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Wine Press: Christmas wine ideas for blushing pink prawn starters

I’m keeping everything simple for my Christmas wine  countdown. If you’re into off-the-wall Christmas Day menus then you won’t find a wine and food matching pair here.

My menu? A glass of fizz.  Then into a seafood starter such as a prawn cocktail, or my favourite … flash-fried Thai prawns. Then moving on to turkey and the trimmings, then Christmas pud and cheese.

Then more fizz?  Well, why not.

Let’s start at the beginning and prawns. Well, I tell a lie. Because breaking news straight off the shelf this week as the International Wine Challenge awarded medals to supermarket own-brand wines.

verdicchioTop of the bunch was M&S, which scooped 73 gongs, including five gold medals. A particular judges’ favourite was Marks & Spencer Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2013 (£8). You know what? It would be amazing lightly chilled with a Crimbo Day seafood starter.

If you want a sparkle to start your Christmas Day then another Gold medal winner is Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007, (RRP £24.99).

Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007
Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007

Don’t you worry on the sparkles front, I’ll give you lots more ideas before the Big Day.

Prawns, they’re gentle little things. If they were on a Christmas party dance floor they’d be doing that left to right foot shuffle, but they come into their own with a pizzazz of spice or creamy Marie Rose sauce. Then they raise the level to a bit of a hip wiggle.

On Christmas Day I’ll be sticking to whites so not to overpower their blushing little souls. But if you never touch a white, and it’s a red you want with your prawns, then seek out a fruity Beaujolais or a light pinot noir.

Coates and Seely Brut Rose NV
Coates and Seely Brut Rose NV

But what’s this? More sparkles? Yes. Any excuse. Why not go for a sparkler with your seafood starter. Pink to make your eyes blink with delight. Coates and Seely Brut Rose NV ( £25, winetrust100.co.uk)  scores a whopping 97 out of 100 from the site’s masters of wine. It’s made in the same way as Champagne, but I love, love, love the fact that this English wine is labelled Methode Britannique.  Red berries, strawberry ice, dry, gorgeous, and a perfect Christmas treat and flirtatious match to prawns.

Freeman’s Bay Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, Aldi
Freeman’s Bay Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

If that’s too much for your budget, then Freeman’s Bay Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Aldi, £9.99) is exactly what it says on the vin. Sauvignon blanc, and sparkling too. If you love sauv blanc then you’ll love this; a lifting lime-edged sparkle at less than a tenner to go with your prawns.  My friends loved it. I know this because they “aaaahed”and then went quiet for a while.

Oh, come on then Janey. What about some other whites then? Well. Varieties I would recommend … a bright and lively vermentino or picpoul de pinet.

Truly Irresistible Picpoul de Pinet 2013
Truly Irresistible Picpoul de Pinet 2013

As I write, I’m sipping a picpoul from the Co-op, Truly Irresistible Picpoul de Pinet 2013 (£6.99) which is green apple-fresh with an easy squeezy swish of lemon to finish.

 Green Fish Verdejo
Green Fish Verdejo

Or try a crisp, characterful Chablis .. or a Verdejo …  a racy little Spanish number I discovered at a recent tasting  is Green Fish Verdejo (www.oddbins.com, £6.75). Zingtastic and worryingly moreish. Good price too.

Staying in Spain, Albariño  is one of my favourite favourites. It’s a Spanish grape grown in the north west of the country, near the sea, which is bang-on appropriate for prawns. Tesco finest* Albariño (£7.49) has light subtle creaminess speckled through with pears.

From the Wine Society, a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon spangles in the form  of Domaine du Tariquet, Côté Tariquet Chardonnay-Sauvignon (£8.50). Sherbert lemon and hints of stone fruit rise from the glass, mouth-watering citrus and grapefruit.

Domaine du Tariquet, Côté Tariquet Chardonnay-Sauvignon
Domaine du Tariquet, Côté Tariquet Chardonnay-Sauvignon

If your tastebuds need a weary Christmas Day nudge then this vibrant delight would come along and before you know it the prawns would have moved on from a hip wiggle to a full-on jive.

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine December 6, 2014 

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Marks & Sparks’ wines top Gold table in International Wine Challenge gongs

KEEP your eyes peeled on the supermarket shelves for a new raft of medal winners which have impressed judges in the International Wine Challenge.

A total of 184 gold, silver and bronze medals have been awarded to supermarket own-brand wines, with Marks & Spencer trouncing the competition picking up 73 gongs, more than twice as many medals as its closest rival Tesco which received 32 awards.

Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the IWC
Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the IWC

The awards follow a blind tasting last week and Charles Metcalfe,  co-chairman of the IWC says: ““We have discovered some outstanding supermarket own-brand wines which would definitely bring a touch of elegance to any Christmas table.

“All the major supermarkets performed very well. They have very good buying teams. It’s hard work, and Britain is lucky to have supermarket buyers who can source great wines across the entire range and to suit any budget.”

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, Marks and Spencer
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, Marks and Spencer

Marks & Spencer received five gold medals for wines from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Its 2013 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico (£8)  was a particular favourite with judges. M&S, which was named IWC Supermarket of the Year in 2014, also  picked up 21 silver medals and 47 bronze medals.

