Vilarnau Brut Gaudi

Wine Press: Winning sun-kissed wines from Languedoc-Roussillon and some pretty cava

TO celebrate the British Open last weekend I opened some wine. That is the closest affinity I have to golf. I didn’t even have a British “open” it was a French “open” with wines from Languedoc-Roussillon.

It is the most prolific wine-making region in the world. Yes, there are some mass-produced so-what wines, but there are lots which are good value sun-in-a-bottle delights.

Sud de France Top 100 wines
Sud de France Top 100

I was interested when the good people of Sud de France Top 100 contacted me and told me about their competition which is now in its second year. The Top 100 team do exactly what it says on the tin … find 100 of the finest wines from the region.

Over 650 wines were narrowed down to 100 during a rigorous blind tasting by a UK panel of industry experts, chaired by Tim Atkin.

White wines led the way: 40% of the Top 100 were white, even though they only account for 13% of the region’s production.

Says Isabelle Kanaan from Sud de France Développement: “Languedoc- Roussillon is an extremely diverse region, with talented winemakers producing every variety of wine; but is best known for its reds.

“It is fantastic to see that the Top 100 has helped highlight the overwhelming quality of Languedoc-Roussillon white wines, which are deserving of as much praise and attention as the region’s outstanding red wines.”

So there you go. One third of the Top 100 wines are available in the UK. I tasted two of them.

Les Domaines Paul Mas, Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2013
Les Domaines Paul Mas, Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2013

Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2013 Top 100 Awarded (Majestic wines for £8-10). These grapes are grown in rolling hills just a few miles from the Mediterranean.

I love marsanne. Some of this wine was aged in oak barrels, so what you get is lots of stone fruits on the nose, apricots, pears and some vanilla from the oak. To taste, firm, juicy and creamy stone fruits.

Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012
Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012

In a higher price range is Château L’Hospitalet, Grand Vin, 2012 Top 100 Awarded (available from Majestic wine for £20-25) from Coteaux du Languedoc la Clape. La Clape was once an island and grapes grown on the limestone here have a distinctive character.

So much care has gone into this ruby red delight; syrah, grenache and mourvedre grapes are hand-picked, fermented separately and then aged in new barrels for up to 16 months. Only the best are then blended into this wine. There are spices and dried and fresh red fruit, hints of muskiness and brittle wood. A rounded burst of spicy fruit on the palate.

Look out for the Top 100 sticker on bottles in stores near you. You can also check out more details at www.suddefrance

Also in my glass … Cor blimey, we’ve had some warm weather. So I opened bubbles. First up, the most beautiful bottle I’ve seen in a long time … if you like the Catalan architect Gaudi.

You can admire lovely Gaudi-style blue and pastel swirls on the sleeve of Vilarnau Brut NV Cava (£11.49, stockists include Ocado, The Oxford Wine Company, Cambridge Wine Merchants and while enjoying its all-round prettiness.

Vilarnau Brut NV Cava  with a Gaudi sleeve
Vilarnau Brut NV Cava with a Gaudi sleeve

It has apples, pears and some lemons with a steady stream of delicate bubble and is from the very reliable stable of Gonzalez Byass.

Codorníu Brut NV (RRP £9.49 at Tesco and Sainsbury’s) has its own limited edition, a gold-wrapped bottle sleeve featuring a print of Barcelona’s key landmarks. Codorníu has won several awards over the years for its cava. For under a tenner you get a fizz popping with citrus and flowers.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine July 26   2014 

The International Wine Challenge Merchants' Awards 2014

Wine Press: International Wine Challenge honours and an Indian wine tip-off from my lovely pal

THIS girlie, as I write, has a mild red wine hangover. I have tried revitalising shampoo but it hasn’t worked, so I’m going to write to the Shampoo Ombudsman.

The reason for my “mild” head? This week the International Wine Challenge announced its Merchant Awards and I was there “quietly” enjoying the occasion.

Proof, if it were needed, that I was quiet at the International Wine Challenge Merchants' Awards 2014
Proof, if it were needed, that I was quiet at the International Wine Challenge Merchants’ Awards 2014

The headlines then (and it’s always nice to know these things when you’re shopping around for vino):

Marks & Spencer picked up the Supermarket of the Year gong. Highly commended was Morrisons.

