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All About Albariño; The Rias Baixas Mini-Fair

By mthomas

I love Albariño (and the Portuguese version Alavarino) so did not want to miss this ‘Mini Fair’ held at Glaziers Hall. I also didn’t want to fail to write it up as it definitely deserves a bit of time and energy. Firstly, because the wines were really enjoyable. There was quality across the range as well as more than a few outstanding tipples. There was also real coherence, despite a variety of styles from the aromatic and peachy to the salty and austere.

Secondly, the Masterclass led by Peter McCombie was excellent. He is knowledgeable and enthusiastic without being gushing. He also shows a bit of humility and reminded the audience that ‘taste is individual’. When he got the year of a wine wrong he put his hands up rather than try and blag it as some experts do. He facilitated rather than lectured which is what people need from a tasting like this. The wines shown were;

Adegas Condes de Albarei Pazo Baion 2012 £20

Adegas Morgaido Morgaido 2012 £14

Bodegas Agro De Bazan Contrapunto 2012 £13

Bodegas del Palcio de Fefinanes Albarino 2012 £18

Bodegas Marques  de Vizhoja Senor de Folla Verde 2012 £20

Bodegas Terras Gauda Terras Gauda O Rosal 2012 £17

Eulogio Zarate Zarate 2012 £23

Grupo Vincola Marques de Vargas Pazo san Mauro 2012 £14

Hermanos Vazquez Abal Sete Cepas 2012 £12.50

Bodegas Maior de Mandoza 3 Crianzas £14

Pazo Barrantes 2012 £18.50

Bodega Pazo de Senorans 2012 £17

Bodegas Coto Redondo Senorio de Rubios 2012 £10.75

My benchmark for Albariño is Fefinanes from the Salnes appellation (orange on the map above) which showed well. It combined lightness with complexity. Lots of green herbaceous notes and a bit of consensus around ‘baked apple’. They also make an aged version but I am not convinced by aging beyond a year or two or by the addition of oak (although there are exceptions to every rule and the ambitious 2010 Comtesse from Pazo Barrantes at £40 is impressive).

Another consistent producer from Salnes, Zarate, had trademark salinity as did the Pazo Baion. I loved the Mendoza example which would wash down Pate Negra really well. I am a fan of the saltier less fruity style but if you like more weight of fruit go for the wines from Condado do Tea (blue on the map above). The blend from Vizhoja had a slight cannabis aroma some might enjoy and the Coto Redondo didn’t taste like the cheapest wine being shown but was (at £10.50).

The prices are retail guides and the lack of accents because it is a pain to put them all in!

These are superb food wines and the table of tapas from Iberica was just what the doctor ordered. Standout was a Pulpo Empanada with a bit of a chili kick. I could happily eat a plateful with a bottle of any of the above.



Lapostolle Altitudes

By mthomas

I led a tasting and wine quiz in Sussex at the weekend in aid of the Children’s Respite Trust and Sussex Air Ambulance.  Apart from being fun and raising a few quid for both charities it meant that I had to prep by setting quiz questions that would challenge the geeks in the audience but also be accessible and entertain those with a bit less knowledge. So there were ‘guess the price of a magnum of 1971 DRC’ type questions as well as Champagne quotes which most people know were care of Winston Churchill.

Local supplier Noble Wines provided a selection from the Lapostolle Altitudes range. Founded in 1994 by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who own Grand Marnier and Chateau de Sancerre. They are “French in essence, Chilean by birth” according to the blurb. They have some decent Green credentials with lighter bottles made from recycled glass and sustainable paper sources.

The four Altitudes wines tasted were all technically sound if nothing to write home about.  All 100% varietals, the Chardonnay was easygoing with a slight petillance. Lacking complexity and, to my mind, inoffensive, it would be an easy food match. I was surprised how the crowd of 60  had such diverse responses to it. I was less surprised the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally divisive, with the ‘big red brigade’ satisfied by the tannins but those less into ‘puckering’ damming it mercilessly.

