Friday, 9 December 2011

More Semillon please, we're British

I recently had a most enjoyable lunch at The Soho Hotel with Neil McGuigan, of McGuigan wines, the day after he had been voted Winemaker of the Year by the IWSC. We were treated to a vertical tasting of his Semillon Bin 9000 wines going back to 1997, and what treats they were.

Light in body and alcohol (most just 10.5 or 11% alcohol), with floral-tinged citrus flavours which mature into toasty, honied and marmelade notes over the years, Hunter Valley Semillons are a unique and delicious Australian wine style. They are lovely, expressive wines which age beautifully.

The 1997 Bin 9000 is still has plenty of life and length, with the characteristic mature Semillon aromas and flavours of toast, beeswax and lanolin. This is great to sip on its own, so that you can give proper attention to the ever-evolving flavours in the glass.

More enjoyable with food is the 2003, which manages to combine the lightness and linearity that you expect from Semillon with plenty of weight and presence (don't ask me how). The spritzy palate has plenty of zippy lime fruit which persists on the long finish. Neil McGuigan thinks this slowly-evolving wine is outstanding and it certainly still feels like a relative baby.

The current vintage, 2011, is full of youthful floral aromatics, with fine, juicy acidity that lingers long in the mouth – another one to watch.

Prior to this lunch, my only experience of McGuigan wines was looking at their serried ranks on supermarket shelves and a taste of one of the basic reds which managed to combine overripe and confected fruit flavours with excess alcohol and high residual sugar.

And yet, as Neil McGuigan demonstrated at this lunch, he also has the ability to cook up much more compellingly drinkable wines at the bargain end of the scale: The Semillon Blanc 2011 (£5.79 at Tesco) is a straightforward wine with fresh fruit aromatics and a little more ripe fruit (and yes, a little more residual sugar) than Hunter Valley Semillons, being from warmer vineyard areas. But it's clean, fresh, fruity and somehow honest, which is what appeals to me.

Calling it Semillon Blanc gives you a clue that this wine style is something of a riposte to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and so what if many consumers pick it up thinking that's what it is? The quality of what's in the bottle is what will drive its continued success. 

So well done, Neil, on your winemaking accolade. And more Semillon please, we're British.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A conversion on the road to Reims

There are two big problems with spending time in Champagne, sampling the best of what the region has to offer.

  1. It has spoilt my ability to appreciate cut price fizz – having spent three days sipping nothing but the finest Champagne, I found a glass of Lindauer Blanc de Blancs Brut decidedly below my now elevated standards.
  2. I'm going to have to spend more on my wine glasses. Having finally decided on some classic flutes with nice fine rims, I now find that this shape does not do good Champagne justice, especially if you're serving it with food.

Looks like either my standards are going to have to drop, or I'm going to have to up the drinks budget.

My recent trip was the usual jam-packed whirl of contrasting experiences: early start, touring cold cellars and trying to take notes with numb fingers; lavish lunch involving Champagne with every course; more cellars and tasting; another assemblage of food and Champagne for dinner; late to bed, up early, a quick, strong coffee at the hotel before piling into the minibus. Repeat for 3 days, then decant yourself onto Eurostar before returning to reality. Over the course of the week, my liquid intake was so dominated by Champagne I'm sure my wee must have been at least 80% wine, predominantly from grand and premier cru vineyards.

Our visits included mammoth houses, pint-sized growers and much in between. By luck or good planning, each managed to highlight a different facet of the Champagne experience, so I never felt that I was going over the same ground.

Here's a taste:

  • Veuve Clicquot's newly-opened Hotel du Marc in Reims, where invited guests can play the biggest table football I've ever seen, while enjoying a vertical tasting of Veuve Vintages – in magnum, natch. The serious bling side of Champagne. The food is pretty impressive too and Veuve Yellow Label was so much more expressive served in magnum and in these glasses.

  • The illustration by Violaine at the CIVC of how Champagnes can achieve their vinosity either through long ageing on the lees (De Saint Gall Premier Cru Brut 2002, disgorged 2011), or by barrel maturation (Alfred Gratien Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, also disgorged 2011). 

