Category Archives: Ben’s wine blog

Ben’s wine blog: An ode to Begude

With three listings, Domaine Begude are taking over our online wine shop. And why not? They’re that good.

It’s been there for years, but Domaine Begude is largely the creation of Englishman James Kinglake. James and his wife Catherine took over in 2003. Although the estate had been biodynamic, it was all a bit old school farmyardy, and hadn’t had the TLC it needed. There was a lot of work to do.

I met James on a freezing Sunday in late January about five years ago. I’d teamed up with one of our wine suppliers, following up leads he’d got from an organic wine expo in Montpellier. We’d just spent a fruitless morning trying to track down a seemingly non-existent Corbières producer, and stopped for a picnic of sorts with a gale from the nearby Pyrenees whistling around our ears. It was an extremely quick pit stop, and half an hour later we were at Begude being regaled with a description of the roast lamb James had eaten for lunch. It was all a bit Good Life meets Year in Provence – but the wines spoke for themselves.

Back then, I wasn’t helping with the Riverford wines, so I was just enjoying the ride. We didn’t talk prices; it was only back in Blighty when I saw a couple in Waitrose as part of a so-called ‘Brit Pack’ promotion that I realised what a bargain the wines were. They say the only way to make a small fortune out of winemaking is to start with a big one, and a vineyard in Provence does seem to be an essential appendage for many a multimillionaire. Not surprisingly, they convince themselves that their wine is magnificent and should demand the kind of prices only they and their friends can afford. James, with his Begude wines, isn’t in that camp at all. He makes the kind of good, clean, modern wines that we (the British) want to drink. He handles the distribution and marketing himself, but it’s a business, not an ego trip. By cutting out wholesalers, he’s able to keep the prices down and control where it goes, and he’s been keen on supplying Riverford from the start. If we had a franchisee in Carcassonne, he’d be a box customer – and his in-laws in Yorkshire definitely are.

His love of the noble Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, took James to the hills around Limoux, south of Carcassonne. Slightly removed from the hot Mediterranean Languedoc, influenced by the cooling Pyrenees and Atlantic weather system, it’s perfect for discreet ‘Old World’ Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs; as good as, but half the price of their Burgundian counterparts. Jancis Robinson has been a fan for years and writes glowingly in her annual Languedoc/Roussillon assemblage reports. He’s been experimenting with other slightly cooler climate varieties – mainly Sauvignon, but also Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner – but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are what he does best.

Pinot NoirDomaine Begude pinot noir is on-trend, and sold well when we listed it last year. Sadly, that wasn’t the case with the Chardonnay. ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), that unfortunate condition bought on by over-exposure to the toasted-oaked, vanilla-heavy Antipodean version, seems to be the kiss of death for what is unquestionably the world’s finest white food grape. Call it Burgundy and it sells for £25 a bottle. Call it Chardonnay and it won’t sell full stop.

Domaine Begude chardonnayJames’s Chardonnay Terroir 11300 is 85% cool-fermented in stainless steel for zesty, citrus freshness, and 15% barrel-fermented in old 600 litre demi-muids. You can hardly taste the oak, but it adds roundness and body, making the wine more comparable to a Chablis or Burgundy than hotter climate, New World Chardonnay. The vineyard at 300 meters and the cooler weather mean the grapes don’t over-ripen, keeping a crisp minerality. If you’ve been to a wine tasting or been given the once-over by a pretentious sommelier, you’ll know that minerality is very, very good. Begude Terroir is good by itself, but even better with a wide range of food – from chicken to cheeses. I particularly like it with crab, but that’s probably just me.

Domaine Begude pinot roséTo make up the numbers, we’ve also added Begude’s Pinot Noir rosé. Salmon pink as a Provençal rosé, it’s a joy to drink. It was a last-minute decision and we could only get a relatively small amount, so buy now before it all goes.

James will be hosting a dinner in the Field Kitchen on May 18th. Click here to find out more and book your place for a special evening of wine-tasting alongside an unforgettable Riverford feast.

