Sunday, December 4, 2011

Virgin Wines Winter Press Tasting 2011

I'm always curious about 'wine club' wines. Laithwaites, Virgin, Naked Wines, Sunday Times Wine club, etc. They are a gateway for people to get into wine. They offer mixed cases of wines to uninformed people at a reasonable price (that sounds snobbish but I mean that in a good way - we need it). However, often the wines themselves aren't so great, despite the marketing hype behind them. Sure, they are not necessarily a rip-off, but you can usually do better once you accumulate your own knowledge and can make informed choices.

The wines themselves at this Virgin tasting are best described as 'safe'. They are definitely a step up from say, a Laithwaites-driven wine club introductory case, which from my own experience is rubbish (although to be fair they do offer good wines as well if you seek them out). There weren't many duds, and there was also a couple of pleasant surprises. The individual bottle prices I think are a bit steep, but as part of a mixed case they are reasonable. As a result I've left the prices out, but they are mostly in the £9-12 range, with the odd exception.

There seemed to be heavy emphasis on Spain, Australia, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. Not a criticism - they just seem to be catering to popular taste and good value.

Tom and I compared notes, and here's what we found. We didn't both taste all the wines, but between us we had them all covered.

Thanks to Louise for being such a gracious host.

Discovery Club Festive Selection

This is an introductory 'festive' case. Tom didn't get a chance to taste these, so here are my thoughts:

Indomita Arte Reserve Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Fresh, good acidic bite, no dodgy lingering aftertaste (which I find can happen with Chilean SB). 3/5

Transit of Venus Sauvignon Grenache Roussanne 2010. Fresh but slightly muted flavour. Good if you like your Sauvignon Blanc with a bit more subtlety. Interesting blend. 3/5

The Lost Arrow Reserve Western Australian Chardonnay 2010. Fresh and good acidity, would be a great food wine. 3/5

Pary Dumont Viognier 2010. Slightly peachy, but again a bit muted, although proper Viognier character. 3/5

Indomita Reserve Casablanca Pinot Noir 2011. I quite liked this - a surprise for me as I usually don't like new world Pinot Noir. Fresh, fruity, a bit of tannic grip. And best of all no dirt/straw character. 3.5/5

Star & Vine Lodi Shiraz 2010. California Shiraz that for me paralleled the Chilean style, which I like. However if seemed a bit one-dimensional. 2.5/5

Don Diego Escolano Reserve 2007. Back to a more traditional and reserved style with this Spanish red. Good. 3/5

Ravensthorpe Padthaway Shiraz Grenache 2008. I thought this was rather plonkish. 2/5

First Class Discovery Club Festive Selection

This is supposedly a classier version of the Discovery Club Festive Selection. The wines are a pound or two more. Both Tom and I tried these, so I'm just going to offer a Siskel & Ebert-style thumbs up / thumbs down (a thumbs up being '+' and a thumbs down being '-').

Ralio Gillo 2010. Nice characterful Italian white. I've been looking for an Italian white like this for a long time. Tim+

Atalaya do Mar Gordello 2010. Similar to previous, but the Spanish version. Tim+ Tom+

Red Ocean Reserve Barrel Chardonnay 2011. Disappointing lack of oaky, butter character (which is apparently intentional). Not my thing. Tim- Tom-

Coteau Chatrie Vouvary Demi-Sec 2010. Honey sweetness balanced by good acidity.Tim+ Tom+

Artazuri Garnacha 2010. Another pleasant surprise. Racy, fruity, almost fizzy. Could have glugged it all evening. Not Tom's thing though. Tim+ Tom-

Desert and Dunes Reserve Shiraz 2011. Doesn't stand out. Pretty boring Aussie Shiraz. Tim- Tom-

'The Big Mo' Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009. Spicy oaky vanilla Shiraz. Tim- Tom+

Stars of Tomorrow

This is a selection of 'test' wines that Virgin would like to sell, but are awaiting the response of the consumer before permanently adding them to their catalogue. More interesting wines for sure, although I think they could do better in terms of quality/price.

