Tag Archives: Waitrose wine

Summer in a bottle – gorgeous golden pinks from Provence and surprises from further afield

5 Jul

In a midsummer made for pink wine drinking, the Wine Wanderers have challenged themselves to reconsider roses made outside the South of France.   It was a wrench; it’s hard to turn away from the beautiful golden-pink wines which characterise Cotes de Provence and have a quality mostly absent from pinks made elsewhere.  It’s what Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Paris Ritz, speaking of the Clos de l’Ours CdP he sells through Le Petit Ballon, so aptly describes as “a stony minerality”.

 
Our prejudice against deeper-pink wines which often lack any hint of minerality has been fed over the years by some horrid Rose d’Anjou and even nastier “blush” zinfandel first encountered when the Wanderers lived in California.   It was a shock to return to these shores and find that white zinfandel had followed us – but we were close enough to France to pick up endless five-euro bottles of Cotes de Provence in French supermarkets which never disappointed, despite the bargain basement price.

 
CdP has now made it on to UK supermarket shelves, riding the crest of a wave of Brits’ preference for pale pink roses, but costs twice as much here as it does in France, thanks to the duty.   The Wanderers enjoyed Laithwaite’s gorgeous golden-pink Domaine Les Gres(£10.99 or £9.89 if buying 12) but felt it was a bit pricey.    At least both Sainsburys and Waitrose, whose own label CdP’s are decent value on promotion if also pricey otherwise at £8-9, have ramped up their range of pinks in light of sales of tens of million bottles every year and made some good finds elsewhere.

 
It’s not only in Provence where a preponderance of grenache makes for a great drop. Having established on a visit to Langedoc-Roussillon how good winemakers there are at blending this grape with syrah(viz. the excellent value L’Or du Sud by Foncalieu, £5.49 at Lidl), we ventured further north, enjoying a £6 Winemaker’s Selection Cotes de Rhone from Sainsburys, which also blends grenache with Syrah.  Ditto an £8  Barrihuela Rioja Rosado – here the grenache is spelled garnacha – perhaps a little finer than the excellent value £4.99 Rioja rosado from Lidl.

 
Laithwaites’ Pillastro Rosato from Puglia presented the first challenge to our prejudiced palates, not only because it was a slightly suspect strawberry pink, but because the grape was primitivo, the progenitor of zinfandel.   While not as sweet and nasty as the “blush” zinfandel we used to drink in California, the Pillastro was still too jammy for our taste, and a reminder that primitivo/zinfandel does have an inherent sweetness which is subsumed by the alcohol when it appears as a joyous red.    Similarly, we love red pinot noir, but not the New World pink pinot noirs tasted from various sources – a bit sweet and a bit fizzy for our tastebuds.

 
Specially worth mentioning is a great rose from Greece we approached with anticipation, remembering a wonderful cheap as chips rose enjoyed with barbecued pork in a remote corner of Mykonos.   Twin Sails, a Waitrose exclusive, is made from the xinomavro grape, another variety usually reserved for reds but this one performing perfectly as a fragrant pink with not a hint of unwanted sweetness.   Fabulous value at an everyday price of £5.99, all you should really have to pay for a wine that looks and tastes like summer in a bottle.

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Valentine’s drinking – it’s not just about great pinks and fabulous fizz

11 Feb

What to drink with Valentine’s Day dinner?  Marketing hype says it ought to be fizz, still or sparkling pink or at the very least a red or white with a heart on its label.

So far, so cliched; what you really want is a sexy wine which will perfectly complement the aphrodisiac feast you plan to serve – or to enjoy as an aperitif before a dinner out.    In respect of the former, pink sparkling wine is hard to beat; generally less acid than white, it immediately creates a festive air and provides a feast for the eyes as well as a tickle for the tastebuds.

Champagne is no longer de rigeur now that we’re growing our own fizz, and it’s hard to beat a sparkling rose from Chapel Down.   But if the real thing is desired for its ooh-la-la cachet, Lanson rose is a bargain this week on promotion at £25 from Sainsburys.

Still rose is always a joy when well-made, particularly the gorgeous pale golden pinks from Provence.   You’re unlikely to find any of the Miraval made by Brangelina till spring- inevitably this small production sells out every year – but you could try the delicate violet-pink Pure from the similarly-named Mirabeau at Waitrose; not cheap at £12.99 but elegant.

Mirabeau is owned by an English couple, ironic considering that the English are doing a pretty good job with still rose themselves.   The Wanderers enjoyed the Broadwoods Folly, £7.99 at Lidl who have added three English wines to their selection for the first time.

