I’ve smelt this before…

…but I couldn’t place it. Deep red, opaque even, a smokey, sweet nose led into a rich taste with a full mouth feel and an attractive melange of fruit, earthiness in acidity. We’ve tried a few wines made with the Mencia grape in the last few years but I could’t place this as it perhaps lacks the freshness of others. But a decent drink and good value at £11 (Sainsbury’s Discovery Collection Mencia, Taste the Difference 2019).

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Doubly recommended…

I don’t place much weight on recommendations by wine writers in the newspapers – too many conflicts of interest – but we have found that the weekly suggestions Tim Atkin and Joanna Simon (each on Twitter) are often worth trying and, crucially, are easily available. The above is a wine recommended by both which I passed on to Geoff and he bought (and I forgot about).

Pale yellow, rich, sweet honied pear nose, lots of minerality on there palate balanced with some sweetness so well balanced, moreish helped by a nice mouth feel. A very decent wine but, for me, no SB typicity and I couldn’t identify the grape. Nevertheless I’ll look out for it on my next visit to J Sainsbury. (Sainsbury’s Coteaux Du Giennois Sauvignon Blanc, Taste the Difference 2020 £11).

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Typically Tavel…

I knew this was a Tavel before tasting but, even if I hadn’t, the colour is unmistakeable, more light red than dark pink. The nose was sweet/sour with a hint of strawberry but none of the chalkiness most Provence rosés display. The flavour was big with some character, rich, cooked fruit and showing an atypical minerality. Nothing like the pale pink, almost white rosés supermarkets are selling, although this did come from Tesco and is a superior, good value, example of the style. (Arbousset Tavel Rose 2021, £12).

[Geoff: This was a good find, Tavel from Tescos. A dark rose standing among all the pale pinks and effete names of the pale roses. 60% Grenache, 20% each of Cinsault and Syrah from an estate started in 2015 with a high proportion of old vines. It must be difficult to maintain the hallmark freshness of a rose with all the heat in the Rhone but this also shows some lovely rocky flavours. Would be great with a BBQ and certainly good for a steak salad. Tescos are also stocking Arbousset’s Lirac.]

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St Andreas Hangacs Egri Bikaver 2013

First, the info. and translation. Bikaver (‘bull’s blood’) from Eger has a long history. It hales from the Matra Hills in Hungary’s north-east and the wine is now regulated in three tiers specifying yields, fermentation and ageing, The base grape is Kekfrankos. The wine we tasted also contained Cab. Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. St. Andreas winery, founded in 2002 by Gyorgy Lorincz and his wife Toth Andrea, make a range of twenty five wines. (This includes three sparkling which they call ‘champagnes’ which I’m surprised they are allowed to do, Hungary being an EU member). Hangacs is an area around the the village of Demjen and where St Andrea own 17.5 ha of clay on tufa soil.

Now the wine. Appearance: deep ruby, very slight ageing brown rim. Nose : complex aromas – sweet, black fruit, wood, smoke, gentle acidity (rhubarb?), raisins, slight over-ripe distinctive note. Palate: again complex, acidity, rustic but some freshness, perfumed, very gentle tannins (thirteen years old), big flavours and that funky quality again. (is it an eastern European wine characteristic?). Characterful wine, will cope with big flavoured foods. A distinctive and well-made wine, worth trying.

[Richard: from what the TWS called a ‘High-Grade Hungary Case’, bought a few years ago for £82, no longer available. A lot of wine for around £14, 5 different grapes, 14.5%, although this wasn’t noticeable, rich, ripe, smooth, with a rustic edge. Very good.]

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Not ‘brioche’… thankfully

One of repeated, robotic tropes used by critics when writing about champagne is ‘brioche’. This descriptor, along with ‘bread’ and ‘toast’, is now being used on back labels – surely the death knell of any thoughtful description. Thankfully Saturday’s champagne did not use the ‘b’ word. Tanners’ own-label champagne – Extra Reserve Special Brut NV (29.95) states ‘rich, creamy yet floral’ which I think is pretty accurate.

The aromas were a noticeable lemon acidity balancing a slight cooked apple richness – and not a French bread roll in sight. The mousse was small but lively in the dull lemon appearance. On the medium length, dry palate there was the same richness wrapped around a pleasing mineral quality which became more noticeable as it the wine sat in the glass. Yes, a good champagne with noticeable character.

It’s made by the small Beaumont de Crayeres co-operative based in Mardeuil near Epernay using a 40:40:20 blend, I think. (PN, CH, PM.). The contributing vineyards’ sites are not specified.

[Richard: bought on our recent trip to Tanners, I think at a lesser price than that shown above. The ‘extra reserve’ denotes a use of more mature base wine in the blend which was noticeable on the nose and the palate. Rich yet with a surprising acidity. Very good, although like all champagne, better purchased in November-December, when reductions are commonplace. As it stands, a little overpriced.]

