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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!

My 2012 “best-of”

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.

Favourite reds

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

Favourite whites

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

Favourite fizz

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

Favourite restaurant

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!

Favourite bar

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.

Favourite shop

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!

Favourite website

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!

From the sublime to the (not so) ridiculous

OK then, lets give Tesco a go. After the amazing Leoville-Barton tasting earlier I the week I thought I’d go to the farthest extreme and taste some “cheap” or “bargain” wine from the UK’s biggest supermarket, and the biggest supplier of wine to the UK consumer in volume (definitely) and value (probably).

Me and The Fish hate shopping at Tesco. It reminds me of an awful amusement arcade full of families screaming at each other. Having said that, we often use the Tesco Express at the end of our road as it is very convenient, you know what you’re getting and you know the price will be decent. But we needed some ingredients for Sunday dinner so went to the Tesco supermarket in Rickmansworth. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting.

The wine section is actually very well put together with three distinct sections. The first is for offers, the second is arranged by colour & country, the third is fine wine. In between the sections there are also some “have you tried this” sections with useful advice on different grapes, growing areas and food matches. Well done, tick! By the way, the fine wine section had a really good selection, including a M Chapoutier Cote Rotie 2009 for about £30… But that’s not what we’re here to discuss today!

We went to the offers section, and I was looking for a 3 for £10 offer to lambast… But nothing so incredible to be found. Even that crappy Italian Dino rubbish was at £9.99; I wonder how many bottles they sell at that price?? It was in this section, however, that The Fish spotted the “Simply” range at £4.79 a bottle. Now this is a great idea. Tesco has taken the New World direction and “simply” put together a range of varietally named wines. If anyone watched “Chateau Chunder”, the programme on BBC4 earlier this week about the growth of Aussie wine, they will recognise the importance of this simple strategy. So we decided to go for 2 of these to try on a Sunday afternoon.

We chose the Spanish Garnacha and the German Riesling. And this is what I thought:

Simply Garnacha 2011

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The label on the Garnacha reads: “Made from sun ripened Garnacha grapes, this fruity red is medium-bodied, full of spicy bramble fruit flavours and juice red currant notes.”

Very young and purple in colour with a very attractive nose. It’s like a cocktail of stewed black fruits and just a hint of spice. On the palate there’s some black currants and maybe even a bit of dried morello cherry. Unfortunately that’s where the good bit ends and the alcohol starts to burn and overpower everything. You would think the ABV was upwards of 14%, whereas its actually 13.5%. This is by no means a bad wine and you’ll find it hard to get a Cotes Du Rhone as good at this price. Me and The Fish enjoyed a couple of glasses on Sunday afternoon and I threw the rest into my oxtail braise! 83 points

Simply Riesling 2011

“An authentically German Riesling, with well balanced flavours of green apples and citrus fruit with a juicy finish”.

In the glass the Riesling looks a bit like very weak lemon squash but is lovely an clear. I found it very difficult to get much aroma either straight from the fridge or after an hour in the glass; however there are some very muted hints of green apple and lime there somewhere. On the palate we have a blast of sweetness, almost medium sweet. It’s like a really sweet but juicy (homemade?) cordial of apples and limes, and its only 10.5% alcohol. This is definitely not my style of Riesling as I love the bone dry new world style, particularly from South Australia, but I can definitely see The Fish drinking this through a straw in the garden during the summer holidays! 80 points

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Cava tasting at Freixenet

It’s time to enjoy Cava

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The beautiful Freixent premises in Sant Sadurni

Me and The Fish visited Freixenet winery on Monday 29th October 2012. A 40 minute train journey from the centre of Barcelona was well worth it, and the cost of €6 each for the tour was an absolute steal. There are a couple of daily tours in English and we were lucky enough that there were only 8 of us on the tour so it felt vey personal.

Freixenet is big business, with over 100 million bottles maturing on site at any one time! The company was started in 1861 and is still run by one of the original families.

The tour begins with a short video introducing Freixenet and their wines, and took place in a cool little cinema. The tour then ambles through the whole process of making the Cavas with lots of information about grapes and process, delivered by a very friendly Spanish lady with brilliant English and a great sense of humour. What I actually loved was the fact that it never felt like a marketing speech (anyone visited Veuve Cliquot in Reims??). The tour really is all about the product and not the brand. Part of the tour is a mini train ride around the production and storage areas and really does add a nice touch. 45 minutes for the whole thing and a great deal of quality information is shared.

