A classy-yet inexpensive Bordeaux and Champagne from FVD
These two wines from FVD are both classics and relative bargains; the Champagne is from a tiny, family-owned producer whose vineyards on the Montagne de Reims are all Premier Cru.
The red is a more-affordable stable-mate of first-growth Haut-Brion.
Champagne Arlaux, Premier Cru Gande Cuvée NV (£32.95) yeasty-citrussy with toasted hazelnuts, orchard fruit toasty brioche. Fine mousse, elegant and balanced with a long nutty finish.
Good and will improve further with age.
Drink as an aperitif or match with light starters.
Clarendelle Red 2012 (£16.95) classy, classic Bordeaux with a bit of age; bramble fruits, pencil shavings and earthy-woodsiness, fine tannins and freshness. Complex, adept and very well-balanced. Drinking nicely now, this is as good a mid-range Bordeaux as you can hope to find.
Good and Good Value for the quality; will only improve with further aging. Drink with red meat, especially darker game.
The Beast from the East may be set to growl again this weekend, but it is undeniable that the days are gettting longer and temperatures are, overall rising.
Here are three wines with just the right mix of aromatics to match with lighter foods yet the heft to be more weighty than mere garden sippers.
All are thoroughly enjoyable; the Kleine Zalze Chenin is, however, quite a revelation.
Cune Barrel Fermented Blanco 2016 (£10.15, Co-op, independents) ripe, fresh orchard fruit and galia melon; pure with long saline minerality. Elegant, substantial and deft with fresh citrus flavours and toasty richness.
Match with seafood starters or chicken dishes.
Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2017 (£10.60, independents) rich, tropical honeysuckle, guava and pineapple with fresh green apple and quince. Delicious subtle oak and fresh, balancing acidity.
Good and Very Good Value.
Match with goat’s cheese or smoked fish.
Left Field Albarino 2017 (£14.55 Wine Rack, Cambridge Wine Merchants, independents) experssive and aromatic, citrussy kiwi white with melon and peach fruit and zippy lime. Fresh and mineral. Match with Thai curries or green salads with coriander.
A substantial and complex pink fizz from the Co-op
I have been impressed with the Co-op's Pionniers Champagne - in both standard NV and vintage formats.
Now, the range is extended to include a pink - perfect for Valentine's, Mother's Day or any other occasion when you want to make a statement and ensure that it be a classy one.
Key facts are: 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay with up to four years on the lees in the Piper Heidsieck cellars.
Les Pionniers NV Rosé Champagne (£21.99) a delicate pink in the glass with summer fruits and toasty, yeasty brioche; red berries, raspberries, creamy-oatmealy cashew nuts and a fine mousse; persistent and weighty with a leesy, mineral complexity.
Improves with aeration and will repay a few years' cellaring. Good. Drink as an aperitif or match with canapes, salmon or charcuterie.
Notwithstanding the snow on the ground, March is technically the start of spring. Here are two fresh, spring-like wines from the Co-op.
Both are thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value, so crank up the central heating and forget about the "Beast from the East".
La Petite Laurette du Midi Rosé 2017 (£7.99) Provence-style southern French rosé from Languedoc; ripe, delicate red-berry fruits with southern warmth, zingy freshness and minerality.
Sip as an aperitif or with mixed antipasti.
Co-op Irresistible Chenin Blanc (£6.99) bush-vine Chenin from Darling on the cool West Coast of South Africa; aromatic, fresh green herbs, sweet spices and ripe orchard fruits. Fresh and mineral with no rough edges.
Drink with starters or white meats, such as roast pork with sage or monkfish in a herb broth.
Bordeaux is rightly best-known for its ageworthy reds - it does, however, produce the whole range of wines; fizz, white, rosé, red and dessert.
Here are three inexpensive Bordeaux wines that demonstrate the diversity of this region.
Fizz to start Les Cordeliers Brut, NV, Crémant de Bordeaux Sémillon (Department 33, £12.83) traditional-method fizz with ripe orchard fruits, citrus, white flowers and yeasty, hazelnutty brioche. Elegant and refreshing with a fine mousse.
Good. Drink as an aperitif or match with light starters.
Red with main Château du Seuil, 2015, Graves (Virgin £14.99) classic Bordeaux bramble fruit, liquorice pencil shavings and spice with some aged chractaer of dried herbs and earthiness. Fresh, with fine, firm tannins.
Good. Match with roast red meat or stews.
Sweet to finish Château Roumieu, 2012, Sauternes (The Co-op, £12.99 half-bottle) apricots, honeysuckle blossom, beeswax and candied lemons; sweet tropical fruits, sherbet, acacia honey, Sicilian lemons and overripe peaches with some musky beeswax. Long, sweet-sour-savoury and complex. Very Good. Match with crème brûlée or lemon torte.
This year's Fairtrade Fortnight runs from 26 February to 11 March.
The Co-op has long understood that Fairtrade wines need to stand on their own merits - they should be first and foremost wines that people want to drink and only after that Fairtrade.
These two reds are both thoroughly enjoyable; both have a bit of age and are drinking very nicely now. The Lebanese wine is the more interesting of the two (in all senses).
Co-op Fairtrade Argentina Malbec (£7.49) ripe, dark-berry fruit, spices and violets; plump and supple texture. Fresh and juicy (just 12.5% alcohol) with no rough edges at all.
Match with a juicy steak.
Coteaux Les Cedres Fairtrade Red, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (£11.99) Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Arinarnoa blend; baked dark fruits, red cherries and plums with sweet spices. Some aged character of cigar box, woodsiness and leather. Very fine tannins and a fresh, mineral backbone. Good. Match with roast or barbecued red meats.
