Monday, 31 January 2011

Some In-betweeners and Upcoming Celebrations

Hello all!

So we're between cases right now, while we wait for some wines from The Wine Society. I chose some of their own-label type stuff in a mixed case entitled the "Society's Top Sellers" - anyway, I'll elaborate on all that and what it was like shopping with them when we get stuck into the wines.

I think we're going to have a pause from the formulaic "mixed-12" reviews for a short while, and indulge ourselves a little. D and I both share February as our Birthday month so I thought we might have a couple of special bottles. Nothing too extravagant mind, it's not like we're going to be tucking into the Mouton or any of our other investments, or anything like that. No, nothing flash, but possibly something that may not be considered entirely frugal. So yes, if you can bear with us, for the next week or two, there might be a little change of focus, price-wise, but overall, my working class sensibilities will have the ultimate say on how much we spend!

Everything we drink over the next two weeks will be written up. I've bought D a few of the Concha Y Toro Trio Cab Sauv 2008 that she loved (maybe I'll make her write a tasting note for it!). I've been collecting the odd "nice bottle" with every order we've placed so far, so have a reasonable stock built up from Majestic, Oddbins, Laithwaites, Slurp and Virgin.

We started the ball rolling this week with the superb "Ladies Shiraz" as the staff at Oddbins called it. We bought two of these before Christmas and they were supposed to go into the cellar (i.e. wardrobe) for a few years. you can guess, we couldn't resist. The other one is staying there though... Honestly.

Plunkett Fowles, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz, 2008

A kind-of "Artisan" producer, blending cool wines in the awesomely named "Shire of Strathbogie" in Australia's State of Victoria. This is sold at Oddbins. Big at 14.5%

The Look: Super-dark, inky black-purple. 100% opaque and dense almost to the rim.
The Smell: I could pick out blackberry, plum, white pepper and bitter dark chocolate.
The Taste: Big and bold. So much fruit! Initial tastes were blackberry, smoky plum, violet and dark chocolate. Warmth but not "hot". Not an incredibly long finish but decent length. Fruit intensifies with time leading to intense black berries and a chocolate/coffee/mocha finish. Superb. Great balance.
The Score: Intense. Fruit first. Complexity second. Perfect amount of both. Could have been longer but very good indeed. 8.5/10. Highly Recommended.
VFM: Ok so VFM really isn't the main concern during this period of "treats" but what the hell...Normal price is £16.99 giving a VFM = 0.5 but when purchased with 5 other bottles (of anything) the 20% discount applies meaning £13.59 and a more palatable VFM = 0.63. Well worth it!

So after our Birthdays pass we'll return to more frugal ways and a nice mixed case from The Wine Society... Although we may need a dry week to sober up, in-between! I'll let you know how we get on!

As always...

Speak to you soon!



Monday, 24 January 2011

Naked Wines - A closer look...

Hello All!

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at a mixed case from Naked Wines (here:) and although blown-away by some of the wines,  I was a little under-whelmed by the "helping the little guy" ethos of the company. It it commendable? Yes. Do I really care? Not really. Are they a source of good value, good quality wine? Yeah, I think so.

Basically, there are two ways of getting even better value. They are not without "catches", albeit minor ones.

1. Become a "Naked Angel" - for this you need to sign-up to a regular (monthly) financial commitment of £20 per month (or more if you want). What do you get for this? 33% cash-back to your Naked Wine Account on everything you buy. In a few months, you have a decent wad built up and can buy a case. Do this a few times and you've earned enough cash back for a free case. Seems pretty good if you like the range of wines and can afford to commit £20 a month to the one supplier.

2. Buy up-front -  known as "Advance Bookings" and get a BIG discount. Basically, you buy the case before it's actually landed in the UK. It could be on the boat on the way to the UK, in bottle in the winery, in the tanks or barrels or even still on the vine. The earlier you buy the more you get off (typically discounts are 30 - 50%). The catch is - you have to wait. Some wines can be a couple of weeks away, some can be a few months before delivery. This is good if you want a case of one specific wine and are familiar with the producer, confident of the vintage etc, or prepared to take a gamble in search of a bargain. It's a big saving.

