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Monday, 19 June 2017

Villa Maria and 25 Years of Gimblett Gravels

New Zealand's Villa Maria - some museum pieces

So, the New World does fruit and the Old World does aging, right? These Villa Maria wines, going back to almost the last century, were in better shape than some equivalent Bordeaux.

Villa Maria Library Release Merlot / Cabernet 2010 sweet spices, dark fruits and cocoa beans; fine, well-integrated tannins. Dense with a muscular core. Very Good.

Villa Maria Library Release Cabernet 2009 black olives, sweet spices and dark berries; fine, integrated tannins and seamless texture. Still young. Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2008 berry and cassis fruit, dried herbs and spices; soft yet concentrated. Good.

Vidal Reserve Chardonnay 2007 citrus, floral and nutty with stone fruits and some aged character.
Esk Valley Winemaker Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2007 dark fruits, herbs, cocoa and spice; restrained and substantial, still tightly wound and closed up even at a decade. Firm and assertive. Very impressive. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2006 red and black berry fruit with pepper and liquorice. Fresh, vibrant, floral and spicy but above all substantial. Very Good.

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet / Merlot 2002 blackberry, plum and violets. Concentrated and harmonious. Fresh, vibrant and lively. Substantial. Very Good.

Vidal Reserve Cabernet 2002 ripe black plum, coffee and earthiness with cigarbox. Substantial. Good.

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec 2000 black fruits, chocolate and spice with aged gamey-woodsy-earthiness; vibrant, fresh and mineral. Still very lively but also substantial and harmonious. Very Good Indeed.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Camino de Seda 2014 - Laithwaites

A typically overbearing Laithwaites wine from Jumilla, Spain

Laithwaites specialise in sourcing unsophisticated wines from cheap areas, billing them as "BIG reds" and selling them at a high mark-up to the sort of people who write "Supple mouthfeel, smooth as silk...."

Camino de Seda 2014 (£8.99 plus delivery)  Jammy, extracted and alcoholic with no length; blowsy and all-front, the acidity just about holds it together - oversold, overpriced and overblown; it has as much finesse as a milky tea with two sugars.

Not actively unpleasant, it is thoroughly underwhelming unthinking drinking; just the sort of thing Laithwaites customers seem to like.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Spain's Herència Altés

Two Herència Altés wines from Bancroft

Described as a "very exciting producer making some serious modern expressions of red and white Grenache from the oft overlooked part of northern Spain, Terra Alta", Herència Altés is owned by husband and wife team Rafael de Haan and Nuria Altés whose backgrounds have been in wine for many years.

They started making wine together under the Herència Altés name in 2010, before purchasing their own old-vine Garnatxa vineyards in Gandesa, Tarragona.

Herència Altés specialises in the Garnatxa grape producing red wines and fresh white wines, full of elegance and built for ageing.

Herència Altés owns 3 vineyards totalling 55 hectares. Approximately half the vines are over 50 years old. They are predominantly planted with Garnatxa Blanca with small pockets of Garnatxa Negra and Carignan.

All Herència Altés’ vineyards are in conversion to organic viticulture; conservation is at the heart of the Herència Altés philosophy - the new winery runs off-grid, completely on solar power and represents a long-term investment for the future.

Both of these wines feel well-made and youthful; they improve with aeration and feel like they will gain added complexity with aging.

Garnatxa Blanc, Herencia Altes, 2015 fresh and zesty-citrussy with orchard fruits, celery and a whiff of white pepper. Saline and mineral. Clean elegant and pure. Technically, very well made. Good.

Garnatxa Negre, Herencia Altes, 2015 juicy and fresh with some bubblegum and fruit pastilles; dark berry and black cherry fruit, spice. Deft and supple, improves with aeration.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Lunch

Lunch at New Zealand House with Villa Maria's Karen Fistonich and The Modern Pantry

Villa Maria is a byword for well-made, classical-style wines with a typical New Zealand purity and crystalline freshness.

At this lunch, Karen Fistonich, Chair of Villa Maria, showed us the company's more ambitious side, including the new flagship wine, Ngakirikiri, as well as a few museum pieces.

With starters
Esk Valley Verdelho 2015 elegant, clean and pure with fresh acidity and exotic peach and passionfruit. Good.

Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2015 complex oaky, slightly sulphide nose; pure white nectarine fruit with toast. Sleek and tightly woven. Very elegant and adept. Will improve with age. Good.

With mains
Legacy Syrah 2011 dark cherry, plum, herbs and spice with savoury oaky complexity and fine tannins. Drinking nicely now and at a peak. Good.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve 2013 black fruits with spice and smoke; some fruitcake, cherry and chocolate. Complex and still very youthful with an excellent structure. Needs aging. Very Good.

