Monthly Archives: November 2013

#WineSwap – Are you the missing link?

Last weekend I took part in a fun project called #WineSwap. The idea is the brainchild of James Carey and Matt Orton, who hail from the Midlands and both work in the wine trade. The guys explain the idea very simply on their website

“A new way to find, share and experience wine! It’s simple; swap bottles of wine with your friends and use the hash-tag to tweet about it.”

I provided a link to an article in the Newsletter this week, which included the (shocking?) fact that 43% of UK consumers go for the same bottle of wine every time. I find this amazing given my own thirst for wine discovery but it also provides a huge opportunity. If you’re one of the population who buy wine in this way then why not ask your friends what they drink… and do a #WineSwap?

If you’re more of a wine connoisseur then maybe you have a stash of Bordeaux and want to make space for a couple of bottles of Burgundy; perhaps you bought a case of 12 to secure good deal and are just a bit bored of it. Maybe your wine racks are fully stocked with reds but you fancy experimenting with some new whites – offer them up for a #WineSwap and see where it takes you.

But the most exciting aspect of the #WineSwap is “The Quest” – which at first glance seems ridiculous; to start with a £5 bottle of wine and end up with a truly great bottle through nothing more than a series of swaps. And the guys have set their sights on a bottle from one of the greatest estates, and from one of the greatest vintages; a bottle of Chateau Latour 1982, currently available at Roberson Wine for a mere £2,035!

The quest is going well; here’s the chain to date:

  1. Piccini Memoro NV (bought from Tesco for £5.00, reduced from £9.49)
  2. Santa Rita ‘Medalla Real’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Chile
  3. Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, McLaren Vale, South Australia
  4. Domaine Jones Fitou 2011, Languedoc, France
  5. Rustenberg John X Merriman 2001, Stellenbosch, South Africa
  6. 10 Minutes by Tractor ‘Estate’ Chardonnay 2010, Mornington Peninsula, Australia
  7. Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2003, South Australia

I got involved in “The Quest” due to a couple of coincidences one weekend. On a visit to Hedonism I tried the Penfolds St Henri 2009 and was smitten. That evening I got in a Twitter conversation about something wine related with James and had a read through the articles on the WineSwap website. In one of the posts, Matt got quite emotional about a wine I know something about at a tasting he attended:

Pichon–Longueville, Pauillac, 2006

“Just entering the, albeit early, stages of its drinking window. A dazzling array of aromas on the nose berries, fresh flowers, spices and Crème brûlée. Palate is lush and full; elegantly coating every inch of your mouth in satisfying tannins that are soaked in warm, yet fresh fruits. Finish is long, focussed and un-earthing of yet more flavours. Undoubtedly the finest wine of the evening.”

This got me thinking. As well as attending a wonderful Pichon tasting earlier in the year, I also visited the property on our tour of Bordeaux in the summer. I must admit that the 2006 isn’t amongst my favourite Pichon vintages but I did buy a couple while I was there at a very decent price… So I made the #WineSwap team an offer to exchange one of my Pichon 2006’s for their St Henri 2003… And a deal was struck!

The Fish & I in front of the delightful chateau of Pichon-Baron

It turned out we were all going to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter last weekend; the problem was we were going on different days! But earlier swaps have take place as far away as Newcastle and even South Africa, so another trip to London wasn’t going to stop this exchange from happening! We all met up at Marylebone station and an another successful #WineSwap took place:

The swap takes place!

If you want to make an offer for the Pichon Longueville-Baron 2006 or just want some more information to set up your own #WineSwap, then visit James and Matt’s website and get swapping!

The day Ave & Al tried to kill us! (#MWWC5)

I chose FEAST as the theme for the November Monthly Wine Writing Challenge… My post won’t be included in the voting but I wanted to share this perilous tale with you…


I am very excited. I am also very scared.

