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Shopping at Aldi… I like it

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

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

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

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White wines

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

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

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

Red wines

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

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

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

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

A wino is born!

Now my Dad has never been a drinker. He likes the odd pint of lager but I don’t ever remember him drinking a whole glass of wine. A sip and a grimace definitely; a glass, absolutely not. This Xmas things have certainly taken a turn. Whether its for better or worse really depends on your perspective!

Dad has got interested in wine since I started writing the blog. This is great as I appreciate his support… But his interest is real! When we talk on the phone the first question he asks is about something he’s read in a post and he’s forever sending me photos of wines to ask if they’re any good. But he still doesn’t like the stuff. Or he didn’t… Until I took him a case at Xmas.

I took a few of my favourites from the past few months and he loved them. So much so that when the fifth bottle was finished (there were 4 of us and it was Xmas!) out came a bottle of Echo Falls Merlot from the cupboard. And his reaction? “I’m not drinking that sh*t; its thin and tastes of vinegar!” I am so proud of him!

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Here are the wines we drank – Dad asked not to be quoted so my reactions will have to do!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2008, West Sussex, UK (Waitrose £29.99, reduced to £23.99)
This was Dad’s favourite. Lovely aromas of peaches and apricots with a dry but very fruity palate. The fruity flavours are delivered in a stream of deliciously light bubbles, with a delicious yeasty and long finish. 88 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)
Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

Domaine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse Prestige 2008, Macon, Burgundy (Wine & the Vine £22.99)
Aromas and flavours of peaches and honeysuckle. Good weight in the mouth and well integrated oak, although no new oak has been used. Lots of acidity and a lovely clean finish. Quite a modern and delicious Pouilly Fuisse. 89 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)
Yes it’s this one again! I couldn’t give Dad a selection of good stuff without including this gem! Aromas of dark cherries and brambly blackberries and black currant. Loads of spicy Xmas goodness and pepper. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. 95 points

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey les Beaune 2010, Burgundy (Waitrose £15.99, reduced to £11.99)
Lots of raspberry and cherry fruit and a lovely fresh palate. Secondary aromas and flavours of leather and forest floor. Maybe a bit young but delightful and a great value introduction to red Burgundy. 87 points

We didn’t get to the bottle of Sauternes so I’ll get back to you on that one!

The Grape Escape

Not another French post! Well no actually, it isn’t. Well not really. I know I’ve written a fair bit about French wine over the past couple of months but I do think its the best place to start and is a great introduction to most of the well known grape varieties. But most of these varieties are grown all around the world, so this post highlights the places to look. I’ll use the recent articles about decoding French wine to take us on a trip around the world. It’s a bit like Amazon… If you liked that, then you might like this!

Pinot Noir

My love of Burgundy has also taken me to a few other places over the past year and back in February I even bought a case of 6 bottles from Majestic of Pinot Noir from everywhere but France! New World wines, particularly New Zealand and USA,I have found to be more fruit focused, which lots of people like, but often without the earthy, forest aromas and flavours of Burgundy. Getting any Pinot for under £10 is never easy, but it can be done, and the best example I’ve found comes from Pfalz in Germany (M&S – find it!). Ive been told that the best up and coming region for Pinot is Tasmania, owing to its cool climate, so I’ll keep my eye out for a couple to try for you. I really am sooooo selfless!

Cabernet Sauvignon

From the epicentre of fine wine in Bordeaux, Cab Sav is grown all over the world and thrives in hot climates. We only need to go back to the famous “Judgement in Paris” in 1976 when the Californian wines whooped the asses of the Borderlais in a blind taste test to realise there are great Cabernets around the globe (get yourself a copy of the film “Bottle Shock” to learn more and to enjoy another superb performance from Alan Rickman). Then there’s the fabulous region of Coonawarra in Australia, famed for Cab Sav. And for value head to South America – Argentina and Chile are making some great stuff.

Syrah/Shiraz

Same grape, different name! In fact Aussie Shiraz is probably better known to most casual wine drinkers in the UK than Syrah from the Northern Rhone! So where better to start than Oz! The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia produce some stunning Shiraz, as does the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Try “The Hedonist” from Waitrose at £12.99 – one of my favourite wines of the year.

Grenache

The Grenache blends of the Southern Rhone are available all over the World. In Oz they are often referred to as GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre). The famous Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Papes even transported and planted some of their wines in Paso Robles, California! I’ve also written a lot about my love of Priorat in north-east Spain, usually made primarily from Garnacha (yep, same grape!). Hot country = spicy and fruity and often excellent.

