Great wine doesn’t always cost a fortune and having run out of wine at home (horror of horrors!) I rushed over to the little Co-op up the road with zero hope of finding something that would give my tastebuds a workout. I grabbed a white from Sicily from the Grillo grape. I have to admit the ‘retro’ label did appeal in the heat of the moment, but I was well rewarded for my £7 investment.
The Vanita Grillo has lovely lemony gold hue and bags of baked lemon flavour, with a dose of dried herbs and a touch of almond skin. This gives plenty of bang for your buck. All this refreshing flavour is matched by some balancing acidity, keeping this wine zippy and bright.
Grillo – The grape variety
Grillo is a grape that finds its home in Sicily and although it’s better known as one of the key grapes that makes the fortified (usually sweet) wine Marsala, It can make simple dry whites that offer ripe lemon and yellow apple flavours and better versions can add almond and savoury herbs. Coastal vineyards may give a whiff of salinity too.
My girlfriend took me out for a treat recently, and knowing my penchant for wine and vineyards whisked me away to our nearest winery. Denbies is a short walk from Dorking station, so unlike most wineries around the world, you don’t need a car or taxi which keeps the price down and more importantly allowed us to drink without a designated driver or handing over a wad of cash to a cabbie.
The lane leading up to the main building is flanked by vines and opens out to a strange architectural blend of Tuscan villa and English barn conversion where the visitor centre is located. The feel is of enthusiastic British amateurism rather than sleek professionalism and we are led into the 360 degree cinema ‘experience’ by a wonderful Camilla Dagey Fritton type lady (The headmistress from the St Trinian’s movies) with more than a touch of Joyce Grenfell about her. The 360º cinema was entertaining and informative if a little hard on stiff necks!
We progressed down to the nerve centre of the winery, where the tanks, barrels and crusher/distemmers were housed, and were given various titbits of information and knowledgeable answers to our questions. Past the gyro-pallets and now-redundant riddling racks we meandered, and stepped through to the cellars to be confronted with a giant map of all the blocks of different vines ( a bewildering 17 or so varietals), and a tasting. We paid extra for the sparkling tour, and I’m glad we did as that is where English wine boxes in an international weight class, and more than manages to stay on its feet. In fact we were told that John Worontschak, the head wine maker, wanted to devote a greater percentage of Denbies’ output to sparkling, but was over-ruled by the ownership.
We started with the sparkling Seyval Blanc – Whitedowns Cuvée NV. It was a pleasant, light and fresh flavoured fizz with notes of citrus, a hint of breadiness and pleasing acidity. This offered surprising value for money and showed off a non-vinifera grape producing a quality wine.
The sparkling rosé was next made from 100% Pinot Noir, and although I was not overly impressed for the price, the others in the tour group loved it, so it definitively had its fans.
The final taster was the Broadwood’s Folly, made from Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner. Simple, light stone fruit dominated with racy acidity and a crisp finish.
The next stage was a ride on the wine train through the vineyards with our entertaining guide. The ‘train’ was in fact a Land Rover pulling three wagons around the property, showing off the wonderful views of the Downs and the 107 hectares of vines.We were told of the history of the property pre-vineyard and about the journey from a spark of an idea to the founding in 1986 to the present day successes and gongs at international wine competitions. All this while sipping on a glass of sparkling wine.
Denbies is well worth a visit, and being a short trip from London makes it accessible to an awful lot of people, locals and tourists alike. Apart from a couple of strange wines made from imported grapes, only available in store, It’s well worth tasting the Surrey Gold (a best seller) and the crisp sauvignon-esque Bacchus as well as the fizz. English wine is improving all the time, with the sparkling leading the charge, so it’s time to try what it has to offer as vin anglais is not the punchline to a joke anymore.
Verget are a relatively fresh face on the wine scene in Burgundy having only been founded in 1990. They make a number of wines from various Burgundian appellations but I wanted to focus on two choices from the Mâconnais. This district is often a by-word for fair but slightly generic chardonnay, with the village appellations being a hit and miss collection of producers in terms of quality.
Verget are keen to change people’s preconceptions about the Mâcon and want to show off their quality and terroir.