  • Tasting, nay drinking, Bollinger Grande Année 2002, which has perfect weight, balance and development, at Bollinger with dinner.

  • From the jaws of defeat – a tasting that turned out to be the most memorable of all, for good reasons. Biodynamic grower Francis Boulard was clearly not expecting a group of 10 people to pitch up at 8.30am, but came round to the idea and treated us to some of the most individual and lively Champagnes of the trip.

  • Bruno Paillard guiding us through a tasting of his multi-vintage Brut Première Cuvée – four bottles of the same cuvée, all aged for 3 years on their lees, but at varying years since disgorgement. Paillard's is not my favourite style of Champagne in its youth, but tracing the development from 6 months since disgorgement, when it is lean, salty and mineral; to the same wine aged for 14 years post-disgorgement, when the spicy, Christmas pudding fruit, and toasty creaminess, wild mushroom and Comté cheese flavours are beautifully expressive, was fascinating.

  • A single glass of Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV with dinner – such lively fruit, depth of flavour and elegance – witchcraft surely! 


  • The 109 steps down (and then up again) to the deep cellars at Gosset. Our reward: a tasting of their stylish Grande Reserve, elegant Grand Rosé and newly-released Grand Blanc de Blancs.

  • Champagne and smoked salmon is hardly an original food match, I grant you, but the transformation of a Mailly Grand Cru Extra Brut NV from an admirable but rather austere Champagne, to something with much more fruit ripeness when drunk with a smoked salmon mousse, was a neat illustration of a great food and wine match.

My own personal epiphany on this trip: I tended to think that I wasn't much of a fan of Blanc de Blancs, but now I realise that I just hadn't tasted the right ones.  Oh, and the urban myth that Champagne never gives you a hangover may just be true.....

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Christmas - It takes two

Here are some wines that didn't quite make it into the restricted word allowance of my Surrey Advertiser column on suitable selections for Christmas.  Here are a couple of reds, both, incidentally, French, which should help the season go with a swing.

Beaujolais- Villages Chateau de Lacarelle 2010 - £6.95 from The Wine Society
Beaujolais seems to have hit a purple patch in 2010.  The wines have lovely refreshing fruit with a light touch but plenty of flavour.  This lightest of the light-bodied is fresh and simple - great to have alongside one of those festive buffet-style meals.  And it's cracking value.

Fitou Chateau de Montmal 2009 - £12.99 from M&S wine online (available in cases of six only)
I have a soft spot for this wine, having visited the vineyard in question a while back.  Fitou may be mostly associated with competently made, slightly rustic red wines.  The region, though, is a mosaic of minutely delineated terroirs, some of which are capable of producing much grander stuff.  This is one such vineyard and the resulting wine is also made in accordance with sustainable practices, making it green - but in a good way.  It's a blend of 40% each of Grenache and Syrah, plus 20% Carignan.  A real "cup of the warm south".

I'll add more of these as they occur to this space.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A winemaker back from the Dark Side

Winemakers are always fascinating to hear from, but this week I listened, spellbound, as Chilean Marcelo Retamal talked us through his wines, labelling some of them "wrong" and "bad".  This is the first time I have ever heard a winemaker be so brutal in their judgement of their own work.

What caused this?  Marcelo is the winemaker at De Martino, based in the Maipo Valley.  Back in 1992 they planted a vineyard of what they then thought was Merlot, but was discovered in 1994 to be Carmenère instead.  Luckily, the soils, climate and terroir in De Martino's chosen vineyard, on the site of a former route of the Maipo river, suit the variety perfectly.  Their first commercial wine from the vineyard was made in 1996 and we were lucky enough to taste each vintage that was made from these grapes all the way through to 2010.
That first vintage is typical of Chilean winemaking at the time:  grapes picked quite early, fermented and aged in old Rauli (a native Chilean wood) foudres, with natural yeasts and alcohol of just over 12%.  
Trying the wine now, at 15 years old, it has a lively nose of maturing characters – polish, wax, old furniture, balsamic and soy, morello cherry. And it still has a slight herbaceous, leafy note. The tannic structure is soft, warmed with spice but not alcoholic. It's a light-bodied wine but it has plenty of depth and great length – the finish goes on for minutes not seconds.

