Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Icons - Craggy Range

Hello all!

Welcome to the second of my "Icons" series focussing on the fantastic New Zealand winery; Craggy Range (if you missed the first on the Spanish producer Torres then you can find it here:).
Craggy Range make some fantastic wines. Proprietor Terry Peabody and his family run the estate (his wife runs the on-site fine-dining restaurant!) while Steve Smith MW is chief winemaker.  Based on the bank of the Tuki Tuki  river in Hawkes Bay, just East of Hastings on the North Island, they churn out a fair-few bottles, but always with that hand-crafted, family-run ethos. There's just something about the colour scheme, the labels and the overall mystique they've created that instills in me a love for their produce. It's just one of those brands you seem to latch onto, well, for me anyway! In terms of price, they're not cheap. The iconic wines like Le Sol (Syrah), The Quarry (left-bank Bordeaux blend, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc) and Sophia (right-bank Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cab Franc) go for big bucks in the UK, at about £35 to £55 a bottle so are well-beyond our intended price range here.

However, where I have found true value and great quality is in the single-vineyard (or "Vineyard Designated" as they call them) wines seen in the picture above, a few of which we've enjoyed lately. The vineyard at Te Muna Road, just outside Martinborough, produces Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I will say though, that however much I love their wines, I wasn't entirely blown away by the slightly hot, alcoholic Pinot Noirs they produce for the Wine Society, but that's by-the-by. The Gimblett Gravels vineyard in Hawkes Bay is immense (Craggy own 100 Hectares alone!) and grows many varieties (Cab Sauv, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc etc.) in its stony deposits from a river that once ran there, but changed course after a major flood. Several other vineyards dotting the entire North and South islands produce varietals like Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These mid-level wines come in at around £10 to £20 a bottle, so they're near our upper-limit, but I believe they're also worth it! Keep an eye out for their wines in Marks&Sparks, Majestic, Waitrose, Farr Vinters and many others and keep them peeled for offers and "twoffers" (2 for £x.xx) they're worth getting your mitts on!

Here's the three we've had:

Craggy Range, Syrah, Gimblett Gravels, 2008 

Long-standing readers (or should I say sufferers?) might recall that this was one of my Wines of the Year last year. For a more in depth review you can check here: It used to be known as "Block 14 Syrah" but now simply Syrah. I have another bottle that I'm patiently waiting for to mature in my wardrobe, ahem, I mean cellar! This is from the Gimblett Gravels vineyard.13.4%

The Look: The wine itself a super-dense, completely opaque purple. Only a very slight lightening at the rim to a violet colour.

The Smell: Straight from opening it exudes a peppery, spicy scent mixed with dark fruits such as blackberry, blueberry, plum and something floral like violets or lavender.

The Taste: The first thing that hits you is a striking, vibrant acidity. It drenches your mouth with black fruits; blackberry, blackcurrant and a hint of blueberry and delivers a spicy, peppery mid-palate. A lovely smoothness of tannin gives way to a magnificent, long finish. First class.

The Score: Delicious but quite expensive at £18.99.  9/10. Highly Recommended 

VFM: Normal price of £18.99 yields a VFM of 0.47 which is not value for money drinking, but definitely for an occasional splash-out treat.

Craggy Range, Te Kahu, Gimblett Gravels, 2008 

Again, from the Gimblett Gravels vineyard this is a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.14%

The Look: A deep plummy-purple with lipstick-red highlights, not quite opaque but almost there.

The Smell: Very Bordeaux-like on the nose; blackcurrants and smoky plums and cherries.

The Taste: Plenty of black cherry, ripe plum and blackcurrant. Smooth tannins. Alcohol is apparent but not overpoweringly so. Again, very Bordeaux-like but with a bit more power and size. Long finish, if slightly hot.

The Score: A lovely wine.  7.5/10. Recommended 

VFM: Normal price of £12.99 yields a VFM of 0.58 which is reasonable value, but keep your eyes peeled; Majestic recently had 20% off NZ wines, if you can still find it.