Next in the medals chart was Tesco, which received four gold medals, eight silver medals and 20 bronze medals. The supermarket’s Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne, which sells at less than £25, sparkled with the judges and picked up a gold.

Tesco Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne
Tesco Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne

Tesco also won gold medals for its 2009 Finest Dessert Semillon as well as its Finest NV Amontillado Sherry, which at  £6 was the cheapest own-brand wine to strike gold at the competition.

Morrisons received a gold medal for its own-brand NV Amontillado Sherry (RRP £6.99) as well as picking up gold for its Signature Chablis 1er Cru (RRP £14.99) and its Signature Grüner Veltliner (£6.99). The supermarket picked up a total of 30 medals, including 14 silver and 13 bronze.

The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Aldi
The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Aldi

Aldi won gold for its 2014 The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99) . It also received a single silver medal and eight bronze medals.

Waitrose received three silver medals, including one for its non-vintage Brut Champagne (RRP £19.99). The supermarket received 12 Bronze medals.

The Co-op  received a total of ten medals, with two silver and eight bronze medals. ASDA picked up three silver and four bronze medals, whilst Sainsbury’s received two silver and four bronze medals.

International Wine Challenge Gold medals

Charles says: “This is great news for shoppers who can get their hands on a medal winning wine when it really is ready to pour. IWC medal stickers are there to help shoppers navigate the sometimes confusing world of wine. If they spot a medal sticker on the bottle, they can buy with confidence, knowing it has been tasted by the best wine judges in the world,” he added.

An at-a-glance of the Gold winners

  • Aldi The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (RRP £7.99)
  • Marks & Spencer Chateau de Chamboureau Savennières 2009 (RRP £16)
  • Marks & Spencer Chateau de Chamboureau Savennières 2009
    Marks & Spencer Chateau de Chamboureau Savennières 2009
  • Marks & Spencer Stepp Riesling *S*, Kallstadter Saumagen 2013 (RRP £15)
  • Marks & Spencer Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2013 (RRP £8)
  • Marks & Spencer Royal Palace Colheita Single Harvest Port 2001 (RRP £25)

    Marks & Spencer Royal Palace Colheita Single Harvest Port
    Marks & Spencer Royal Palace Colheita Single Harvest Port
  • Marks & Spencer Fernando di Castilla “Don Fernando Oloroso” NV (RRP £15)
  • Morrisons Signature Chablis 1er Cru 2012 (RRP £14.99)

    Morrisons Signature Grüner Veltliner 2013
    Morrisons Signature Grüner Veltliner 2013
  • Morrisons Signature Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£6.99)
  • Morrisons Amontillado Sherry NV (RRP £6.99)
  • Tesco finest* Amontillado NV (RRP £6)

    Tesco finest* Amontillado NV
    Tesco finest* Amontillado NV
  • Tesco finest* Dessert Semillon 2009 (RRP £6.79)
  • Tesco finest* Sancerre 2013 (RRP £12.79)
  • Tesco finest* Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (RRP £24.99)

What is the International Wine Challenge?

The International Wine Challenge is in its 32nd year and it assesses every wine ‘blind’ and judges each for its faithfulness to style, region and vintage. Each medal-winning wine is tasted on at least three separate occasions by a minimum of 10 different judges including Masters of Wine. Awards include medals (gold, silver, bronze) and commended awards.

For more from the IWC  go to its website here.

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Wine Press: A train journey with some travel-sized wine bottles … perhaps never again

 

DRINKING wine on the move can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if one of those moves is a Northern Soul wiggle on a Christmas party dance floor.

That, my friends, is my kind of move. But holding a glass of wine at the same time is not recommended. Health and safety apart, there’s lots of spillage.

 travel-sized wine bottles
A selection of wine “journey juice” as my travelling pal Katie describes it

I’m much happier drinking on the move but sitting down at the same time. The perfect place is on a train. The other day I bought a selection of those little 20cl bottles from Marks & Spencer and Tesco for no reason other than I passed the stores en route to the train station ahead of a long journey.

Marks & Sparks opened the Train Test with a couple of cavas. The first didn’t last much further than   the end of the departure platform.

Rosado Cava Prestige, M&S
Rosado Cava Prestige, M&S

Rosado Cava Prestige (£3.95 for 20cl). A “fresh and fruity rosada”, declares the label on the bottle. This, along with the other M&S cava, is branded as exclusive and unique to Marks & Spencer. I thought … “strawberries and squeaky tart in a nice lip-smacking way”. Did I write that? That’s wine for you.  But a lovely little pink taster of a fizz.

Brut Cava Prestige, M&S
Brut Cava Prestige, M&S

Its sister wine is Brut Cava Prestige (£3.95, 20 cl).  My notes said “shortbread, lemon and apple blossom”.  My lovely traveling pal Katie said “it just takes like wine. But I like it”.

Are they worth the money? Well it’s almost £4 a pop (even though there are several poppety-pops in a bottle). I’d say perhaps you can justify one to start your journey, especially if you’re heading home for Christmas in  a few weeks’ time.