Ngakirikiri, The Gravels, Hawkes Bay 2013 the first vintage of this super-prestige wine; Cab-based from a spectacular vintage. Intense and aromatic, with dark fruit, plum and herbs, coffee and cedarwood. Complex with fine tannins. Still very youthful and needs age. Very Good.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Copper Rivet Distillery

Copper Rivet Distillery tasting

Three spirits walk into a bar - they are extremely well made.

Copper Rivet Distillery is a family-owned distillery making spirits with a pronounced attention to detail; they oversee the entire process from grain to glass.

The spirits are rich, elegant and complex; there is a vodka that is delicate and creamy; the gin is sweet, spicy and nuanced.

Finally there is Son of a Gun - a unique spirit that is essentially a non-aged whisky. Deep and complex, it is floral with an oatmealy finish.
This well made, it seems almost a shame to put them into cocktails and mixers.

The spirits are available via the company's website for around £30 for 50cl.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Roussillon's Biodynamic Le Soula

A tasting of Roussillon's biodynamic Le Soula wines

When you think of Languedoc and next-door Roussillon, it is classy ripe, plump wines that spring to mind.

Le Soula is different.

Their wines are biodynamic, low-alcohol and grown at altitude.

They have the vibrancy of biodynamic wines - a funky, energetic freshness - with an ability to age that surpasses many a so-called classic wine.

If the winery is relatively young (it started in 2003), the vines are not - 100 year-old Carignan vines are not unusual here.

The vineyards have been organic from the outset with a subsequent transition to biodynamics.

At around five years of age, the current vintages are fresh and vibrant; the older wines, with more than a decade's age, are more complex but still very youthful.
As well as red and white, there is also an orange wine, the Maceration, which is elegant and approachable.

The wines are available at leading restaurants and independent merchants priced at around £25. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Château de l’Abbaye de Saint-Ferme - Via From Vineyards Direct

A Bordeaux Supérieur from a great vintage that punches above its weight - via FVD

Bordeaux does vintage perhaps better than almost anywhere else - and 2010 was one of the great years.

This Bordeaux Supérieur (slighty riper fruit than AOC Bordeaux) is already seven years old and, drinking nicely now, will continue for another 5+ years.

It is also good value for its quality and maturity.

Château de l’Abbaye de Saint-Ferme 2010 Bordeaux Supérieur (£10.95, FVD) fresh, ripe bramble and forest fruits, spices and dried green herbs with some truffley earthiness; supple with well integrated tannins. Very harmonious and drinking well now.


Match with roast red meat, especially darker game.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Brown Brothers' Patricia Range - Sisters Doin' It For Themselves.

The Patricia Range with Brown Brothers' Katherine Brown

Sisters are doin' it for themselves
- Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin (1985)

If you've had a Brown Brothers' wine, chances are it was their sticky Rutherglen Muscat; this was certainly the only wine of this Victoria-based family-owned company that I had previously tried.

The observant may detect a Scottish ancestry to Brown Brothers - the family has been making wine in Australia since 1889.

Hot off the press is that they have bought up the majority of winemaking in Tasmania.

Family businesses take a different view of things - they work to longer timescales and accept smaller returns in the short term in order to maintain long term sustainability.

To avoid company groupthink, owner-manager Katherine Brown spent four years working outside the family company and is part of a leadership network of utterly unrelated businesses where she finds common challenges around recruitment and leadership.

The Patricia Range is not a group of hills; it is the flagship range of Brown Brothers' wines, named after Katherine's Grandmother under a promise that they would be "bloody good".
And they are.

Over dinner at The Cut, we started with a traditional-method fizz.

Fizz on arrival

Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut 2010
From a cool vintage and grown at altitude with 80% Pinot. Yeasty and autolytic, clean and pure with orchard fruits and linear freshness. Rich and full.

Very Good.
White with starters - a flight of Chardonnays

Patricia Chardonnay 2008 from a warm year, higher-altitude fruit was used. Incredibly youthful for its age - perhaps due to screwcapping. Musky-oaky with ripe tropical citrus, minerality and zip. Long and complex.

Very Good.

Patricia Chardonnay 2011 from a cool, wet year, this feels lighter and fresher.

Red with mains - a flight of Shirazes

Patricia Shiraz 2012 more cool-climate maritime fruit in the blend. White pepper and florality with cool mint and pencil shavings; sweet ripe fruit and oaky spice, vibrant, plump and long. Elegant, fresh and compelling with good underpinnings.

