Monday, 28 March 2011

Laithwaites Mystery Case - Part 2

Hello all!

Continuing with the Laithwaites Mystery Case this week we unfortunately had 3 reds that were corked! The odd bottle; fair enough but 3 in a case? Highly unusual. Anyway, true to their word, one swift email to customer services and I was offered a £25 refund; no quibbles. You can't really argue with that.

Anyway, what we did manage to drink were...

Croftwood Estate, Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, 2009
Made by Andrew McPherson of the "McPherson Family Estate" brand that is also sold by Laithwaites. In fact, Laithwaites tend to do that; sell multiple different "Branded" wines that actually come from the same producer, McPherson is one, Sam Trimboli another, Opi Sadler another... to name but a few. Are they falsely inflating their range??? Anyway, this Chardonnay is lightly oaked and comes in at 13%.

The Look: Pale gold with very apparent green tinges.
The Smell: A burst of tropical fruit, lemon/lime citrus and a "nutty" oak character to it.
The Taste: Lovely smooth texture, plenty of citrussy fruit. Not massive acidity but enough to give it a firm freshness and balance. Some minerality showed in the form of a grapefruity-bitterness but not overly harsh. 
The Score: Lovely. A drinkable refreshing Chardonnay at a great price 7/10.
VFM: This is normally £5.99 so we were penalised a little by the £6.42 case-average. Even so, you can't fault the value for money at VFM =  At this price VFM is great at 1.09

The Forefather, Gran Reserva Malbec-Shiraz, Mendoza, 2008

Named after the Frenchman; Miguel Pouget who first brought Malbec to Argentina in 1853. Apologies again for the lack of proper photo, some over-zealous recycling took place again, so this was taken from the Laithwaites page here: 14%.

The Look: Very dark, opaque, plummy-purple, violet rim.

The Smell: A heady mix of smoky, leathery raspberry and blackberry. Something floral and something like a mix of deodorant and a hard day?
The Taste: Bright, hot and acidic. But, a nice fruit quality. It overcomes the hotness on the mid-palate but then returns and drowns out the fruit with burning alcohol. Not great. Maybe a slightly bad bottle or on the turn. The nose is clean but the taste...?
The Score: Assuming it is clean then its not very good. Unbalanced by hotness. 5.5/10. One to try again to confirm maybe?
VFM: This is normally £7.99 so the £6.42 case-average saved us a bob or two. Despite the taste, the VFM remains good at 0.86 (but only 0.69 at normal price), however, I would avoid this one, unless I can disprove on the next tasting...

So there we have it. A fairly limited selection this week due to faults. We have 3 whites left to finish off with next week...

As always...

Speak to you soon.



Monday, 21 March 2011

Laithwaites - Mystery Case

Hello All.

I've always been a fan of these. Don't ask me why, because I don't really know. Logic tells me that I should avoid paying for wine when I haven't got a clue what it is. However, whether cleverly marketed by means of words like "Surprise", "Mystery" and "Discovery", or whether the bargain-hunter in me is hoping to scoop the ever-elusive £600 case,  I still seem to buy them fairly regularly.

So what the hell is a Mystery Case I hear you ask? Basically, it's a collection of random bottles put into a case for £69.99 (or £59.99 if you're buying any other 12 bottles with it). Often made up of Bin Ends (when they tidy up the leftover bottles in cellars) but you can find some of their regular range plonked in as well. You can get mixed (6 white, 6 red), all whites or all reds. See the Website for more details here:  Each case promises a "Bargain" with savings of £17 guaranteed, although I've always been a bit suspicious of those figures (we'll examine it at the end of the case). Including delivery, and assuming you're not buying 12 other bottles it works out at £6.42 a bottle. Not bad at all. 

You can get some lovely bottles. You can get some not-so-lovely bottles. It really is a gamble, but we've been fairly lucky so far and had some nice ones. Anyway, you're always covered by the 100% guarantee from Laithwaites - if you don't like it or it's off, email them and they'll send you a voucher, usually for more than the wine was worth in the first place. Cool beans.

Anyway, what were the first four like...

A.R.H. Family Vineyard, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Australia, 2009
Made by the Hickinbotham Family and named after Prof. Alan Robb Hickinbotham, apparently one of the founding fathers of Australian wine. Matured in a mix of French and American Oak. A big one at 14.5%.

