For the love of wine

Round & About


In this, the month of love, our wine columnist Giles Luckett picks out his current top ten passions.

It’s February and love is in the air. Well, it’s in the card shops, the supermarkets, and, somewhat incongruously, my milkman’s van. It’s amazing what you can have delivered with your silver top these days! Anyway, what’s definitely in the air, in my house at least, is the love of wine, and here are my current top ten passions.

I’ve often struggled with New Zealand Chardonnay. Far too often they seem to have taken an oak-first, last, and always approach to winemaking, so you end up with a glassful of ghee. This isn’t the case with The King’s Legacy Chardonnay (Majestic £12.99). Wine, like life, is all about balance and this walks the tightrope between under and over-oaked brilliantly. Mid gold, the nose has plenty of vanilla and honey, but the apple, peach, and melon fruits also shine through. It’s the same story on the palate, which is generous, and plump and balances spicy oak with clean white and green fruits.

“Wine, like life, is all about balance.”

Riesling is arguably the greatest of all white grapes. “Born” in Germany in 1435 (13th March if you fancy sending it a card) it’s capable of creating breath-taking wines, some of which are breathtakingly expensive – Egon Muller’s Trockenbeerenauslese 2003 will set you back just under £23,000 a bottle. Back in the real world, sensational dry Rieslings are also available such as the Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling (Ocado £18.95). This Australian Riesling hails from the cool Eden Valley and is simply stunning. Ghostly pale, the nose is an arresting blend of grapefruit, peach stones, apple blossom, and honey. It’s taut, precise, mineral-soaked, and complex in the mouth. Green and red apples, grapefruit, stone fruit, pears, and citrus come together in a wonderfully refreshing way. This is perfect with food – we had it with salmon pesto and spinach roulade – but it will be delicious with white meats and green vegetables and will age well over the next few years.

Mention Rioja, and most wine lovers will think of red wines. This is fair as the reds are more famous, and black grapes account for about 90% of plantings. The whites, though, can be just as splendid, especially when made by top producers like C.V.N.E. – their Contino Blanco (Noble Grape £23.99) is an absolutely lovely wine. The one that I keep coming back to at the moment, however, is the Ramon Bilbao Limite Norte Rioja Blanca.  Produced from an unusual blend of late-picked Maturana Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco, this is a wine of freshness and depth. Golden yellow, the nose is soft and fresh with lemon and lime notes backed by honey. On the palate its tangy and immediate, offering quince, white peach, and green grape flavours, with something deeper, smokier, and fatter toward the finish. Idiosyncratic and utterly unlike any white Rioja I’ve tasted before, this is well worth trying, especially when partnered with creamy cheeses, white fish, or seafood.

And to so the reds, and I’ll start in South Africa with the excellent Spier Creative Block 3 2018 (Slurp £21.95). Being a blend of 94% Shiraz, 5% Mourvèdre, and 1% Viognier, this is very much in the mould of the Rhône Valley’s famed Cote Rotie wines, but this is no wannabe homage; it’s much better than that. Inky black, the bouquet melds heady spices with crushed plums, black cherries, and brambles. In the mouth, the Shiraz leads the way with intense, fresh blackberry and blackcurrant tones. Then there are subtler, earthier tones of tobacco and smoke from the Mourvèdre and a peachy lift from the Viognier before chocolate and cloves come in at the end. This is a great (big) wine that’s fantastic with red meats, strong cheeses, and tomato-based dishes.

Stepping back into Rioja we have the LAN Crianza 2019 (Hay Wines £15.49). 2019 was a stunning vintage for Rioja, but even taken in that context, the LAN is a little bit special.  Very dark, with plenty of spicy vanilla, blackberries, prunes, and earthy spices to the nose. This medium-full-bodied beauty has an arrestingly rich texture that reflects the excellent levels of extraction. A complex composite of black fruits, cherry kirsch, black figs, raspberries, and charred wood, this is an awful lot of wine for the money. Buy a case and enjoy this over the next five to seven years.

When I was learning the ways of wine, I was given to believe that Beaujolais was a light, nothing to get excited about wine. Indeed, only Beaujolais Nouveau seemed to attract anyone’s attention, and not always for good reasons. Fast forward and Beaujolais is once again an exciting, dynamic region that’s producing some of France’s best-value fine wines. Take the Chateau des Jacques Moulin-A-Vent 2021 (Ocado £19). Moulin-A-Vent is one of Beaujolais ten “Cru” villages, and as this is owned by Burgundy’s great Louis Jadot, it’s not surprising that it’s excellent. Deep purple with a crimson rim, the nose is a classic mix of black cherries, strawberries, and raspberries with a background of crushed rocks. Generous on the palate, cherries and fruits of the forest are kept in check by a dry, savoury loganberry acidity.

