The trouble with supermarket wine aisles….

Picture the scene, you’ve just turned out of aisle 9 tinned fruit and jams and next comes aisle 10 – wine, you want to buy a nice bottle of something to go along with Sunday lunch, so after negotiating your trolley ungracefully into position, what do you see ? usually there’s about half a dozen or so people staring blankly at the rows of bottles, maybe picking one up reading the back label then putting it in their trolley only to reach back a few seconds later and put it back on the shelf.

Supermarket wine aisles can be daunting to some especially those with little wine knowledge or experience who only want to find a reasonable bottle to drink with their evening meal. To others it’s just somewhere to pick up the cheapest bottle of red or white on offer not really caring where it comes from or what it is.

Quite often I get comments like ‘had a lovely bottle of wine last night’ and when I ask what it was they shrug and say ‘don’t know but it was red’, other comments I’ve had are along the lines ‘think it was Australian or was it French, not really sure but it tasted good’ Now there’s nothing wrong with this attitude they seemed quite happy but what happens if someone generally wants to pick a nice bottle instead of blindly picking the cheapest on the shelf. Many a time I’ve tried to help by suggesting an alternative or just steering them in the right direction, sometimes they’re grateful other times I see them go straight back to their original cheapest option.

This is where supermarkets could try a lot harder to help. All of the stores split their aisles into red, white, rose and sparkling and generally a section of shelving is divided into various countries, now this is where it needs improving. Most supermarkets already have a number rating for wines ranging from dry to sweet but why not in each country section have some basic information about typical grape varieties, maybe a map showing the different wine regions. For some of the popular bestsellers have a little write-up along side the bottles, this is all pretty basic stuff that would make the wine aisles a little more interesting or else you might as well have a row of bottles with blank labels.

Another little gripe of mine is the helpfulness of the assistants in the wine aisles, ok, I know that the person is not a wine expert and probably half the time doesn’t work in that particular aisle but I do expect a better response, as happened the other day to the question have you got anymore South African Chenin Blanc ‘dunno mate, hang on a minute’ then proceeded to look in the Australian section.

Listen I know it’s a supermarket and not a wine merchant/outlet but it’s where a lot of people buy their wines. A little more thought into giving a little more general wine information would definitely add to the supermarket wine buying experience.

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Bellingham Homestead series Chardonnay 2016

Always been a big fan of anything Bellingham produce and this excellent Chardonnay  from the Franschhoek Valley in South Africa doesn’t disappoint.

A little bit of trivia I found out is that Bellingham was originally called ‘Bellinchamp’ back in 1693 which means ‘green fields’ kind of cool I thought.

So what’s it like? well,  to start with I thought it was a nice looking bottle, when poured it’s a bright golden straw like colour. Stick your nose in the glass and you get lots of citrus aromas with some ripe peach in the background also a hint of caramel, butterscotch and vanilla.

On first sip this was perhaps a little to chilled and the flavours were more about the sharp citrus fruits even though they were fairly much muted, left to warm up slightly the more secondary notes of peaches and tropical fruits along with some vanillary oak and butter scotch came through giving the wine a better all round and slightly complex taste.

As I said earlier, Bellingham can do no wrong with me and this Chardonnay is very good as are all their other wines I’ve tasted.

This can be enjoyed with food or equally enjoyed on its own, just remember not to over chill it and you will be rewarded with a brilliant wine unless you happen not to like rich tasting Chardonnay.

My rating 8/10 Corks

Tesco  around £8-£9

 

M&S Wine Tasting November 2017

On the 8th November 2017 my wife and I were kindly invited to a M&S Sparks wine event in store at our local Watford Branch.

Was it worth the 50 minute walk into the town centre ? it most certainly was ! although we did get picked up by our daughter, just as well as we were carrying the six bottles we ended up buying.

Hertfordshire Wine School Educator David Rough

The event started at 6.30pm and was held in the M&S café. We were the first to arrive and after being greeted by the manager and his staff for the evening we settled at our table for the tasting to begin.

Hosting the event was David Rough from Hertfordshire Wine School, who as well as being amiable and knowledgeable he had a calm control over proceedings.

