Friday, 31 July 2009

Wine of the week

Wine of the week in a week where I've been out of wine-drinking action with swine flu presents its challenges. But I'm no quitter and will not shirk from my duty to bring the thirsty masses the refreshment they deserve.

Domaine de l'Olivette 2007, Vin de Pays des Côteaux de Cabrerisse - £5.99 at Waitrose (£5.69 at
I stocked up on this wine recently for a party because, to my mind, it offers unbeatable character and depth for the money. From an all but unknown region in southwestern France, it's a tasty blend of grenache blanc, bourboulenc and marsanne. It has a summery fruity-floral character, but also some herbal and white pepper notes thanks to that cocktail of varieties. The depth of flavour means that it doesn't taste lean and weedy, so it can provide satisfying refreshment even if the weather is not as hot as you might wish... And it's organic too.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Swine flu - wine flu?

Having just recovered from a week confined to bed due to swine flu, it has struck me that I may have stumbled upon an, as yet, unreported consequence of the pandemic.

For the past seven days not a drop of wine has passed my lips - only right and proper, not really ill if you can still face knocking back a glass of wine. But, my point is, that's a week's worth of wine consumption that is lost, never to be recovered.

Let's say I would have normally drunk a couple of glasses of wine on four of those evenings, that makes 8 glasses of wine that have remained undrunk, directly due to swine flu. Multiply that by the number of people in this country who are statistically likely to get swine flu this year, and who are also wine drinkers.

OK I admit I don't have those numbers - but I'd love to know if someone else does. In 2008 UK wine consumption stopped growing and levelled out for the first time in years - could swine flu be the thing that actually leads to a drop in wine drinking in the UK?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Splash out - not literally I hope

Special occasion wines for summer

Most of us don't go spending over £10 on a bottle of wine unless it's a special occasion. But, as you're probably tired of hearing by now, staying in is the new going out and we are all, apparently, abandoning pubs and restaurants to eat at home. Even the most humble house red or white will likely set you back more than ten quid, so why not treat yourself to a really decent bottle of wine for the same price if you're staying home?


Donnafugata Polena 2008, Sicily, Italy - £10.99 at Oddbins

Many of Sicily's wine producers started out as makers of Marsala, the mainly sweet, fortified wine that we really only stick in the cooking rather than drink. Donnafugata was one of the first to start making regular wines with great success. This is an unoaked 50/50 blend of viognier and catarratto grapes: the viognier giving a lovely stone fruit and floral character and the catarratto a more herbal and grassy counterpoint.

Matahiwi Estate Holly Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Wairarapa, New Zealand - £10.99 at Oddbins, down to £8.79 as part of a mixed dozen

There's no doubt that sauvignon blanc's crisp, juicy characters are made for the summer and this one has an extra dimension to it compared with many New Zealand examples. There's a lovely smoky element to the fruit, which has probably developed during the months in bottle – 2007 is long in the tooth for most sauvignon blanc, but this has stood the test of time, though probably not one to hold on to until Christmas.

Masson-Blondelet 2007, Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France - £12.49, Waitrose

There are basically two models to follow for makers of sauvignon blanc – the more restrained, mineral and food-friendly one from the Loire Valley in France; and the more tropical fruit salad style that is typified by New Zealand (see above). If you want a textbook example of the Loire style, then look no further than this classic Pouilly Fumé: with a backbone of fine acidity this has zippy, mineral fruit and great elegance.


Southern Right Pinotage 2007, Walker Bay, South Africa - £11.99 at Waitrose

The pinotage grape is South Africa's gift to the wine world – but for some wine drinkers, they'd rather South Africa kept it to themselves. It's a Marmite of a grape variety which will always divide opinion and it's true that many cheaper versions are a spooky combination of rubber, bubblegum and Bovril that I try to avoid. This one, though, is a different kettle of fish: lovely beetroot and sour cherry aromas lead onto a smooth, fresh palate combining fruit and savoury characters. Nothing spooky about it, I promise!

Joseph Drouhin Rully 2006, Burgundy, France - £12.99 at Waitrose

Pinot noir is the red grape of Burgundy and the region's most serious examples hail from its northern section, the Côte de Nuits. Rully, by contrast, is a village in the southerly Côte Chalonnaise, which produces reds that are, generally, lighter, fruitier and somewhat rustic – but perfect for summer drinking. The bright fruit and softish tannins mean that you could easily chill this lightly to appreciate its refreshing, spicy raspberry flavours.