If you fancy taking on something truly mountainous, then get a team of sherpas/some good friends, whichever you have to hand, and try the Amarone Tedeschi Marne 180 2019 (London End Wines £36.99). Amarone is one of Italy’s greatest reds and is produced using dried grapes. Drying the grapes increases the concentration of the juice and allows wines like this to attain great power (it’s 16.5%), depth, and complexity. Open and let it breathe for a couple of hours and you’ll be rewarded with a fragrant nose of vanilla-tinted dried cherries, cranberries, and blueberries. Despite its heady power, it’s sophisticated and nuanced. Red and black cherries, damsons, toasted almonds, roasted meat, and chestnuts come together to make a mighty mouthful. Try this with full-flavoured dishes such as lamb shanks, blue cheese tarts, or slow roast pork belly.

And so, to the fizz. Regular readers of this column will know I have a bit of a weakness for sparkling wines. A weakness that’s about the size of the San Andreas Fault, truth be told, but as I get to try things like the Graham Beck Cuvee Clive 2017 (Frontier Wines £44.95), is my weakness to be wondered at? All of Graham Beck’s sparkling wines are exceptional, but the Cuvee Clive is in a different class. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir from premium cool sites in Napier, Robertson, and Durbanville, fermented in champagne barrels and stainless steel before ageing in bottle for over four years, this wine gets regal treatment. Mid-gold, the nose is a joyously complex blend of ripe autumnal fruits, red berries, yeast, and citrus. In the mouth its mellow, succulent, and packed with flavour and diversion. Peaches, apricots, honey-drizzled melon, dried pears, a tangy, saline-tinted green apple acidity, and a hint of liquorice spice make for a glorious wine that offers something different with every sip.

Champagne remains the greatest sparkling wine in the world, and recently, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy two brilliant but very different examples. The Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs (The Champagne Company £55.50) is made from 100% Chardonnay and is as beautiful as the bottle it’s presented in. White gold with amber highlights, there’s richness behind the fresh white fruit and pear nose, with notes of apricots and creamy yeast coming through, thanks to the four years it spent resting in Gosset’s cellars before release. The palate has some of Gosset’s customary intensity but is far more delicate. Citrus – especially grapefruit and lemon – are present alongside quince, green apple, and custard apple. This is sublime wine that, for me at least, is best enjoyed as a soloist.

I’ll finish with a rosé Champagne, the Dom Ruinart Rosé (Majestic £79.99). The Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2010 (The Finest Bubble £220) was my wine of 2023, and this is a contender for 2024’s crown. Deep pink, the bouquet is suffused with fresh red cherries and black and red berries, with a vibrant, slightly perfumed note. Give this some time to breathe or even better decant it, and you’re in for a treat as fruits of the forest, cherries, cherry sherbet, orange zest, and plump plum notes assail the palate. This is a wine that I’ve had on its own and with dishes such as rack of lamb and pheasant, and I think it’s even better with food.  It has the weight and intensity to cut through, and the food brings out the deeper, darker tones of this great wine.

Right, well that’s enough love for one day. Next time out some new season wines to put a spring in your step.



A celebration of Australian wine

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett brings you sunshine, toasting the best wines from the land Down Under

Hello! And a belated happy new year.

January & february may be associated with the blues, but for me, they’re months of red-letter days, with few bigger than the Australia Trade Tasting. This annual celebration of Australian wine is packed to the gunnels with a mixture of unbeatable classics and innovative creations. This year I’m looking forward to tasting a Coonawarra Savagnin, though I may give the Hollick Sparking Merlot (!) a wide berth.

In the run-up to the event, I’ve been doing a spot of training. I’ve been popping, pouring, tasting, spitting, pouring and repeating and here are my current recommendations for those looking for some Australian wine brilliance to banish their winter blues.

First up, a sparkling wine, and not just any sparkling, but one of the best in the world, the Jansz Premium Vintage Rosé 2017 (Wine Direct £31). The first time I tried this tremendous Tasmanian sparkler was at the winery on a press tour where we were treated to a tasting of over 30 wines. I must confess, little spitting was done and the afternoon ended in a contented, if sleepy, blur. I had the 2017 rosé recently and was blown away. Pretty pale pink, and the nose is full of savoury raspberries and succulent strawberries with a floral edge and a background of freshly baked bread. The wonderfully complex palate boasts everything from piquant red berries to sweetly toned fruits of the forest preserve by way of almond croissants, and citrus. This is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest sparkling wines, yet it remains affordable.

