Monday, 12 November 2012

Mas Macia - King of Cava

A while back I was lucky to be included on an informal tour of various vineyards across a broad swathe of northern Spain, from Rueda in the west to a Cava producer just outside Barcelona in the east.  It was a fascinating trip providing many insights into the workings of some particularly attractive estates.

On the long run west from the wilds of Campo de Borja to Barcelona for our final visit before heading for the airport we passed hundreds of scattered wind farms, sentinels of modern technology ranked over ancient hilltops.  Some of them were even turning.  It gladdened the heart, as we hummed over the newish motorway in sparse traffic, to know that my own personal kick into the European kitty had been wisely spent.

We were running late.  Hot and conscious of holding the estate’s working day up we nonetheless were welcomed royally by the irrepressible Jordi Casanovas, his sales director Carmen and Angel, a PR lady and were ushered straight into lunch.  Jordi quickly revealed himself to be quite a character who seems to run the estate as a benign dictatorship.  He is a very knowledgeable man, humorous and with a jolly twinkle but when he coughs others jump.
Jordi Casanovas
 With a leg extensively strapped up he was unable to walk far and decided to impart as much information from his rightful place at the head of the table. By way of aperitif, we tasted a couple of Cavas.  First the Rosé which was dry and pretty, quite delicious and positively cleansing.  In the cellar this wine is separated from its lees as soon as possible to maintain freshness.  Next the Brut Nature, which was my favourite.  The second fermentation takes place in bottle, the wine stays in bottle on its lees, unlike the Rosé, for no less than 24 months before dégorgement, it rests further after this before being put onto the market.  It has a fine, persistent mousse that lasts in the glass and shows an appetising, baked apple fruit, together with nutty, yeasty notes from its time on the lees.  There is zero dosage so the wine is naturally completely dry and shows the precision and perfectionist winemaking of a passionate craftsman.

The grapes for his wines come from 60 beautiful hectares of rolling vineyards which, we saw on a post prandial leg-stretch, were punctuated with streams and patches of woodland.  While still table wines, red and white, are an increasingly valued part of the estate’s output, Cava is the mainstay of the business.  The vines for Cava are unfamiliar to UK ears, even if Cava itself is not, with Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parallada being the traditional varieties.  Jordi grows wheat between the rows which is cut at about half a metre high forming a straw mulch that reduces evaporation in the heat and prevents soil loss in the event of hard rain.  It also suppresses weeds and encourages the roots of the vines to grow downward to look for nutriments.
 As the last of the Brut Nature was consumed the conversation, or rather, lecture, continued with an endless chatter of facts.  Did we know one of the ways that such freshness could be maintained during the hot harvest?  No chance for a stab at the answer which followed instantly - frozen CO2 pellets are mixed in with the freshly picked grapes, reducing the temperature and blanketing out oxygen.  I looked around the timbered dining room in which we were demolishing quantities of jamon iberico and home baked bread and wondered if the ghosts in this wonderful 15th century building had the faintest idea what your man was on about.

 There is a danger with combining an extensive tasting with a long lunch - there is no provision to spit out.  I see from my notes that we tried eleven different wines poured in lunch quantities rather than a modest tasting splash.  As a succession of the estate’s still table wines appeared, together with delicious salads and enough meat to satisfy the most carnivorous of Spanish appetites, I could not help noticing just how pretty Carmen and Angel were, eye-catching though both of them were in the first place, and how Jordi’s wit was increasingly funnier.
Carmen and Angel
 Afterwards, fortified and perhaps lightly anaesthetised by lunch, Jordi felt up to a brief tour of the winery and cellars.  This was no industrial unit with lavish mod cons; hygienic, yes, organised, well of course, but still kind of home-spun.  The cellars are tight for space and a bit rambling, but cool and still and at a constant temperature all the year round.  We emerged, blinking, into the stark light of a hot afternoon and our host retreated for half an hour while the girls showed us round some of the vineyards closer to the house and we could inspect the young, green berries, no bigger than elder at this stage, with all their swelling potential.

The cellars at Mas Macia
 As we got back in the car, waved off by the smiling team at Mas Macia, I reflected on the friendly feeling of the place and its thoughtful, quality driven ethos and compared it to larger concerns and the dispassionate, clinical attitude of the scientist/accountant board in charge at some places.  We also discussed how it is possible to make such delicious Cava here, yet how much gets processed into truly unremarkable, if not actually bad, price-point fodder for the multiples.  It’s that that presents us with a problem - drinkers who have experienced how truly nasty the industrial variants of Cava can be are now understandably wary of all Cava. 

