Tag Archives: Majestic Wine Warehouse

Value from St Emilion

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The French region of Bordeaux produces around 700 million bottles of wine in an average year (rather less last year due to the poor weather affecting the crop yields).  That makes it easily the largest Quality Wine (Appellation Contrôlée) region of France and, putting that number in context, if Bordeaux was a country, it would be the world’s 12th largest producer, just behind Portugal.

Not surprisingly, there is considerable variety within that volume of wine; not just red, white and rosé, but dry and sweet, still and sparkling and, of course, a vast range of prices and quality – not always the same thing!

And, even within those broad categories, there are major differences in style.  Consider the reds which make up more than 80% of Bordeaux’s output, for example; if you travel north or south from the city, the wines you find will, very likely, be blends dominated by the distinctive blackcurrant flavours and aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cross the rivers to the east, however, and things change.  Here, the main grape variety is Merlot and the wines are softer, fuller-bodied and with flavours of plums and chocolate.

The pretty old town of Saint-Emilion is both the most famous tourist attraction on this side of the river and the best known wine name.  As a result, bottles from that Appellation itself are inevitably pricey but, if you look to some of Saint-Emilion’s satellites – Montagne-St-Emilion, Lussac and St Georges – there is value to be found.  

Tour Bayard M St EmilionChâteau Tour Bayard (Majestic, £12.99) comes from the first of these and has lovely red plum and black cherry flavours and the sort of reassuring softness that comes from a few months in old barrels.  The 2014 still has some tannin evident and will clearly last a few years but, decanted and with food (grilled lamb steaks recommended!), it is very drinkable now and a good introduction to the style this part of the extensive Bordeaux region has to offer.

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Tokaji Reborn

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Wine has been made in Hungary’s Tokaji (“tock-eye”) region for at least 500 years and, for much of that time, its sweet wines have had the highest of reputations. They were enjoyed across many of the noble courts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and were a particular favourite of the French King, Louis XIV.  In fact, at the time, Tokaji became known as ‘the wine of kings, the king of wines’.

The 1870s saw an abrupt change in fortune when the phylloxera bug struck, devastating the vineyards.  Two World Wars were followed by years as part of the Soviet bloc where the only wines demanded were cheap with high alcohol. The industry was in a poor state indeed when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 opening up many of the Eastern European countries to outside investment.  Happily, Tokaji was a major beneficiary.  In particular, English wine writer Hugh Johnson’s involvement with the historic Royal Tokaji Wine Company has reinvigorated this once great producer.

Today, much of the region’s output remains the glorious, intensely sweet wines made in the unique traditional style – expensive, but definitely worth it if, like me, you like that sort of wine although, perhaps I should say, they’re not to everyone’s taste.  However, other, lighter, sweet wines using late-harvested grapes are also made and can be tremendous value, as is the occasional dry white such as the one from the Royal Tokaji Company (Majestic, £9.99) we enjoyed recently.

Dry Tokaji

Made using the same native Furmint and Hárslevelű varieties that are found in the sweet wines, this full-bodied dry example is beautifully tangy and fresh with lovely flavours of baked apples and sweet spices leading to a really long mouth-watering finish.

There is no doubt that Johnson and others have rescued Tokaji from the dire state it had descended to by 1990; all that remains is for the delicious wines of the region to become much better known.
 

Good Wines, Sensible Prices

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Traditionally, wines have been sold under the name of the producer or a brand name created by them.  There have always been a few exceptions, mainly retailers such as Berry Brothers and the Wine Society putting their own name on wines they have bought in, but this trend has increased greatly in recent years.  Virtually every supermarket has its range of own label wines – some have 2: a basic selection sold on price and a premium range which often includes some interesting bottles which are excellent value.  ‘Tesco Finest’ and ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’ are examples of this latter category but others do the same – they just spring to mind because they’re my 2 nearest supermarkets.