Oddbins won High Street Chain of the Year (if there isn’t one near you, they have a website

Wine Club of the Year was awarded to The Wine Society, of which this lady with the mild head is a firm fan. The cost of a lifetime share is £40 with no annual fee or obligation to buy; and you can bequeath membership to your kids. Great wines too. (www.the

Great value sparkling wine was awarded to Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Prosecco Conegliano DOC which has graced this column on a couple of occasions.

You can find out more at, plus you can search for individual award-winning wines.

In my glass … A workpal, who shall remain nameless, pointed me in the direction of some wines from Marks & Sparks. Anyway, Barrie (oops) said that he’d picked up a bottle of Indian wine and that it was very good indeed. The “very good indeed” wine turned out to be Jewel of Nasik Tempranillo Syrah 2013 and I can tell you, dear reader, that Barrie is bang on the money.

IMG_2043And talking about money, it comes in at £6.99, the same price as its sister wines Jewel of Nasik Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and Jewel of Nasik Zinfandel Rosé 2013.

I’m always one for a challenge and a glass of something new. M&S has worked with Sula Vineyards high up in the hills of Maharashtra north-east of Mumbai to bring this range of wines to our shores. Sula’s grapes are harvested during the dry season, to avoid the monsoon.

The sauvignon blanc was a crisp, citrus and gooseberry burst, with some herbs and a touch of stone fruit. M&S recommend you try it with chicken tikka masala.

Jewel of Nasik Zinfandel Rosé 2013, is salmon-pink deep and plump with fresh and dried strawberries. If you enjoy rosé then I can’t see any reason why you won’t like this; for me it was another rosé. It was OK. Again, M&S recommend either tandoori tiger prawns or monkfish tikka.

Jewel of Nasik Tempranillo Syrah 2013, is medium-bodied with deep cherry and blackberries. These two grapes are known for their intense peppery sprinkles, and this wine is no exception. Lamb rogan josh, say the M&S foodies.

Am liking all the food in these pairings; but these are old world grapes in a New World environment. Just  take a simple route … try them on their own.

Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux
Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux

Also in my glass … For a special occasion try Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux (£16.99,, made from 100% handpicked chardonnay grapes created by a boutique winery in the Languedoc Roussillon region. It’s a subtle chardonnay humming with apricot and marzipan, and with a citrus in-the-mouth linger, akin to lemon tart.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine July 19   2014 

Jane Clare, an old vintage

Wine Press: Vintage doesn’t always mean quality, and I’m proof of that

I’M a woman of a certain vintage. Which means I still have a soft spot for David Cassidy, despite the fact he’s gone a bit off the rails lately.

I can sing all the words to Barbados by Typically Tropical and I know the correct dance moves to Come On Eileen. I pogoed to Going Underground by The Jam and then spent two weeks off work with a sprained ankle.

I even own K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits record. (I asked workpals if they recalled K-Tel. One asked who she was; another asked what a record was.)

K-Tel 20 Power Hits
K-Tel 20 Power Hits. Yes I am ashamed.

You may say this is nothing to be proud of. I can’t deny it. Good or bad, I’m a certain vintage.

But that’s just it. A vintage isn’t always perfect. In fact, in the wine world, don’t get carried away that a wine will be really good just because it declares itself a vintage.

What exactly is a vintage? It indicates the year that the grapes were grown and harvested. You’ll see the year on the label.

If you see NV on a label, it means simply that a wine is non-vintage, that it is blended from grapes harvested in different years.

Don’t underestimate a non-vintage wine. Winemakers can blend “reserve wines” from previous years with the latest harvest to maintain house style. The proportion of the blending may vary from year to year, depending on the quality of any particular harvest.

This is common in Old World wines – especially Champagne – where the weather patterns of our dear old European summers can seriously affect the quality of the grapes.

Hail-damaged grapes in Entre deux Mers in 2013
Hail-damaged grapes in Entre deux Mers in 2013

Hail, rain, winds, cool or overhot seasons all make a difference. So a vintage one year may not be as good as another purely because of the weather conditions. If you read “XYZ Year is a good vintage” it means that all conditions must have swung in the favour of the winemakers … but another XYZ Year will still be a vintage by default, but not a good wine. Follow?