Now things go downhill.  I’m not a fan of the mass-produced Big Label whites and I had two of them.

Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014

First up, Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014. (£2.29 from Tesco, and as I write you can get four small bottles for the price three).  Of the two, this was the brightest. There was gooseberry, and citrus and an aftertaste at the back of the mouth  akin to sucking a quarter of a lemon. Sadly, a hint of metal.

Chardonnay 2013 from Gallo Family Vineyards
Chardonnay 2013 from Gallo Family Vineyards

Chardonnay 2013 from Gallo Family Vineyards (Tesco price as above) Oh dear. Melon and pineapple and a rather unpleasant manufactured rubber taste. I did not enjoy. I wouldn’t buy again, small bottle or otherwise.

Never again.
Never again.

My lesson learned. I won’t bother spending over a tenner on these little things. In future I will invest in a full bottle of what I like, take a bag large enough to carry it (and a plastic cup of course). There’s the added bonus of luggage being lighter at the destination. My head too, I imagine.

In my glass … On the upside, this week I really enjoyed two wines as a precursor to Christmas.

Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2013
Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2013

Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2013 (RRP £7.95 from The Wine Society and Rude Wines). I really loved this Australian shiraz, described as full of rich varietal fruit and a vibrant spiciness.  For me, a hug of a winter warmer. It’s a soft velvety shiraz, deep, dark and warming with vanilla clouds above a black fruit bombe. No harsh tannins, smooth all the way.

Aulee cremant 2

Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire ‘Cuvée Jeanne d’Arc’ NV (£12, www.oddbins.com) This is named after the Loire Valley vineyard where the chenin blanc grapes are grown and where Saint Joan is said to have once rested. 

The bubbles are refined and consistent, like a fine playful sunlit dapple on an autumn dew-dropped lawn. There’s pressed orchard apples and crunchy caramelised apple aromas, a little butterscotch and there’s some grilled pineapple waving in the background.

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine November 29, 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

 

The Big ‘O’ Red Wine Set from Riedel

Wine Press: Christmas gift ideas for people in your life who like wine

Is it really that time of year again? Have you done your shopping yet? To be clear, I mean your Christmas shopping, not this weekend’s Big Shop.

If you have a wine lover in your life, or anyone who enjoys a tipple as a tonic, then here’s a handful of gift suggestions. The only science applied is that if I ripped the wrapper off any of these, I would be a happy bunny.

I’ve had some complicated corkscrews in the past, designed by people who don’t want to crack open a bottle in a rush. Find a corkscrew with statement; not least so that if anyone takes it away at a party you can spot it at their house fairly easily.

fish corkscrew
Fish corkscrew from the RNLI

I love the simple little fish corkscrew from the RNLI website. (£12.95, www.rnlishop.org.uk) It’s a fun little thing in a fish shape with a foil cutter and corkscrew featuring white oak wood and stainless steel. It supports a very important charity too, with 100% of profits helping to fund ​ their lifesaving service.

Anna G, the corkscrew from Alessi
Anna G, the corkscrew from Alessi

A wine opener with style, and oodles of it, is Anna G, the corkscrew from Alessi, with her smiling face, quirky haircut, and vintage dress. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Alessi has released special limited editions. It’s a pressie for someone you love very much, at £59. For stockist details go to www.alessi.com.

The Big ‘O’ Red Wine Set from Riedel
The Big ‘O’ Red Wine Set from Riedel

It’s useful to have a glass, or things could get messy. Riedel designs glasses around different types of wine grapes; the belief is that the correct selection of glass shape highlights the individual styles. The Big ‘O’ Red Wine Set (£37.50, www.riedel.co.uk) includes three glasses for syrah, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Dear Santa, please don’t drop these when you bring them down my chimney.

Personalised wine bottle stopper from Menkind
Personalised wine bottle stopper from Menkind

You can have a special nickel plated wine bottle stopper engraved with your personal message (£15.99, from www.menkind.co.uk) Mine would say “hands off”.

Fun "birdie" markers for your wine glass from Lakeland
Fun “birdie” markers for your wine glass from Lakeland

For little stocking fillers, hop along to Lakeland for some cute birdy wine glass markers (£6.99 for a set of six, www.lakeland.co.uk). Clip one on the side of your glass and no more debates over “that’s my drink, not yours”.

Wine bottle gift tags from The National Gallery
Wine bottle gift tags from The National Gallery

From the National Gallery, some sweet bottle gift tags (£2.50 for four) with the message ♪Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la ♪.

The gallery has its own wine range too, Delicious Art, with beautiful art depicted on the labels. (A mixed Bordeaux case of six is £80).

  Bordeaux from the National Gallery's Delicious Art range
Bordeaux from the National Gallery’s Delicious Art range

For a Boxing Day walk (or, in my case, more likely a football match) WH Smith has the feminine Katarina Hip Flask, prettily decorated with flowers (£11.99). It can hold a warming nip of 170ml.