November has struck and the Christmas countdown has begun. The weekends between now and Xmas are full and I’m looking forward to the various seasonal feasts and get-togethers; catching up with friends and family, eating great food and drinking magical wine. In fact, the diary filled up so quickly that one of the celebrations will have to wait until January. It’s actually a blessing in disguise; January is largely dreadful so having a post-Xmas lunch with friends should be the silver lining to a cloudy month, especially when that lunch is at the River Café, my favourite restaurant in London. So why the trepidation? Two reasons: Ave and Al.

Ave and Al are a wonderful Scottish couple – their Burns’ night celebrations are legendary. I worked with Ave for a few years and she is one of those people who just makes you laugh. She’s cynical, sceptical and very, very funny. Al is great too; a lover of all things foody and drinky, he has a constant grin on his face and is enthusiastic and excitable about most things. But they are a dangerous combination. Together they pose a great threat to your health…

About 18 months ago we arranged to meet the guys at their favourite local eatery, Restaurnt Michael Nadra in Chiswick. The place is fantastic – the food is clever, delicious and plentiful, and the wine list has plenty of choice without being daunting, with many options under £30 (although we didn’t play there!). We started with a bottle of very nice Prosecco and ordered a deliciously crisp and mineral Alabrinho to accompany the starters… Ok, we ordered 2 bottles of Albarinho to accompany the starters (Adegas Valminor Torroxal 2010 I think). For the main course we all went for meaty options and Al suggested a suitably meaty wine; he was going through a “massive-wine” phase at the time and selected the Juvenile Zin 2007 from Turley Wine Cellars in Napa. It was certainly a fruit-bomb and a half but it was soft and silky, and hid it’s 15.5% of alcohol rather too well. This is where things start to get hazy. There was definitely pudding and there was definitely sweet wine… It was certainly a feast of gigantic proportions.

“One for the road?” asked Al… that’s when it got scary. Six bottles to the good (yes, we managed 3 of the Zins!) we found a pub on Chiswick High Street and ordered a bottle of Corbieres. Was it any good? I’m surprised I can remember what it was! Then another. “Who fancies a cocktail?” Off we traipsed to the Old Fire Station; here I was very good. I don’t like spirits, never got on with them. So while the other 3 were working their way through the cocktail menu, like a good boy I sipped my way through a bottle (another one!) of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Then it was back to their place for a night cap… I had a vague memory of another stop on the way and a receipt found the following morning for another couple of bottles of red wine at their local confirmed the act. I think we got a taxi home.

I didn’t get up the following day. My hangover lasted until Thursday. It was a feast at Restaurant Michael Nadra. It was a feast of booze throughout the day. I vowed after that day never to go for lunch with Ave and Al, to insist on a dinner reservation. Our January reservation is for 1.30.

I should’ve chosen a different theme this month… It should’ve been “Ouch!”

#MWWC5 – The voting is open!


The theme was FEAST, the entries for the November Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC5) are in… and the voting is open!

You have until the end of Friday 29th November to vote for your 3 favourite posts and the winner will be announced on Saturday 30th. Enjoy the 8 articles and spread the #MWWC word!


The Wine Kat (@thewinekat) Mac Datho’s Pig

BY Wine (@BYWineUk) Shoes or Wine?

Wayward Wine (@waywardwine) A foodless wine feast of Penfolds

binNotes (@binNotes) Feast

The Armchair Sommelier (@armchairsomm) Lutefisk The ghost of Christmas past

The Drunken Cyclist (@masi3v) Feast

Sybaricious (@sybaricious) Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road

Confessions of a Wine Geek (@winegeekconfess) The day Ave & Al tried to kill us (just for fun!)

Now get voting!

Voting has now closed

Coinstar Wine Challenge at Sainsbury’s

I don’t buy that much wine from the supermarkets. I miss the chat and banter you have with the independent guys, or the ability to look for information and reassurance when shopping online. Okay, you can stand in front of the supermarket fixture on your phone hoping there’s a decent signal but that’s not really that much fun is it? When I do buy from supermarkets I tend to go for their own-label “premium” labels; you know the ones, Tesco “Finest” or Sainsbury’s “Taste the Difference”. These labels are generally well sourced and offer very decent value, usually under a tenner.

