Monthly Archives: May 2013

Grab a bargain: 3 steps to wine deal success (by James Newhouse)

James Newhouse got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago with an offer to write some  articles for the site – you lot are obviously getting bored of my stuff by now so I jumped at the offer! James is an Internet marketing consultant living and working in Bedfordshire and currently works alongside other wine enthusiasts at a leading online wine retailer.

To check out more about James why not have a look at his website at

Grab a bargain: 3 steps to wine deal success

Once upon a dreary English autumn, when the very last leaf fell from the very last deciduous tree, Henry looked back on the last year of his life. Once a successful businessman, and now a down and out, he walked along the pavement kicking the odd crisp, brown leaf from his erratic path. The soles of his shoes flapped and his dirt encrusted toes poked through gaping holes in the ends.

In his mind he was back at that dinner party where, keen to impress potential investors in a new business venture, he had spent the last of his funds on the most expensive bottle of wine he could. His guests sat at the table eagerly chatting away, wondering what the night had in store for them.

Henry brought out his expensive bottle and began to open it in front of Lord Baronton of Bovingdale. Pouring a hardy glass in front of Baronton, and watching as he raised the glass to his lips, Henry eagerly awaited his response. If only he could impress him, he was sure his business would receive the funding it urgently needed.

After taking a sip, Baronton paused for a moment. Placed the glass carefully down on the table and said “This is an exceptional vintage, but you have the business acumen of a porcupine. How can I invest in someone so reckless with money… you should have gone to Tesco.”

The lesson here is obvious, spending money when you don’t have to, impresses no one.

Step 1 – Search Supermarket Shelves

Supermarkets aren’t all bad news when it comes to getting a good deal on wine. In fact, a lot of wines available in supermarkets are of a reasonably good quality, and should please most wine enthusiasts’ taste buds.

The own brand wines are usually good enough to satisfy those “not that into wine, but enjoy a cheap bottle now and then”.  These bottles are fairly low priced all year round, so it’s not as urgent to grab them when they look like they’re on offer – save your cash to make bigger savings on better wines. Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Most supermarkets have a dedicated offers section, so finding something to match your tastes shouldn’t be a problem, just keep a close watch and grab a bargain when the better wines get reduced.

Step 2 -Sign up for online wine alerts

There are websites out there that collate wine deals exclusively online, supermarket wine prices (offline) as well as tracking price changes throughout the year. Whilst not a scientific way to predictwhen your favourites will be reduced, this can give you a good indication of how price varies with seasonality and fashion.

Many of these websites allow you to set up wine alerts via email so you can monitor the prices falling and grab your favourite bottles as soon as they hit their lowest price.

You can also set up comparisons so you can find the better deal out of two or more wine offers (or take advantage of them all!) try search for “wine offers”.

One thing you might consider is contacting your local wine merchants and asking them to let you know when prices are going to drop for your favourite wines. These guys should be more than willing to give you this information – if they suspect they’re going to get a bulk sale out of it later.

Step 3–Grab a wine voucher or ten

Another great way to save on your favourite wine is to look for wine vouchers or discount codes. Again, there are several websites out there that offer online voucher codes (the same way you might look for takeaway vouchers).

These sites often have exclusive vouchers for supermarkets, high street and online retailers, so again, it is important to look around to find the best voucher for you.

Vivat Bacchus South African Wine Festival

There are a few wine fans where I work and they tell me they enjoy reading my ramblings about the subject. On a Monday we’ll often have a chat about what was drunk over the weekend (obviously I’d never let on that I sometimes have a tipple on a school night!). John is a South African who only seems to drink South African wine, and Michelle loves big gutsy reds; so when I got an email from Vivat Bacchus about their South African wine festival, we decided to go for it.

Vivat Bacchus describes itself as “a celebration of rustic, robust food, artisan cheeses and great wines” and I would say its not far from the truth – however the food is definitely on the polished side of rustic! The festival ran for three days, with a tasting of 8 South African winemakers followed by a wine dinner, with different wine makers featured each night. We went for the dinner on the Tuesday as the producer of one of my favourite white wines, De Morgenzon, was on the bill.

First of all the tasting was quite an eye opener. I was expecting a lot of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but what was delivered was almost a homage to The Rhone Valley – Viognier and Roussane whites and Syrah and Mouvedre reds. It’s an exciting time for South African wines and there were some excellent wines on show. However I did feel many of the wines were a work in progress and I’d love to have had a few more Chenin, Cabernet and Pinotage based wines as a benchmark. When we got to a Cabernet/Syrah blend, John muttered the immortal words “I cut my milk teeth on wines like this!” – here he is telling us about it!