Katarina Hip Flask from WH Smith
Katarina Hip Flask from WH Smith

A “daft not to” gift would be £40 life membership of award-winning The Wine Society (www.thewinesociety.com) which sells some brilliant price-friendly wines.

Talking of which … the society has an offer on Spanish wines which runs until December 17 or until stocks last. Wines include best value for money reds, rioja, hidden gems and sherry.

imageOne is Malabarista Tempranillo-Garnacha Navarra 2012 (£6.25 bottle). Light, bright and worryingly easy to drink, this tempranillo and garnacha blend is pleasingly versatile. The light oak worked well with cheese and meat, and on its own too. Light as it was, it went well with pork chops, and might not have had enough body to partner up with a steak. Don’t let the contemporary label design put you off, this is a classic red.

Simonnet_Saint Bris Sauvignon BottleIn my glass …. An old-world sauvignon which has all the freshness, clarity and appeal of a New Zealand Marlborough. Simonnet-Febvre Saint-Bris Sauvignon (Waitrose, £9.99) lacks the oiliness and depth of many of its French counterparts. But it makes up for its superficial nature with a clean, sharp approach that suits anything grilled or a Sunday lunchtime roast.

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine November 22, 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

 

ohn Torode Neil McGuigan Hunter Valley wine lunch

Wine Press: John Torode and Neil McGuigan create new semillon wine in Vine to Glass video project

I’ve found my new favourite wine, Hunter Valley semillon from Australia, with the help of one of the UK’s most popular chefs,  Masterchef’s John Torode.

John has joined forces with chief winemaker Neil McGuigan from McGuigan Wines to work on a special project Vine to Glass. They have made a new limited edition Hunter Valley Semillon together and along the way have captured the story in a series of videos.

The Neil McGuigan and John Torode Collection Hunter Valley Semillon
The Neil McGuigan and John Torode Collection Hunter Valley Semillon

I met them both Down Under and their enthusiasm for their shared project is contagious. Their deep love of food and wine taste explosions, together with the chemistry between each other – a brotherly professionalism doused in humour – could in itself be bottled.

I drank alot of semillon in Australia. (I know, but it was warm and I was thirsty.) As a young wine it is light, fresh and limey. As it ages in the bottle it takes on toast, nut and honey notes with no help from oak.  It’s just helped along its way by a magical Hunter Valley alchemy.

If you love gooseberry-edged sauvignon blanc, or a lime-cut riesling, then a young semillon from Australia is a fantastic option if you want to try something new. It has a fresh citrus lift and is happy on its own or with food.

John Torode describes his thoughts behind the Vine to Glass project
John Torode describes his thoughts behind the Vine to Glass project

John explains: “You don’t have to have rules on wine and food you should drink what you want to drink, but semillon is amazing with Thai curries. It is stunningly perfect with Asian food.”

McGuigan Vineyard lunch ... ready to go
McGuigan Vineyard lunch … ready to go

So why did Neil and John decide to make a wine together.

Says John: “I have partnered with Neil McGuigan for a few years now, and I have always enjoyed working with him because we share a mutual love of creating great food and wine matches for people to enjoy.

“I wanted people to understand the relationship between food and wine and why they work together, so when Neil approached me to see if I would be interested in producing a special wine with him I jumped at the chance.”

Their new wine came into its own at a special lunch at McGuigan’s Hunter Valley vineyard when it was paired with chopped lobster and avocado with fresh chilli and lime. A citrus spice explosion.

The Mcguigan Torode lunch menu and wine pairings
The Mcguigan Torode lunch menu and wine pairings

Neil says of the wine:  “The result is an amazing wine, with beautiful colour, an intense sherberty nose with lime rind and rich, refreshing and zippy in the mouth.”

Cheers! John Torode and some of the McGuigan vineyard lunch guests
Cheers! John Torode and some of the McGuigan vineyard lunch guests

“This is properly delicious, exciting, vibrant, refreshing; a bit naughty.”

But making the wine was just one part of the Vine to Glass project. You can watch their journey – and camaraderie – in the 10-part video series.

(I was at the lunch too!!)
(I was at the lunch too!!)

Says Neil: “We wanted to create something that everyone can understand. We wanted it to be good fun, exciting.”

The episodes follow all the steps in the winemaking process – from picking the grapes and blending right through to the delivery of the bottle to John’s door.

Neil McGuigan in a vineyard at his home in the Hunter Valley. He explains some wine-making principles in the Vine to Glass videos
Neil McGuigan in a vineyard at his home in the Hunter Valley. He explains some wine-making principles in the Vine to Glass videos

IMG_1318 Neil says: “John and I set out to break down the barriers of winemaking and show people what it takes to make a fantastic wine in a way everybody could understand.

“We also wanted people to see the critical role food plays in the wine journey and how the two go hand-in-hand. We really achieved what we set out to do.”

The Neil McGuigan and John Torode Collection Hunter Valley Semillon
The Neil McGuigan and John Torode Collection Hunter Valley Semillon

The new McGuigan Torode wine isn’t available in the UK, but if you want to venture into semillon world, a couple of other McGuigan wines are a good starting point.

McGuigan Classic Semillon Blanc 2013
McGuigan Classic Semillon Blanc 2013

McGuigan Classic Semillon Blanc 2013 (RRP: £7.99, Tesco and Sainsbury’s) has a floral lift on the nose and a full zesty finish. A definite shoo-in for anyone wanting to cross the bridge from sauvignon blanc country to becoming a semillon fan.

McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2007
McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2007

Then there’s a class act in McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2007 (RRP: £14.99 available at Tesco wine by the case) which won the Decanter award for best White Single Varietal under £15. Judges described it as having a “rich, spicy, pear and apricot nose with hints of beeswax, kiwi, exotic fruit and grassy notes”.

The Vine to Glass episodes are being released from this month. You can watch them at www.youtube.com/McGuiganWines.

Click here to view Episode One from the Vine to Glass series with John Torode and Neil McGuigan

 

This was first published in the saturday extra magazine November 15th 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Oz Clarke wine critic

Wine Press: Oz Clarke shares wine tips as 2015 Pocket book launches

 Oz Clarke is one of the most popular wine critics in this country. He  is one of those people you instinctively “trust” when he shares his thoughts either through his books or his  fun approach on our TV screens.

He has a busy schedule as the festive season beckons, with the release of his latest book  Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z 2015  and some tasting dates with Three Wine Men. But he has taken time out to answer some questions from me and to share some wine tips with you.

Oz Clarke wine critic
Oz Clarke wine critic

When did you first begin to appreciate wine; can you remember the wine that gave you the “stop and think” moment.

When I was 3. I drank rather too much of my mother’s damson wine. The next lightbulb wine was at university – my first taste of old Bordeaux – Chateau Leoville-Barton 1962.

Advice to someone who wants to step out of their wine-drinking comfort zone but doesn’t know where to begin.

If your comfort centres on a single grape – like chardonnay or shiraz – check out different countries and how they use the grape. If your comfort zone centres on a country, check out that country’s different grape varieties.

Wine fashions change; or do they.

Fashions do change – in wine as in everything else. In the 1980s everyone drank German & liebfraumilch, in the 90s it was Aussie chardonnay and shiraz, in the noughties it was New Zealand sauvignon and Chilean merlot. Bring on the next fashion – it won’t hurt us.

Which, in your opinion is the most under-appreciated grape.

Cabernet Franc. It is thought of as an also-ran grape in most of Bordeaux, but an increasing number of New World countries – especially really new kids on the block like Brazil, Virginia, Canada, Uruguay – are showing it to be a wonderful, raspberry-soaked star.

Old World or New World.

Both. New World is not so much a place as a state of mind. Have a vision of flavour, try to make the consumer happy not confused, relaxed about the price not threatened.

Corkscrew or screwcap.

Screwcap is tremendous for a lot of wines, especially those like sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot grigio. It’s also great for lighter reds like pinot noir, beaujolais and valpolicella. For heavier reds like cabernet, shiraz, Bordeaux or Hermitage I still prefer the corkscrew. And I like the palava of getting the cork out.

Red, white or rosé.

Where am I? Who am I with? Am I happy or sad? Is it sunny or stormy? All of these things – and many more will affect whether I crave red, white or rosé.

Dessert wines: Is it time for them to come down from the dusty top shelves.

Not really. There are some wonderful sweet wines and they’re often quite expensive rather than very expensive – but they’re sipping wines, not gulping wines. A half bottle will probably do four, whereas a whole bottle of red or white will probably only do two. They’re still a special occasion theat.

The rise of Prosecco. Will it fizzle out.

Certainly not. Prosecco is a wonderful party fizz, bright & breezy, tasting of apples & pears. Keep cracking open the bottles. And they’re not that cheap, which shows we are prepared to pay for them.

Stilton

I’m still a port guy, rather than a red wine guy. But it’s well worth trying a sweet dessert wine too. And I’d also go for big – vintage style beers – like Fullers Vintage Ale, or a Trippel from Belgium.

Oz Clarke Pocket Wine A-Z 2015
Oz Clarke Pocket Wine A-Z 2015

Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z 2015 (£9.99). This is the 23rd edition of Oz’s bible for wine lovers and it’s a phenomenal facts’ feast. There’s details on the world of wine by country, plus detailed sections on producers, regions, and what to expect from different grapes and their styles. For under a tenner, it’s a great buy for all wine lovers.

Oz is one of the Three Wine Men alongside Tim Atkin and Olly Smith. For details of events and much more, go to threewinemen.co.uk

This was first published in the saturday extra magazine November 8th 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Feast Festival, Conwy

Wine Press: Wine tasting puts sparkle into food and drink festival Feast

I got a bit giddy a few days ago. I was in the right place to be giddy, at a food and drink festival. Alongside me were several other giddy people, though they were only giddy after they’d been with me for a while.

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell

I helped to run a wine tasting session (with fellow wine writer Andrew Campbell) on sparkling wines at Feast, a festival in the beautiful setting of Conwy. I didn’t need much encouragement to be involved, only the promise of a bed before the journey back home the next day.

Jane Clare wine tasting
Jane Clare … I’m just giddy

It was great to share “geeky” things with new people. They just kept popping out of my mouth in my overall  giddiness as I talked about the wine.

First Geek Lesson:

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t like a wine just because other people do.

Second Geek Lesson:

Be brave and step outside your comfort zones. If you like something then embrace it; but try not to like it to the exclusion of other wines.

Third Geek Lesson:

Chill sparklers in a bucket with ice and water, not just the ice on its own. Then the entire bottle is in contact with the cold blast, not just the pointy icy bits.

Fourth Geek Lesson:

Hold a glass by its stem, not the bowl of the glass. This isn’t a stick-your-little-finger-out posh thing to do, but stops you warming up white wine as you grasp it.  (Note to people at parties: Who gives a hoot about this Geek Lesson.)

The wines. First up prosecco and a fun fact for my giddy gang. Last Christmas one supermarket chain sold more prosecco than milk. Not a bad choice for the cornflakes.

Taste the Difference Conegliano  Prosecco  Superiore DOCG 2013
Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2013

Taste the Difference Conegliano  Prosecco  Superiore DOCG 2013 (£10, Sainsbury)  was this year’s   International Wine Challenge Great Value Sparkling under £12, and the IWC Champion Great Value Sparkling Wine this year. I’ve praised this pear and apple-fresh wine before, and no doubt I’ll do so again.  (General geeky tip:  Look out for a DOCG prosecco, which is higher quality than DOC).

Okhre Natur Brut Cava, Marks & Spencer
Okhre Natur Brut Cava, Marks & Spencer

Okhre Natur Brut Cava (M&S, £10.99) I was excited to share this with my giddies.  I love cava and was disappointed to read a reviewer say that this was a “nice alternative to prosecco”. No! At what point does one-dimensional prosecco have any of the characterful nuances of cava?  This had multi-layered apple and lime freshness, with bready hints and burnt caramel (much like butterscotch).

Aldi Cremant de Loire
Aldi Cremant de Loire

Next up and some oohs and aahs around a peaches and cream soft fizz with undercurrents of apples and limes. A real squeeze of acidity watered the mouth as bubbles danced. More oohs and aahs when I revealed it was Aldi Cremant de Loire, a perfect snip at £6.79 for any occasion. Who needs an occasion?

Franciacorta Brut from Marks and Sparks
Franciacorta Brut from Marks and Sparks

Other gorgeous wines we showcased included Franciacorta Brut  (M&S, £18.99) which was a new one on me and stunning. If you have just under £20 in your pocket and fancy a change from Champagne then head in the direction of this Italian delight. I wrote down marzipan and almonds, with melting buttery biscuits.

Champagne  ... The Co-op’s Les Pionniers 2004
Champagne … The Co-op’s Les Pionniers 2004

The Co-op’s Les Pionniers 2004 vintage champagne (£24.99) is a world-beating champion treat,  zesty and nutty.

IMG_1101Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009(£35.99, Majestic )  is another IWC gold winner and was served on  Royal occasions to mark the jubilee last year.  English wine royalty in its own right,  it is creamy, complex, with apricots and wisps of melon and brioche.

Araldica Brachetto d'Acqui
Araldica Brachetto d’Acqui

Finally, Araldica Brachetto d’Acqui (£10.99, Virgin Wines) this scrumptious deep pink strawberry pot of sparkles didn’t last long in anybody’s glass. I can see the chappie in front of me now, like Oliver, who kept asking for more.

All in all, I think we managed to put a sparkle into everybody’s weekend.

This was first published in the saturday extra magazine November 1 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Expresss

Lidl wine reviews

Wine Press: Lidl’s French wine promotion delivers some great bargains

There’s a lovely lady I work with who keeps a special diary. It’s a diary of all the really really important events that take place in the country – nay, the world – at all times of the year.

She does other things too, this lady, very important things; but to me her diary is the most important thing of all.

For instance; I can tell you that recent Very Special Events included National Curry Week and Chocolate Week. It was also National Knitting Week.  If you had a celebration, I hope you  didn’t drop any stitches.

I think there should be an all-year-round event labelled Let’s Celebrate Great Wine Bargains. I’d even bake a cake.

The reason? A few weeks ago Lidl added 48 wines to its range, from across all of the classic regions of France including Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and Burgundy.

Lidl is one of the supermarket chains really upsetting the apple cart for the Big Guns at the moment, and this new range is expected to drive people even more to the stores. The French wine promotion in the UK is worth £12m and the Lidl group have sourced 5% of Bordeaux’s yield.

Lidl wines review

Lidl’s own consultant Master of Wine, Richard Bampfield, has cast his expert eyes (well, tastebuds) over the wines … and by Jimminy there’s some great bargains.

Ben Hulme, senior wine buyer, says: “We feel confident about the launch of our new French wines. We want to aim at people who have not considered us previously. The message is ‘come and a give it a try. Pick up a few bottles and see if you like them.”

I imagine you probably will. But you’ll have to be quick as the wines are available while stocks last and not all wines are available everywhere, and even if they are, there might not be alot of them. Keep an eye out nonetheless.

The best sellers, I’m told, have appeared to be Cotes de Gascogne 2013 (£4.99) Fitou AOP 2011 (£5.99) Bordeaux St Emilion AOP 2010 (£8.99) and the surprising one which is particularly popular, the Monbazillac AOC 2011 (£7.99)

 So, in my glass, three from Lidl:

Bordeaux Chateau Marjosse 2012, Lidl
Bordeaux Chateau Marjosse 2012, Lidl

Bordeaux Chateau Marjosse 2012 (£8.99) A fruitful deep red, the luscious-lips red of a 40s Hollywood siren. Truckles of black and red berry fruits, some spice and a mouth-watering juicy burst of acidity.

Chateau Larcis Jaumat 2012 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux , Lidl
Chateau Larcis Jaumat 2012 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux , Lidl

Chateau Larcis Jaumat 2012 Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux,  (£12.99) Loving this.  A wave of red berry fruits from the glass, rich and inviting, then a plummy depth of  raspberries and hedgerow fruits; bound up with spice, peppering away at your senses.

Domaine de Grangerie Mercurey 2012 Burgundy, Lidl
Domaine de Grangerie Mercurey 2012 Burgundy, Lidl

Domaine de Grangerie Mercurey 2012 Burgundy (£9.99)  Medium-bodied, just like me. OK, I lied about that last bit. A tenner’s worth of smoky-edged red fruits, but lean and subtle, elegant and a little frisky on the acidity.

Back to curry and chocolate … I left you hanging there and I apologise.  Some brief wine tips on both, should the fancy take you, though not on the same plate I hope.

Chocolate: Try and match sweetness for sweetness. Avoid tannic reds … think of dessert wines. There’s some nice cheap ones, such as an orangey-flavoured Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro (chocolate and orange … yum) which is widely available for about £7.

Curry: Beer might be best, but if you are a wine freak (High Five) then a carmenere from Chile is a good bet or with a Chinese or Thai curry, try a riesling.

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine October 18, 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Chablis Hipster Recto _ Version Jour

Wine Press: An ultraviolet Chablis wine bottle. Whatever next …

The only thing I’ve ever associated with wine, which glows in the dark, is yours truly. My pinkish nose and a wine flush around the cheeks are enough to brighten anyone’s journey once the sun goes down.

But I’ve discovered a gadgety-kind of wine bottle which glows in the dark too …  William Fèvre Limited Edition Hipster Chablis 2013 (£16.99 from 31dover.com) has   60s-style imagery created in ultraviolet ink, which reveals “hidden designs” when placed under black light.

William Fèvre Limited Edition Hipster Chablis 2013
William Fèvre Limited Edition Hipster Chablis 2013

Or so I’m told. I couldn’t quite work out how to embrace the challenge of this light-up-in-the-dark party bottle, sent to me by the 31dover.com team. To be honest, I was a little taken aback that  Chablis had been robed in a gimmick.  But if it reaches a new market of “young urban wine drinkers” can that be so wrong?

Well let’s see.  I forgot the gimmick and tasted the wine. It’s a pale lemon colour with hints of honey and stewed apple on the nose, and a frizazz of apple-bursting acidity which liven up the tastebuds after a long dreary, wet October journey home.

The 31dover team sent me some other wines, and I enlisted the help of some Tasting Elves (is it too early for that?? OK, some Tasting Pumpkins to a) share the love and b) so you don’t have to read my   comments all the time.   This is what my Pumpkins say.  

Chablis Broc de Biques Damien & Romain Bouchard 2012
Chablis Broc de Biques Damien & Romain Bouchard

First up, another Chablis.  Chablis Broc de Biques Damien & Romain Bouchard 2012 (£14.49) This promised ‘ripe fruit, lightly brushed with honey’ and ‘classic Chablis notes of chalk and oyster shells’. I have never eaten oyster shells or chalk so I don’t know about those but it was bursting with apple and melon flavours and had a creamy, buttery after-taste which made it go down oh-so easily. A bit too easily in fact! Worked a treat with a chorizo risotto.

Chateau Grand Tayac Margaux 2007 (£13.99) is from one of the most famous Bordeaux appellations – although at the cheaper end of the Margaux spectrum – it’s a very affordable introduction to ‘proper’ Claret that will impress dinner party guests.

Chateau Grand Tayac Margaux 2007
Chateau Grand Tayac Margaux 2007

A sophisticated, perfumed nose with a hint of spice leads into subtle fruit flavours of plum and raspberry with a hint of liquorice.  There’s a complexity to the initial flavour that dissolves into a simpler, satisfying finish – a bit like watching Lionel Messi beat five defenders with a mazy run before scoring with a simple tap-in.

Mas D'Amile Old Vine Carignan 2010
Mas D’Amile Old Vine Carignan 2010

Mas D’Amile Old Vine Carignan 2010 (£8.99) This medium-bodied red from the Languedoc region of the south of France certainly packs a punch. A deep, ruby red I could taste the dark fruits and strong tannins of the carignan grape. It’s supposed to have hints  of lavender and thyme but I didn’t get any depth of aromas on sniffing my glass.  A bold wine.