If this rings bells with you, ignore the ads for cut price Cava which are already appearing on telly for the Christmas market and give the real thing a try; spend a little more and drink much, much better.  Perhaps the difference is nicely summarised by Jordi’s final sentence as we made our farewells, “ Remember, this is a family business, not a wine factory.”

Certainly not a wine factory.

Buy Mas Macia Brut Nature here.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Champagne: Don't Be Fooled By Big Discounts On Big Brands - Look For Better Value Still...

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and it’s time for too-good-to-be-true Champagne offers to start appearing in the national retailers.  All such deals depend on the customer not knowing enough about the product itself so that they simply default to making their buying decision on the only factor that is easily understandable – price!  The lower the price and the bigger the apparent saving the more likely it is that Joe Customer will take the bait, and the reassurance of a familiar brand is included in the hope of confirming that this is surely a cracking deal.  Hmmmm.....

However, if you buy a bottle of one of the big brand Champagnes at full price (£35-£45 or thereabouts) we reckon you’ll be paying about £10 a bottle more than you should be for the quality of the stuff in the bottle.  We base this on two things: 1.In the tasting we’ve done, the quality of the Champagnes we are able to sell for £25-£35 a bottle has consistently been much higher than the more expensive big brands, and 2. all the big brands have huge marketing departments to support (that’s where your extra tenner goes in case you’d not worked it out) and the small chaps we buy from don’t have to support this expensive marketing.  All that’s happening when the prices of the big Champagne brands are reduced by £10 or so is that they are temporarily suspending their demand for you to pay for their advertising.

Like all wines, Champagne can be too cheap, where you pay so little that all you get is the name on the label, but poor quality fizz inside the bottle.  We don’t go anywhere near such stuff, and if your budget for Christmas fizz is lower than £20 a bottle you’d be better off spending it on top quality fizz that isn’t Champagne – good Prosecco or Cava for instance.  Once you’re through the £20 mark though the Champagne starts to get interesting.  Charles Chevallier Brut d’Honeur nv at £21.85 is super value (just try and find a brand you’ve heard of for that price).  It’s fresh, yeasty and made in the classic tradition of the champagne houses of Aÿ, principally from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with some Pinot Meunier and matured in cool chalk cellars for 5 years before release.

Move up the scale a bit and we have Rasselet Brut nv from the village of Oeuilly in the Marne Valley.  Halves, bottles, magnums and jeroboams are all available as well as a delicious rose and a demi-sec too, with the 75cl bottles priced in the region of £27.  We have dealt with Joel Rasselet for longer than we can remember and he has never let us down.  His Champagnes are super value – better in fact than any of the brands – and we are the only UK importer. 

Joel & Edwige Rasselet
At the same price is Veuve Fourny Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay Champagne, fully organic with a lighter, crisper style.  At the top of the heap we have a stunning pair from Vilmart who are also 100% organic with grapes drawn from 100% Premier Cru sites.  The Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or is barrique fermented and aged, and a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.  The Vilmart Coeur de Cuvee comes only from their best juice (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir) and spends its first year in barrique.  It is the highest quality champagne, with fantastic richness and concentration.  These aren’t cheap of course, but you get what you pay for.
Vines overlooking the village of Hautvillers in the heart of the Champagne region.
 However, this year’s star looks like being Lallier Grand Cru Vintage Brut 2005.  The grapes that make this come from 100% Grand Cru vineyard sites and are a blend of 55% Pinot Noir from Ay and 45% Chardonnay from the Cote de Blancs.  Lallier Grand Cru Vintage Brut 2005 is aged for 48-72 months and kept a further 5 months after disgorging.  We regard it as one of the best 2005 vintage champagnes produced by anyone anywhere:  It is rich and fine with toasty characteristics yet still fresh and invigorating.  You simply have to try it – and you’ll get your chance…
Williamson & Son outside Lallier's cellars in Ay.
 Lallier are situated at the heart of the historic village of Ay and have some of the oldest cellars there, dating back to the 18th century.  In 2004 Francis Tribault purchased the house from Rene James Lallier and developed their speciality of producing champagnes sourced only from Grand Cru and Premier Cru classified vineyards.  They have several more familiar champagne houses as their neighbours yet outshine all of them.  Francis Tribaut’s artisan approach to winemaking, using only natural yeasts and low dosage, allows the purity and richness of each Grand Cru terroir to shine through, creating distinctive and original wines.  We are pleased to offer the Lallier Grand Cru Vintage Brut 2005 at £42.50 a bottle, though with some help from Lallier themselves we are able to reduce this price to £39.50 per bottle until 31st December 2012.  It will also be available to taste at our Christmas Winetasting on 22nd November in Ipswich.  If the £20 mark is more your thing though then we’d steer you back to the Charles Chevallier Brut d’Honeur at £21.85 we mentioned earlier.  It’s also made by Lallier incidentally, though doesn’t come exclusively from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards that the Lallier label is reserved for.
Lallier's vines high on the slopes above Hautvillers
 So when you see the supposedly cracking deals offered on Champagne, just take a minute, engage your "common sense chip" and wonder, for a moment, whether what you're thinking of buying is the right product at the right price, or whether you're in danger of being fooled by a big discount on a familiar name.  After all, if they can afford to sell it to you at Christmastime at £10 a bottle cheaper than normal, why isn't the regular price £10 lower?  Could it be because the price isn't actually £10 lower at Christmastime, but rather it is £10 too high for the rest of the year?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Chilean Wine, What’s All The Fuss About?

