Co-op wines can be truly irresistible as gold awards prove

Truly Irresistible Bio Bio Malbec review

I prodded, thumped and squeezed various cuts of meat last Saturday only for the heavens to open when the barbecue was lit. Ah well. The British summer always catches us out.

One thing was a certainty – the Co-op wines I’d taken to a friend’s were always going to please.

Truly Irresistible Bio Bio Valley Malbec (£6.99, Co-op) is a stunner and has won Gold at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

As the barbie finally took hold, there was a fair bit of sprinting in and out of the rain to turn skewer-spiked lamb I’d marinated in harissa paste, mint and lime juice. While they spluttered and sparked, the Chilean malbec held centre stage.

This wine is power-packed with silky dark cherries and blackberries; it is clothed in vanilla and has edges of peppercorns and hints of herbs. It was perfect with the spicy lamb kebabs – a truly fabulous red for less than £7.

The Co-op has also scooped Decanter gold with Domaine les Grandes Costes Pic Saint Loup 2012 (£14.99) a blend of syrah (80%) with grenache and cinsault as the backroom boys.

Judges said “this is a wine you just want to drink more of” – a scenario I don’t have a problem with.

There’s a punnet of perfect plums and layers of spice mingle and tickle in the mouth.

Staying at the Co-op, it has added Truly Irresistible Greco (£6.99) to its range; and oddly for a summer release, the label is more akin to Halloween. With a nod to 1950s B-lister horror films, the label’s illustration has a woman screaming, a villain emerging from a crypt and the declaration: “The Co-operative Wines Proudly Present Grecula (Greco 2014)” “pale, haunting, crypt-cold and chilling”.

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Erm. Right, OK. The Greco grape is known locally as Grecula – which explains the Co-op’s artistic inclination. The wine is lemon-rich with stone fruits and clothed in honey. The label is a bit of fun from the marketing folks but I wonder if it cheapens the image of a wine which is simple and pleasant.

Also in my glass

Josmeyer Pinot Blanc Mise du Printemps 2014 (£11.50, The Wine Society) – Such a pretty label and a pretty wine. Both are the creative vision of winemaker Isabelle Josmeyer. It’s a summer treat, perfect with prawns or grilled chicken. I enjoyed with a ginger-flecked veggie stir fry. Citrus pulses through this wine, there’s vibrant lemons and a crunch of pear too.

If you like your barbecue reds to stand up against burnt chipolatas, then William Hardy Langhorne Creek Shiraz (RRP £9.99 various retailers) could be for you. It is an Oz shiraz which isn’t backward in coming forward. Blackberries and pepper aren’t shy on all the senses.

Finally, I admire the concept of new wine club Sip & Learn which was set up by two friends. One of them, Marie-Anne Onraed sent me the first box in their “education” series. It’s an introduction to the differences between aromatic and non-aromatic wines. The box included Sauvignon Blanc Touraine Chateau Gaillard 2013 (£9.50 if you buy separately from sipandlearn.co.uk) and Chardonnay Domaine Corin Pouilly-Fuissé Les Chevrieres 2011 (£20.50). A booklet explains the grapes, key facts and tasting notes.

The Loire Valley sauvignon blanc is fruity and grassy with a river running through it; the Pouilly-Fuissé from the southern part of Burgundy has pear, apples, hazlenuts and vanilla with a dry finish. A good contrast between the two wines for people on a learning curve.

It is £30 a month, which is a chunk, but if you want to try good wines, it may be worth a punt.

Published in the saturday extra magazine July 18, 2015

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Christmas Day wine ideas for blushing pink prawn starters

Have fun with wine on Christmas Day

I’m keeping everything simple for my Christmas Day 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.

Marks & Spencer Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico

Top 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 Grand Cru Champagne
Tesco Finest Grand Cru Champagne

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.

Christmas Day wine: 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.

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.

Christmas Day wine: 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.

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 

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