The Carmenere was more successful. A pleasing crimson colour, not really the deep purple they suggest on the bottle. Good fruit and spicy notes. I gave a bit of spiel about the history of the grape and the relationship to Merlot (having made the effort to prep some notes). What confused me was the tasting note on the bottle citing ‘white chocolate’ which none of us could detect (even when suggested!). I think this may be a clever(?) bit of marketing…

The best of the range was the Sauvignon blanc. It had surprising body and as one astute granny commented ‘there’s nothing thin about it’. Fresh rain on grass and some intriguing asparagus and nettle notes. Almost too complex to function as an easy aperitif it needs goats cheese and a hunk of bread. A very good alternative to overpriced NZ SB. They all retail at about £7.50 and come in at 13.5% alcohol.

Click here if you want to make a donation to support respite care for disabled children, or to keep the Sussex Air Ambulance flying click here.




The Wine Gang Live

By mthomas

‘The Wine Gang’ (pictured) contacted me to announce an offer for winepsych readers on tickets to their forthcoming wine events. These are being held in November in Bath (2nd), London (9th) and Edinburgh (30th). There are lots of exhibitors, masterclasses and a pop-up shop to buy some of the 600 wines available for tasting. The Gang are an engaging and knowledgeable bunch who will be on hand to advise during the fairs. If you want to attend at a discounted price  (£12 instead of £20 entry as well as 10% off masterclass tickets) then simply pay a visit to and use the code BLOG40 when booking.



Dezat Sancerre

By mthomas

I revisited the Squid Ink restaurant in Looe last weekend (previous review here) and, although it has changed hands, it is still pretty good. It also has a decent wine list. We were eating various fishy bits and meat so went for a rose’ from Andre Dezat et Fils who have some great holdings around Sancerre. The restaurant had it listed as 2011/12 and I would usually go for the more recent vintage but the 11 turned up and was fine . It is a proper food wine and stood up/complemented pretty much everything from mussels to steak. We asked for the second bottle to be a 12 (to do a bit of a geeky compare and contrast) but it wasn’t available.

Taking the dog to Victoria Park a couple of days later I popped into the Bottle Apostle and lo and behold the 2012 was sitting there. They also stock the white and red so I got a bottle of the former (but not the latter as I am on a pinot noir moratorium because I have plenty in the cellar drinking really well and am also a bit skint). It was predictably fresher than the 11, showed a bit more acidity and fruit forward flavours. However, the 11 seemed a bit more complex so maybe this is a rose’ that can evolve in the bottle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend cellaring loads though.

The white was equally impressive and a reminder why sauvignon blanc does not always have to be NZ grapefruit juice.  Their Menetou Salon and Pouilly Fume’ are also good (according to a couple of my tasting notes from 07 and 09) but the red perhaps a bit less consistent. Wines from Dezat aren’t cheap and are stocked by quite a few top end retailers including Berry Bros, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols. However there seems to be quality across their range and it is worth paying the £15 or so for these wines.



Hedonism and a week in wine

By mthomas

RAW and LIWF were much as expected this week with the former flourishing and the latter increasingly resembling a beached whale.  Truman Brewery felt alive, interesting and meaningful whereas Excel felt devoid of substance.  Perhaps this influenced my tasting because the natural wines at RAW this year seemed so much more rounded and engaging. I don’t often taste in the morning so maybe there was something about being ‘fresh’ and perhaps an order effect with RAW catching me at my best and LIWF feeling a drag in the afternoon despite the vintage Tattinger.

Anyway, this week I was also asked to join a symposium for a ‘high end’ wine magazine. It was held at Hedonism in Mayfair and the topic is hush hush until publication but there were some really interesting contributors including Frank Cornelissen who makes wonderful wine on Etna. Frank provided wines including his Contadino which I adore. He also provided some fascinating insights into his approach to winemaking.

So what of Hedonism? This Mayfair wine shop, owned by Russian Billionaire Evgeny Chichvarkin, is spectacular on every level.  The stock put together by Alistair Viner (a classic case of nominative determinism!) is a small miracle. There are wines for sale that you have to be seriously connected to even have a sniff of buying. The glass cabinet of d’yquem (pictured) looks like a Pantone colour chart segueing from straw through shades of gold to amber and mahogany. It’s aesthetically pleasing as sculpture but the real thrill is the idea of tasting these wines through decades of vintages. No doubt this would be hedonistic but the eudaimonic pleasures associated with sharing such an experience with like minds would be as rewarding as any sensory dimension.