But as I’ve already said, there were some excellent wines, and these were my picks of the night:

De Morgenzon Garden Vineyards Rose 2012, Stellenbosch (£11.25)
The smell of summer. Lots of red fruit with wild strawberries and red currants. Mouth-puckeringly dry, simple but tasty. 88 points

High Constantia Sebastiaan 2003 (unavailable in UK)
A Bordeaux blend with lots of red fruit, smoke and earthy minerality. I was surprised that the wasn’t more than 30% Cab Franc in the blend as it was very aromatic. Quite tannic upfront but melted away to reveal red currants and spice. Good length. 91 points

Mont du Toit Kelder Le Sommet 2003, Western Cape (£62.50)
The blend isn’t divulged but I suspect there is a high proportion of Cabernet and Syrah. Lots of dark cherry, plum and black currant and warm spices. There is a wonderful balance of smooth tannins and lively acidity. A damn good wine. 92 points (we also tried the 2002 which ad been decanted but it didn’t have the elegance or balance of the 03)

Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2011, Elgin Valley (£17.50)
Beautiful peach and melon fruit with just a hint of the tropics, all snugly held together with beautifully judged oak. Very fresh with razor sharp acidity. 90 points

Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin Valley (£13.50)
See note in dinner section.

Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011 (£12.50 375ml)
See note in dinner section.

Spice Route Chakalaka 2009, Swartland (£16.00)
Blend is 37% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 18% Carignan, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache and 4% Tannat. This matches up to many Chateauneuf du Papes at twice the price! Lots of brambly fruit and spice, so smooth and delightful balance with superb acidity. An excellent wine and magnificent value. 92 points

After that it was onto the dinner. Five courses of South African inspired food, each matched with one of the wines from the earlier tasting. You’ll see from my notes above that 2 of my favourite wines were included, but the 2 other wines were so much better when matched with their food partners.

Chicken Liver Terrine with Spiced Mango Chutney
Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin Valley (£13.50)
Aromas of lemons and limes that come through on the palate with real style. Superb balance of fruit, acidity and sweetness (just off-dry). Ripe, fruity and delicious – a great match for the chicken livers and the best value wine of the night. 91 points

Crocodile Medallions with lightly Pickled Vegetables
De Morgenzon Maestro 2011, Stellenbosch (£17.50)
First time for me to eat crocodile… And yes it is a bit like chicken! The wine us a blend of Rousanne, Chenin, Chardonnay and Viognier. Peach and apricot fruit with a hint if oaky vanilla on the nose. Nice reach and creamy palate, with almost enough acidity to balance. Finish a bit short but a good wine. 88 points (De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve 2011 is one of my very favourite white wines. Unfortunately it is now all on allocation and my local merchant can’t get good if it anymore. Aaarrgghh!)

Lamb Osso Bucco with Ratatouille, Croquette Potatoes & Red Wine Sauce
High Constantia Cabernet Franc 2006 (£21.25)
Lots of red fruits and green herb aromas with just a hint of smoke. Red currant and cranberry fruit on the palate, maybe a bit green on the finish but quite charming. 89 points

Cheese – Pont d’Yeu (France), Taleggio (Italy), Goats Cheese (sorry don’t like the stuff!)
Spice Route Mouvedre 2009, Swartland (£11.25)
Autumn Hedgerow fruit with lots of warm spicy goodness, with hints of gamey, roasted meat. If you like the Rhone you’ll like this – to me it could have been 50/50 Syrah/Grenache. Simple but delicious. 89 points

Milk Tart with Koeksister
Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011 (£12.50 375ml)
Koeksister are basically deep fruit doughnuts which are then rolled in cold sugar-syrup and John describes as “better than sex”! They are very good indeed! The sweet wine is a blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Crouchen Blanc – a new one to me. The grapes are laid out on straw mats and allowed to dry for 4 weeks after harvest to concentrate the sugars. I couldn’t believe there was no Riesling in there! Apricots and nectarines, lovely freshness and deliciously viscous body. A superb way to end a superb meal. 92 points

I can’t wait to return to Vivat Bacchus – check out their website.