Vintage Champagnes are made when there’s a good year, but even then winemakers can only use 80% of that year’s grapes in a blend to make sure there’s enough wine in reserve. Confused? Open some wine.

New World wine vintages, where grapes grow in fairly consistent conditions from one year to the next, maintain the same standard. So if you buy a wine from Chile for example, no matter what the year, you can be pretty sure it will be there or thereabouts the same quality wine as in previous years.

A quick word though, if you buy a 2010 something, or a 2012 something else, check on the label when it should be drunk. You might be proud of the bottle bearing a certain year in your wine rack, but it’s no good if it’s gone past its best. It’s there to enjoy.

Beronia Crianza Rioja
Beronia Crianza Rioja

In my glass … Smooth is the adjective trotted out most when it comes to Beronia Crianza. Though sometimes smooth is just a kind word wine critics use instead of bland.

Bland though, this Rioja, definitely isn’t. It was choc-full of fruit and, well, choc. It was a great slump-on-couch-thank-goodness-it’s-Friday glass, but was equally satisfying with a piece of beef on Sunday lunchtime.

Bodegas Beronia has launched the Beronia Txoko Club to celebrate its love of combining food and wines. For recipes and more, visit the Facebook page Beronia Txoko UK or follow on Twitter @BeroniaTxoko.

This wine is now available at Waitrose for £10.69 and can be kept for two years.

As if.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine July12   2014 


Carnival Sparkling Moscato

Wine Press: The World Cup gives the wine-loving Girlies an excuse to go Brazil nuts

THESE fair islands of ours have been pretty hopeless in the World Cup.  England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Are we there or thereabouts in the final stages?

Are we heck. Though it shouldn’t stop us settling down to watch the World Cup Final with a glass or two of vino.

The eventual arrival of the World Cup on our screens was an exciting moment. I love football. I love wine (you’ve probably noticed).

Coconova Brut NV
Coconova Brut NV

The marketing machine for Brazilian wines has been full pelt for at least a year and who can blame them. Eyes centre stage on the country full of carnival and pizzazz.

I found some Brazilian wines from M&S, which has been stocking them since March for the footie fest One thing you can say about the labels is they are full on carnival.

What of the wines though? I shared them at a girlie night where footie wasn’t a priority (so I couldn’t talk about Tim Cahill’s amazing goal against the Dutch).

I made it hard for them by wrapping the bottles in foil, so no clues and they had to write down their thoughts. We started off with  Coconova Brut NV, (£8.99).

The girlies spotted peach aromas in this sparkler, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, and verdejo. One girlie: “It gives you a pang, making you screw your face up”.  I thought, great label great name, grapey with background tangerines.

Carnival Sparkling Moscato NV, (£9.99). One girlie, ”no scent, sweet, nice, smooth”. Another girlie, “sweet vanilla”. For me, a sweet fizz of lemon sorbet but shallow on flavour.

Araucaria Riesling Pinot Grigio 2013
Araucaria Riesling Pinot Grigio 2013

Araucaria Riesling Pinot Grigio 2013, (£8.49). It takes a lot to encourage me to try a pinot grigio, but the blend with riesling was enough of an excuse. The girlies: “Nice” “doesn’t smell of much” and “apple”. Me? It was OK; I’ve had much better for the price but thank goodness for the riesling to give the grigio a fruity dimension and depth.

Intenso Teroldego 2013, (£9.99). Teroldgo isn’t a grape I’ve come across before so open minds here. Girls: “fruity” “smoky” “blackurrant”. I say, enjoyable juicy bursts of blackberries and herbs.

Also in my glass … July heralds the start of 31 Days of Riesling, an initiative by Wines of Germany. I love riesling and don’t really need an “initiative” to enjoy it, but nevertheless, here are some thoughts.

The lovely Wines of Germany people suggested I try goats cheese salad with pear and walnuts with Mineralstein Riesling (Marks & Spencer, £8.99). I’m not a goats’ cheese fan so I used feta, and it was scrums. The wine is a blend of riesling from Mosel and Pfalz and contrasts fruity pears, a wet slate of minerality and a dash of spice.