From 1997, however, we begin to see the hallmarks of international winemaking creeping in, which accelerates over the subsequent years.  Most strikingly, the harvest dates are almost four weeks later. In the winery French oak barrels arrive, of which more and more are new.  The old wood foudres are abandoned in favour of stainless steel and fermentation and maceration extend from 20 days to, in one year, 40 days.

2002 marks perhaps the apotheosis (or the nadir, depending on your point of view) of this approach.  Grapes are harvested 6 weeks later than in 1996, fermented in stainless steel using selected yeasts and with 30% of the juice run off to concentrate the must, which needed the addition of tartaric acid to correct for low acidity.  The resulting 14.6% alcohol wine was aged for 17 months in 100% new French oak barriques.

And what does it taste like?  Sweet and ripe, very woody and chocolatey. That sweetness carries through as you taste, but the tannins are odd. Nothing about it feels quite natural or right, and what lingers longest are the tannin and alcohol, though it is a tick the box “good” wine. Marcelo dubbed this a “boring style”.

It takes courage to admit that you are not making the best wine that you can and to change your approach radically.  It takes even more courage when those wines are critically and commercially successful.
Yet in 2010, we can see the fruits of Marcelo's change of heart and his retreat from what he calls the Dark Side.

Gone are the selected yeasts, additions of tartaric acid and running off of juice.  The wine is still aged for 8 months in new French oak barriques, then 9 months in old barrels, but earlier harvesting means the final alcohol is under 14% and it has so much more life and expression than those bland, international wines of the 2000s, which tasted of glossy oak, sweet fruit and alcohol - but could have been almost any grape variety and come from anywhere in the world.

The 2010 smells like carmenere again – finally!  It has some of the bright fruit of Beaujolais and has really juicy, slightly herbaceous but not green fruit. The wine feels roomy and relaxed, comfortable and very enjoyable to drink with good freshness. There is a slightly oaky note on the finish and alcohol still a little sticky-out, but altogether this is an encouraging wine and a great sign of where De Martino is heading in the future.

This is just the beginning - from 2011 Marcelo has ditched all the barriques and will use only 5,000 litre foudres from now on.  He even has a natural wine project going, fermenting and ageing Cinsault from the Itata Valley in amphorae.
Chile has always been a great place to make wine, but with winemakers like Marcelo, courageously backed by the De Martino family, it can also be a thrilling one.

De Martino wines are available in the UK via The Wine Society ( and Les Caves de Pyrène near Guildford (

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Barcelona Supper Club

Our Indian Summer may have fizzled out, but before it did, I got the chance to indulge in an evening of Barcelona-themed food and drink, courtesy of the Codorniu Supper Club.

Over the course of a single evening, I genned up on Codorniu's range of Cavas, cooked some authentic Catalan food and - the highlight - learned how to carve that Spanish delicacy, Jamon Iberico.

I wouldn't say that I'm now an expert and ready to be let loose on my own whole ham, worth around 400-500 Euros.  However, I made a fair fist of producing some wafer-thin slices under the watchful eye of Master Carver Chuse Valvor.  The best part, of course, is that you get to eat the ham.
The Master Carver at work

Looking and learning
Iberico is a style of cured ham produced by the pata negra or black pig, which grazes in the cork oak forests which populate just four provinces in west and southwest Spain.  Over the winter the pigs snaffle all the acorns which the trees produce and this part of their diet seems to be key in producing the sweet nuttiness of the final ham.  Once slaughtered, the hams are cured in sea salt for up to four years, losing over half their original moisture content.
Putting it into practice

Of course you don't need to know all this in order to enjoy the melting, sweet-savouriness of Jamon Iberico.  But it does help to give an understanding of why it is so expensive.