Although rose is an apt partner for chicken, white meats and spicy food, if you have your heart set on oysters, you’ll want a decent white.    One Wanderer believes nothing but Chablis will do for oysters, but the other thinks the money would be better spent on Sainsburys Taste the Difference Sancerre, a sensational example of the genre at £13.  It will also work with asparagus, the other most-touted aphrodisiac food, which M&S have managed to get from their British growers in time for this year’s Valentines weekend.

 
A bottle with a heart on the label which would also partner asparagus is the Bordeaux sauvignon blanc known as Good Ordinary White  from Berry Brothers & Rudd, who got Paul Smith to design a special Valentines Day label for this and their Good Ordinary Claret.  While the white is lovely, the red suffers like most claret under £10 from being too young for full enjoyment.   To accompany steak or duck, better to splash out a fully developed voluptuous wine from southern Europe – the excellent Ribera del Duero by Condado del Hazo, £15 at Sainsburys or the austerely elegant Terre del Barolo from Waitrose, £18.79.  These are pricey treats, but decent reds from the New World are available at Lidl for less, including Lodi zinfandel from California, £4.99, and Axis cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River in Australia, home of great reds, for £6.49.

Paul Smith Good Ordinary White       For value and reliability, you can’t beat the “i heart” range which is a lynchpin of convenience store shelves.  Despite the rather naff label, most are eminently quaffable and true to variety, with the exception of the sauv blanc, which tastes suspiciously sweet – added sugar to please girly palates?   A nice enough drop for an aperitif, but keep it away from the oysters!

Festive fizz and great value supermarket reds to see in a Happy New Year

28 Dec

The festive season started with some extraordinary fizz for The Wine Wanderers, continuing with a few excellent red wines which have reminded us what spectacular value the high street can offer.

 
First, the fizz – and none are more festive to look at than the exquisite hand-painted bottles and flutes which distinguish Perrier Jouet(pronounce that Jou-ETT), the favourite Champagne of Grace Kelly and Coco Chanel.   The brand has just taken over the Winter Garden of The Sanderson, one of London’s buzziest drinking destinations, for a season of old-fashioned fizz served the old-fashioned way.   For £65 a couple can enjoy a glass each of the spectacular Belle Epoque 2007 with a taste of Oscietra caviar, a pairing that always works.   The non-vintage Grand Brut is only £15 a glass, but frankly no match for the spectacular Belle Epoque.

We saw in Christmas Day with more fizz, another spectacular vintage bottle from Veuve Cliquot, but the star of our feast was inevitably a rich red wine.   Sainsburys  Taste the Difference 2012 Amarone made a spectacular partner for our turkey and is worth grabbing while on promotion at £14 until New Years Day.   Had we feasted on beef, we would have paired it with the Waitrose In Partnership Reserve Shiraz from St. Hallett, an elegant drop at £11.99.

It’s hard to beat supermarkets on price for still wines, given their buying power, and the quality you can get for under £10 is staggering.   One of the best reds we’ve tasted this year was pinotage from Morrisons. The M Signature label was worth every penny of £6.99 for a rich red which Decanter rightly awarded Gold, and the everyday value version which just picked up its own medal in the International Wine & Spirit Competition is ridiculously good value at  £4.  This is a store whose own-label wine(like its meat department, also to be recommended) should be regularly checked out – out of nine new medals they won in the IWSC, seven were for wines costing less than £5; they include the excellent Morrisons own-label South African merlot which took Silver.

 
Lidl is no longer a well-kept secret, especially for lovers of affordable luxury, and we’ve greatly enjoyed being able to buy Californian zinfandel, one of our favourite grapes, there for £4.99 a bottle, less than half what a red this good should cost, while stocks last.   The only problem with Lidl wines is that when they’re gone they’re gone, but their huge buying power means a great new raft of fine wine bargains will always follow; this store also had its fair share of IWSC winners.

 

Of course judging wine is subjective, and what shocks the experts can still please the punters.   The Wine Wanderers’ guilty supermarket pleasure of the year was Apothic Red, a blend of zinfandel, merlot and petite syrah which has been sweetened up in production by industrial wine-makers Gallo, but to us seems the essence of the California we once lived in enjoying affordable but well-made homegrown wines, whence this blend came.  Six out of seven Sainsburys shoppers who reviewed it loved it too( though one agreed with wine critics who deplore the added sugar), and it’s on promotion there at £8 till New Years Day.  You may also find it at ASDA and Tesco.