My next recommendation is a new wine from an old friend. I’ve expressed my admiration for Yalumba’s wines before and the new GEN Organic Sauvignon Blanc (Ocado £11) is another winner. Demonstrating this family-owned winery’s longstanding commitment to sustainable winemaking, it’s certified organic and it’s quite delicious. Australian Sauvignon and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but this is excellent. The nose is soft and ripe, with a noticeable peachy tone. On the palate, it offers rounded, pear, peach and melon fruit, a ripe texture with the classic green pepper and gooseberry adding interest from the wings rather than taking centre stage. I had this with a chicken risotto and it was a great pairing, but it’s also lovely as a solo sipper.

Australian Chardonnay is rightly loved around the world. With its dazzling array of sites and soils, Australia produces a glittering lineup of Chardonnays that range from big and buttery to elegantly reserved. Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay (Waitrose £19.95) sits somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Mid-gold, with a smoky, nutty, apple and guava nose, in the mouth it combines generosity with refinement. It opens with a fresh-tasting wave of green apple, pear and white peach before fatter notes of honeydew melon, crushed nuts, vanilla spice, and minerals come through. Interestingly – well interestingly to me as I’m dull like that – this is a wine whose character is transformed by decanting. Pop and pour and it’s lively and bright. Let it breathe for a couple of hours and it’s much, much richer, fuller, and indulgent.

My next choice is a wine I discovered at the Australia Trade Tasting a couple of years back, it’s the Jim Barry Assyrtiko (Strictly Wine £22.14). Jim Barry is one of the great names of Australian wine – the Armagh Shiraz (Laithwaites £235 is a legend) – and across the range, their wines deliver the goods. The Assyrtiko is a beguiling wine that has the piercing intensity that, like Poly Styrene’s vocals, ‘Could drive holes through sheet metal.’ Lemons, limes, grapefruit, minerals and rhubarb all come through on the nose and in the mouth, but there’s weight, softness, and delicacy here too. This is one of the best Assyrtiko’s I’ve had outside of its homeland of Greece, and it goes brilliantly with poultry, pork, white fish, or stir-fried vegetable dishes.

And so to the reds. When most wine lovers think of Australian red wines, their minds turn to Shiraz. Shiraz certainly helped put Australian wine on the map, and as winemakers have learnt more about site selection, it too now comes in a range of exciting styles. The Robert Oatley Signature Series Shiraz (The Co-Op 10.50) is from the McLaren Vale in South Australia. Shiraz grows well here in a Mediterranean climate that allows a long growing season and gives grapes that are full of complexity and aroma as the Oatley demonstrates. Inky blue-black with a crimson rim, the nose is a joyously heady mix of black berries, black cherries and Oriental spices. In the mouth it’s full but refined, the bold blackberry and blueberry fruit offset by sweet oak, charcoal, chocolate and mint. Put this with a cheeseboard and the long winter nights will fly by…

When Hollick isn’t doing odd things with Merlot, they make excellent Cabernet Sauvignon like their 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon (South Down Cellars £19.95). Cabernet is often referred to as the king of black grapes, and there’s a real breed to this example. Very deeply coloured – there’s virtually no give at the rim – a quick swirl reveals a complex bouquet of crushed blackberries, candied mint, green peppers and a whiff of black pepper. Well-extracted and with plenty of body, there’s a savoury undertone to the crisp blackcurrant fruit, as tones of toast, fresh herbs, cocoa and pencil lead seamlessly intermingle. Give this an hour or two open and serve with fine red meats or a vegetable lasagne.

When it comes to Australian wine classics, they don’t come much greater than the Yalumba Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (Majestic £41.99 a bottle or £34.99 on a mixed 6). Legend has it that pioneering Australian winemakers blended Cabernet with Shiraz as they didn’t have any Merlot to create a Bordeaux blend. Personally, I suspect they were saving the Merlot for Hollick to make into fizz.

Whatever the case, it’s a marriage made in heaven. This hails from the Barossa Valley and is everything you could want in a Cabernet-Shiraz. Massive, exceptionally well-fruited, juicy, complex, and compellingly delicious, it fully deserves its iconic status. The combination of crisp blackcurrants, spicy red berries, plums, morello cherries and tangy loganberries make for a show-stopping glassful. Wine Enthusiast magazine gives this 93/100 calling it ‘Classic Barossa’. I couldn’t agree more.

