When I was a teenager, this was my favourite time of the year. Not because of Xmas or the presents that might await, but because the annual review editions of NME and Melody Maker were released and I could see how many of their top 100 singles and albums I had managed to collect over the past 12 months. Anyway, the subject may have changed (I haven’t bought any “new” music since 2002!) but I still love “best of” lists. So here’s a few of my wine highlights of 2012.
Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, 2001, Volnay, Burgundy (The Wine Society £46.00)
Not noted for being a great vintage but this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! (I’ve got a 2004 from the tiny vintage to enjoy over Xmas) 96 points
Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)
Wow. What aromas of dark brambly fruit. There are cherries and blackberries and even hints of black currant. Loads of spicy goodness including black pepper and Xmas spice. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. This is the real thing. Having this with the Xmas goose. 95 points
Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Waitrose £12.99)
Inky black in the glass. Chocolate, black pepper and autumn hedgerow, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! 92 points
Maison de Tastelune Chassagne Montrachet 2008, Burgundy (M&S £30.00)
The Fish bought me the first bottle of this wine for my birthday – thank you Fish! Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I really could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy and spicy and long. Lovely texture excellent weight. Love it. 92 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
First Press Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £16.99)
Overripe, fruity sweet melon fruit. Supercharged fruit with a lovely brioche waft and some nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points
Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2008, Cornwall, UK (direct @ £30)
We drank this at the beginning of December with my brother in law and his other half, The L’s, Luke & Laura. Lovely red-fruity aromas and summery taste of strawberries and red currants. Very pleasant with a delightfully yeasty and biscuity finish. Thought it tasted like a Rose but wonderfully clear in the glass! 91 points
We had some amazing meals on our French odyssey in the summer, especially the Crazy Carafe in Tournon, Cave du Madelaine in Beaune and Le Chambolle in Chambolle Musigny. However, I cannot go past The River Cafe in Hammersmith. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there twice this year and can’t wait to return in 2013. Wonderfully sourced, seasonal ingredients, cooked to perfection with minimal fuss. The food for people who like eating! Amazing all Italian wine list; hopefully the guide I wrote recently will help you make a great choice!
In 2012 I discovered Gordon’s wine bar, near Embankment tube station. The place is mental busy and great fun. The wine list is pretty eclectic and you can get a bottle of Latour Corton Grand Cru 1998 for £45! Well it’s better than most village Burgundys you pay more than £50 for when drinking out of home! Also a great place to get smashed with Hanski and George! I haven’t been able to get to Sager & Wilde yet, but I’m guessing it will be near the top of my 2013 list.
It will be no surprise to any of you that this goes to Wine & the Vine at Battlers Green, near Radlett. Jez is a constant source of inspiration and keeps me up to date with what’s new and interesting… And long may it continue. Special mention also to Waitrose, who’s selection just gets better and better… Especially at 25% off!
No competition this year. http://www.winetravelguides.com was an essential resource in putting together our 2 week fantasy through The Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. If you are looking for advice on anything to do with wine on your holidays then make this website your first stop. Use this code for a 30% discount D2Blog12
So that’s it for 2012. I hope you all have a superb Xmas, and I look forward to sharing more wine words with you in 2013… CHEERS!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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??
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)
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)
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)
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)
It’s been a couple of weeks now since I went shopping in Waitrose and M&S when they were running their 25% off promos. In those few weeks I’ve had a chance to open a few of the bottles, and must admit, I have been really impressed with what I have drunk. It’s also fair to say that a couple of these wines are well worth a buy at full price… Although I’m sure there will be another per-Xmas bonanza coming our way.
But seriously, if these guys do run a similar deal then get down there quick… It will certainly add to you Xmas enjoyment.