Picking pinot noir in Sussex – England rocks the world’s most elegant red grape

18 Oct

 Last week the Wine Wanderers helped harvest some prime examples of their favourite grape – happily grown down the road  from where we live in deepest Sussex.   Amazing England now has enough sun to grow decent pinot noir; the Bolney Estate, where we did our own bit of picking and sorting, and Chapel Down just across the border in Kent both make fine examples.

“Experts are predicting pinot noir will become the nation’s go-to bottle,” says Sam Linter, MD and head winemaker at Bolney, who says research shows our nation of white wine drinkers is now buying more red than white for the first time.   Certainly pinot noir, so light and elegant compared to sledgehammer grapes like shiraz and malbec, would be the varietal most likely to convert a white-wine drinker.

As Bolney is predicting a bumper crop, thanks to the Wimbledon heat assisting flowering this year, we were glad to help Sam with a morning’s labour and see the beautiful estate while some of the pinot noir – astonishingly, considering how much gorgeous floral, fragrant white wine we produce in the UK, is our second most prolific grape – were still on the vine.

It was Sam’s parents who planted the first three acres in 1972, creating what was then only the sixth commercial vineyard in England.   Now Bolney’s vines have expanded more than tenfold across 39 acres, with a state of the art winery leading to a UK Wine Producer of the Year title in the 2012 IWSC(International Wine and Spirit Competition).

It was strange to learn that the soil through which we trudged is known as Upper Tunbridge Wells Sand, and interesting that Bolney’s  pinot noir grapes flower two weeks earlier than the norm, so we clipped bunches off the vines in pouring rain feeling relieved professional pickers had already got in most of the crop.   Then we helped on the sorting tables; Bolney is almost unique in sorting grapes before they’re pressed, apparently.

We warmed up from the cold and wet with a glass of Bolney’s pink bubbly, which is also made from 100 per cent pinot noir; pale and delicious, no wonder it’s accumulated a slew of awards.  As for the still wine, which we enjoyed with some Burwash Rose from our excellent local Stonegate Dairy, the 2013 vintage took silver in this year’s International Wine Challenge.

English wine remains pricey, thanks to small production, but it deserves to reach a wider home audience.  Forward-looking Sussex hotels like Ockenden Manor, where we stayed the night before and enjoyed a superb dinner by Michelin-starred chef Stephen Crane, supports Bolney and other local wineries.   Those not close enough to drink it on the doorstep can find the pinot noir at Waitrose, which is leading supermarkets in championing English wines, for £15.99 a bottle.   Just the thing for a special Sunday lunch or, down the line, to accompany the Christmas turkey.

Sauvignon gris from New Zealand and some other spectacular but affordable whites

16 Feb

The Wine Wanderers have felt silenced these past few months by a visit to Lyon, where we drank just too much wonderful wine and found ourselves divided between the joys of Burgundy and Rhone, a question which also regularly taxes the Lyonnais.   But it did remind us of how much we adore a fine, white Burgundy  and how nothing quite substitutes for that classy, buttery hit mitigated with a hint of flint which is a simply sumptuous partner for a great piece of fish or a top-class chicken.

Meursault and Montrachet are beyond us at British prices, but our Christmas came early this year courtesy of a Waitrose promotion which included their own-label White Burgundy.   Even at the regular price of £8.99, this chardonnay from 40-year-old vines is a steal at any time of year; it tastes as if it should cost at least 50% more, and when regularly promoted at 25% off, like a bottle twice the price.

This is one of the wines we feel moved to buy by the case when on special, and it’s about to be joined by another supermarket find.   Sauvignon gris is much less well-known to British imbibers than the sauvignon gris which can be superb at its best but quite indifferent at its worst.

The sauvignon gris just tasted from Brancott, New Zealand winemakers who pioneered the original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, have come up with a spectacular new wine which has all that “cat’s pee under a gooseberry bush” quality you associate with a great Loire white.   Green, mineral and utterly seductive.    This IWSC gold medal winner seems a better buy at £10.49 than Brancott’s not so special sauv blanc, and just a shame Sainsburys aren’t listing it yet, though Tesco, ASDA and Ocado, active promoters all, have added it.    Will make it in bulk to our own trolleys once we spot it at £8 or less, though worth every penny of the full price.

If sauvignon gris deserves to be better known, so does roussanne, a white grape which usually only makes it into blends yet  can be spectacular on its own.   I enjoyed my first 100 per cent roussanne in a restaurant in Jaffa two years ago – it was a revelation – and my second a few weeks ago in Tucson’s great western restaurant, Cowboy Ciao.   That one was made in Washington state and unlikely to make it over here, but happily the Tabor Adama roussanne from Israel has started shipping here now.   Not quite so affordable at £15.99, but it has been available on promotion through Amazon for £14 a bottle, and is worth keeping a lookout for – classy and delicious.