So basically this money you invest, gets used to help the winemakers with cashflow, offers them guaranteed sales etc. In return for investing with the winemakers, Naked gets wines at a preferential price and special wines made etc.

Anyway, I received some more wines for review and they turned out pretty good. Two Reds, a Rosé and three Whites...

Benjamin Darnault, Picpoul de Pinet, 2009

Another Picpoul from the Languedoc. Cool bottle - bright green glass with some funky shapes. 12.5%

The Look: Brightly coloured, very crisp yellow with green hints.
The Smell: Lovely. Grapey and spicy.
The Taste: Again, lovely. Grapey (think white Schloer grape juice without the bubbles). Nice, pleasing acidity. A long mineral finish with some honey-sweetness. Some apple hints as well. Great balance and was superb with our salmon fillets topped with garlic and herb soft cheese.
The Score: Very good. A great food wine but tasty enough to have on its own too. 8/10. Recommended.
VFM: At £9.99 this is good value at VFM = 0.8 (the Angels scheme would give you £3.33 back!).

Small and Small, Sylvia Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2010

A Marlborough Sauv Blanc here, named after the Winemakers' daughter Sylvia. Big at 14%.

The Look: A pale watery-white with a slight lemony tinge.
The Smell: A huge hit of ripe gooseberry and perfume.
The Taste: GREEN PEPPER?! Very odd - literally like biting into a green pepper. I think this will really polarise opinion, a real "Marmite wine" - love it or hate it. The acidity is very sharp and tangy, there was some gooseberry fruit but mainly savoury green pepper was the dominant taste. Definitely unique. I couldn't decide whether it was genius or disgusting. D reckons genius. I'm on the fence.
The Score: It wasn't unpleasant. It was different. I think I'll recommend on the basis of it should be tried; you'll either love it or hate it!  7/10. Recommended.
VFM: At £13.99 this is not cheap, giving a VFM of only 0.5. However, if you love it and you are an "Angel" then the £4.62 cash back might help.

Arabella, Viognier, South Africa, 2010

Produced in the family-run winery by Stephen de Wet in the Western Cape region. A big one at  14%.

The Look: A pale gold turning to water-white at the rim. Big and clingy on the glass.
The Smell: Lovely. Grapey, peachy, melon, apricot and sweetness.
The Taste: Unoaked. First taste had an almost "bubbly" acidity to it. Peach schnapps, white grape juice (again!), just off-dry with an apricotty-sweetness on the long lingering finish. Not silky smooth like most Viogniers. Good balance and good with our spicy Chinese noodle broth.
The Score: Pretty good. A solid wine for the money. 7/10.
VFM: At £7.99 this is good value at VFM = 0.88, Angels getting £2.64 back.

Castillo de Tafalla, Garnacha Rosé, Navarra, 2009

By Benoit Dreyer. Normally £6.99 a pop, but the 2010 can be ordered via the "Advance Booking" for £27.72 per 6-bottles (only £ 4.62 each) for delivery in March. 13.5%.

The Look: Deeply coloured; bright, dark-strawberry red.
The Smell: A great nose for a Rosé. Baked bread - specifically Tiger Loaf, tobacco, caramel, and lots of sweet, jammy red fruit.
The Taste: Actually very good. Delicious. The first thing you notice is the balance between bright acidity and sweet fruit; raspberry and strawberry along with some caramel or chocolate.
The Score: It may well be the two bottles we'd shared before this one talking, but damn it, I'm going to give it an 8/10. and yes, Highly Recommend it. If Rosé is your boat, then this should float your bag.
VFM: At £6.99 this is superb value at VFM = 1.14, but if you take up the Advance Booking it is mega-value at VFM = 1.73.

Bodegas Bargondia, Black Label, Rioja, 2009

By Carlos Rodriguez. Apologies for the picture, I had trouble getting the right exposure for this one, what with the black label and the auto-focus really wasn't up to it. That'll teach me for being lazy! Website says 14% my note says 13%. I've binned the bottle so can't check. Apologies again.

