Friday, 26 July 2013

An Evening of Champagne & Sparkling Wine at Oddbins

Currently, the warm weather has us searching for the cool and refreshing drink that can provide the best satisfaction while trying to cope in the heat.  Assuming that driving or heavy machinery isn't involved, minds may tend to wander towards a glass of cool beer or impure thoughts about cider.  Other minds however, will have different bubbles in mind.  So when a friend contacted me to ask if I wanted to attend a Champagne and Sparkling wine tasting event, it didn't take too much persuasion.

On the warm and balmy evening of 25 July 2013, Oddbins in Chorlton hosted a tasting of 9 different fizzes from around Europe and Australasia.  Sounds expensive doesn't it (and I haven't even told you what the wines are yet) but what if I said that to sample these beauties, it would have only cost you the same as one glass of wine (about a £5).  That is great value which ever way you look at it.

Without further ado then...................................................................................................

Prosecco Ca'Rosa (Non Vintage) - £10

First off is this light and friendly fizz from Italy.  A great wine to start because it's approachability makes it an ideal aperitif, putting it naturally at the front of the queue.  The nose delivers generous fresh grape and apple tones and while my tasting buddy, Nic (of @ofmustandmash fame) felt he could detect biscuit, this was too faint for me to care.  The taste is everything that you may expect, dry, light, fizzy with small bubbles and a fruit core of grape and overripe pear coming through towards the end.  Winner.

Torre Oria Brut Reserva (Non Vintage) - £9

Over to Spain for their contribution next; the often understated Cava.  Aged for 15 months and a short stay in oak barrels before release, this wine has an immediately noticeable, added depth to the wine before.  The barrel influence can be picked up on the nose with an almost subtle waft of smoke combined with a more textured and biscuity aroma.  Fruit comes through as cooked apple whereas the taste delivers a more fresh apple taste with a fine acidic finish. Amazing value at the price.

Jansz Rose (Non Vintage) - £15.25

Very popular during the tasting, this hails from Tasmania and is made by Yalumba who mix 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and create this wine in the traditional Champagne method.  Noticing the slight rouge tint, I stuck my nose in the glass, only to be greeted by a sweetness that is associated with red fruits.  In the end I settled on it smelling like 'Cherry Lips' sweets.  The sweetness is not lost on the taste and remains a strong presence on the borders while the great crisp character of the Chardonnay grape asserts more presence.  Very pleasing and easy to see why it was so popular; it had something for everyone.

Gusborne Estate Brut 08 - £26.50

Next, is a distinct climate and hemisphere change.  From Kent (UK), grapes are grown on limestone soil, similar to the terra firma in the Champagne region of France.  40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, and upfront this wine has great depth to the nose, very leesy and reminiscent of a good blue veined cheese.  Sweet aromatics were also picked up but were difficult to identify.  Maybe sweet liquorice or violets.  The taste is smooth and textured with a good whack of busy bubbles.  The crispness grows to present great acidity with lemon influence.  The 'Brut' element living up to it's name.

Philippe Guidon Brut (Non Vintage) - £20

The first Champagne of the night and it did not disappoint.  Fresh apple peel with pear peeking round the edges, enforced by biscuity/leesy flavours that provide depth, rather than overtly influencing the aroma.  To taste, big lively bubbles help to deliver fresh green fruit, mainly influenced by apples but the acidity and autolytic balance is superb and gives the drinker a great wholesome feel.  The aftertaste was markedly lengthy and dry.  A tasty Champers, well worthy of the price tag.

Canard Duchene Brut (Non Vintage) - £28

Staying with the Champagnes for a while, this is a larger producing house which makes it in the traditional way and once again, calls on all three Champagne grapes to exert their influence.  On the nose comes distinct dough with a sweaty (but in a good way), sulphurous edge.  Once again, good old apple provides the fruit which sits more in the background on this wine.  The taste however, turns this around and presents the sweetness of apple right at the start before immediately giving way to sharper acidity which beautifully balances the texture and taste of light dough and gives a great fresh finish.