More white wine grapes are being planted in Israel all the time, and producing bottles which are a knockout in the hands of experienced winemakers.   Small production has kept prices high, but as wineries get bigger – Tabor had a huge cash injection from Coca-Cola, who have had the sense to give their talented agronomist and winemaker full autonomy, and Dalton, founded by Brits, is one of the largest in Israel making quality wine – affordable bottles really worth drinking are coming on-stream.    Watch this space for comment about Dalton’s Fume Blanc, another grape flourishing far from its original home.

The Beautiful South Part Deux – Languedoc rocks!

8 Jun

Having quashed our misconceptions that there’s little quality wine  being made in Languedoc, the WineWanderers were invited by the Foncalieu cooperative to get down to southwestern France and see for themselves some great drops which are being produced in the area.

First, we had to get over some more preconceptions – that every label has its own winemaker, and that every grower of top-quality grapes makes their own wine.   Foncalieu is a giant cooperative, bringing 1200 growers together over 5000 diverse hectares stretching from Languedoc east to the Rhone Valley and north into Gascony.    The business grew out of Languedoc’s very first co-op, established by 128 winegrowers in 1901.

There seems to be a single winemaker – and she had not yet arrived during our stay in Corbieres to replace another female winemaker whose effots have   won accolades for the group.   It’s a fairly astonishing achievement that all four of the co-op’s Grands Vins celebrating the area’s winegrowing heritage were awarded more than 90 points by the redoubtable – and influential – US wine critic Robert Parker when vintages were submitted for the first time in 2012.

Much of the credit must go to the resident oenologist Gabriel Ruetsch, who brings much expertise from his native stomping-ground, the Mendoza wine country of Argentina.  He has been responsible for establishing strict wine management specifications and vinification plans requiring  an understanding of the very different terroirs within the region.

We focussed on the Languedoc lines, starting with entry-level Le Versant, most of which goes to restaurants, but luckily for us is also stocked by our local Secret Cellar.

We were less impressed by the pinot noir and viognier which are UK best-sellers  than the rose – what a stylish drop for the price, full of South of France joie de vivre – and the merlot, which Ruetsch is particularly proud of, as it’s a grape hard to make a good wine from in this territory.   In the similarly-priced Enseduna range, we enjoyed the 100 per cent petit verdot, a grape reduced to blending status in Bordeaux; well-made, it can certainly stand on its own.

We stayed at one of Foncalieu’s latest acquisitions, the Chateau Haut-Gleon in the Corbieres countryside.   But its gites, swimming pool and stony vineyards were less of a thrill than its elegant wines, which command top-end prices.   Overcoming one more misconception – that a rose has to be pale to be elegant – we really enjoyed Chateau Haut-Gleon, a  strawberry-coloured pink made of 80% syran and just 20% of that south of France rose staple, grenache.  It was dry, full-bodied and joyous, and we also enjoyed the 2008 red, comprising 45% syrah, 30% grenache and 25% carignan from old vines.

Of the four Grands Vins we particularly enjoyed Le Lien, a Minervois whose 2011 vintage is rich and ready to drink, unlike the higher-scoring La Lumiere, a Corbieres which will need another couple of years to come into its prime.  Both are 100 per cent syrah, but quite different in style.

Back home, we were keen to see what the high street had to offer in quality Languedoc, being mostly supermarket wine shoppers ourselves.  We found elegance from Waitrose in both the Chateau de Caraguilhes Corbieres 2012 and the 2011 Maris Minervois, both around £10 per bottle.  But Marks and Spencer have really bagged themselves a star in Domaine de Fontseque, a heady blend of 40% carignan, 30% grenache noir, 20& syrah and 10% mourvedre, worth every penny of £10.99 to complement a weekend dinner.

Once again, as the sun made a reappearance and fish got on to the menu, we were reminded that  the south also produces phenomenal whites.  We loved both M&S’s Chateau de Flaugergues and Waitroses’ Domaine Begude, a rich but fresh chardonnay from the Limoux near Carcassonne.    The Flaugergues is 80% Rolle, otherwise known as vermentino, a grape which does so well in Languedoc, especially when combined as here with grenache blanc. In fact grenache in all its colours – watch out for more grenache gris appearing in blends – is the great glory of the Beautiful South and reason alone to try a drop or three of Languedoc now summer is finally here.