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand - £17.99, down to £14.39 if you buy any two New Zealand wines, at Majestic

Pinot noir again, but this time from New Zealand. The oak ageing has given delicious liquorice overtones to the perfumed fruit in this wine. It is more seriously structured than the Rully above, so I wouldn't chill it.

Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos 2001, Charles Joguet, Loire, France - £14.99 at Majestic

The Loire's red wines made from cabernet franc, essentially a lighter-bodied, more perfumed version of cabernet sauvignon, are traditional wine bar favourites in Paris. They also make for top summer reds with their generous, sappy fruit that somehow, don't ask me how, manages to feel cooling in the mouth. This 2001 gives you a chance to see how the grape develops as it matures – a heady, but never heavy, mixture of spiced hedgerow fruits, with a slightly medicinal edge. One for dinner parties rather than the barbecue.

Morgon Côte du Py 2007, Domaine Jean Foillard, Beaujolais, France – £19.90 at Les Caves de Pyrène in Artington

Beaujolais: back in the 1980s we used to love it, until the bubblegum confectedness of Beaujolais Nouveau put us off and we decided it was decidedly naff. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater: there is life beyond Beaujolais Nouveau. In general terms, the quality levels rise from Beaujolais, through Beaujolais-Villages, then, at the top of the tree, the ten named communes, “crus” in French, such as Morgon. The region has many young winemakers prepared to show what their beloved Gamay grape is capable of in the right hands and are not prepared to make wine in the traditional fruity and simple vein. The winemaker here is determined to let the grape shine with minimum intervention (organic and biodynamic methods, no sulphur even, very risky) and if you're feeling adventurous you'll be rewarded with a funky, rainbow explosion of flavours in your mouth. Try it with typical French charcuterie for a taste sensation.


Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Rosé, Loire, France - £11.99 at Taurus Wines in Bramley; £12.99, or £10.39 as part of a mixed dozen, at Oddbins

Champagne houses, who know a thing or two about making sparkling wine, have a history of hooking up with makers of fizz in the Loire to good effect. Langlois-Château has been under Champagne Bollinger's wing since the 1970s. The terroir and grape varieties may not be the same as in Champagne, but this pink fizz, made entirely from cabernet franc, is a delightful and elegant mouthful of crunchy red fruit.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Wine of the week

Now, it may be tipping it down today, but rumour has it that we might actually get a sunny day, or even two this weekend. So, to get in the mood, have a try of my wine of the week.

Leyda Single Vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Leyda Valley, Chile
Stockists - Waitrose £8.99, Great Western Wine have the 2006 vintage for £9.50
I know, I know - a Chilean sauvignon, how very original - not. Wait though, this one has more to recommend it than most at this price level.

Partly this is to do with where it's grown - the Leyda Valley is one of the most recently-planted and most northerly in Chile. Now, Chile being in the southern hemisphere, the further north you go, the nearer the Equator and, therefore the warmer you get, right? Well, uh, no.... It seems the cold, cold Pacific has more of an influence here (13km from the vineyards) than latitude and Leyda is actually a cool-climate area, perfectly suited to producing crisp, aromatic white wines.

This has plenty of lime zesty fruit, with a distinctive peapod/asparagus tinge, which sauvignons often develop as they age. Not remotely thin or weedy, but with mouthwatering juicy fruit, it can more than stand up to, say, barbecued prawns with chilli and ginger. Ooh, now I'm getting hungry...

Friday, 17 July 2009

Wine of the week

A new feature for my blog - one wine to try for every single week of the year - see if you can keep up!

Luna Beberide Mencia 2007, Bierzo, Spain
Averys Wine Merchants, £9.49 (
Mencia is the name of the variety, Bierzo the region, in Spain's cool and damp Northwest (sound familiar?). I had probably hoped to recommend something light, white and cooling at this time of year, but something tells me that a wine with more warmth and body might be more in order this weekend.
Mencia may not be a grape you've heard of before, but it is one of the new guard of Spain's varieties that we are probably going to be hearing more about. Mencia itself is not new, but the ability to make it into wines that have international appeal, is. This wine is deep-coloured, with plenty of dusky fruit, but with the variety's hallmark acidity giving it structure, it retains freshness. This freshness, combined with pretty soft tannins, make it perfect for summer drinking - even if the summer weather is far from perfect!
This wine has just been named joint winner of the "Best Red under £10" category at the New Wave Spanish Wine Awards.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Summer wines - under £10

Here are my favourite wines, for whatever weather summer might throw at us, for under £10 a bottle, including some rosés. If you would like to read my bargain sub-£5 recommendations, they are in the previous post below.