Well, the fuss is all about quality and value for money and we’re all interested in that, right?  The trick though is to recognise the difference between “value for money” and “cheap” because they are not the same thing at all.  I will explain…

I’ve just looked at the Chilean wine selection on the website of the major national supermarket where we do our family grocery shop.  Here the vast majority of the 35 wines are either £4.00 or £5.00.  Cracking value on the face of it, but that’s only half the story.  Well over half of a £5.00 bottle of wine is tax (£2.73) and at £4.00 it’s nearly two thirds tax (£2.57).  With much of what remains occupied by the cost of the bottle, label, cork, transport (and dare we mention some profit) what are your expectations of a wine where only a few pence is left to cover the stuff which you are actually going to consume?  A £4.00 bottle might be considered comparatively cheap, but value for money it ain’t, because you’ve not spent enough on the wine itself.

35 Chilean wines sounds like lots of choice too doesn't it, yet it represents only a small cross-section of what is available.  It's a bit like having 35 different feature films to choose from at your local cinema but then realising that they all star Sylvester Stallone.  Not much choice at all then...

There is good news though, because if you are prepared to spend a little more on your bottle only a small proportion of your extra spend goes in taxes.  At £8.00 only 40% of what you pay is tax and this drops further if you are prepared spend more still.  What are you likely to get more fun from anyway, two bottles of forgettable £4.00 plonk or one cracking bottle at £8.00?  Unless you’re only in it for the booze my money is on the £8.00 bottle!

Our September Chilean Offer is about helping you to discover the huge jump in quality for only a modest increase in spend.  This applies everywhere of course, not just in Chile, but Chile is an excellent place to start and we’re making it easy for you to do by offering a discount on all our Chilean wines above £7.00 per bottle, and a discount kicks in even if you initially only want to dip your toe in the shallow end of the offer by buying a single bottle.  The Chilean Offer discount doubles from 5% to 10% when you hit 6 bottles though, which may be mixed.  Our Chilean Explorer Six Pack offers an impressive 15% discount and contains some real treats.  Have a look here.

There’s something for everyone here.  Thanks to the unique geography of Chile, a long narrow country bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the east, the climate is so varied that the diversity of the wines is tremendous.  Compare the cool freshness of our Gewurztraminer from Torres in Curico with the ripe luscious Chardonnay from Tabali in Limari for instance.  Or the rich bramble-and-vanilla of Novas Carmenere/Cabernet with the delicate perfume of their Casablancan Pinot Noir.  Not everything is a new world fruit bomb, there is subtlety and elegance here too and flavours that will truly amaze.

So, here’s your chance to do two things; try a few bottles at the next level of price up to see if you can spot the difference, and explore the fascinating array of flavours from Chile.  I’m sure you will be impressed at just how good Chilean wine is once you release the winemakers from the shackles of the supermarket buyers and let them make the best wines they can!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Manzanilla La Sanluquena

A sample bottle of a previously untasted Manzanilla found its way onto our tasting table (Ok, desk) recently (via the fridge of course).  We are both mad about Sherry in all its beguiling forms, but in its crispest, most appetite-awakening incarnation, Manzanilla, it is just about the best aperitif in the world.  Frankly, it's something of a mystery why more people don't "get" just how brilliant a drink this is.  With a handful of olives or some toasted almonds (Er, both please actually) this stuff is our idea of heaven on earth.