First up was a French Crement sparkling wine Le Caves De Hautes Cotes Cremant De Bourgogne Made in the traditional Champagne method, this was from the Burgundy region and unfortunately left our table a little underwhelmed. It had lively bubbles and initially had a reasonable flavour of stone fruits and a hint of something floral but the main problem was the finish, the taste just disappeared too quickly. 4/10

Second up was another French offering this time a Bergerac from South West France, Mayne de Beauregard  much more to my liking but again not chilled. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon, this was crisp and bright with bags of tropical fruit flavours, the Semillon adding a bit of weight and texture. 7/10

The last white ‘Le Alte’ was a bonus being a grape I’ve never tried ‘Friulano‘ from north eastern Italy, this was definitely one of the favourites around our table, again tropical fruits with a creamy texture and a very long aftertaste, very different and very nice. 8/10

Now on to the reds starting in Australia from the Coonawarra region, this Cabernet Sauvignon split our table but I must say I really thought it was good. Imaginatively named ‘Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon’  this was a full on fruit forward wine with the classic wood shavings, also blackcurrants, dark cherries and casis, with a hint of rich chocolate and menthol, I thought this was very elegant. 8/10

Now for the star of the evening a Appassimento Rosso from the Puglia region of Italy, the Rocca Pagliara I seem to be tasting a lot Appassimento at the moment, not that I’m complaining and this was as good as if not better than recent tastings. This was a powerful wine, intense and full of flavour, very raisiny, blackberries, plums, leather, tobacco were all there along with a herbal kick and pronounced tannins. Very good 8.5/10.

Lastly we were treated to a Ruby style Port, which everyone seemed to enjoy rich with dark fruit and very christmas cakey. I’m not a big port fan but it was nice enough. 7/10

This was our first M&S wine event and hopefully not our last as this was a wonderful evening with some pretty decent wines, thanks a lot to the staff who poured the drinks and brought out the food, they were all very charming, friendly and very generous.

At the end of the evening most people stayed behind to take advantage of the 25% off 6 bottle deal as we did and we all went home happy if a little unsteady.

My Rating 8/10 Corks

 

 

 

Ca’ Marrone Rosso 2016

Is there a better bargain out there in the high street than this Italian stallion of a wine ? especially when on discount, currently £6.50 at Tesco and if you add in the regular 25% off 6 bottles promotion this is astonishing value.

The bottle in question is the CA’ Marrone Rosso from Puglia region of southern Italy made in the Appassimento method which is the Italian term for drying harvested grapes, traditionally on bamboo racks or straw mats, for a few weeks up to several months to concentrate the sugars and flavours.

So what’s it like ? Firstly, this is a great looking if slightly heavy bottle. When poured this is a medium ruby colour with strong aromas of dark fruits predominantly cherry, plum and blackcurrant, there is also a whiff of dried herbs and some vanilla.

On first sip you can tell this is a powerhouse, initially intense sweet and sour dark fruits hit you before the pronounced tannins kick in. Secondary flavours of tobacco, leather and dried herbs arrive filling your mouth with a richness and depth of flavour you get with the Appassimento method.

This is a proper grown up wine and not for the fainthearted but watch out for the 14.5% abv,  although it doesn’t feel like it at first but be warned  it does creep up on you and be sure to hang on to something or someone  before attempting to stand after a glass or two.

As you may have gathered, I liked this a lot, ok, maybe not for everyone but if you find it for £6.50 it’s worth a go, top stuff !

My Rating 8.5/10 Corks

Tesco £9 (look out for offers £6.50 atm)

Bodegas Luis Pérez

My wife and I found this gem of a Bodega in the heart of the Sherry area in Jerez de la Frontera but this time it wasn’t sherry we were tasting but some beautifully made wines including a white made from the plentiful Palomino grape and reds made from the local Tintilla de Rota grape (100%) their prestigious Petit Verdot (100%),  also some blends featuring Petit Verdot, Merlot, Tempranillo and Syrah and last but not least their rather nice Provence style Rosé.

The location was stunning with its rolling hills and white chalky limestone soil with 14 hectares of vineyard and a winery which mixes old and traditional with sleek and modern.