However there is a time when only the supermarket will do… Because only at your local supermarket can you find the genius that is the Coinstar machine! We have a piggy bank (her name is Waldette) in our dining room into which goes all the spare change from the day just passed. If it’s lucky the pig gets fed a £2 coin, but generally has to make do with coppers and the odd ten-pence piece… then the takings are taken to Sainsbury’s, converted into a cash voucher, which is duly spent on wine! The key is to wait for the 25% off everything promotion to come round to get the best value from your pig!

All seems so easy doesn’t it? Well it isn’t. Because being a Complete Geek, and not just simple a Wine Geek, there has to be rules; and these are they:

1. The total Coinstar output is the budget. Not part of the budget. The entire budget.

2. The budget has to buy 6 X 750ml bottles. This is why it makes sense to wait for the 25% off deals as they usually call for a minimum purchase of 6 bottles

3. The 6-bottle selection must consist of 3 white and 3 red.

4. For this challenge I only allowed myself to purchase wines from the Taste the Difference range (I will be less offended if you break this rule).

These are my own rules of course and they by no means bind you… But if I do hear you’ve broken them, I will hunt you down and smash your piggy into millions of little pieces!!

Here’s how it happened:

Stage 1

Waldette was put on the “wine shrine” to bring me luck in this most difficult of challenges.


Stage 2

I found the nearest Coinstar machine to me, which is in my local Sainsbury’s (there really is a website where you can search by postcode).

Stage 3 

The search for the Coinstar machine and the tipping of that money like there’s no tomorrow… watching the total rise… and rise… and rise…


Stage 4

Pray you won’t have to go for the 3 for £10 option! This challenge ended up with a budget of £37.95. Or £6.32 per bottle… or £8.43 with the 25% discount.


Stage 5

Get to work!


We started with the whites; the Gruner Veltliner (£7.49/£6.62) and Albarinho (£7.99/£5.99) went straight into the trolley as they are 2 of my favourite varieties and offer consistent quality. I’ve read lots of good stuff about the Hunter Valley Semillon, and the Gewürztraminer looked an interesting option, but The Fish decided she fancied the Muscadet… and it was cheaper (£6.99/£5.24) than the alternatives, leaving a bigger budget for the reds.

I just had to have the Priorat – I haven’t had a bad one and again I’d read a couple of good things about this one. That was expensive (£10.99/£8.24) so it was time to balance the books and the Carmenere (£6.99/£5.24) felt right, especially now the cold has struck. Finally it was battle of the Rhones … Cotes du Rhone vs. Crozes Hermitage; time to read those labels. Chapoutier may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he does make some fantastic wine – his name on the label was enough to tip the balance in favour of the Crozes (£9.79/£7.34).

Much to my amazement, the first 6 choices came to £50.24… or £37.68 with 25% off… That’s 27p under budget… first time of asking… Bloody brilliant… Even if the wine stinks I will still feel like a winner!!

Stage 6

Time to the drink the stuff. All in all I’m very impressed with the wines – 5 out of 6 are definitely on my “buy again” list. Most of these wines are great value at their listed price… with 25% off there are some genuine bargains to be found.