Torres Vina Esmeralda 2008, Spain - £6.99 at Waitrose and Majestic
This wine is absolutely packed with the essence of summer – fresh, light and aromatic, thanks to its blend of 85% moscatel and 15% gewürztraminer grapes. The musky, floral aromas might lead you to expect something sweet, but it's dry with lively acidity. Perfect for sipping in the garden or with fish and seafood – and don't even think about keeping it beyond the end of September.

Glen Carlou Tortoise Hill White 2007, South Africa – £7.50, or £7 case rate, at Ranmore Wines, Ranmore Common, between Effingham and Dorking
South Africa has a reputation for putting together interesting blends of grapes and this is a great example. A mix of mostly sauvignon blanc, along with some fashionable, apricot-y viognier and a little chardonnay for body and breadth, this has lovely floral aromas and a citrus zest and mineral palate.

Fox Gordon Princess Fiano 2008, Adelaide Hills, Australia – Oddbins £9.99, or £7.99 as part of a mixed dozen
Fiano is a native Italian variety that originates in the hills south of Naples. Recently it's been successfully taken up by winemakers in Sicily, but has also made the longer trek all the way to Australia. It has an alluring nose of honey and apricot with plenty of juicy fruit on the palate – not subtle, perhaps, but could stand up to barbecued food.

Domaine Bégude Chardonnay 2007, Limoux, France - £7.99 at Waitrose
Limoux is a small enclave in the otherwise hot and steamy sweep of southern France that leads down to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. Not, you might think, a promising place to attempt to make elegant white wines. Limoux, however, is a cooler area in the foothills of the Pyrenees, capable of making wines with great fruit expression and good acidity – potential spotted by Domaine Bégude's owners, English couple James and Catherine Kinglake. This wine was fermented and aged in oak barrels, giving it some subtle cinnamon spice to counterpoint the fine acidity – one for cash-strapped Chablis fans.

Torres Viña Sol Rosé 2008, Catalunya, Spain - £5.99 at Waitrose
Plenty of lively, crunchy red fruits in this blend of spicy grenache and dark-fruited carignan. One for easy-going enjoyment.

Château Guiot Rosé 2008, Costières de Nîmes, France - £6.99, or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles, at Majestic
Deep-coloured, as much light red as deep pink, this has hints of dark damson plum on the nose. It's full-on and has a welcome savoury dimension to the fruit, making it particularly food-friendly.

Muga Rioja Rosado 2008, Rioja, Spain - £8.99, or £7.49 when you buy 2 bottles, Majestic; £7.99 at Waitrose
This is in a different mould to the other two rosés – it's pale, delicate and elegant, with delicious, crisp red fruit.

Canaletto Primitivo 2006, Puglia, Italy – £5.99 at Somerfield and on offer at £4.49 at Waitrose until 21 July
Puglia, the “heel” of Italy, has a fairly low profile as a wine producer – yet this region used to produce more wine than the whole of Australia not so long ago. They still produce plenty, most of which doesn't make it to this country; the primitivo grape makes its most appealing red wines. The smoky, black cherry fruit cries out for barbecued red meat. By the way, don't be tempted by the insipid Canaletto Pinot Grigio, the white partner to this red.

Viña Zorzal Graciano 2007, Navarra, Spain - £8.99, or 2 for £15, at The Vineking in Weybridge and Reigate
I first recommended this wine as part of a selection of Spanish wines earlier this year – since then this wine has won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge, so I make no apologies for including it again. This has fine, blueberry fruit, with proper tannins and refreshing acidity – not a DVD wine, this is a wine to drink with food, the meatier the better.

Bodegas Castano Hecula 2005, Yecla, Spain - £7.99 from The Vineyard in Dorking
This densely-flavoured wine is made from the grape known as Monastrell in Spain, Mourvèdre in France and Mataro in Australia. Still with me? All you need to know is that this is a delicious mouthful of black fruit, all the more interesting for having some time to mature in the bottle, giving it notes of exotic spices.

The Hedonist Shiraz 2006, McLaren Vale, South Australia - £9.99 at Waitrose
McLaren Vale Shiraz is no shrinking violet, typically with loads of everything – ripe, full-on black fruit and a wallop of alcohol. This wine has all that, but something else too, some extra dimensions of tarry, smooth and spicy notes that make me think of the southern Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape more than Australia. So while ten quid isn't cheap, it's hard to find a decent Châteauneuf at that price. If you're that way inclined, you might like to know that this is a biodynamically-made wine.

Looking through this list, I'm struck by how many Spanish wines have made it in – it certainly wasn't intentional. But it is an indication of just how well they are doing at delivering interesting, value for money wines.

