Wine articles Wine of the week

Obligatory Valentine’s Day post

When I worked for a publisher a few years ago we decided to have a party on Valentine’s Day because we were all much too cool to take part in such confected nonsense. Guess what? Nobody showed up, they were all at home or out celebrating with their lovers. Everyone pretends to hate Valentine’s day but I think, like me, most people secretly enjoy it. I love buying little gifts for my wife, getting a silly card made with old photos and, most of all, I love having an excuse to open a good bottle of wine. So this Valentine’s Day don’t be grump, buy some nice wine, put some jazzy music on and do some bloody romancing. (Or just ignore the whole thing rather than complaining about it on twitter). Whatever you drink, it’s got to have a frivolity about it. Hence why I’m picking this one:
St. Amour, Cote de Besset, Joseph Burrier 2013 £14.50 from The Wine Society
A good Beaujolais like this is the ultimate Valentine’s Day wine because it combines gaiety with interest. You can appreciate the cherries, the flowers and the touch of earth on the end, or you can just enjoy its straightforward deliciousness. Also it’s called St. Amour which is French for love. Can’t get more romantic than that.

Image from Vivino

Wine articles Wine of the week

Let’s be Franc


I was going to call this post Can I be Franc with You but I looked in the voluminous World of Booze archive and discovered that I’d already written an article called that. There are only so many puns in the wine world. It’s a good article too, fun, informative and accessible.

Oh before I start on some wine recommendations, something really tickled me today. I wrote a booze book round-up for the Guardian and this was one of the comments:

“I need some advice. I recently took a boat trip to Helsinki. Just after the boat departed the duty free opened. Evereyone stocked up with clothes and mostly alcohol and chocolate. However, I wanted something of a finer class. I came acroos a bottle of liquor (can´t remember its name) which was in a elequent cantor and had Louise XIVth enbscribed on it, so its about 4 hundred years old (he ruled in France from 1643 to 1715) . I also had its authenticity confirmed by the ship steward who removed it from the glass cabinet so I could see and feel the cantor. Priced at 25% discount it cost about 2500 euros. I gave it a miss but am thinking of going back to buy it on my next cruise. Being an ignoramus on this kind of this, is one supposed to drink it or keep it as a trophy prize in the wine cabinet at home ?”

Made me laugh especially when I read it in in an E. L. Wisty voice.

Anyway, back to the wine. A very nice PR lady representing Pays d’Oc IGP sent me some wines from the South of France and the two that stood out were a couple of Cabernet Francs. I was accused on twitter recently of being addicted to PR. The problem is that they know my weak spots wine, and flattery. All any PR person has to do is send me some good wine and tell me that I’m clever and I’ll pretty much do anything. But it has to be good wine.

Like these two. Both made from Cabernet Franc which one usually finds in Bordeaux or the Loire. It’s normally light and sometimes herbaceous which I actually quite like. In the heat of the south it’s rather different.

Domaine de Brau Pure Cabernet Franc 2013 (around at £10)

I’ve had this wine before and always liked it. It’s the house wine at the Wheatsheaf in Northleach where I like to go for romantically boozy breaks with my wife. This vintage has bright red fruit, some nice refreshing acidity and then a leathery quality that teeters on being a bit funky but then doesn’t quite deliver the whole funk and nothing but the funk. It’s delicious and interesting but not so interesting that people aren’t going to like it.

Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2013 (around £17)

Pretty much everything I’ve had from this domaine in the Languedoc is delicious. Their Cabernet Franc has a distinctively southern flavour. It’s earthy, dark, almost salty with black olives and dark cherries. Intensely savoury, I’d love to keep a bottle for a few years to see how it developed. Instead my wife and I finished the bottle in no time. She had two glasses which is a lot for her being very small and Californian.




Film and TV Wine of the week

This wine reminds me of . . . . Kevin McCloud!

I have a love/ hate relationship with Kevin McCloud. When he does that beaky-nosed scrunched-up eye thing at the camera I can’t help shouting obscenities at the television. And yet Grand Designs is my favourite program on television. That’s partly down to being snarky about other people’s taste but the way Kevin goads and needles his victims is a huge part of it.

