Christmas the Kiwi way

If you ask me what my favourite wine is, my immediate answer is ALWAYS New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Not all of them by any means – the mass production that has gone on in the last 20 years or so from the region means there are some awful cheap bottles out there. But the real gems – the wines that are complex, fruity, crisp, refreshing and zingy are a true delight. 

So it was a natural choice to choose to spend our honeymoon (yes, I will get round to doing a post on wedding wine at some point) in New Zealand – and Christmas staying in Marlborough. It didn’t disappoint – sunny days and cool nights, friendly people, lovely food, more cellar doors than you could ever visit and vines as far as the eye can see.

DSC00562

We stayed at the fantastic Vintners Hotel, where we had our own cabin, and most importantly were close to many of the best vineyards in the area.

We hired bikes on Christmas Eve and set off to see what wines we could taste. We visited far too many to list them all here, but I’ll pick out a few highlights and try and keep it to wines that you can find in the UK too.

DSC00459First up was Whitehaven, who have their cellar door as part of the lovely Vines Village on Rapaura Road. Their Pinot Gris was standout – it’s actually the same grape variety as Pinot Grigio, but this really packed a punch. There was plenty of peach, grapefruit and almond notes going on, with a really crisp fresh finish. The Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc was similarly enjoyable – and you can buy it via Ocado here.

A short distance down the road was the cellar door for No1 Family Estate – a vineyard which only produces sparkling wine. Established by Daniel Le Brun, they produce gorgeous premium Méthode Traditionelle wine. Our favourite was the 100% chardonnay Cuvee Blanc de Blanc, which you can buy via a specialist importer here. If you’re looking for a real talking point next time you serve up some fizz, this is it.

From there we visited Nautilus, Forrest, Fromm and Framingham. Of these, Version 2Framingham was particularly special – they’re known for their Riesling, but for us the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were some of the best we had. If you want to try the Pinot Noir for yourself, check out The New Zealand House of Wine website. Expect a beautifully rounded, very drinkable wine, with a lot more character than your standard bottle. That’s because they use a few whole bunches of grapes in the production process, with the stems giving silky tannins and a gorgeous nose. They also use a smoky oak barrel to add further layers of complexity to the wine, meaning a few savoury and spice notes along with those fruit flavours you’d expect.

20191225_121527

Christmas lunch was, of course, accompanied by wine pairing at the very special Hans Herzog winery. We had sparkling wine to start (80% pinot noir grapes, so a very different style of fizz), as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and a dessert Riesling. The Hans Herzog wines are organic and as natural as possible, which was a real experience. Natural wine is much more interesting to taste, do give it a go if you get the chance.

On Boxing Day we set off to New Zealand’s most coastal vineyard, Yealands. It was simply stunning – a huge expanse of vines right on the coast, with beautiful cliff views and even farmyard animals on the self-drive tour! DSC00532At the tasting we sampled a couple of their Yealands Estate Single Vineyard offerings which were fantastic. You could really taste the difference in the Sauvignon Blanc with the influences of the very mineral soil and seaspray misting over the vines. They also have a much more affordable and accessible version of their Sauvignon that’s available in the UK, including at Co-Op stores and Sainsbury’s.

Do get in touch and let us know what your favourite New Zealand wines are – twitter.com/wineblag or comment below.

 

Summer Lovin’

IMG-20170907-WA0000I’ve had a bit of a lucky streak recently. First, the lovely people at Majestic chose my Question for their monthly Wine 999 feature, winning me a lovely mixed case (worthy of its own post – stay tuned!). And then I also got given this bottle of white, which went straight in my fridge to be enjoyed as soon as the sun made an appearance on a late summer evening.

Now it’s not one I’d probably have picked out myself, but if you’re after a fresh, zingy, tasty and affordable white, the Torres Vina Sol a pretty safe bet. It’s a Spanish white, reminiscent of a crisp NZ Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre. Along with fresh citrus on the nose, there are subtle fruity flavours that round it off nicely. Serve slightly colder that you normally would for a white – proper fridge temperature benefitted the tangy nature.

Definitely drinkable on it’s own, it’s also a good choice with the classic seafood / rice / fish options.

Good news – it’s widely available from shops including Tesco, Sainsburys and Majestic. And it’s easy on the wallet too – coming in at under a fiver if you pick the right offer.

A £6 winner?

malbec.jpgA little while back, this article revealed just how successful a certain cheap bottle of red had been.

With accolades from newspapers, buyers and the Decanter World Wine Awards, it seems like a pretty sure bet for a tasty, good value red. But does it live up to expectations?

