Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Douro


Quinta da Manuela 2001 is a Portuguese wine from the middle of the Douro region, an locality more famous for its port production, but one that has developed a reputation for quality light wines. Made from the celebrated Touriga Nacional grape, this wine, therefore, has some pedigree. Sixteen years old and decanted 24 hours previously, gives some idea of how tannic this might have been in its youth – a signature of many Portuguese wines.

The appearance was an off-putting, murky ruby with a slightly brown rim; the nose being red fruits but very fleeting. Not a promising start. It was redeemed, to some extent, by the palate. There were certainly tannins present, but they were in balance as was the alcohol. It had an attractive silky quality, some pleasing cherry flavours which helped maintain its freshness. Its age had helped give it a lighter weight than expected from this grape and region.

I enjoyed this wine’s freshness and can appreciate how this would be even better with some flavourful food but I sense (and Richard will confirm) that this would be rather expensive for what it actually delivered.

[Richard, about £17, special parcel from TWS in 2011, last of six. Previously blogged here. This wasn’t as good, perhaps because it was unnecessarily decanted. Definitely some bottle variation, anyway as this tasted quite young with the cherry flavours. I’ve never had much luck with Portuguese reds and it’s odd how they have failed to establish a UK market, with the exception of port, of course.]



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Old Rioja

When people find out that you are interested in wine and write a blog they often ask you to name your favourite wine. To which I always reply: ‘old Rioja’. So I was very interested to try a bottle Geoff has had for years, a 1996 Faustino 1, served cool – a perfect temperature. In the glass the wine still looked fairly youthful, bright red with a brown rim, there was an old-school smokey/tarry nose, albeit not as pronounced as some I’ve tried. The taste was pure, linear, a bit ‘Galloway’s Cough Syrup’ – ask your Dad – not a bad thing. Later a vegetal, farmyard aroma developed – again a desirable characteristic in old Rioja. However an overall impression was of a rather restrained wine. Still very enjoyable and Geoff kindly gave me the bottle to finish off with some pork chops. I’ve always avoided this wine in the past because of the label but I’d certainly try another, perhaps the 2004 from Asda, at a bargain £13.

[Geoff: I’m pleased that Richard enjoyed this more than I did, hence me giving the wine to a good friend who would appreciate it. I find many Riojas over-rated; vanilla – yes; farmyard/savoury – yes; fruit – some, but often masked by the oak influence. My issue with them is a lack of refinement. Bluntly put, they can taste like ordinary red wines left in oak barrels for a long period of time which covers up their blandness. That, and the lack of subtle fruits and freshness. There are exceptions, of course, the most notable being the half-bottle of 1964 Rioja (blogged) which was gorgeous.]

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Grower champagne

It’s easy to think that grower champagne is a recent phenomenon – only in the last few years have the Wine Society been offering it in mixed cases – but I can recall driving through France thirty years ago, armed with an explanation of the bottle codes, looking for interesting bottles in hypermarkets not made by the big names. Then it was more hit and miss – and, as I recall, there weren’t many labelled RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) which is the code for grower producers – those that farm the vines and make their own wine, rather than selling the grapes on to a co-op or a grande marque. Part of the problem is volume with supermarkets looking for more bottles than most growers can produce. Even now English supermarkets sell hardly any grower champagne. Another issue is that some of the growers, like Agrapart, have become very popular and sell out.

This is all prompted by the purchase of some grower champagne from the WS, just before Christmas when champagne prices are always keen. We’ve blogged on one of these, now out of stock which illustrates the supply problem. Actually all of them have been very good, albeit in different styles. For example last night we tried the Laherte which is very unusual in the Pinot Meunier predominates (60%) in the blend, resulting in a rich, full-flavoured drink. Laherte also make a champagne using all seven allowable grape varieties which sounds interesting.

[Edit: just checked the bottle and the Laherte is actually an NM – Nêgociant-Manipulant, which usually describes bigger champagne houses who buy in some or all or their grapes. However the WS website gives the impression that Laherte only use grapes from their own vineyards. A mystery.]

[Further edit (email from TWS): the reason that the company is registered as a Negociant-Manipulant is due to the nature of the landholdings in the family and is a bureaucratic requirement.  It seems that the members of the family, the brothers and their mother, each own a portion of the vines and the company Laherte Frères ‘purchases’ the grapes from the family members and therefore have to register as a producer who doesn’t own all its own vines.  Apparently, if they were registering today they would be able to name themselves as SR (societé de récoltant), but that designation didn’t exist when they registered.]


Previously we opened the Benoit Lahaye which was 90% Pinot Noir and had a strong fresh acidity and was better on day 2.