We currently list 2 different Manzanilla, both from Bodegas Argueso; the Las Medallas which is their mainstay, and San Leon which is a Manzanilla Pasada (Pasada is aged for longer  - about 7 years as opposed to 5 - to develop a fuller flavour).  What landed on our desk was Manzanilla La Sanluquena from Bodegas Teresa Rivero.  It has a wonderfully old-fashioned pre-Raphaelite style label, presumably depicting “La Sanluquena” herself, though no classic beauty she seems to fall into that category of Spanish lady who always gets more attractive as the evening progresses…

We have tasted Manzanilla in its homeland, and we have tasted it here and we’re not sure why there always seems to be a bit of a difference.  In Spain - specifically in Andalucia - it is fresher and more delicious somehow.  Maybe it's the surroundings (and a particular memory of the Bar Zapata in Cadiz comes to mind) perhaps it's the travelling that it doesn't like, or more likely it's the fact that Manzanilla for the UK market is kept at 15.0% abv so that it attracts the regular Excise Duty rate rather than the higher fortified rate which the traditional Spanish level of 15.5% abv would attract.  Either way finding Manzanilla in the UK that comes close to that tasted in Spain always seems to be a bit of a challenge.  To date, the closest we've got is with the Manzanilla En Rama bottled unfiltered for the Ferria de Sanlucar (in May) by Bodegas Argueso.  The trouble with this is that it's only available for a short while, only then in limited quantities, has a short shelf-life, and costs plenty.

What a revelation it was therefore to open this chilled sample of La Sanluquena (and compare it with the San Leon from Argueso of course).  Whilst the San Leon was delicious, fresh and tangy the La Sanluquena was equally so, still with the same level of yeasty freshness but with somehow more depth and length.  The best news though is that it’s cheaper than the San Leon too.  In fact, La Sanluquena is only slightly more expensive than Las Medallas which is even better news!

If you know what we’re on about when we rave about Sherry then we understand each other, and we know you’ll be in to snaffle some before it all goes.  However, if you have read this blog and still don’t know what all the fuss is about, do yourself a favour and chuck £6.25 at a half bottle and stick it in the fridge for a day.  When you get home, prepare some posh nibbles (olives, nuts, stuff with proscuitto on, you know what we mean) and serve yourself a chilled glass of Manzanilla La Sanluquena.

Click here to visit our website and order some.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Pinot Blanc d’Alsace 2010, Domaine Charles Baur (gold medal winner)

The Baur family have been in Eguisheim since the early 18th century.  Charles Baur (1920-2001) began bottling and selling the wine produced from his single hectare of vines in 1950 and gradually extended his estate acquiring individually chosen parcels of vines in and around Eguisheim. 

Charles Baur on his way back from the harvest in 1950
 Today the estate is run by Charles’ son Armand and grandson Arnaud, the latter having joined his father after completing his degree in agricultural engineering, specialising in winegrowing and oenology. 
Armand & Arnaud Baur

Today the estate cultivates 16 hectares of vineyards around Eguisheim where the soil is limestone and clay and the steep slopes, protected by the Vosges mountains, capture the ripening rays of the sun perfectly.  All their grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted and gently pressed in a modern, pneumatic press.  Fermentation begins with natural yeasts at low temperature to ensure freshness and concentration.  The wines are then matured on their lees for several months.


Pinot Blanc is the white incarnation of Pinot Noir; both varieties are ampelographically identical.  Once thought to be Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc was agreed as a different variety in 1896.  Its leaves are full and dark green and the grapes grow in smallish bunches with the grapes themselves being quite small.  It tastes different to Chardonnay and is ideal for the conditions in Alsace.  Interestingly, there are still small parcels and individual vines here and there in Burgundy, so the confusion of yore still has ghosts down there too.

Domaine Charles Baur
In 2010 Domaine Charles Baur produced one of the best Pinot Blanc d'Alsace we have ever tasted.  We are not alone in our belief since the wine won the gold medal in the Concours des Vins d’Alsace in 2011.  Their attention to detail makes this wine a shining example of its type.  Sure, there are less expensive examples of Pinot Blanc, but rarely have we encountered one of such purity and concentration.  It is a fine example of the Wines of Interest philosophy that it is often worth paying a little more to obtain something that is significantly superior.

The wine has a rich, concentrated nose with hints of pear, apricot and blossom.  In the mouth it is lively yet concentrated with aromatic, ripe fruit and a long finish, with cleansing acidity to refresh.

This wine is perfect with posh fish dishes, seafood, cold meats and salads or could equally be enjoyed as an aperitif or on its own in the warmth of a summer evening.  Perfect!  Order 2011 Pinot Blanc from Domaine Charles Baur here where you can also view everything else we currently have from Alsace.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Special Offer on Mourat Blanc 2009

Pay attention 007… There's a real bargain to be had here...

This is a bit involved, but we’re offering a real bargain here so you need the full story…

You may well remember the super wines from the Vendee made by J.Mourat & Fils that we discovered back in 2004; a red blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Negrette and a delightful rose of the same blend as well as a white Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc mix.  You know, the ones with the owl on the label and a funny shaped bottle… Click
here if you need a reminder.

