Tag Archives: Majestic Wine Warehouse

A Week in Bristol – Part 2

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Now that my crowded week of 4 tastings is behind me, it’s time to reflect on the final 2 events that I couldn’t fit into my Blog last time.

The first continued with the theme of Spain and Portugal with the added interest that my client asked me to choose wines from the ‘Hidden Corners’ of these 2 fascinating countries.  In fact, for many UK wine drinkers, most of Portugal and much of Spain (except, perhaps, Rioja and Cava) are ‘hidden’, so I had plenty of scope to make my selections.

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An early favourite was the Casal de Ventozela Alvarinho from northern Portugal (£9.99 – all the wines for this tasting were from Majestic).  Alvarinho is the same grape as Spain’s Albariño and this delightful, fresh white showed lovely peach and citrus flavours and a long fragrant finish.

But, it was a pair of Spanish reds that attracted the most praise – both for their quality and for their amazing bargain prices.  Pizarras de Otero (£7.49) was intensely fruity with aromas and flavours of ripe strawberries, plums and blackberries.  Made with the Mencia grape variety, local to the Bierzo district in north-west Spain, this reminded one taster of a young Pinot Noir.

The striking label on Matsu’s ‘El Picaro’ (£8.99) from Toro in the west of Spain (left-hand bottle, above) lists the grape variety as ‘Tinta de Toro’, but this is simply a local name for Spain’s best red grape, Tempranillo.  Bigger and richer than the Bierzo and with a little smokey spice and chocolate added to the black fruits, this would have been far more expensive if it had come from one of the better-known Tempranillo areas.

The last tasting of the week was another of my Saturday classes at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Adult Education Centre.  This time, my theme was ‘Anything but Chardonnay, Anything but Cabernet’.  Despite the title, we did taste 2 examples of each of these grapes to explore their diverse flavours.  But it was one of the Cabernet alternatives that was unanimously voted as best wine of the day. 

20181117_152855_resized (2)Ironically, in view of the focus of my week, it came from Spain: Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva 2014 (Waitrose, £9) was beautifully mellow and spicy from 20 months ageing in oak but still young enough to allow the soft red fruits to show through.  A real delight at a very reasonable price, and a deserved winner.

As for me, after my busy week, it’s time to relax with a nice glass of wine

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Priorat Re-vitalised

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Most wine drinkers will be familiar with the name ‘Cava’ although, according to a recent survey, surprisingly few who bought it knew where it came from.  The correct answer is, of course, Catalonia, but this region in the north-east of Spain has far more than just the popular sparkling wine to offer.  I’m thinking, in particular, of the marvellous, intense red wines from the remote hills of Priorat. 

Vines were first planted there by Carthusian monks in 12th century and wine has been made there ever since.  But, by the 1980s, Priorat’s vineyards were regularly being abandoned and the area was in danger of disappearing from the wine map.  It was so steep and the stony land so difficult to work that most of the traditional farmers found winemaking there uneconomic and the younger generation were lured towards jobs in the larger towns or the tourist resorts along the coast. 

But a small group, led by Rene Barbier, were moving in the opposite direction.  They recognised the potential in the very old bush vines of Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) and in the unusual llicorella soil, comprised of decomposed slate and quartz, which reflects the heat and aids the ripening of these late-maturing varieties.  Now, some 30 years later, the area has been re-vitalised and is producing some outstanding wines and, although the most prestigious ones sell for £200 or more, you can find some extremely attractive bottles for a lot less.

PrioratTake Arc de Pedra, available from Majestic, for example (£12.99).  At first sip, you find lovely sweet red fruits but, as it develops in the glass, it reveals raisins, prunes and subtle hints of vanilla and toasted almonds.  As you might expect, this is a big wine (14%) but it is well balanced.  The 2016 vintage that we opened was still showing quite prominent tannins, and although it went well enough with the strong flavours of a venison steak, in truth I probably opened it a couple of years too soon.  But, whether you drink it now or keep it, it would certainly benefit from decanting a couple of hours in advance, a comment that would apply equally to most of the deep, brooding reds from this – happily – rediscovered area.

Look for the Gravel

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Gravel

Wines from the Graves area in the south of Bordeaux will be well-known to many wine lovers.  The area takes its name from the French word for gravel, which describes the soil conditions there – conditions that are shared with many of the most prestigious parts of Bordeaux’s Haut-Medoc (see picture above, thanks to Wine and Spirit Education Trust). 

So, why is the gravel so important?  Two reasons: firstly, it ensures that the ground is well-drained so that, although the vines can get enough water to help them grow (assuming it rains at the right time), their roots aren’t sitting in water which might rot them.  And secondly – and this is particularly important in wine regions with marginal climates such as Bordeaux – each tiny piece of gravel acts as a mini storage heater, absorbing the heat of the sun during the day and radiating it out at night.  This means that the vineyard retains heat – and the grapes continue to ripen – even after the sun has gone down.