The Look: Unsurprisingly; a deep, dark, nearly opaque, plummy-purple with a violet rim.
The Smell: A lovely mix of blackberry, blueberry, violets, spice and chocolate.
The Taste: Loads of blackberry fruit.  Chocolate and spice. Smooth mouthfeel from the integrated tannins. Delicious. It doesn't say what the blend ratio is but I'd guess it's the majority being Shiraz and a small amount of Cab, say 85/15 at a guess?
The Score: Very fruity, but at the same time refined, complex and classy. 8/10Recommended!
VFM: This is normally £7.99 so the £6.42 case-average works well in our favour. At this price VFM is exceptional at 1.25

Solar de Coteba, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Mancha, 2008 

Made in Castilla-La Mancha in Spain from 40 year old low-yielding vines. Reasonably high altitudes (600m) allow cool nights to counterbalance the blazing sun and produce concentrated flavours and aromas in the grapes. There is a small percentage of Tempranillo in the blend, apparently, but labelled as varietal Cab Sauv.13.5%.

The Look: A dark, inky-black/purple, not fully opaque and with a ruby-red rim.
The Smell: Very nice - Oaky, spicy blackcurrant and blackberry. Some vanilla.
The Taste: Warm and spicy with lots of fruit and creamy Cassis. A "mouthful" feel to it. Bright acidity.  On the verge of being too "hot" - needed a bit more restraint.
The Score: Very nice, but just too big for its structure to handle, too much alcohol apparent. Just misses a recommendation at 7/10
VFM: This is normally £6.99 so the £6.42 case-average gives us a small saving. At this price VFM is albeit very good at 1.09

 And on to the whites...

Les Vertus d'Antan, Colombard-Gros Manseng, Cotes de Gascogne, 2008 

Made in Gascony, south of Toulouse. Here Colombard grapes are often made into wine to be distilled into Armagnac. However, this one has been blended with the little-known Gros-Manseng which should add freshness, spice and florality at the fairly low alcohol level of 11.5%.

The Look: A deep gold colour.
The Smell: Citrus, grapefruit and spice on the nose. Very aromatic!
The Taste: Very bright lemon/lime zing to start, followed by a grapefruit-like bitterness. The acidity is very strong, leading to a "spritzy" mouthfeel but there are no bubbles in this! Mouth-puckering, but refreshing.
The Score: Nice, but a little overdone on the acidity. 7/10
VFM: This is normally £7.49 so the £6.42 case-average gives us a reasonable saving. At this price VFM is again very good at 1.09

Visionario, Bianco delle Venezie, 2009

Made in the delle Venezie IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) which signifies quality but is less strict than the DOC/G rules. Venezie encompasses many regions in Northern Italy including Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. An undisclosed white blend here at 13%.

The Look: A pale, medium yellow.
The Smell: Sweet toffee-apple, floral, hints of grass and tropical fruit.
The Taste: Slightly off-dry with lots of fruit-character, peach, apple, toffee. A bit sweet but balanced by the acidity. Very gluggable but a bitterness on the finish let it down.
The Score: Chill it fiercely and swig it back. Not bad at all 6.5/10
VFM: This is normally only £5.99 so we've paid a little more for it this time around. However, still very good value at VFM =  1.08. saving.

So, there's the first four. Not bad at all. Nothing mind-blowing, but a very good Shiraz and some perfectly good wines for the price.
Part 2 next week. Bring it on...

As always, speak to you soon!



Monday, 14 March 2011

Supermarket Sweep: Reds from the Co-Operative

Hello All!

Bit of a change of plan this week; I was due to review the Mystery Case from Laithwaites but our timetable has been a bit disjointed over the last week or two so we haven't got round to glugging them yet. However, a few friends have been recommending wines from the Co-Op recently so I decided to pop in and have look. Well, pop in and loiter in the wine section for an hour and a half... Twice.

Going back what feels like a few years ago, I used to regularly get wines form the Co-Op. That's when I was into the big brands. It's probably more than a few years by now; time goes so quick when you get older... Anyway, once I'd passed through my Blass, Hardys, Gallo et al phase, there really wasn't much else for them to offer (or so I may have thought back then) and didn't give them a second look until recently. Bloody hell, things have CHANGED! Oh, but they don't do online sales (yet?) so you'll have to do it "old-school" and get yourself down there.

Ok, so they still do the big brands; obviously, being the massive sellers they are, but there's so much more! And offers! Lots of them. At the front door I was greeted by a rack of £4 wines. I almost dismissed them in a "Pfft...four quid? Yeah right, what a load of boll...." but "Oh wait...St. Hallett Riesling? Hmmm...  2005 Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux, £7?  Prosecco, £4?  Cava Rosé, £4. I best get myself to the proper wine section, quick!". I basketted the Riesling and Bordeaux and moved swiftly on. And there I spent the next hour and a half, mesmerised.  So much so, that I had to return the following week to pick up more.

We did drink the Riesling (and it was great, 7/10, amazing for £4) but as this is a reds review, I'll keep that one for next time. Anyway, to the wines...No pictures this week I'm afraid, due to "logistics" shall we say. Some might say forgetfulness, like binning the bottles before taking pictures?