Drappier Cuvee Exception 06 - £26

Another small Champagne house that like to keep their prices down to make their product more accessible.  Their top of the range Grande Sendree goes for the region of £42 but boasts exceptional vintage quality.  On the nose, this was lesser stated and more buttery than the Canard Duchene but comes across with a fresh clarity which helps the apple come through.  Apple and gooseberry are on the tongue and the acidity is less pronounced and more subtly balanced.  This was my favourite of the night.

Laurent Perrier Demi Sec (Non Vintage) - £39

By far the priciest Champagne of the evening, however, a good familiar and reliable name.   The nose delivers smooth mature cheese and mild burnt match. Sounds weird but these are great characteristics.  Not particularly fruit driven, mild biscuit or dough added further depth and character.  This is a wine that smells of experience.  As a demi-sec, this was noticeably off-dry and had a great petrol element to it, similar to some amazing Reislings.  The melody of different tastes provides distraction as one flavour gives way to another.  The taste is not influenced by fruit but there is a base of stewed apple detectable throughout.

Peter Lehman The Black Queen 08 - £18

The final wine of the night demanded something completely different and Oddbins certainly chose a great talking piece.  From the Barossa Valley of Australia comes this sparkling, chilled red!  Made in the same Champagne method, this is made from Shiraz grapes and the different approach certainly brought interesting flavours and split opinions.  On the nose it comes across as any typical Shiraz, with deep dark and red fruits and a slightly aromatic wood finish.  The taste is a full blown assault on the senses.  The dark fruits are lifted by the bubbles but this is by no means a light drink.  There is great depth into the dark red berries and cassis before providing a peppery finish.  This wine brought confusion to the tasting as people battled with what their brains were used to in a sparkling wine (and a Shiraz) and resulted in people deciding it wasn't for them.  On balance however, there were those of us that thought this was a great drink and happily finished off the sample.  One thing is for sure though, bring this to a party, it is guaranteed to turn heads.

Monday, 11 March 2013

M&S Negroamaro '11 & Rabl Gruner Veltliner '10

Grape:    Gruner Veltliner
Price:      £7.99
From:      M&S
Country: Austria
Region:   Kamptal-Donau
ABV:       12%

This week I searched the shelves of M&S.  Keen to avoid the usual suspects I made it my mission to find the cheapest bottles that contained the least known or less common grape varieties.  The choice became difficult in the end but having bought and sampled several bottles, I reached the decision these two were more than good enough to make the cut and get the Everyman treatment.
This Gruner Veltliner comes from the Rabl Winery which is located in what is arguably the best Gruner Veltliner producing region of Austria.  Having over 180 years experience of wine making, I was intrigued to see what the Rabl Winery could produce at this very affordable price.  The result is a very pleasing example of a mid-range 'gru-vee' which is mixed with the simple purpose of being inoffensive, enjoyable and affordable.

On the nose the label describes apple and elderflower and I couldn't agree more!  Both of the above came in equal generous measures.  The background contains minerality which reminds me of chalk but is mixed with a hint of white pepper.  Overall though, it is simple, clean and crisp.  The taste sees dry citrus fruit on the first attack with softer apple, peach and grapefruit coming through straight after.  As with the smell, elderflower is also present and provides a very slight hint towards sweetness, and combines well with the faint white pepper that can be detected at the periphery.  Crisp, unoaked and medium-bodied, this wine is very easy to drink.  The range of subtle flavours keeps the mouth entertained so the brain can get on with other tasks.  The clarity and simplicity of this wine also makes it ideal to share with friends when you want something that is pleasing to all but you don't want to be jumping about, demanding everyone's attention.

Grape:   Negroamaro
Price:     £6.99
From:     M&S
Country: Italy
Region:  Puglia
ABV:      13.5%

Negroamaro is almost exclusively grown in Puglia, down in the heel of Italy.  It is well suited to the hot climate and tends to thrive in water starved conditions.  Resistant to disease, this is a favourite of growers in the region as it grows well and produces high yields of thick skinned grapes with up to 350 individual grapes per bunch!