Taste the Difference Crozes Hermitage 2010, Rhone, France (£7.34 was £9.79)

I would happily pay the full price for this wine – plenty of dark cherry fruit, spicy pepper and smoky notes and a delightful whack of acidity and soft, juicy tannins. A real charmer and at the promo price it’s a giveaway. 92 points

Taste the Difference Priorat 2009, Priorat, Spain (£8.24 was £10.99)

It’s hard to find Priorat under a tenner… Never mind £8.24! But this is fab. Blackberries, black currants and a touch of damson jam, but there’s also a fabulous savoury edge and an earthy minerality.  Refreshing acidity, nicely judged oak and balanced powdery tannin. This is still a young wine and unfortunately none of it will see its prime; but so what, it tastes really good right now. 91 points

Taste the Difference Fair Trade Carmenere 2012, Chile (£5.24 was £6.99)

I’m a big fan on Carmenere – whereas most people seem to have a thing for Malbec, this Chilean charmer is my South American go-to… But not this one. The aromas are delightful – blue and black concentrated fruit, jammy but not overdone. But the only way to describe the palate is green and lean. There is a green pepper bitterness that overtakes all of the fruit and the texture is thin. I so wanted to like this. 81 points

Sainsburys Taste the Difference Muscadet 2012, Loire, France (£5.24 was £6.99)

Muscadet is a much underappreciated wine, which in some ways is great because it keep s the price down. Quite grapey on the nose but the it explodes in the mouth with citrus and apple zestiness, which is nicely balanced with the slightly yeasty complexity that comes through from the lees-contact. Really classy and classic example and another bargain for sure, promo or not. 90 points

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Albarino 2012, Rias Baixas (£5.99 was £7.99)

Very aromatic nose with apples, nectarines and even a hint of white flowers. There’s a rich mouth-feel that is very pleasant and there’s plenty of lively apple freshness, peachy depth and a mineral and salty finish. Not bad at all – a fantastic Wednesday wine! 89 points

Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner 2012, Austria (£6.62 was £7.49)

Refreshing citrus and peaches with a delightful spritz and white peppery finish. This is a wine that does what it says on the tin and should be applauded at this price. Lacks the complexity and body of the Moosbergerin from Waitrose, for example, but it is almost half the price. Very decent indeed 88 points

November Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC5)

I’ve been writing this blog for just over a year now and winning the October Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC4) was by far my proudest writing moment to date. The monthly challenge is a great way to interact with other (real and talented!) blogger/writers and from it comes some fantastic articles on the fantastic subject of wine.


The prize for winning the challenge is to come up with the theme for the following month and although it sounds like an easy task… it’s really bloody difficult! I wrote down a list of possible options, crossed out a few but one word stood out. However much I enjoy a bottle of great wine, it’s the company and the food that usually makes it memorable. Not being able to share a good bottle with others always feels like an opportunity missed, and how often does a bottle of wine just yearn for the company of a beautifully cooked joint of meat (or carrot for you veggies out there)? With that in mind, the theme for this month is… FEAST.

So what are you waiting for? Oh, you’re waiting for the rules! OK, here they are…


The rules

1. Any (or all) of the “rules” below can be amended or changed by the presiding King/Queen of the Wine Writing Challenge

2. Write a post based on the theme “Feast” (only this month!)

3. At least try and make it relevant to wine (the clue is in the name of the challenge!)

4. The post should be less than 1000 words (my wife is an English teacher and she will be paying extra special attention to this – every 10 words over the limit will mean 1 day less voting time for your post!)

5. Include the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge badge (if you want to)

6. Post your work of art on your own blog, link back to this post, send me a link to your post and tweet a link using the hashtag #MWWC5

7. Get others involved by unashamedly promoting this fine monthly endeavour on any/all social networks, using the hashtag #MWWC5

8. Each time a new post is tweeted please retweet it

9. Vote for your top 3 (if I can work out how to set up the voting system)

10. Get as many other people as possible to vote for their top 3!


The all important dates

Deadline for submission:  Saturday 23rd November 2013

Voting Begins: Sunday 24th November 2013

Voting Ends:  Friday 29th November 2013

Winner Announced:  Saturday 30th November 2013


Previous winners 

If you’re looking for some inspiration here are the links to the previous winning posts:

July – Transportation

August – Trouble

September – Possession

October – Oops

November – Feast

It could be you!


Get writing and good luck!



%d bloggers like this: