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 

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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.


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

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 

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Wine Press: A girlie night, Aldi reds and a sneaky picture of my teen TV idol

I had a girlie night out on Saturday. It started as a girlie night in and then for a few hours it was a girlie night out and then a girlie night back in.

I’d taken some red wines as a bit of a treat; an inexpensive treat too.  A couple of Aldi reds came in at less than a tenner.

My girlie friends are used to me saying, as we raise our glasses, “swirl!!!” “smell!!!”  “sip!!!”.  I don’t bother when we’re drinking lager, as that would just look silly.

IMG_2816I shouted my catchphrase on Saturday night. It was late, we’d been out, and we were back in. We swirled and sniffed.  We knew we liked the wine (Aldi’s Venturer Nero D’Avola, £4.79 )and we all said “cherries”, and someone said “earthy”.

Aldi’s Venturer Nero D’Avola
Aldi’s Venturer Nero D’Avola

IMG_2816We were excited. Just a couple of years ago we’d have reached for the Robbie Williams CD after tripping over the kicked-off shoes without pausing for breath.

Now we’re all grown up. For five minutes we talked about the wine. Why we liked it; whether it was nicer than one we’d had last time; where it came from; what it tasted like.  Would we have it again?

I couldn’t remember much than that to be honest, so  I’ve reprised the evening and for less than £15 bought the Nero D’Avola again, along with Aldi’s Venturer Costiere de Nimes and Aldi’s Venturer Old Vines Garnacha. (They’re all £4.79 at the moment).

Nero D’Avola is Sicily’s signature grape.  Despite upwards of 40 degree heat, the vines manage to produce grapes which deliver punchy wines. The purple labelling Aldi has clothed this wine in complement the dark red cherry aromas and dried twigs. Some menthol and green peppercorns  too.  (Go on, sniff. It’s a Scientific Experiment). The tannins aren’t bad. Not too dry; and the wine delivers an earthy taste with black cherries.

Aldi’s Venturer Costiere de Nimes
Aldi’s Venturer Costiere de Nimes

Costiere de Nimes is from the southern Rhône Valley.  Rounded and fruity; berries and brambles sprinkled with some dried mixed herbs (metaphorically, obviously) and black pepper.  It’s fruitier than the others, with the aroma of a summer pudding far away, just out of reach … you can’t grasp it but you know it’s there somewhere.

My teenage heart see-sawed between Manolito and Billy Blue on the High  Chaparral
My teenage heart see-sawed between Manolito and Billy Blue on the High Chaparral

Old Vines Garnacha. Upstanding in its golden Aldi livery; like a soldier’s uniform from the High Chaparral (everyone under the age of 40 looks that one up.)

We’ve had Sicily, then France, now we have grapes from Spain; grapes grown on old vines no less. Old vines don’t produce as many grapes as in their younger days, but the fruits are more concentrated and flavour-packed.

Aldi’s Venturer Old Vines Garnacha
Aldi’s Venturer Old Vines Garnacha

Here we have jammy fruit … cherries and strawberries, really concentrated like those little cubes of jelly before they dissolve. An acidic buzz leaves your mouth watering, with just a dab of tannic dryness.

Such fun. I love my Scientific Experiments without a Petri dish in sight.

Also in my glass …  this girlie, as you know, likes a sparklie and one of my favourite discoveries in recent years is  brachetto d’acqui,  a delightful deep pink wine from Piedmont in Italy.  I’ve tried a handful of these, the latest  Araldica Brachetto d’Acqui Il Cascinone 2011 (£10.99, www.virginwines.co.uk)

Araldica Brachetto d'Acqui Il Cascinone 2011, Virgin WInes
Araldica Brachetto d’Acqui Il Cascinone 2011, Virgin WInes

It’s only 5% ABV and if you don’t like wines with the slightest of sweetness, then by Jove this may not be for you.

I once went picking strawberries and managed to squash most of them on the way home. This wine reminds me of that day and the fresh fruity juice that was left.

Newly-picked strawberries, freshly squeezed. But hey… it has the extra treat of bubbles, a gentle frizz, not an extravagant sparkle. You could think Lambrusco, but this has style. I love it.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine September 27,  2014 

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

Provence wines

Wine Press: Provence rosé wines … who needs excuses to perk up with a pink

Let’s talk about pinks. Yes; perhaps we associate rosé wine with summertime; but as the September weather has been a pleasant surprise we have an excuse to perk it up even more with a pink.