Powerful and versatile, this grape has followers who will compare the virtues of this grape to the popularity of Primitivo, however, in all honesty, I would put this grape in a class of it's own.  This wine is a fine example of what this grape can produce but I warn you that it may not be to everyone's liking.

When opened and decanted for a couple of hours, this wine produces dark, earthy notes which have a trace of an almost metallic smell to it.  Having asked around a bit, I am told this is described as Iodine.  The scent certainly has gravitas but isn't readily released.  Despite not being fully oaked, there are great wooden perfumes of all spice, star anise and nutmeg and the last thing to be detected is fruit, which manifests itself primarily as dark cherry.  The taste is formed around a robust and almost coarse structure with a full bodied feel.  Rather than being focused on developing the fruit, this wine maintains a different discipline which plays on spiced flavours, such as cloves, black pepper and nutmeg. This being said, however, dark and bitter cherry can be felt towards the back and last well into the aftertaste.  Acidity is high and the tannins are surprisingly tame, although they are ever present.

Having been informed this grape can open out and develop further, I decanted for 24 more hours which brought morello cherry more readily to the nose and an added layer of red fruits to the taste, although this was not overstated.  The balance of wood spices and bitter cherry were more integrated although this might have been achievable when I opened the bottle the previous day, had it have been a more ambient temperature.

This is an interesting alternative to fruit driven reds which dominate the shelves and opens up a whole new world of food pairing possibilities.  I am thinking regional pasta dishes, curry and burger but also have a hankering to try this slightly chilled with duck.

M&S have numerous stores throughout the UK as well as 300 stores worldwide.  They can also be found at

Monday, 25 February 2013

TtD Languedoc 2011 & Vinalba Reserva 2010

Grape: Grenache, Marsanne, Vermentino,
Price: £9
From: Sainsbury's
Country: France
Region: Languedoc
ABV: 13.5%

The two wines I have chosen for this review are both blends which can be argued as being the best grapes from their respective regions.  Even as a die hard fan of varietal wines, I hugely appreciate blending as a true artisan skill.  A miscalculation of a mere 5% of the wrong grape can overbalance the mix and turn the whole vat into something you wouldn't put on your chips.  A great waste of time and resources, not to mention lovely wine!

Sainsbury's have teamed up with Jean-Claude Mas of Domaines Paul Mas to help find the right blend for this Taste the Difference white.  I have been fortunate to have sampled a large selection of wines from this producer and have even reviewed one in the past.  One thing for sure is that I have yet to come across a Paul Mas wine that doesn't please.  I had high hopes before even opening the bottle but knew I was in safe hands (any rugby fans out there?)

On the nose this wine is very light-hearted with crisp lemon tinged with sweetness; almost like lemon meringue.  A very simple smell, accompanied with background floral aromatics which help to indicate further layers of structure to come, without overcomplicating.  To taste, the first attack is reasonably complex, with the awareness of a smooth texture coming across with walnut and warm butter.  Secondly, the lemon can be felt in overtones with a lining of sweetness coming from gentler citrus such as tangerine, but only in the background; this wine is very much of the dry variety.  Tertiary indications of flint or limestone can also be detected as the aftertaste develops however, it does decay a little right at the end.  Overall, a great refreshing drink with a surprising depth.  

I wouldn't hesitate giving it another try (sorry, couldn't help myself).

Grape:     Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, 
Price:       £10
From:       Sainsbury's
Country:  Argentina
Region:   Mendoza
ABV:       14.5%

Vinalba and I have a bit of a history together.  It has been a companion of mine with many a meal or late night film.  The quality in this bottle came as no surprise to me when I tried it.  In fact, the only surprise came from realising that I haven't already reviewed wines from this producer; something that I intend to rectify in the next few years.

The grapes used are three french powerhouses which are given the new world treatment of oodles more sun and a higher elevation from sea level.  Oak ageing provides further body and muscle to what is a very robust and intense, earthy red wine that commands respect, and by the look of the award insignia in the top right corner, is getting it!