These premium ranges often involve the supermarkets’ own wine buyers (these days generally Masters of Wine or other well-qualified individuals) working with producers to craft something that reflects the local style but would also appeal to the tastes of customers – and, because the supermarkets can buy in bulk, prices are usually very attractive.

But, it’s not just the supermarkets who do this.  I’ve already mentioned the Wine Society, whose ‘Exhibition’ range is particularly good, but, now, Majestic Wine Warehouse is joining the party with their bottlings under the ‘Agenda’ label.  The examples I’ve tasted so far are well up to standard and excellent value.  It’s difficult to pick just one but their Portuguese red from the Daó region (a real bargain at £7.99 if you buy as part of the ‘mix 6’ offer) is certainly worth trying. 

DaoIt is just so drinkable – soft and rounded with flavours of cooked plums and herbs. A hint of oak gives a savoury edge and there are the gentlest of tannins. For me, this makes perfect every day drinking, especially to accompany some mildly spicy sausages.

And that’s exactly what these premium own label ranges are designed to do: nothing fancy, just good drinking at sensible prices.

 

 

 

A Loire Surprise

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Let me start by wishing you all a Happy and Peaceful 2018 and hope that the natural disasters that afflicted many in the wine world last year won’t be repeated.

As you might expect, my wife and I enjoyed some nice wines over the holiday period, but one white was a particular surprise (a pleasant one, I should add).  It came from the cool Loire region in northern France and I assumed, for that reason, it would be crisp, fresh and citrusy.  But Château de Fesles’ old vine Chenin Blanc ‘La Chapelle’ from Anjou (Majestic, £11.99) didn’t fit the pattern at all. 

Loire CheninAt 14% alcohol, it’s a big chunky mouthful.  And then there’s the fruit character: not the green apples and citrus of a northern climate but ripe pineapple and mango with a touch of orange at first and all wrapped up in tangy, spicy oak.

So what’s going on?  Part of the answer lies in the words on the label: ‘Vieilles Vignes’ (old vines), in this case mainly over 50 years.  As vines age, their root system expands and so they can pick up more moisture and nutrients from the soil.  At the same time, they tend to produce fewer bunches so all this extra goodness is concentrated into fewer grapes.  The result is more intense flavour which shows through on the finished wine.

But it’s not just that.  Often, grapes struggle to ripen in the cool Loire climate.  At Fesles, they hand-harvest very carefully choosing only the best and ripest grapes.  This may cut down on the amount of wine they make, but it ensures the quality.  They are also moving towards organic methods which the owners believe will further improve the wine.

In the winery, fermentation is in oak barrels followed by 6 months on the lees.  Interestingly, Fesles prefer 400 litre barrels to the more common 225 litre and shun new oak arguing that the use of larger barrels and older wood gives a more subtle oak character.

All this comes together to make a very classy full, rich white and a real bargain at the price.  Drink it with flavoursome white meat or poultry dishes and you, too, may be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

David and Goliath

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As a Wine Educator, this is one of the busiest – and most interesting -times of my working year but I’ve just run my last tasting of 2017 and so I can relax for a few weeks.  This year, that final event featured one of my most popular themes: a contest between wines from Europe against the Rest of the World with the audience voting for their favourites.  It’s one that almost always makes for an enjoyable evening.

With the sales figures showing that UK customers prefer wines from the Rest of the World to those originating in Europe, it’s often a surprise to many when I tell them that the tasting is a David and Goliath battle – with Europe, not the Rest of the World, as Goliath.  In fact, most years Europe produces around twice as much wine as the Rest of the World and either France or Italy alone turns out more than USA, Argentina and Australia (the 3 largest non-European producers) together.  2017 was a different story but that’s a blog for another day.

The contest this time featured 8 different wines in 4 matched pairs, all tasted blind so that no-one (except me!) knew the identity of any wine.  When the votes were added up, the Rest of the World was the narrow winner overall, but Europe put up a fair fight winning one of the 4 rounds and tying in another.

