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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Three New World Wines for Christmas

Three bold, characterful wines for Christmas from Sainsbury's, Majestic and Waitrose

If you want to make an oenological statement this Christmas, these three New World wines are a good place to start; with more sunshine, ripeness and stuff going on generally, they will definitely get a party started - assuming that's what you want to do:

Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Sainsbury’s £11.99
Lots of ripe cherry, cassis, cedar, and smoky tar; big, dense and concentrated, this is a turbo-charged, 80s power suit of a wine - complete with filofax, house-brick mobile phone and electro-funk soundtrack.

Match with plain roast beef or lamb; don't be afraid to decant for several hours.

The Ned Noble Sauvignon Blanc £12.99, Majestic (Mix and Match 2 bottles save 33% - £8.65)
Golden, viscous nectar with a pungently kiwi nose; lusciously sweet apricot, honeysuckle and refreshing exotic fruits combine with floral honey.

Match with crème brûlée or lemon torte and Chantilly cream.

Old Boys 21 Years (50cl) NV Waitrose £21
Unusual fortified Australian tawny, aged for 21 years in barrel. Neither a port, nor a sherry, nor a Madeira, but resembling a curious blend of all three, with roasted nuts and sweet spices, treacle-and-toffee, raisins and dried red berries with a fresh, savoury complexity.

Match with Christmas pudding or mince pies and brandy butter.

Provided for review.

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Two Villa Maria Reds

Two Private Bin reds from New Zealand's Villa Maria

New Zealand winery Villa Maria produces well-made reliable wines with a New-World clean-ripeness and a cool-climate freshness. They are always well-balanced and drinkable.

But they rarely make a wine enthusiast's heart beat faster - they are as safe, reliable and unexciting as a Volvo, a bit pipe-and-slippers.

These two wines would be safe options if you have a mixed audience of people to entertain and want something of above average quality, or if you want to make a first foray into New Zealand wine and are looking for an easy start point with nothing strange or challenging.

There's nothing not to like here.

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2013, £12.99 (Asda, Budgens, Co-op, Morrisons, Taurus Wines, Vino’s Edinburgh. Hailsham Cellars, Matthew Clark, www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk)

Sweet ripe red fruits and plums, very Burgundian nose with mushrooms and woodsy undergrowth and spice with a touch of toasty oak. Clean and fresh; well put-together. Very pleasant.

Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, £12.99 (Majestic, Morrisons, Globe Wines, Matthew Clark, www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk

A Bordeaux blend, but in a much riper, bigger and more expressive style - fruit-forward, lots of sweet, ripe dark cherry and plum; very clean and well-made with supple tannins.

Provided for review.

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Monday, 8 December 2014

So You Want to Be a Blog 'n' Roll Star

So you want to be a rock'n'roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
And take some time and learn how to play
And when your hair's combed right and your pants fit tight
It's gonna be all right.

- The Byrds, So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star (1967)

Over the years, a few blogging friends have asked if they could be considered wine writers; here, for what it's worth, are my general views on what takes an enthusiastic consumer-with-a-blog across the line to being a self-published wine writer.

- output of at least 300 words per week / 1,000 per month; this is one short article a week or one feature-length piece per month
- a mixture of well-researched fact and authoritative, insightful opinion; wine writing is more than just tasting notes and scores. For the purpose of blogging, I view the arithmetic scoring of wines as both unnecessary and insufficient; there should be some insight at least and ideally occasional thought-leadership.
- a minimum of 20,000 words on a blog and one year of writing; this simply demonstrates a commitment over time to writing regularly, more than just a burst of initial enthusiasm.
- evidence of some original thinking; this can be informative or entertaining, but as noted previously, it needs to be more than just tasting notes, scores and back-of-the-label blurb.
- evidence of a broad and engaged audience (comments on blogs / disqus / Twitter / FB, likes and RTs - from more than just a few mates); do all the other things right and, if you are writing on the internet, this should follow. Being part of an online community of wine commentators will sharpen your thinking, deepen your knowledge and provide stimuli for future articles.

Other things that typically come with the territory but to me are not per se indicative of being a wine writer are attendance at trade events, regular samples / press trips and a profile amongst the wine PR community.

And it is, of course, entirely possible to be an authoritative wine writer without any of those.

