Wine Press: Call My Bluff Wine Tasting fizzes perfectly

A few years ago there was a TV quiz show, Call My Bluff. My mum and dad loved it. I remember the 70s brown and beige shirts and the quizmaster technology included a simple bell.

A team would give three definitions of a word; but only one was true. Another team had to guess which.

Bring that up to 2015, add gaffer tape, wine, human guinea pigs, yours truly, some lovely helpers, and what you have is a Call My Bluff wine tasting.

We disguised wine bottles with the tape and split my guinea pigs into teams.

Call My Bluff wine tasting
Call My Bluff wine tasting with yours truly

I like fizz so I pretty much went all out on the stuff.

With the first wine I said: “I’m sauvignon blanc, and I’m from Marlborough in New Zealand.

“I was recently described as having a ‘very catty aroma’ and being ‘the spring onion side of sauvignon’.”

I threw in a Bluff line: “My homeland is France and this is the first time that French winemakers have turned me into Champagne”.

FALSE!!! Sauvignon blanc would never be used in a Champagne.

Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

This was Aldi’s Freemans Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99). Did my guinea pigs like it? Well yes, most of them did. Though for some, the jury was out.

Next: “I’m a prosecco. I’m one of the best you can get. My grapes are grown on steep limestone hills between two villages. They are so special I have a high DOCG status. I have apricot and citrus and you can even taste a little bit of the limestone if you concentrate really hard. I’ve won awards. I’m so proud of myself.”

If you find a prosecco marked DOCG it is indeed one of the best.

In this case it was multi-award winner Sainsbury’s Conegliano Prosecco, Taste the Difference (around £11). My guinea pigs really loved this one.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2013

Moving on. My clue on Codorníu Gran Cremant Vintage, Brut (several retailers, RRP £9.99) was: “Just like Champagne, three dominant grape varieties are used to make me: paralleda, macabeo and xarel-lo. Each of them is difficult to say, but each of them makes me special. I don’t know why people like prosecco more than me, as I have more flavours and tasty layers. You might be able to smell citrus, honey and almonds.”

call my bluff wine tasting
Death by Powerpoint

Several guinea pigs didn’t think this was cava at all, but my made up Bluff description, of a sparkling chardonnay “bright and zesty with a ping of lemon and scrunched red apples”.

Next, an ooh-ahh of a Wine Bluff reveal. I said: “I have a golden hue. I have a nice crisp and intense flavour of lemon and honey. I’m an award-winning champagne at less than a tenner.”

A bluff line included… “you might think I have a smell of peach – that’s the peach trees which grow very close to the vineyard.” (Ha! See how easy it is to make it up!)

Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut Philizot Aldi
Veuve Monsigny Champagne

The wine reveal was Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut by Philizot (£9.99) and it was praised by the guinea pigs; A tenner for a really lovely drop of champers.

We turned to another of my faves. “I’m the Gracie Fields of the champagne world. I taste of brioche and toast and citrus with little hints of stone fruit.”

A bluff line included: “If I was featured in Hello! magazine I’d have a footballer boyfriend and a villa in Marbella. I’m more full in the face than most champagnes with stewed apples and cinnamon sticks.”

My guinea pigs worked out that this didn’t smell of cinnamon and some rightly guessed it was The Co-operative Les Pionniers NV Champagne, £16.99 and very nice it is too. My clue was that Gracie Fields is from Rochdale, which is also the birthplace of the Co-op movement.

Sometimes you have to live inside my head.

Published in the saturday extra magazine April 25, 2015

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Warm yourself with glugs of Spanish grenache wines

Honoro Vera wine review grenache

WELL, what a week of snow. You may have escaped it , but if you didn’t I bet you couldn’t wait to be tucked up at home in your onesie. Don’t worry, that will be our secret.

Once the door is locked fast against the cold, is there a more satisfying way of thumbing your nose to the snow and ice outside by tucking into winter warming casseroles and glugs of peppery, juicy red wines?

It wasn’t planned this way, but two wines I’ve enjoyed most with my comfort food in the past wintry days were both Spanish, with garnacha at their heart.

The grape is known as grenache in France and is mainly found in blends in the south of the country. In both countries it is seen at the heart of luscious reds, distinctive rosés and in the southern Rhone, as a key grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I’ve warmed to this grape, native to Aragon in Spain, over the past few months. It has matador strength alcohol and dances flavour flamencos. It makes tempting, gluggable, juicy wine; but its alcohol levels can easily lead you astray. This is no subtle cool climate grape.

Wine expert Tim Atkin – often seen on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen show – ran a masterclass at a recent Three Wine Men event I attended and he described grenache as “a very old grape which loves sunshine. If it could walk it would be the first to the sunbeds”.

My first winter warmer was Honoro Vera (£14.99, Morrisons, 14.5 abv). It’s a bold rustic red from the Calatayud wine region in Zaragoza.

The tannins were soft and it tickled and teased with sparky white pepper notes and stewed plums.

Apart from anything, it had the most beautiful artwork on the label. A mysterious eye tantalised as I sipped.

The previous vintage Honoro Vera 2010 (by producer Bodegas Ateca) won gold in the International Wine Challenge Awards. The 2011 I tried was one of the best 110 wines in the 2012 Wines from Spain Awards. Judges – coincidentally Honoro Vera wineheaded by Tim Atkin – described it as a “rich red colour, meaty, spicy, with explosive bright sweet strawberry fruit”.

(You can find a full list of the Wines from Spain 2012 awards at www.winesfromspain.com)

My second Spanish warmer: Taste the Difference Priorat (Sainsbury, £10.49, 14.5 abv) is 40% syrah, 40% garnacha and 20% carignan and has powerful black fruit on the nose, and cocoa-edged vanilla. It has concentrated fruit to taste with a juicy, sultry finish.

Priorat comes from Catalunya and alongside Rioja is one of only two wine regions in Spain to hold the prestigious classification Qualified Denomination of Origin (DOCa).

Grapes grow on old vines on steep, rugged terraces in red slatey, mineral soils known as llicorella. The soil keeps the vines warm, helping grapes to ripen. The vines fight hard to seek the nutrients they need, resulting in grapes with concentrated flavours. Together with oak aging, Taste the Difference Priorat is a rich, complex wine.

Drink garnacha with big meaty dishes; braised or roast beef; especially with big bowls of casseroled lamb. Even torn chunks of rustic bread and slithers of Spanish Manchengo cheese can make an indulgent winter wine wonderland.

This column first appeared in the Liverpool Post on  February 21 2013