Recently though he seems to have got under my skin to an alarming degree. I was writing up a wine which I was very keen on. It was Cotes de Saint Mont Rouge 2010 from the Wine Society. I was trying to describe how well it went with food and I tried to remember what I was eating with it. I concentrated and I remembered that I was sitting in our old wing back chair – my pompous chair as my wife has dubbed it. The food remained elusive. I tried again and . . . . I remembered that I drank it whilst watching Grand Designs. No no no no! Concentrate, the food, dammit! I engaged the brain and. . . . . it was the episode where the arty old couple from Surrey have a Hufhus imported from Germany. . . . Argghhhh! think brain! . . . I tried one more time but it was no use. That face just kept swirling into my consciousness.

I gave up and wrote this instead. Apparently what differentiates great wine writers from us also-rans is not their palates but their superiors memories. Their minds are efficient databases crammed with tastes, smells and evocations that they can cross-reference in an instant. Mine on the other hand, is filled with Kevin bloody McCloud.

‘Beaky-nosed, moi?’

Wine of the week

Look no further, here are the perfect Christmas wines

I wrote in an earlier post on no longer being a wine outsider. Well just to seal my establishment credentials here is a post that is dedicated to plugging a temporary offer from a retailing leviathan.

It’s that time of the year when I start writing my Christmas wine round-up for the Lady. I try to put in wines that I would actually serve alongside the stuff that I hope someone will serve to me (hello Dad!) Being married to an American means that I get a trial run of Christmas day in November for Thanksgiving which is just like Christmas only without the presents and we get to choose who to invite. For an adult, it’s better than Christmas.

So I’ve been looking for some good but not too expensive wines to serve with turkey. The ideal things would be red and white Burgundy but I don’t have the money. I’ve been looking through the lists of all my favourite merchants but then I noticed that Tescos have Mount William Semillon 2005 on offer for £8.99 a bottle. I’ve been banging on about this wine since I started this blog and amazingly, Tesco are still on the same vintage. 2005 must have been a vast vintage. Luckily it’s a wine that just gets better with age. They also had a delicious Dao from Quinta dos Carvalhais, a 2010, for the same price. Regular readers will know how much I like Dao.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I went to check out; Tesco then slapped on a 25% discount which means that both wines come down to about £6.67. And delivery was free and they offer hour long time slots. That’s it. No jokes. Just go out and buy these wines.

I think these wines are only available online and by the case. The 25% off offer runs until 25 November when you buy two cases (a case is six bottles) or more. Except, of course, in Scotland because there’s always a danger with Scots that they’ll see all that wine and be unable to stop themselves drinking the lot and singing sectarian songs. 

Wine of the week

31 Dover

I wrote recently about a wine that seemed completely underpriced. Below is an excerpt from my latest Lady column with some more wines from the same people. From my admittedly limited tasting of their range, I’d say they offer much better quality and value than Laithwaite’s. They’re almost up there with the mighty Wine Society.

We’re on one of my periodic economy drives as we’re saving so that my daughter can go to the nursery school of her dreams. It means drinking cheaper wine. I’m coping manfully but my wife is not happy. So it was a relief to be sent some samples from new(ish) mail order merchant, 31 Dover. It was partly the name that sounds like a Mayfair art gallery, and partly the quality of the wines, but I assumed that they were all out of our price range. Yet when I looked up the prices online I was amazed. Almost everything we tried was a good third less than I thought it would be. It looks as if we are going to be able to drink well and afford an education for our daughter:

Château Grand Tayac, Margaux 2007, £13.99
You simply don’t find mature Margaux for under £20 a bottle. I’m baffled it’s so cheap. It’s classic light vintage claret with green peppers, herbs, leather and tobacco.

Sara & Sara Friulano 2010, £9.49
A very unusual wine: it smells of honeysuckle and it has the most amazing texture. It’s oily but with a great tang to it and a long nutty finish. It won’t be for everyone but I think it’s rather special.

Damien & Romain Bouchard Chablis Broc de Biques 2012, £14.49
Now for one that I think everyone will like. It’s classic Chablis but in a riper style than you might be used to, with some very discrete oak.

Read the full column here.

Wine articles Wine of the week

You think this lion is going to eat the zebra but what happens next will blow your mind

I’ve been trying to get up-to-date, to learn a bit about the future rather than burying my head in the sand and hoping that it’ll go back to 2002. I’ve stopped saying SOE (Special Forces Executive) when I mean SEO (search engine optimisation – as if you didn’t know.) I’m going to start using words such as ‘platform’, ‘package’ and ‘content.’ It’s time to make myself employable. I mean even more employable (just in case potential employers are reading.)

