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Tempranillo, twice

It struck me the other day that, for someone who usually picks (old school) Rioja as his favourite wine, I hadn’t drunk much of it recently, one blogged in February 2018 being the most recent.

But, this week I had a delivery of a case of La Rioja Alta 2013, ‘Seleccion 874’, ordered en primeur about 18 months ago. Opened on Thursday it had all the tastes and smells of a traditional Rioja (and Rioja Alta are very traditional) but in a slightly attenuated form. This was possibly because the blend was done for the WS and an old/new style balance was sought. Anyway, very drinkable, if fading a bit on day 2. Described as ‘mostly’ tempranillo, with some garnacha and mazuelo. A bargain at around £14.

In contrast the other (100%) tempranillo was definitely a day 2 wine and very different in style. This was a 2014 Torre Silo from Ribera del Duero. On first opening it was quite sharp/raw but eventually mellowed into a lightish drink with lots of sweet dark fruit, with integrated tannins and an attractive mineral back palate. Still going well on day 3. Rather more expensive and apparently made from some pre-Phylloxera vines. I think it came from MWW who now stock the 2015.


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Return to Kefalonia

After four years, back to the Greek island of Kefalonia, this time to Fiskardo, a pretty (and upmarket) fishing village on the northern coast. Unlike Crete, last year, the wine scene on the island is unexciting and it was not easy to find interesting wines, especially if one had self-imposed restrictions of indigenous grapes and Kefalonian vinification – rules I broke just to get some variety. No wine shops, just a couple of supermarkets with similar stock and pricing. A peculiarity was a lack of medium priced wines. Plenty around €6-8 and €16-20, not much in the middle. This might be explained by the presence of some very posh boats in the harbour. None of the wines were especially interesting but here are a few:

We tried a few wines made from robola, the workhorse white grape on the island – this was probably the best with a rich complexity the grape doesn’t always achieve.

This was the first bottle I bought, misreading the shelf price and thinking it was €8, which would have been good value. Actually it was €14 – not so much. Gentilini Notes 2017 60% agiorgitiko, 40% mavrodaphne, 6m in oak 13%, light, savoury, moreish and lasted well into a second day. Gentilini is the upmarket winemaker on the island – this was one of their cheaper bottles but not stocked at the airport duty free, unfortunately.

We had a wonderful boat trip to Ithaca one evening with a taverna meal at the end of it. This was the local rose, made, I think, from mavrodaphne or a local variant. Very drinkable – even from the smallest wine glasses I have ever encountered –  with a slight bitter note. Sold by the kilo, rather than the litre, at a bargain €4.


Finally another Gentilini Notes, this one mainly sauvignon blanc with 20% tsaoussi, another grape I’ve never heard of and a Kefelonian speciality. Quite low acidity so a good match for SB. Nice wine with clean flavours, around €12.

Conclusion: lovely people, fabulous weather, good and interesting food – didn’t have a bad meal – just rather dull wines.





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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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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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Not from Alsace

This was a riesling from northern Italy. Bright green/yellow, slight struck match – I thought it might be chardonnay –  which faded to be replaced by a recognisable riesling aroma. Initially off dry – which was probably caused by the food we had just eaten – but as the palate cleared the wine was clearly dry with lots of acidity, rather short and simple but a pleasant enough drink which grew on us. Clearly not from Alsace – not enough body – but I only guessed Italy after some prompting, since I’ve never tasted an Italian riesling before.

[Geoff: The Langhe hills in Piedmont give lots of different growing conditions for vineyard owners and the Langhe region DOC has become innovative, importing well known international grape varieties. (This has echoes of the success of the Supertuscans around Bolgheri further south).  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling are now DOC Langhe white wines which can be enjoyed; I wonder how the traditional Italian grape growers view this ‘invasion’. Not particularly complex – but not expensive – this needed food as it started to lose its cleaner mouth flavours after a while. Purchased from Martinez Wines in Ilkley, it is also stocked by The Wine Society].


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If you visit Spain and are interested in the drink culture it soon becomes evident that the Spaniards drink a lot of red vermouth (vermut), usually with ice and lemon. Some bars have a font or small barrel for dispensing and there are a number of brands you never see in the UK. A recent trend, at least in Jerez, has been the appearance of up-market vermouth. And vermouth is very common in Italy with some of their rarer brands becoming available here. For example Waitrose sell Cocchi Vermouth di Torino at £18 for a 50cl bottle which I would think is a hard sell, at least in Lichfield.

I tried three, first at room temperature, then with ice. This was a rather artificial tasting since drinking neat vermouth is, in this country, unusual with most red vermouth going into cocktails, most notably the Negroni.

Vermut Lustau: Lustau are a sherry producer in Jerez and I think this has a sherry base with added botanicals. Brown colour, rich herby nose, initially sweet but finishing dry. Sold by Waitrose, £13, 50cl. My favourite.

Carpano Antica Formula: made in Milan with a wine base with other ingredients using a ‘secret formula’. Similar in colour to the Lustau but with a shier nose and a drier finish, despite sugar being listed as an ingredient. This was sold by Waitrose but no longer with the last bottles being knocked down. Ocado still have it at £12 for a half bottle.

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino: made in the Piedmont, wine base with added botanicals and matured in oak. Light red – could have been a wine – dried herbs, especially thyme, on the nose and in the mouth, less complex than the other two but the most bitter. No discernible oak. It was sold by Waitrose (£11, 75cl) but also seems to have vanished.

All three were less impressive with ice as the taste was softened and diluted. Better to chill the bottles and/or the glass.

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One of your better cavas

Years ago when we visited Spain for holidays there was always a temptation to try cava – mainly because it was so cheap, compared to champagne, at least. So we tried a few and invariably, weren’t impressed. Too sweet, too short, lacking in character, little acidity and with a characteristic ‘hard’ finish. We gave up trying and stocked up on champagne as we made the car journey down through France. But – they weren’t all horrible. Probably the best we tried was that from Juvé & Camps. And here we are, decades later, with a bottle of their ‘Reserva’ from MWW.

I’ve never seen it suggested that sparkling wine be decanted but this wine got markedly better in the glass. Not much mousse, decent nose – I’m sure I detected chardonnay – and, still, that hard finish. But – it got better and after 20 minutes or so was a very decent drink, with some complexity. Miles better than prosecco. As to the chardonnay, the company website doesn’t list it, other websites do, so I was mistaken – although they do grow and use the grape in some of their other cavas.

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