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Marguet Champagne

By mthomas

Lovely grower champagne from Marguet (made by Benoit Bonnerave 5th generation maker based in Ambonnay) care of the Wine Society. Its an elegant Blanc de Noirs (78% pinot noir and 22% pinot meunier). Unsurprisingly, given the black grape content, it’s slightly austere and less floral than most fizz.  It does have some really subtle russet apple flavours underneath its initially quite ‘manly’ (sic) style.

This is a pleasure on its own but magical with a hard cheese. It’s seriously good stuff that knocks the spots of some equivalent price big brands. The Wine Society keep rooting out gems like this and I am gradually working my way through their range of grower champagnes because the quality is consistently high and there is wonderful variety amongst the range. This would be a great place to start;

Champagne Marguet Blanc de Noirs The Wine Society £22



Supermarket Picks

By mthomas

People often ask me what my picks from supermarket shelves are. As a Psychologist I am generally opposed to giving advice because it is often a poisoned chalice. I also don’t particularly like helping supermarkets shift wine and generally prefer supporting smaller independent outfits. However, there are some really decent wines available on the shelves and some of them are made by thoughtful and skilled producers. So, here are some I think of as good value for money (i.e. technically sound, relatively cheap and probably enjoyable for most drinkers). They can often be found in more than one supermarket and prices vary depending on offers etc.

For fizz Cremant de Jura Chardonnay 2010 £6.99 from Aldi is hard to beat. If you want the real stuff Blanc de Noirs Brut Champage £22 Sainsbury’s ticks my boxes (especially when discounted).

For whites I really like M and S. Their Palataia Pinot Grigio (with a bit of Pinot Bianco), a refreshing, tangy and easy-drinking example from Pfalz £8.49. M and S also stock a great alternative to NZ Sauvignon Blanc; Secano Sauvignon Gris £9. It’s made from an ‘interesting’ and under utilised grape and is very consistent across vintages. However, the outstanding supermarket white has to be Hatzadakis Assyrtiko Waitrose £12. Whenever they discount by 25% for 6 bottles (as they are at the moment) I buy this wine because it is ‘great’ in every sense of the word. A really fine wine with a wonderful heritage, it slips down as an aperitif, goes with food and can spend a bit of time in the cellar doing interesting things. All for £10 a bottle.

I don’t think there is an equivalent ‘great’ red but there are some really pleasing gluggers out there. I often wax lyrical about various Chilean Pinots inc. pretty much all the Cono Sur range which Burgundy simply can’t compete with under £10. France can do it in other areas though and there are lots of decent reds from the Languedoc and Rhone. Villages Seguret Cotes du Rhone 2011 Morrisons £5.99 is a crowd pleaser. I often recommend Vina Mayu Sangiovese Asda £5.50 but it seems to be getting a bit oakier which I don’t really like (but lots of people do). I could mention a few Malbecs but am finding the bog standard supermarket versions a increasingly tedious. However, there is no doubting Argentina, like Chile offers value. If anyone knows a decent Italian red outside Italy for under a tenner do let me know.

My number one supermarket tip at the moment would be… Sherry! Asda Fino at £5.50 is a steal and the rest of the range is worth trying to find the one you like (you will like one!). Sherry is deeply unpopular with most people and a hard product to shift despite its high quality. Supermarket buyers seem to like it though and take it seriously. The new wave of sherry bars opening in London and the consistent whispering of the cognoscenti are yet to impact on popularity (and prices) though so fill your boots whilst you can.



Calvet Picpoul de Pinet 2012

By mthomas

This post should be called ‘Picpoul the other one’ because Ocado are definitely trying to pull a fast one. Listed at £5.95 (reduced from £11.95) this wine appears to be massively discounted. However, if you were to chat with a fisherman in Port Vendres and mention a 15 euro bottle of Picpoul he would laugh his waders off.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Picpoul and have been drinking it for years in its spiritual home. It’s a regional, rustic gem and a great food wine; particularly with oysters. However,  a bit like most rose’ from the Languedoc-Roussillon, it has a price ceiling and wines made from this grape are pretty much always under 10 euros.  So where did the £12 a bottle price come from?

Firstly, Ocado is a premium outlet. Those ex-investment bankers have been chucking money at it for years but I am still not convinced by their business model. They stock some great wines and charge premium prices. Calvet are a reasonably large concern and the Bordeaux association might add some prestige (and make them a good match for Ocado due to production level and branding). Picpoul is also an increasingly trendy grape and a nice alternative to Muscadet which can be a confusing product. The Calvet example is also a really nice wine (see below). However, my theory is that the £11.95 price is a fiction. It is a shame that they feel the need to do this because I would have been happy to buy the wine at £6 without all the nonsense.