Short answer: yes, for the price. You can pick this up from Asda (or Walmart in the States) for around £6, and any wine this smooth and flavoursome for that price is a pretty rare find.

It’s certainly not a heavy red, but you do know you’re drinking a Malbec. It’s more fruity than smoky – think blackberries and cream.

Smooth and juicy is how one person described it, and that sums it up really. The problem though, if you’re looking for one, is it’s a bit… well, nondescript, I guess.

Personally I like to enjoy a glass of Malbec with steak, and it has to be big, bold, punchy and flavoursome to hold up to that. This one certainly isn’t – with it’s smoothness and lightness it would work better with tomato-based dishes, picnics, cheeses and cold meats.

Overall? A good summery red and a steal at £6.

 

Apples and Cream

Admittedly, I’ve had some bad experiences with cheap rosé, which have made me a bit wary. But rerose2cently out for a lovely 3-course dinner in which we ate everything from ham hock tortellini to lamb to fresh sumptuous cod, it was going to be difficult to match wine to all the food without spending a LOT of money.

The solution was this fresh and tasty Pinot Grigio blush. Light, fresh, tasty, but with a roundness and depth that lots of rosé’s can miss. It honestly went really well with every course we had.

Along with Prosecco, rosé is enjoying something of a revival, and gradually shaking off its image as a girly drink for glittery nights out.  Provence is producing some fantastic options, with the climate and soil producing lovely flavour, and a pale wash of colour rather than a bold brash red-pink. rose1

The Sacchetto rosé we enjoyed was smooth, fresh and zingy. Think berries, apples and even a dash of cream.

So give it a go, embrace the pink and shrug off any preconceptions.  And remember to tweet @WineBlag with any good discoveries!

You can buy the Saccetto Pinot Grigio Blush here.

Or try this from Waitrose, or this bottle from Provence, supplied by Majestic.

 

Wine Card Wonder

dadwine rooms view

 

 

 

 

 

I credit my lovely Dad for introducing me to the wonderful world of wine, so it was a very easy decision to decide where to take him for his birthday. The Fulham Wine Rooms are the sister restaurant to The Kensington Wine Rooms, which I’ve written about before, and boy are they good.

Hwine cardere’s the concept. A great selection of wines – and a cash card you can load up allowing you to taste at your own pace and your own amount. The price for a small 25cl taster of the wines ranges from as little as 70p up to around £2 for the really good ones. £15 on each card got us around 15 wines to taste between us. Each wine has a handy little explainer card below, too, giving you an idea of what you might taste.

The stand-out wines:

tokaji<< Dobogo Furmint Tokaji (2012). This Hungarian white is made in the same region and from the same grapes as traditional dessert wine, but is actually very dry and very, very good. Think honeysuckle, apricots, warm and complexity.

sp68>> SP 68 Bianco, Sicily (2013).  The Wine Rooms had a good selection of natural wines, made with minimum chemical interventions or additives.  This white was incredibly clean and fresh, disappearing from the palate almost instantly. With pleasant fruity flavours and a crisp taste, the lack of sulphates should mean less chance of a hangover too. Winner.

20150602_182057_1<< Puligby-Montrachet ‘Les Enseigneres’ Domaine Chavy-Choet (2013). Simply wow. A stunning white burgundy, it was full and rich and had a beautiful taste of honey.  Expensive, retailing at around £35 a bottle, but I think I’ll be saving up my pennies to treat myself.

ballon

>> Ballon, ROT Wine Rooms Production, Cotes-du-Rhone (2013).  Boo, the only wine that disappointed. I really *wanted* to like this red, blended by the Wine Rooms and another natural wine. But to me it smelt of feet, and tasted a little of vinegar.

rioja reserva

<< Rioja Crianza Bodegas Amezola (2010) / Rioja Reserva Especial, Urbina (1998). Although not a strict comparison, tasting these 2 riojas together was really useful to compare how age changed them. The Crianza was younger and would be perfect in another 5 years or so. The Reserva – aged to perfection – was full bodied, smooth and tasted similar to Port.

pauillac>> Lacoste Borie, Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac, Bordeaux (2007). My favourite of the whole evening (and that’s saying something!). This Pauillac was smooth, but with big flavour and an amazing nose. A real treat – at £63 a bottle it’s not normally one I would be able to try!

 

You can see more information about the wines above here.

Don’t forget you can always tweet @wineblag for more information.