Very Good.

Patricia Shiraz 2008 earthy aged character, dark fruits and freshness; supple, elegant and adept but not quite as substantial or complex as the 2012 or 2002.


Patricia Shiraz 2002 sweet vanilla and leathery-mushroomy aged character; vibrant with ripe dark fruits and cool mint; minerality, freshness and a muscular core. Long and complex. My wine of the night.

Very Good.
Sticky with dessert

Patricia Noble Riesling 2002 black and treacly with flowers, sweet spices and salted caramel popcorn. Savoury and mineral with fabulous underpinnings.

Very Good.

Patricia Noble Riesling 2013 fresh roasted peaches and sweet spices, savoury roasted chestnuts, butterscotch, caramel and oakiness. Substantial, mineral and full.


Vivat Bacchus And Kaapzicht Estate Charity Lunch

Pebbles charity lunch at Vivat Bacchus with Kaapzicht Estate

I'd heard of Vivat Bacchus and, with its sophisticated European name, I'd guessed it was an upmarket wine bar and restaurant.

Somehow, I had never worked out that it is South African.
Established in 2003 it serves wines mostly from South Africa and now Cape-style food as it is no longer possible to import meat from Africa.
Owner Gerrie organiser a lunch with Kaapzicht winemaker Danie Steytler Jr to talk about their charity project Pebbles; from 1st June 2017, 50p from the sale of​ every bottle of Kaapzicht Estate wine and all Vivat Bacchus own-label wine​ will go towards Kaapzicht Estate’s charity work with the Pebbles Project.

Winemaker Danie is the 4th-generation of a family owned company based in Stellenbosch.
For non-Afrikaans speakers, Kaapzicht translates as Cape View and Kliprug as rocky back, a reference to the stony soils.

On arrival
Vivat Bacchus Chenin Blanc 2016 pure, fresh and elegant with aromatic herbs and crews. Clean and focused. Good.
With starter
Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2015 like a dry Sauternes; hints of botrytis with ripe peaches, beeswax and floral honeysuckle. Fresh, elegant and complex. Very Good.
With mains
Kaapzicht Pinotage 2015 dark fruits, spices and gaminess. Fresh, supple and elegant. Good.
With cheese
Vivat Bacchus Estate Red 2013 Bordelais-style bramble, spice, earthy-woodsiness, pencil shavings and cool mint. Substantial, long and complex. Very Good.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Summer's Here - Two Pinks via From Vineyards Direct

Two elegant summery pinks via From Vineyards Direct

Summer's here and the time is right for:

a) fighting in the street, boy?
b) dancing in the street?
c) drinking rosé?

If you answered a) or b), you think you are Mick Jagger. If you answered c) you need to find yourself a decent bottle of pink.

Here are two via From Vineyards Direct that are perfect picnic wines or sippers.

Menetou Salon Rosé Domaine de l’Ermitage 2016 (£14.95) 100% Pinot Noir, steely-yet-supple cool-climate Loire rosé with soft red berries, pear fruit and zippy lime zest; poised and fresh. Pure, mineral and substantial.


Mas de Cadenet Sainte Victoire Rosé 2016, (£11.95 / 75cl; £22.95 / magnum) 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Syrah; elegant, southern, Provençal rosé: sweet, ripe red berry fruits and florality. Fresh, mineral and substantial with southern warmth.

Friday, 19 May 2017

A Bordeaux 2014 Masterclass

Bordeaux 2014 tasting with Richard Bampfield MW and Jean-Christophe Mau of Chateau Brown

For this tasting, Master of Wine Richard Bampfield and winemaker Jean-Christophe Mau took us through a range of left-bank and right-bank wines from the good-but-not spectacular 2014 vintage.

A large number of the attendees were trainee MWs, looking to learn the nuances of Bordeaux terroir.

After trying all the wines sighted, we re-sampled them blind and were invited to guess which was which. I still don't know how many I got right - if any - but it was a fascinating exercise.

Vintage characteristics

Freshness, aromatics, red more than dark fruits, balance; not as bold a year, but good definition within a smaller frame

Flight 1
All of these wines showed lifted fruits and perfume; shown in increasing order of quality, the last two wines were the most substantial, but for me the Sociando-Mallet and Brown showed best on the day.

Ch Poujeaux, Moulis-En-Medoc soft, supple, ripe fruit with former rustic / raw tannins, less generous on the finish

Ch Brown, Pessac-Leognan mintier, mineral and substantial; more ripeness and finesse with cedarwood

Ch Sociando-Mallet, Haut-Medoc more sour-cherry and coffee flavours; fuller and more generous

Ch Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estephe cool mint, more closed up, fresher and leaner, firmer tannins and grippier. Opens up more over time.

