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This bottle looked decidedly Alsacian, possibly German, but it’s Hungarian.  It arrived in a mixed bargain box from Berry Brothers and Rudd, who always have something interesting on offer in their sales.

The wine starts out being interesting, instead of a cork it has an elegant glass stopper under the foil.  I don’t know why, but it felt fancy.  It was also a reminder to move the other bottle up the drinking order, I don’t know how well an on sale wine fares under a glass stopper with a plastic seal rather than cork.

The wine is called J after the grape variety, Juhfark, which is named after the way the grapes grow, in a bunch shaped like a J.

The producers boast that their Hungarian heritage makes them great winemakers, but the Dutch side of their family instilled business sense and order to their production.  I would like to have sat in on some of those meetings over the generations as they sorted out their rows. One of the family was a wine writer, you can find his site here, but it seems to have been abandoned a couple of years ago, along with the company website which does not seem to have had an update since 2013.

It smelled vaguely Alsacian too, it had some tropicality and spiciness as well as something freshly floral.  It was a pale golden colour, without much in the way of legs.

Royal Somlo J tasted fresh, it’s dry, but that fruit gives it a sweet edge, there’s a medium acidity and something of a mineral zip to it, almost like an Italian volcanic wine.  The fruit ladles on, with peach and non specific tropical fruits that could lean pineapple in one mouthful and passion fruit in the next, yet always fresh and juicy.  There’s a mild spiciness, but more pepper that sweet spice.  That may not sound like a great combo, but it really is refreshing.

I enjoyed Royal Somlo and will look out for it again as a zippy, fruity break from the norm.

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When I pick up a Sauvignon Blanc it’s normally because I want something bright, fresh and lively, a wine that’s lived a totally clean and sterile life heading straight from stainless steel to sterilised glass bottles to my glass.  I live a fairly norm-core life but sometimes I like to live on the edge, do something a little crazy, walk on the wild side.  When that happens I get my freak on and buy barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m such a rebel.

This Le Chai au Quai JMS Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc ’16 from Laithwaite’s is just wild enough for me.  Rather than growing in New Zealand and spending time in stainless steel it’s from Bordeaux and fermented in barrels, but not all in the same barrel, and not all in new oak.

It’s a clean, clear, pale apple colour and it smells of tropical fruits with a little lemon.  There’s a hint of something more complicated but at first sniff it’s all fruit.  It’s dry, with a firm acidity.  It tatses like it’s undergone malo-lactic fermentation, with the fruit acids turning into the same ones you find in milk, or perhaps more appropriately, cream.  Creaminess is a good descriptor, no-one is going to buy a wine that tastes like milk.

That creaminess comes with just a hint of oak.  It’s not the full on toffee apple you’d get with a Chardonnay treated in the same way, but maybe more like pineapple with a little caramel sauce.  I may not be doing it justice with that description, I fear I make it sound like a great yogurt flavour.  Think pineapple cube sweets with a hint of salted caramel and a slug of fresh lemonade.

I wouldn’t trade in regular fresh and zippy Sauvignon Blanc for this wine every time, but for something that pitches somewhere between cats’ pee on a gooseberry bush and toffee apples rolled in coconut, this offering from Laithwaite’s own production outfit is worth a try.  At £9 a bottle it’s reasonable value to mix things up a bit.

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Christmas and New Year is a great time to crack open a variety of different wines.  With more people about the place you can share more and if everyone has a little glass you can try a few different wines with different foods, or just with different moods.

I’m a fan of Gewurztraminer even if I’m not a huge fan of saying or spelling it.  It’s a tricky one to match to things though.  the traditional picks are Indian or Chinese food, but I find both go much better with beers.  This time around I picked it to go with some cold appetizers, smoked salmon and olives.  I’m here to congratulate myself on my choice.  I’d usually have gone for an Amontillado sherry as a pick, but I didn’t have any in the house and I was with people who are foolish enough to think they don’t like sherry.

This ’16 wine which frankly could have come from any retailer, Cave de Turckheim white label for all and sundry, did in fact come from Waitrose.  You can get it from Laithwaites too, or Virgin Wines, with slightly different labeling.  It was a warm golden lemon colour with a visible viscosity on the legs.  It smelled spicy and warm, although it was cold straight from the refrigerator.  There was tropical fruits and warming spices.

