-plus wines is a heck of a lot to get through and I did feel my palate getting tired! Some wine experts will do 3 of these tastings for 3 or 4 consecutive days, scoring each and every wine they taste – that to me is miraculous and I genuinely raise my glass (of water!) to them.

For me, the winner on the night was the Chardonnay. This is a very floral vintage but with lots of pure fruit aromas and flavours. I get the impression that the wines will be very approachable in their youth as there is plenty if crispness and decent acidity, although I would like just a touch more. The disappointment for me was Meursault, which just didn’t have the precision and purity of Chassagne Montrachet or Chablis. My pick would be Chassagne and I may put my name down for a couple of cases.

The redsI found really difficult to pinpoint. Being so young, the wines are still very tannic and you have to look beyond that to find the fruit – I suppose its a bit like buying a house and trying not to notice the floral yellow wallpaper! The Côte de Beaune reds I found a little uninspiring, lacking a bit in acidity and freshness. Having said that, my favourite red of the night was the De Montille Clos du Roi, from Corton (one of their Volnays was my wine of the year in 2012). The wines from the Côte de Nuits, however, seemed to have more depth and are built to last. The other thing that was also consistent was the quality progression from Village to Premier Cru to Grand Cru wines.

But the last word has to go to Chassagne… My choice of last wine on the night was the Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Montrachet Grand Cru… I just wish I had a spare £540 for a case of 6!

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Shopping at Aldi… I like it

I’ve only been to Aldi on a couple of occasions and on both times it was to take photos of in store displays for work. My parents and in-laws are always extolling the virtues of the discount supermarket and Which voted Aldi the best supermarket in the UK for 2012. Mum served up an Aldi roast duck over Xmas which was absolutely delicious so The Fish and I decided it was time for a visit.

We picked up a duck and the much advertised 4-bird roast for the freezer as well as plenty of cleaning products and lots of other stuff we hadn’t realised we needed. Then at the end of the shop we came to the wine section. I have read good things about the Aldi wine range but never really considered buying as we never go there. So why not give it a go I thought. The most expensive bottle is £12.99 for Champagne, the most expensive still wine was £6.99. I selected 6 bottles, 3 white and 3 red for a grand total of £34.94… Less than I often pay for a bottle!

So far we have tasted 3 of the wines and I can assure you we will be going back. Obviously I bought the most expensive wine at £6.99, however I think it may be the best value red wine available in the UK. (I will update the tasting notes as more bottles are drunk)

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White wines

Henri De Lorgere Macon Villages 2011, Burgundy (Aldi £4.99)
Very pale straw colour, lots of citrus and nectarine, even some tropical fruit aromas. Big hit of acidity and lime; very fresh, very simple, very young. For the price this is great stuff and would happily have a bottle in the fridge just waiting to be drunk after a bad day at work. 87 points

The Exquisite Collection Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Loire (Aldi £4.99)
Had those very pungent Sauvignon aromas of freshly cut grass, gooseberry and also some asparagus. On the palate there is lots of crisp and dry acidity and the fruits is nicely restrained and very fresh. Also lots of flinty minerality. This is very nice and doesn’t have the astringency of lots of the New Zealand Sauvignons on the market. Touraine is only about 100km west of Sancerre and this wine is very much like a Petit Sancerre. 85 points

The Exquisite Collection Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2012, South Australia (£5.99)
Very tropical aromas of melon, mango and even passion fruit. Not what I was expecting at all. You may even think thus is a Sauvignon it’s that tropical on the palate too. Not much body but very refreshing. Thus would be an excellent BBQ wine with some chicken. 86 points

Red wines

The Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, South Australia (£6.99)
Umm, I’m not sure where to go with this. It’s fantastic! Massively concentrated black currant and menthol on the nose and a huge whack of deep dark fruit, like cassis liqueur, eucalyptus and tobacco on the palate. Wow. Could this be the best value red wine anywhere? 91 points

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The Exquisite Selection Uco Valley Malbec 2011, Argentina (Aldi £5.99)
Really enjoyable aromas of black cherry, blueberries, violets and that expected rubber note, like a hit squash ball. Fruit carries onto the palate with a bit if spice and maybe a touch too much rubber, but excellent value nevertheless. 88 points

Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2006, Spain (Aldi £5.99)
Bright ruby red in the glass and aromas of strawberries and red cherries and a hint of vanilla. Red fruit one palate and some eucalyptus – a bit Bordeaux maybe? Finish is a bit short and lacks depth and concentration. Can’t complain at this price though. 85 points

If that was on interest here’s a link to a more recent article, published in May 2014

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!

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!

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!

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)

Battle of the sexes?

Every now an then in the world of wine we come across descriptions that suggest a particular wine is either masculine or feminine in style. Across the great regions of France, some of the appellations are even pigeonholed by these terms. In the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy, the wines of Volnay are often termed feminine, whereas Pommard, which is right next door, is often described as masculine. In Bordeaux, the wines of Margaux are softer, while wines from Paulliac are “fuller” and more manly, and in the Northern Rhone are the great wines of Hermitage really “girly” compared with the brute force of Cote Rotie?

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I have done this myself, especially when talking about Volnay or Chambolle Musigny (feminine) so I thought it was time to take a closer look. Feminine wines are often characterised as having finesses and elegance (see the photo from the vineyard in Chambolle). “Masculine” wines have lots of body and big tannins. This actually does a disservice to the variation within appellations, even wines made in the same vineyard! I suppose its an easy or lazy way of describing a wine so I think in future I’m going to ditch the battle of the sexes. If I think a wine has finesse and elegance, you can decide whether it is feminine or not and I will concentrate on the more important attributes of sight, aroma and taste.

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Volnay is from Volnay and Pommard is from, well Pommard!

The truth behind this post is that it gave me the opportunity to open two fantastic bottles of wine from the superb Burgundy domaine of Hubert de Montille. Hubert was the real star of the wine documentary Mondovino, which looks at the globalisation of wine styles. If you are a wine fan then order a copy as it is a really interesting, and often very amusing and frustrating watch. The domaine is now run by Hubert’s son and daughter, who both feature in film.

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So a Friday night with The Fish and the in-laws. A beautiful dish of slow cooked partridge prepared by Den and some great cheese sourcing from Jan, and away we went…

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Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Pezerolles 1er Cru, Pommard 2001 (The Wine Society £49.00)

Very light crimson colour for Pommard but the nose is very interesting indeed. Autumnal with lots of musty leather, sweet spice and sweet red fruit. Raspberries and red currants on the palate with a deep smokey, cigar-like finish. Not super-concentrated but very sweet and refined – I was surprised to find this vineyard is on the Beaune side of Pommard as it is actually very reminiscent of Volnay. Was an excellent accompaniment to the partridge but I do wish I had decanted and given the wine a couple of hours to really open up. Top notch stuff indeed. 92 points

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

Oh yes, 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 (vanilla?) 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! 96 points

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