What I liked about Hedonism was the attention to detail. The lighting, the racking and, most importantly, the temperature which is maintained at a very wine friendly level. My heart always sinks when I walk in to a wine outlet and it’s warm. Wrap up if you are going to spend time in there. Staff, including sake consultant Honomi Matsumoto, are numerous and helpful. It’s well worth an hour if you are in town and there are lots reasonably priced wines as well as many many  ’wow’ bottles. A beautifully ‘staged’ room of Sine Qua Non is very Rock n’ Roll and goes beyond a ‘retail’ experience. Is it art? Is it idolatry? The bling is there but there is also an underlying seriousness and passion which, for me, saves it from being overly ostentatious. Perhaps it should be called Eudaimonism.



Co-op 2013

By mthomas

I was interested to see how the Co-op’s range of wines has changed from last year but probably wouldn’t have gone to their tasting if it hadn’t had been at the ICA. It is an attractive venue and there was the bonus of a provocative show by the Bernadette Corporation (image left), called 2000 wasted years (here). Fittingly, they are a bit of a co-operative with a shifting membership and an interest in image and consumerism.

Last year one of my picks from the co-op range was the ecotastic Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (see blog). This year another wine from the Cono Sur stable stood out. The Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2011 shouted out incredible ‘quality to price ratio’. Smoky on the nose, lovely and crystalline to the eye and full of spiced fruit. At £7.49 this is a wonderful standard. Tesco often stock it too but why not plump for the Co-op instead and support their commitment to fair trade.

The Jour de Nuit Chardonnay Viognier 2012 is also a crowd pleaser with the 30% viognier adding aromatic and exotic notes to the chardonnay. Made by Xavier-Luc Linglin in Languedoc Roussillon this is yet more evidence of the area being able to produce wines that can compete in a higher price bracket (£9.99). The Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 2011 was a fine example, also at just under ten quid. There is much to enjoy about 2011 Rieslings from the Mosel. They are fragrant, accessible and warm but a hard sell in UK supermarkets. I hope this wine does shift because it is the opposite of the mainstream homogeneity that often thrives.



Thorsten Melsheimer Riesling Trocken 2011 at The Winery W9

By mthomas

Fresh back from a pretty boozy trip round the med I found myself at a Harley Street bash with some pretty uninspiring wines on offer. I was in good company though and knew The Winery in Little Venice was only a short cab ride away. So we decamped to catch the end of one of  owner David Motion’s Tuesday night tastings which always guarantee a few well chosen wines and relaxed banter.

The Winery (pictured) is a gem of a local wine shop. It attracts an informed, and pretty affluent, crowd. It also stocks some really interesting wines, particularly from Germany and Italy. David is passionate about Riesling and the Thorsten Melsheimer Riesling Trocken 2011 (£14.99) from Mosel is a good example of why this grape is ‘noble’.  Thorsten describes himself as ‘stupid’ for working the ridiculously steep slopes in Reil but his passion should be applauded. He farms organically and picks late (October in 2011) so all the fruity characteristics of Riesling emerge. But, this is a dry wine and there is nothing cloying about it. A really elegant and refreshing glass on a surprisingly balmy night.

If you live in London and like Riesling you should visit The Winery at some point. If you live in, or close to, W9 you should set it as your default venue for picking up a bottle on the way home.

The Winery 4 Clifton Road W9 1SS  tel 0207 286 6475



Burgundy 2011

By mthomas

I have been pleasantly surprised by the 2011 Burgundy En Primeur tastings. The wines haven’t been massively hyped but are stylistically more ‘up my street’ with lower alcohol and more restraint than the lauded 09s and 10s (both of which I like). I guess most telling is what I actually bought to drink and it wasn’t at Grand, or even Premier, Cru level.  I am increasingly priced out of these as Burgundy becomes ever more globally fashionable but in 2011 it also seems that top end wines might not be the best value because of the understated nature (limited longevity?) of the vintage. Given the problems with 2012, 2011 en primeur may be an opportunity not to be missed

The Corney and Barrow Tasting at the Tower of London gave an excellent overview of the pros and cons of the vintage and was the one that got me to part with cash.  I ended up buying all three wines being shown by Domaine A & P de Villaine. The name will probably ring DRC bells but this is Aubert de Villaine’s own Domaine, based in Bouzeron, set up with his wife Pamela and now run by his nephew Pierre. (Website here). Villaine is of the ‘wines are made in the vineyard’ school of thought, and the wines reflect restraint in the cellar. A & P de Villaine has been organic since 1986 (certified by Qualicé-France) and the approach is well-bedded in, perhaps influencing the high quality of the fruit despite challenging conditions in 2011.