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On Being a Wine Writer vs A Writer Who Likes Wine‏

Main image credit: http://i.models.com/i/db/2014/1/223584/223584-800w.jpg

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hungarian Wines at Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas Party

Hungarian wines at the Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas party

Though elusive and hard to define, this [Hungarian] national character exists without visible physical racial characteristics. Magyars do not belong to any particular race, they do not present any noticeable religious, political or social conformity – in fact, the very diversity in these fields seems to be one of the typical characteristics of this people.
The definition of their national ‘ethos" is therefore a very complex task. For one thing, Hungarians are usually too emotional to be able to form impartial judgments of themselves while foreigners are rarely familiar enough with their culture and history to form valid conclusions.
- "A Way of Life": HungarianHistory.com
Despite my many visits to Magyarország, Hungary has always remained to me an impenetrable place, a land that I have only ever travelled through rather than ever feeling fully at home.
Descended from a people of Central Asian origin, adrift in a sea of Slavs, the lilting language full of quaint vowels is simultaneously reassuring and opaque, the culture historically and geographically remote, the topography and landscape of the Carpathian Basin indistinct.
If the Austrians are the missing link between the precise, Teutonic Prussians and the dolce vita of the Italian outdoor lifestyle, then the Hungarians are the other side of the same coin.
Like their grander, more neurotic Imperial cousins up the road in Bécs, the Hungarians both pay a Northern European lip-service to the system of rules yet have a simultaneous Southern disregard for it; Budapest is no less a place of shady business deals than Vienna.
Yet Hungary's markedly southern hedonism lives a low-lying, landlocked and continental, rather than Mediterranean, lifestyle; Budapest is a bewildering mix of imperial boulevards and coffee houses, backstreet pavement cafes, beer halls and hearty food eaten out of doors.
Perhaps it was the wide-ranging ambition of this tasting that hindered a deeper understanding.
Perhaps modern Hungary, after 50 years of Communism, followed by freedom and EU accession is still finding its way oenologically.
Or perhaps the Hungarians simply saw no pressing need for order, focus and structure in what was essentially more of a celebratory event.
For I did not come away with the ordered and structured overall impression of Hungary's wines that I had hoped for.
Taken individually, they were as technically well-made and fault free as I remember them from my many encounters.
But with so many regions, grapes and styles represented, I gained only a limited impression of what contemporary Hungarian wines are all about.
However, key shared features were a precise, clean modernity, a subtle elegance and plenty of fruit expression; like an extended family gathering, there were common traits, but no overall defining feature.

The original fizz, Champagne, was developed as a way of making an unpalatable wine drinkable; that is, the process does more than merely add bubbles.
The various fizzes here were elegant enough, but somehow unexciting; they felt like adequate wines with bubbles added.
Here was the greatest diversity of styles: indigenous and international grapes, varietal wines and blends, various oaking and lees-aging regimes.
All technically well-made, all ripe with good fruit - but little to make the heart beat faster.
With plenty of international varieties and the judicious use of oak, the reds were recognisably influenced by Bordeaux and the Rhone.
One producer truly stood out - Bock's wines were elegant, adept and harmonious. Takler, managed by Bock, had a similar, only slightly lesser, feel; Gal Tibor's wines were supremely elegant; St Andrea Merengő Egri Bikavér superior 2009 had a Rhone-esque spicy earthiness.
Pre-dating Sauternes, the sweet wines of Tokaji in Hungary's north east, are its legendary calling card and only Champagne has spawned as many anedcotes.
It is made into some of the greatest dessert wines in the world by a combination of noble rot, high-altitude vineyards on volcanic soils and a unique production method of adding puttonyos of aszu grapes to a base wine.
The best here (Barta, Beres, Dobogo, Patricius) were intense, powerful and athletic, yet married to ballerina-esque lightness and freshness.

Image credits: Zsolt Szentirmai
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Friday, 5 December 2014

Four Ports from Marks & Spencer

A gift-pack of four ports from Marks & Spencer

Four miniatures hastily converted into a basic gift set - not the most lavish of presents, and not especially generous portions either.

But it's only £10 and the wines themselves are not bad at all, so at least the money's gone on the right stuff:

Tawny Reserve Port by far the most interesting wine here; translucent brick red with red fruits, spice, pepper and aromatic eucalyptus. Mellow, complex palate - precise and powerful yet deft and fresh, a real class act.