A pleasing-yet-sophisticated "cool-climate" Californian Chardie from Waitrose
I don't normally go for big, blowsy oaky Chardonnays - especially from hot places like California. This, however, is a little different.
It is from Russian River in Sonoma and describes itself as "cool-climate" - that is, of course, by Californian standards, so it is still very ripe and fruited with 14% alcohol. However, there is enough complexity and freshness to make this interesting even to a Europhile palate.
Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay 2015 (£17.99, Waitrose) ripe orchard fruits, honeydew melon and pineapple and creamy, oatmealy leesiness. Lush and rich; very adept and harmonious.
Good. A versatile wine; drink as an aperitif or match with seafood or white meats.
I've long believed that you judge the quality of a wine merchant by their weakest wines, not their best. Pick a couple of bottles at random and if there's nothing bad about them, you're likley to be on to a winner.
Fortunately, all the wines I tried at this Bancroft Spring Portfolio tasting were throroughly enjoyable, many of them very impressive indeed.
Here are my top picks:
Westwell Wines, Kent, England Recently acquired by new owners, the wines on show came with the purchase, so few details available; the range is wide - white, fizz, pink, dessert and even amphora - and they were all enjoyable and reasonably priced given their origin. WS Special Cuvee 2014(£22.45) elegant, pricise and mineral traditional metho fizz; low dosage; leesy with a firm, assertive backbone. Very Good.
Weingut Weszeli, Kamptal, Austria Another newly-acquired winery, with an excellent range of GV and Riesling. Gruener Veltliner Kaeferberg OeWT 2013 (£26.10) precise, complex and full gruener; restrained with stone fruit and some creaminess. Substantial, structured and long. Very Good.
Elena Walch, Alto Adige, Italy
Lagrein Riserva Vigna "Catel Ringberg" 2013 (£30.20) fresh and spicy with fine tannins; substantial with dark fruit and earthy truffles. Balanced, harmonious and poised. Still very youthful. Very Good.
Tacchino, Piedmont, Italy Good range of classic reds, whites and an off-dry fizz. Rosso di Monferrato, Di Fatto 2013 (£15.50) a blend of four varieties, spicy and darkly fruited with black and sour cherries, freshness and a firm core; long. Good.
Domaine Savary, Chablis Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2015 (£36.70) rich, complex and floral-honeyed; fresh, with orchard fruit. Still very youthful. Very Good.
Domaine Ratte, Jura Excellentbiodynamic wines from Jura with a distinctive flavour. "Nature" Savignan 2016 (£25.30) complex nose with struck-match and musky, cidery sharpness; fresh and piercing, yet rich and rounded; long, substantial and complex with good underpinnings. Very Good.
Valdaya, Ribera Del Duero, Spain
Valdaya Mirum 2015 (£31.80) very fresh and harmonious with dark fruit, spice and very fine tannins. Elegant, substantial and precise. Very Good Indeed.
Hermanos Perez Pascuas, Vina Pedros, Ribera Del Duero, Spain From the entry-level mid-teens to the top cuvee with a trophy price-tag, these were all excellent wines. Choosing here is really just a case of selecting a budget and taking your pick; it would be easy to single out the £200+ wine as the best, as indeed it was. However, in the real world, there is better value around £20. Vina Pedrosa Crianza 2014 (£21.50) bramble fruit, spice, earthy truffleyness; harmonious, supple and complex with freshness and substance. Very Good.
Es Fangar, Pla I Levant, Mallorca Mallorcan winesare not that often seen over here, but are worth seeking out. N'Amarat, 2011 (£35.75) fresh, spicy and complex with dark-berry fruits and gamey truffleyness; elegant and supple. Very Good.
Bodega Luigi Bosca, Mendoza, Argentina South America is all too often in thrall to the bigger-is-better style of wines that do well further north. The more interesting winemakers, however, are following a more European-style approach. Icono Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (£63.20) fresh, vibrant and substantial with a muscular core; dense, energetic and concentrated. Still very youthful. Very Good Indeed.
Who run the world? Girls! - "Run the World (Girls)", Beyoncé (2011)
March 8th is International Women's Day - there are worse things you could do than raise a toast to the women behind with these two excellent wines:
CVNE Imperial Reserva 2012 (£26.00, Majestic Wine, Wine Rack, Coop, Waitrose, Tesco) a top-notch Rioja with a bit of age that is still very youthful. Plums and cherry fruit with dried green herbs, leather, peppery spice and cigarbox. Good freshness, minerality, very fine tannins and a firm, muscular core.
Very good; drinking nicely now and will continue to improve for many years.
Match with red meat, especially game.
Winemaker Maria Larrea says of beginning a career in wine: it is important to surround yourself with a good work team, observe the vineyard, study about other viticultural areas of the world. In short, always learn, enjoy work and always try to make the best wine.
Her most memorable moment so far: Undoubtedly, the award we received with Imperial Gran Reserva vintage 2004 as the best wine in the world for the Wine Spectator. It really was a prize for the long history of Imperial, more than 100 years as a wine of great quality.
Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuissé 2016, (£33.40, independents) a complex, youthful white Burgundy; citrus, stone fruit and acacia flowers, with creamy oatmeal, honey, sweet spices and nuts. Fresh, rounded and very adept with excellent underpinnings.
Good and will further improve age.
Match with meaty white fish, creamy cheeses or risotto.
Audrey Braccini winemaker at Domaine Ferret says of the most memorable moment in her career: when I started working in Fuissé ten years ago, the welcome from the other producers was a little bit cold… and this continued for some years after. You can imagine my joy when some of them came to me and said, with kindness in their eyes, ‘good job, great wines, it is a good thing you came!’.
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