Mineralstein Riesling
Mineralstein Riesling

I flash-fried some prawns with garlic and chilli and added coriander and a squeeze of lemon.  Crusty bread and Devil’s Rock Riesling (Co-op, £6.99) were the finishing touches. Devil’s Rock 2013 vintage won bronze at the recently announced Decanter World Wine Awards. It is full of zesty lemon, lime and grapefruit and was zingy-licious with the spicy prawns.

Another riesling – kind of – worthy of mention is from Alsace and specifically, the ever-reliable Wine Society ( The Society’s Vin d’Alsace, Hugel (£8.50) is “kind of” a riesling because it is a blend including sylvaner, pinot blanc, riesling, pinot gris with gewurztraminer and muscat. That’s a mouthful in more ways than one.   A great choice for a summer’s day; citrus, pears and hums of honey with a bitey-blitz of acidity.

Jane Clare and just a bit of wine tasting fun
Just a bit of wine tasting girlie night fun

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine July 5  2014 


Cono Sur Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc

Wine Press: Celebrate Grand Départ du Tour de France with the Bicicleta wines from Cono Sur

I’M NOT known for my fitness levels, but I‘m pretty good at running to a bar at last orders. So cycling? Not a chance. And don’t even think about me in Lycra. No. Don’t. 

But watching cycling is a different matter, and next weekend the much-heralded Tour de France 2014 begins in Yorkshire.
York prepares for the Grand Depart Tour de France 2014
York prepares for the Grand Depart Tour de France 2014

York prepares for the Grand Depart

For Chilean winemakers Cono Sur the bicycle is a symbol of the winery’s commitment to sustainability, with  workers travelling around the estate on environmentally friendly bikes.  The symbol on the Bicicleta range is a bike.  Naturally.

So it seems to make perfect sense that  Cono Sur is an Official Supporter of the Grand Départ du Tour de France 2014.
There’s  several wines in the range, but  Bicicleta ‘heroes’  for the Grand Départ are sauvignon blanc, viognier, pinot noir, and merlot.
And there’s plenty of mileage in each of them.
Whites: The sauvignon blanc is typically fresh and grassy with gooseberry and green pepper skin. The viognier is a perfumed cloud of apricots, tinned mandarins, and orange blossom. It delivers mouthfuls of bright peach. Very nice indeed.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir
Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir
Reds: The pinot noir has a savoury mushroomy nose and pecks of spice. It is black-fruity rich with fine tannins and is perfect with roast beef on a Sunday. The merlot packs a velvet-gloved punch with plums and blackberries and just the hint of toastiness.
There are several supermarket offers around on the Bicicleta range to mark Le Tour. Shop around and you could get all four wines for just over £20 and you can’t complain at that.
Cono Sur Bicicleta
Cono Sur Bicicleta

Tesco: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are reduced to £5 from July 2 to  August 12.

Sainsbury: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are reduced to £5.49 from  July 2 to July 22.
Morrisons: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Merlot are reduced to £5.49 from July 20.
Asda: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are £5   to August 1.
To continue the Tour theme, Sainsbury’s has selected seven French
wines to mark places “en route” which you can enjoy from the comfort of your armchair. Wear cycling shorts if you must to get in the zone. Here’s three of them … Taste the Difference Alsace Gewürtztraminer 2013  (£8) is a flurry of lychees and roses and a thoroughly enjoyable wine.
Taste the Difference Beaujolais Villages 2013 (£7.25). There’s beaujolais and then  there’s beaujolais villages  … this  is a step above the basic (ignoring nouveau here) and only certain villages are allowed to  class their wines as such.
Taste the Difference Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013
Taste the Difference Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013
This was awash with red berries and was a juicy fruity light  refreshing garden treat.  Taste the Difference Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013 (£8) is a blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah. If you haven’t had a rosé yet this summer why not? This is crisp, dry, with a good bite of cherries and strawberries  from  Provence in  the south of France. Think of those chappies cycling away and just enjoy.
Les Jamelles Syrah 2012
Les Jamelles Syrah 2012
Also in my glass …   staying in France,  Les Jamelles Syrah 2012 (£6.49, the  Co-op). This dark  red beauty from the Languedoc won a silver outstanding medal at the 2013 International Wine and  Spirit Competition.  It has bowls full of ripe bramble fruits and is lush and deep and herby too.
Chambord liqueur

Wine Press: Add dash of Chambord to your glass for a summery cocktail treat

I’VE been sitting here thinking about strawberries and Wimbledon and the Longest Day (because, scarily, we have reached that daylight milestone).