Cassis, dark cherry and raisins come across foremost in a strong fusion of red and dark fruits which are difficult to isolate and identify in their entirety as there appears to be many.  Almost in tandem is strong, resinous tones of wood, perhaps cedar or pine, followed by a fistful of earth which is quite easily detectable at the periphery.  To taste, it is full bodied with a rigid structure.  Strong and firm tannins grab for attention immediately before giving over to blackberry, black currant and other dark bramble fruits.  Ever present in the background is an earth or soil impression that further exacerbates the masculinity of the wine.  The aftertaste is powerful with dark chocolate becoming apparent and the firm structure and tannins holding well for 10-15 seconds after swallowing.

This wine is excellent quality and the fortitude immediately lends itself to being a wine that would go well with food.  Anything that walks on four legs would be a good place to start.

Sainsbury's have numerous stores throughout the UK and can also be found online at

Monday, 11 February 2013

Mirambelo 2010 & Biblos Falanghina 2011

Grape:     Kotsifali, Mandilaria
Price:       £9.25
From:       Oddbins
Country:  Crete
Region:    Peza
ABV:         13%

This week I am happy to review two outstanding wines that have come from Oddbins.  A large leap away from the more common grapes, these two bottles contain varieties that are less known, however, especially in the case of the white wine, do have a fairly accessible presence in the market place.  I must confess that the grapes that make up this week's red were previously completely unknown to me and I had to do some digging to find out more about them.  All you need to do though is become inspired by my review (hopefully) then go out and buy the wine.  I guarantee, you will enjoy them.

Mirambelo is made from a blend of Kotsifali and Mandilaria which is Crete's indigenous version of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot or Marsanne/Roussanne.  Two grapes that form a symbiotic relationship which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Kotsifali brings soft fruit, alcohol and spices, however, isn't well structured and the colour is difficult to obtain from the skins.  Mandilaria fills these gaps by adding texture and tannins but isn't very alcoholic and is often too harsh to drink as a varietal.  Together however, these bed fellows create a wine that produces rich, intense flavours that are difficult to come by at this price.

On the nose the Mirambelo readily gives deep lungfuls of dark red fruit to anyone happy to stick their nose into the glass.  Plum, black cherry and blackberry are easy to pick out.  Ground black pepper and aniseed are apparent in the periphery.  To taste, the wine delivers everything expected.  Ardent red fruits of strawberries, ripened plums, damson and blackberry are first on the palate with a strong alcohol feel.  The tannins are strong but balanced and permissive enough to allow the fruit to remain very much the centre of attention.  The aftertaste on this full bodied red is surprisingly short lived although the tannins do hang on to entertain the tongue and gums for a while longer.  A truly awesome wine that knocks the pants off the competition.

Grape:             Falanghina (Beneventana)
Price:               £11
From:               Oddbins
Country:          Italy
Region:            Molise
ABV:                13%

In terms of slightly different, this white fits right in with me.    The back story found on Oddbins' web page speaks of vampires who found their way to the shores of Italy across Europe before the Pope could bless the sea in an attempt to keep them out .  It was left to the locals to defend themselves and the people of Molise were apparently very adept at making steaks (in Latin falangae) which they promptly used on their unwanted visitors.  When the Lost Boys had been dealt with, the steaks were used to support the local vines.  The name Falanghina is a tip of the hat to those steaks of Molise.  True or not, I don't care but I do note this wine takes no chances and is named after the holy book itself.

On the nose the first to come are gentle but pronounced apricots, nectarine and orange with a slight reference to more zesty citrus.  Secondary smells include a very faint grassy edge which blends very well with an equally faint mineral texture, giving the fruit a backbone.  On the palate the fruit comes to the fore but brings a distinct salinity.  The taste is medium bodied crisp and the acid and salt do contrast with each other but have a great balance which leads to a pleasing taste.  The salt remains well into the aftertaste, which is fairly short.  This is an impressive dry alternative and the uncommon saltiness helps to provide a greatly satisfying mouth feel.