Leather on willow, washed down with wine

I remember all of those years go when you could take as much booze to the cricket as you could carry. In those days I hadn’t learned about the joys of wine so it was cans of Boddingtons or Kronenbourg that filled the rucksack. Then sponsorship and commercialism reared its ugly head. Carling, Tetley, Fosters and XXXX got themselves involved and the ECB realised they could make a lot of money by disallowing alcohol to be brought into the grounds and charging exorbitant prices for watered down dishwater. But amazingly, not at Lord’s!

I managed to bag tickets for Sunday at the first test of the summer and was astonished to read each person could take 2 cans of beer or a bottle of wine into the ground with them. Result. Between us, me and The Fish chose a bottle of Saint Veran and a bottle of Lirac to slurp over a period of 7 hours… Or so we thought!

By 2.30, 14 wickets had fallen and England ran out winners by 170 runs, having skittled New Zealand for 68. And we only had chance to polish off the St Veran… And delicious it was too!

Domaine Botti Saint Veran 2009, Macon, Burgundy (Wine & the Vine £13.45)
Honeydew melon, pink apples and grapefruit on nose and palate. A dash short on acidity but very tasty, with a lovely almond or cobnut finish. 88 points

That left us with half a day spare… And a bottle of Lirac to match with it!

Well as we were in walking distance of Marylebone High Street we decided a trip to the best butchers in town, The Ginger Pig on Moxon Street, was called for. We arrived at 3.11 only to find the place closes at 3.00 on a Sunday. Oh horrors of horrors! Don’t worry, I consoled myself with a trip to The Fromagerie next door… Brie de Melun (if you’ve only tried de Meux you have to give it a try!), Morbier and Appleby’s Cheshire put a smile back in my face.

But we still didn’t have anything for tea (true Northerner!). Then we stumbled upon Natural Kitchen on Marylebone High Street and a couple of veal chops later equilibrium was restored. And boy did they taste good. The Lirac was delicious, last night’s Margaux would have been perfect.

Domaine des Cigalounes Lirac 2009, Southern Rhone (Wine & the Vine £11.25)
Black cherry and dark plums from the hedgerow with a beautiful waft of herbs de Provence on the nose. The spice and fennel comes first and is beautifully balanced with black cherries and really fine and silky tannins. This is elegant and delicious. 91 points


Eurovision coping mechanism

The Fish loves the Eurovision Song Contest. Her favourite band is A-ha. Yes, I knew this before we got married. Our first date fell through because she was seeing them at Wembley. She bought me an A-ha lighter. In fact she bought me two… Just incase I lost one! Anyway she loves the bloody thing! It’s the one night where I let her watch what she wants on the big TV… But I need a coping mechanism.

My favourites were Greece (four football referees and their Dad dancing along to Madness) and Finland (it was catchy and had nothing to do with the kissing girls!). But my real favourite was the wine. I needed something special so I went to Bordeaux. I went to highish-end Bordeaux with a 3rd growth Margaux; Cantenac Brown. 2004 wasn’t a spectacular vintage, but it produced a good crop so there’s plenty of it around, and it seems to be approachable fairly early. The Cantenac Brown 2004 is in a great place:

Chateau Cantenac Brown 2004, Margaux, Bordeaux (Fine & Rare £33.00)
When I decanted I was greeted with a wonderful waft of blackcurrant cassis, 7 hours (and 29 euro-pop “classics”) later the cassis is still there but far more sedate and complemented with violets and sweet vanilla spice. Plenty of fruit on the palate and very precise acidity, perfectly balanced by smooth tannins. It’s velvety and in great balance right now. Delicious, reassuringly and elegantly recognisable as Margaux. 93 points

Chateau Calon Segur vertical tasting – head & heart

I seem to be spending more time at the West London Wine School than at home these days… But when the tasting are so good then what harm can it do??

Following on from last week’s Riesling-fest, this week it was back to Bordeaux and to the 3er Cru Classe estate of Calon Segur in St Estephe. St Estephe is the northernmost of the four major appellations of the Medoc and are identifiable for their earthy minerality, due to the deep gravelly soils. Calon is the most northern classed growth estate and is highly regarded, at its best producing meaty and concentrated wines with deep fruit flavours and superb length. They are also often described as a bit rustic, which I find very appealing in a wine.

We tried 8 wines from some fantastic vintages and although I was a little disappointed overall, it was worth attending for the 1990 alone. Actually I’m being somewhat unkind with that statement as the 1982, 1989 and 2005 offered plenty of pleasure too.