Anway, this week’s post has nothing to do with lions, I’m just trying out new eye-catching headlines which will bring people to my site and then. . . . well I don’t know what. Anyway!

I’m really posting with the prosaic news that I’ve just tried a wine that is not only excellent but also cheap. It’s my wine of the week. It’s been about a year since the last wine of the week so that really makes it my wine of the year. It’s from a company called 31 Dover who sound like the sort of art gallery that caters to oligarchs and hedge fund types. Oddly for a company with such a name, their wines aren’t expensive.

It’s called Mas d’Amile Vieux Carignan 2010. It’s from a little village in the Languedoc called Montpeyroux. My wife was once sick very near here whilst pregnant and being driven on windy roads in a Jag by a man with strong body odour. Not me I hasten to add. Don’t let that put you off. This wine is quite tannic and spicy but with great freshness. Despite being quite old, it still has masses of fruit and hasn’t gone at all funky. When I tried it with some pork chops on holiday recently, I’d have guessed it was at least £14. I’d gladly pay £14 but it’s actually £8 or even less if you buy a case.

That’s enough content for now. Next time I might even produce a ‘vine’ of me drinking the stuff. A ‘vine’ is a very short video clip but of course you knew that. Oh and apologies to those who clicked on the link thinking they were going to see a picture of a lion being beaten up by a zebra or some such surprising footage. Those links are always disappointing though, aren’t they? Not like my wine of the week. You won’t be disappointed by that.




Wine articles Wine of the week

The irresistible rise of Picpoul

If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t wait to read what the big names of the British wine world, yer McQuittys, yer Becketts, yer Moores, are drinking this summer. To a woman this year, they have picked a Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is now firmly established on the middle-class wine lovers shopping list. Most restaurants, gastropubs and bars stock a Picpoul.  I don’t think it’s ready to take New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s crown yet but it’s definitely a contender.

The best thing about Picpoul from a wine bore’s perspective is that it is unbranded. You don’t have all that garish advertising and vulgar discounting that you get with Ned or Oyster Bay. Instead you can pretend that you have discovered it yourself whilst staying with your auntie near Pomerols. And yet Picpoul, in its own quiet French way, has been a masterpiece of marketing. It was originally the answer to a problem of what to do with all the grapes grown for Noilly Prat vermouth when sales of vermouth declined.

Those tall embossed bottles, ribbed for her pleasure, mean that it stands out on the shelves. They’re the opposite of the squat Burgundy-style chardonnay bottle, it’s a bottle that promises  refreshment rather than oaky fatness. Similar sort of wines such as Muscadet and Vinho Verde also come in tall bottles but the Picpoul bottle is unique (it seems they’ve taken a leaf out of Chateauneuf’s book here by having a custom bottle). And then there’s the name. It literally means ‘sting lips’ in French (or maybe Occitan), a reference to the grape’s high acidity. It’s an easy word for Anglos to say. Not too easy, mind, we don’t want the Pinot Grigio brigade picking up on it but once you’ve learnt how to say it, you won’t forget. In fact it fufils a similar role on the wine list as Chablis or Sancerre, in that drinkers can flaunt their French pronounciation with a word that isn’t hard to pronounce.

But unlike these famous names to the North, Picpoul’s reputation has yet to be tarnished by lacklustre wines. Quality is high, it may never soar to the heights of a Grand Cru Chablis but I’ve never had one that tasted of vingerary water either. These are good simple wines. The only problem is that most of them are too expensive in Britain. My favorite Picpoul from Domaine La Grangette costs €5 from the cellar door but £11.29 over here.  If you want a budget PIcpoul, Aldi’s has one for £5.99 which isn’t half bad. Luckily for me my auntie brought me a case of the Grangette back from France this summer. 

34 wines in Altrincham have La Grangette for £8.95 a bottle which when you factor in British duty and VAT (£2 plus 20%) is really good value. It’s significantly better than supermarket Picpouls. Thanks to James Heron for pointing this out. 

Oh and in case you’re interested you can read an update on my book here.