The lightest of light pinks are those from Provence in the south of France, a region which has a wine-making history going back to the Romans. What did the Romans ever do for us ….? I bow my head in thanks.

Rosé wines are made by crushed red grape juices sitting with the skins and the pulp. The longer the contact, the deeper the pink – it can be anything from two to 20 hours. Provence pinks look as if they have class; the Audrey Hepburn of the rosé world.

I tried three Provence rosés for our shared education, all the colour of a blushing salmon. (Can they?)

Grand Cros L'Esprit de Provence Rosé 2013
Grand Cros L’Esprit de Provence Rosé 2013

Grand Cros L’Esprit de Provence Rosé 2013 (about £11 from www.thesampler.co.uk and other independents) This wine is from Côtes de Provence and is made using four grapes, grenache, syrah, rolle and cinsault.

Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation in Provence and rosé accounts for about four-fifths of the wines made here. Much of it is drunk locally in the resorts along the Mediterranean, but thankfully some of it makes its way to us.

A glassy-swirl brought aromas of raspberries and flowers, a hint of spice and a background hum of tangerine. To taste, a dabble with raspberries.

Domaine des Oullières Harmonie de Provence Rosé 2013
Domaine des Oullières Harmonie de Provence Rosé 2013

Domaine des Oullières Harmonie de Provence Rosé 2013 (£10.75, Yapp Brothers, www.yapp.co.uk) is from the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, the region’s second largest appellation. It is known for the intense northern Mistral winds which cool the region.

des Oullières is a blend of grenache, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. A trio not normally known for shyness, but they are certainly blushing here. They show a feminine, gentle side to their normal forthrightness, there’s raspberries and red berries both on the nose and to taste, a fleck of a feisty freshness.

Saint Andrieu L'Oratoire Rosé 2013
Saint Andrieu L’Oratoire Rosé 2013 … as Teddy looks on

To my third Provence rosé, Saint Andrieu L’Oratoire Rosé 2013 (£10.99 down from £12.99, at www.redsquirrelwine.com) from the Coteaux Varois en Provence region.

This sits between the two largest AOPs. Here’s forthright red grapes again … grenache, syrah, cinsault and carignan. Sweet red fruits on the nose but with a tiny speckle of ginger in the background. A lovely buzz of chilled fruits which are naughtily drinkable.

(You can find out more about how rosé wines are made in Provence by visiting www.vinsdeprovence.com)

Also in my glass: Two autumn wines poles apart.

Just in time for the autumn months (once they arrive) Gallo has brought out Gallo Family Vineyards Autumn Red (£6.99) which is widely available. At its heart is a spicy syrah grape from northern California. It’s a gluggable confection. Rich enough to satisfy those who like their deeper reds; and smooth and mellow for those not keen on big tannic reds. Blackberry jam and spice, I’d say.

Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2012 Louis Latour
Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2012 Louis Latour

Then to a French white - Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2012 Louis Latour (Majestic, where it is £9.99, and several independents.) A lovely wine in my humble opinion, but it also pleased the judges of the International Wine Challenge where it won a silver award. This is 100 per cent chardonnay and some of the wine has been aged in oak barrels. The result is apple aromas with clouds of vanilla, and a buttery, creamy, nutty apple taste which is bright and fresh at the same time.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine September 20,  2014 

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Langlois Brut Crémant

Wine Press: Chenin blanc, a grape with its heart in the Old World, which is definitely not a one-trick pony

I’ve been tinkering with chenin blanc in the last few days. It just came over me; I thought I’d have a tinker and here we are.

I don’t mean I wanted to change the structure of its molecules, or mess with its DNA; but just, you know, tinker.

It’s another of those Old World grapes which has been adopted by the New World; in this case, South Africa excels. Wines can be still or sparkling; dry or sweet.

High acidity, lemon-laced, honeyed, leafy, stone fruits; it can appear in a range of styles, including sweet wines from chenin blanc grapes affected by noble rot.

This grape is definitely not a one-trick pony. In France its heartland is the Loire Valley, and it is here I began my tinkering.

Think of French sparklers and you probably think of Champagne. But cremant can be a delicious wine too, made using the same methods as Champagne.

As I’m a mug for a sparkler – I’ll pour sparkling wine into very large mugs indeed, if needs must – I tinkered first with Langlois Brut Crémant   (£14, winetrust100.co.uk) which is a bend of  60% chenin blanc, 20% cabernet franc, 20% chardonnay.