Order Domaine Begude’s Chardonnay, Pinot rosé or Pinot Noir from our award-winning shop for free delivery to your door.

Ben’s wine blog – Summer wine


It’s been a couple of years since I started helping with the wine side of things at Riverford and so far, it’s all been good. I’d be the first to acknowledge that my taste buds wouldn’t make me a Master of Wine, but I love the stuff. Outside the world of the big brands and supermarkets, wine is the benchmark agricultural product. Done right (as ours is) it is fruit, grown with love, minimally but skilfully processed, and sent to you, via us, in a bottle. Nobody else gets a look in – except the Chancellor, and that’s out of our control.

We don’t have a big list, but we’ve tried to keep it interesting and come up with seven new wines for the summer and beyond. A couple of them are a little off the wall but we thought they were so good it would be crazy not to give them a go. Who’s ever heard of Frappato? Well it’s a red grape indigenous to Vittoria in south east Sicily and in days gone by, they’d have had a bottle waiting, lightly chilled, for the tuna boats to come in. These days it’s more likely to be a sardine, but don’t shoot the messenger.

frappato Wine critic Jancis Robinson, described Frappato wine as, “Pale cherry red. Fire-engine-bright, loud, pomegranate fruit on the nose. A wine that both surprised and delighted me with its wholly unexpected energy – it romps across the palate, charged with frisky acidity, and delivers a tremendous amount of fresh cherry-menthol peppery fun. The tannins are almost non-existent. Certainly not a wine to get intellectual about, but it’s not trying to be ambitious. Drink slightly chilled.”

grapes2Our second weirdo is from the Duoro River in Portugal. Producers, Quinta do Romeu, describe their Moinho do Gato red as ‘a smooth, young and fruity unoaked red wine. Ideal for everyday drinking’, but that’s only half the story. Portuguese wine has stuttered at the starting gates many times. They are a big producer but beyond Sir Cliff’s Vida Nova and Mateus Rose, it hasn’t got far. That’s because they don’t buy into the whole grape variety thing and stick by this amazingly anachronistic concept of the ‘field blend’. Vineyards, planted by who knows whose grandparents are picked and made into wine. It’s Tinto or Branco and that’s about it. Amazingly, whatever the variety, they tend to ripen at the same time and can, but not always, make great wine – but they can’t put Chardonnay or Shiraz on the label. It was an afterthought but we were blown away by the summer fruit flavours and had to give it a go.

barrelsThis summer simply everyone seems to be doing Provence rosé, darling. To cut it as a billionaire, a vineyard in the Cotes de Provence is a must. It’s almost taken over from a superyacht or two. I hear Roman has actually planted a vineyard on his yacht. Our Mas de Longchamp IGP Alpilles Rosé is from Bouches-du-Rhône, the most westerly and, I admit, cheapest of the five departments of Provence. But its classic ‘salmon pink’ Provence rosé nonetheless, with a refreshing zing that makes it a perfect partner for light summer meals or just a few sunrays.

If there was a grape of the decade so far award it would have to go to Picpoul de Pinet. Pinet is a small village set back from the Étang de Thau lagoon near Sète on the Mediterranean, where they harvest oysters and other shellfish by the tonne. Picpoul developed as a kind of southern French Muscadet – the perfect accompaniment for shellfish. Ours, from Domaine de Petit-Roubié, is a little fruitier than most so more of an all-rounder, particularly good with summery vegetable dishes as well as all things piscine of course. I’m talking fish rather than swimming pools but, on second thoughts, both could work.

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A little further west we’ve two new suppliers, coincidentally, a (long) stone’s throw apart, just south of Carcassonne in the Languedoc. Domaine Begude (yes Jonny) is the home of Englishman, James Kingslake. He bought it from another ‘rosbif’, the eccentric Bertie Eden of Chateau Maris, and though it always sounds a bit ‘good life/year in Provence’, the good thing about an English vigneron in France is that the end result tends to be the type of wine we want to drink. Despite its sunny climate, Domaine Begude is quite high and really catches the winter weather making ideal conditions for Burgundian Chardonnay and the lightly oaked Chardonnay Terroir 11300 is positively Chablis-esque – perfect with virtually all light dishes from fish to poultry to vegetables. However hard the Australians and Californians tried to ruin it, Chardonnay is still the best white grape for pairing with food.