Next time: the final instalment of wines for the summer, looking at special occasion bottles over £10.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Bargain wines for summer

Without wanting to tempt fate, it seems we might actually be having a summer this year. Ever community-minded, I have put together my list of wines to see you through the warmer weather.

What makes a wine good for the summer? There are a number of reasons, but they can probably be summed up in one word: refreshment. This might be conveyed by fresh, zesty flavours, lower alcohol, zippy acidity, or vibrant fruit. So I’ve searched out wines that will complement the lazy days of summer – fingers crossed.

We still don’t like to spend that much on a bottle of wine in this country, with the average amount paid stubbornly hovering just over £4 a bottle. This week I’m going for the bargain end of things, with wine recommendations under £5. My experience of wines at this level is, generally, dispiriting: it’s very hard to put anything characterful in a bottle at that price. I must have tasted hundreds of wines under £5 in order to arrive at this list: there’s a lot of dross out there.

I’ve tasted the dross, but you don’t have to: here are my top 10 wines for under a fiver this summer.

Oddbins Own White 2008 (Vin de pays d’Oc, France), £4.49, £3.59 as part of a mixed dozen
Dull name and a hideous label, but get past those hurdles and you’ll find a wine with all manner of crisp, appley and citrus fruit and nice weight. Made from a veritable cocktail of grape varieties, helping to give extra dimensions of flavour, it’s hard to ask for more at this price.

Virtue Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay 2008 (Central Valley, Chile), £3.99 Waitrose
The virtue in the name refers to the fact that the wine is shipped in bulk to the UK and bottled here. Shipping wine without the weight of the glass makes it cheaper, as well as giving it a smaller carbon footprint. Why don’t we see more wines like this? The wine itself is full of fresh and juicy fruit, with the chardonnay giving some more weight and depth to the herbaceous sauvignon.

Foraci Tre Cupole Grillo 2008 (Sicily, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 when you buy any two Italian wines, Majestic
Grillo is one of Sicily’s native grape varieties (not all of which are worth discovering), giving this some distinct character amongst the sea of cheap but cheerless whites. Cut pear aromas, with floral and almond flavours, it makes for an interesting mouthful.

Carletti Malvasia 2008 (Abruzzo, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 as part of a mixed dozen, Oddbins
Another Italian white: Italy has always had plenty of grape varieties to work with and now their winemaking is able to do them justice. This is a financially painless way to discover the aromatic Malvasia grape, which has bags of character, a curious mixture of floral and spicy notes.

Undurraga Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut NV (Maipo Valley, Chile), £9.99, £4.99 if you buy two, Majestic
I probably wouldn’t bother with this sparkling wine at the full price, but at under a fiver it’s hard to resist. It’s not made in the same way as Champagne, but it’s clean and refreshing and, for me, preferable to Cava at the same price.

Oddbins Own Red 2008 (Vin de pays d’Oc, France), £4.49, £3.59 as part of a mixed dozen
The red partner to the white above, so same warning re: cheap and nasty-looking label. The grenache-based blend inside, however, is much more fun: chewy, dense and spicy with bags of peppery black fruit.

Beaux Galets Rouge 2008 (Vin de pays de l’Herault, France) £3.99, Majestic
There is also a white version of this wine, which I didn’t feel able to recommend, but this red, a mixture of merlot, carignan and grenache grapes, is good for the price. Don’t expect depth and complexity, but it has plenty of sweet black and red fruit.

Castillo de Montearagon Reserva 2003 (Cariñena, Spain) £4.49, Tesco
Spain does a pretty good job of delivering good value, if not always exciting, red wines. There is plenty of juicy blueberry fruit here, under a gloss of oak and with some definite tannins: one for food rather than drinking on its own.

Familia Zuccardi FuZion Shiraz/Malbec 2008 (Mendoza, Argentina), £4.49 Waitrose
This is decent stuff with juicy black fruit and shiraz’ hallmark spice balancing out the tannic structure.

Carletti Sangiovese Merlot 2008 (Abruzzo, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 as part of a mixed dozen, Oddbins
The red partner to the white Malvasia is well-balanced, with some tannin to give structure to the spangly fruit.

Interestingly, perhaps, I didn’t find a rosé under £5 that I felt I could recommend – heaven knows we drink enough of them in the UK, so my palate must be seriously out of whack with most British rosé drinkers!

The next instalment will feature wines from £5 to £10 - including some rosés, I promise. Competition is much fiercer at these price levels because winemakers have more to play with and can deliver hugely better quality - and independent wine merchants can get a look in too.