Langlois Brut Cremant
Langlois Brut Cremant

Cabernet franc is a red grape; why in a white sparkling then? It plays the same part as the pinot noir grape in Champagne.

Langlois Brut Crémant
Langlois Brut Crémant

Yes a red grape is part of a Champagne blend; but without sitting in its skins to add colour, its juice is as clear as can be.  Both play a part by adding weight and texture to the final blends. This crémant   has fairy-dancing bubbles lifted up by apple aromas; the bubbles tickle in the mouth, as balanced apple and waxy lemon flavours please and tease.

Vouvray is an appellation in Touraine, at the heart of the Loire Valley; if anywhere is chenin blanc territory, this is it. Château Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2013, (M&S, £10) is a 100% chenin blanc delight. A squeezy rush of acidic lemon wrapped in apples and pears with a slice of not-too sweetness on the finish.

Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013,
Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013,

Also from M&S, and a New World take on chenin blanc with Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2013, £8.50 (100% chenin blanc). Forrester is definitely a name to trust if you’re looking for a chenin blanc from South Africa.

Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc
Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc

Apples at the height of ripeness, soft pears and hints of apricot. A short aging in French oak has added a honeyed dimension to savour. Staying with Forrester, and Forrester Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (£11 also from winetrust100.co.uk)

A small number of grapes used in this wine have noble rot, which leaves more concentrated sugars and giving the wine a honeyed, creamy texture. It is also aged in French oak; and matured on the lees. Layers of complexity from the careful winemaking leads to an interesting nose of pears, honey and stone fruits, bursting in the mouth with apricots and honey.

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc
Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc (£30.57 for a case of three, exclusively at Amazon). The grapes are grown on vineyards exposed to fresh ocean breezes in the Western Cape. Tropical fruit excite on the nose then clean fresh lemon-cut pineapple-tinged flavours buzz through your mouth leaving a bright juicy aftertaste. Fun too, as the label depicts a rhinoceros wearing a red jumper (not a real rhino, I hasten to add).

Also in my glass … The cheerful and reliable Viña Sol 2013. This white is widely available (Sainsburys, Co-op, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Majestic, Waitrose and independents at about £7). A fresh white bite of green apples and citrus, Viña Sol is calming when you fancy a simple midweek white.

Viña Sol 2013
Viña Sol 2013

There’s a sister wine too from Torres, Viña Sol Rosé 2013 (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, Majestic, around £6.99 a bottle). A wine the colour of summer pink rose petals, with aroma clouds of both strawberry and raspberry. In this Indian summer, a late afternoon sunshine wine before the chill sets in.


This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine September 13,  2014 

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

co op pionniers 2004

Wine Press: Tips on six basic grapes; an award-winning Champagne and a couple of Aldi delights

I WATCHED a lovely couple – well I’m sure they were lovely – looking totally bemused in a wine shop the other day.
They were walking up and down the reds baffled, nay, befuddled, by the choices in front of them.
So here’s some simple guidance on six basic grapes. You’ll see them all the time… but do you know if you’ll like them?


Chardonnay: ABC as some people like to say… Anything But Chardonnay.
It’s like a blank canvas which can grow in both cool and warm climates; which in turn affects its flavours. Many winemakers love to tamper with it as chardonnay is willing and able to be moulded in many ways. My favourite is unoaked Chablis; crisp and clean with biting green apples.


Sauvignon Blanc: Packs a punch of gooseberries on the nose and a dry squeaky-cheek pinch of acidity.
It’s rarely oaked as winemakers want to keep the grape’s natural fruity freshness. You may be familiar with intense New Zealand sauvignon blanc … but Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Loire are the grape’s natural home and those wines are a little more backward in coming forward but nonetheless grassy green and fruity. Ones from Chile have green pepper edges.


Riesling (say it as in rees, not in rice): Such a delight.
Far too complicated to explain the German styles; riesling can range from crisp and green with citrus notes, or peachy-packed and tropical. Look out for riesling from the Clare Valley in Australia which have high acidity and knife-edge lemon and lime citrus.


Merlot: Gentle tannins tease in this Velvet Prince.
Merlot is the blending sister of cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux, but it is now grown throughout the world as a consumer-friendly wine. Strawberries and plums in cooler climates and black fruits with some chocolate in hotter ones.