Here are the notes I made on six of the wines; all highly recommended by me… and The Fish! (Prices are RRP/25% off)
First Press Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2010. (Waitrose £16.99/£12.74)
Overripe melon in a lovely way. Supercharged fruit, lovely brioche waft and a note of nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points
Maison du Tastelune, Chassagne Montrachet 2008 (M&S £30.00/£22.50)
Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy, spicy and long. Very fresh with lovely acidity but still plenty of Chassagne weight. This comes with a heftyish price tag but will brighten up your Xmas. Love it. 92 points
Felsner Moosburgerin Gruner Veltliner, Austria 2011 (Waitrose £11.49/£8.62)
Pears, veering on pear drops with lots of white pepper nose. Lovely and warm on the palate, very spicy with a lovely bite, a whisp of acidity and beautiful long finish. 89 points
Villalta Amarone Classico I Communali, Veneto 2008. (M&S £25.00/£18.75)
Lovely sweet, intense cherries and even raspberries on the nose. The cherries carry on through and there’s also an elegant bitterness of almond, with a fine tannic structure. The finish is decent in length and I do like this wine a lot. I’d buy another bottle at the promo price for sure. 90 points
Brazi Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, Manteca 2009 (Waitrose £12.99/£9.74)
Lovely dark purple colour but surprisingly light texture in the glass. Blueberries and chocolate on the nose, like a Starbucks muffin, with some tobacco smoke. Blackberries and blueberries on the palate, grippy tannins and a hint of oak and spice but not overdone – like treacle toffee. Nice and subtle for a Zin, bargain at the under £10 price, value at £12.99. 88 points
Walter Clappis, The Hedonist Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2010 (Waitrose £12.99/£9.74)
I haven’t enjoyed a decent Aussie Shiraz for a while… Until now! Inky black with chocolate, black pepper, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! Michelle – get to Waitrose and buy this at full price… You won’t be disappointed! 92 points
With all of the talk this week about the supermarket 25% off deals I thought it was time I got in on the act so spent some time this afternoon vigilantly scrutinising the shelves in Waitrose and M&S. Sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to visit the theme park that is Tesco in Watford on a Sunday (or any other day if I’m being totally truthful).
I spent a bit of time during the week reading some of the recommendations from Jancis, Tim, Tom et al, and pulled together a shortlist of interesting looking options and stared from there. M&S in Rickmansworth was the first port of call, where I was met with bright red point of sale material confirming that I was in the right place to save 25%. Phew. The wine sitting underneath was the £3 Pinot Grigo and Cab Sav nonsense so I ventured to the farthest reaches of the store to look at the range.
Confession time. I was planning on buying 6 wines… I ended up buying 6 bottles but only 4 wines. The reason being that I had to purchase 3 bottles of the excellent Maison du Tastelune Chassagne-Montrachet 2008. The Fish bought me a bottle of this for my birthday a couple of months back and it is an excellent example of Chassagne, with a great fat texture and lots of peach and lemon fruit with hints of nuttiness. This wine is usually £30 so £22.50 to me looks like a bargain for an appellation where you rarely get change from 30 notes. So three more wines to find. I found an M&S Meursault 2008 sitting next to the Chassagne so I’ll give this one a trial in the team too (£21.75 with the discount).
The next on my list was another favourite, the Palataia Pinot Noir 2011 from Pfalz. Another corker of a wine and under £10 usually (£9.99). Lovely silky Pinot for £7.50?? I was gutted there was only one bottle left! My last choice was a Villalta Amarone 2008. I love Valpolicella and have only recently been seduced by the deeply concentrated flavours that some time in the sun can do to the Corvina grape. At £18.75 with the discount I hope I’ve picked a winner.
So the M&S bill came to £152.99, or £114.74 with the discount. This feels like a good price to pay for the bottles in the basket but only time will tell.
Next stop Waitrose and this time lots of green signage luring me into the 25% savings. Here I had no preconceptions and decided it was 6 wines; 3 white and 3 red. So here goes. The white choices came from my online research earlier this week. Blanck Gewertztraminer Alsace 2001 (£14.99/£11.24), Felsner Moosburgerin Gruner Veltliner 2011 (£11.49/£8.62) and First Press Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010 (£16.99/£12.74). A selection of grapes I love and the prices look good so I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into them.
The reds proved a little more difficult as most of the wines on my research list weren’t on the shelves. But what the hell, isn’t this the fun of shopping?? My first red choice was the Coma Vella Priorat 2007 (£23.49/£17.62). If you’ve read my Barcelona article you’ll know that Priorat is fast becoming a new obsession with me. Since coming back from Spain I’ve been struggling to find much Priorat on sale, and even less under £30 so I’m hoping I may have found a new option at Waitrose. Selection #2 is The Hedonist Shiraz McLaren Vale 2010 (£12.99/£9.74). I love the Northern Rhone spicy Syrahs and haven’t paid much attention to Oz reds for quite some time, so I’m looking forward to a silky number from the Southern Hemisphere. And last but not least, a fruit bomb from the States, Brazin Lodi Old Vine Zin 2009 (£12.99/£9.74). I often forget how much I enjoy the warm cherries and spice of Zinfandel so I’m hoping this one reminds me and sends me back for more.
The Waitrose bill was £92.94, reduced to £69.71 with my 25% discount.
In conclusion, I’m a sucker for what looks like a bargain. I look forward to seeing whether the Waitrose wines offer the better value for money or the extra investment in M&S pays off. Whatever, I can’t wait to get stuck in over the next few weeks.