The Look: An oddball this one. Deep purple almost opaque with a violet rim. Not traditional Rioja in the slightest.
The Smell: It actually smells great; creamy sweet berries, like summer  fruit pudding or cheesecake. Some woodsmoke and some blackberry. Again, not a traditional Rioja.
The Taste: Bright acidity. VERY heavily oaked. This isn't even a crianza but is super-oaky. Spicy red berries, warming finish. A bit hot and a bitter aftertaste. Unusual blackcurrant.  This has no identity - tasting blind I would have said it was an over-extracted attempt at a Cabernet/Tempranillo from a hot dry Aussie region. The bitterness did fade with time and food but still nagged on the back palate.
The Score: It wasn't bad. It does lack identity and it is not for traditional Rioja fans. If you like dark, dense, hot, oaky Aussie wines then maybe give it a go. For £9 you can certainly do better. 6/10
VFM: At £8.99 this is reasonable value at VFM = 0.67, and Angels get £2.99 back.

Benjamin Darnault, AOC Minervois, 2009

Another one by Benjamin Darnault. Embarrassingly, I had to check on what the Minervois blend consisted of; Carnigan and Cinsault I knew but this surprised me by being just Grenache and Shiraz. 13%.

The Look: Dark purple, not 100% opaque but nearly there.
The Smell: Intense nose of violets. Floral with some lavender maybe? Soapy, caramel and black cherry yoghurt.
The Taste: Much the same, black cherry, intense violet. Smooth tannins, reasonably long finish. Developed raspberry and spice after a while. But, unfortunately, a bit hot and a bit harsh.
The Score: No great shakes but drinkable 6/10.
VFM: At £9.49 I thought this was a bit steep; VFM = 0.63, but Angels get a few quid back (£3.16).

So there we have some more from Naked Wines. Not bad on the whole; the whites definitely shone more than the reds this time. However, this is only a small sample. There were some great wines in the last mixed case and several I'd still like to try:
  - Plunkett Fowles and the "490m" sub-brand (so they're not all about the little guy) - We've seriously enjoyed their Shiraz before and the Chardonnay is an experience; tasted of smoked ham and cheese mixed with buttery, oily fruit (both also sold at Oddbins). The Riesling is also available and will probably blow minds.
 - I'd love to try the Brewery Hill Reserve Shiraz and Chardonnay after rating the standard Shiraz highly last time around.
 - The other Arabella wines should offer good value.
 - From Argentina; the Calicata Syrah and Occaso Torrontes look interesting.
 - The Classic South Pinot Gris (the Sauv Blanc was LUSH).
 - Kimbao seem to be highly rated, there's now some German wines and some "Named Village" Cote du Rhone (Rastau and Cairanne I beleive) from Cristia.

So, the range isn't as limited as I first assumed; clearly there's some good stuff, BUT, they are a small outfit.  The range will always be limited but I believe they are growing. If you want some bargains and are prepared to commit, either money, time or both, then there's even more value available through the discounting schemes covered. You can also feel slightly smug about doing a good deed while you're drinking.

I guess it boils down to: Will I use them again? A resolute Yes.

As always,

Speak to you soon.



Monday, 17 January 2011 - value wines for January pockets!

Slurp (, according to their website, are the UK's largest online retailer of wines, beers and spirits. Quite surprising, considering who else is out there (Majestic, Waitrose Direct, Tesco, Berry Bros etc.). They are also growing. Growing at such a rate that their Chief Investment Officer, back in May 2010, saw it necessary to inform the Decanter (magazine) staff and readers that they are doing very well indeed. All this in a recession? Well done to them.

It's no secret; online retailers can offer better value (less overheads due to the lack of need for real estate for shops, staffing, etc... etc.), but whether they do offer real value is usually down to the individual retailers, their range and pricing. I try to promote buying online as a great way of getting value for money.

So, what is the Slurp range like? If I'm permitted to use a colloquialism; it's berserk. (NB: That's good!). Literally thousands of wines. The Slurp Express range (where you can order single-bottle quantities) for mixed cases of 6 or 12 bottles has over 1200 wines alone! They also offer a large range of "fine" wines if you're after something special, but as it's January, we'll concentrate on the "value end"...for now.