After the tour we were taken to a tasting room, a bit like an airport departure lounge but cosy enough nevertheless. As part of the admission fee you get a full glass of Cordon Negro Reserve Brut. You’ve probably seen these black bottles on the shelves of your local supermarket. I have to say it went down very well and we asked if it was possible to try some other Cavas. This is where the place came into its own. We were given a menu with 11 Cavas, priced between €1,75 and €5,10 a glass… A full 125ml glass! Brilliant I thought, and so glad we took the train! To accompany the wines there is also a small selection of cold tapas dishes available, including a fantastic platter for about €16, superb value considering the quality of the jamon on the plate.

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Cava and tapas. Beautiful!

We enjoyed a cracking couple of hours working our way through 7 Cavas and demolishing the jamon, butifarra blanco and manchego. If you get the chance please go. the wines are excellent, the staff are brilliant and it will certainly make you reconsider Cava as a sparkling option. Oh and by the way, the tour (2 people), tasting and tapas came to a grand total of €55!

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The full list by the glass

Below are my tasting notes on the wines we drank. I’ve used winesearcher.com to try and find stockists and prices in the UK, but as you’ll see this proved quite difficult, with only the Cordon Negro available!

Cordon Negro Reserva Brut

A blend of the local Parellada, Macabeu and Xarel-lo grapes, aged for 18-24 months in chestnut barrels. Apple skins and lemon on the nose. Vey dry with a lovely lemon-sherbet finish. Not complex but far more refreshing that I’d expected. 85 points. (£9.49 all major supermarkets)

Brut Barroco

Same blend as the Cordon Negro but with a higher percentage of Xarel-lo, apparently for a better balanced wine, aged for 30-36 months. Granny Smiths in a glass. Unfortunately the alcohol felt unbalanced and overtook the fruit, leaving an astringent and very dry finish. Bit disappointing this one, 82 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)

Trepat

Made using 100% Trepat black grapes, aged for 30-40 months. This is more like it! Slight blush colour if you look hard enough, wild strawberries on the nose and palette with a gorgeous acidic streak running though. Long and delicious. Yes please! 90 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)

Elyssia Rose

100% Pinot Noir, aged for 10 months only. Lovely pink redish-pink colour. Very fragrant, red fruits and cherries. Rally fresh taste and lovely balance. Simple and fruity, a great party wine. 88 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer)

Reserva Real

We’re back to the local Parellada, Macabeu and Xarel-lo blend, but this time it’s the first pressing, aged for over 30 months. This is a serious wine. It’s yeasty and bready, super complex and oh so long. It’s is what I expect from a good vintage champers – and I reckon would do very well in a blind tasting. Best wine of the flight for me by some distance. 93 points. (Can’t find a UK retailer – gutted!)

Casa Sala Brut Nature

Now we’re into the stuff they keep for themselves! Made using a blend of Xarel-lo and Parelloda, aged for 30-40 months. This is super dry but very complex. Not so much breadiness as the Real but certainly complex. I got quite a bit of dried fruit, maybe even figs coming through on the taste, which has a very long finish. Good wine but I’ll stick with the Real. 89 points.

Malvasia

100% Malvasia, aged for 9 years. Is this a Cava or a sherry?? Wow, this is interesting. This wine must be made for Xmas. Spices, figs, raisins and a lovely sweetness but with a slightly dry finish. This really is great and I am gutted they don’t export this little beauty. Would be a great match for foie gras. 91 points.

Barcelona. The good, the bad and the bubbly!

Now my knowledge of Spanish wine certainly isn’t great. I know my Rioja from my Ribera, understand the difference between a Crianza and a Gran Reserva, and love the refreshing whites from the the north of the country, particularly Verdejo and Abarinho. But what about Barcelona, and what about Penedes?

The white wines by the glass are simple affairs, reminiscent of the slightly round white wines from the Rhone; pleasant but lacking that streak of acidity to really give them a lift, especially when drunk with some of the marvellous seafood pinchos. What I was really surprised and delighted by are the number of varieties grown in the area, and the quality of the wines produced using the more commonly known grapes.