Craggy Range, Sauvignon Blanc, Te Muna Road, 2009

This is from the Te Muna Road vineyard in the Martinborough region.13%

The Look: Crystal-clear, watery white with a pale straw/lemon tinge.

The Smell: Slightly grassy and herby with gooseberry and some exotic fruits in there too.

The Taste: Bright, fresh and plenty of ripe gooseberry, passion fruit and other stone-fruits. A steely minerality leads to a long finish. More restraint than your usual Marlborough offerings and better off for it. Classy.

The Score: Delicious, classy, restrained but at the same time juicy and fruit-packed.  8/10. Highly Recommended 

VFM: Normal price of £12.99 yields a VFM of 0.58 which is again, reasonable value, and yes, I will say it again, keep your eye out for offers like Majestic's 20% off.

So there we have our second "Icons" installment. I hope you enjoyed it. Plenty more where that came from!

As always, speak to you soon.



Monday, 23 May 2011

Icons - Torres

Hello all!

Following the overwhelming response to my poll last week, I've decided on a little shift-of-focus for a while. So may I introduce the "Icons" series. In this I will explore Iconic producers and wines that, either in my opinion, or the wider (and wiser) wine press', are considered to offer great quality to price ratio. The essence of Wine Blog for the Frugal, if you will. Some may be true beacons of value in a sea of pish, others maybe not. I'd like to find out...

So without further ado, we've recently had two stunning wines, in terms of both quality and price, from arguably the most well known Spanish producer; Torres. Situated Pacs de Penedes, in the autonomous Catalonia region (near the city of Barcelona) Miguel Torres and his family produce great value wines. Decanter's Man of the Year 2002 and fourth generation Torres runs the winery with his two youngest, Mireia and Miguel Jr. They have wineries in Chile and the Russian River Valley in the US (run by Miguel's sister Marimar) along with several in Spain, including regions such as Ribera del Duero, Rioja Alavesa and Priorat. They do, of course, produce some very fine, high-end wines such as Reserva Real, Grans Muralles and Perpetual, but for me, the value is to be had in the wines from the Pacs de Penedes winery. It's production quantities are large, hence the value, but I don't believe in labelling this a "Mega-Brand" as it still has an air of family-produced craftsmanship, rather than the Spanish version of Hardy's. Perhaps in testament to, or maybe just support for a local company, or even pandering to tourists' whims, but on a recent visit to Barcelona, Torres wines were a staple on the restaurants' and cafes' wine lists.

Anyway, two of the best we had were as follows:

Torres, Sangre de Toro, 2008, Catalunya
Literally meaning "Blood of the Bull", named after Bacchus the God of Wine (I kid you not) who was the "Son of the Bull". This is a blend of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena....13.5%

The Look: A deep purple with a lipstick-red rim.
The Smell: Beautiful smell for a wine of this price. Spicy raspberries from the Garnacha plus lots of other fruit; blackberries, black cherries and plums, meaty, violets and a bit of oak.
The Taste: Loads of fruit, powerful blackberry and spice. Fresh, bright acidity and a long finish. Really good!
The Score: Punches well-above its weight. Excellent 8/10. Highly Recommended
VFM: At about £5 to £8 depending on where you get it (Waitrose had it for £5.21 recently and Majestic had it for £5.99) this is a real bargain. An absolutely first class VFM = 1.54 to 1.0.

Torres, Vina Esmerelda, 2010, Catalunya
There was a story about this wine, named after a family member, who would often be at tastings to serve it, but I forget...I know that's not much use! Anyway, a blend of mainly Moscatel and some Gewurztraminer (about 15%) this tips the scales at 11.5%. [Apologies for the photo on this, I've recently sold my DSLR and had to make do with a camera phone (soon to be rectified!)]

The Look: A clear, bright watery-white with a lemon tinge.
The Smell: Great nose, very powerful and aromatic. Peachy, elderflower, lots of fruit with some tropical whiffs, maybe passion fruit?
The Taste: Really peachy and smooth, bags of fruit, apricot, peach yogurt creaminess, some elderflower. Very long with a burst of zest citrus/tropical fruit right at the end. So drinkable and possibly D's new favourite White!
The Score: Cracking wine. Moreish. 8/10. Highly Recommended
VFM: Again about £7 to £8 depending on where you get it (Waitrose had it for £7.30 recently and Majestic had it for £7.99) this is again, a bargain. Great VFM at 1.14 to 1.0.