2009 Late Bottled Vintage Port dark purple, with a powerful and complex nose; lots of sweet red and dark berry fruit, pepperiness, freshness and spice. Ripe and assertive yet assured.

Finest Reserve Port ripe fruits, eucalyptus and pepper; sweet yet fresh - classic port profile.

Fine Ruby Port theoretically the most basic style here, but this is balanced, adept and quite sophisticated. Nothing basic here at all.

£10 from Marks & Spencer; provided for review.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Four Christmas Wines From The Co-op

Four wines for Christmas from the Co-op

Christmas is a time of giving so, to share around the general goodwill to all men, get some wines from the Co-op.

Here are four great wines that will see you through any festive celebrations - if you're quick, you'll have time to stock up on them at reduced prices:

Fizz - The Co-operative Prosecco (£9.99 - reduced to £6.99 until Jan 3, 2015)
For a Christmas Day aperitif, Boxing Day pick-me-up or New Year's Eve celebration, this Prosecco is perfect. Elegant and fresh, precise and crisp, it shows ripe orchard fruits of apple, pear and white peach with a touch of leesy-almondiness.

The Main Event - Château Sénéjac 2009 (£16.99, reduced to £13.99 until Dec 31, 2014)
This Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux is an elegant classic and a great match for a traditional roast. With five years in bottle, it is drinking nicely now.

Purple with some brick red hints, complex aromas of cassis, pencil shavings and cigar box; dark berry fruit and cool mint, well-structured with fine but muscular tannins. Dense, concentrated and persistent.


Two good wines to keep in reserve for informal drinking or when visitors turn up
With starters - Casa Planeta Grecanico-Chardonnay 2013 (£9.99)

Ripe and rounded Sicilian white blend with orchard and tropical fruit; clean, fresh and easy-drinking with a savoury, persistent finish.

A juicy red - Ogier Reserve Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2013 (£7.49, reduced to £5.49 until 31 Dec 2014)

Juicy red and dark fruits with spice and perfumed violets. Supple texture.


If you like the sound of these, there are also special offers on:

Henri Clerc Pouilly-Fuisse (reduced from £14.99 to £12.99 until 31 Dec 2014)
Bollinger NV Gift Pack (reduced from £43.99 to £29.32 until 31 Dec 2014)
Lanson Champagne Gift Pack (reduced from £32.99 to £21.99 until 31 Dec 2014)

Monday, 1 December 2014

Loire Wines and Christmas Food

Two Bougrier Loire wines from Oddbins matched to food from ¡Que rico! Tapas

Loire wines, being northerly, light and refreshing, are perfect for warmer weather. However, I was challenged to match a couple of bottles from Bougrier to some Christmas food.

Muscadet's classic food match is shellfish and Breton oysters, whilst rosé d'Anjou's sweet red fruits and fresh acidity make it a perfect picnic wine, so this would be no easy task.

Eschewing the soft option of Boxing Day cold cuts and / or a Christmas breakfast of smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, I asked Estefania Led Ramos of Cambridge-based ¡Que rico! Tapas to help me select something suitable.

Estefania set up her at-home catering business a couple of years ago and I was very impressed with her food when we tried a six course tapas meal last December; the two Loire wines here share with sherry (the traditional match for tapas) a fresh acidity, but are lighter-bodied so need slightly less substantial food.

Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie 2013, la Famille Bougrier (£7.50, Oddbins)
Lemony and fresh with a bit of mineral thrill and some savoury leesiness, this is a lovely aperitif wine that also matches with the vegetable and seafood-based tapas here.
Spanish Omelette

Clams in Green Sauce

Rosé d’Anjou 2013, la Famille Bougrier (£8, Oddbins)
The simple principle here was to match the red-berry flavours of the wine to pink-ish food, hence roasted red bell peppers stuffed with mushrooms and cream followed by duck with pomegranate sauce.
Piquillo Peppers
Duck in Pomegranate Sauce
Christmas is traditionally a time of eating, drinking and socialising. But there's only so many roast dinners that you want to cook for large numbers of guests - far better is to give yourself a break and arrange for Estefania to provide the catering for an evening whilst you catch up with friends.
Wines provided for review.
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