Domaine Py, just down the road and a little more traditionally French, make an intense Old Vine Merlot that punches way above its weight. Full of dark, plummy fruit flavours and soft tannins it’s an all-round food wine par-excellence and despite stiff competition to replace the old Pech Matelles Merlot, it was a unanimous decision.

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So that’s six new wines that make up our summer wine case… there’s a bottle there for all occasions.

malbecAlso new and worth a mention is our Caligiore Malbec. I’m not a fan of the typical flabby, over alcoholic, Malbec but there’s far more to this one. Definitely still no shrinking violet but with enough integrated tannins to give it an extra dimension beyond the rich, dark fruit on both nose and palette. It’s probably more one for the winter, but if you’re planning a seriously meaty BBQ it would certainly do the job.

For a simpler, ‘sausages on the beach’ affair, our Bodegas Castaño Monastrell is hard to beat. Intense Morello cherry flavours with a touch of rounding (rather than imposing) oak and that underlying sweet fruit that works so well with BBQ’d food. And for £7.49 it’s the best value on the list.

Ben Watson

5 cracking Christmas cocktail ideas from Riverford

Hosting a Christmas party this year?  Looking for ideas to take along to someone else’s?  We’ve got five great Christmas cocktails, and a few extra tipples, that are guaranteed to get any party started!

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Blood orange & prosecco cocktail – click here to see recipe

A celebratory drink  when blood oranges are in season (but you can substitute with normal oranges). For this we suggest using prosecco for the fizz, or if you’re feeling extravagant, champagne. A splash of Campari doesn’t hurt either!

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Riverford mulled cider – click here to see recipe

The mulled cider was so popular at our London Christmas fair last year that we’ve had lots of requests for the recipe. This is from Ben Watson’s mate, Cider Andy. He’s adamant that to get the genuine article, you need to use his two-year-old Dartmoor Cider, but any dry, scrumpy type cider will do.

Apple, pear & ginger smoothie – click here to see recipe

A great drink for drivers or kids, this nutritional smoothie is sweet and warming. Dress it up with a fancy straw in a nice glass.

Bloody orange mary – click here to see recipe

Great with brunch, or as a hang over cure, this cocktail is a twist on the classic using vibrant blood oranges (or standard oranges).

Tangy orange appetiser – click here to see recipe

A take on the classic Savoy cocktail of orange juice, gin and dubonnet, said to be the Queen Mother’s favourite tipple.

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Don’t miss! Veggie cocktails at Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge:

In January our pub in Islington,  Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge will be serving veggie inspired cocktails and mocktails, for those who are recovering from all the celebrations.

The recipes are highly secret, but if you fancy yourself as a bit of a mixologist, then our cocktail master at the Duke has let you know what the main ingredient combinations are below.  If you’d rather let someone else do the hard work then head over to The Duke in the new year to taste how it’s done by the professionals!

Non-alcoholic blends:

Beetroot, apple and celery juice

Apple, carrot and ginger

Alcoholic blends:

Apple, beetroot and amaretto

Apple, mint, cucumber and damson vodka

Ben’s wine blog: win a trip to Italy & cracking Christmas wines

Ben takes us through his top picks of wines that are just right for getting the Christmas celebrations started, plus buy a bottle of festive Pizzini fizz or our Christmas mixed wine case and you could win a trip to the Barone Pizzini vineyard near Verona in Italy to see how it’s made!

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It’s been a year since I was handed the poisoned chalice that is the Riverford corkscrew and I’d like to think that we’ve made good progress – better wines at better prices as you’ll see from the Christmas list. New wines for Autumn and Christmas, available from November, include two very different Sauvignon Blancs. Domaine de Petit Roubié from Picpoul in the Languedoc is medium bodied with typical grass and floral notes. The other, Bodegas Menade from Rueda in northern Spain is elegant, aromatic and fragrant with notes of herbs and citrus peel.