Oddbins have 35 stores throughout the UK, concentrated in London and the Scottish cities.  Manchester is served by their own store in Chorlton.  You can also find Oddbins on line at

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Amanti del Vino Primitivo '10 & Marques de Caceres Viura '11

Grape:             Primitivo
Price:               £8
From:               Portland Wines
Country:          Italy
Region:            Puglia
ABV:                13%

A common trait of the wino is the never ending desire to find the new, different and exciting.  When someone recommends something that you haven't tried before and they do it with such gusto, there hardly seems any reason to knock the suggestion back.  The two I chose this week are previous recommendations given to me and have been on a list that seems to get longer, no matter the effort to shorten it!

First up is this typically Italian Primitivo, an ancient Italian grape with origins in Puglia, the same region that this wine was produced.  The Primitivo grape is also known as Zinfandel across the Atlantic (as well as several other names) and while examples of wine from both side of the pond are high in alcohol and acidity, the latter tends to be more evident in the actual drinking of Primitivo and is something that makes it recognisable as a European wine, whereas a Zinfandel from California, for example, will have the same attributes but the taste will be consumed with bursting, powerful red fruits throughout.  Once again, a great example of how environment, micro-climate, or dare I say....'terrior' affects the same grape (I feel as though I just crossed a line).

On the nose this red is very fruit driven with strong tones of overripe blackberry, cherry and strawberry.  A distinct lack of wood or any accompanying spices was disarming, however, the fruit does more than enough to keep one interested.  On the palate, the first attack is surprisingly mellow but retains all the fruit described above.  Similarly to the smell, the taste is all about the red fruits and the absence of other influences helps to concentrate the taste buds.  The taste develops quickly and finishes with a slightly sour cherry finish which is sometimes quite notable in Italian wines.  Medium bodied and high in acidity, this wine provides a welcome difference to oaky reds and the level of acidity leads me to consider this may be a good wine to try slightly chilled.

Grape:        Viura
Price:          £8
From:          Portland Wines
Country:     Spain
Region:       Rioja
ABV:           12.5%

This week's white is made from the Viura grape and is more commonly known as White Rioja.  Up until the 1980's it was generally made by barrel fermentation which added a layer of complexity and structure which provided flavours of toast, dough and vanilla which was derived from the oak in the cask.  At some point when neon colours were in fashion and Kelly LeBrock from Weird Science was all men could think about, tastes shifted and the Spanish market responded by leaving out the barrel ageing to create a lighter, drier wine which could be produced in higher quantities because of a better yield. Maybe a move to compete with the growing popularity of Chardonnay at the time.

This wine is very clean on the nose with crisp and pronounced sharp citrus notes, alongside a discrete wet granite influence.  Both myself and Mrs Everyman believed we also caught telltale signs of lees, which has a slightly buttery edge, although this was incredibly faint.
The taste is intensely refreshing with the first hit going to acuate lemon citrus which underlines the high acidity and dryness.  Served chilled, this sensation remains consistent throughout and well into the lengthy aftertaste.  This winemaker has a consistent high quality approach to all their wines and this is no exception.  If you close your eyes and squint a little before taking a sip, you can almost imagine yourself sat in the sunshine.

Portland Wines have several stores in the South Manchester/Cheshire area and can be found at

Monday, 14 January 2013

Chateau de Targe 2012 & Marquis de Pennautier 2010

Grape:         Cabernet Franc
Price:           £6.66 (on offer)
From:           Majestic Wines
Country:      France
Region:       Saumur-Champigny, Loire
ABV:            13%

This bevvy of beauties comes from Majestic Wines and is currently in their 'Bargain Hunt' promotion.  Both normally priced at around a tenner, this current push sees the price of both bottles plunge to ridiculously low prices, especially considering the quality of the wine inside (No, I'm not on commission, although maybe I should be. Hint hint).

First up is this Cabernet Franc that claims it's home in the Loire Valley, even though it is grown throughout Bordeaux and beyond.  Cabernet Franc is a new grape to get the Everyman treatment, however, the grape itself is really, really old.  The parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape has long since been associated with great quality wines from the Loire Valley, which stretches horizontally across France from the Atlantic, just below Brittany to the South West of Paris.  It also just so happens to be where I am going on my jollies this year!