Cabernet Sauvignon: If Merlot is the Prince, Cab Sav is the King.
An intriguing grape which can be harsh when young. The thick skin of cabernet sauvignon makes for high tannin. It ages well. Merlot adds the softness in its Bordeaux homeland blends. Flavours include black fruits – blackcurrant and cherries – with occasional cedar, green pepper and herbs


Pinot Noir: A gentle little thing, the pinot noir grape.
The thin skins of pinot noir grapes lead to low or medium tannins but make it difficult to grow … but it is really easy to drink! See a red from Burgundy, this will be pinot noir. You’ll find strawberries, raspberries and cherries, and also savoury notes such as wet leaves, wood and meat. That might sound odd… but go with it. Other than France, pick out a German pinot noir and in the New World, New  Zealand.
Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004
Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004


IF YOU like your sparkles, some breaking news this week from the Co-op. The retailer’s Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004, (£24.99) won three World Champion titles at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2014. The Champagne is created through an exclusive long-standing partnership between Piper and Charles Heidseick. It has already picked up a Silver at this year’s International Wine Challenge and a Bronze medal at the Decanter awards.

In my glass this week … A couple of lovelies from Aldi.

The Exquisite Collection  Picpoul de Pinet (£5.99) and The Exquisite Collection Mendoza Rosé (£5.99) were new to Aldi’s range this summer. From the south of France, Picpoul de Pinet has a mouth-watering zing of lemon, lime and gentle peach, which follow the soft aromas of stone fruits and bright citrus.

To the Mendoza from Argentina, a rosé made from 100% malbec. A deep strawberry pink; fresh and dried strawberries on the nose with red fruits taste  with a mouth-bursting bite, but the flavours disappear quite quickly.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine September 6,  2014 

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


Wine Press: Soave, the Italian white wine and a sparklie as soft as a puppy dog’s ears

I’M quite proud that my friends are beginning to listen to me. I know I go on about it a bit, but finally some of my pals have stopped drinking pinot grigio and are moving on to other whites.

Sauvignon blanc seems to be the fashionable choice; I’ve tempted them with viognier and picpoul de pinet; a drop of albarino and a white rioja.

One pal has said to me that she doesn’t need any frills or sophistication. As long as her wine is cold and wet that’s fine by her. Sounds like a number of towns I’ve lived in.

This week I found myself in a big supermarket chain, looking for a Soave, the Italian white. I’ll grab a bottle, I thought, while I’m here, to clink in my basket alongside the cod pieces and parsley sauce. But I couldn’t find one anywhere; wines were laid out “under £6” “under £8” and “under £10” and I thought to myself, have I got my nagging all wrong about being adventurous? Trying new wines?

Perhaps the majority of people always buy wine in their comfort zones, in the price bracket they want to afford … and as for the latter, absolutely why not. Purses and wallets aren’t fathomless pits.

But on all these price bracket shelves were the usual suspects, the pinot grigios, the chardonnays, the big brand bland conveyor belt labels. Soave can be as cheap and bland as pinot grigio, but it just wasn’t there. If I had fancied being a little adventurous in my chosen price bracket, there wasn’t anything to tempt me.

Woe, I felt, woe. I heard myself groan; though it could have been my knees.

But onwards and upwards.  I already had some Soave choices at hand. I have been “encouraged” into trying some of these wines by an Italian lady colleague, who dismayed by my nonchalant dismissal of pinot grigio and all Italian whites, implored me to try again. So here we are, and I’ll come back for more. Well, at least of the ones I tasted.

Soave is made from the garganega grape, and is grown in the Veneto region of Italy, also home to the famous red, valpolicella. It’s a white wine which, well to be honest, is produced in bulk but you should look out for those labelled as “classico” which come from the best hillside area.

 Soave Classico Leonildo Pieropan
Soave Classico Leonildo Pieropan

Pieropan is one of the better quality wineries, and Soave Classico Leonildo Pieropan (£12) is available online at  winetrust100.co.uk. The garganega grape is blended with a little Trebbiano di Soave to create a creamy mix of nuttiness, lemon bite, dry honey and some almonds. A squeaky acidic finish. (Winetrust also sells La Rocca from Pieropan, and for £25 you’re getting something with a pedigree of winning the International Trophy at International Wine Challenge for best Soave and best overall Italian White).