Chateau Calon Segur 1982 (Fine & Rare £249.60)
Lots of terracotta colour and a bit murky with lots if sediment – it is over 30 years old now! From the vintage that saved Bordeaux (hence the ridiculous price tag!), the first sniff is red cherries, then black currant within hints of smokey meat and worn leather – it really does smell fabulous and ever so delicate. What is amazing is the structure of the wine; the tannins are still beautifully elegant and there is plenty of acid to balance it wonderfully. The flavours are very mineral and savoury, with lots of leather, just a whisp of red fruit and olive on the finish. So elegant, so delicate and quite delicious. 93 points

Chateau Calon Segur 1985 (Fine & Rare £91.80)
Lots of warming spices on the nose, with mineral, earth, leather and just a smidgen of black cherry. Deliciously smooth texture with some nice red fruit but mostly earth and smokiness. There’s lots of flavour upfront and a very nice texture but very little length. Disappointing. 88 points

Chateau Calon Segur 1988 (Fine & Rare £120.00)
A bit of orange around the edges but still looks very young to me. Quite a heady aroma of sweet cherry, spice and smoke, supported with that earthy mineral streak – very welcoming indeed… In the mouth its an elegant, light texture but you’re struck by very bitter red fruit, a smack of acid, and more bitterness. One of those wines that flatters to deceive, such a shame as I really enjoyed putting my nose in the glass. 87 points

Chateau Calon Segur 1989 (Fine & Rare £78.50)
Ooh this is big and concentrated on the nose with darker, almost cassis fruit and wild meaty and smokey, spicy leather. Much fuller in body than the previous wines with the black fruit of the Medic shouting out. Nice acidity and good tannic grip and a delicious mineral finish. Brutish but delightful and lovely balance. 92 points
(I really wanted to vote this as my best value wine of the night but see the 2005 to see why I didn’t – personally I’d buy a 1989, as would most of the other tasters!)

Chateau Calon Segur 1990 (Fine & Rare £135.60)
Deep, dark colour and here we get some new aromas of violets, black cherries and plums upfront, followed by the earthy minerality I’m learning to love. It has a voluptuous texture that coats your mouth with lots of black fruit, a hint of cedar, beautifully integrated oak and all underpinned by beautifully poised acid. A great balance of fruit and earth, acid and tannin. Superb. 95 points

Chateau Calon Segur 1996 (Fine & Rare £80.00)
Very dark and very dense with a higher proportion of Merlot than usual (40%). Blackberry and chocolate on the nose – very deep and highly concentrated. A blockbuster on the palate, dark liqueur-like cherry, chocolate and too much alcoholic heat. Very full on upfront then just withers to nothing. A shame as the Pichon 1996 was so good I had high hopes for this vintage of Calon. 88 points

Chateau Calon Segur 2000 (Fine & Rare £78.00)
Highly polished aromas with some very ripe cassis fruit, earth, spice and coffee. Very attractive. Nice body and smooth texture with dark fruit but the palate is very closed and the tannins kick in and dry out the finish. This needs more time but I think there will be plenty to enjoy given another 5 years or so. 91+

Chateau Calon Segur 2005 (Fine & Rare £62.10)
Big and bold with lots of dark and very sweet fruit on the nose with a delicious hint of smoke, spice and violet. Massively powerful wine with big body and chewy texture. Lots of cassis fruit and spicy notes. This is one for the long haul and is very modern in (Parker) style. There is no getting away from the fact this is a very fine wine but it could come from anywhere on the left bank and doesn’t have the sense of terroir – I can’t taste the gravel of St Estephe… More Parker than Calon? 93 points
(I had to vote this as my best value wine in a points vs. pounds equation… But my heart definitely said 1989!)

JJ Prüm – Riesling Royalty

German Rieslings are notoriously difficult to decipher. The classification is based on the amount of sugar in the grapes – the higher up you go, the more potential alcohol and the more sugar, or sweetness is left in the wine, which is referred to as residual sugar:

Kabinett – light in body with high acidity and a touch of sweetness
Spatlese – means late harvest, often fuller in body and medium sweet
Auslese – more body and more tropical flavours.
Beerenauslese – individually selected, over-ripe grapes
Trockenbeerenauslese – even more concentrated, more sweet, and more expensive!

The word Trocken on a German wine label means dry – these are becoming more popular these days as wines from the German regions are becoming popular again.