Wine articles Wine of the week

Summer wines make me feel fine

Here’s a longer version of my latest Lady column and a little Isley Brothers just in case you’re not feeling summery enough with all this heat:

Writing about winter wines is easy in Britain because you know it’s going to be cold so you need lots of alcohol and richness to keep warm. Summer wines are harder because of our unpredictable climate.  That is why it’s vital to include some autumnal offerings for when the weather refuses to play cricket. And then there’s the barbeque factor. You need robust reds to stand up to all that grilled meat and burnt sausages. That is why many summer wines are actually winter wines in disguise. Anyway I don’t suppose it really matters as long as they’re good. My top tip would be to serve all the reds a little colder than you normally would do in the winter. On a hot day even the most muscular of reds will benefit from thirty minutes in the fridge whereas very light reds are nice properly chilled. And finally if the sun really shines, don’t be afraid to put a little ice in your glass, even if the contents are red.

Percheron Old vines Cinsault 2013 (Wine Society)

A very pale red, this has to be the most adaptable wine of the year. Serve it cool and it’s great with lighter meats, serve it cold and it’s a particularly good rose. One word of warning, it’s 15% so don’t give too many glasses to Granny.

Capcanes  rosé 2013 (Theatre of Wine £8.90)

A manly Catalan rosé! This is another very adaptable wine, it’s rich and spicy enough to stand up to flavoursome meats but also extremely refreshing.

Picpoul-de-Pinet Cuvée Ludovic Gaujal 2013 (Yapp Bros £10.25)

Picpoul might be the ultimate summer wine. This is a superior example with a super fresh nose, like smelling the sea. It’s richer than your average Picpoul with lovely tangy, herbal quality.

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Les Meysonniers ‘ M. Chapoutier 2011 (Tanners £16.99)

This is the posh BBQ wine. It tastes meaty and peppery with supple tannins that cry out for a good bit of rump steak. Les Meysonniers has to be one of the consistently great bargains in wine.

Harvey Nichols Port 10 year old Tawny (£27.50)

I’m on a one man mission to get people drinking port year round. In Oporto they drink tawnies like this chilled, it really accentuates all that lovely ripe fruit. The is just the thing with hard cheese or on its own with a slice of seed cake for a mid-morning pick-me-up.

Henners Vintage 2010 (Wine Pantry £27)

It has a lively lemony nose with hint of vanilla. In the mouth there are green apples, beautiful tiny bubbles and a whisper of custard on the finish. If I was getting married again and I had the money, then I’d go for this wine.

Pic St. Loup Morrisons Signature 2011 (£8.99)

This is the everyday BBQ wine to go with supermarket sausages and burgers. It’s good and drinkable and with its notes of rosemary and leather tastes distinctly Languedocian as well.

Coteaux du Languedoc ‘Les Muriers’ Mas Bruguiere 2012 (Yapp Bros £13.95)

One of the best value whites I’ve tried this year. It would be double the amount if it came from the Northern Rhone. It’s intense, nutty and tangy with a gorgeously silky texture. It will probably age too but I can’t wait that long.

Château Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec 2013 (M&S £9.99)

Have a sniff of this and you’ll think of apple pie with cinnamon. Your friends won’t notice because it’s so well-balanced but this wine actually sweet or at least slightly sweet. There’s so much acidity, however, that tt finishes dry and bracingly fresh. I think it’ll be good with goats cheese and grapes. It’s also low in alcohol, 11%, so granny can have a few glasses.

Aldi Prosecco NV (£7.29)

A friend of mine who is getting married asked me to recommend a Prosecco. He was a bit put out I when I suggested this one. ‘I’m not that cheap!’ he said. But this is genuinely good: very clean, fruity and fun with none of those off flavours you sometimes get in cheap Prosecco.

Marks & Spencer Beaujolais 2013 (Marks & Spencer £7.99)

This is the red to put ice in. It smells of oranges and cherries and tastes youthful and crunchy with just a hint of stalkiness; really good simple Beaujolais.

The Wine Society Fino NV (£6.25)

Not only a bargain but also one of the best finos on the market. It’s very dry and lemony with a certain salty tang which lingers deliciously in the mouth. It’s just a shame about that dreary label. I always have a bottle of this in the fridge.

Wine articles Wine of the week

Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier?

