Sparkling reds, a Scientific Experiment and a barbecue

Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz sparkling reds

I’VE SPENT ages wondering how to start off some words about sparkling reds 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 review
Woolundry Road

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 review
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.

Grant Burge Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon review
Grant Burge Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon

A 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 

Women like blokes with wine knowledge but are they 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