The Côte Chalonnaise (named after the region’s county town Chalon-sur-Saône and AKA Région de Mercurey) was identified as having good terroir by monks during the Middle Ages. Wines from Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey and Montagny often provide value at a basic level but the area also has some seriously good makers some of them, like Villaine, interested in tradition rather than fashion.  These wines also seem to be particularly food friendly.

Bourgogne Aligoté de Bouzeron (2011) A & P de Villaine; Aligoté may have been relegated in much of Burgundy (often for good reason) but in Bouzeron it is still extensively grown. This is Aligoté Doré, more refined than the more prevalent Aligoté and, in this incarnation, it ages well. Lots of lemon and hints of melon with wonderful minerality. Not cheap but fascinating and satisfying. Corney and Barrow, £135 per case of 12 in bond.

Rully Les Saint-Jacques (2011) A & P de Villaine; Despite its youth this is accessible (and may not be the longest lived white burg out there). The usual suspects of green fruit and blossom with a bit of brioche. I guess I could have bought any number of similar wines elsewhere but there was something about staying with the maker once I had decided on the other two wines. Corney and Barrow, £175 per case of 12 in bond.

Mercurey Les Montots (2011) A & P de Villaine; ‘Les Montots is situated on a fairly steep slope with southern exposure, planted with a selection of Pinot Noir vines from Nuits-Saint-Georges chosen for their aromatic qualities and moderate yield.’ Assorted red fruits and pleasant spiciness. At first it appears quite slight but there is an underlying structure that makes it surprisingly age-worthy (ready to drink in a year or two but potentially until 2020 onward).  Traditional yet quirky, I can’t wait to drink it cellar cool with food. Corney and Barrow, £100 per case of 6 in bond. (This is made in such a small quantity that there is a limit of 6 per customer).



La Valle Franciacorta tasting

By mthomas

I was in town for a conference on inclusion earlier in the week and dropped in to a tasting in Bermondsey with Andrea D’Ercole from, a small set up specialising in Italan wine and food. We were joined by Stefano Camilucci from La Valle Franciacorta who was showing three of his wines. What I really liked about the tasting was the small number of wines being shown; three sparkling Franciacorta, two whites and two reds all of which are drinking well now (see below), with a selection of anti-pasti and good company to discuss them with. This is much more analogous to how wines are drunk in real life rather than the false setting of a controlled tasting or a huge free for all with juvenile tannic monsters.

Franciacorta, La Valle NV

This Italian sparkling wine is made using the ‘Champagne method’ with a second fermentation in the bottle. Chardonnay, pinot bianco and pinot noir are vinified separately and then blended. It is a surprisingly structured and elegant Brut fizz. 12.5% and definitely worth trying at £20.99.

Franciacorta Rose’, La Valle NV

Left on its lees for at least 30 months, this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is a lovely onion skin/pink. Fragrant fruit and lingering yeasty aftertaste I really enjoyed. Durable enough for food and good competition for more expensive French competitors. 12.5% and £24.59

Franciacorta Zerum, La Valle 2001

Zerum is a Riserva made only in the best vintages fom Chardonnay from the oldest vineyard. This is a big, rich fizz that clearly benefits from the aging process (60 months). Only a few hundred bottles are produced each year. Very versatile in terms of food. Impressive even at £53.99.

From a single sea facing vineyard in the north west of Sardinia. This is an atypical Vermentino, rich and minerally. Lots of fruit on the nose and hints of tropicality. Most striking is an ozone quality and long finish. A really good food wine (13.5%) £13.99.