Last week I thought I may have lost my sense of smell. This would have been disastrous for my highly-paid career as a wine blogger. I’d been at a few tastings and rather than the wine speak flowing from my nose to my brain and onto the page, I just wrote things like ‘quite fruity’ or ‘a bit dull.’ I kept trying wine that just didn’t seem to taste of anything, I looked around at the cream of the British wine writing establishment and they were all scribbling notes frantically whilst lightly bopping to a bit of Simply Red on their ipods. After one particularly unenlightening tasting, I sat down to have lunch. An oldish man asked me what I thought of the wine and I pulled a face, he leaned in and said ‘they don’t taste of anything, do they?’ So it wasn’t just me. Perhaps Tim Atkin et al, were just writing, dull, duller, dullest over and over again on their tasting booklets.  Has supermarket wine got duller or have I got pickier? I think they’ve got duller. This isn’t the place to muse on why this might – perhaps something to do with Michael Gove. Instead I’m going to recommend one that really stood out.

It’s rather snappily called, Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Gran Reserva Cariñena 2008 . Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Luckily it’s nicely packaged with a sort of golden age of Rioja art nouveau label. The contents are old-fashioned rioja style too but unlike similar wines you can buy, there’s plenty of fruit to go with all that creamy oak. I would even go as far to describe it as juicy. It’s blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from a region called Cariñena. Helpfully Cariñena is also a synonym for the grape variety Carignan which originated here. This wine contains no Carignan. You’d never call it dull and it’s only £6 a bottle. What’s even more exciting is that until 30th May there’s 25% off wine at Sainsbury’s when you buy six bottles or more. so that works out at £4.50 a bottle.

This offer excludes Scotland as the Scottish government don’t trust their subjects not to take advantage of this offer, down six bottles and then rampage up and down Sauchiehall Street naked painted in woad.


Wine articles Wine of the week

Marks and Spencer’s celebrity hell

Marks & Spencer's Britain's Leading Ladies campaign








We should have guessed that Marks & Spencer was in trouble again from their recent advertising campaign. One can imagine desperate executives at head office shouting: ‘dammit John! We’ve got Mirren, Westwood and Twiggy, yet we’re still losing sales. Get me Lulu on the phone! What you can’t get Lulu? What about Petula Clark? Is she still alive? Edwina Currie? Do people like her? Ok fine we’ll have Emin then but can you get her to stop scowling?’

‘Actually scratch all that, Steve, we’ve got Bonham fucking Carter on board. Don’t ask how much it cost but put it this way, nobody’s getting bonuses this year.’

The reasons for the decline of this British institution have been well-documented. If you wanted basic quality clothes then Marks & Spencer was the only place to shop. Things have moved on and Marks haven’t or maybe they have but they moved the wrong way. And the less said about their nauseating branding as ‘Your M&S’ the better. All this noise, however, obscures how well they do food and drink. The wine department in particular has changed out of all recognition in recent years. It’s now for my money the best place to shop on the high street, better than Oddbins, better than Majestic and better than Waitrose. The range is adventurous with an orange wine from Georgia, some good Croatian and Sicilian stuff and as well as some solid classics from Rioja, Burgundy etc.

My mother used to tut at the extravagance of mothers who did all their shopping at M&S but as a thrifty shopper myself, I don’t think they’re that expensive. And the great thing about Marks is that even though it is technically a supermarket it is acceptable to buy their own branded chocolates, wine, flowers etc. as gifts in a way it wouldn’t be with Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. (I was trying to explain this to my wife who is American the other day as she still hasn’t quite grasped how supermarkets fit into the class system.) For most people who don’t live near an independent merchant or a delicatessen, having a Marks nearby must be a Godsend particularly at Christmas.  If the clothing side went I don’t think I’d notice but a high street without their food and wine would be a very sad place indeed.

M&S are having a sale with 25% off wine when you buy six or more until 17th November. Here are two Germans that I’ll be stocking up on: 

Palataia Pinot Noir 2012  – £8.99 (£6.74 after discount)

A ripe but not at all jammy German pinot noir for under a tenner, I’m not sure how they do it.  There’s even a herby quality like you get in a Burgundy.
If you were feeling mischievous, you could decant and pretend it was Santenay.

Darting Estate Riesling 2012 – £9.49 (£7.50 after discount) 

This has a little 3% scheurebe in it as well. It’s super zingy, floral and so much fun. It reminded me a little of the young wine, Heurige, you get served in bars in Vienna. Also bone dry so don’t be afraid to serve to German wine-phobic people.