An English Attempt

English wine. As I’ve said before, I’m not usually a big fan. Given the choice bHush Heathetween an English bottle or a French, I’m afraid my patriotism goes out of the window and I’d pick the French every time. In most areas of the UK, our climate simply isn’t conducive to producing the grapes suitable for making lovely, high quality wine.

But there are a number of vineyards dotting the south coast of England, trying valiantly to convert sceptical people like me.

Hush Heath Estate is one such vineyard. When we moved into our new flat recently, a pack of 3 bottles from here had been left for us. One was a tasty cider which disappeared very quickly indeed! I needed more convincing about the other two though – an English chardonnay and an English pinot noir.

The pinot, as you can see, was a very light ruby red, and at only 11% alcohol content, tasted pretty light too. On their website, Hush Heath suggest this wine is a good accompaniment to game – I’d disagree. There wan’t really much to it at all – no fruity flavours to roll around your tastebuds, nor oaky depth to savour as you drink. You could almost say it was more like ribena than red wine.

Although Pinot Noir is typically a lighter red, good bottles have complex flavours and depth to them that I’m afraid this English offering was lacking. On the positive side, if you wanted a red to go with meaty fish like swordfish, or salmon and not overpower it, this could work well.

I’m still to be convinced that us Brits can produce good wine that can truly rival more traditional producers. Sorry Hush Heath, at £22 a bottle this Pinot Noir just didn’t do enough.

Interested in English wine? Read more here: English sparkling wine / English wine growing in sophistication

Boisterous and Bold

With a glorious 4-day break just around the corner at Easter, what better time to suggest a big, bold and tasty red to go with your seasonal roast lamb.

Clare ValleyI was treated to this Australian shiraz at the weekend, and boy does it pack a punch. It costs a bit more than your usual bottle that you would grab off the shelf, but if you’re looking for a tasty treat or a bottle to impress friends, this is definitely it.

So, the basics. 2008 Tim Adams, Aberfeldy, Clare Valley (£27.99, Tesco, other years vary in price). This is a typical Australian shiraz in its flavours – bold, high tannins (you can really feel it at the back of your mouth), oak flavours along with blackcurrant and a peppery hint in there too. It is a gorgeous dark colour, but if you get red wine headaches after too much of a good thing, this probably isn’t the one for you due to the heavy tannins and high alcohol content.

The grapes are fermented on their skins for 4 weeks, then spend 24 months in new American oak barrels before being blended and bottled. The wine then spent 5 years maturing in the bottle before we unceremoniously cracked it open and devoured the whole lot. But what does this actually mean? Well, the oak barrels give a lovely flavour to the wine, and the time spent in the bottle certainly helped mellow those tannins a bit and give a lovely smooth flavour.

Certainly a winner for the Easter dinner table, I’d say.

Other options: Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Cabernet. £6.75, Sainsbury’s.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz. £10.79, Waitrose.

From the same South Australian location in the Clare Valley: The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2012. £14.99, Majestic

Mistletoe and Wine (The Reds)

As you can see here, I had a lovely Christmas enjoying some very nice wine. Here are the reds that I was lucky enough to kick back and enjoy by the fire.

This 2013 Wine Society Cotes du Rhone was opened on Christmas Day evening, but to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. It seemed a bit flat and unflavoursome. But after being decanted the next day and left to breathe, it really improved and those big, bold flavours that I was expecting were much more prevalent. I’d still probably pick something different next time, but it was an easy-drinking red (in the end). For a hopefully more reliable option, this bottle from Sainsbury’s would be a good option.

 

 

In contrast, big, full-bodied flavours practically punched you in the face from this really special Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Naked Wines. It was bold, tasty with big tannins and lovely smoky flavours. 2010 was a particularly good vintage – this bottle would easily have kept for another 5+ years and matured nicely, but the temptation to enjoy it was just too much! It worked brilliantly with a lovely baked ham with cloves, and the 15.5% alcohol content speaks for itself. High street offerings include this bottle from Ocado, or this from Majestic.

 

And finally a really special wine, courtesy of my Dad. This 1962 Pauillac was bought for the significance of the year it was made (ahem, same age as Dad). Now it was a touch-and-go experience. The cork had disintegrated quite a lot, and the amount of sediment in the bottle was unbelievable. But after being strained, decanted, strained again and left to breathe, this 52-year-old wine was ready. And boy was it worth the wait. The colour had transformed to a really pale red, and it was one of the smoothest red wines I have ever drunk. The flavour was very different to anything I would normally drink, but the balance between oak and fruit flavours was perfect. No high street equivalent I’m afraid, but hey, you could always choose a good quality, full-bodied red from a supermarket and lay it down for 50 years yourself!