The one minor gripe I have with the website is the search function - it can be misleading. Don't get me wrong, it's very comprehensive, you can filter by Grape, Country, Region, Vintage, Price, ad infinitum. However, when you do filter by a category, further irrelevant option are not removed. For example, select Argentina as a country and you will see the 1978 vintage displayed, along with all the others. BUT, as you might guess, clicking on 1978 does not yield any wines. Similarly, if you pick Chile for example, the Region options still show things like Barossa, which is clearly not relevant, but to the novice might mislead. Oh and don't type in "wine" from the homepage search to try and separate out the beers and spirits - you get 0 results! LOL.

Anyway, the wines... So, I received a case of six, 3x reds and 3x whites and a mix of old and new World, showcasing some of their value wines, all between £6 and £9 a bottle. Here's how they went down...

First the whites...

Alpha Zeta "S", Soave, 2009

Made in Veneto by the Kiwi export Matt Thompson, 75% Garganega and 25% Trebbiano di Soave 12.5%

The Look: Golden with green hints. Deeply coloured.
The Smell: Delicate at first (straight from the fridge) but warmed up to give orchard fruit, peach, apricot, floral whiffs and spiciness.
The Taste: Again, restrained at first but developed into pear, peach and apricot. Hints of honey, marzipan, lemon/lime and spice. Balanced acidity and a mineral finish. A good food wine, it won't overpower it.
The Score: Pretty decent. Don't serve too cold and have it with food 7/10.
VFM: At only £6.60 a bottle this is very good value VFM = 1.06.

Vidal, Natural Ferment Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, 2007

From the exquisite Hawkes Bay region of NZ, where wild yeasts were allowed to complete the fermentation, apparently. A big one at 14.5%

The Look: A lovely pale gold.
The Smell: Tropical fruit and grapefruit with a "flinty" minerality. Hints of smoke and spice.
The Taste: Zingy acidity, smooth and a lovely minerality. Tangy, spicy with hints of orange, cream, smoke and citrus. Beautifully complex, lots of flavour and intrigue. Delicious. High alcohol not at all noticeable.
The Score: Great, one of the best Chardonnays we've had recently. Something different from the hordes of apply/citrussy "clones" on the shelves. 8/10. Highly Recommended
VFM: This has very recently gone up from £8.65 to £9.50, which is a shame and impacts the VFM, but still pretty good at VFM = 0.79.

Monte Clavijo, Rioja Blanco, 2009

A Rioja Blanco here made from 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. 12%

The Look: A pale gold.
The Smell: A bit reticent, even when "warmed up" but hints of citrus, spice and minerals.
The Taste: Mainly apple - green apple. Fresh acidity and a decent long finish. Some lemon/lime and maybe hints of orange or orange blossom? Good with a creamy prawn spaghetti.
The Score: Nice. Not mind-blowing by any stretch, but a reasonable food-wine. Not much flavour for drinking on its own. 6.5/10.
VFM: Again, great value as this is only £6.10. VFM = 1.07.

And the reds...

Concha Y Toro, Trio, Cabernet Sauvignon*, Maipo Valley, 2008

Something special from Chilean giant Concha Y Toro. The asterisk* is because although Cab is the dominant grape, there's also some Cab Franc and Shiraz in the blend - hence the "Trio". Highly Parker-rated this one at 90+ points and also highly praised by Decanter in a recent Chilean Cab tasting. 14%.

The Look: A super-dark, intense black-purple only lightening slightly at the rim.
The Smell: Spicy, smoky, peppery black fruits on the nose. Similar to an an Elqui Syrah. Hints of mint/toothpaste and cherry too. A beauty.
The Taste: A lovely fresh acidity bursts into minty blackcurrant from the Cabernet, followed by spice and a perfumey blackberry/raspberry from the Shiraz and some slight graphite with violets from the Cab Franc. Hints of redcurrant and pepper. Smooth tannin. Excellent and would keep well I imagine.
The Score: Unsurprisingly, Parker and the Decanter lot were spot-on. Very good indeed. This is now D's favourite wine (she reckons it's a 10!). I kept my cool, but still I think it deserves an 8.5/10 and is unequivocally Highly Recommended. Maybe in a year or two this will be a 9, or maybe the ever-elusive 10? For under £10??? Wow...
VFM: At only £8.65 a bottle this is very good value VFM = 0.98 and the quality to price ratio that makes this all worthwhile.