Ch Marquis de Terme, Margaux spicier, cool mint, plump and supple; harmonious and substantial with smooth, round tannins.

Flight 2
For these wines Richard explained that the Left Bank Cab-based wines tend to be more back-palate vs the more front-palate Right Bank Merlots of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. I found myself continuing to prefer the more contemplative Left Bankers; on a technical assessment, the last two Saint-Emilions were the more substantial and complex suggesting greater aging potential.

Ch Lagrange, Saint-Julien cedar-wood, plump and ripe, harmonious, fruit-forward

Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac grilled and earthy with cool mint; focused and pure, intensity and concentration, firmer structure, ripe tannins

Ch Taillefer, Pomerol cedary, roasted with spice, sweet fruits and freshness; pure cherry fruit. Precise and refined with very fine tannins.

Ch Dassault, Saint-Emilion supple with cool mint and sweet, ripe dark-cherry fruit. Very fresh, pure and concentrated. Plenty of well-integrated oak.

Ch Bellevue, Saint-Emilion mocha and cherries, firm-yet-fine tannins, very fresh and pure. Sweet fruit, freshness, prominent oak and rounded tannins

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Five Wines and It

Five Sauvignons from New Zealand's Yealands Estate

Marlborough is synonymous with Sauvignon; Yealands Estate is based in Marlborough's Awatere Valley, a "sub-region of a sub-region" - the land here is undulating, rather than hilly or mountainous, with minerally soils and vineyards ranging from overlooking the sea to a couple of miles inland.

Yealands' early vintages were sold in bulk for blending, but the wine is now bottled under its own name with the potential to vinify up to 90 different Sauvignons.

These five wines have a signature "Marlborough Sauvignon" character, with more complexity and ambition further up the range, including some oak on the Winemaker's Reserve.

Peter Yealands 2016 fresh, pure and aromatic kiwi Sauvignon with cut grass, white pepper, zippy lime, minerality and tropical fruits. As good an entry level Marlborough Sauvignon as you can hope to find. Good.

Peter Yealands Reserve 2016 more complex, with greater minerality and persistence. Good

Yealands L5 Single Block 2016 precise and zippy, well-structured. Good

Yealands Single Vineyards 2016 intense, taut and tightly wound with a dense, mineral core. Good.

Yealands Winemaker's Reserve 2016 complex, substantial, oaky Sauvignon with ripe tropical fruits, sweet spices, floral honeysuckle, minerality and freshness. Very Good

Thursday, 4 May 2017

#ExpressYourSauv Competition

A competition from New Zealand's Yealands

Who wants to win cases of 6 bottles of Yealands Sauvignon Blancs?

Yealands want to celebrate International Sauvignon Blanc Day with you. They have got 90 Yealands Cellar Door gift packs to give away!

Each pack contains 6 bottles of their premium Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Simply share your details here to enter: www.yealands.co.nz/expressyoursauv

Ts & Cs
Entry is open to residents from Australia, United Kingdom and Canada only.
Full T&Cs available on the website.

Social Handles and Hashtags
Please include the following:
#ExpressYourSauv & #SauvBlanc
For Instagram: @yealands
For Facebook: @yealandsestate
For Twitter: @yealands (or @yealandsUK)
For YouTube:@YealandsFamilyWines

Monday, 1 May 2017

Four Wines for Earth Day

Four wines for Earth Day from Joseph Mellot, CVNE, Vidal and Jean-Luc Colombo

Wine is, ultimately, an agricultural product, so soil quality is a key factor in making good wine.

Here are four wines from producers who all take environmental sustainability seriously.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Gravelière 2015 (£24.05 independents) fresh gooseberry, aromatic green capsicum and white pepper with zippy lime fruit and pebbly minerality; clean, pure and fresh.


Sustainability is a natural part of Joseph Mellot’s business and is reflected in their environmentally friendly viticulture and winemaking; they were the first winery in the Central Loire Valley to attain the ISO 14001 international standard.

Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Les Abeilles Rouge 2014 (£12.15 Wine Rack, John Lewis, independents) dark fruits, dried herbs, spice and pencil shavings; dense and slightly jammy with plenty of extraction and balanced freshness. A big, crowd-pleasing hedonist of a wine.

Respect for nature and sustainable approaches to vineyard management and winemaking is key to Colombo’s green philosophy. Côtes du Rhone Les Abeilles (‘the bees’), is named in honour of the important role that bees play in pollinating their vineyards.