Refreshing whites

Our Christmas special white is a classy Sancerre from the Loire. Domaine Vincent Gaudry’s Le Tournebride ticks all the boxes that have made good Sancerre one of the world’s great white wines; crisp, flinty minerality with classic citrus grapefruit and lemon flavours. Class in a glass. Another highlight is Davenport Vineyards Horsmonden dry white form East Sussex. A winner in the Soil Association 2014 Organic Food Awards, it’s a joy to have a real, quality, English organic wine on the list. Chardonnay is still the most noble of white grapes and by far the best with food. Gilles Louvet ‘O’ Chardonnay is a no nonsense, great value example. Similar to Chablis in weight and character but the Languedoc sun opens it up and makes it far more accessible. Definitely a crowd pleaser, it’s the perfect white wine to pair with rich food on the Christmas table.

Rounded reds

From the same stable we have ‘O’ Pinot Noir. Winemakers try so hard to stamp their mark on Pinot Noir that often their egos and the grapes’ idiosyncrasies make for a love/hate relationship that can only end in tears. Gilles Louvet Pinot Noir is no such thing. Well made and great value, it’s perfect with the turkey. If you’re more into your Bordeaux, hopefully, Chateau Coursou will float your boat. A traditional blend of Cabernets Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot, it was head and shoulders above the other clarets we tried.

Top of the pops on the red front is Montirius, Vacqueyras ‘Le Clos’. From one of Jancis Robinson’s favourite Rhone producers it’s Syrah predominant, full bodied, big and beefy. As close to a Chateauneuf du Pape as we could find, this is definitely one for the goose and Stilton.

Warming winter tipples

Last year Pedro Ximénez sherry was touted as being the perfect match for Christmas pudding – not surprising really given that the grapes are dried to an almost raisin-like intensity. We haven’t been able to find any organic sherry but we have come up with a similarly unctuous ‘sticky’ made up the road near Cordoba. Peidra Luenga Pedro Ximémez is a classic deep mahogany colour with intense aromas and a palate of dried fruits, raisins and figs, with notes of chocolate and coffee. Smooth and velvety on the palate, with great length and balance – it’s close to being the most moreish drink I’ve ever had. There’s an equally good Fino made, as is the PX, using the traditional solera ageing system of passing from barrel to barrel leaving a small residue to help age the next batch.

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Festive fizz

Lastly, and definitely my favourite, is Barone Pizzini’s Animante Franciacorta. Franciacorta must be one of Italy’s best kept secrets, a tiny appellation north east of Milan, specialising in sparkling wines using the same grapes and method as Champagne. In a recent FT article on the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship, Jancis Robinson put two Franciacorta fizzes in her top eight (five of the other six were Champagnes). The Animante wasn’t one those but it won gold at the prestigious Sommelier Wine Awards and at £19.99, it bridges the gap nicely between Prosecco and Champagne. It’s got everything Champagne has, including that luxurious, creamy mouthfeel, apart from the name, and it’s half the price.

Win a trip to Barone Pizzini vineyard in Italy!

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Win an Italian trip for two when you buy a bottle of Pizzini fizz or a Christmas mixed wine case. To enter, simply buy a bottle of Barone Pizzini’s Animante Franciacorta (1 bottle or a case of 6), or our Christmas mixed wine case.

Get into the festive spirit with a bottle of our Barone Pizzini animante fizz, or our Christmas mixed wine case, and we’ll enter you into a free prize draw to win a 2 night stay at the Barone Pizzini organic vineyard near Verona in Northern Italy. Franciacorta, near Lake Iseo, is the perfect place for making Italy’s best fizz. Franciacorta is the name of the area, the production method (traditional, bottle fermentation) and also the name of the wine. Barone Pizzini has recently celebrated 140 years since the company was founded. It is one of the oldest wineries in Franciacorta established in 1870. It was also the first winery in Franciacorta to adopt organic viticulture methods.