Over the course of the evening, our three groups each helped to cook and then serve one course of our Catalan meal.  We started with a delicious fresh wild mushroom broth and moved onto a main course of duck breast with pears and spinach cooked with sultanas and pinenuts.  My small contribution was towards the dessert of walnut custard cream dessert, which was described by Rachel McCormack, of Catalan Cooking, as rice pudding using ground walnuts instead of rice.  You'll have to be the judge of how delicious that sounds, as I had to head home before it was served so that I could catch the last train home.

It wasn't just the food and drink that was Catalan, the timing of the evening meant that we didn't sit down to our first course until around 10pm, in true Spanish style.   

If you fancy a go yourself, Codorniu are running a Supper Club open to all at L'Atelier des Chefs on 16th November.  For details visit the Codorniu website on or go to the facebook page:

Monday, 18 July 2011

If it swims, serve a fino...

Wine and food matching, Jerez style. If it swims, serve Fino. If it flies, serve Amontillado. If it runs, serve Oloroso. 
What better place to taste sherry, in London at least, than Bar Pepito, the dinky sherry and tapas bar off-shoot of Camino? It's a small but perfectly formed homage to the bustling and cramped bars of Andalusia and provided an authentic place to taste Gonzalez Byass sherries and to test out that Andalusian food and wine matching advice.

We started with a taste of something that most wine drinkers don't get the chance to taste – mosto, or the base wine made from Palomino grapes that forms the departure point of fino, before it is fortified.

Dear reader, you're not missing anything. It did, though, afford me a Proustian flashback to Spain in the 1970s and a family holiday on the Costa Brava. Remember those super-sized oil and vinegar glass vessels (pictured left and called a porron) filled with something loosely called wine, which hapless tourists were expected to drink from? Same stuff.

The fascination comes when you go on to taste Tio Pepe, the final product of this wine, once it has been fortified and aged in soleras under a protective layer of yeast (flor) for three years. The flabbiness and weight have gone and in their place are the crisp freshness and dryness which make fino the finest aperitif. There is also that unique mix of aromas and flavours which are hard to define (apple, almonds, rubber?) but easy to recognize.

Tio Pepe is a benchmark for fino, but our next taste was of his sexier, more flamboyant brother: Tio Pepe En Rama. En rama literally means twig and has the sense of raw, which in this case means that the wine is unfined and unfiltered. Essentially it's fino with the volume turned up, or nothing added, nothing taken away, Shredded Wheat style.

The colour is deeper and the flavours are more pronounced and it feels weightier, making this a great food wine. The only downside is that limited quantities are available each year, following a small bottling run in the spring. This year's stock is no longer commercially available, having been already snapped up, mostly by people in the wine trade.

Moving up a level of maturity, we tasted Viña AB Amontillado. Amontillados start their life in the same way as fino, maturing in barrel under a layer of flor. At Gonzalez Byass they then leave casks destined for Amontillado to their own devices. Over time evaporation means that the level of alcohol becomes too high for the yeast to flourish – eventually it dies off completely. Once the flor has gone, with it goes protection from oxygen and the wine undergoes oxidative ageing, giving it a darker colour and very different flavours.

Ten years old, still bone dry, and retaining some of the appley character of fino, but with flavours of caramel, golden syrup and nuts and a hugely long finish. Wonderfully balanced and a great companion to some jamon iberico (jabugo if you can stretch to it). It's still only 16% alcohol, which seems to contribute to the lovely poise and balance.

Del Duque 30 year old Amontillado is essentially the AB left to age in solera for a further 20 years. The wonderful aromas evoke Christmas: nuts, grilled almonds, dried fruits, beeswax and something floral. Length, poise and power.

The first thing anyone learns about sherry is that it is aged in solera, where small amounts of younger wines are continually added to the older barrels, resulting in a blending process which means that sherries are always based on an average age of the wines involved.

Now I discover that they set aside a number of butts each year which never get involved in the solera system, producing something I thought didn't exist: vintage sherry.

We were treated to a taste of Añada 1982: gorgeously fragrant, with nutty and mouthwatering complexity.

Apostoles 30 year old Palo Cortado and Matusalem 30 year old Oloroso Dulce are two old friends from my days at Oddbins. One of these would always be available for tasting in the run up to Christmas – and we had to taste along with the customers, rude not to.