The immediate impression was of sweetness from the fruit, but a quick check of the front of my tongue revealed little residual sugar.  The acidity was medium.  The fruit was fresh and oriental with the characteristic lychee flavour smack bang in the middle, but with some florality following through, more Turkish Delight than actual roses, but pleasantly so.  There was cinnamon floating in behind along with a mix of spices that hinted at mulled wine.

The mouth feel was medium, as was the alcohol level.  The little parade of fruits followed by spices kept the flavour rolling for quite a while.  At about £10, but in this case £8 with 25% off six at Waitrose this was a good buy.

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I recently took a lean mean shopping machine trip to Waitrose.  I had a £20 off if you spend £120 coupon and I had a £100 Waitrose voucher I’d bought for £95 through PerkBox.  I was ready to shop and save!  When I got there Waitrose were offering 25% off wines and spirits if you bought six or more bottles.  Happy days!

I did buy groceries first.  I had a list and I shopped to it, ensuring we’d have actual nutrients to get us through the week, before hitting the wine aisle. [End of public service announcement].

I picked up a few wines and a bottle of gin.  This Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Gris was one of the wines.  It wasn’t one of the more expensive ones, nor was it the cheapo risotto wine I threw in to make it up to six and save much more than that wine cost.  It was in the Goldilocks price range.

It was a bright golden yellow and smelt of honey, a floral honey, none of your mass produced stuff or that weird bear honey which to English tastebuds tastes nothing like honey at all, no this smelled like the kind of honey even Winnie the Pooh would approve of.

Whilst dry, that honey smell gave it a sweet taste.  It was joined by peaches, fresh, ripe, juicy peaches eaten in a meadow full of flowers.  OK, so that may be over-romanticising just a little bit, but there’s a delicate, non specific floral character, as well as a bright splash of citrus juice.  It’s in the medium alcohol range.

I don’t normally look to New Zealand for Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio for that matter) in the New Zealand aisle, but as I was going shopping crazy this caught my eye.  I’d certainly look again for Alsace style wines from this producer and from Marlborough, as exchange rates do their thing and prices fluctuate.

At £9 I thought it was reasonable value.  With an extra 25% off it was a bargain.

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This Principe de Viana Edicion Blanca came in a mini selection box from Sipp wines.  It was an introductory trial box which oddly had one white, one red and two sparking wines.  I know it’s coming up to Christmas and all things are sparkly, but that seems an odd way to showcase wines.  That said, I know I’m something of an oddity in not finding sparkling wines to be my absolute favourites.  One of the sparkles was rose at least.

Enough about he weird selections of marketing departments and on to the wine, well almost, one more positive shout out to Principe de Viana’s marketing department, I did like this label, it does a reasonable job of portraying positive expectations of a fresh and elegant wine without actually saying anything.  It also reminds me I should probably schedule in some decorating for the new year.

The wine itself is bright, clear and with a colour hovering somewhere on the lemon end of a spectrum between lemon and lime.  It smells fresh, with lemons, limes and even grapefruit joining the nose party.  It’s dry with a bright acidity, in the Goldilocks range.

The flavour is clean, and those citrus fruits are joined by mango and pineapple.  I’ve had a recent obsession with eating mango fingers lime squeezed on them.  This wine does a reasonable job of delivering that taste profile in a liquid and alcoholic format.

It’s a non standard fifty fifty blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and I have to admit that if I’d seen a bottle with that blend on the shelf I’d have probably given t a miss, thinking it would be an odd hotch potch of left over grapes mashed together, but it really does work in a strawberries and black pepper or pineapple and chili kind of way.

It’s from Navarra in northern Spain, a zone I still feel love for even though it’s over a decade since I cycled through it.

I was impressed by this bottle, so I’m looking forward to trying the red it came with, but I don’t know if I’ll keep up a Sipp subscription.  Deliveries of three or four bottles at a time seem like I’d be paying good wine money on excess shipping fees, and if half are sparkles, I’ll need to throw more parties to rid myself of them and that gets expensive.

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We’ve been living it up in Central Europe, having fun in Austria and Hungary, whilst we’ve walked miles and ticked off plenty of sights and artworks from our list, we did find some time to eat and drink well too.  I didn’t expect Budapest to be a centre of fine dining, but we found some great places to eat.

If you get the chance to try the taste sensation that is cold sour cherry soup with sour cream ice cream at Aszu, then do, your taste buds will thank you (other soups are available, and delicious).  The staff at Bouchon are a delight and their Tokai grape salad is too.  We had this bottle of  St Andrea Aldas Egri Bikaver ’15 there.