A short introduction taken from their website…..With the purpose if revitalizing the viniculture vocation of the Jerez wine-growing area, that has been producing high-quality wines of different varieties during more than three millenniums, Luis Pérez Rodríguez, professor in Food Technology by the University of Cádiz, awarded with The Gold Medal of Merit in the Oenological Investigation, started a family project in 2002, with the acquisition of a country estate named “Finca Vistahermosa” in the heart of the Jerez vineyards, over the high hill of the “Corchuelo” property. 
The vineyard covers an area of 14 hectares and it is located at the plot of land named “Pago del Corchuelo”, in the heart of the Sherry area, over the hill with the same name. Its altitude offers amazing views over the countryside of Jerez and some areas of the Coast, which allow the _ow of maritime winds, reaching in this way a specific microclimate.
The Grape Varieties (Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon) and their patterns have been strategically chosen. The methods to drive the wine-growing are carried out under an integrated system, which tends to ecological preservation and control of the production, with the minimum but wise human intervention. All this effort is directed to produce high quality Signature Wines (Author Wines).

On a beautifully hot day we took the short taxi journey from our hotel to the winery where on entering the long road from the entrance the car threw up clouds of dust from the sun-baked soil as we wound our way through the rows of vines to the Bodega with excited anticipation.
On arrival we were warmly greeted by our host and guide Roberto and we were surprised to find that it was just the two of us on the tour. Roberto seemed genuinely pleased to see us and started telling us about the history of the vineyard while gently strolling around the gardens and vines for about an hour and a half. His passion was evident as he answered all our questions with enthusiasm and knowledge.

Grape Graveyard

Whilst walking around we came to an area where they discard the  unwanted  grapes etc during harvest and production, let me tell you the smell was intoxicating.

Next Roberto showed us around the actual winery itself, where state of the art equipment along with traditional are used in making their wines. After the tour the best part, tasting some of their wines.

 

 

We were shown to the tasting room where a selection of wines were prepared for us along with some tasty Tapas including a generous selection of local cheeses, Iberico ham and some delicious pork.

The first wine we tasted was El Muelle de Olaso made with 100% Palomino (the sherry grape) the was bright and very fresh, minerally and hardly any acid, flavours of lemon with hints of peach  and very drinkable with a long finish, paired very nicely with some local Goats cheese.

The next two were reds, the first Tintilla made with 100% Tintilla de Rota (also grape native to the sherry region) and virtually identical to Graciano. This was very aromatic full of dark red fruits, prunes and caramelised orange peel. touch of acidity and pronounced tannins, very unusual and very nice.

Now my favourite, the excellent Samaruco made with 40% Petit Verdot 30% Merlot and 30% Syrah. Deep inky black in colour with a nose of dark cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate. Taste wise, velvety smooth and powerful with noticeable tannins and very chocolatey. Flavour stayed in the mouth long after I swallowed it, this really was excellent, especially with the Iberico ham.

Strangely they served the Rosé last, the Marismilla Tintilla Rosado made with Graciano was a lovely end to the tasting, Aromas of strawberries and peach, tasting of strawberries and cream and very Provence in Style.

All the wines were reasonably priced but they did have a 100% Petit Verdot that we didn’t try, would have loved to but at around €40 a bottle, maybe not ! although we did bring buy a bottle of the El Muelle and the stunning Samaruco which survived the journey home in the suitcase.

This tour was probably the highlight of a fantastic holiday to the Jerez and the Sherry region of Spain, the guys at Luis Perez Bodega made us feel special and I would heartily recommend a visit if you’re in the area, for €15 each it’s money very well spent.

 

My Rating 8.5/10 Corks

A week in Jerez and more Sherry !

Following on from my previous post I visited the home of Sherry, Jerez  de La Frontera a beautiful city in Spain’s Andalusia region for a short holiday.

It was like going back in time with it’s impressive Cathedral, baroque churches, palm and orange trees adorning quaint cobbled streets and remnants of a thick city wall surrounding the city built by its Moorish occupants in the 11th and 12th centuries. Walk down any street you cannot fail to notice that this city is famous for Sherry there is even a constant alcoholic whiff in the air from the numerous Bodegas housing this very underrated  and utterly delicious fortified wine.