I’ve rambled on a fair amount about the joys of Riesling over past few months. I’ve written about Riesling from the Old World and the New World, but its mainly been about young wines with lots of bright fruity freshness and razor sharp acidity. I’ve never written about aged Riesling. In truth I haven’t had much experience of aged Riesling…

… Until I attended a tasting of wines from legendary German estate JJ Prüm at West London Wine School earlier this week. The Prüm family have had a presence in The Mosel region for over 400 years. The estate was founded in 1911 by Johann Josef Prüm and has 33.5 acres of vineyards planted only with only Riesling. The wines are characterised by their purity of fruit as well as by their distinctive mineral character, and have a reputation for ageing superbly.

20130512-162044.jpg (photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith, West London Wine School)

The Fish is also a big fan of Rieslings and she joined me at the tasting, which was arranged as a series of flights. I’ve written recently about how I like to taste wines in pairs so this was right up my street. And the wines? Just wow. Read on for a full rundown of the 9 wines we tried and look at the prices; for fine wines they are remarkably good value, especially if your benchmark is Bordeaux or Burgundy.

The first two wines were Kabinetts from the Wehlener (the town) Sonnenuhr (the “sundial” vineyard). Kabinetts are generally thought as having a lifespan of about 5 years from the harvest, but the 1996 showed that even at this level, JJ Prüm wines are made to last.

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2011 (The Wine Society £18.00)
Delightful nose of sweet red apples with hints of citrus and tropical fruits. What hits you straightaway when you taste is the mouthwatering acidity and the flavour of apple skin, white peach and a dash of sweet pineapple. The palate is clean and fresh with a lovely off-dry finish. Delightful balance. 91 points

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 1996 (KL Wines £24.95)
Wow. The nose has intense concentrated aromas of apricot, mandarin and that wonderful whiff of petrol you get from aged Riesling. On the palate the wine is still so fresh; its so clean, almost glacial in texture, with flavours of lime and green apple, maybe a hint of pastry, tarte-tatin perhaps? The balance of off-dry sweetness and precise acid is utterly stunning. Best value wine of the night by a long stretch. 94 points

The next set of wines were from the same Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, but this time at the Spatlese level – you’ll see from my notes that I preferred the Kabinetts… I can be a really cheap date sometimes!
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 2009 (The Wine Society £21.00)
Lots if chalky minerality on the nose here but I’m struggling to get a great deal of fruit, maybe some apple and apricot? What’s very different to the Kabinetts is the fuller body of the wine in the mouth and the fruit is mainly limes with a touch of peach and apricot. The texture is very nice with plenty of chalky stone, with a rich mouthfeel and medium sweetness level. Still very young for a Spatlese and very closed at the moment. 91+

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 1999 (no UK stockist)
So what does 10 more years do? The first impression are the petrol aromas but quickly complimented with hints of tropical fruit and a touch of honey sweetness. The palate has lovely texture and body but there isn’t the acidity of the previous wines and the sugar feels unbalanced. There’s some nice mango and pineapple fruit but this wine certainly has a better texture than flavour. 90 points

The next pair contained my wine of the night. We moved up to Auslese level and compared two different vineyards from the highly rated 2005 vintage. The first again from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the second from Graacher Himmelreich, translated as “the kingdom of Heaven”… And boy is it!

JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £45.20)
Oh yes! Aromas of ripe mango and apricot and its oh so concentrated and intense – so aromatic but with a delightful slate minerality in the background. On the palate the acid is like a rapier cutting through the sweetness of mangoes, limes, peaches and apricots and the subtle slate underpinning it all. The wine just has the most sublime balance of sweetness and acidity. This is masterful and the best Riesling this wine fan has ever drunk. 95 points

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £52.80)
This has so much mineral and petroleum on the nose that I’m slightly missing the fruit, which is hiding in the background – some citrus and a touch of the tropical. The amazing thing is how it all changes in the mouth where its all about the tropical fruit, very sweet with honey and marmalade and just a bit of supporting minerality. Just doesn’t have the balance of the Graacher with just a bit too much emphasis on the sweetness. 91 points

For the last set of 3 wines, we remained at Auslese level from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, tasting a further 3 vintages, which highlighted the consistently high quality of the winemaking at JJ Prüm.