Summer review

By mthomas

The Olympics have defined this summer. In many ways they are now defining September too which is a huge achievement for the Paralympics. I had committed so much to the former that the latter became a bit peripheral despite my work with kids with disabilities. I came back from France (see below for winey stuff) and was faced with awe inspiring images of people showing the world that our stereotypes are patronising and outmoded. There are challenging new discourses opening up and wandering around Stratford is even more  inspiring than it was 4 weeks ago. Fantastic! Luckily quite a few friends have tickets so I am going to get to see some events. I can’t wait.

I managed to visit Languedoc‐Roussillon, Burgundy and Champagne over the summer and it has been a good opportunity to reflect on their relative strengths and weaknesses. The extreme south east of France will always be one of my favourite places. The wildness, magical light, social history, food and wine …  it has it all and is a hugely underestimated wine region because of its history of mass production. Makers such as Jean Gardies and Olivier Pithon are the antithesis of this, making terroir driven wines characteristic of the physical landscape but also representative of cultural capital and attitudes. I was told that Pithon is no longer making his ‘Saturne’ and have contacted him to try and find out if this is true. That wine epitomises all that’s good about the area; old republican vines, grenache, carignan and syrah, biodynamic experimentation, garrigue and minerality. It would be a profound loss and I have had my fill of that this summer.

I had been due to meet up in France with my friend Mark and his family but he had already told me he would be too ill to travel due to surgery and chemo. He died a few days before I left after demonstrating how to face a terminal diagnosis with bravery and humour. I found myself surrounded by the beauty of Collioure reflecting on how much I would have enjoyed sharing the wines of the region with him as our kids played on the beach. He will be badly missed, particularly by Nicola, Ella and Nick. He is also a loss to Psychology, the training of clinical psychologists and to our understanding of disability, the area that fascinated him.

I have spent years in search of obscure vineyards and dragging my family around cold and dimly lit cellars but they still show great magnanimity about such visits. In Burgundy we had bikes and the highlight was a pleasant ride from Beaune to Puligny‐Montrachet taking in Meursault and a few other villages sacred to ‘Burg hounds’. It was a wobbly ride back after a tour, tasting and lunch at Domaine Leflaive. Disguised as exercise this was still great fun and my boys thought Simon Aplin’s engaging wine spiel the best of the summer visit talks.

Like Burgundy, Champagne has so many tasting opportunities it can be a bit overwhelming. A lot of the bigger houses are closed in August but Mumm was buzzing and they have good infrastructure for visitors. They also have a house style I quite like (not as much as Verve Cliquot or Pol Roger though) and a few interesting lines not available in the UK. Visits to Epernay and various growers are easy and well worth it. Although everyone is raving about ‘grower champagne’ I found them patchy though a couple were superb.

So my favourite wines of summer;

Mon P’tit Pithon Blanc Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Domaine Olivier Pithon A snip at 16 euros for a magnum given the current exchange rate. Maccabeu, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris blended to accompany food and please rather than impress. Not too boozy and very gluggable so perfect for long lunches with lots of local anchovies.

La Torre (2009) Côtes du Roussillon Villages Domaine Jean Gardies Not cheap at twenty quid but a seriously good wine with a great future. Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan, it has depth and balance that could stimulate a myriad of pretentious comparisons.

Saint Romaine Sous Le Chateau (2009) Domaine Olivier Leflaive Lovely mineral white Burgundy that is good value at not much over a tenner in France (premier cru status is being pursued but has not been granted yet). The 2010 is available in the UK from Haynes, Hanson and Clark.

Champagne Fernand Lemaire Champagne Brut (2005) An admirable effort from a medium sized family concern.  80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir. Ginger biscuit notes which might not be everyone’s cup of tea but works for me. Premier cru although that designation in Champagne doesn’t really say much.

And favourite things to see and do; say ‘hello’ to the mischievous ‘Messire Bertrand’ in the kitchen at the  Hospices de Beaune, eat Bouzigues oysters at the fishermen’s outlet in the harbour at Port Vendre then night sail back to Le Racou, visit Montrachet as a reminder that magic can emerge from pretty humble fields, ooh and ahh at the Champagne themed and Chagall designed stained glass windows in Reims Cathedral, whisper ‘Merrett’ by Dom Pérignon’s grave in the pretty chapel at Hautvillers, and perhaps best of all go on all the slides at ‘Aqualand’ in Argeles with fearless kids…