Palo Cortado is a sherry style with myths surrounding it – that it started its life as a fino, but somehow veered off the usual path during ageing and transformed itself instead into an Oloroso.

The truth is, of course, more prosaic. Sherry producers know what they are doing and if they want to make a Palo Cortado, they will. Essentially it is the lightest style of Oloroso which often smells like Amontillado but tastes more like Oloroso.

The Apostoles has wonderful smoky, Tia Maria notes on the nose. The palate is sweet (sweet wine from PX grapes is added after ten years in cask) and it is apparently a great match for pheasant.

Sometimes sherry is so good, it's almost obscene. Just sniffing the Matusalem made me sigh inadvertently. Need I say more? Oh OK, sweet-sour combinations of bitter chocolate, savoury meatiness and a finish longer than January.

At the extreme end of sherry are the Pxs – intensely sweet, dark, sticky sherries made from the Pedro Ximenez grape. If you want to try one, don't muck about and head straight for Noë 30 year old Pedro Ximenez. It's like a crazy cocktail of soy sauce, treacle and the best, most expensive balsamic vinegar. It has a mind-boggling 400 grams of sugar per litre, so don't tell your dentist.

Recommended retail prices
Tio Pepe Fino - £9.99
Tio Pepe En Rama - £11.99 (not available until next year)
Viña AB Amontillado - £11.99
Gonzalez Byass Añada 1982 - £70 (not commercially available)
Apostoles - £16.49 (37.5 cl)
Matusalem - £16.49 (37.5 cl)
Noë - £16.49 (37.5 cl)

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Chocolates for summer?

Seasonal and local – if food can't manage at least one of these, they're just not cool. Chocolate is never going to manage the local bit, but what about seasonal? Still eating the same chocolates now that you were tucking into at Christmas? Well, yes, frankly, I am.

Over at La Maison du Chocolat though, they have released a summer collection of chocolates, Chiberta, with flavours hailing from the Basque country of southwestern France, designed to be eaten in the warmer months. 

The ingredients include things that we are used to finding in chocolates: honey, almond paste and praline. Plus there is the now obligatory chilli, or piment d'espelette – though here it has a definite flavour of the whole chilli pepper itself, rather than just the heat of chilli oil.

High quality chocolate, not overly sweet and intense flavours make for a classy product.

But don't even think of holding on to them until the winter...

More information:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Venice comes to Cobham

Carluccio's wine dinner, part of their Veneto food and wine festival

Being handed a glass of prosecco on arrival never puts you in a bad mood, so the evening started pretty well, with some Ruggeri Santo Stefano Prosecco.

The antipasti selection was a real step up from the standard menu at Carluccio's, with the usual suspects of olives and salami joined by a crispy and well-flavoured salt cod fishcake and a red rice salad – a nod to the sea-trading past of Venice.

With the antipasti we were offered a glass of Bertani Soave Sereole. I loved the dry minerality that dominated when drunk on its own. With the food, however, more sweet fruit emerged, enhanced by a juicy acidity.

The main course of spezzatino di manzo, a slow-cooked beef stew with some Venetian spicing, was the kind of homely-looking dish that you could happily dish up at home. But I would also love to see it on the menu here other than for this special dinner.

In the picture it may look like this was served with a side order of scrambled egg, but no, it is that con trick perpetuated on the UK restaurant-going public: wet polenta. Quite how restaurants continue to get away with serving up this tasteless pap – and charging money for it – is one of life's enduring mysteries.

The wine served with this course was a perfectly pleasant Sospiro Valpolicella Ripasso. Plenty of bright cherry-tinged fruit, softly structured but with noticeable acidity. Sarah, who kept me company on the evening, is not generally a red wine drinker, but decided she could drink this – despite what she termed the “dog end” finish (presumably in a good way). I would rather have had this wine with my antipasti and moved onto something more mellow and savoury with the long-cooked spezzatino.

Sadly, the pudding was not a highlight. Crema fritta sounds odd and indeed it is: a kind of lemon-flavoured Findus crispy pancake. We also suspected that more polenta was involved. The wine served with it, however, was a real treat.