We have limited stocks, so if you fancy some festive fizz and the chance of a trip to Italy, add a bottle to your order now!

T&Cs

1. Holiday includes: 2 return flights from UK to Italy, UK departure location to suit winner, but only subject to approval by Vintage Roots (promoter).  Accommodation of a 2 night stay in a minimum 3* hotel near Barone Pizzini Vineyard, near Lake Iseo, with dinner and breakfast. ½ day tour of Barone Pizzini organic vineyard and an Italian lunch, leaving free time afterwards at your leisure.

2. Not included in prize: transport to & from airport in UK, transport from airport in Italy to accommodation. Barone Pizzini representative will collect and return you from your hotel on the day of the tour.

3. Over 18s only.

4. Entrants have to buy any bottle (single or multiple) of Barone pizzini franciacorta animante or a Riverford Christmas mixed wine case to be entered into the draw. Products have to be delivered by 31st December 2014.

5. Only one entry per person, multiple bottles do not mean multiple entries.

6. Holiday has to be taken between 1/1//15 – 1/4/15 (excluding half term dates and bank holidays). Provider reserves the right to offer flight and travel in Italy details and refuse travel on very expensive dates.

7. Competition provider is Vintage Roots and Barone Pizzini.

8. Winners will be contacted within 14 working days of closing date. If winners do not confirm prize with 7 days of notification, promoter reserves the right to pick an alternative winner.

9. Riverford is not responsible for lost, late, incomplete or damaged competition entries or data lost due to circumstances beyond their control.

10.Prizes are non-transferable and cannot be exchanged. The winner may not use the prize in conjunction with any other offer, promotion or prize draw.

11. Riverford and its partners reserve the right to substitute stated prize with a similar item should prize offered become unavailable.

12. Judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

13. Promoter is Riverford Organic Farms Ltd and Vintage Roots

14.A list of winners and their areas will be available upon written request from 2nd January 2015.

Ben’s wine blog: Dominio de Punctum’s Finca Fabian

Ben took a trip to Spain to meet the producers of an organic wine that’s head and shoulders above the rest.

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The Fernandez family

When I first tasted Dominio de Punctum’s Finca Fabian wine three years ago I marked their card several levels above the standard, entry level, Spanish organic wine. The problem was that the same applied to the price. However, where there’s a will there’s a way, so by importing pallet loads direct from the vineyard and twisting the arm of the UK agent, we’ve been able to get the price down to £6.99 – the same as the infinitely inferior wines we were stocking before. I like our Finca Fabian wines so much that I thought I’d better pay them a visit.

Doing the right thing

My first thought was that here’s another rich man learning how to make a small fortune from a big one, but I was wrong. It’s a well thought out, properly funded family business. Until ten years ago it was a typical grape farm selling their produce to the local co-op for next to nothing. Bulk wine from the region sells for 0.25 euros a litre.

The Fernandez family thought they could do better and so father and three siblings set about doing it in a business-like way. The fact that Jesus Fernandez, who showed me around could probably sell sand to an Arab certainly didn’t do any harm. There was also a reassuring commitment to doing the right thing, not just farming organically and biodynamically (they’re certified for both) but also employment and social responsibility. It was definitely a happy place.

The vineyard

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The Fernandez’s harvest

The wines speak for themselves. Harvest had just finished and most of the 2014 was happily bubbling away, while the Chardonnay has nearly finished its secondary, malolactic fermentation. Delicious. I don’t like winespeak but sometimes you have to – unoaked, fresh tropical fruits with a lovely slightly creamy mouthfeel. Why we’re all rushing to buy Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, when you can match this with virtually any light food, is a mystery.

The rosé/rosado is so classically French that it’s freed us up to stock the slightly fruitier, New World style, strawberry flavoured L’Estanquet as our second rosé from France. It’s a funny old world.

The Tempranillo is equally good. It’s clean, well made and with enough tannin and structure to stand up to heavier foods.

There’s far more to come from Dominio de Punctum, including a lightly sparkling frizzante, so watch this space.