Borgo Selene, Nero Mascalese/Nero d'Avola, 2008

A 50/50 blend of two grapes here from the Island of Sicily. Fairly light at  12.5%

The Look: An intense dark purple, violet rim.
The Smell: Smells like a cross between Malbec and Cab Sauv; blackcurrant and spice with smoky cherry. Smelling blind I would have said Cab.
The Taste: Bright red acidic fruit with lots of blackcurrant too. Smooth velvety tannin, revealing oaky vanilla. Some cherry on the finish. Great with Bolognese.
The Score: Lovely. Not mind-blowing but a solid wine for the price 7/10.
VFM: Once again, great value as this is only £6.65. VFM = 1.05.

D'Arenberg, The Stump Jump, GSM**, 2008

A big (14%) blend of **Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre from South Australia.

A real shame here, we were looking forward to this, and it did show promise with spicy black fruit, however, a deep sniff resulted in a burning sensation in the nose - possibly faulty...

...confirmed on the taste - too acidic, "hot" and Porty so I'm not sure if it was oxidised, volatile acidity or both?

Anyway, one in 12 they say, and we've had a reasonably good run lately so were probably due a bad one. That said, D'Arenberg wines are normally superb, even the entry-level ones like this, and at £8.95 I'll most likely give it another shot some time.

So, there we have it. Some great wines from Slurp but most importantly, great value. All had VFM scores in the region of 1.0 which is where you want to be for this price bracket. Well done Slurp and thanks for finding D a new favourite wine - you realise she'll be wanting a case off me now for her birthday don't you? I can't wait!

As always...

Speak to you soon,


Oh and if you're interested in Wine Investment you can read our story of it here:

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Naked Wines - £40 off Voucher (post-xmas value wines)

Hello All!

If you're anything like me, then you have a large black hole in your wallet after Christmas. However, you also love wine and don't really want to give it up. You also don't want to drink crap for the next few months while your balance recovers. The solution is to drink Frugally; keep an eye out for offers, sales and bargains etc. Most places are holding off on the VAT rise until the end of January so now could be a good time to stock up and save.

One such offer I was keen to try was the £40 off a case at Naked Wines. You need to spend £79.99 or more on a case to get the £40 off but even then, with delivery, a case of 12 works out at only £45. Bargain. Oh, and if you're anything like me and bought some Christmas presents on Amazon, then you will have received the same offer, telling you to go to enter the code AMAZ4007 and password VINEYARD to claim your discount. I am also going to be looking at great value offerings from Slurp very soon too. They have an enormous range and some great names.

Anyway, I opted for the "Wine Advisor's Top Picks" mixed case which was £94.99. Even with delivery (£4.99 next-day), after discount this worked out at £60 for 12 bottles. £5-a-bottle: Not too bad at all.

I must admit, I was very apprehensive of Naked Wines. They support the small growers (nothing wrong with that!) that can't get noticed or do not have enough funds to market their wines properly. The burning question in the back of my head was; "Why are they small?". Is it because the wines are crap and don't sell? Anyway, things weren't helped by the fact that Naked seem to put their own labels on most of the wines, with quotes supposedly straight from the Winemaker's mouth, conspicuously all saying the exact same thing; "I hope you enjoy drinking this as much as I enjoyed making it". Yeah, right. Oh and they're badly glued on, like someone in Goods Outwards got bored of Prit-Sticking them on, one Friday afternoon.  Most were nearly falling off. If the winemakers can't afford to put labels on then..... "Oh dear, here we go..." were my thoughts as I tried my best to keep an open mind and let the wines speak for themselves...

...and I was pleasantly surprised! There were some real gems, most were at least drinkable to good and there were no real turds. The best are below:

Rimbaldi, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2009 

The Look: A deep, opaque purple with a violet rim.