So, I hope you enjoyed the first "Icons"  installment. Plenty more on the way, stay tuned.

As always, speak to you soon!



Monday, 16 May 2011

What do you think...?

Hello All!

I'd like for you to help me out. I'm in a bit of a quandary over the format of the Blog. If you have an opinion then please feel free to express it by voting below. Or, if you're opinion is not summarised by the options below then please feel free to post a comment.

Tasting notes are increasingly frowned-upon in the wine press. However, I feel that they convey succinctly what the sensory experience was like for the wine in question. Given, wine is very subjective and I'm well-aware that we all have different tastes. So are they of any use to you? Do you find them boring or helpful? I also write the occasional story about some of our wine-related experiences. Do you like them and want to see more of them, or rather hang yourself with barbed wire? Would you like to more background into the wines themselves, the vinification, the winemakers and their dogs etc? Or would you rather just know if a wine is worth the £10 on the bottle or a pile of....

Let me know. It's in my interest to listen, so be frank! And thanks in advance for participating! If I get a good turn out I may run another to see where to pitch it. For example, if you know loads about wine and find it patronising or whether you would like to know the difference between a Pouilly-Fume and a Pouilly-Fuisse?

Thanks again.

What do you think...?
I like it! Keep up the tasting notes/occasional story format.
It's ok. I'd prefer some more in-depth articles occasionally though.
I don't like it - tasting notes are boring. I want to see more wine writing!
Er, I don't know, I've just stumbled across it now.
Er, I just wanted to leave some abuse 'cos I seen it on Facebook!

pollcode.com free polls

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Wine Tasting: The Oxford Wine Company

Hello all!

Last Friday we attended a tasting in Witney, Oxfordshire, held by The Oxford Wine Company. My brother and his wife arranged tickets and kindly put us up for bed and breakfast as they live nearby. They came recommended by my brother as he buys wine there often and we had a cracking bottle of Meerlust Red 2007. I've browsed the website in the past and been impressed with the range so we arrived expecting good things. Plus, the promise of discount and ticket-price-back on any 12-bottle order whetted the appetite.

With 73 wines on show and only two hours before our booked table at a nearby pub, time was of the essence! We met up with some great friends of my brother and his wife and tucked in. The plan was to start with the whites and then move on to the lighter reds and eventually the blockbusters.  However, that went tits-up pretty early on as the place, Langdale Hall, was packed after about 15 minutes of sampling.

The first minor disappointment were the glasses. Wide open goblet type glasses which, although polished nicely, were absolutely crap for smelling the wines. An immediate faux pas for such an event. I wasn't expecting Riedel glasses or anything but surely, some cheap ISO tasting glasses could have been supplied? They did have jugs of water on hand at all tables and a big stock at the back, along with palate-cleansing crackers; redeeming themselves slightly. 

The second disappointment was that the accompanying 15% discount would only be valid for purchases made on the night, by pen and paper, and only for the wines displayed. A bit pushy I thought, and perhaps a bit naughty as most punters would be sozzled by the end and a little freer with their cash. As a result, they lost my custom. 

It turned out to be slightly different to what I expected. Instead of just T.O.W.C. staff peddling their wares, many tables were manned by the suppliers who supply the wines to T.O.W.C. This was, on the whole, great as the suppliers were knowledgeable about the wines and most knew the growers personally, so you got that little bit more of a background story. However, as the alcohol coursed through my veins in ever-increasing quantities, there were times when I really wanted to say, "Look, just pour the bloody wine!", however, restraint prevailed and I just nodded politely, smiled and thrust forward the crap glass.