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Northern Rhone white…

We’ve enjoyed some great wines from St. Peray, a white wine AC from the northern Rhone. So much so that I’ve ‘invested’ (love that word) in six bottles which are currently maturing in my ‘cellar’. I did not know that the wine R. brought on Sunday was from the same AC – and still have difficulty in doing so. The Wine was St Peray 2018 made by Les Vins de Vienne, a business started in 1996. The web-site isn’t quite clear whether the company is a negociant or vineyard owner – I suspect both. The bottle came from Waitrose.

Lovely bright yellow/green in appearance, the nose is all up front sweet fruit and lemons – obvious and all primary aromas. The palate is a little more interesting, quite firm and dry in the finish but that rich and clumsy sweetness is very obtrusive. It has little complexity but I can see its commercial possibilities as an easy drinking white wine. Not for me, I’m afraid.

[Richard: nor me. We’ve had some classy wines from this appellation, especially those made by Gripa but this was just dull, ordinary, boring. Bought in the Waitrose 25% off period but still not good value at a reduced £15.]

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Alvear’s best.

The heat of Montilla-Moriles, 100 miles inland from Jerez, means that the PX grapes obtain high sugar levels thus making fortification rarely needed. The Alvear Carlos VII amontillado, considered the finest of Alvear’s range, is an unfortified fino aged under flor for five years. The dry, inland heat ensures the flor disappears and the wine then ages oxidatively for about another ten years. The result? A lovely amontillado, one of the wines that will live in my memory.

The appearance hinted at the acidity to come – a slight green tinge in the deep, clear orange colour. The nose was fantastic, fresh acidity and complexity. There was a different aroma with each sniff. Toffee, wood, saltiness/iodine and slightly spirity – and the list could have been longer but you’d have got bored. It reminded me of a good, dry madeira. The palate was very long, dry and the acidity lent it a refreshing sour quality to balance the slight sweetness. Certainly not shy but all in balance, and great with some octopus pieces in ink. A ‘must-try’.

[Richard: a stunningly good amontillado, easily one of the best we have tried. Many layers of aroma and flavour. Very long, mouth-filling, rich yet sharp. From Spanish Wines Direct, £13 for a half bottle, which really is a bargain.]

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Is it?…it can’t be…

A consequence of Gewürztraminer occupying the coveted number one position in my ‘Most Disliked Grapes’ list is that I rarely try it. So I was ill prepared for this wine.

Deep yellow, a honied sweet nose – no characteristic lychee note – led into a strong tangy taste, hints of sourness and oxidation (although I don’t think it was), perhaps some spice but no obvious fruit identifier so I was baffled, apart from thinking it French. Gewürztraminer did occur to me but I discounted the idea as it was like none I have ever tasted (nothing like this, for example) and I regret it wasn’t to my taste. Just too full-on. (2012 Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Eichberg Réserve Grand Cru).

[Geoff: I choose wines to suit the meal my wife and I are to eat later; Sunday’s meal was a duck confit, a sweet-ish dish, certainly rich. Gewurz. was an unusual suggestion which appealed. And it matched very well. Yes, the wine had that honeyed edge but the core was dry, firm and strong enough to complement the big flavours in the sauce. Any initial concern about its age was quickly dispelled, it opened up well. Really enjoyable, for me at least. Apologies to my tasting buddy.]

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… and another Italian red

We enjoyed two good Italian red wines on Friday – my challenge was R’s wine from the Taurasi DOCG in Campania, namely Terradora di Paolo, Fatica Contadina 2014, made from 100% Aglianico grapes. The wine is aged for a minimum of two years in French and Slavonian oak then a further 24/36 months in bottle before release. The estate, in Irpinia, is owned by the Mastroberardino family who have a winery in Montefusco where they have made a range of red and white wines since 1978. R. bought this at Tanners.

The wine’s colour was deep ruby with aromas of deep cherry, with an edgy sourness and a delicate sweetness. There was a touch of oaky vanilla as well but it was back-stage, fortunately. At the forefront on the palate was a full flavoured, rich, mature red fruit note, tannins and that sourness again. It finished dry and medium long. A well made wine, showing off the Aglianico grape at its distinctive best. Very enjoyable, particularly with food.

[Richard: easy drinking (13.5%), especially on day 2, with some grip and character. Nicely balanced, fruit and tannin and obviously maturity. From Tanners, nla.]

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A is for…

…autochthonous, not a word we knew, despite being keen cruciverbalists. But there it was, on the back of the above bottle, tasted blind on Friday.

A clear, even translucent cherry red, a sweet nose with hints of Cabernet Franc and smoke, some vanilla sweetness, some fruit, a nice tang/rasp on the palate but no tannic grip and a bitter finish. The taste develops well in the mouth. Very nice.

So, what was it? I got as close as Northern Italy but the grape – Ruchè (pronounced ROO-kay)- is previously unknown to us. A bit like the word, which means indigenous or native. (Montalbera La Tradizione Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato 2020).

[Geoff: From Harrogate Fine Wine Co. who recommended it when I visited. Originates from close to the Asti area in north-west Italy. I would buy more if I lived closer to Harrogate and it is available from other select wine merchants. Various theories exist about the grape’s origins so its autochthonicity (?) can be questioned. I’m fascinated by the difference between an indigenous and autochthonous species. Great wine.]

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