Sherry made from three grapes, the Palamino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, the former for the drier styles and the last two for the sweeter wines and are made in the so called golden sherry triangle of the cities Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda to the west and El Puerto de Santa Maria to the south all having their own micro climate which contributes to the character of their own local styles.

As you wander around the city, references to sherry are everywhere, from barrel centrepieces in the plazas to bars and restaurants with sherry barrels made into tables and chairs, all the shops have souvenirs and their are numerous signposts to the many bodegas scattered around.

My wife and I visited three Sherry Bodegas and a winery, yes WINE! (which I will post about later) these were Lustau, Gonzalez Byass, (who make the recognisable Tio Pepe) and Tradicion. Just to point out the  actual Bodegas do not make the sherry they are only used to store and age the wines. The one thing that struck me about all the bodegas we visited is how understated the buildings were, most of them tucked down little side streets.

Lustau – As with all the Bodega’s we visited the smell as soon as you entered was heady to say the least. The tour was priced at €25 each but that included some tapas and 12 sherries including a couple of Vermouth’s. The tour itself was very leisurely with no more than 12 people. The guide was very amiable and informative explaining the history of the Bodega and the process of making sherry. The tasting itself was superb, sampling their whole range from dry Fino’s through to the sweetest Pedro Ximénez (Often abbreviated to PX ).

Impressive tasting at Lustau

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gonzales Byass – A little more commercial than the others and they make the most recognisable Fino sherry called Tio Pepe with its well-known bottle logo. A bigger Bodega than the others featuring a short promotional film and train ride through the property. Bigger groups, around 30 or so, felt a little more impersonal but with some interesting stories shared by the guide especially the so-called myth about the drunken mice in which a glass of sherry was placed on the floor with a small ladder to 
discourage the mice chewing on the barrels.

The tasting after was again very commercial situated in a modern tasting room where depending on what you paid you sampled a number of glasses and tapas. We tasted four and got a selection of cheese, ham and potatoes to pair.

Tio Pepe Fino was everywhere in Jerez, served chilled it was the perfect accompaniment to salty tapas and often found for as little as €1 – €2 a glass.

 

 

 

Last of the Bodegas we visited was the prestigious Tradicion – Again tucked away in a side street and this time we sampled  five premier sherries ranging from €55 upwards. These were truly special, some of them over 30 years old.

 

The tasting was conducted in a beautiful rustic courtyard with a covering of vines for shelter. All of the bottles we tasted were special as the price reflected and it was a fitting end to our Bodega tours.

As a final treat the owners allowed us to view their private art collection of some of the finest Spanish painters including the impressive San Fransico de Asis en oracion, Oleo sobre lienzo by ‘El Greco’

Cannot recommend Jerez highly enough, very peaceful, very Spanish, very cheap and very hot and if like me you don’t mind a glass or two of Sherry it’s the perfect holiday.

 

My rating 8.5/10 Corks 

 

Great Sherry Tasting 2017

 

If you think sherry is a  sweet sticky drink kept in your sideboard year after year and only brought out at Christmas for your grandmother to enjoy, served in a thimble size glass, then think again !

Today, it seems everyone is talking about sherry, even attracting a younger consumer, suddenly sherry has become cool and trendy, so read on to find out more about this underrated wine.

A word of warning though sherry is not for everyone and is an acquired taste but it’s definitely worthwhile persevering with and you’ll also find it’s a match for most foods but do remember sherry is also a wine, so throw away the small old fashioned elongated glasses and drink out of a proper wine glass, this way you will fully enjoy the wonderful pungent aromas and fully appreciate the taste

Now to the event itself in which I was lucky enough to be invited courtesy of Brian Elliot’s Mid Week Wines. The venue was the OXO Tower, London by the banks of the Thames.

The moment I walked through the doors the aromas in the function room left you in no doubt you were at a sherry tasting, there was a doughy yeasty smell in the air along with a pungent nuttiness not to mention the strong waft of alcohol.