Where do I take you this week, I’ve been asking myself. What homework do I set you in my continued challenge to encourage you to drink something new. To cast away the grigio and run free, barefoot across the bottled landscape; wind billowing through your hair, the sun glinting off your clasped shiny corkscrew. (Not sure running barefoot across bottles is a good analogy. So tread carefully.)

I‘ve been torn. But no more. I’ve shrugged off the image of my one reader (that’s you) running around crazily looking for wine, and have landed on Chambord.

Plaza Centro Prosecco
Plaza Centro Prosecco

Purely by chance. I poured a glass of prosecco, Plaza Centro Prosecco (Tesco, £6.49 until July 1, reduced from £12.99). It‘s OK. It’s prosecco. A good light lemon flurry of pouring bubbles enjoying the contact with fresh air longer than most, and a burst of citrus in the mouth. You’re never going to get a complexity of tastes with prosecco, unlike a cava or a crémant. I needed an added “something” to liven up the brain cells I use for words.

Then I remembered I had a bottle of Chambord one of my closest friends had bought me.  (A 20cl bottle is in Tesco for £7.50).

If you’ve never tried it, I urge you to do so.  The Chambord website tells me:

“Chambord is the premium black raspberry liqueur with a fine French heritage. Chambord stands alone in its category — and in its iconic, captivating packaging.”

The bottle is so pretty.  It should be gracing a dressing table.

Chambord liqueur
Chambord liqueur, oh so pretty

I poured a little glug into the glass and it turned a glass of sparkles into  a fruity cocktail treat. A weekday luxury as I’m tapping on this laptop with Corrie on the TV. Come on Peter Barlow, shape up.

Chambord is 16.5% abv and gave the prosecco more oomph and a delightful raspberry depth. Sparkles aside, there’s a heap of cocktail ideas you can create, including vodka, Chambord and soda (pop a raspberry in too). Or Chambord suggests a French Martini, which is vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice.

Yums. Lovely little summery treats.

If you want to look for other sparklers to celebrate the summer, then a good starting point could be a handful of supermarket own-brand wines which dominated the Great Value Sparkling category in the recent International Wine Challenge Awards.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013
  • Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013 (£10) was awarded the Great Value Awards for sparkling under £12.
  • The Co-operative picked up the mid-range Great Value Award (sparkling wines between £12 and £20) for its Les Pionniers NV Champagne (£16.99). 
  • Waitrose won the Great Value sparkling under £25 award with its Blanc de Noirs Brut NV (£24.99).

If you want a pink sparkle without the home-made element then Freixenet has two lovely cavas Cordon Rosado (RRP £9.99) and the classy-looking Elyssia Pinot Noir (RRP £14.99).

Freixenet Pinot Noir Elyssia cava
Freixenet Pinot Noir Elyssia cava

Both are widely available. The rosada uses two “stand up and be counted grapes” trepat and garnacha and delivers bright red fruits and blackberries. Elyssia is one to grace a special dining table and has a lightness of touch that pinot noir brings and lots of summer fruits.

So what do I always say? Go forth and experiment.

This column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine June 21  2014 