Soave Classico 2013, M&S
Soave Classico 2013, M&S

Over at M&S, Soave Classico 2013 ( £7.99) won a commendation at the same competition. It packs a refreshing burst of lemon into each sip, but not before you’ve aromas of peach, lemon, hints of marzipan and honey have flirted under your nose. Summer bedding flowers too. I was quite surprised I liked it so much.

IMG_2614Finally, Tesco Finest Soave Classico Superiore (£7.99). I dipped into this expecting almonds, peach and lemons, but got so much more with a wave of honey, and on the palate richness of stone fruits and a waxy, creamy mouthfeel of more honey. Some of the wine is fermented in oak barrels, which explains the extra dimension of richness and flavour.

Also in my glass … back to work last week after the staycation so drowned my sorrows with a weekend bubbly,   Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve (£28, John Lewis and John Lewis online). It worked.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne

I know all Champagnes are a treat, and this is in the price range where it borders on becoming a special occasion treat, but it’s worth it. A sweet apple crumble nose, with sprightly apple and lemon flavours twinkling and skipping in the mouth, but at the same time the wine is gentle, soft and silky like a puppy dog’s ears. I don’t know why I say such things either.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine August 30,  2014 

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


Wine Press: Some red wines to disguise barbecue disasters

I MADE burgers the other day. I needed burgers for the barbie. There weren’t any in the shops. I could have flattened meatballs, but I felt sorry for them, sitting there pert and plump and perfect and expectant. I would have felt like I’d squashed a fly.

So I made some. Perfect timing too. As this coming Wednesday, t’internet tells me, is National Burger Day. (Not for the first time, I’m in fashion. I was the first in my class to get a Bay City Rollers scarf.)

I was fine making the burgers, cooking them on the new-fangled barbie kettle thing was, shall we say, frazzling.

If you want to follow my burger barbie trend I suggest you choose wines with a smoky overtone and a spicy “bite”.

The SPAR Rioja La Catedral (£5.59) won a Silver Outstanding Award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition a few weeks ago. Its intense red berries firmly flamenco with a burger no matter how burned it is. (I should know).

Over at the Co-op, some red deals this month should add spark to your sparks.

Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva 2009 (£7.99, was £10.99). Another award-winner. It picked up a bronze at this year’s Decanter awards, where judges described it as having a “voluptuous nose of raspberry, redcurrant and plum with a hint of earthiness and sweet spice”. You know that really tomatoey and spicy jalapeno pickle you can get? Gives a kiss of life to a black-rimmed burger, and partners with this rioja perfectly. American oak in the ageing process has added coconut and toffee aromas to this lovely Spanish wine. Olè.

Co-op Châteauneuf du PapeThe Co-operative Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (£12.99, was £15.99). Four grapes make up this blend; grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and cinsault and the Co-op has sourced the wine from the cellars of Clos de l’Oratoire des Pape (I found a bottle online at Sainsbury’s for £20.25). The Co-op’s offering is a fruity punch of a wine with cherries and blackberries sprinkled with pepper which drinks well on its own, let alone beefed up with burgers.

IMG_2617A final red Co-op thought; Château Sainte Marthe 2012 (£5.99 from £7.99) a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre with syrah as the dominant partner. Blackberries and a savoury tone of mushrooms and woodiness greet your nose in the glass, with a dry tongue-tip finish clothed in more blackberries.

A big bolshie pairing with any burger would be an Aussie shiraz and one to glug into my glass has been The Pullhams Bin 22 Barossa Valley Shiraz (£12.99, from Virgin Wines. Though as I write I’ve spotted that it is now £9.74 a bottle). I didn’t mention the charcoaled chipolatas I served up with my burgers. Well, the Bin 22 saved my shame.

IMG_0949The Virgin marketing types say it is “bonza with charred steak”. Deep red, the boxing ring flavours deliver a punch of black cherries and plums while some fancy delicate footwork flirts with grass verge herbs.

For all of the above, substitute a nice Sunday roast for burned burgers. Might be best.

Also in my glass …. Edna Valley Vineyard 2012 Central Coast Chardonnay and Edna Valley Vineyard 2012 Central Coast Pinot Noir, both at Majestic, £11.99, or £8.99 each when you buy two, until September 1.

A brother and sister from a winery in the San Luis Obispo county, California, the pinot noir is graceful with cherries and a peck of earthy pepper providing a gentle red embrace to a Friday night steak with a knife-smear of French mustard. The chardonnay is a greengrocer’s shelf of fruit with a good bite of acidity to excite those tastebuds.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine August 23,  2014 

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

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