Anyway, enough of this piffle, what were the wines like? Well, I won't try and score them in my usual style as I don't believe it would be fair. Each one was only tasted via a mouthful, or maybe two from the more generous hosts (cheers to the very knowledgeable Scot manning table 12, Damon I think, and the chap pouring the Drouhin Cote de Beaune! Lee, maybe?) and obviously not smelled properly. I will however list the ones that made a great impression. Oh and apologies, the brochure did not list any vintage information; another blinding faux pas and disappointment number 3!

I managed 35. These were the best:
(NB: All prices show the 15% discount so you need to divide by 0.85 to get the current price!)

A lovely, fruity Pouilly Fuissé, Domaine Ferret was pretty steep at £24.64 but was blown away by another Pouilly Fuissé, the delicious, smoky, nutty, vanilla and creamy fruited Domaine des Sansonnets at £12.74. A decent sparkler, the Jacques Charlet Cremant de Bourgogne was almost like a blanc-de-blancs Champagne and reasonable at £11.89. 

A very fresh, fruity Soave Classico (Cantina de Negrar) was only £6.25. The Edge, Pinot Gris from Escarpment had lots of fruit and a complex minerality at £9.31 alongside a svelte Gruner Veltliner from Gerlissen at £9.82. There was a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Mirror Lake, oozing passion fruit, gooseberry and a grassy nose (£7.44) but was trumped by a Loire Sauvignon; the Sauvignon de Touraine Le Haut Perron from Domaine Guy Allion at £7.64, deliciously fresh, fruity and minerally. Superb. 

Chablis La Lotte and Macon Charnay, Cuvee a L'Angienne were pure expressions of Chardonnay (£9.99 and £8.46 respectively) but were followed by a "mother-of-God-this-is-good!" Meursault, from the famous Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils. Stunning. Superb balance. But, a salary-sapping £25.49. Definitely a contender for our Xmas Dinner Wine this year. A simple Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Domaine Jean-Jacques Girard had plenty of ageing potential and delicious red fruits but a little expensive at £13.39 I found.

A decent Malbec came in the form of the Tapiz Reserva. Nice violetty/black fruits combine with a tannic structure to make it last well. The Cote de Beaune, Joseph Drouhin was sublime even from the relatively poor year of 2007 (one of the few I remembered to note down). Great fruit purity and again, built to last. Pretty steep at £21.21. A MASSIVE Californian Pinot came next, the Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley. A £19.51 flavour bomb, with big, sweet tannins but ultimately too much alcohol, too hot. It might calm down after a few years in bottle. Two decent, and much better value Pinots came via the Casablanca Valley in Chile, the Nostros Pinot Noir Reserva at £6.54 just beating the more expensive Duette Premium Pinot Noir (£9.34) for silky dark fruit.

A contender for wine of the night came in the form of a 2001 Rioja, the Vina Arana Reserva. Sublimely aged into creamy vanilla and strawberries, still with a lot of life left in it. Another contender was the Jim Barry "The McRae Wood" Shiraz from the Clare Valley. Stunning, big, juicy, spicy fruit. Absolutely amazing; the only downfall was the price £22.94 but if I'm honest, totally worth it [Note to self; calm down, this is supposed to be a Frugal wine blog!]. The only Lebanese wine worth its salt was the Massaya Gold Reserve which was very similar to the sublime Chateau Musar but much more expensive (£29.33 vs about £18) so not really worth it.

Wines from Virginia were described with fervour. The smooth, melony, peachy Viognier from Breaux Vineyards also had a minerality not often seen (£15.17). A sublime and very "Right Bank" Topiary Cabernet Franc/Merlot from the Boxwood Winery (£21.21) was matched by an equally good Veritas Petit Verdot from Monticello; big, chocolaty, smoky, toasty plums and the best value at £14.88.

The final table heralded a French Riesling (Alsace from memory) by Paul & Phillipe Zink. Very nice minerality (£9.77). A very savoury, and unusually barrel-fermented, Lismore Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa had green pepper and grass notes foremost, with underlying zingy fruit (£16.11). A stunning White Blend from A.A. Badenhorst was very "Burgundian", nicely oaked (£19.54) and probably the best value wine of the night; the Secateurs Red Blend, again by Badenhorst Family Wines and £8.93. I correctly identified it as a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), despite it being the last wine I tasted (and being slightly inebriated), to the delight of the supplier, who was also moderately impressed that I was still standing

Obviously, the entire range at T.O.W.C. is much bigger and this only represents a small portion. Overall I am impressed. Hopefully, they will honour my £10-off 12 bottles that is stated on the ticket for an Internet/phone order. If not, then I can take it or leave it.