Mistletoe and Wine (The Whites)

Christmas – unapologetically one of my favourite times of the year. The presents, the food, and of course the wine. I had the great pleasure of not working on Christmas Day this year (unlike last year), so was determined to really enjoy the lovely wine that was on offer over the festive period. Here are the highlights (and no, I promise I didn’t drink them all myself!).

 We enjoyed this Chilean Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of my Uncle who is a member of The Wine Society. It was a great light, lunchtime drink which went very well with our smoked salmon, freshly baked bread and general eating up of leftovers. I’m not usually a big one for South American wines, but this was very good. For similar options try this Sauvignon from Waitrose, or this Taste the Difference bottle from Sainsbury’s.

Ah, back to my old favourite and all-time best bottle of white wine (in my humble opinion!). This New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is produced by Bill and Claudia Small for Naked Wines, and is quite simply gorgeous. You can see me harping on about why I love NZ Sauvignon here, but this one – to me at least – is the best example I’ve drunk. Worked brilliantly with traditional turkey.

Now I didn’t get to try more than a few sips of this Marsanne Viognier, as I was driving home after lunch. But from what I did have, it was a very nice, if different white. A more rounded and fruity offering than a traditional French Viognier, the Marsanne grape has a pear-like flavour and is richer and darker than other more commonly drunk whites. Give examples like this one from Majestic Wines a go with pork or turkey.

And of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some fizz … although maybe more unusually this one was of the English variety. I’m not going to lie, I’m not the biggest fan of English wine. Usually I find it doesn’t live up to expectations, leaving me wishing I’d stuck to a French / Australian / Californian etc. But, to my pleasant surprise, this bottle from a Kent vineyard was brill. Much more comparable to Champagne than Prosecco or Cava, it was very tasty and made a great pre-Christmas lunch celebration. Interestingly, some vineyards in Kent are only 90 miles or so from the Champagne region in France, and have fairly similar, chalky soil. The smooth flavours of vanilla and buttery toast combined with the ‘pop’ of those lovely bubbles really was very enjoyable. And it might just have been enough to persuade me to try some more English wines with an open mind.

Go-To, Fail Safe, Always a Winner

20141115_195040_2You’re out of inspiration, in need of a bottle for yourself or a friend, and there seems to be just too much choice. So what do you pick? Here is my guide to your fail safe, go-to wines …

Reds

St-Emilion. Merlot is the dominant grape, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in there too. Beautiful deep colour, fruity, woody and with some flavour of spices. Always a popular choice! Also look out for the St-Emilion “satellites” such as Lussac-St-Emilion – nearby vineyards using the same grapes, offering great value.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape. High alcohol content, fruity and hearty red. The name carries a bit of a premium though, so expect to pay around £15 a bottle. But it is a sure one to impress if that is your aim!

Shiraz Viognier. A nice mix of grapes. I like this one from Naked Wines, with the hearty Shiraz being nicely balanced by the lighter flavours from the Viognier grape.

A Cabernet Sauvignon, such as the Wolf Blass yellow label. Goes well with most food or on its own, and is usually easy to locate in most supermarkets.

Pinot Noir, preferably from Burgandy in France, or from New Zealand. A lighter red, that is best served slightly colder than other reds. Goes brilliantly with goats cheese or lamb, or meaty fish like swordfish.

Pomerol. A real winner from the Bordeaux region of France. Similar mix of grapes to St-Emilion, with Merlot being the dominant one in the mix. Deep flavours, dark colours – think red fruit mixed with faint tobacco and liquorice. Ages well, try to decant before drinking. Worth the bigger price tag.

Whites

NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Always a favourite! See my post on Oyster Bay to find out why.

Sancerre. A classic white from the Loire Valley in France. Sauvignon Blanc grape, full of flavour and a nice balance between fruity and sharp, crisp citrus flavours which tend to dominate in the New Zealand Sauvignons.

Petit Chablis. Dry white, a better value option than Chablis, but with most of the flavours and enjoyment! A really nice Chardonnay.

Viognier. Usually from France, but I recently tried a very nice Californian variety, and Hardy’s do a reliable bottle from Australia. Viognier is a superb white wine, pale yellow / amber in colour, with a nice mix of floral and fruity flavours. Fresh, tasty and a nice change from Sauvignon.

 

What are your fail safe wines? Tweet us @WineBlag or comment below.