Gin tasting

Gin, cucumber and elderflower are a perfect mix

MANY moons ago,  before Facebook and  text messaging, I used to talk to people face to face,  generally in pubs.
When I was a young-ish  pup my brother introduced  me to gin with slices of  cucumber in his  village  local.  Most gin lovers there  drank gin that way, so  much so that the bar staff  kept cucumber on a plate  next to the lemons (the  sliced ones that is, not the  sad tipsy lads at the  opposite corner of the bar).
There was one bar staff  wag who  always asked “do  you want salad with your  gin?” How I laughed.
I praise cucumber to my  pals.  Some try it, others  look at me as if  I’m suggesting eating a Jaffa  Cake with baked beans.
To mark National  Cucumber Day  and World Gin Day I‘ve tried gins with  cucumber and tonic;  as a shot (not my  idea) and with elderflower cordial  and soda.
Why  cucumber and  not lemon?  Lemon can be  tart and  cheek clenching;  cucumber has  spring-water   green crisp  freshness and is perfect on a  warm sunny  day. Or any  day, with gin.
Gin is a base  white spirit,  commonly  made from  grain,  flavoured by botanicals. Some distillers  use 10 or more  botanicals.  Juniper is dominant.
My ingredients for this  week’s Scientific Experiment  have included Greenall’s  The Original London Dry  Gin (on promotion from  £12 at Sainsbury until  July  2, normal RRP is £15.49 for  70cl); Tanqueray London  Gin (£21.70 in Tesco, 70cl  but down to £18 until July  1st); Bombay Sapphire  Distilled London Dry Gin  (£20,  Asda); Broker’s Gin  (£18.95,;  Warner Edwards  Harrington Dry Gin (RRP   £33,   independent merchants  and direct from and Bottlegreen  Elderflower Cordial (RRP  £3.15, widely available).
Some fun with Broker’s  gin. It had a  clip-on and off  plastic bowler hat.  Andy  Dawson one of  Brokers’  creators (which won  World’s Best Gin at the  Ultimate  Spirits Challenge in New  York) told me to taste-test  his gin much like a wine;  and compare alongside
other gins. This was the  basis of my first experiment  and it nearly blew my head  off.
I managed to sip two  gins.  Broker’s is rich and full  of flavour. It was interesting  to sense the infusions  within the gins;  waves of  fruit and herb gardens.
Gin tasting
Now my favourite bit;   cucumbers. Three slices in  each gin and a good glug  of plain tonic water.  In April  this year Warner  Edwards  Harrington Dry Gin won  the top prize, a  Double  Gold Medal at the San  Francisco World Spirit  Awards.
My word what a  lovely gin. Botanicals  include  juniper,  coriander, elderflower,  angelica root,  cinnamon, orange  and lemon peel,  and a “secret  ingredient”.
Warner  Edwards  Harrington Dry Gin
Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin
This  was my winner.   To taste with the  cucumber, it was  smooth, gentle,  soft, herbal, light,  fruity, a cushion  of gin and  cuddles of  infused love.  Look out for  Warner’s  limited edition Elderflower Infused Gin (from June 20,  which sold out in  eight  weeks last year).
Tanqueray London  Gin
Tanqueray London Gin
The Tanqueray was declared the winner by my  Beloved.
But  the surprise  of  my mini-experiment was  the elderflower cordial.
I  combined a good glug of  cordial and a decent  measure of soda water and  tumbled into the gins with  cucumber.  Every single gin  sang with this.  The  Greenalls was bright and  perfect; the Bombay  Sapphire (which is always  lovely in every way to me)  was sublime. I have found  myself a new cucumber  chum; elderflower. Now go  forth and experiment.
One Foot in the Grapes

Wine Press: Easy peasy vinho verde wines are great for summer

YOU can have a gentle tremble of a fizz of a wine and a refreshing summer white without breaking the bank or popping any corks. How? With a glass of vinho verde.

There’s something easy peasy about these wines; just open a bottle, sit on a garden chair and relax. Nothing much to think about really. They have a delicate fizz, are mainly light on alcohol, and are laced with apples, pears, citrus and hums of stone fruit. There’s a sea-air freshness about them too, from their northern Portugal homeland.

Manuel Pinheiro of the Vinho Verde Commission says: “The crisp, fruit forward style of vinho verde wines make them an excellent choice in the warm summer weather, and a fresher way to enjoy wine.”

Well if you haven’t tried vinho verde, now’s as good a time as any with Portugal Day on Tuesday. Its probably going to be celebrated more in Portugal to be honest, but hey, it’s a good excuse.

Don’t expect cascading bubbles. These wines have a gentle spritz; an expression of their youth. Look out for the most used regional white grape varieties; alvarinho, loureiro, avesso, trajadura arinto and azal.

IMG_1913Quinta de Azevedo 2013 (RRP £8.99, Waitrose, Majestic, The Wine Society, Oddbins, 11% abv). This is made from loureiro and pedernã grapes and has tippy-toe bubbles which tickle and lift as sprightly lemons and stone fruits entice the tastebuds.

Tapada de Villar 2013 (£7.99 Marks & Spencer, 10.5% abv). Loureiro, larinto and trajadura grapes. This was my favourite of the ones I tried. It was sharp, bright, fresh; lemon, limes and green apples. It has just a little extra depth worth savouring as you watch the birds sing in the trees.