The Smell: Smells lovely, smoky, spicy and red fruit such as strawberry, raspberry and cherry.

The Taste: Beautiful, fresh, bright acidity. Refreshing for a red, lots of fruit including strawberry and under-ripe plum. Not harsh in the slightest. Some hints of cinnamon or clove or something reminiscent of mulled-wine. Similar in style and weight to a good Rioja, but cheaper! 

The Score: Superb for the money. Best Italian Red so far in the Blog's history. 8/10. Highly Recommended.

VFM: At the case price of £5-a-bottle this is cracking value at VFM = 1.6. 

Classic South, Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, 2010

The Look: A medium lemony yellow with some pale green tinges.

The Smell: Classic NZ Sauv Blanc; citrus, tropical fruit, grass, peas in the pod, gooseberry.

The Taste: Wow! Lots of fruit! Bursting with pink grapefruit, lemon/lime and tropical fruits. Zesty acidity. Balance. A real mouthful of fruit. 

The Score: Great. You can't get better for £5. Fact. 8/10. Highly Recommended.

VFM: Again, at the case price of £5-a-bottle this is amazing value, VFM = 1.6. 

 Brewery Hill, Shiraz, S.E. Australia, 2009

The Look: A super-dark, inky, opaque purple with a violet rim.

The Smell: Black fruit, plums, spice, peppery and some caramel sweetness.

The Taste: Superb. Smooth, dense mouthfeel. Plenty of fruit, blackberry and cherry with peppery spice. More "Syrah" in style than "fruit-bomb" Aussie Shiraz. More complex. Hints of  menthol and well-integrated tannins.

The Score: Stunning. I don't know whether I'm in a particularly generous mood today, but this could be one of the best Aussie Shirazes we've had. So much more than fruit and alcohol.  8.5/10. Highly Recommended.

VFM: At £5, this is probably as good as you're going to get, VFM = 1.7.

Vivolo di Sasso, Pinot Grigio, Veneto, 2009

The Look: Pale, watery lemon with definite greenish hues.

The Smell: Very intriguing, a varied blend of whiffs including Almonds, Marzipan, honeycomb, fruitcake and banana? Yep, banana!

The Taste: All the smells translate to tastes as well; A superb sweetness/acidity balance. Banana, fruitcake, honey along with an indistinguishable, smooth, sweetly acidic fruit, apricot? Maybe peach or mellon also? D said; "Creamy banana cheesecake!". Seriously complex with a spicy/minerally finish too. A big surprise as we weren't expecting much from this!

The Score: Very good. Knocks spots off the Gallons of crappy Pinot Grigio on the supermarket shelves for £5.  7.5/10. Recommended.

VFM: At £5, this is great value, VFM = 1.5.


It was great to be surprised when you're not expecting much. It happens all-too-often the other way around, when you're expecting great things from a wine and it disappoints. Anyway, the rest of the case wasn't too bad either;


Getting 7 out of 10 were the Calicata Malbec 2010 from Mendoza, very fruity and drinkable, just not that complex - a good introduction to Malbec maybe, and the Domaine la Serre Picpoul de Pinet 2009 that I whipped out in the Wine-Off. Great with fish.

Getting 6.5 out of 10 were a brace of wines; Foley's Corner Reserve Merlot 2008, Aussie Merlot, big, smoky plums, alcohol a little hot but not too bad. It did turn to "Port" by the following day! Cristia Grenache Syrah 2009, very smooth French blend with lots of raspberry and cherry. Very refreshing, light red and easy to knock-back! Mistral Chardonnay 2009 from Chile's Central Valley. Restrained and minerally, some tropical fruit but in all a bit too bitter on the finish. Better with food. Villebois Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from the Loire.  Very drinkable and fruity for a French Sauv Blanc. Grassy and minerally dry finish. Decent and drinkable. 

Getting a 6/10 was the Australian Semillon/Chardonnay/Viognier blend D'Aquino Cuvee Zina Reserve 2009. Tasted of pear but had a very harsh acidic finish and the alcohol was overtly apparent (even at only 12.5%).