Like many things, prices have crept up over recent years which, in our modest opinion, have made these less competitive – or at least lifted them to a point where they risk being lost amongst the increasing choice of alternative options in that bracket.

In 2009, probably in an attempt to keep prices in check, Mourat changed the white blend from Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc to Chardonnay/Grolleau Gris which produced a leaner, keener wine rather than the attractive, riper style of its predecessor.  We liked the sample we tasted, but decided not to buy any, being unsure whether those customers who had liked the original blend would take to the new style at a higher price.

Mourat themselves have now reverted to the original Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend in a much-to-be-admired “stuff the price, stick to our principles” approach that has left the UK agent with a modest quantity of the 2009 Chardonnay/Grolleau Gris mix, itself now something of a dead-end.  He wants to shift the final few cases and we are able to offer a wine that would normally sell between £8 and £9 a bottle for something approaching half price, with a further carrot for buying in multiples of 6 bottles.

Here’s the deal then.  It’s £4.95 per bottle with the additional prospect of 6 for the price of 5 (that’s 6 for £24.75 – the equivalent of £4.13 a bottle).

The wine itself is very dry, lean and keen with crisp, incisive fruit and should appeal to fans of Muscadet and Picpoul de Pinet.  Plenty good enough to enjoy well-chilled with seafood, cheap enough to cook with and dry enough to be the basis of a fantastic Kir.  It’s 12.5% abv in case you wondered.  Stocks are limited and this is offered on a “first come, first served” basis so get your skates on…  There will be a bottle open in the shop while stocks remain so you can taste beforehand if you wish.  Call us now on 01473 215752 if you'd like to reserve any or order on line here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Xavier Guillaume

Way back in the late 1980s we were introduced to a young, newly qualified, winemaker from Franche Comté called Xavier Guillaume.  We have been dealing with him ever since, picking and choosing the vintages to buy from his ever improving, and increasing, range of wines.

Xavier Guillaume in his cellar.

The Guillaume family business has its origins in vines rather than wine, though both are important today.  Pépinières Guillaume have been grafting and growing vines for over 100 years and are actually one of the largest cultivators of vines in the world producing between 10 and 15 million plants annually.  They now have operations in Chile and California as well as the south of France though their spiritual home remains the commune of Charcenne in the Haute-Saône Department.  From this base in eastern France their main customers were initially the vineyards of Burgundy and Champagne which meant that their main vine cultivation was concentrated in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a proportion of Pinot Meunier as well.  Nowadays they grow most varieties and export their vines worldwide to vineyard owners who are replanting or expanding.  They count amongst their customers some of the top properties in many of the world’s most famous regions including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – reckoned to be the top estate in Burgundy and whose wines are highly prized and priced (a quick online search for their wines will reveal the sort of prices they fetch – you will be shocked)!
Guillaume Estate

The natural result of all this vine cultivation is, of course, an annual crop of grapes which used simply to be left to the birds.  Xavier realised what a waste it was just to allow the local wildlife to feast on the fruits of vines destined for greatness elsewhere and began making wine from his own vines in the 1980s.  The bulk of his production is still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (which make splendid, and more economical, alternatives to red and white Burgundy) though he also makes a selection of other wines as well.  We were particularly taken with his Old Vine Chardonnay and Old Vine Pinot Noir as well as his “Cuvee G” Gewurztraminer (clearly they have customers in Alsace now as well…) and the Flute Enchantée Brut – a Champagne blend sparkler which, compared to many Champagnes, is a bargain not to be missed.
Xavier amongst his vines.

The bulk of our shipments from Xavier will doubtless continue to be his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since these offer superb options to customers who love both varieties of Burgundy but not the prices one seems to have to pay these days to find decent examples.  On our most recent order we also included a few cases each of Old Vine Chardonnay, Old Vine Pinot Noir, "Cuvee G" Gewurztraminer and Flute Enchantée Brut.  Quantities of these are necessarily limited so if you’re interested in these grab some while you can!

Friday, 25 May 2012

May Sampling Club Wines

We return to Spain for a deliciously original pair from the north east, one from Toro, the other from Rueda, regions which, collectively, are bisected by the road between Zamora and Vallalodid. The more westerly of these districts is Toro, a rugged place of cold winters and very hot summers producing equally characterful red wines of weight and authority. The grape variety is Tinta de Toro. Have we unearthed a rare, little known, local berry here? Nah, it’s good old Tempranillo with yet another regional name. It does very well here, too, vinified in a utilitarian complex that looks like any anonymous large, out-of-town retail unit from the outside. Inside it gleams with stainless steel and all mod cons and, though you might expect a degree of rural laissez-faire regarding cellar hygiene from the surroundings, actually you could eat off the floor.