IMG_1896Gazela, (£6.99, Slurp and several independents) A pretty bottle embraces a lovely sherbert refreshing frizzle, with a salty-air finish, from a blend of azal, loureiro, pedernã, and trajadura. At 9% abv it is enough of a wine treat in the early summer lunchtime sun without knocking you out for the rest of the day.

IMG_1903Venturer Series Vinho Verde (Aldi, £4.99, abv 11%) Aldi’s new Venturer series includes this fresh white. The fizz wasn’t as fizzy as the others, but signature flavours of lemons and apples held their hands up to be counted.

I’m sneaking in Sainsbury’s Winemakers Selection Portuguese Vinho Verde NV (£4.75) as it won Silver at the International Wine and Spirits Competition on Monday. So you can’t argue with that.

IT’S Father’s Day next Sunday. You might be thinking of buying whiskey (Irish) or whisky (Scotch); gin; sparkles; reds with depth or whites with purpose.

You know your dads better than I do, so it’s not for me to point you in the direction of your preferred treats. But I will point you towards your nearest independent wine merchant.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you won’t get a personal touch in your supermarket. It’s difficult to find an assistant who you can ask “my dad likes this and that, but not XYZ. Can you help?”

Oh, I know, I’ll get my dad some Châteauneuf-du- Pape, you might say. He likes that.

Well, to be fair, he might have liked one he’s tried before, but there are so many variations on the red Pape theme. Why? Well grenache features heavily, but the southern Rhône winemakers are allowed to draw on 18 grape varieties. Imagine how many spicy and rich styles can emerge from that feast of choice.

So seek, and ye shall find, and there’s so much fun in speaking to the experts.

This wine column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine June 7 2014 


Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz

Wine Press: Sparkling reds, a Scientific Experiment and a barbecue

I’VE SPENT ages wondering how to start off some words about a wine which, it transpires, people love or hate. Just now, just this minute, I mentioned it to someone and they said, ‘Oh, just like Marmite’. So here we are. Some words about Marmite, aka sparkling red wines.

As this week has been National Barbecue Week it seemed as good a time as any to write about sparkling reds with a barbie, as, in Oz, that’s the way to go.

You’ve probably seen mass-produced sparkling reds in supermarkets. They’ve never done much for me, so I set the stall out to seek some off the beaten track. We threw up the barbie, held up brollies in the rain, gathered chops and chicken and sausages and sauces, especially one with chilli, and began a Scientific Experiment.

Woolundry Road Sparkling Shiraz
Woolundry Road Sparkling Shiraz

Woolundry Road Sparkling Shiraz NV (£11.99, is a hug of blackcurrants, a deep dark concentrated sauce of sticky purple fruits. It is not a drink to rush.

With my barbie, it was amazing with the naughty-but-nice sweet bit of charred fat from a crispy grilled lamb chop that the health police say you shouldn’t eat but I ate anyway with a shrug and a ‘so-what?’ face.

It was moreish with a slice of extra mature Cheddar. Some dark intense Excellence Lindt chocolate too with cherry running through it. Very nice.

But you know what, these reds take a bit of getting used to. My Beloved wasn’t a fan. It was odd, he said, that the sparkles were so rich and red. It wasn’t “natural”, he said. Bubbles should be light and white, he said. Red and bubbles, together, are as out of context as Nigel Farage househunting in Romania. Perhaps. He said.

These wines are very rich and filling. Best for a crowd rather than a couple (me and him). One thing, each sparkler we tried was full on with bubbles. No simpering flurries of flighty froth.

Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz
Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz

Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz (£12.95, The Wine Society) was no exception with a waterfall of red bubbles. We chilled this for a few hours and alongside crunchy crispy chilli-smudged chicken and burnt sausages it was a rich match. It had chocolate and mocha hidden in its fruity depth. Again, a sipping drink.

IMG_0285A mega treat was Grant Burge Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon NV (£20.05,; it was a contrast of savoury and sweet; dark fruits dancing in a purple froth, but with rich cherry flavour as in a liqueur; added woody dryness you get from a cocktail stick. Burnt sausages were perfect.