For those who like to drink with a clear conscience, the Fairtrade wines aren't too bad. The 2009 Malbec Reserva from Argentina was a decent fruity bottle with smoke, vanilla and dark berries (6.5/10). The 2009 Shiraz, also from Argentina just pipped it at 7/10 - a good value example of the grape with warming spicy berries. Both opened up with more fruitiness after an hour so give them time. Both also under £7.

The Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2008 (£8.99) I was surprised to see. I love VM wines and don't really see them as a "Mega-Brand" although I'm probably looking through rose-tinted specs when it comes to their wines. It was however, initially a slight let-down, not in the league of their Whites but was good nonetheless with summer berries and some black cherry. Very bright, almost harsh acidity straight from the bottle but did mellow to acceptable levels after a few hours and food. It developed into a lovely wine but remained sprightly acidic. (7/10). 

If bright acidity is your bag then the Piccini Sigillo Rosso Chianti Riserva 2006 (normally £8.99 but only £5.29 on the day - bargain). This was recommended by a good friend (Cheers Willmot!) and although mouth-puckeringly acidic to start, was delicious. Showing signs of bottle age with tawny and brick red tinges to the dark ruby core, it exuded cherry and oaky spice on the nose. Again, cherry flavours dominated the palate but with raspberry, vanilla and peppery spice. A bit too acidic for my palate, but good nonetheless and a good candidate for putting away for a few years for it to mellow. Have it with food. 7/10

After enjoying an immense Cab Sauv from Trio (D's favourite wine!)  I spotted the Concha Y Toro Trio Merlot/Shiraz/Cab 2009 (no price for this I'm afraid but it was sub-£8). This was almost black! Very intense for a Merlot blend. Ripe, sweetish red berries in abundance and enhanced by chocolate/toffee hints. Fresh acidity and a long finish which brought out the Cab Sauv. Lovely 7.5/10. Another Merlot was recommended by a friend (thanks Ailsa!) from Chile's Rapel Valley, the Anakena Merlot 2009 (£5.99). Very light, I literally thought it was a Rosé on pouring, it looked like a fairly robust Garnacha Rosé. Plenty of strawberry and caramel on the nose and followed up by bright red fruit, sweetness but with a fresh, balancing acidity. A slight bitterness on the finish let it down, but at this can't really complain? 6.5/10

The Cru Bourgeois was the Chateau Dasvin-Bel-Air 2005 (£7 on offer) and was a plummy-purple, showing some age with a brick-red rim. Blackcurrant, cherry, cedar, blackberry, graphite and oak on the complex nose and tasted very similar. Very bright acidity, plenty of tannin yet to shed and abundant fruit. I wish I'd picked up a few of these to put away for a year or two. A medicinal/menthol finish added to the complexity - delicious 7.5/10.

The Cline Californian Syrah 2005 was immense, a deep opaque purple and a lipstick rim. Immediately meaty, with loads of blackberry and pepper. Great taste, akin to a NZ Syrah, or even the Northern Rhone with pepper, spice, dark berries, full and lush. 8/10.

The Yering Station Little Yering Pinot Noir 2006 comes from a famous stable. The oldest winery in Victoria, Yering Station's top Pinots and Shiraz-Viogniers go for upwards of £50 a bottle. This "little brother" was £9.99. A nice bit of age showing although this was a young-pup. Initially, meaty forest floor odours gave way to red berries and caramel. Cherry and a cinnamon-like spice were evident. Similarly on the palate, lots of strawberry, cherry and cinnamon lead to a long finish of bright red fruit. Very bright and acidic although not in the least bit overpowering. This will last for a good few years yet and will improve well-past its 7.5/10 mark, tasting better the second day (screwcap put back on for 24hrs).

Finally, the St. Hallett Faith Shiraz 2008 from the revered Barossa Valley was a gem. £9.99 and well worth it. An intense inky-black-purple, was a bit shy at first but then fumed with blackberry, violet, caramel, toasty oak and pepper smells. On the palate it was super-concentrated; a small sip explodes in the mouth. Intense, very ripe black fruit combined with plenty of fresh acidity, some tannin and a long, warming, fruit-driven finish. Chocolate and smoothness developed after a while and was even fresh the following day (again with the cap on for 24hrs). Maybe not everybody's cup of tea; it's big, bold, powerful, intensely fruity, maybe even a much-maligned "fruit bomb" but has the complexity and quality to shed that moniker, in my humble opinion of course. 8/10.