Verget Macon Charnay ‘Les Clos St. Pierre’ 2010 £15
This type of appellation is a step up from the basic Mâconnais as it has the name of the village appended to it’s name. This means that the grapes are sourced from a more specific area. This Chardonnay from the village of Charnay has a light bready aroma with sweet pear and grapefruit aromas that pleasantly linger.
It has a balanced level of acidity on the palate and delicious notes of pears, ripe yellow apples, a hint of yellow peach and a note of light toast.
This is certainly an improvement on the more generic Mâcconais wines but the price is a step up too.
A named village is another step up from the wine above, and Pouilly Fuissé is probably the best known one in this part of Burgundy. Verget have done this appellation proud with this delicious wine.
The aromas of peach, grapefruit and spiced pastry reach out of the glass. The flavours don’t disappoint either, with toasted brioche, nectarine, baking spice and ripe peaches that linger on the lengthy finish. This wine has a balance and finesse that makes it worth the extra money.
It is the reports from the CBC that British Columbia is thinking about allowing liquor sales in supermarkets that inspired me to turn the TV off and write. Many Canadians feel left behind more ‘progressive’ nations like the US and UK, that have had alcohol available in grocery stores. In those ‘progressive’ countries years ago, supermarkets like Costco, Tesco and other large grocery chains did not stock wine, and when they did it was only a small selection of some basic mainstream stuff, a few Lindeman`s,the Le Piat d`Or range and a selection of Gallo wines. The real wine lover would make their way to the high street specialist store or a good independent wine merchant. Perusing the shelves, glancing at labels, and taking the bottles out, twisting them in your hand to feel the glass and their weight, and the best part, talking to those who plied their trade in a side of the industry that certainly did not pay well, but gave an income to those whose passion lay inside dark green glass. The chat to a good wine store clerk or manager was part of a continuing relationship, the more regularly you visited the better the recommendation would be suited to your taste. I may be accused of some misty eyed romanticism, but the local wine merchant was one of the last traditional shops that graced almost every high street; it is now only in a relative few towns and cities that still have a store with experienced wine-obsessed staff.
It`s not just the UK, but the spiritual home of wine, France, has lost many of its small independent stores, with the now ubiquitous hypermarché on the outskirts stocking a myriad of mostly French wines, where the majority of French drinkers do their shopping. The US mega grocery chains like Costco and now Walmart stock many branded wines at knock-down prices, edging out the small guy.
The figures make depressing reading. In the UK almost 90% of wine is bought at a supermarket and 80% of that is bought on a deal. Think of those 3 for 2 “bargains” that Oz Clarke recently questioned the veracity of on the BBC`s consumer affairs program `Watchdog`. So why should we mourn the declining numbers of specialists? Well the God of convenience and keen prices can be a rather disloyal deity for those worshipers, as supermarkets are starting to reduce their range as they have discovered that some of the more interesting wines are hard to sell when the average punter is staring at rows of bottles on their own, with no-one to guide them.
So with the closure of many stores, the supermarkets have a massive share of the market and are reducing choice, leaving us with rows of brand name `cheap` deals, but far less competition in the high street. It`s up to us, the consumer, to vote with our wallets, but more importantly get back to building a relationship with an expert merchant, not just with wine but meat, fish, bread and beer too and leave the supermarkets for the dull things that require no thought or expertise.
So while British Columbia,Canada, my former home, considers to allow liquor sales in supermarkets and grocery stores, remember that while you may gain convenience, you will lose personality, choice, real value and the human experience that makes shopping for wine a genuine joy.
I tasted this one a long while ago and bought it for a store I was the buyer for at the time. On a visit to Firefly Fine Wines and Ales in Maple Ridge, BC to say hello to some old colleagues (and check out how the selection was progressing!) I saw a few bottles on the shelf and knew I had to have one!
This Vouvray is a medium dry style (made from Chenin Blanc) and has a lovely aroma of acacia honey, honeysuckle flowers, ripe golden yellow apples, and juicy pears. The palate delivered a great balance of mouth-watering acidity, ripe cantaloupe, apples, pears and touch of minerality in the background. This is delicious and worked well with the chunk of Port Salut (washed rind) cheese I had with it. You could easily try this a Goan fish curry or some fruity, spicy Thai food.