So… the wine is fresh and dry. 12.5% alcohol and very food friendly. Some lovely hints of acacia. A really good example and well-priced at £6. A bit of a joke at £11.95. I would possibly stretch to 7 or 8 as this is the range other good examples tend to be priced at e.g. the ubiquitous and very reliable Felines Jourdan. For a top notch example try Benjamin Darnault.




Mangiacane Chianti Classico Riserva 2004

By mthomas

This was sent to me by Hard to Find wines under my usual ‘no guarantee of review just because it’s a freebie’. It was one of the wines on their list that I was interested in trying because I don’t tend to drink Chianti unless I am in Italy or at an Italian themed tasting (many of which I avoid because I find drinking young oaky reds about as much fun as chewing acorns). I also have a deeply held construct that most decent Italian wine is either kept for domestic consumption or is an expensive premium export (this is £29.99) once it gets to our shores because Americans love them so much and are willing to pay for them…

So, first impressions are archetypal. The bottle weighs a ton. The Neopolitan Mastiffs on the label are cool (the name translates as great dog not dog eater). A combination of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino (which plays a similar role to Petit Verdot in Bordeaux blends  i.e. colouring from polyphenols without too much on the aromatic side). Boozy nose (14.5%); another reason I don’t drink big Italian reds often.  Dark plum, the Colorino works, but showing a bit of age. Some nice tarry notes combined with residual fruit (black cherries). Had shed it’s tannins and thrown a sediment which I tend to see as a good sign. Drank it straight from the cellar and kept it cool because of the hot weather. Nice with steak frites.

Hard to Find (website here) identify their USP as being champions of small artisan wine makers. Their range is pretty scattergun but this may simply be a reflection of their passion for family run wineries and a belief that these make high quality wines. Definitely worth a browse.



2007 Rhone revisited

By mthomas

Having Brighton and Hove Albion season tickets for myself and youngest son, means we go down to Sussex every few weeks for a match. The Amex stadium is a wonderful ground set in the South Downs opposite Sussex University and Brighton, under inspirational Manager Gus Poyet, are playing lovely football. Having supported Albion through rough times, including the end of the Goldstone Ground, near extinction and wilderness years at Withdean Stadium it is great to see them winning matches in the Championship and still dreaming of Premiership football (although it is always good to be careful what you wish for as there is so much that is good about the Championship and a lot of downsides to playing in the top tier).

My mum, who lives outside Lewes, was one of many who opposed the planning application and although I was sympathetic to the arguments against it, my selfish desire for my team to have a decent ground won out over greener concerns. It really is a stunning venue and even visiting supporters rate it highly on fan sites. With beer from Harveys and Dark Star as well as pies by Piglet’s Pantry we are well catered for. There is lots of space around the stadium so no mad crushes getting in, great acoustics and comfy padded seats. No wonder we have loads of season ticket holders and are getting the highest attendance figures in the Championship (regularly 28,000 plus).

So how does a 2007 Southern Rhone fit in to this football soliloquy? Whenever we are down for a match we visit family and friends who always seem to have fantastic foraged food, game or homegrown veg. Recently I came back with some wild venison which stimulated a 2007 Rhone tasting as I was conscious I have a few that are probably peaking. It was a difficult but decent year, (especially when compared to Bordeaux) but is surrounded by the excellent 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010 vintages which tend to overshadow it. Forget about the 08s…

Chateauneuf-du-pape, Domaine de la Roquette 2007

This is designed to be more approachable than it’s famous sibling Vieux Telegraphe (which was great in 2007 but still needs years to peak). This was the third bottle I have tried over the last 18 months and I was surprised how quickly it seems to be fading. Perfectly drinkable but lacking the subtlety and the complexity I had hoped it might develop. Dark fruit, alcohol and a bit of spice. I could buy something cheaper from more recent vintages that would knock spots off it. Maybe it is in an awkward, slightly closed, stage?

Domaine de l’Ameillaud Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne 2007

Cairanne is often pretty humble stuff but this showed some nice garrigue notes which worked with the venison. Made with a deft touch by Nick Thompson everything was nicely integrated and balanced. I am not sure I would leave this hanging around if I had any left. I’m sure it might last but it is hard to see it gaining anything and it is really enjoyable now.