Bright ruby in colour, even after 3 years behind cork, the nose is captured by fresh and youthful red fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries.  Not heavy at all, the smell is complimented by faint tones of cedar wood along with an indistinct sweetness that reminds me of chocolate or vanilla.

On the palate it is warm, smooth and medium bodied with a reasonably high acidity that helps to create a wine of lighter proportions, but has the gravitas of a good red wine with 'glugability' (is that a word? is now).  Tannins are present throughout and are more prevalent on the back end and aftertaste, and help to provide a good platform for the dying flavours of spice.  Overall, well worth buying, especially at current prices but I would also look out for it after the promotion.

Grape:       Chardonnay
Price:         £6.66 (on offer)
From:         Majestic Wines
Country:    France
Region:      Languedoc-Roussillon
ABV:           13.5%

This wine is a Chardonnay from the south of France.  As mentioned in a previous review, this versatile grape reflects the soils it is grown in and is influenced by the general temperature as the grapes ripen.  To quote Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz in their joint book, ...capable of extreme mediocrity and regal splendour...a poignant quote which sums up all that is great, and not so great about this grape.

This particular bottle certainly errs towards the latter description and displays wonderful fragrant tones of peach and nectarine, combined with a rich and leesy texture which excites the senses and raises expectations of the taste.  Lastly, I did track some more herbaceous or grassy notes, however, these were very faint and only became more noticable as the wine slowly climbed towards a more ambient temperature.

On the palate, this wine is light and friendly with a great balance between acidity and the added structure that comes from oak ageing and stirring the lees (the remaining bits left after pressing) during fermentation.  The main attack belongs to white stone fruit and remains so throughout the length of the taste.  The aftertaste is a little quiet but provides a gentle tingle on the lips and a nod towards ground white pepper before dissappearing under the radar again.  The combination of the fruit along with the crisp acidity and more complex background provide a very drinkable wine with a fantastic attitude. 

Majestic have numerous stores throughout the UK and have extended their reach into France.  
Offering a home delivery service also, Majestic can be found at

Monday, 7 January 2013

d'Arenberg 'The Money Spider' Roussanne 2010

Grape:     Roussanne
Price:       £14.50
From:       Spirited Wines
Country:  Australia
Region:    McLaren Vale
ABV:         13.2% 

This week's choice is really going to test the resolution of you who are detoxing, dieting, cutting down, eliminating or doing something that deprives you of something you like....that is, of course if you are still on the straight and narrow and haven't strayed already! 

For those of you not bothering or yet to start, I have a real treat in store.

Last year's review of Roussanne opened my eyes to this truly wonderful grape and I have been in pursuit of other excellent examples ever since.  The Money Spider has been suggested several times and people have been only too happy to provide a brief description which always had the sound, 'Mmmm' lodged somewhere in the conversation.  General opinion certainly indicates the Money Spider is the archetypal example of Roussanne and even looking this grape up on Wikipedia will show you a picture of this bottle.

It wasn't until a recent chance encounter that I found this wine, however, I have come across other d'Arenberg wines which have been lovingly consumed.  The Laughing Magpie, the Hermit Crab, the Custodian, the Dead Arm and the Galvo Garage to name but a few; each bottle with an intriguing name and displaying the distinctive diagonal red stripe which mirrors the d'Arenberg coat of arms.

The nose is intense with a nutty, buttery texture, followed by cream and Riesling type indications of petroleum.  To taste, this wine has elegance and power and the intensity of the nose is perfectly matched on the palate.  Subtle layers of honeysuckle and cooked apple are also detectable with a change to fresh pear in the long, clean aftertaste.  This is a well pronounced, medium bodied wine that balances acidity with a richness of flavours.  Surprisingly complex in one so relatively young but a truly awesome and memorable drink.

Spirited Wines have a number of stores around the UK and can also be found on line at