Ben’s wine blog: Davenport Vineyards, Sussex 2013 Horsmonden dry white

This week Ben discovers a new favourite at brother Guy’s wedding, and finds out a bit more about British wine making.

Discovering a fantastic fizz

It’s been around for a while but in recent years, it’s come on leaps and bounds and the 2013 vintage is the best yet.  I hadn’t tasted it for ages until Davenport’s 2013 Horsmonden dry white slipped up the blind side (and that’s not part of a best man’s speech) at Geetie and brother Guy’s wedding. Several glasses of their fantastic fizz had got the party off to a flying start and it wasn’t until midway through the first course that I noticed that the contents of the glass in my hand were really pretty good. Crisp, dry and aromatic – like a combination of the bride and groom (I confess to still not having given them a wedding present and I wasn’t the best man).

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Will the wine-maker

Winemaker and owner, Will Davenport, knows his stuff – he’s been doing it for twenty years and the awards page on his website testifies to his skills.  We’ve all heard that global warming will make southern England the next Burgundy, but so far, in the case of organic it’s been an emperor’s new clothes scale bluff.  Yes, England is making some fantastic, champagne-esque fizz and white wines, but thanks to a succession of wet summers, until last year, delivery was woefully slow and low.  2013 was a great year and 2014 promises to be even better.  Here’s what Hamish Anderson, writing for The Daily Telegraph, thought of Will’s wine:

Will Davenport’s small organic estate makes some of England’s finest still wine. The 2013 is a blinder – its pungent nose of lemon and nettles is not only quintessentially English, but also makes you want to dive in for a sip. A glass of glorious, spirit-lifting refreshment.

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Getting hold of the vintage

It takes Will three years to make the fizz, but the more still wine we buy, the more chance there is of getting a decent allocation of the 2013 vintage when it’s released. That’s the way the wine trade works.  Or if we’re really good, fingers crossed, they might just find a few cases of the previous vintage.

Ben’s wine blog: The wine in Spain comes mainly from the plain and by Jove we’ve got it!

Spain, once European viticulture’s poor cousin, land of Don Simon tetrapak and worse, has woken from the dead. Drive south from Madrid to Granada and you ill still see the industrial stainless steel wineries of Valdepeñas, but elsewhere, in the north and east, vine growing and winemaking has taken giant leaps forward.

Unheard of regions from Rías Baixas in the North West to Yecla and Jumilla in the South East, are fast upping the ante to compete with old favourite Rioja and sleeping giants; Penedès, Rueda and Ribera del Duero.

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A new beginning for Spanish wine

The land is cheap in Spain, and rather than grubbing up old vines it’s easier to plant new ones. Now many of the old, abandoned vineyards are being restored, and with judicious irrigation, are producing grapes with real character. It might be hot, but it’s also high. Around the south east of La Mancha many of the vineyards are 700 meters plus which makes for near perfect conditions – sundrenched days and cool nights.

We’ve been having a good look at our range of Spanish wines and have decided to start afresh. There’s so much out there to choose from, we thought it would be better to start with a clean sheet…

Sebastian’s Story

One of our favourite wines, Marsilea Verdejo, is from the mountains, 900 m above Valencia. It’s the apple of vineyard owner, Sebastian’s eye, cherished and nurtured for years before he got it off the ground. Winemaking the Riverford way.

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Sebastian’s family came back to Spain after 30 years in Germany. On their return they set up a small business and slowly started buying some of the land around them. It wasn’t long before Sebastian started planting vines, his passion for wine meant he had a clear idea about what he wanted to achieve and a dream that one day he would have his own wine cellar and a wine made by his family.

He started out making wines in his garage after studying viticulture.  Slowly the business grew, as he tended to his vineyards, in his own words, like they were his children. His respect for the plants and the surrounding countryside meant that farming organically was an obvious choice from the word go.

Sebastian’s wine is a great match for fish and poultry but works equally well as an aperitif, with crunchy vegetable crudités and tapas.  It’s described as having notes of ‘crisp green apples with soft, creamy, nutty overtones, and hints of honey’, but I’m sure you can make your own mind up.

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