Given the choice I will always prefer champagne (English and French versions) over cava, prosecco, sparkling wine and so on. If you agree then grower champagnes provide quality and style and at a cheaper price than that charged by the grande marques.

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Francois Villard, according to His Majesty Robert Parker (bow), is one of the ‘stars’ of the northern Rhone. This judgement, to which we all defer, was discovered after Richard and I tasted his 2014 Mairlant St Joseph blanc . We were not, therefore, weighed down by great expectations. It did turn out to be a dickens of a wine, however.  50% each of Marsanne and Rousanne, 13.5% ABV and 40% of it aged in oak casks, I tasted it blind.

The distinctly yellow colour with no hint of green, suggested age – or low acidity – and the low viscosity hinted at not too much sun. (Old world?).

A wonderful nose (Richard spot on with his Bird’s Custard powder smell), this was all vanilla, apples and beeswax (well done, Angie) furniture polish. The palate repeated those notes but added toffee and caramel with a more bruised apple flavour. It was medium in weight (think semi-skinned milk).

Wine books can be a bit sniffy about the expansion of the large St Joseph AC in the northern Rhone, claiming the wines are lacking in character. This most certainly wasn’t.  It’s been great to write a positive review again.

[Richard: Geoff lent me a Waitrose Wine Cellar catalogue so I ordered a few as a change from TWS. Cost about £25 which is just about reasonable, especially given the producer. A classy,  very enjoyable, well made drink which went well with a chicken casserole and, at 13.5%, perfect for a Sunday night.]

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Back on track


Some interesting and drinkable wines this week.

My blind tasting was a semillon, which smelt rather like a Burgundian chardonnay at first but then the nose became more lime than lemon. The taste was high in both acidity and fruit with a slightly hard finish. This is a grape I rarely taste, even in a blend with sauvignon, so I had no idea was it was, although I did, eventually, guess South Africa. M&S £10.

[Geoff: Another favourite of mine – the Semillon grape, both solo and with Sauvignon blanc. I like it’s weight, the aromatic quality and the slight musky notes it lends. This had been opened 24 hours and had suffered a little in flavour but was still enjoyable. I don’t know if M & S still do this, I purchased it from Worth Brothers in Lichfield. Would have again and it would be interesting to see it develop. South African wines are particularly good value at the moment.]


I also tried a ‘minor claret’ that had been open a while. It had a classic claret nose and, unlike of lot of cheaper red Bordeaux, the taste delivered what the nose promised. Rather drying with some fruit – it was a very good vintage. 50/50 CS Merlot apparently. About £20, various suppliers including Waitrose.

[Geoff: Can’t remember where I bought this – pity. Classic claret, nicely drying rather than overly full and fruity, great food wine]

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A mixed bag

We’re not having a good run of wines at the moment; these blogs are beginning to sound repetitively negative which is taking on a global aspect. Chile’s Underraga Maule Valley blended Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache (ABV 14.5%) from 2015 was spoilt by a strong cork taint. Despite being decanted for 24 hours this taste dominated what could have been a good wine.

Intense red in colour with a slight purple rim with even the tears showing red, this was going to be pretty full on. Lots of black fruit primary aromas – brambles, blackberries – this yelled a warmish climate but the palate showed a refreshing level of acidity. The Maule Valley is supposed to be one of the coolest spots in the Central Valley area, hence the acidity. The wine had a thick mouth feel with medium tannins and some cassis came though on the palate. Not particularly long, this would have been an interesting wine had it not been for the fault.

[Richard: from the WS, £17. They refunded the cost after I emailed. Something they are very good about, incidentally. A great shame as I like this blend of grapes as used in Languedoc, say and this had the makings of a well made, superior effort. Two other negatives though – a heavy bottle, something South American winemakers seem overly fond of and the alcohol. 14.5 is just too much, although it didn’t taste as powerful as, for example, an equivalent CdP.]

Relief came at last. The 7th Cavalry was in the form of a wine from Navarra, Vina Zorzal’s 100% Garnacha Corral de Los Altos. Although a hefty 14%, this wine bore its weight well and the tannins and alcohol were well-integrated.

Ruby in colour with medium legs, this smelt of cooked ripe cherries as well as the black fruit proclaimed on the web-site. Of medium length, this was savoury, not overly rich in sweet fruit but enough there to make it attractive. It would be a lovely food wine. Btw, the web-site is interesting to read.

[Richard: yes, much more to our taste. £13 from the WS. Another grenache that Rhone wine makers could learn from and one I’d buy again.]



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