The Wine Society wizards and the girl who hates raisins

“I don’t like raisins,” said The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins.

“You might not like raisins,” I said, “but you’ll like this.” I asked Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins to pour a fingertip of Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat wine into a glass and  taste.

“I’m not sure” she said, “Don’t be scared,” I said, as she raised the glass.  “Wow, I love that,” she said.

The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins had been determined she wouldn’t enjoy the deeply fruity wine from Rutherglen, north east Victoria in Australia.

But she loved it, and I’ll go to my  bar stool in the sky happier that The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins has tried and enjoyed a wine that she had discarded down a mental cul-de-sac.

Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat Wine Society
Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat

Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat (£6.95 for a half bottle) was just one of the joys at a Wine Society‘s Wizards of Oz tasting. I spotted it soon after I arrived and decided to save to last.

The Society’s Blind Spot range has been developed exclusively by its Australia buyer Pierre Mansour who realised there were lots of wonderful selections of grapes being added to blended wines, but which in fact would make fantastic wines on their own.

Rutherglen muscat is a speciality of the region, where grapes are semi-raisined on the vine, partially fermented and then fortified with grape spirit and aged in oak under a hot tin roof. A bit like cooking, very very slowly.

The result is an unctuous 17.5% abv of heaven, with caramel, sultanas, raisins, Christmas cake – perhaps date and walnut cake – and orange blossom. And a very happy me, and a very surprised Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins.

White delights at the tasting, which celebrated Australia’s wines, included:


D'Arenberg White Ochre McLaren Vale 2013
D’Arenberg White Ochre McLaren Vale 2013


  • D’Arenberg White Ochre McLaren Vale 2013 (£7.95) a blend of sauvignon blanc, riesling, marsanne and roussanne. It charms with pineapple and citrus,  with a  richness which made me think “oak”, but no.  Riesling adds  elegance, sauvignon the aromatics,  marsanne and roussanne  a nutty character.  Delicious.


Heggies Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011
Heggies Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011
  •  Heggies Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011 (£12.95)  is a bit of a shock at first glass shiver and shake. This wine takes your nose on a whirlwind tour. There’s more whirlwind than a fairground waltzer. I picked up tar; burnt popcorn; socks; rich caramelised apples; creme brulee. Five minutes of nose-dipping and chatting about the wine, I realised I hadn”t tasted it because I was so engrossed with its complexity. When I did, it was deep, creamy, honeyed and savoury, with the burnt bits from apple crumble. Deep, deep, deep.

    Tahblik Ngambie Lakes Viognier 2013
    Tahblik Ngambie Lakes Viognier 2013
  • Tahblik Ngambie Lakes Viognier 2013 (£9.95) Loving viognier as I do, I wasn’t going to walk past without proffering my tasting glass.
    (It was round about this stage when I asked where my glass had gone, and was told “it’s in your hand …” )
    A lovely young man (all men are young to me) told me that Tahblik is Aborginal for The Place of Many Watering Holes. Tahblik is a winery  north of Melbourne and excels in white Rhone grapes such as marsanne, roussanne, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and of course viognier. This was a  crisp example of viognier with fruit cocktail squished through and through. Oranges take centre stage, nudging other fruits out of the way; but pineapple, mango, and pears are still there in the background, humming in the chorus.

To some reds.

Now there was very young man (as opposed to the young man earlier) who was helping out on a shiraz table which included Billi Billi Grampians Shiraz 2010 (£8.95). I asked him if he liked wine … bear in mind I’d been drinking at this point … and he said he had never touched a drop. But qualified his sentence with “the smell of this stuff is sending me tipsy. I’ll get a sample at the end and see what all the fuss is about”.

Back to Very Young Man later.

The Billi Billi was rich, deep red fruity and vibrant, with a masculine  firm-footed grating of white pepper flirting with an ever-so-gentle violet. Violet wasn’t overwhelmed, so good luck to  Mr Pepper.

  • Now then, for McHenry Hohnen Rocky Road Margaret River Zinfandel 2012 (£16) I wrote  Hartley’s Blackurrant Jam in my tasting notes. And by Jove it was; a juicy fruity squidge of jam and as velvety and soft and comforting as cotton wool (I wrote that too).  There were herbs too, and snapped twig.

    Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Shiraz 200
    Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Shiraz 200
  • Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Shiraz 200 (£49) was the most expensive wine in the room, and not surprisingly people kept sneaking back for more. It is one of Australia’s icon wines;  it has chocolatey and rich, deep dark fruit aromas which promise so much but deliver too.
    Grapes are grown on 100-year-old vines. Like the words of an aged but beloved grandparent, grapes can be few and far between, but once arrive, they are full of depth, and share the experience of a life lived.
    It has an aroma which promises so much and really delivers.  There’s chunky chocolate, dark fruits, violets and a depth to wallow in.  For several minutes.

Back to Very Young Man and The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins.  As I left I caught up with VYM just as he was tasting a teeny drop of Billi Billi Grampians Shiraz 2010.  He gave me a thumbs-up. The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Raisins waved.
There. Two more converts to the wonderful world of wine.

  • Find out more about the Wine Society here

Springtime white wines, virtual reality and twizzling sticks

Grand Héron White 2013 wine review

I’VE got a red nose. Not a wine nose (or even a wino’s) but a sunshine nose.  I have a sunshine nose because we’ve had  lovely  weather and yours truly has  been sitting outside enjoying it.

I’ve bought myself a  little 99p windmill  on a stick and popped it in the ground so I can watch it spinning in the breeze. And I have some solar-powered bumble bee garden lights I’ve draped around a fence.

So I’m very excited this weekend is a Bank Holiday so I can watch things twizzle and buzzily twinkle  as it rains. I’m sure it will.

But I’ve thought of you,  my friends, by trying some springtime white wines to enjoy whatever the weather.

Gers (£4.99, M&S) is a fabulously refreshing white with pears, apples and lemons  to taste.  It comes from Gascony in the  south west of France and is a blend of fruity colombard and floral ugni blanc grapes. Really lovely.

It has  sister wines from Plaimont Producers,  made from the same grapes and  also stars at the price.

Grand Heron Grand Héron White 2013 (£7.99, Majestic)  wowed my mum-in-law. There’s a  crate of lemons and  grapefruit on the nose similar to a zingy sauvignon blanc. To taste, stone fruit too;  and plenty of it, including  pineapples and pears.

Another French Plaimont pocket-friendly white is Pujalet White 2013 (£5.49, Waitrose). There are floral hints and it has a simple, light, citrus appeal that shouldn’t disappoint at the price.

Wakefield Estate Riesling 2012 wine review
Wakefield Estate Riesling 2012

Riesling is one of my favourite varieties. Wakefield Estate Riesling 2012 (£11.99,  M&S) is 100% riesling,  with grapes from riesling- perfect Clare Valley, Australia.  There’s a nose-dip aroma of dried honey which is enveloped in a cloud of juicy limes which tease and tingle as you sip. Riesling is perfect with food, not least spicy Asian prawns and noodles (that was me, sipping and twizzling).

Symington Family Estate Altano 2012 Douro DOC White (RRP £9, and independents) is a fruity bundle made  from malvasia fina, viosinho and moscatel galego grapes from the Duoro Valley, Portugal. Pop a mouthful of mandarins, pineapples, with a refreshing   acidity  and a crisp finish. I wrote  “fruit cocktail” and indeed it was.

 My final springtime white, D’Arenburg White Ochre, McLaren Vale 2013 (£7.25, The Wine Society) is a blend of sauvignon blanc, riesling, marsanne and roussanne. It charms with pineapple and citrus,  with a  richness which made me think “oak”, but no.  Riesling adds  elegance, sauvignon the aromatics,  marsanne and roussanne  a nutty character.  Delicious.

Also  in my glass

Last  year  Virgin Wines was named Innovator of the Year at the International Wine Challenge Merchant of the Year Awards for its Virtual Winemaker project.

Coeur du Ventoux, Virgin Wines
Coeur du Ventoux, Virgin Wines

 Virgin invites people  to vote during the winemaking processes,  from harvest through to bottling, to create a crowd-sourced wine. Thelatest theme was The French Connection, in partnership with the Famille Perrin winery in the Southern Rhone. The result is Coeur du Ventoux 2013 (£10.99,

Voters opted for a majority blend of  50% grenache with syrah, cinsault and carignan.

To taste? Grenache isn’t a grape to be  backward in coming forward. There was a fair bit of chocolate at the forefront on the nose, with cherries and plums truckling along. Spice and pepper to taste. I’d hoped for a little more fruity, raspberry depth.

 But the fun with this is its the taking part that counts.

Published in the saturday extra magazine May 3rd 2014

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