The Colombo family are keen bee keepers and honey makers, and active supporters of bee charities in France, the UK and the US, promoting bio diversity in their home appellations of Cornas and Saint-Péray.

Vidal Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 (£17.15 Cambridge Wine Merchants, independents) sweet ripe black cherry fruit, florality toasty-oaky spice, minerality and fine tannins; fresh, compelling and savoury.


Vidal is dedicated to environmentally friendly winemaking and sustainable winegrowing practices. It was a founding member of the Living Wine group, a small group of wineries who gained ISO 14001 certification in 1998, having achieved a globally recognised standard in environmental management systems.

The winery is a member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) and BioGro certified, meaning it is accredited to process grapes grown using organic principles.

Cune Crianza 2014 (£10.30 Majestic, Tesco, Wine Rack, Wholefoods, E H Booth and Co, Vino Wines) sweet, ripe bramble fruits and oaky earthiness; fresh, soft and supple with good underpinnings. Very adept.

CVNE has a clear philosophy of a constant quest for quality and they are a great believer in the importance of responsible, sustainable viticulture. They have established an environmental policy which covers many aspects of it production, for example all organic by-products in the winery are reused or sold as compost or even as products used in spa treatments!

CVNE also run water saving programmes and comprehensively recycle wherever possible.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Ned London - Pre-Launch Night

The pre-launch night at The Ned in London

Housed in the historic, vast and opulent Lutyens building opposite the bank of England, The Ned will open in spring 2017.

I was invited along to a pre-pre opening night.

The back story - recounted by my guide as we spent five minutes walking from the entrance on Princes Street to Millie's Restaurant via the cloakroom in a underground marble vault with a giant, walk-in safe that looks like something out of a Batman heist scene - is fascinating.
A former Midland Bank, then owned by HSBC, it is Grade 1 listed, but stood empty for 10 years - it is now eight restuarants restaurant, an 11-floor hotel and spa complex. In Bank.

This last bit is the thing that does not make sense - a vast building, well-staffed in an expensive location where people do not traditionally do long lunches or see as a venue for the evening; perhaps owners Soho House have spotted a first-mover opportunity here that is not immediately apparent.
My verdict: Scores well for scale (11 floors, 8 restaurants), food and staff friendliness.

Scores less so for quality of the wines (after the blowsy Californian Pinot, I asked for a sherry; they said how about a blend of vermouths?).
If there's nothing wrong with the sprawling Ned (other than perhaps a passing resemblance to a shopping mall food court), it doesn't feel like there's too much right with it either

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Iberian Afternoon Tea

Iberian afternoon tea with friends - and tapas from Que Rico Tapas

Iberia may just be one of the most complex, vibrant and dynamic wine regions in the world - both countries on the Iberian peninsula have moved beyond their staple classics of port, sherry and Rioja and are busily, dizzily reinventing themselves in all directions.

The usual format: bring two wines to be served blind or disclosed, with some food.

Que Rico Tapas is run by Estefania Led Ramos who provides various catering options - we chose to collect some pre-cooked take away tapas to share:
- Spanish omelette
- Piquillo peppers
- Meatballs
- Croquetas
- Manchego cheese with figs and nuts
We started with a wine that was Iberian only in a politico-historic sense - Spain was once part of the Austrian empire, absorbing its ornate flamboyance and courtly rituals. From there it was much more conventional.
Domaines Kilger Blauer Wildbacher Brut 2015, Weststeiermark Austria (T, blind) an elegant and well-structured, fresh pink fizz; delicate red berry fruit with a mineral backbone. No autolytic character, likely tank fermented. Very popular aperitif.

Contino Rioja Blanco 2012 (J, disclosed) old school white (deep yellow) Rioja with lots of oak, ripe melon and pineapple fruits and substance. Good.

Ardiles, Priorat 2014 (J, disclosed) hefty 15%+ Grenache beast with ripe dark fruits kept in check by fresh acidity; Rhone clone. Good

Chryseia, Douro 2005 (G, blind) lots of everything, bramble fruits, sweet American oak and some age, with a fleshy, supple structure - I guessed a Rioja but the trainee MW spotted some porty character and said Portugal. From the Symington Family portfolio, it has their characteristic aristocratic elegance.


Pintia, Toro 2008 (G, blind) pure, fresh and intense; vibrant and youthful, despite its age with dark fruits and very fine tannins. Very impressive and reminiscent of Vega Sicilia; turned out to be one of their "lesser" wines. My wine of the night. Very Good.

Grahams Reserve Tawny NV (T, disclosed) classic and very typical blended tawny to finish. No surprises here, just a lovely tawny port.