Chardonnay

This grand grape has had a tough time over the past 10 with the ABC gang getting into a tizz. Now it’s true that the supermarket shelves have been full of basically crap stuff from Oz and the States… But what do you expect at 3 for £10? There is so much great winemaking around the world now that Chardonnay is regaining its place as one of the most fantastic and flexible grapes out there, both with and without the use of oak. I’ve found some amazing wines from the US and Oz over the past 12 months and recently tasted a stunner from NZ. Also look to Chile for value. I also tasted truly excellent Spanish Chard on our recent trip.

Sauvignon Blanc

Where else to start but New Zealand? Since the inaugural 1986 vintage of Cloudy Bay ( not Oyster Bay, repeat not Oyster Bay – never pay more that £5 for it!) those clever Kiwis haven’t put a foot wrong. Supermarket shelves are packed with the stuff, and there is some great value to be found as well as some real class if you’re prepared to go above £10. The up and coming country for this often gregarious grape is Chile, but prices are rising with improved quality. Also look to the south of France for some lovely clean wines.

Riesling

Germany is the place to start as they probably produce some of the best anywhere in the world, but as usual the top stuff comes with a hefty price tag. However, if you like something really fun and a bit sweet then give the Dr. Loosen from Sainsburys a go. I’m a huge fan of Australian Riesling, especially from the Clare or Eden Valleys. They offer real concentration of limes and tropical fruit and lovely minerality. Also look to NZ who are really starting to get into the grape more and more. Recently I also tasted a lovely example from South Africa… Expect to see more and more on the shelves over the coming months.

Chenin Blanc

Not unlike Oz and Shiraz, Chenin has become synonymous with South Africa and there are bottles at all price levels. I am really getting into these wines at the moment and have a blockbuster lined up for Xmas day. Australia is another country making some Chenin waves and these are generally easier to find in the supermarkets than the French bottling from the Loire Valley.

When you’re having a dinner party, try buying a French and other country example of a white and red wine and see who prefers what… My guests are probably getting fed up of the same old game but I’m still enjoying it!

Decoding French Wine – Part 2, The Reds

Following on from my post on decoding French white wine it only seemed fair and decent to do the same with reds. Some of the best red wines in the world come from France and the names of Bordeaux and Burgundy are synonymous with fine wine. I love Burgundy and am fast becoming far too interested in Bordeaux so this post will concentrate on them, and the other wonderful red wine producing area of the Rhone. There are some other wonderful regions to explore red wine options in France, and more often than not, at far more affordable prices – I will cover these off next week.
I hope this guide helps you match grapes to regions as well as giving you a bit of inspiration to go and try out a few new wines over the festive season. Well we all need an excuse don’t we??

Bordeaux

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Probably the most famous red wine producing area in the world and commonly referred to as claret in the UK (and not anywhere else!). Most red Bordeaux you buy will be a blend of grapes, most likely containing at least 2 varieties of either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet Franc.

Red wine production is divided into 3 main sub-regions (there are many more!). On the left bank of the Gironde estuary you will find the Medoc, home to the famous first growth (Premier league – remember!) chateaux of Latour, Lafite, Mouton and Margaux. Medoc wines are made primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot and/or Cab Franc. On the left bank you will find the famous appellations of Pomerol (I’m sure you’ve all heard stories of business men in London spending thousands of pounds on Petrus to impress potential investors) and St. Emilion (Cheval Blanc is probably the most famous chateau here). Pomerol’s main grape in the blend is Merlot (Petrus is normally 100% Merlot), whereas Cabernet Franc becomes more important in St. Emilion.

Bordeaux wines are often characterised with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, pencil-shaving type minerality (sounds weird but it is wonderful!) and big tannins which mellow over time but work brilliantly with red meat. Other flavours and aromas often associated with Bordeaux are woody/cedar and even eucalyptus (especially if the main grape in the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon).

Prices for the top wines are astronomical but there is plenty of value on offer around the £10 mark. Also, most of these wines require a minimum of 10 years cellaring before reaching their best; not ideal if you’re after a nice bottle to go with your steak tonight! 2009 and 2010 were superb vintages and are starting to find their way onto supermarket shelves and merchant wine lists so keep an eye out.

Here’s a few to try from some of the different areas and at some different price-points:

Chateau Tour Chapoux, Bordeaux Superieur 2010 (Waitrose £8.89)
Chateau Labecorce Margaux 2002 (Majestic £8.99)
Chateau Givriere Medoc 2004 (Majestic £8.99)
Mouieux St Emilion 2009 (M&S £13.99)

Burgundy

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If Bordeaux is powerful, then Burgundy is spiritual! The home of Pinot Noir and the most expensive wine in the world, from Domaine de la Romanee Conti… £15,750 for a bottle of 2009 anyone??
From North to South we start in the Cote de Nuits, head down into the Cote de Beaune (together these make up the famous Cote D’Or), then comes the Cote Chalonnaise (you’ll find great value here) before we get to Beaujolais. All red wines from the Cotes are made using pinot noir. Beaujolais is made with Gamay.