This is hearty wine for cold weather comfort or robust cooking outside; it will take on spicy marinades, garlic and rubs and the flavours of the charcoal grill, just as it works well with a slow-cooked braise or stew. Toro borders Rueda, a larger area than the former and, with subtle changes in climate and a tradition largely of growing white wines, it produces some delightfully fresh, leafy examples. The two indigenous varieties grown here are Viura and Verdejo, the latter being regarded as the senior partner with its sappy character providing delicious, individual wines. Although the two are frequently and successfully blended, your May white is a pure Verdejo made without oak which is the usual way here. It’s a versatile glassful: a super aperitif or the perfect partner to a Caesar salad; just the job with fish and lovely with a chicken sandwich with a splurge of curry mayo. Seasonal tip… Try with asparagus, it’s a great match!

Price per bottle: £6.95
Punchy red of warmth and youthful vigour with plenty of nicely rustic character and
aromas of baked plums with a touch of spice.

Price per bottle: £7.25
Crisply green, grassy fruit provides zingy freshness and nettley scents remind us of
Sauvignon plus a note of grapefruit citrus.

For the last few years we have put out a selection of wines which, with a little help from a supplier and by reducing our margin, allows us to make a donation of £5 per every 6-pack purchased to charity. Our
chosen charity remains the Cancer Campaign in Suffolk which provides support to cancer patients and
their families. What they raise in Suffolk stays in Suffolk - it is a truly local charity dealing with a disease that, sadly, touches most of us in one way or another. When you need a few bottles - and you might with the various bank holidays coming up - please consider this half-case. Just by steering your purchase in this direction you can do a tremendous amount of good.

2009 Bordeaux

There is still considerable excitement surrounding the quality of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage.  American wine guru Robert Parker has pronounced and every serious broadsheet newspaper has carried articles celebrating the glories of what is undoubtedly a very fine year.  Long warm days over the vital ripening period of July and August combined with cooler nights prevented the grapes from over-ripening and brought a sophistication and elegance to the vintage not seen for many decades.  Denis Dubourdieu, director of the Bordeaux Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences and a renowned winemaker, reckons that you’d need to go back as far as the 1940s to find comparable climatic conditions where a perfect summer gave way to a glorious autumn resulting in a harvest that retained all the colour, body and fruit of a truly great vintage.  These wines are now arriving in the UK following bottling and we have stocks of several 2009 Bordeaux available for sale in the shop, either in whole case, mixed case or single bottle quantities.

There is a minor downside to all this.  Beyond the glowing reports of balance and ripeness, harmony and power - all the aesthetic miracles that combine in such a favoured year - the only cloud that might spoil the show is price.  At the top end, in the wines made by millionaires for millionaires bracket, where the first growths, super seconds and other privileged estates shine resplendent, opening prices were up to 80% more than the 2008s and 50% more than the most excellent 2005s.  Furthermore, prices are continuing to climb.

The good news for you though is that, like 2005, quality appears to be evenly shared across the spectrum which means that there are delicious wines to be had among the less well-reputed ranks and at prices which actually reflect good value.  Our modest selection is for wine lovers rather than investors; a concise collection of cracking wines from good estates, all known to us, all with excellent track records and all with a sensible approach to pricing.  These are wines with heart which will provide joyful drinking for the next 2 to 10 years and beyond, wines to bring smiles to the dinner table, wines that should not be treated with silent reverence but consumed with gusto and pleasure.  Stocks are limited

Red Bordeaux

Under the same ownership as Château Haut-Chatain and made with all the same care and attention by the experienced and canny team at the senior château.  Merlot dominant, fruit-filled and big in body, this shows just what a minor property can achieve in the right hands.  Super value.  Drink 2013-2017

Owned and run by Martine Rivière-Junquas, who has been joined in the business by her son, this is a property we have followed for years.  It has been constantly upgraded and it shows in the wine which is better than ever: generous and fleshy with plummy depths and a note of spice.  Drink 2014-2020

A terrific estate which consistently boxes above its weight.  The Revue du Vin de France marked it as “an exceptional success”.  Dominique Haverlan bought this in 1988 and  has renovated and replanted ever since; it is now one of the rising stars of the Graves.  Drink 2014-2022

José Bueno, one time cellarmaster at Mouton and winemaker at other Rothschild properties, created this vineyard by stitching together little parcels of mature, prime St. Estèphe real estate into a single vineyard.  It has a little less of the St. Estèphe iron and rather more ripe black fruit and does it in beautifully balanced, full-bodied style.  This property is destined for fame - buy now before it gets out of reach. Packed in wooden cases of 12 bottles. Drink 2015-2025