So, there you have a small summary of some of the Reds available from Co-Op. I will return. I need to try the Whites, Rosés and Sparklers and there were still a few Reds I wanted to get but my wallet disagreed, groaning already under the strain of the bulk-buy. Of the remaining reds that showed promise were the Steakhouse Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Oregon USA,  EOS Petit Sirah 2006 from Paso Robles I believe, Chateauneuf du Papes 2007, 2003 Bordeaux, Montes Alpha Malbec, Barbera di Asti, more Chilean stuff; Carmen, Santa Rita 120 etc. Loads more, and that's only the reds.

I highly recommend you take a look. But don't spend an hour and a half there (twice) unless you can put up with whispers from other customers (and staff) along the lines of "Wino!", "Alky!" and "Is he nuts?". LOL.

As always,

Speak to you soon.



Monday, 7 March 2011

The Wine Society - Final Part

Hello All!

Welcome to the final part of the "Top Society Sellers" case from the Wine Society.  You can find Part 1 here; and Part 2 here; which had some great wines, both in terms of quality and value. Can the case finish on a high note?

The two reds were:

The Society's Rioja Crianza, 2007
Made by Bodegas Palacio in the heart of Rioja Alavesa. This has been aged for at least a year in big oak barrels (or Barricas) to deserve the "Crianza" term. Apologies for the horrendous photo - black labels seem to confuse a novice photographer! 13%.

The Look: A mix of strawberry-red highlights and plummy-purple lowlights. Signs of a little bottle age with some brick red and tawny brown tinges.
The Smell: Red berries, vanilla, a bit of cedar wood and leather. Smoky. Some sweet Oak; basically like a woody summer berry cheesecake!
The Taste: Plenty of fruit, lots of nice red berries. Firm, fresh acidity with some tannin evident but mainly smoothly integrated. Some spice. Lovely long finish of vibrant but sweetish fruit (like stewed strawberries).
The Score: Very good. Has the structure for another year or two at least... 7.5/10Recommended!
VFM: At £6.95 a bottle this is again, very good value at VFM = 1.08.

The Society's Australian Shiraz-Cabernet, 2009
Made by 4th and 5th generation English Ex-Pats the Potts family at the Bleasdale vineyards in Langhorne Creek, South Australia. A big one at 14.5%.

The Look: Dark plummy purple, violet rim with ruby highlights.
The Smell: Lots of berries, blackberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant, woody, spicy and meaty.
The Taste: Jammy, spicy/peppery fruit with some bitter blackberry. Shiraz dominant, the Cab is more for structure than blatant flavour. Very slightly hot and a nagging bitterness. Well integrated though.
The Score: Needs an hour to breathe. Not too bad at all 6.5/10.
VFM: At £6.95 a bottle this is very good value at VFM = 0.94.
And the whites were...

The Society's Pinot Grigio, Venezia Guilia, 2009
Classic Pinot Grigio from Friuli in North-East Italy. Matt Thompson the Kiwi Ex-Pat consulted on this...13%.

The Look: A medium pale gold.
The Smell: Honey, flowers, spice, apricot, peach, sweet and very ripe melon and some pear maybe? Quite a bit! Very aromatic!
The Taste: Unobtrusive. Very balanced, a long finish, slight minerality. Apple and pear but not a great deal of fruit. Pleasing acidity. Refreshing.
The Score: Good. Plain and simple, but good.  7/10.  
VFM: At £7.95 a bottle this is good value at VFM = 0.88.

The Society's French Dry White, 2009
A Vin Pays d'Oc from the Languedoc here and a Sauvignon Blanc dominated blend. Similarly to their other regional French wines, the blend changes from year to year.12%.

The Look: A deep lemony yellow.
The Smell: Light, airy, Sauvignon dominant with slight grassy/herby hints.
The Taste: Crisp and steely-dry. Some limey citrus, grapefruit and gooseberry. Restrained fruit; you're left expecting a bit more on the finish. Very drinkable but a slight bitterness on the finish.
The Score: A little underwhelming but by no means a duffer. Drinkable all day long...  6.5/10.  
VFM: At £5.75 a bottle this is a bargain and great value at VFM =1.13

So that was the Top Society Sellers from the Wine Society and I can see why! An excellent case overall. Great value for money. Every wine was good (6/10 or above), the majority recommended (7.5/10 or above) and all great value (the majority over VFM = 1.0).

If you're already a member then you probably already know (and love) the Society's own wines. If not then I thoroughly recommend joining. Three or four cases and you've more than made your £40 back in terms of value.

Well done to the Wine Society!

Next week we return to Laithwaites for a "Mystery Case". Basically a reduced-price lucky dip of bin ends. Always interesting to find out what's in the case, although they can be a  bit of a gamble in terms of value/quality, but, I have a fondness for them!

As always...

Speak to you soon!