Côtes du Rhône Villages Secret de Famille, Paul Jaboulet 2007

Jacques Desvernois sourced Syrah from Dauzaman in the Gard to make this for the Wine Society. Some Grenache was added (10%) and this has proved to be a wise decision as it definitely adds another dimension to it. More than capable of another couple of years but I wouldn’t go past 2015. Nice purple showing some age, sweet and spicy. A good affordable effort from classy stable.

Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2007

I love this wine in most vintages. The Mourvedre in the GSM blend is key. It often disappoints on opening but left to its own devices for an hour (or two), preferably in the open air, it starts to morph into something slightly animal. Crunchy when young this is well into its stride but shows no sign of fading. The brothers Brunier seem to take more risks, or exercise less control, with this wine than Roquette above. I am probably the one per cent that would rank this higher if I was forced to give scores.



Technology falters but Alvarinho hits all the right buttons

By mthomas

I had a bit of a technology meltdown recently. Broken phone, vanishing tablet at Gatwick, laptop lead mauled by puppy and backup phone deciding to give up the ghost after a decade of faithful service. Thus, I found myself in Portugal dependent on a hotel laptop to stay in touch with loved ones and work. The funny thing is that it was incredibly liberating. No checking multiple email accounts, video conferencing, texting,  googling, telephone tutorials, tweeting, skyping, blogging or impulse buying on Amazon, Ebay etc. Instead I  felt a pleasant connection with the immediate world and spent my time chatting with people, noticing things around me and generally entering in to a state of mindfulness that was an echo of simpler time.

Days became a simple refrain involving golf, wine, reading, chat and waves crashing in along the atlantic coast.  And so it goes…  This kind of routine has become alien to me and much as I love the frenetic pace of life in london it was a real antidote to atomised attention. Not enough to make me want to retreat to a Himalayan monastery but definitely enough to make me question the value added by information and communication technology.

So as I sipped Alvarinho with friends I became ever more conscious of the connection between the wine and the, for want of a better word, ‘terroir’. Vinho Verde means “green wine,” but translates better as “young wine”. The modern ‘Vinho Verde’ region was originally designated in 1908 and includes the old Minho province plus adjacent areas to the south. The resulting wines are widely available and keenly priced in Portugal. For example Muralhas (pictured) can be picked up for as little as 5 euros (or 3 or 4 times the price in a nice restaurant). Another good value one that is on a lot of restaurant lists is Deu et Deu.

I have often sung the praises of Albarino from over the border in Spain and there is something about the grape that ticks all the boxes for me. Refreshing, tangy, salty, peachy; great as an aperitif and good with lots of food. Often there is a pleasant spritz along with a limey acidity which makes it thirst quenching.  Also it tends not to be too boozy so can be glugged.  It is not always easy to find in the UK but Asda have an Albarino from the Rias Baixas in Spain (pictured) which is sometimes reduced from its already reasonable £7.98.




Canadian Chardonnay

By mthomas

I was really amazed by this wine as I would probably have plugged for Puligny in a blind tasting!  Made in the Okanagan Valley, the main viticultural area in British Columbia, by CedarCreek Estate (twice crowned ”Canada’s Winery of the Year”). This is part of their top-of-the-range Platinum label and was obviously made with serious care and attention, not to mention expensive barrels. It is easy to see why it’s picked up awards in Canada and the US. 357 cases were made but I guess not many pitched up in the UK.  I  will keep an eye out for other wines from CedarCreek and try to visit if I am in BC. This will drink well for years to come and I would love to taste it as it evolves and that expensive oak becomes more integrated.

Hand picked clone 76 and whole berry cluster pressed. 100% barrel fermented (25% with wild vineyard yeast) and 10 months in oak “from Coopers François Frères, Mercurey, Berthomieu, Remond and Dargaud & Jaegle”. Bottled September 2011 and released June 2012 . I love makers who put comprehensive information on the net. As well as the geek stuff they also have fun with tasting notes (see below) and a featured recipe; ‘bacon jam’ .  If you haven’t tried bacon jam their version is here. You could cook up a batch and pair it with this wine.

WHAT WE SMELL Pineapple and roasted almonds.

WHAT WE TASTE Grapefruit. Minerals and spice.

WE’D EAT IT WITH Fresh crab, just pulled from the pot on the stove.

WE’D ALSO PAIR IT WITH Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue.



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…