The classification of wines in Burgundy is actually pretty simple. On the Cote D’Or the entry level is Bourgogne, the next step is to sub-regional wine such as Côtes de Beaune Villages, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Hautes-Côtes de Beaune or Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. These, like the white wines, are from lesser know villages or a blend of grapes from here, there and everywhere. We then move up to Village wines, which have the name of the village where they were harvested on the label. Examples of these are Volnay, Alox-Corton, Nuits St George and Gevrey Chambertin. The next after this is to 1er Cru, which are vineyards that have been designated the best in the appellation (e.g. Volnay 1er Cru). Each of the vineyards also have their names on the label, for example Volnay (village name) 1er Cru (classification) Taillepieds (name of the vineyard). The top of the tree is Grand Cru. There are 25 red vineyards at this level and prices can be astronomical.

Now that seems pretty straightforward… but we’re talking about French wine here, so here’s the twist! In Bordeaux each plot of land is owned by a Chateau. In Burgundy, each vineyard is split between many producers, the Grand Cru of Clos de Vougeot has more than 100 different growers owning vines within its walls! So finding a god producer can be as important as choosing by classification. A great winemaker’s village wine may well be better than the poor winemakers Grand Cru.

Burgundy is far lighter in colour than Bordeaux, often looking a tad weak –but don’t be put off! Here, the fruits are raspberries and cherries, and the secondary flavours are earthier, mushroomy, and even meaty. A good bottle of aged Burgundy is an amazing thing. It sounds daft, but you could just smell the wine all day and feel very happy. Why not try some for yourself:

Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Pinot Noir (Majestic £11.99)
Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune 2010 (Waitrose £14.99)
Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune-Villages 2009 (Majestic £14.99)
Louis Max Cote du Nuits Village 2009 (Sainsburys £15.99)

Northern Rhone

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You will be more familiar with the wines of the southern Rhone, but the Northern Rhone is home to some wonderful inky, spicy red wines. The key grape of the region is Syrah, better known to most of us as Shiraz (yes, they are the same!).

There is no classification as such in the Northern Rhone, but possibly the pinnacle of the crop is Cote Rotie. Cote Rotie can be loosely translated as the “roasted slope” due to the many hours of hot sunshine the amazing aspect allows it. This is also expensive wine and there are 3 reasons for this. The first is that it is a small area and production is low and in demand (only 224 acres planted), secondly the slopes are so severe that special pulley systems have had to be implemented in many parts in order to harvest the grapes, and thirdly, it tastes bloody great!

The next big name of the Northern Rhone is Hermitage. Hermitage is an amazing hill which overlooks the town of Tain l’Hermitage, just on the right bank of the Rhone River. Again syrah is dominant, although up to 15% of the white wine grapes Marsanne and Rousanne are permitted in the blend, they are very rarely used (up to 20% of Viognier is also allowed in Core Rotie).
The surrounding areas of Hermitage are labelled Crozes Hermitage, and on the other side of the river is St Joseph. These two appellations produce some really excellent (and variable) wines at affordable prices. The other important appellation in the region is Cornas; and the most interesting fact is that this wine HAS to be 100% Syrah. I’ve got a couple of these from the 2007 vintage lying in wait for Xmas 2013!

And what should expect from these syrah-laden wines? Well lots of power, tannin and acidity. Inky dark colours, with blackberry fruit, dark chocolate, black pepper and… Wait for it… smoky bacon! Delicious!

Cave du Tain Crozes Hermitage 2009 (Majestic £9.99)
Sainsburys Taste the Difference St Joseph 2010 (Sainsburys £13.49)

Southern Rhone

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Spicy Grenache is the king grape of the Southern Rhone, and is usually more than 80% of the blend. In this region there is a classification, which is pretty straightforward and also a pretty fine indicator of quality!

We start with simple Cotes du Rhone. We’ve all had it and all thought, do you know what, that’s not half bad. And there are some very good ones out there. Many of the big name Rhone producers make a Cotes du Rhone – Guigal, possibly the biggest name in the Cote Rotie, makes one and you can buy it in Majestic for £10.99! We then move up to Cotes du Rhone Villages, which is a selection of 95 communes and then on to the “better” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which over the years have produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label. There are 18 of these villages and my faves are Sablet and Cairanne.

Next, and finally, we come to the “Crus”. These are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhone Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Gigondas and Chateuneuf du Pape. Again, like Burgundy, finding a producer you like and trust is key in these appellations, and certainly worth the effort to find.

Wines made primarily from Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes. Lots of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. Also you can often smell and taste the wonderful aromas in the southern French air.

M&S Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2010 (M&S £9.99)
La Bastide St-Vincent, Pavane Vacqueyras 2010 (Majestic £12.99)
Ogier Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Co-op £16.99)

USA vs. France… Again?