But Graves isn’t the world’s only wine region where gravel plays its part: the same thing happens in the area known as the Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay.  This was an area created less than 150 years ago when a devastating flood caused the River Ngaruroro to change its course and left the deep gravel of the former river bed exposed.  Despite the parallels with Bordeaux (including the relatively cool climate), it took more than 100 years before the vine growing potential of the area was recognised.  But, since 1990, the Gimblett Gravels have been an important source of – mainly red – wines.  And, not surprisingly, the majority of the grapes planted there are Bordeaux varieties.

Craggy RangeWe opened an exceptional example recently: Craggy Range’s Te Kahu (Majestic, £15.99) is mainly Merlot with some Malbec (yes, that is a Bordeaux variety, even though Argentina is now claiming it as its own!), Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Cabernet Franc also in the blend.  Delightfully smooth and fresh with lovely black fruits and just a subtle hint of spice, this is really delicious and a real bargain compared to many Bordeaux reds of this quality.

So, next time you’re in a vineyard, whether in Bordeaux, New Zealand or somewhere else, look down and, if there’s gravel beneath your feet, it is likely that the wine will be something special.

 

Location, Location, Location

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KrasnoThere’s a saying in the property business that the 3 most important factors in determining how much you can sell your house for are ‘location, location and location’.  It seems it’s much the same with wine; a bottle we opened recently could easily have cost twice as much if it had come from one of the more fashionable parts of the wine world – Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé, perhaps – yet the delicious, Sauvignon Blanc-based white, Krasno, was just £7.99 from Majestic!  Why? It came from Slovenia.

Not to be confused with Slovakia, (the eastern part of the now divided Czechoslovakia), Slovenia was always the most forward and outward looking part of the former Yugoslavia from a wine point of view and, in 1992, the country was the 1st to declare independence.  Some of its vineyards, particularly those in the Goriska Brda area, where Krasno comes from, adjoin those of Italy’s Friuli region and, in fact, a number of growers have land on both sides of the border; how do they label their wine if it’s blended from some grapes from their Italian vineyards and some from Slovenia, I wonder?

But, back to the Krasno: apart from the Sauvignon Blanc, the blend also comprises a high quality grape variety local to both Friuli and Slovenia: Ribolla Gialla.  The combination produces an attractive, quite fragrant white with hints of elderflower and lovely ripe pears on the palate.  Although the Sauvignon is the majority grape, you wouldn’t immediately identify it as the flavours are richer than a Loire Sauvignon and with less tropical fruit than a New Zealand example.  It seems the Ribolla Gialla is punching above its weight and giving the wine real ripeness and character.  For just £7.99, the length is excellent, too.

And that’s all due to where this wine comes from.  Customers will pay for famous names and well-known regions so, if you’re looking for a real bargain, remember the property motto: location, location and location.

Cup and Rings

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Cup and Rings AlbarinoIt wasn’t just the label that made me buy this wine, although I was so intrigued by both its design and the name – The Cup & Rings (available from Majestic, £9.99) – that I had to pick it up.  I suppose that counts as a victory for the marketing team!  But, when I looked more closely, I realised this was a wine I should try. 

The label showed it was made from one of Spain’s best native grape varieties for white wines, Albariño, grown in the ideal cool climate of Galicia in the far north-western region of the country.  Then there were the words ‘Sobre lias’; this is a winemaking technique that involves leaving the wine on the dead yeast cells (the ‘lees’ in English, ‘lias’ in Spanish) for a period of time after the fermentation has finished.  The aim of this is to add a certain depth of flavour to the wine and often to create an attractive savoury character.  In this case, the period of ageing on the lees was 2 full years – longer than I’d normally expect, but clearly promising a wine with some complexity.

The winemaker was obviously pleased with his creation as there was his signature on the label: Norrel Robertson is a Master of Wine who has been making wine in Spain since 2003, although he is a Scot by birth, hence his local nickname which translates as the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

On opening the bottle, the wine was as good as I’d hoped for: delightfully refreshing, rich and complex with a lovely floral character and ripe pear flavours – rather than the stone fruits I often associate with Albariño.  But there was also an almost salty tang about it – not surprising, I suppose, given how close to the sea many of the vineyards are in this part of the world.

And the name ‘Cup and Rings’?  It is, apparently, an ancient Celtic symbol found in prehistoric rock carvings across Europe, especially in both Galicia and Scotland.  So, very appropriate for a Scot working in Galicia but also a great way to encourage curious customers like me to buy!

 

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.

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.