Boxed wine.

Wine in a box (BiB or bag in a box) has always been popular in France – the co-ops sell their own wine in them, as well as bottles and Calais Carrefour lists 34 different ones. This hasn’t stopped French farmers overturning lorries carrying imported Spanish BiBs but that’s another story. As is the attempt by some sherry producers to market fino in boxes – not allowed as against the regulations.

Anyway, in Waitrose last week I saw a display of a dozen or so wine boxes. I went for When in Rome’s Nero D’Avola at £20.99 (£5 off). Actually from Sicily. The box holds 2.25 litres or three bottles. We’ve tried this one before and it’s a favourite of Angie’s. Bright red, very young and fresh, uncomplicated, easy to drink but with a bit of character. At £7 a bottle good value as well.


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Warm climate – chilled wine.



Pinot Noir is a grape more suited to a cooler environment; it was a surprise, therefore,  to see one from the village of Magrie in Limoux near the French Pyrenees. This was the 2015 Solaire, Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon from a 25 hectare site of steep, limestone (loved by PN) slopes. It was also organic and hand-harvested and weighed in at 14% ABV. All this was gleaned from the very informative back-label, which included a small map. Provenance is all, so it seems.

It had the expected light colour, medium viscosity and a distinct purple rim. The nose had fruit-forward cherry and raspberry aromas which carried through into the palate. Of medium weight, it had a long, dry finish which at first seemed slightly bitter, but this faded. The lack of tannins – PN is a thin-skinned grape – made my tasting sample seem unstructured, which, when added to a spicy, jammy- fruit quality was not particularly attractive. However, I do acknowledge a personal preference for more leanness is reds. My response changed when I chilled it slightly and drank it with a steak and bistro salad; I enjoyed it much more and it was an excellent accompaniment.

This was a pleasant wine and needed chilling. It was also interesting to try a warmer climate Pinot Noir which, on reflection, was more in the New Zealand style.




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You need the bad…

I was walking with friends at the weekend, around Bradfield, west of Sheffield and then in the city centre. We had some great beer from, among others, Bradfield, Thornbridge and Kelham Island. But one beer was poor. This was a pint of Sam Smith’s Old Brewery bitter at the Traveller’s Rest in Oughtibridge, served much too cold via an electric pump which gave it a one-dimensional taste, although it didn’t improve as it warmed up. A shame as the pub has an interesting, unspoilt, interior. At, least, being Sam Smiths, it was very cheap and, as someone remarked, you need the poor to appreciate the special.

Anyway, on to the wine which was another chardonnay (Hill-Smith, 2015, reduced from £12 to £9 at Waitrose), as last week. It wasn’t bad – not as poor as the beer – but it was nowhere near as good as the Ocean Eight, which was twice the price, admittedly. Decent burgundian nose in a cold climate style, lemony, but way too acidic for me with the three years bottle age having had no effect, that I could taste. It made me realise how good the wine last week was.

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After the Gold Rush


Wine-making in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula grew with the excitement around gold prospecting in the 1800s, a population explosion and the wealth that came with it. The subsequent fashion for fortified wines meant a decline until the 1960s when wines made from cool climate Burgundy grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, were re-discovered. And here we are, 50 years on, with what could be thought of as atypical Australian wine made an hour’s drive south of Melbourne.

Okay, Ocean Eight 2015. Let’s start with the ABV – 12.5%, that’s low for Oz. A colour of lemon-green and some viscosity hints at both acidity and sugars. At first, the nose was muted, slightly matchstick and lemon but this became more pronounced as it sat in the glass. The taste was layered – dry, long and full bodied with lemon and richer honey notes, quite rounded and deep. A complex wine, with almost too much going on which hinted that the wine might need more time. But it was still delicious – and very Burgundian.

[Richard: only 900 cases made and now sold out at TWS. A very good expression of cool climate chardonnay in the French style. Lots of flavour and complexity and very drinkable.]


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Cabernet Franc from Italy

We’ve drunk (and blogged) a few cabernet francs from the Loire, over the years but I don’t recall an Italian version (Mazzolada, La Cantina del Falco, Venezia). Bright red, intriguing, spicy nose with a hint of tobacco, sweet ripe red fruits – raspberry but with enough of a tannic grip to make it interesting. Hardly any of the grassy tone which is a characteristic of Loire produced wines. A perfect drink for a hot summer evening (12.5%), especially if lightly chilled.

[Geoff: Purchased from Worth Brothers in Lichfield. Cab Franc is one of my ‘go to’ grape varieties and certainly did not disappoint. Two days later (kept vacuumed in the fridge) it was still fresh and showing blackcurrant leaf flavours. Lovely. Yet another northern Italian wine I’ve been impressed with.}

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Just testing


This claret, purchased some time ago by Richard, is part of a small quantity loosely termed an investment. Not financial, you understand, but more gustatory. So we had to try it, just to see how it’s getting on. And the answer? Very well.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet is a Haut-Medoc property owned by Jean Gautreau and this was his 2009 vintage. 09 and 10 were good years for Bordeaux wines; hot summers with some rain at the right time to swell the grapes. Stephen Brook (The Complete Bordeaux) labels 09 as a “very great vintage”. He describes Soc-Mal’s 09 as “superb” with “imposing tannins but excellent length”.

And us?

The wine had a deep red core with a very slight brick rim which heralded some maturity but still plenty of life. There was the unmistakeable black fruit nose, not too plummy, with that lovely cedar wood aroma. The palate was dry and definitely long but still rich. It was starting to lose its plumpness but there was still plenty of power with a slight tarry quality. We detected slight herbaceous, underripe, notes rather than tannins but this gave it a structure in the mouth. The wine is just – and I mean just – into its drinking window. It can only improve from now on. Classic claret.

The blend is 55 – 40 – 5 of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc and its ABV 13.5%.

[Richard: I bought six from Tesco (£32 a bottle) in 2012 when they suddenly got hold of lots of claret. I bought it because John and I got some en primeur in the eighties when it had a reputation – still maintained – for being of classed growth quality. This is the second bottle tried and a marked improvement on the first, having softened considerably, although it had been decanted for three hours. A very nice drink throughout the evening. I should mention that Geoff got the country, region, sub-region and vintage from the appearance and smell alone.]

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A match made in heaven


No, not Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle but en rama fino sherry, anchovy butter, radishes and marinated anchovies. What a combination! All presented by matchmaker Richard at Sunday evening’s tastings.

The sherry came from the William’s & Humbert dynasty (Williams Coleccion Anadas) via Vin Cognito. It had been bottled just over a year ago and was 15.5% ABV.

Clear old gold colours with that tell-tale floor polish and nutty aroma, this wine promised – and delivered – much future happiness. The dry, long palate was borne on a rich yet citrussy palate and the flor/oxidative notes provided the trademark sherry flavours.

On its own it would have been delicious but when joined together with the food ….. This is a combination to repeat. A meal to set before a king or queen or have I got the wrong brother?

[Richard: The anchovy butter and radishes was inspired by a visit to St John’s Bread and wine in Spitalfields last weekend. This was a delicious en rama fino, only lacking the powerful aroma you would get in a similar (more expensive) wine from Equipo Navazos. The ‘en rama season’ is now upon us with that from Tio Pepe rumoured to be very good this year. Watch this space.]

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