OK, it may not be original but a recent visit to Gidleigh Park was the inspiration behind this latest France vs. USA tasting. We were very fortunate to have been invited to the wedding of our good friends back in September (thanks Richard & Max!); a lovely service in Worcester, followed by a weekend at the outrageously wonderful Gidleigh Park hotel. We enjoyed Michael Caines’ stunning signature menu on the Friday evening, along with a very well judged accompanying wine flight. The standout dish and wine combo was the Cornish duckling with cabbage, smoked bacon, roast garlic and a spiced jus, paired with a 2009 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Now I am a Burgundy man through and through… But this wine really tickled my fancy, so much so that I asked the sommelier who their supplier was. It turned out to be from Roberson on High Street Kensington, recent winners of the 2012 Decanter London Wine Merchant of the Year award. So online i went and found the listing and realised that I work 5 minutes away from the London outlet and never realised it! What an excuse for a lunchtime visit.

The truly magical Gidleigh Park

Roberson is a great shop and I know I will spending much more time at their premises over the next few months, but Bergstrom I was after and Bergstrom I did find. Unfortunately they didn’t have the Cumberland Reserve in stock, however the did have the Shea Vineyard 2010. The Cumberland Reserve is a wine made from a combination of grapes from 3 different vineyards, Shea being one of them (Bergstrom and Lancelotti are the other two). Being a single vineyard wine, the Shea was a tad more expensive but what the hell I thought! It was then pointed out to me that they also stocked a Bergstrom Chardonnay that came highly recommend. Well what else could I do? “Add it to the bill, please”, and away I walked.

This weekend we had a family get together at the in-laws in Worcester, with my parents and sister joining us from Anglesey. A perfect opportunity to try the wines out and maybe test their suitability for this years Xmas wine list. But why not make it a bit more interesting and pit the newly purchased Bergstroms against some decent tipples from Burgundy? So I picked out a couple of bottles from the rack and away we went. The tasting proved to be very interesting and great fun. Burgundy came out on top 2-0, although as you will read from the notes below, the Bergstroms could definitely do with at least another year in bottle. Also it wasn’t 100% cut and dried, with the Chardonnay battle causing the biggest debate…

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2010

Lovely deep, inviting gold colour, nose of white flowers, with a good citrus blast and a hint the tropics (lychee maybe?). The wine has good body but the fruit is still hiding, trying to get out. The principle take away is minerally, wet stones with a hint of apple skin on the mid palette. This will only get better and may well make the list for Xmas 2013. 16.5/20, 88pts, £25.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Patrick Javillier Bourgogne Blanc, Cuvée des Forgets 2010

We visited the domaine in the heart of Meursault back in July this year and enjoyed a wonderful tasting in the very cool and vey small cellar. This was the first wine we tried and although only a Bourgogne Blanc it was as good, if not better, than many of the Cote De Beaune village wines I’ve tasted recently. The wine is deep gold with a very clean nose of white peach and a hint of cobnuts. The flavour follows on from the nose as well as delivering a lovely hit of minerality and just a hint of buttered toast. Bourgogne Blanc on the label but this is another one that will keep getting better and at this price why not keep a case in the cellar? 17/20, 90pts, £18.95 www.corneyandbarrow.com (I bought mine direct after the tasting at Javillier but will be on the phone to C&B very soon!)

Final Chardonnay score 3-3… With my vote counting double (!!), a close contest just going the way of Burgundy.

Bergstrom Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

Lovely crimson colour and very fruit forward nose. Cherries and red currants with a blast of musty leather. These Oregon Pinots really do offer secondary and tertiary smells very early in their lives. The palette is still very closed with only a hint of the fruit and some violets coming through, not quite in harmony… Yet! This will be fantastic given a couple more years in bottle – think I’ll have a look for some 2008/9. 16.5/20, 88pts, £37.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Pierre Naigeon Haute Cotes de Nuits 2007

This is a bit of a go to wine with very good structure and flavour for the price. A hint of brick on the rim and a nose which offers sweet morello cherries and a whiff of smokeyness. Light bodied and the fruit from the nose is there in the mouth, along with that lovely damp forrest floor vibe. Not a wine of length but certainly one of charm. 16.5+/20, 89pts, £18.65 www.wineandthevine.co.uk

Final Pinot Noir score 5-1 to Burgundy (sorry Peter!). 2010 vs 2007 was what tipped the balance.

The verdict

A very enjoyable tasting session and some very good wines. If you’re looking for good Pinot and Chardonnay from outside of Burgundy I would certainly set my sights on Bergstrom and I will be on the look out for some 2008 and 2009s. The wine that sparked the tasting was the 2009 Cumberland Pinot Noir so winesearcher.com here I come!

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