We headed off for food to cap off a superb night. Great company and some stunning wines truly made up for some of the shortcomings. Thanks again to my bro and his wife, and their friends who welcomed us. We will, more than likely, go again next year. 

As always, speak to you soon!


Monday, 2 May 2011

A Week's Respite

Hello All!

As you may (or may not) have noticed, I did not post last week due to a week's respite. Thanks to the bank holidays and Royal Wedding we made the most of the time off, making a grand journey of 15 miles to the local Hilton, which would be our base for a few days of wine-addled relaxation.

House Champagne
We kicked the week off in style with some Champagne. D and I are trying to work out what our favourite is. We think it's Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV but we need to properly compare that to as many others as we can, just to be sure! It's an expensive search, so we don't tend to do it that often. However, being holiday-week; "When in Rome...".

We saw Piper on sale in the local Co-Operative supermarket for £17 so naturally had to grab one or two. For comparison we bought a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV (the brand behind the £150-a-bottle Cristal) from Majestic Wine for £28 (on offer from £33).

Both were pale gold with watery-white rims. The Piper was a bit reticent, smell-wise but did display some fruit and biscuity aromas while the Loius Roederer had more honeyed fruit, Chardonnay dominated but again with a biscuity sweetness. Taste is where the Piper comes into its own; Lots of bready/biscuity tastes but absolutely stuffed with fruitiness, from citrus zing to Cidery orchard fruit. A long, delicious finish leaves a great taste in the mouth and a tingle from the popping and fizzing bubbles. Superb 8.5/10. The Louis Roederer had a less aggressive mousse but very fine. The taste was equally toasty/biscuity sweet and again had superb fruit but more citrussy and tropical from the Chardonnay (Piper has more Pinot Noir content). Mouthwatering zing and a long finish similar to a sweet Gala apple. The Louis Roederer exudes class (it even comes in a very smart box) but, finished a close second to the Piper in our books at 8/10

So, Piper still remains champion but there are a lot of Champagnes we haven't compared it to yet!

Eat until we burst!
On the way to the Hilton we stopped off in the Yorkshire Grey for a leisurely 3-course lunch. This is a great little place if you're in the Worcestershire area; great food, nicely presented but not pretentious or poncey in any way. They do a 2-Course lunch for £10 but we decided to go for pudding as well. I had great garlic mushrooms in creme fraiche on a crostini, beer battered fish and chips and a superbly presented cheesecake to finish. D had stuffed potato skins, a lovely lasagne and the same cheesecake. Highly recommended! I had a lovely grassy Chilean Sauv Blanc (about £4 a glass) and D had a nice oaky Aussie Shiraz (about £5). My belt was complaining about the size of my gut after this, which would unfortunately be something of a recurring theme for the rest of the week!

Settled-in at the Hilton we headed to the pool for a dip before dinner. Having worked off a small fraction of the lunch calories we sat down to dinner with a glass of...have a guess...Yes, Piper Heidsieck Brut NV (a slightly painful £8.05 a glass), delicious as ever. We both started with a very nice tomato and basil soup. D had a honey and mustard glazed gammon steak which was superb and I had a coffee-rubbed Bavette steak (I had to ask what Bavette was...turned out to be a type of cut, popular in France but more commonly known as flank or skirt steak over here!). Anyway, having fresh finely-ground coffee granules in the same mouthful as steak surprisingly worked really well together. We washed these down with a light bodied Emporium Shiraz 2009 from Sicily (13%). At £22 a bottle I fear it was priced at a 300 to 400% markup, but nevertheless enjoyable and easy-drinking. Puddings followed; a superb (and huge) chocolate macaroon for D and a summer fruit roulade for me. We swapped half way through. Again, with belt straining we retired.