All of these were Aussie wines. I tried another from the New World, Alma 4 Sparkling Bonarda 2011 (£16.95, Alma is made in Argentina, from handpicked bonardo grapes using the traditional method. This was spicy with tongue-stick dryness. There were cherry and black fruit aromas and to taste a something-or-other I couldnt put my finger on until I decided it was allspice. Who knows my nose.

Also in my glass … I’d never heard of white sangria, until I read about white sangria. And when I knew about it I decided to make one. I Googled and found versions including one by Nigella which included my teen drink Cointreau, and white wine.

My wine of choice was {Yellow Tail] Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99, Sainsbury) which on its own is a decent perky sauv blanc; bright and fruity, balanced and fresh. The white sangria was an eye-opener and I’ll definitely make it again. Oranges and herbs and lemon and lime cutting through from the sauv blanc. Try it with lots of ice when friends come round.

This wine column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine May 30 2014 

Wine Press: Women like a bloke who knows about wine … but are the chaps bluffing?

IF you’re lackadaisical about wine labels; if you rage about reds or whimper over whites; if you blush at a barolo or glaze over at a gerwurztraminer; if you pale at a pinot noir or think tempranillo is a percussion instrument;  fear not.

Because you might not be the only one.

Jane Clare: Supposed to be looking confused
Confused: Posed by model (No wine was harmed in the making of this picture)

As another Bank Holiday is with us yet again (hurrah) I am throwing down the gauntlet. You have three days to try a new wine.

If you like New Zealand sauvignon blanc buy a Sancerre. If chardonnay is your bag, try Chablis.

Why am I being so tough on you? According to the Wine Spirits & Education Trust (WSET) British drinkers aren’t confident when it comes to selecting, buying and recommending wine. We consume a whopping 1.59 billion bottles of wine a year, but 70% of drinkers might be bluffing their way through wine aisles.

Women are less confident in their wine knowledge than men but men are more likely to bluff, pretending to know more about wine than they do.

Men are more likely to feel embarrassed by a lack of wine know-how, perhaps because one in six women thinks wine knowledge is an attractive trait.

Not me. It’s attractive if they go to the bar.

I spoke to Ian Harris, the chief executive of WSET, and asked if it mattered if people didn’t know about wine.

Ian Harris, WIne Spirits and Education Trust
Ian Harris

He said: “There’s no shame at all in not knowing much about the wine in your glass, but it’s a real shame if lack of confidence means you can’t enjoy it fully.

“Wine knowledge and the confidence that comes from it, opens the door to an amazing world of discovery.”

He said: “When people are faced with a wall of wines in a supermarket or a wine list, they are scared.

“We want to help people have confidence to look in the right direction for what they might enjoy.

“In a supermarket people have battled through the fruit and veg aisles and are faced with three or four hundred bottles of wine;Wine shelves whereas in the bread aisle there may be just 12 choices. It’s not surprising people are confused.

“The bottom line is that what you think is a good wine is the one that you like. But if people step out of comfort zones they may like others more.

“Put it this way, if you’ve been going on holiday to the same place for years, and then try somewhere different, you’d probably think ‘why didn’t I do this 10 years earlier’.”

Right. Who’s ready to pick up the gauntlet. I cheated a bit earlier. Because a Sancerre is sauvignon blanc; and Chablis is chardonnay.
Here’s some new International Wine Challenge winners to seek out.

Extra special Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
Extra special Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

If you don’t like bold reds try this: Asda Extra Special Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (£7.98) Silver. The judges say … nose of cherries, spice, ginger and mint, a fresh, supple palate of herbs, cherries, plums.

If you like sauvignon blanc, try this: Les Ruettes Sancerre 2013 (M&S, £13.99) The 2012 vintage won Gold. The judges say … steely traditional sauvignon blanc. Fresh grassy, herbal with spine-tingling acidity.

If you like a chardonnay, try this: The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Premier Cru Chablis 2011 (£14.99). Bronze. The judges say … flint, gunsmoke, grapefruit and peach aromas.
If you fancy something to pour on your ice cream, try this: Morrisons Signature Pedro Ximénez NV (£5.99) Gold. The judges say … black tea hue-salted caramel and sultanas.

There’s wine course info at

This wine column first appeared in the saturday extra magazine May 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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