2017-12-07 10.01.23The European success was the delightful, herby, fragrant Stella Alpina Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige in northern Italy (£10.99 – all the wines for this tasting were bought from Majestic), while the ‘Rest’ winners were from California and Chile.  The latter, Montes’ Single Vineyard Chardonnay from the 2017-12-07 10.18.18cool Casablanca Valley (£8.99) showed a lovely buttery richness and just a hint of vanilla and spice from brief oak ageing.

California’s winner, Majestic’s Parcel Series Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, was the cheapest wine of the evening 2017-12-07 10.18.11and a real bargain at £7.49.  5 years old and with all the soft, harmonious flavours that age produces – this is remarkable for the price.

And, indeed, with none of the wines above £11, this tasting showed that, by shopping around you really don’t have to spend a fortune to find winning wines.

Wine with Lobster and Beef

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“Drink with lobster risotto or rare prime rib”.  Winemakers often put advice on their labels concerning possible food matches but, I must say, this one really surprised me.  Why?  Because, in my mind, I can’t imagine a single wine that might pair successfully with these 2 dishes; indeed, in many ways, I’d be looking at almost diametrically opposite wines. 

The richness of the lobster and the creaminess of a good risotto would point me towards a big rich white – something from Burgundy or the Rhône, perhaps, or a full-bodied Californian or Australian Chardonnay. And, although I’m not someone who subscribes blindly to the ‘white with fish, red with meat’ theory, for me, a rare prime rib is definitely red wine territory with a wide range to choose from.

So, what was this miracle wine that the winemaker thought might pair with either dish? 

Cline SyrahCline Cool Climate Syrah from California’s Sonoma Coast region (Majestic, £13).  Delightfully full and rich with intense red fruit flavours and just a hint of the kind of spicy, peppery flavours that many good Rhône Syrahs display, this is undoubtedly a big wine (14% alcohol), yet everything is so beautifully in balance that you’d never feel overwhelmed – or think that you’d have to stop after a single glass.

We drank it with some orange and molasses sugar marinated venison steaks and it went really well – the fruitiness in the wine matching the sweetness in the marinade and the pepperiness going with the gamey flavours of the meat.

But, personally, I still can’t see the wine going with either lobster or risotto.  But that is the wonder of food and wine pairing – everyone’s sense of taste is unique to them and different from everyone else.  And so it should be; without that, we’d lose the very diversity of food and wines that make this such a fascinating subject.

Pick up a Picpoul

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Not so long ago, the name ‘Picpoul de Pinet’ would have meant nothing to all but a tiny minority of wine lovers.  Today, while still not widely known, this crisp, dry white from the Languedoc region in the south of France is beginning to establish a reputation.  And, surprisingly, much of the credit for that change must go to Britain’s major supermarkets, most of whom now have an example in their premium ranges.  Take Tescos:

Picpoul 1their ‘Finest’ Picpoul is just £7 a bottle but is delightfully refreshing with lovely herby, citrusy flavours and enough richness to suggest it would be a perfect accompaniment to many creamy fish or shellfish dishes.  And, it’s not just the supermarkets who are selling Picpoul – Majestic’s Villemarin (£8.99) and the Wine Society’s Domaine Félines-Jourdan (my favourite example and great value at £8.50) mean that it is readily available for those who are looking for something just a little different – but nothing too scary!

Picpoul, the name of the grape variety (occasionally spelt Piquepoul), apparently translates as ‘lip stinger’ in the local dialect (but don’t let that put you off); its home is a tiny area between the towns of Pézenas and Mèze overlooking the Bassin de Thau, a glorious nature reserve within a stone’s throw of the Mediterranean.  Apart from this one wine, this part of the Languedoc is an area far better known for its reds – the southern French sun and heat are too much for most whites.  But not Picpoul – it retains its acidity and freshness and provides a very welcome glass chilled on a hot day. 

And, thanks to the supermarkets, before long, more wine lovers will be able to pick up a Picpoul.