Monthly Archives: June 2017

Ciada, Vigneti Valle Roncati 2010, Fara DOC


This wine is another northern Italian red, part of a mixed case Richard bought a few months back. We blogged the impressive Valtellina recently and now we’ve moved further south, towards Milan, for a Fara DOC. I tried it blind and stabbed at both Pinot Noir and Syrah (its delicate aroma) before fixing on Nebbiola, the grape that dominates (70%) the blend. The other grapes are the waspish Vespolina and Uva Rare. It has spent nearly three years in French oak and a further nine months in bottle before release. This ageing will soften the tannins that can be obtrusive in young Nebbiola.

A distinctive brick colour edged the wine which was of medium intensity red. The nose was very perfumed, delicate, sweet and floral rather than fruity. The tannins were present but didn’t dominate rather giving it some structure, this would be a great food wine. Its lightness belied the 14% ABV. With a long finish that hinted of liquorice, it was a well-made, attractive wine and one worth its £23 price tag (Wine Society).

Two down out of this Italian case and both impressive.

[Richard: this case is turning out to be an interesting buy – although the first bottle tried (Taurasi, Feudi di San Gregorio 2011, not blogged) was ordinary. Still drinking well on day 2. A stylish wine, if a little pricey for what is a an obscure appellation, although production is small and it scored very highly in a Decanter tasting.]



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The other cabernet…

This (Les Cornuelles, Chinon, 2012) was tasted blind, at Geoff’s, last night.

Dark and purple the wine had a polished appearance, a rather shy nose, smooth tannins and some refreshing acidity balancing the red fruit. A silky mouth feel completed a very drinkable glass.

There were just about enough indicators for me to suggest cabernet franc from the Loire which proved correct. Missing was the characteristic leafy, currant bush aroma the grape often produces.

I lived in Nottingham for 10 years or so in the seventies but to my great regret never visited Gauntleys, where this wine came from, despite being a frequent visitor to Weavers, round the corner. It was/is really a tobacco shop – the wine is in the basement – but they have some very interesting stock (I’ve visited, once, since) including the hard to find Equipo Navazos sherry and some rare wines from Boxler, in Alsace.

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A fortnight in Crete

Just returned from a lovely holiday in Rethymno, a large town on the Cretan coast, facing the Aegean Sea.

The town has several good wine shops so we tried to drink nothing but Cretan wine, avoiding, if possible, non-indigenous grapes, many of which, like cabernet, syrah and sauvignon blanc, were planted in the seventies.

The Cretan wine industry has now seen the light and many local varieties are being rediscovered and vinified.

Some general observations:

Many Cretan tavernas or mezedopolío (like tapas bars) don’t have a wine list and only sell ‘bulk wine’ – as it is described on the menu – either red or white, decanted into a carafe, as shown. Low alcohol, undistinguished and around €4 for half a litre.

The better restaurants do have wine lists with a varying range of Cretan wines.

All Cretan wine, including reds, is served chilled.

Good Cretan wine is not cheap, with prices in the €10-20 range in shops, €20+ in restaurants. VAT at 24% is a factor.


These are some of the wines we tried:

This was recommended to me in the most upmarket shop in the town (Siganos). Vidiano is a common grape, Plyto much less so. Lots of character but a bit too expensive and not quite enough acidity, around €12. A rather Rioja like red was better.



There was a classy wine bar round the corner form our apartment, where I tried this. Liatiko grape, a very polished, full flavoured wine. Served chilled, which helped. Around €8 a bottle from a wine shop and excellent value.



This company (Lyrarakis) specialises in old Cretan varieties  – here Kotsifali and Mandilari, with some (undetectable) Syrah added. Around €10.



Around 70% of the wine made on Crete is white. There is hardly any rose but we tried this one, at a rather chunky €9. Typical chalky nose, big flavour and another unknown grape – Romeiko, along with Syrah and Grenache. Incidentally I saw a bottle of red made with 100% Grenache but couldn’t bring myself to pay €16.



Tried this one in a good local restaurant, Alana. Plyto again, reputed to be a very acidic grape but it was nicely rounded. Went well with sea bass and squid. €20.



I couldn’t resist this one, seen in a local supermarket so broke my self-imposed rule about Cretan only. From Nemea, mainland Greece, €12. Obviously cabernet, very soft, slightly woody but very drinkable. Nearly over the hill. None of the shops we used had air conditioning so I did wonder about the effects of many hot days on wine storage, especially with something like this which I suspect had been on the shelf some time.



These were both drunk with what was the best meal of the holiday, a tasting menu, in a lovely garden courtyard at Avli. The sparkling wine was compared by our waitress to prosecco but was slightly better, I thought, being drier and crisper. Made on the mainland from Moschofilero grapes. The white was even more unusual, being made with Soultanin – the sultana grape. Our waitress warned us that it was quite reserved but we thought it developed well in the glass with an intriguing spicy bitterness underlying the fruit. No hint of sultana.