One of the smallest estates in Margaux at just 11 hectares, but compared to the great  names of the commune, this is tremendous value.  Eric Léglise makes fragrant wine with Margaux’ celebrated femininity, expressing its fruit in prettier, silkier style than the firmer Pauillacs or grippy St. Estèphe.  Drink 2015-2025


Although we do not drink much Sauternes these days, no serious diner should overlook the opportunity to put a few bottles of this to one side.  The Revue du Vin de France reckons this to be one of the top wines of the vintage, ranking it above Rieussec, La Tour Blanche and Rayne Vigneau.  Decadently rich but in fine balance with correct acidity, it will live for decades.  Drink 2015-2050

Thursday, 5 April 2012

April Sampling Club Selection

Now here’s a change: I don’t think we have ever taken you to Sardinia before, so grab your toothbrush and off we go!  Sardinian wines do have a tendency to be rather dearer than you might expect; we call it Swiss Syndrome - decent enough but £2 per bottle more than it should be.  However we have happened across this pair of neat, practical, well made wines at an introductory level, which offer a glimpse of what the island’s producers can achieve.  Your red is made from the grape they call Cannonau, though we know it better as Grenache Noir.  Castanzu, which sounds like a particularly productive sneeze, is the name of the producers which includes the collaboration of a dynamic company from Piemonte and the UK importer, together with local contract growers.  The wine is a neat and tidy middleweight to enjoy with bread and olives, pasta or a plate of salami variants.

The white is made from the Vermentino grape which is also grown here and there in the Languedoc where it may appear under the name of Rolle.  It is frequently used as a bulker in a blend but deserves better when grown with more care and attention for, as the vines age and harder pruning reduces crop size, it develops a depth of flavour and individuality that is admirable.  This modest example is starting to show early signs of these delicious traits, but this is a young project - these are the first commercial versions - and as other growers join the team and expert supervision starts to count, we can expect better things to come.  Drink, inevitably, with sardines, clams with linguine or as a glassful in the sun.  If we get any.

RED: 2009 Cannonau di Sardegna, Castanzu
Price per bottle: £6.95 (sealed case price: £6.60) Half price for one sample (club members only) £3.48
There’s a clean fruity nose and cheerful Grenache fruit.  It’s not a massive red, which Grenache can be, but has plenty of fresh, red fruit flavours.
WHITE: 2010 Vermentino di Sardegna, Castanzu
Price per bottle: £6.95 (sealed case price: £6.60) Half price for one sample (club members only)£3.47
Dry and crisp with a note of light spice and a touch of something herby, maybe a distant hint of tarragon, with plenty of zip and racy freshness.            

For the last few years we have put out a selection of wines which, with a little help from a supplier and by reducing our margin, allows us to make a donation of £5 per every 6-pack purchased to charity.  Our chosen charity remains the Cancer Campaign in Suffolk which provides support to cancer patients and their families.  What they raise in Suffolk stays in Suffolk - it is a truly local charity dealing with a disease that, sadly, touches most of us in one way or another.  When you need a few bottles - and you might with Easter and the various bank holidays coming up - please consider this half-case.  Just by steering your purchase in this direction you can do a tremendous amount of good.

The 6-pack comprises the above two wines and two other pairs:

2010 Percheron Chenin/Viognier and 2011 Percheron Shiraz/Mourvèdre from South Africa
2010 Montevista Viognier Reserve and 2010 Montevista Carmenère Reserve from Chile.

As ever these can be taken as mixed, all red or all white variations with no change in price.

The price is £39.95 which shows a discount to you of just under 7.5% off listed rates.
You can order online now.

This offer will run, subject to stock remaining unsold, until 31st May 2012
(which is actually the date of our summer tasting).