I remember Hungarian Bull’s Blood wine from my youth.  Sam’s 8 ’til Late Supermarket sold bottles of it at about the same price of a strawberry jelly, a tin of tuna and a pack of Super Noodles, the latter two of which could be blended together to create a fine meal to serve with your equally fine bottle of Bull’s Blood.  There was a small chance that your tongue, lips and mouth could be stained deep red for 24 hours, I guess your insides could be too, by Sam’s fine wine labelled “Bull’s Blood, Hungary”.

St Andrea may be a similar rape blend, but it’s a different wine.  Slightly lighter in colour and much less opaque.  It smelled almost Italian, with lots of fruit and something almost meaty, not so much actual bull as a little Bovril.  It was just dry with a medium acidity that had just a hint of balsamic about it. The tannins were soft.

It tasted fruity, fresh black fruits, lots of plums and damsons with a little red fruit at the top.  There was a cinnamon like spice at the end.  The alcohol level was on the high side, but it didn’t dominate, the fruitiness carried it along.

W happily ordered another bottle at a different restaurant on another evening, and it was good, the only difference we noticed was that sitting outside in a candle lit area with white cloths and white umbrellas above us the wine looked brighter.

There don’t seem to be any retailers selling St Andrea Aldas Egri Bikaver in the UK, which is a shame, as I’d have picked up a bottle or two for home, but as we all already know, it wouldn’t be quite the same on a day when I’ve been at work and tangling with traffic.  Wine always tastes better in its home country, particularly after a relaxed day of new galleries, churches and parks.

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Italian eateries in Leicester had something of a renaissance when Claudio Ranieri was in town.  It seems no-one in the city who ever ate in an Italian restaurant or gelateria was safe from bumping in to him.  He won plenty of friends in those restaurants by maintaining his quiet charm and eating well.  When he left his job at Leicester City, he popped back to town to pack up his house, and for one last meal out.  As he left everyone, from waiters to customers and kitchen staff stood and applauded him out of the restaurant.

I dined at one of those Leicester Italians recently, Oggi on London Road. It’s a small neighbourhood restaurant with a regularly changing specials and fish selection.  They have a fairly small wine list, with some popular choices and a few more niche ones imported from Italy.  I chose a Sicilian white for the fish eating end of the table, hoping for some delicious volcanic flavours, but sadly they were sold out.  I was a little disappointed, but not as visibly disappointed as the waiter when one our meat eaters asked for their lamb well done.

I opted for the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Luca Cimarelli instead.  The painting on the label was a little alarming, but not the full on Francis Bacon.  The wine was a rich lemon colour.  It smelled fresh with a good dollop of fruitiness. It was dry with a quite a marked acidity.  That acidity was complemented by a little parade of citrus with some lemon and lime bulldozed by a big rolling thump of grapefruit.  Underneath that was a sort of warm straw flavour.

Checking the wine list Oggi had described it as having aromas of broom, which I assumed to be a weird mis-translation or transliteration of something else, but really, I could see where they were coming from if you imagine a brand spanking new old fashioned pioneer style American corn broom.  I suspect I’d stick with straw if I was doing the marketing.

I’d expect to pay about £8-9 for this bottle retail so £19 in a restaurant was a good deal.

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This Portuguese wine arrived in a mixed case from Laithwaites. To make life easy for everyone, the makers not only call it Lobo e Falcao, they also put [Wolf and Falcon] underneath, with a picture of a wolf and, you guessed it, a falcon on the label.  The falcon is a bit alarming, as it’s almost as big as the wolf.

Having cleared that up, we followed on with a discussion about whether Radamel Falcao could have been a success in the English Premier League if he’d joined Manchester United during a more settled period, or not picked up his injury at Chelsea.  Maybe if he’d gone to Manchester City things would have been different, but who knows.  I got to see him play a couple of times, most enjoyably at Leicester City when they beat Manchester United 5-3, although Falcao was utterly anonymous (Di Maria did score a worldie, but United were no match for the mighty foxes).

I digress, just a little, but that’s what wine is all about, enjoying and talking.  This ’15 vintage was a rich deep red.  It smells fruity and just a little forest-y, there’s some autumnal berries and smoky leaves and a little oaky spice.