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2003 (Fine & Rare £38.40)
Another delightful nose of mineral chalkiness but with plenty of peach, apricot and tropical fruit to the fore. There’s a chalky, almost tannic texture here which really is delicious and all of that fruit I could smell is there in abundance. This is the wine most suited to desserts yet and there was some lemon tart on the able that was a delightful match. Marvellous and magnificent value for this quality of wine. 93 points

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2001 (Lay & Wheeler £50.00)
The aromas are jumping out of my glass and its lots of developed tropical goodness, balanced by the chalky minerals I’m growing to love. This has enormous levels of acidity and a surprisingly light texture. Unfortunately for me there is just too much acid and not enough sweetness… But I’m being very picky as I’m loving the peach and apricot a lot. This got the most votes for wine of the night (if not mine!) 92 points

JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 1988 (No UK stockist)
The first thing to mention about the ’88 is the deep golden colour, which is quite magnificent. The second is the unpleasant smell! It smells musky and mouldy and I was convinced it was cork taint. If you’re brave enough to keep your nose in there it is very nutty and you can get some peach and apricot fruit. But on the palate it is marvellous! Lots of pithy, zesty orange, marmalade perhaps and them some sweet nectarine. In the mouth its so pure and glacial in texture and still so fresh with that wonderful balance of medium sweetness and still bags of laser- guided acidity. Just get over the smell, you’ll be rewarded for your bravery! 93 points

Bringing tears to my eyes

The last article was about when wine isn’t important. Well this one is about when it really bloody is! I love Friday evening – it’s one of my very favourite times of the week; and what I really look forward to is opening a good bottle of wine. My Friday night wine is usually a good wine, often an expensive one (note: the two don’t always go hand in hand!). I will start thinking about which wine to open on Friday night from about Wednesday (I’m thinking a 2002 Volnay for this week!). So its a big thing for me…

… So imagine how I feel when the wine doesn’t deliver. All of the anticipation crushed in a single mouthful. And do you know what makes it worse? When the aromas of the wine are so enticing, so welcoming, so inspiring. Then you tip the glass and prepare yourself for a pure pleasure sensation… And nothing. Thin. Astringent. Out of balance. It makes me want to weep! It doesn’t happen that often, mercifully, but it happened to me twice over the Bank Holiday weekend. I was not a happy bunny…

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate 2007, Napa Valley, USA (The Wine Society £32.00)
This is the second wine from Ridge, one of the most famous and renowned wineries in Napa. Amazing aromas of blackcurrant and black plums backed up with some cigar smoke and a minty freshness. The sweet black fruit is supported with a hint of red currant and nicely judged oak… But there’s something lacking, its not quite together. The finish is very dry and I’m just disappointed. I was expecting so much more. 87 points

Les Caves de la Colombe Meursault 2008, Burgundy, France (M&S £28.00)
I bought this when M&S were running their 25% off promo (I paid £22.40) and was really looking forward to it… This is the smell of white wine on the Cote de Beaune – it smells of the village of Meursault, and that smell is hot buttered toast! Unfortunately its not backed up with any fruit on the palate and just leaves me feeling flat. Where is the peach and apple flavours I expect and the label promised. Very frustrating. I think I’ll go back to the M&S Chassange Montrachet! 85 points

Oh well… Lets hope the Volnay works out!

Sometimes the wine isn’t so important

If you’re here to read about wine I apologise. I will mention wine. Not very good wine. Because sometimes it really doesn’t matter. Well it does matter; but sometimes great food is enough, and wine is simply the sideshow.

My place where this is the case is Hanako in Watford. It is my very favourite place to eat. It is run by an amazing couple; the husband used to be the head chef at the Japanese embassy, his wife is the perfect hostess. There is no wine list but it just doesn’t matter. When we’re asked what we want to drink we simply say “a bottle of white wine, please”. It’s usually a bottle of Kumala branded averageness, or this last time a Pinot Grigio/Trebbiano blend of not muchness. But when food is this good… So what!

Whether you like sashimi, sushi, tempura, noodles or curry, there’s something here for you. This last visit we had prawn and cuttlefish tempura and beef tataki to start. The prawn tempura is the best battered fish anywhere, the cuttlefish is amazing and the rice wine/soy sauce dressing with the tataki is sublime.

Then we had the mixed sashimi & sushi plate. Bloody brilliant. The salmon, tuna, scallop and sea bream sashimi. The amazing hand rolls and nigiri…it’s all so good. And compared to anywhere else in London, its very decent value (Japanese is never cheap!)

I know I should give the saki a go, or should suggest a few decent bottles, but do you know what? When the food is this good, don’t whine about the wine!

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