A trip into Tewkesbury the following morning resulted in the discovery of a cracking little independent wine shop; "That Wine Place" on the High Street. Having re-learned that Hilton wine prices are obscene, we bought a bottle of Greyrock Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2008 (Marked down to £8.99 from £13.99) to consume in our room later that evening (Sshh - I don't think you're allowed to do that...?). The proprietor was even kind enough to give me a free cigar cutter when I bought a cheap cigar. This was a lively, red-fruited wine with silky texture. Decent value and very drinkable 7/10. I'll definitely return to get a bottle of Esk Valley Merlot/Cab/Malbec 2007 that was stocked there. 

The Three Choirs Vineyard
Having finally dragged D out of a second hand book shop that had, what seemed like, a million books inside we headed back to change before heading to the Three Choirs Vineyard in Newent (see D's pic below).

You can get a tour of the vineyard and a tasting of 5 (out of a selection of many) wines and also three beers and two ciders for £8. There's also a restaurant and accommodation although we opted for a simple (and free) walk around followed by the tasting (£3.50 each). As I'm not a fan of sweet wines apart from when accompanying a teeth-destroyingly sweet dessert, we opted to sample all of the dry whites, the Rosé, sparkler and of course a beer and still cider. I wasn't expecting a great deal from £8 English wine but was pleasantly surprised by a few; the 2009 Bacchus (£13.10) was bone-dry, herby and had plentiful fruit with whiffs nettles and asparagus. 7/10 We bought some. The Classic Cuveé NV Brut sparkling wine (£11) was pleasant with rich apples, pears and a sweet bread pudding finish. Nice fresh acidity. 7/10 We bought some. The winner for us however, was the 2009 Rosé; which smelled of caramel and rose petals. The taste was generous amounts of sweetish strawberries balanced by a fresh acidity. 7.5/10 and we bought some. I can also recommend the hoppy Cats Whiskers dark beer and the Medium Still Cider was great.

More Eating...
Soaking up the sun on our balcony, we decided on a pub-dinner. We found an awesome riverside pub; the Fleet Inn at Twynning, recently refurbished. Just the two courses tonight and no wine (yet) as I was driving. D had a delicious chicken/bacon salad with balsamic reduction and I had a roasted pepper and tomato soup. Both delicious. As mains, we both chose lamb. Perfectly cooked and with amazing  mash and a red wine jus. Great food, well presented and again, not poncey! With dinner polished, we returned to the hotel to drink the Pinot and crash out after a tough few days of eating, drinking and putting our feet up.

More Pinot...
Returning home we decided to finish off the week with some more Pinots stocked up from recent purchases. The first was the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2008 (£15 Majestic Wine). I was afraid that this might have been tainted with smoke from the much-reported forest fires at the time but was happy to note that it was clean. It did however, have the most bonkers alcohol level for a Pinot that I have ever seen. 15.5%! Clearly not one for the faint hearted. Dark purple with a silky sheen this had aromas of dark cherries, raspberries, some Dr. Pepper (or root beer) type spice and alcohol. Way too apparent. The taste was initially tongue-stingingly hot, like a mouth-burning whisky, again, due to the alcohol level, but it was redeemed somewhat by the plentiful raspberry and cherry fruits. Not bad, even perhaps enjoyable overall 7/10 but someone needs to have a word with Bob! Cool it down fella!
A bit more sensible was the ARA Composite Pinot Noir 2008 from Marlborough. £9 from the Co-Op and 13.5%. A translucent ruby red with crimson highlights, this smelled of red berries and cherries with a hint of meatiness and leather. Truly an amazing smelling wine! The texture was silky with very fine tannins and plenty of bright red fruit. The acidity was sharp and it had a complex oaky bitterness on the finish. Not quite as good as it smelled but pretty good 7.5/10.

So that ended our week of enjoyment. Staring down the barrel of impending work now, the only salvation being that we're off to a tasting on Friday at The Oxford Wine Company.

I'll write up my findings next week.

As always,

Speak to you soon.