After checking in at reception I grabbed a clean glass and after checking the brochure trying to form a plan which turned out to be less of a plan than I thought I proceeded to taste my way around the drier styles first, these being the Fino’s, Manzanilla’s and Amontillado’s, leaving the thicker sweeter Palo Cortado’s,  Oloroso’s and Creams/PX (Pedro Ximénez) until later. Remember sherry is a fortified wine which means that additional alcohol or wine spirits have been added.

Below is a quick basic summary of the popular styles how I understand them…..

Flor (yeast) layer in Sherry Barrel by Deb Harkness

Fino – Clear, bone dry with aromas of bready dough and almonds, aged in barrels with a covering of yeast on the surface which is referred to as Flor to prevent oxidation, must be served chilled and is great with salty Tapas including olives, nuts and Jamon Serrano. Best drunk young. Typically around 15 -17% abv

Manzanilla – the driest sherry and clear, very similar to Fino (still with layer of Flor) with perhaps a sharper taste and slightly salty, again great with Tapas, nuts and salty dishes. Typically around 15 – 17% abv

Amontillado – Aged under Flor initially then fortified again with alcohol again this time at a higher level (16 -18% abv) which breaks up the Flor allowing for oxidation, creating a darker colour wine with a more pronounced nuttier caramel like flavour although still on the dry side.

Palo Cortado – One of the rarer sherries, starting out as a Fino under a layer of Flor, when the Flor dies off naturally it starts to resemble a Amontillado style then for some unknown reason begins to develop a richer more complex flavour like that of the next darker style, Oloroso. 16-18% abv

Oloroso – No Flor here, still quite dry, darker browny amber gold colour with more pronounced flavours, still nutty with prunes, raisins and butterscotch. 16-18% abv

Pedro Ximénez (PX) / Moscatel – Extremely sweet style,  made with PX grapes that have been dried out in the sun to increase sugar levels. Usually dark brown in colour thick and syrupy and very sweet with flavours of figs, raisins, toffee, chocolate and liquorice. Moscatel is similar, both styles labelled under their grape variety. Normally around 17-17.5% abv.

Sherry cocktail bar with some intriguing mixes

Above is a pretty basic summary of the major types of sherry but I hope it gives you some idea of the different styles. Now on to some of my favourites at the actual tasting, lots of well known producers (Tio Pepe and Harveys) and a some not so well known and looking for a foothold in the UK market.

Brilliant Range from Lustau

I tasted lots of brilliant sherries too many to mention here but a few highlights were the Emilio Lustau stand, for me the best on show, their Fino was, bright and fresh but with a very distinctive  pronounced burnt wood flavour, along with almonds, a saltiness and lemon fruit. Their Manzanilla was equally as good but with a touch of salinity and lovely kick of spice. The Amontillado was excellent with spice, nutmeg, caramel and toffee but still retaining a lovely freshness. The star was the stunning Oloroso with its toffee, butterscotch, caramel and cinnamon flavours.

30 year old Palo Cortado Apostles

 

 

 

Tio Pepe is perhaps one of the more recognisable brands by producer Gonzalez Byass and their Fino which is widely available and keenly priced is a very drinkable  introduction to the delights of dry sherry but undoubtedly the star of their show was the 30 year old Palo Cortado Apostoles and even at £20 for a half bottle in my opinion worth every penny with its buttery, dried peel, toffee flavoured, nutty delight, I even underlined it with the word stunning written underneath.

Another Producer which most people know about is Harveys and again their Palo Cortado was another excellent offering with its sweetish, nutmeg, caramel and coffee flavours for around £26 (50cl).

Nations favourite sherries Masteclass

Lots of others that I could mention and the overall standard of sherries on show were exceptional, to finish off with I signed up for a Masterclass of the nations favourite sherries hosted by Beltran Domecq (President – CRDO Jerez -Xeres – Sherry y Manzanilla Sancular de Barrameda) this included the two styles of sherry the bone dry Fino and Manzanillas and the sweeter styles of medium dry, medium sweet and cream, a very informative class and an enjoyable tasting to finish the day.

If you like very dry wines that pair beautifully with most foods and you are partial to the odd glass of sweeter wines then sherry may well be for you.

So the next time you are offered a glass of sherry try it, you’ll either love it or hate it my guess is that you will love it.

Great sherry tasting 2017

My Rating 8.5/10 Corks