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+

Vinya Carles Priorat Crianza 2007

With the holiday season upon us LIDL tends to come up with the odd special, whether it's frozen moose meat, entire geese, 3-bird roasts or windshield-wiper fluid, it's usually good value. The wine is no exception.

Priorat has a reputation for upmarket, complex wines. I've never seen one less than £12, which in itself is arguably good value for a quality wine. To see one for £5.99 is intriguing to say the least.

The wine itself is not bad at all. Not a world-beater, but pretty good. Depth, complexity, and fruit were all there. The funny thing with these LIDL wines is you're expecting them to be terrible, and they're not. Some of them actually do reflect their price tag, but this certainly doesn't. My local LIDL has sold out of this already, but if yours hasn't I suggest you snap some up.

Vinya Carles
Priorat Crianza 2007
Catalonia, Spain

Les Celliers de Saint-Jean Beaujolais Primeur 2011

I've been meaning to try Beaujolais Nouveau for awhile now, but I've never made it a priority. Beaujolais isn't my favourite wine, as the concept of light, fresh, gluggy wine for me is satisfied by whites and rose wines. I'm also not a fan of young reds. However, since LIDL is my main supermarket these days and they had a big display of this wine it was time to give it a try.

Huge Ribena, raspberry nose, and no length whatsoever to speak of. Initially this was going to be resigned to the rubbish bin. However after a few sips it grew on me. Its essence of fruity freshness and drinkability was outstanding, and this is the whole point of this wine. I get it now.

By the end of the bottle we were wishing we had more, and I regretted not going for the 2 for £9 deal.

Les Celliers de Saint-Jean
Beaujolais Primeur 2011
Burgundy, France
£4.99 (2 for £9)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fetzer Shiraz 2009

Ages ago I heard somewhere that this wine was good. I can't remember where, and I have been meaning to try it ever since. It's not a 'great' wine, but a potential bargain.

I find it very difficult to enjoy red wine in this hot weather (it's 25C in my house at the moment), so it's not in optimal conditions that I try this. But try it I did.

It's OK. Very strong nose of red berries, plus hot alcohol (although that might have something to so with the heat). Interesting chocolate notes too. All in all not bad for the money.

For those that are interested, Fetzer is an organic winery (the largest in California), they power their operation with 100% green energy and they employ a number of other 'green' practices.

Shiraz 2009
California, USA
£5.69 (with 25% off)
Waitrose Wine Direct

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Awatere Valley Riesling 2010

Apologies to my readers (if I have any left) for the long absence . Personal circumstances have necessitated it. I've moved my family twice in the last year and we've ended up in a lovely house with no good wine shops around. Also, I don't need to tell anybody about the expense involved with buying and renovating a house, and buying good wine just couldn't be justified.

However I'm trying to get back off the wagon so to speak, and this is a good one to start with. I've always been a fan of New Zealand Riesling and when we did a recent Sainsbury's online order I saw this on offer.

I wouldn't say it's a classic but it's certainly enjoyable. It's a young wine (2010) so it doesn't have any of those secondary flavours that we Riesling geeks love. It's very fresh and has plenty of acidity, almost too much, but also some pleasant honey character. I would like to see what it would be like after a couple of years of bottle age when the acidity is tamed and some secondary flavour sets in. Maybe one for the cellar?

At £9 it may seem steep, but I got it on offer for a couple of pounds less (can't remember the price exactly). If it evolves well it's a bargain.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Awatere Valley Riesling 2010
Marlborough, New Zealand

Monday, June 6, 2011

Virgin Wines tasting

Another press tasting to report. This time it was one put on by Virgin Wines, who have the tag line ‘Life’s too short for boring wines’. So are their wines exciting or is the wine drinker's life too short to order from Virgin?

The tasting was very friendly and informal, with plenty of time to mull over the wines on offer. There were 40 odd wines on parade and they were grouped by recent special offers, featured producers (although the latter do not seem to be on the website yet) as well as wines featured in case selections, such as ‘Discovery Club’, which is designed to introduce members to ‘off the beaten track wines’.

First thing to say is that there was a nice range of wines on offer and the producers featured made a refreshing change from standard supermarket selections. Of the marketing promotions the Can Rafols Gran Caus 2001 looks amazing value at the offer price of £9.99 (even at £19.99 full price) and the Zinio Garnacha Rioja 2009 was a very nice young wine, full of fruit (offer price £8.75). However, the 2009 Chateau des Cedres Bordeaux rouge (offer price £8.99) did little for me and just reinforced my belief that cheap Bordeaux seldom works (although at £13.99 at full price this is getting to mid-range).

Of the featured wines, I was impressed by the reds from De Martino, especially the single-vineyard offerings of La Aguada 2008 and La Cruces 2007 (both £17.99). While a little more pricy these were packed full of ripe fruit with well integrated toasty oak. I was less overwhelmed by the 2011 De Martino Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99) but there were a few note-worthy Sauvignon Blancs on offer from Levin Winery of Loire: an entry level wine at £11.99 that was very enjoyable with unusual fruit flavours, and their ‘Mr L’ which, while appealing, was a little steep at £23.99. The Levin Rosé 2009 (£11.99) was blackcurranty and very refreshing but the Madame L Gamay 2009 seemed very overpriced at £23.99.

To me though the stand out was the selection of German Rieslings. These were from Losen-Bockstanz and Ulrich Langguth, both of the Mosel. There was a good Eiswine from the latter (not cheap at £29.99) and some well priced Spätlese (Wittlicher Lay and Wittlicher Portnersberg 2009s) from the former (£9.99). A 2003 Riesling Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpfchen (£15.99) from Ulrich Langguth had fantastic petrol notes. Also good was the Langguth dry Spätlese Enricher Ellergrub 2007 at £14.99.

A bit more hit and miss was the Discovery Club (£79.99 a case) selection. Like so many of these mixed cases available there were one or two good wines, but bulked out with some far from exciting offerings. In the Discovery Club case most were rather unexciting, but at £6.66 a bottle maybe that’s all you can expect. The El Primer Picado 2009 stood out with plum and well integrated oak and the Carnival Padthaway red Blend 2008 was decent. The First Class Discovery Club case (£99.99 a case) certainly had better wines and surprised me with a decent mid-price Bordeaux in the shape of Chateau Roc de Pellebouc. The Vina Leyda Sauvignon Gris was also very appealing and had a wonderful nose.

Overall I think there are some good wines on offer here, although there are some that disappoint. I’d certainly give the wines I mention a go, and as long as you avoid a few overpriced and average offerings, Virgin Wines are certainly worth a close look.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Message in a Bottle – Italian wine tasting

Tim and I recently managed to find ourselves at this press tasting of Italian wines put on by Thompson International Marketing. We tasted through a range of some 16 producers. The emphasis was on red, and while Prosecco and some still white were also on offer, I focus most of my attention below on the red wines.

I only note the producers that seemed to stand out but the standard was very high overall. From Lombardy there were good wines from Cascina La Pertica and Guido Berlucchi and co. These producers were working with indigenous Italian varieties as well as with Bordeaux-style blends with the Caccia al Piano Bulgheri Superiore DOC 2006 standing out. Also good was a 2008 Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend from Villa Sandi of Veneto.

Tuscany was extremely well represented (perhaps at the expense of other regions). A Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2009 from Casanova Di Neri (€30) was just wonderful, beautifully integrated and with clean fruit. Of the two Brunello di Montalcino’s from this producer the 2005 (Tenuta Nuova 2005 - €60) was excellent but too young to appreciate and the 2004 (Cerretalto 2004 €90) was if anything too overcooked for me. The Rosso was far more drinkable. Castellare Di Castellina had two good wines, the Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot blend Rocca di Frassinello IGT 2007 and the 100% Sangiovese I Sodi di San Niccolo IGT 2006. These were tannic wines though so a bit difficult to approach. An unusual blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese (Liberta Toscana IGT 2009) by Fattoria I Collazzi was delicious and a great price at €4. The same producers ‘Super Tuscan’ (Collazzi Toscana IGT 2007) was intense and interesting.

It was interesting to find out more about the DOC of Bolgheri which seems to have been set up to allow producers to experiment with Cabernet Sauvignon or blends centred on non-Italian varietals and still stay in the DOC system. There were some nice wines from this area by Podere Sapaio. The Sapaio 2007 was especially interesting, with loads of fiery cedar and fruit. Bit pricey at €30 but this is Super Tuscan territory. I was very impressed with the San Fabiano Calcinaia producer, and also by Bruni, who had a great value blend in their Marteto Morellino Di Scansano DOCG 2009 at €6. Their Perlaia Vermentino Maremma Toscana IGT 2009 (€12) was also good.

So, to sum up, there were some fantastic wines on show here, with some good value options as well as high end DOCGs and Super Tuscans. The only issue really is just how available these wines will be in the UK. Many of them were smaller producers and the tasting did seem to be targeting the restaurant trade in particular. If anyone comes across any of these producers elsewhere then do let me know! In any case I would certainly suggest keeping an eye out for the ones I mention above.