The bummer of the pack was Mistral Carmenere 2009 getting 5.5/10. Bright acidity with plum and redcurrant. Ok, but not great. Bitterness on the finish let it down. This seems loved by Naked 's customers. I don't know, maybe it was a Root Day?

So that's it. If you're after some bargains then I'd suggest the recommended 4 above, and be sure to use the £40 voucher. I'll be taking a look at some bargains from Slurp very soon, all between £6 and £9 a bottle to aid the post-xmas light wallet.

If you're interested in investing in wine then you can read about our experience of entering the market here:

As always...

Speak to you soon.



Thursday, 6 January 2011

Bank Holiday Wine-Off...Number 2

Hello all!

Well, it happened again! Another bank holiday wine-off. If you missed the last one (here) then the basic premise is this: We turn up at our friends' house with some wine. They cook amazing food (one of our friends is a Chef and the other is gastronomically savvy to say the least!). We eat the food. They also have wine. While stuffing ourselves, we compare the wines. Six people in total (Chef's GF, other friend's guest, D and myself) and normally about a dozen or so wines makes for a brilliant night!

It was a bit more structured this time. It was to be old world versus new for the fish and meat courses. Plus a couple of other bottles thrown in. I drew old world for fish and new world for meat. We took a bottle of Vintage Champagne because our friends were cooking and providing the venue, so we thought it only fair. At about 7:15pm we arrived and I cracked the Heidsieck Gold Top 2005 (£20, Majestic Wine). Lovely orchard fruit, lots of bubbles but not too aggressive. Lovely, but ultimately a bit too young and reticent (7.5/10). While we finished off the Champers we nibbled smoked rainbow trout with soft cheese and chive, and Ox-tongue with creme fraiche and horseradish served on a dry crostini/biscuit type "thingy" (that is a sad testament to my food knowledge!). Really good.

Out came the next course; a field mushroom stuffed with mozarella, cherry tomatos and basil, and salad leaves with balsamic dressing. This was occompanied by the Chef's Markowitsch Pinot Noir 2008 from Austria (£15.99, Oddbins) - very light in colour, a pale ruby and completely transparent. Lively smell of summer berries and spice and tasted very similar. Nice but a slight harshness on the finish (6.5/10) which might mellow out with age as this can be cellared for up to 8 years.

Next came the fish-starter; "re-invented fish pie" - basically a kind of upside-down fish pie - chunks of tuna, salmon and king prawns in a white wine sauce on a bed of saffron mash in a filo pastry basket, with a rocket and pecorino shaving side-salad - and absolutley stunning! With this I whipped-out the Domaine La Serre Picpoul de Pinet 2009 from the Languedoc (£9.99 from Naked Wines). I'd hedged my bets on no-one having tried this grape before and I was right! I think it was enjoyed by all with its aromatic citrus and grassy smells. It tasted of grape juice, plenty of citrussy fruit with a dry herby finish. A perfect match for the food (7/10).

The next course was the fish-main. Awesome Monkfish fillet with chinese noodles (ginger, lime, corriander, chilli, honey). Here, my old world white would be up against a new world white. I opted for Pouilly-Fume Les Griottes 2009 (cheaper than I thought at £11.99 from Majestic Wine). I thought that Sancerre would be a bit too typical and you can still get a lot of crap Sancerre even if you pay respectable amounts for it! Anyway, the wine was gorgeous; a pale lemonny yellow with a grassy, minerally citrus nose. In the mouth it was superb with citrus, gooseberry and tropical hints with a long mineral finish. Bags of fruit for a French wine (8/10). This was up against Kuru Kuru Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (£10.99, Oddbins) and obviously the new world  opponent being from New Zealand's Marlborough region. Different in style but equally as good. Fruity and grassy on the nose with a massive mouthfull of zesty mango and tropical fruit. Huge. Great (8/10).