It’s dry, but the sweet fruit gives the impression of extra sweetness.  The acidity is at the lower end of medium and the tannins are soft and smooth.  With an alcohol level nudging towards high you can certainly feel it in your mouth and it is warming, bringing out the spiciness.  The forest fruit flavour carries through well and holds its own against the alcohol, all in all giving quite some feeling of body.  It fades away leaving you ready for another smooth mouthful quite quickly.

At £9 retail and less in assorted mixed case options this is a good value choice for autumn evenings.

It comes from the Lisbon area, if Lisbon is Iberia’s nose, this comes from well up the nostril.  The romantic story behind the name and label is that it’s made in the vineyards that belonged to the Lobo family (that’s people called Lobo, not a family of wolf vignerons, sorry) and they used to care for the King’s falcons.  When he dropped by to hunt with the falcons, he ay have enjoyed a glass of this wine, though not this vintage.

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Much as I love Portugal, I’ve never really got to grips with the language.  I can have a vague stab at reading bits of Portuguese, using the remnants of my school Latin and Camino de Santiago Spanish, but my listening skills, which are always a little dodgy if the person doesn’t respond with one of the answers in the phrase book, are totally absent in Portuguese.  It’s like the spoken language bears no resemblance at all to the written one.

I do however have enough skills, combined with helpful graphic art to know that this wine translates roughly as lunatic, or person gone a little loony by the light of the silvery moon.  An interesting choice of name but as the moon has just unleashed partying and feasting in my neighbourhood as it’s signaled the end of Ramadan, I figured I’d join in with this bottle of Aluado Chardonnay ’15 from Laithwaites.

It’s a pale golden yellow colour without much in the way of legs.  It smells of peaches and apricot trees on a rainy day.  It’s dry with a medium acidity and no tannin.  The flavour was rather more intense than I’d anticipted from the smell.  The peachy, apricot flavours carry on through along with a bright and refreshing lemon zing.

The alcohol level is medium, as is the body.  The flavour lasts quite well moving through lemon zest to cool peach.  It is worth cooling, I found that the colder it was the more intense the fruit tasted.  I used a little ice sleeve, but if I was serving a crowd a bucket full of ice water would work just as well, if not quite so elegantly.

This wine comes from the Lisbon area, so it’s quite far south for such a fresh tasting wine, that must be down to he cool Atlantic breezes that make sitting outside on a pavement cafe in places like Lisbon and Porto so delightful even in the height of summer.  I do like sitting in pavement cafes in Portugal drinking wine and eating Pastel de Nata.   I’ve tried making them at home, it doesn’t work.  I’ve tried buying commercially baked ones in the supermarket, it’s not the same.  Maybe it’s time for another trip to Portugal.

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I wasn’t super excited about trying this wine.  It comes in a decidedly dull bottle.  The label looks like it was someone trying real hard to make fancy-schmancy looking wedding invitations in Microsoft Publisher having read the business card design advice in American Psycho and discovered a font that made them feel special on a tighter budget.  That shouldn’t really put me off, but it did, so there.

This Le Champ des Etoiles Chardonnay ’15 from Laithwaites is a Chardonnay from Languedoc way in the south of France that’s made in the style of a Burgundy from much further north.  That’s not an easy trick to pull off but there’s a huge price differential between the two so if you can make an even half way credible attempt at it it’s worthwhile.

It came with a cork and was a pale lemon colour, bordering on grape green.  It smelled of ripe peaches and lemon juice with something a little like cherry blossom and just a hint of yeast.  It had reasonable legs clinging to the side of the glass.  It was just dry, with a hint of residual sugar just on the tip of the tongue.  There was a medium level of acid

The taste of peaches carried through with tangy citrus, the cherry blossom disappeared, but the yeasty lees flavour just about hung in there which gave it a bit more heft than I’d expected.  There was no real hint of oak, but as it was aged in old oak casks, I didn’t expect much.  It had a medium body, the yeasty flavour boosting it up along with the 13% alcohol.

No-one is going to mistake this for a Burgundy, unless they are an American who grew up in a world where all Chardonnays from anywhere were called “White Burgundy” and often came in wonderful three bottle flaggons (it turns out “Carlo Rossi” still sells them.  I’ll have to try some on my next visit).  That said, if you accept that it’s a well priced French Chardonnay with a bit of character, then it’s a sensible buy.  Serve it quite cold, it does need some chill to take the edge of the hint of sugar.

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