If you don’t know Chenin or a scared of an unfamiliar French appellation then I assure you won’t be disappointed with this wine – so give it a go!
My dreams of a healthy, cheese and wine filled life were dashed on the rocks of cholesterol and liver health yesterday, when my doctor broke the news that I drank too much and probably ate too much rich dairy produce. My usual, cheerful reliance on what is known as the “French Paradox” as I guzzle down as much Brie and Bordeaux as possible (not necessarily at the same time!), is now a distant memory as I try to rebuild a rather broken liver and reduce worryingly high cholesterol levels with green tea and leafy vegetables.
For the uninitiated, the French Paradox is based on the fact that the French consume large amounts of wine and cheese and seemingly have an ability to remain in rude health. (it is of course more complicated than that and the fact that the Mediterranean French don’t live on fried eggs, pizza and chips might just have something to do with it)
I knew it was probably too good to be true as I can only dream of the Mediterranean lifestyle, and probably fell well short of the other part of this particular paradox, that is consuming more fish and vegetables than a shark with a salad problem. I had better learn a bit of restraint – well at least if I have to drink less, I will make damn sure I will drink better! Always look for that silver lining!
Girard Petite Sirah (Napa Valley) 2010 $45 (Spec) BC
I tasted this delicious wine at the Vancouver International Wine Festival a month ago, and decided to buy a bottle before I left as I wasn’t sure if it was available outside the special festival wine store. As with any re-visits, whether new friends, wine or house-hunting, one is never sure if that first impression was a true one or not. Those new friends aren’t nearly as fun and charming as you remember; that amazing house you were just about to put an offer on seems to be situated in a not-so-salubrious street, and that wine you had a sip of (after an afternoon of copious tasting) might not be that ‘100 pointer’ you were waxing lyrical about in the wine bar afterwards.
Well, I took advantage of the fairly new ‘Bring your own bottle’ laws in British Columbia, and made use of a gift certificate for a franchise of steak restaurants for my birthday dinner. The service was good, and after the manager checked our bottle (to bring a bottle on their wine list would have been a faux pas punishable by refusal of corkage) we were led to our table where we ordered cocktails. I had to explain to the young server that a classic margharita is served in a cocktail glass without ice, or extraneous exotic fruit, but I was well accommodated, and a decanter was provided for the wine.
Petite Sirah is not a grape I drink much of as a single varietal, but I will happily search more out after my experience with the Girard. (or should I just search out more Girard wines?)
There was an intense nose with cocoa bean, black cherry and blueberry jam, and the palate picked up where the nose left off. Great concentration of fruit without being cloying or flabby and a waft of sweet herbs and cocoa powder on the finish. There was a touch of grip to the tannins, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment, in fact the meat seemed to suit them. This wine had a decently long finish and went well with my sirloin steak. It should keep quite well for 5 years or more, getting spicier with age no doubt!
If it wasn’t for the complimentary ice cream cake for my birthday, I would have been tasting the Girard Petite Sirah all the way home, but I couldn’t resist free pudding!!
After blogging about beer for three years at The Beer Wrangler, I was often asked why beer and not wine? This might seem a strange question, but those who know me knew I was spending vast sums of money and much of my spare time (not much with a full time job and baby girl) learning about wine. I had started my 3 year part time WSET level 4 Diploma, as well studying for my Court of Master Sommeliers certification. It would make much more sense to write about the subject I was studying morning, noon and night.
Well craft beer became my escape from my studies, my down time and palate cleanser… oh and I love good craft beer, but that’s another story (well, blog anyway!) In September last year I finally passed the WSET Diploma (I did the CMS Certified Sommelier 18 months before) and could really start enjoying wine without the pressure of study and exams.
So does this answer the question: does the world need another wine blog? The answer is absolutely not, but I will start one anyway! I hope that it is interesting to at least one person other than me, and I would love any thoughts from other wine lovers, amateur or professional (I don’t discriminate!) as all are welcome.