Anselmi's I Capitelli is made by the passito method, where grapes are left to shrivel and concentrate before being pressed to make into wine. This gives extra depth, but still with deliciously light, tinned cling peach flavours. More than adequate as a pudding instead of the crema fritta.

Overall the food was tasty and well-prepared and the wines a good reflection of the region. If this is a sign of where Carluccio's is heading, great. I'd love to see some of these things on their menus all the time – just hold the crispy pancake.

Carluccio's festival of Veneto wine runs until 26th July. Wine dinners cost £35 per person and there are a series of tastings at £10 per person. More details at:

Friday, 10 June 2011

Not wines for alfresco dining

Back in the heady days of May, when we were having a summer, I was sent some samples of wines for alfresco dining.  What a ridiculous idea that sounds now, when I sit nursing a cup of coffee to keep my fingers from freezing and realise the foolishness of wearing Birkenstocks when I know what I really need is a pair of woolly socks and some boots.

No-one wants to contemplate the delights of a chilled skinny white wine in such weather and you would justifiably think I had lost my mind if I recommended anything that might need chilling. 

Instead, grab yourself a bottle of Clos de los Siete 2008, £12.99 at Waitrose and Majestic.

This is a Matthew Pinsent of a wine.  Pretty supersized, but undoubtedly toned and muscular and never simply fat or out of proportion.  An Argentinian take on the classic Bordeaux blend, made by Mondovino pantomime baddy Michel Rolland, it's a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (and some Syrah).  The fruit is plush and fragrant, but deep and dark and the tannins are pretty assertive, so I'd recommend this with something meaty.  Argentinians are famous connoisseurs of steak, so it's a fair bet that this would make a happy companion to sirloin or rump.  Or it would be a naughty luxury treat with a lamb chop.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Last minute wines for Valentine's Day

A shortlist of wines to accompany your celebration, from recommendations for the fiscally-challenged to the bank bonus flush, there is something for every romantically inclined wine drinker.

Saint Amour 2009, Domaine le Carjot - £10.99, Adnams
Saint Amour is one of the Beaujolais “crus”. Beaujolais, despite its many qualities, is not a favourite with UK wine drinkers – too many bubblegummy Beaujolais Nouveau perhaps. Saint Amour may languish on the shelves for 51 weeks of the year, but, courtesy of that name, this is its time – you'd have to be hard-hearted indeed to resist the name. Inside it's all lip-smacking, cool cranberry fruit that you can enjoy on its own, or sip alongside some salami.

If you want to make a statement, then nothing says “celebration” like fizz - and this is one occasion where pink is definitely called for.

Moscato Freisa Vino Spumante NV - £7.99, M&S - 2012 update, sadly out of stock at M&S.  Peter Lehman Princess Moscato is in the same fun, frothy and sweet vein and a 50cl bottle is £9.50 from

It's pink, it's sweet, it's fizzy, it's cheap. Something of a guilty pleasure, this will tick a lot of boxes for some and I for one am a sucker for this featherlight, grapey, sherbetty fizz, which would go down a treat with a fruity dessert.

If only the real thing will do, then Champagne it is. For reasons I still do not fully understand, you always pay a premium for the rosé version of Champagne. However, there are occasions where it isn't becoming to come over all Scrooge-like and this is one, so hang the expense and splash out a little.

Champagne Oudinot Rosé NV - £28, M&S
Around this price point there are some rather unpleasant pink Champagnes, but this got my vote for its delicate pale salmon colour and elegant, redcurrant fruit.

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 2002 – £85,Majestic Fine Wine
If only the best will do, then I would have to recommend this, the best pink Champagne I've tasted. It's definitely a pale salmon rather than pink and invites you in with lively strawberry fruit and hints of rose petals. But as you savour this delightful drink you begin to appreciate the depth of flavour, courtesy of the pinot noir grapes that dominate the blend. It has a certain “grip” which makes it a great food wine as well as one to sip on its own – so no need to serve anything else when you eat. And frankly, how could you possibly top this?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Jacob's Creek at 28-50

I wouldn't have chosen the name myself. Because, confusingly, 28-50 is located at 140 Fetter Lane – but who am I to give them business advice when, clearly, the place is doing just fine, thanks very much.

