Tag Archives: wine

Ben Watson chooses organic Christmas red wines

Whether vegetarian, omnivore or hard core carnivore, this is the time of year when it seems natural to reach for the red (by the cooker) rather than white (in the fridge). The temperature outside might be almost balmy but a glass of red warms cockles of the heart other wines can’t reach.

After all these years, the whole food and wine matching business is still a bit of a mystery to me but, with reds and meat, it’s always safe to pair slightly caramelised roasts and steaks with something with a little sweetness, whether from oak or fruit; Sangiovese, Merlot or Nero d’Avola for example. At the other end of the spectrum, stews and casseroles need something a bit more earthy and robust; Carménère, Monastrell or a Rhone Syrah/Grenache fit nicely. There are exceptions to every rule and typically, turkey is one of them. Despite being roasted, the richness of the meat and trimmings outweighs the crispy, caramelized skin so I’d go with the Chateau de Lascaux Pic St-Loup or Nativa Carmenere.

So on to the wines – it’s a small list but perfectly formed.

red-wine-chateau-de-lascauxChateau de Lascaux Carra, Pic St-Loup, Syrah/Grenache (£13.99) – Pic St-Loup, in the foothills of the Cevennes, is one of the most northerly appellations of the Languedoc and makes stunning, Syrah based, Rhone style wines. When I got the gig of sorting out the Riverford wine offer, family owned (for 700 years) Lascaux seemed like the perfect partner. The original winery was an old monastery and owner, Jean-Benoit Cavalier, definitely has a touch of the priest about him but the wines speak for themselves. Isolated limestone vineyards, surrounded by wild ‘garrigue’ vegetation, produce wines with real provenance – you get to understand the concept of terroir when you taste the wines. Cuvee ‘Carra’, a food friendly blend of Syrah and Grenache, is a perfect partner for roast turkey but, once bitten, a yearly visit won’t be anywhere near enough.

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Finca Fabian Tempranillo, Dominio de Punctum (£6.99). Judging by the sales, our house red needs no introduction. If you haven’t tried it, do. For £6.99 it takes ‘bangs for bucks’ to a whole new level.

Pech Matelles, Merlot (£7.79). Sadly, Vignobles Gilles Louvet, who produced several of our French wines have gone under. Maybe they underpriced themselves but fortunately we have enough stock of their great value Merlot to see us through to the New Year. Importers, Liberty Wines describe it as ‘boasting a surprisingly deep and intense ruby-red colour. Silky and rich, it is exceptionally smooth on the palate, offering notes of red berries, cherry, raspberry and a touch of spice to finish’. What more can I say – apart from ‘tragedy’!

Biurko Gorri, Rioja Joven (£8.49). Set away from the main Rioja regions, in the one horse (if you’re lucky) village of Bargota. The Llorens family only built their winery when the local cooperative closed down and they still make wine for other growers and have a massive following in the locality. When I was there, enjoying a leisurely glass and a half with a plate of local cheese and chorizo it was suddenly all hands on deck to load up the lorry of the local distributer from Pamplona. Chalky soils add a certain snap and, dare I say it, minerality to the local Tempranillo grape that you just don’t get with the mainstream producers looking to add oak and vanilla to local grape juice. Sorry – I’m letting my anti Rioja-ism out for an airing but try it and you’ll see what I mean.

castano-monastrellBodegas Castano, Monastrell (£7.99). Monastrell is responsible for some great wines – under its French name of Mouvedre. It’s a minor, but character giving, part of Cotes du Rhone and main player in Bandol but it’s in its homeland of Mediterranean Spain that it really shines. It’s a mixed bag of intense but silky Morello cherries, stewed fruit, sweet spice etc but, you know what? When I see it, I think bangers and mash. That’s my kind of wine.

 

Nativa-carmenereNativa, Carmenere (£9.99). We wanted to focus on European wines but thought a token New World offering would be in order. It was a tough job but picking the Nativa Carmenere was easy. Like most New World wines, it’s full of flavour but, in a bigged up sort of European way. As I mentioned above, it will stand up to the most robust of stews and casseroles – cassoulets for example, but by itself it’s smooth and seductive. I can’t believe I just wrote that – better stop now while I’m still ahead. Just.

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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Ben’s blog: wine cellar overhaul – meet our new gutsy reds & classy whites

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Ben Watson, Guy’s brother, has given our wine range a good overhaul  – here’s his blog about the thinking behind the new cohort of gutsy reds and classy whites.

Good wine from good farming might sound a little trite but most organic wine is as much a product of the vineyard as milk is of a cow. Great wines are made in the vineyard and after that minimal intervention is the name of the game.

Thirty years ago winemakers were tearing their hair out and crying ‘how can we make good wine from organic grapes?’ Now, with better practises in the vineyard and improved hygiene in the cellar they are asking the opposite; ‘how can we make good wine without using organic grapes?’

So, with this in mind, and the fact that it’s a natural partner to all things Riverford, we’ve been having a good look at our wine list.

Thanks to the chancellor’s avarice value for money lies in the £8-10 bracket so that’s where we have been concentrating our efforts. Once you’ve knocked off the duty and VAT, wine for £7 or less doesn’t offer much value.

So far we’ve added six; a very classy white and red from a top producer in Pic St Loup in the Languedoc,  a lovely rosé from the southern Rhône, a gutsy medal winning Corbierès and two meat and stew friendly ‘Reserva’ reds from Chile.

Top of the pops will be a red and a white from the Marche region of Italy. Wine writers have been ‘bigging up’ Central Italian whites as the next Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the Saladini Pilastri Falerio, a blend of Trebbiano, Pecorino, and Passerino, doesn’t disappoint. Floral on the nose with a touch of mown grass with an apple and herbal flavours, it has good body and acidity and a slight but noticeable bitter almond finish – perfect for vegetable, fish and poultry dishes. The Rosso Piceno is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Montepulciano and spends a month or two in large old oak prior to bottling.  This is more than just good quaffing wine – it’s made for Bolognese or a hearty ragù.

Once the Italians arrive, we’re putting the new wines (minus the Chilean Carmenere and Rhone rosé) in a mixed case of six for a bargain £44.75 (20% off on deliveries from 4th November).

So far we’ve been concentrating on the winter reds. After Christmas we’ll start thinking about the whites and lighter reds …