Senorio de Olartia Reserva 2004
Senorio de Olartia Reserva 2004

The Senorio de Olartia Reserva 2004 is a velvety and mellow Rioja. It’s not a hugely robust red but with flavours of red fruit paired with hints of vanilla and spice it can still hold its own with meat dishes.   As you would expect from a Reserva it strikes a good balance between its fruitier or more strongly oak flavoured Rioja counterparts with its smooth finish making it an easy drinking choice.

Sara & Sara Friulano 2010
Sara & Sara Friulano 2010

A final one from me.  Sara & Sara Friulano 2010 (£9.49) An interesting wine which delivered an extra flavour, an extra aroma, every time I dipped in the glass. Deep golden, it had creamy honeyed notes on the nose; extravagant peaches which have been dowsed in liqueur for a Christmas treat. The aromas reminded me of a dessert wine like a Sauternes, but flattered with spice.  To taste, spicy and dry, not much fruit.

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine October 11, 2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Tesco Simply Chianti wine

Wine Press: Tesco’s Simply wines are pretty much what they say on the vin

We all have our eyes peeled for a bargain, but when it comes to wine, it’s a gamble buying a bottle for under a fiver. But to be honest a fiver is sometimes all we want to spend.

Tesco’s Simply range has a selection of well over 20 wines in the range covering all wine styles, and many of them are under a fiver.  I’ve often perused them, picked them up, read the labels, put them down. Finally, this week I’ve tried a handful.

Tesco Simply Merlot wine
Tesco Simply Merlot wine

Simply Merlot (£4.20) is a shout-at-the-TV-why-am-I-watching-X-Factor wine which was pleasant enough with aromas of fresh plums and a silky sip of red cherries. It’s not outstanding, but it’s a reliable merlot which ticks you over on a Saturday evening.

Tesco Simply Chianti wine
Tesco Simply Chianti wine

Simply Chianti (£4.89) is a blend of sangiovese grapes  with other red varieties from the hills of Tuscany in Italy.  I glugged this into a glass jug a few hours before we tried it with Sunday lunch.

Tesco Simply Chianti wine
Tesco Simply Chianti wine

If you don’t own a decanter, try a simple trick of pouring the wine out of the bottle, into the ugliest jug you own, then back again into the bottle with a steady hand (and a funnel if you have one).  This brings the wine into contact with the air, releases the aromas and allows the flavours to develop.

Lunch had been made quickly so I could watch my footie team on a rare TV appearance.  (We lost. Badly.)  I looked to the wine for consolation. On the nose, there’s fresh and dried cherries with a hiccup of spice. To taste, acidity and a spiky tickle at the back of the throat are more prominent than the cherry fruit flavours, and it felt thin and a little “tinny”.  Sniffing this wine is more enjoyable than tasting it.

Tesco Simply Chardonnay wine
Tesco Simply Chardonnay wine

Simply Chardonnay (£4.49). What it says on the vin … it’s simple chardonnay from California.  “Ripe pineapple and mango” the bottle declares.  I couldn’t find any … but it did have a zesty citrus finish which tempted you to have another unassuming slurp fairly quickly.

Tesco Simply Sauvignon Blanc wine
Tesco Simply Sauvignon Blanc wine

Simply Sauvignon Blanc (£4.75) Sometimes sauv blanc can leap out of the glass; its aromas and flavours tackling your senses to the ground and then rolling them in a mound of freshly mown grass, your arms flailing as you try and keep hold of the glass.  Not so this wine.  A sauv blanc from Chile, it’s understated on the gooseberry and grass aromas; the acidity is fairly flighty in the mouth; but the flavours dissipate into a watery lime trickle quite quickly.

Tesco Simply Malbec wine
Tesco Simply Malbec wine

Breaking News: I thought I’d done on the Simply wines when I wandered to the wine aisle to see if another caught my fancy. Simply Malbec (£4.49) clinked home with me and I thought it the best of the lot. A midweek on-my-own bowl of spicy meatballs and pasta went down a treat with this plummy, pepper-sprinkled gluggable wine from the south of France.  Bursts of spice and fruit, decent acidity, and one I’ll buy again.

Also in my glass …. Clefs du Pontif Marsanne Viognier 2013, IGP Pays d’Oc   (£8.99 a bottle, from www.averys.com, or buy three and save £6) . A blend of marsanne (60 per cent)  and  viognier (40 per cent)  from  the Languedoc. I’m a fan of both of these grapes, so when I find them together, I’m happy.

Clefs du Pontif Marsanne Viognier 2013, IGP Pays d’Oc
Clefs du Pontif Marsanne Viognier 2013, IGP Pays d’Oc

The fermented juices were aged on the lees – that’s the dead yeast –  for several months which adds a little creaminess to the blend. There’s peach and apricot lifting from the glass, and creamy apricot to taste. I expected a little more depth and zest, but still enjoyable.  

This first appeared in the saturday extra magazine October 4  2014 

Liverpool Echo South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Expresss

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