28-50, the latest venture of Xavier Rousset, of Texture fame, calls itself “Wine Workshop and Kitchen”. To the uninitiated this might suggest a bit too much hands-on involvement from the customers, as though you are supposed to concoct your own wine and get stuck in to food preparation before sitting down. But fear not, ye lazy gourmands, there is nothing more strenuous involved than negotiating the stairs down from street level.

Essentially this is a restaurant, with a focus on interesting wines, many by the glass, which you can pair with a simple plate of charcuterie, or with a regular restaurant menu. Anyone who has set foot in Terroirs, aka the wine trade canteen on William IV Street, will be familiar with the set-up – and this place looks set to be just as popular with the wine cognoscenti, if the Twitter buzz about the place is to be believed. Our starter of dorade with puy lentils in a lemongrass velouté and main course of onglet with fat chips were good examples of unfussy, restaurant-hearty fare.

I was there to taste through the newly-launched Regional Reserve range from Jacob's Creek. Jacob's Creek Semillon-Chardonnay and Shiraz-Cabernet were some of the first New World wines that I ever tasted – and I'm sure I'm not alone, as they continue to be one of the strongest global brands to come out of Australia.

However, like many an early infatuation, I moved on to pastures new and now rarely find myself reaching for a bottle of Jacob's Creek as I trawl the wine shelves. So it was high time I spent an evening in its familiar presence – even if it was only for old times' sake.

Bernard Hickin, recently promoted to head winemaker, but part of the operation at Jacob's Creek for the past 30 years, laid out his stall right from the word go, with a delicious glass of Steingarten Riesling 2005. The fruit for this wine is mostly from the famous Steingarten vineyard in the Barossa, planted in 1962 and is still incredibly fresh, with great lemon 'n' lime acidity and a deep vein of minerality.

My favourites from the Regional Reserve range were the Riesling 2010, which comes from the Eden Valley zone of the Barossa. The wine is still not a year old and has a youthful lime blossom and citrus aroma. Those of you who fear Riesling = sweet, calm down dear, this is bone dry and finishes with a lemon sherbet freshness. It bemuses me that UK wine drinkers can't learn to love Riesling, when it shares many of the same characters with our current white fave, Sauvignon Blanc: bright, almost pungent fruit and racy acidity. But Riesling ages so much better and is infinitely more interesting as a variety.....have I convinced you?

The best red, for me, was the Shiraz 2007, also from the Barossa. Barossa and Shiraz go together like bottle and screwcap and this is a great example of a wine that tastes of where it's from, but is also extremely easy to like. It has aromas of a deeply fruity cake, the palate is fleshy, with soft tannins. But it is not a simple fruit bomb and it has good balance and great freshness too.

The Regional Reserves range also includes, from Adelaide Hills, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. All retail for £9.99 at and Tesco Wine Club. Sainsbury's stock the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the same price.

No matter how big a wine company they work for, all the winemakers I've met can't resist the opportunity to get their hands on high quality fruit and lavish attention on it in order to show off their skills – and things are no different at Jacob's Creek.

St Hugo is made from a selection of 30+ year old vines in Coonawarra and the 2004 vintage has just started developing some maturing coal tar and capsicum flavours in addition to the vibrant, leafy cassis fruit. It's a cabernet, so there are tannins, but they're fine-grained and just add a welcome texture.

Johann is a 60/40 blend of Shiraz and Cabernet and shows why these two varieties complement each other so well. The 2005 vintage will be winging its way to the UK this year, but I'd recommend tracking down a bottle of the 2001, which is drinking beautifully now, having developed those chestnutty, truffley and earthy flavours that take over once the initial, almost too-bright, fruit has begun to fade.

28-50, 140 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BT,
Jacob's Creek Regional Reserve wines are available at and Sainsbury's
St Hugo 2006 RRP: £26.20 from Waitrose and Sainsbury's
Johann 2001 RRP: £36.65 from specialst independents