Probably the best red of the holiday – another kotsifali/mandilari blend, from a wine shop I discovered in the second week and never went back to. Soft, complex, lots of fruit and only €9. The black bottle is hard to photograph but the winery is Idaia.



Finally, no report from Crete would be complete without a mention of retsina, a wine we’ve previously blogged on. This was much more resinous but not unpleasantly so. Made in Chania, up the coast. A half litre bottle with a crown cap. €1.5 in a shop, double that in a taverna. Worth trying but I didn’t feel inclined to repeat the experience.

From someone who had never been to Greece in many years of holidays I’ve now been three times in three years. All visits were different and good in their own way but for food and drink this was the best and I’d like to return.

[Geoff: I really enjoyed reading this blog – thanks Richard. It got me wondering why some grapes become ‘international’ varieties and others never leave the local area. Apart from making the obvious analogy with people, what makes some grapes more popular than others? One idea might be that if a grower in, say, Chile sees how commercially successful the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is in Bordeaux they think that grape might be one to try. If this is the case, then Cypriot grapes just have not had the commercial success to justify others experimenting – and it would be an ‘experiment’ initially. In which case, how many other flavour possibilities are unrealised?]

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Antipodean Semillon


Semillon, as I’ve often stated, is one of my favourite wines. But only, and it’s a significant but, if it’s upward of seven years old. When young, it’s dominated by pronounced acidity, rather short and uninteresting. Ageing brings wonderful musky notes and a very subtle richness whilst still maintaining the lime acidity which becomes more balanced with age. Semillon’s ability to mature has me searching good wine merchants’ shelves for older vintages – and there usually are some as it is not a popular grape variety.

Mitchell’s 2007 Watervale Clare Valley Semillon was purchased from Weavers in Nottingham who are now selling the 2009 vintage for £12. According to Mitchell’s web-site, the wines are barrel fermented (the label says from wild yeasts – but not exclusively?) and then left on their lees for 12 months to add creaminess and complexity to the wine.

This wine was a shade shy of gold with still a hint of green (denoting acidity) with the expected medium/low viscosity (13.5%). The nose was aromatic, with key-lime and pie crust – the typical muskiness – smells. The medium-length palate was dry with the lime flavours still present in the balanced acidity.  The second day saw a developing richness but, to be critical, I found it a little shorter and not as complex as expected. Still pretty young but I don’t think it’s going to change much more. It was a lovely glass, nevertheless.

(The other half of this tasting duo is on holiday in Crete; Richard will have lots of interesting grapes to write about on his return)

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Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla en rama


It’s here again. Our favourite sherry style – en rama, but this time a manzanilla rather than a fino. Richard purchased these from Tanners in Shrewsbury but tasting them transports us back to Jerez and the fresh style of wine found there. (To be precise, Manzanilla is from Sanlucar).

An intense lemon yellow in colour, the wine smelt of slightly stewed apples and yeast but there was also a floral quality to the nose, emphasising its delicate, almost fragile nature. That delicacy carried through in the palate which was light, long, lemony and dry with an subtle almond taste. The wonderful flavour was a pleasure.

We shared a glass with some chunks of squid in ink – a great way to spend twenty minutes on a warm Friday evening.

[Richard: from Tanner’s, about £15. Unusual to see manzanilla en rama and I’ve only previously seen it at that retailer. For me not quite as spectacular as fino en rama can be as I felt some of the trademark salinity you expect from manzanilla had gone missing. But still a lovely fragrant drink which needs hot weather, not the incessant rain we are currently experiencing.]

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Flatters to deceive


The Tannat grape is native to south west France where it traditionally produces wines described as ‘rustic’, Madiran probably being the most well-known. It has also received plaudits in Uruguay which seems to produce a softer, fruitier style of wine then France. This wine, however, came from the far north of Greece, hard by the Macedonian border. Utopia 2011, made by Alpha Estate, is 100% Tannat and weighs in at 14% ABV.

The pronounced colour left a ruby stain on the glass when the wine was swirled. Some pigment there then. There was a delightful fresh nose, slightly menthol and blackcurrant, with an underlying smokey and vanilla perfume suggesting barrel- ageing. So far so good.

Richard had the palate description spot on – “hollow” – which was a disappointment after the pleasures of the smell. It was lacking richness and depth and could be described as ordinary red wine. The smell was better then the taste. This seems to have matured quickly, quite the opposite to its French equivalent which is, to be kind, rather austere for at least ten years.

[Richard: whenever I’m in Birmingham I try to call in to the Greek shop just outside New Street station. An interesting selection of wine and food and where this bottle was purchased, for around £10. As Geoff says you don’t expect to see Tannat in Greece and this made me want to try it. Alpha wines are always good quality and this is well made, with an enticing nose but the taste is acceptable without being special. An interesting experiment but I think Greek wines are better made with native grapes. Off to Crete shortly and hoping to try a few.]

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