Soaring Kite Viognier Riesling 2007. Promising, intriguing blend. Has bottle-age Riesling character (petrol), but finish is fairly flat. Past its best? Tim- Tom-

Castell del Remel Blanc Planell Costers del Segre 2010. I though this was competent. Fresh, tart and restrained. Tim+ Tom-

Domaine les Grands Presbyteres Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2009. I liked this - crisp and refreshing, and no dodgy yeasty aftertaste like you get with some of these Muscadets. Tim+

Nico 'The Blend' Sauvignon Blanc 2009. Some stony and sour character in this South African Sauvignon Blanc. Interesting take on this grape. Tim+

De Martino 347 Limari Chardonnay 2010. A lot of unoaked Chardonnay at this tasting. I thought that bugbear was behind us? Well made but not my thing. Tim+

Domaine d'Aiguillon Viognier 2010. Perfectly safe, drinkable white. Tim+

Domaine Andre Brunel Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2010. Spicy, balanced but maybe a bit over-oaked. Tim+ Tom+

The Grid Triple Barrel Shiraz Private Bin 2009. Over-oaked, poor fruit character. Tim- Tom-

Novas Winemakers Selection Casablanca Syrah 2008. Typical Chilean dark chocolate notes. Fairly full-on. I like it but Tom doesn't. Tim+ Tom-

Mas Oller Blau 2009. Good fruit and oak. Tim+ Tom+

Finca Laderas Del Espiagno 2009. Fruity but I found it boring. Tim- Tom+

Wilson Family Vineyard Comald Victorian Merlot Cabernet Shiraz 2010. Well-done Bordeaux blend (with Aussie Shiraz twist). Tim+ Tom+

Top 12 All Star Wines

Customer Favourites. It was interesting to compare our thoughts to those of Virgin's customers. The result is a mixed bag.

Les Audrelles Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Didn't get past Tom. Tom-

Oroura Station Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Sour apple, shellfish, scallop and crab character? Um...ok. Wish I had tried it now. Tom+

Pax Verbatim roackwater Fountain Viognier 2009. One dimensional. Tom-

Coltbridge Reserve High Eden Valley Chardonnay 2010. Minerally unoaked Chardonnay. Again, not my thing but well made. Tim- Tom+

Vina Leyda Gewurtztraminer Reserva 2010. I felt this had poor Gewurtz character. A let-down. Tim- Tom-

Domaine Clos de Chevigne St. Veran 2007. Syrupy, unpleasant. Tom-

Pasion de Bobal 2009. Hot-climate baked character. Good depth and tannic grip makes up for it. Tim+ Tom+

Arva Vitis Cuvee del Pago 2006. I felt it had an unpleasant rubbery nose, but had depth and a length finish. Tim- Tom+

The Comeback Kid McLaren Vale Shiraz Cabernet Merlot 2008. Tom thought it was a 'Coca-Cola' wine, but I liked it for what it was - a rich, fruity, full-on slow sipper. Tim+ Tom-

The First Chapter Shiraz Viognier 2010. Fruity and restrained. Good. Tim+ Tom+

Dauvergne Ranvier Costieres de Nimes 2010. Hands down the worst wine of the tasting. Complete plonk. Terrible. Tim- Tom-

Perez Cruz Winemaker's Selection 2009. Good, as the price should indicate. Well made, balanced and classy. Tim+ Tom+


  1. Virgin Wines was set up as Orgasmic Wines in 1999. It became Virgin Wines in 2000 when Virgin bought into the business. The company was sold to Direct Wines in 2005, although the Virgin brand and distinctive positioning were very much retained.

  2. We hold frequent wine tasting events as we believe it is a great opportunity for people to try something new and experiment, after all, isn't that what drinking wine is all about? Please feel free to visit our website at

  3. I think I'll give some of these a try, thanks for sharing this.

  4. It's interesting that you mention that are only catering to popular taste wines.

    I find by promoting a not so common selection of wine casing they seem to sell better because of the need to want to experiement with wines.

    I mean that's what any good wine enthusiast would do.