Next was the meat course and a chance for the reds to shine. Lamb cutlets marinated with garlic and thyme on risotto in white wine sauce. Delicious. We'd all defied convention on the reds. I was expecting Bordeaux and they were expecting a Chilean Cabernet from me. However, I threw in a curveball (to use the Americanism) in the form of one of my favourites; the Lebanese Chateau Musar 2002 (£17.99 from Majestic Wine). I'm probably biased, but this was (once again) superb. A deep ruby colour, purple at its darkest and with a brick red/brown rim, just starting to show signs of bottle-age. Cabernet-dominant smells of cassis and cherry. The taste still bright and young with loads of blackcurrant and cherry fruit with spice and "leafy" hints, for want of a better term. Stunning (8/10). This was up against a mighty Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero 2007 (£24.99 from Oddbins). This was an intense, deep purple with a violet rim. Again, intensely spicy on the nose and suprisingly Cabernet-like with cassis and black cherry. Interesting. It developed meaty aromas after a while. It was good, but a little harsh. Maybe in a few years it will excel (can be cellared for up to 10 years) (7/10). The Chef threw in a Stone Dweller's Merlot 2008 (£16.99, Oddbins). A deep purple again with a lipstick rim. Smoky plum and caramel smells. Powerful, lots of smoky, spicy fruit. Some acidity and very warming. The only criticism being that it was a bit "hot". High alcohol level was immediately apparent, but not too detracting. A solid (7/10).

Desert followed. A bloody fabulous mascarpone, cassis and bluberry tarte with flaked almonds, blueberry compot and vanilla ice cream. Sublime. I was absolutely stuffed but could have eaten two portions of this, and I'm not usually a "sweet" man. With this we had the desert wine Muscat de st. Jean de Minervois (various places and about £8 for a 375ml bottle). Despite a luke-warm reception, I thought it was lovely for a dessert wine - brimming with peaches and apricots but still showing good acidity. It was sweeter than the sweet itself though I must admit. (6.5/10).

By now it was gone Midnight, and we still had the cheese course and three more wines to go! I must admit, by this time I was absolutely stuffed to the point of discomfort (D had stopped eating and drinking!) and feeling the effects of the previous 9 wines, but determined to finish. We are all big red fans so the final three were greeted with big smiles.

My Catena Malbec 2008 (£11.99, Majestic) was up against the Chef's big Chilean blend Quinta Generación 2007 (about £16, Good Wine Online) comprising Carmenere, Shiraz, Cabernet and Petit Verdot. The two wines were identical in colour, intense opaque purple with a violet rim. The Catena smelled of blackberries and pencils. Tasted very similar with blackberry, violets and graphite. Some good acidity but a dry tannic finish. A bit "hot" and ultimately, dissapointing (6.5/10). The Quinta had intense red berry, cherry and medicinal aromas. Big, powerful, a good mouthful of fruit, violets and spice but again, sadly, disappointing (7/10). I'm not sure if it was the amount of food, or quite possibly wine, that we'd had before this point that spoiled the wines for us, or whether they were genuinely disappointing? It would be good to try both again, in a more benign atmosphere to re-score them. However, the winner for me was the Gemtree Bloodstone Shiraz 2008 (£14.99, Oddbins). A little more transparent but still opaque at its core. Bursting with red berries and raisiny at first, it developed a lovely blackberry taste after a little while. Great (7.5/10)

By now it was approaching 1:00am. I think we were all slightly tipsy by now as we finished off the cheese and crackers. That's all I can remember is some smoked Gouda, some orange coloured cheese with black mould - very strong on its own but a winner with the (AMAZING) cheesy, peppery crackers and a mouthfull of the Quinta Generación. Oh, and there was goat's cheese. Oh, and some crazy pumpkin seed crackers. That's about all I can remember (the note-taking must have taken a turn for the worse by that point). Anyway, with the eating done, we proceeded to plough back into the wines. I had another glass of Musar, the Ribera del Duero, Catena and Quinta.

We finally called a cab for 3:00am. We'd had an amazing night. We thanked our friends profusely. It arrived. I was forced to neck the last glass of Bloodstone. We sleepily clambered out of it at 3:15am, smoked the last cigarettes of our lives (hopefully, as we intend to give up for good this time!) and were probably asleep by 3:30am. No doubt dreaming of the next wine-off and wishing we hadn't eaten so much!

Here's to the next one!

As always, speak to you soon!