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

March Sampling Club Wines - Fairtrade Fortnight

The first two weeks of March, give or take a day or so, are designated as Fairtrade Fortnight.  To mark this we are pleased to offer a South African pair from Thandi in the Western Cape.  Sadly, despite all the best intentions of participants in such schemes, many Fairtrade wines still fail to come up to scratch and some of the multiples stock them only to pay lip service to an admirable principle.  Thandi, however, make wine with lovely fruit purity under the scrupulous eye of Vernon Henn, the charming general manager.  Established in 1995 in Elgin by Paul Cluver who is their mentor to this day, Thandi is the world’s first Fairtrade wine company.  55% of the company’s shareholding is in the hands of 250 farm-worker families.  Sales are used primarily to raise the living standards of the farm workers and to develop educational facilities for themselves and their children.  A medical facility has also been funded and improved transport for the children and the elderly is now in place.  Sometimes we comfortable cynics wonder just how much of our modest contribution finds its way to these good causes; in this case the system clearly works as tangible evidence of considerable improvement is there for all to see.
Price per bottle: £8.25 (sealed case price: £7.84) Half price for one sample (club members only) £4.12
Deep in colour with dark fruit showing notes of bramble and pepper, this is not in fat,  ripe, typically southern hemisphere style; rather it is leaner, perhaps more European with a bit of structure and tighter on the palate.  Drink with foods that need a bit of cut -  roast lamb, slow-cooked pork or fatty duck - for balance.          
 Price per bottle: £8.25 (sealed case price: £7.84) Half price for one sample (club members only) £4.13
 Sauvignon provides aromatics and zip, Sémillon helps to fill out the palate and adds subtlety to the finished flavour.  This is bone dry and very crisp with mouthwatering freshness - completely the opposite to rounder, more tropical variants from New Zealand and Australia.  Drink with foods that like acidity - fish and chips would be perfect as this gives you the vinous equivalent of a squeeze of lemon.


The above two wines, which would normally be available to Sampling Club members at the case rate this month, come to you with a further reduction to just £7.00.  Bought as part of a mixed case they would also receive the 5% case discount which takes them down from £8.25 to £6.65.

Why not bolt on a bottle of 2010 Shiraz Rosé, Thandi at the special £7.00 rate?  It is dry and fresh, not too boozy, with a touch of rose hip on the nose and gentle summer berry flavours.

If you fancy tickling up the palate with some bubbles, the winery also produces 2011 Sparkling Shiraz Rosé, Thandi which would be £10.00 at full price but is knocked back to £9.00.  It is in an easy, ripe, off-dry style with a little note of lychee on the nose and echoes of raspberry on the palate.

These offers and the availability of the two pink wines will only last for March so don’t hang about!

View our South African Wines here or find our more about Thandi Fairtrade Wines

We will be running the promotion on these Fairtrade Wines from Thandi for the whole month of March

Friday, 3 February 2012

February Sampling Club Selection

Your red this month is a winter warmer made from a grape that Chile is getting quite exercised about.  Carmenère was once widely grown in Bordeaux and contributed considerably to the golden era around the 1870’s before phylloxera, the vine root munching louse, devastated the region.  Grafting the superior European top stock onto the inferior but phylloxera immune American root stock rescued the vineyards from extermination, however Carmenère did not take to grafting as successfully as other varieties and Merlot, which worked well and produced decent quality, took over.  Cuttings found their way to Chile which, with its unique geography, has no phylloxera and so commercial plantings were established.  Now it is regarded as a grape of true quality and some of the country’s top wines contain significant quantities of Carmenère.  This is a pure, unblended version which illustrates just how much flavour well made Carmenère can generate.  Drink with dishes that can take a kick of full throttle fruit - try it with a chili, homemade burgers with garlic, herbs and a bite of onion or perhaps a dish with plenty of chorizo in it.

This month’s white is also an assertive little number and has not appeared here for over two years; it certainly deserves another outing.  It is from our old friends Bodegas Borsao, though it is probably the least well known of their range.  It is made from a grape variety called Macabeo which also grows in the Basque country and on into parts of southern France.  It has a long, slow fermentation in stainless steel, followed by ageing in cask at a controlled, low temperature; the former allows the fruit flavours to develop thoroughly and come out cleanly, the latter rounds it out and contributes an underscore of light oak spice.  It behaves much like a rather good, modern White Rioja with savoury fruit and zinging freshness.  Try it with richer fish recipes, paella or, for a very English take on it, make a chicken, leek and mushroom pie with a sauce that is as creamy as your arteries will allow and cut it with a big glass of this.  Yummy.

2010 Carmenère, Montevista, Valle Central, Chile
Price per bottle: £7.35 (sealed case price: £6.98) Half price for one sample (members only) £3.67
Deep in colour with punchy fruit showing notes of bramble and pepper.  Half an hour in a jug before you start will let the air open it up.

View our Chilean wines here
2010 Borsao Blanco Seleccion, Bodegas Borsao, Campo de Borja, Spain
Price per bottle: £7.35 (sealed case price: £6.98) Half price for one sample (members only) £3.68
Shows ripe fruit with a nice, crisp, dry edge; quite broad on the palate with a touch of peachy weight and a twist of spice, all countered with Macabeo’s natural freshness.

Williamson has invented some more Mystery Six packs,
so watch out for those at the end of the counter.
He reports that we still have the wherewithal to continue with these for a week or three, but it is likely that we will run aground after that.  Therefore please note that these are subject to stock remaining unsold and you would be well advised to grab one sooner rather than later if you wish to secure one before they disappear.