Tag Archives: Majestic Wine Warehouse

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.

 

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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.
 

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.