For lunch on our first day we sat down at a very good seafood tapas restaurant, Mariscco in Placa Reial. Looking through the wine list, what caught my eye was a Penedes DO Riesling (Torres Waltroud 2011) so I went with my instinct and what a good choice it turned out to be. At first taste I thought it may be a touch off-dry, but this was simply the juiciness of limes and pineapple chunks coming through. The finish was actually bone dry and rather reminiscent of a wine from the Clare Valley – a very modern and enjoyable wine (89 points). The seafood was outstanding. Percebes, langoustine, clams, cuttlefish, followed by some beautiful veal fillet.

Mariscco restaurant in Placa Reial

We also enjoyed some simple but refreshing Basque white wine in a couple of the great pinchos bars; nothing to write home about with too much conviction but perfect for this most superb method of informal dining.

The best seafood dish ever??

The second memorable white was the exceptional Jean Leon Chardonnay 2009. Only 12,000 bottles produced in the vintage and ours was bottle number 9,554. The wine had beautifully integrated oak, which surprised me when i found it had spent 9 months in new French oak. The nose was a pleasant apple and pear combo, with the fruit coming through in the taste, swathed in a rich vanilla cream. Once we took the wine out of the ice bucket we were able to enjoy it at its full and charming best (91 points). What I haven’t mentioned is Can Majo, the superb restaurant where we enjoyed this wine in Barcelonta, overlooking the sea. The Majo paella was maybe the best seafood dish I have ever eaten and I implore you to go if you ever find yourself in the vicinity.

So what about the reds? Well this is the only “bad” I can write about. And the main reason is the lack of local red available by the glass. Rioja – tick, Ribera – tick. But very little of the local stuff. The couple of places we did find with Penedes, or if we were very lucky, Priorat, on the list by the glass were fantastic! The Garnacha is spicy, yet silky, concentrated and inky. It was just such a shame that there was so little around!

La Vinya del Senyor – a great wine bar in Placa Santa Maria

On our last evening we went to the superb wine bar in Placa Santa Maria, called La Vinya del Senyor. OK, we went the day before and enjoyed a lovely glass of Cava and Ribera, but the list was excellent so we decided to head back for a bottle of Priorat. And boy was it worth it. We asked the waiter for some inspiration and he pointed us in the direction of the Somni 2009. Wow! Spicy, smokey, brambly, black currant and blackberry nose. Lovely cassis flavour, reminiscent of a great black currant sorbet. Warm, concentrated, complex and long, like a black fruit duvet! This was perfect for a chilly evening in Barca (by their standards), and one I will be tracking down for Xmas (94 points).

The star of the show – Somni 2009, Priorat DOCQ

So that just leaves the bubbles. To be quite frank, I’ve never met a Cava I’ve really got along with… Until this weekend. I’ve always found Cava lacking the acidic backbone I so enjoy in champagne and English fizz. But this weekend I found the Cava zing and it was certainly worth waiting for. We enjoyed a lovely Titianna Brut Nutural (extra dry) at the aforementioned La Vinya del Senyor, but the real magic came when we visited Freixenet, one of the biggest Cava producers in Catalunya. I’m going to write a separate piece about the tour and tasting at Freixenet as it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone visiting the Barcelona area, and anyone who feels they don’t quite “get” Cava.

A taste of things to come

Overall, Barcelona is a wonderful city and brilliant place for a city break. The food is simply outstanding, the culture is magnificent and the people are welcoming. As a matter of fact, I can’t wait I go back!

The good.

I have fallen in love with pinchos – the most social way of eating I have ever come across. As for the wine, well the brooding, fruity reds of Priorat certainly get the gold medal but the whites made from the more internationally recognised grapes are also excellent and I look forward to finding some for my collection.

The bad.

There isn’t any really. The biggest bugbear was the lack of local wine by the glass and the omnipresence of Rioja and Ribero. In fairness that really isn’t too much of a chore but I think the locals should be proud of their wine and encourage more of us tourists to give it a go.

The bubbly.

Well I’m a Cava convert. The cheap stuff we buy in supermarket in the UK really doesn’t do this drink any justice. There is so much choice and there are some really complex wines out there – you just have to search them out and have a bit of patience. I will write up my notes from the Freixenet tasting in the next day or so to try and give a bit more depth to the subject.

Gracias!

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