I’ll finish with a flourish with a wine from another great family of Australian wine, Henschke. The Henschke Mount Edelstone (Hic! £135) is a wine that deserves to be on every wine lover’s bucket list, well, bottle list, at least. One of Australia’s most renowned single vineyard wines, some of the vines in Mount Edelstone are over one hundred years old and give tiny quantities of incredibly concentrated fruit. Predictably inky in colour, the nose is a heady mix of spices, blueberries and blackcurrants with a hinterland of bay and sage. The gorgeous palate is packed with dark fruits – mulberry, blueberry, blackberry, and black currant – warm spices, pepper, chocolate, and grilled meats. The finish is long, silky, and fresh, and the ripe tannins and minerals bring harmony to this extraordinary wine. One for now and the next decade or so.

Well, that’s it from me for now. Next time out as it’s Valentine’s, love will be in the air. The love of wine that is.



Chile: home of affordable fine wines?

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett explores the best Chilean charms worth trying…

Hello! I recently hosted a slightly unusual Chilean wine tasting. It wasn’t, as one of my wag friends suggested, unusual as there were no Chilean wines on show, but because the focus was on fine wines. Chile has a long wine-making history – the first vines were planted by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century – and since its rise to wine prominence in the 1980s, it’s been focused on the production of great value everyday drinking wines.

In doing so, Chile had an advantage over the other re-emerging wine nations, as its industry wasn’t based on the production of fortified wines as was the case in Australia and South Africa, but on table wines. This, coupled with the influence of French settlers in the early 20th century, meant their wines were often produced from popular, noble varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. 

For the longest time, Chile seemed content to produce these great everyday wines and leave the fancily priced “icon” labels to the Californians and the Aussies. Recently, however, there’s been a change in attitude. Winery owners have been looking at the abundant gifts mother nature has bestowed, have invested heavily in wineries and winemakers, and have started producing wines that are as fine as anything old-world regions can produce.

What I wanted to discover at this tasting was a) does Chile still deliver the goods at all price levels (spoiler alert: Oh, yes!) and b) how the Chilean superstars match up to the world’s greatest wines. The results were fascinating, and while some of the wines in this article are far from cheap, they still represent great value when set against their peers.

Top Chilean fine wines 

I’ll kick things off with wine that combines classical Chilean value, a touch of South American flair, and fine wine unorthodoxy. It’s the Don Aldo Olivier Pedro Ximenez Chardonnay (Laithwaites 11.99). I’ve never seen a Pedro Ximenez wine outside of Spain, and those were mainly sweet sherries. This is fresh as a spring dawn and just as joyful. The zesty, grapefruit and lime nose is followed by a tangy white berry palate, before the creamy Chardonnay comes in, softening things with peaches and apricots and adding a smoky richness. This would be great with turkey. Sorry, too soon….?

Montes is one of the great names of Chilean wine, with the likes of the Montes Alpha and Montes M amongst Chile’s first super-premium wines. We tasted another of their fine wines, the Montes Single Vineyard Chardonnay (£12.99). Hailing from the cool Casablanca Valley, this is a refined incarnation of Chilean Chardonnay with lots of green and red apple fruit, crisp green pear, and melon tones and a twist of lemon on the end. The oak provides a creamy, nutty backdrop but isn’t allowed to dominate. Give this an hour open and try it with roasted poultry, pheasant or partridge.

When you see the name “Rothschild” on a label, you know that quality awaits. The (Lafite) Rothchild side of the family has been involved in Chile for many years and the Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc (Ocado £15) remains an affordable fine wine classic. The crisp, refreshing nose has plenty of citrus and green pepper tones, but also has hints of flint and cut grass. In the mouth, it’s intense, concentrated and precise, with a lean, fresh profile that reveals grapefruit, lemons, gooseberries and savoury green peppers. This is Chilean Sauvignon in the fine Bordeaux style without the fine Bordeaux price tag.

Chile’s abundance of microclimates means it can give a good home to almost any grape variety and produce something special. Time and again it’s impressed me with its dry Rieslings and the Matetic Corralillo Riesling 2021 (Hic! £14.50) is another gem. Gloriously fragrant with aromas of apple blossom, peach, honey, and Granny Smith apples, the palate was multi-layered, combining white berry and orchard fruits with minerals, apricots and a zesty finish. Dry, with just a hint of richness, this would be sublime with smoked fish or strong cheeses such as gruyere or stilton. Oh, did I mention it’s dry?

I’ll leave the whites on a high. About 700m high, to be exact, with a Chardonnay from the Aconcagua Coast region in central Chile. The Las Pizarras Chardonnay (Berry Bros & Rudd £52.50)is the greatest Chilean Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted and has achieved scores of 97+ from the world’s leading critics. Oh, and from me. Poised and refined, this beautiful wine offers apple and Comice pear fruit in a firm, precise fashion. The oak adds weight and spice to the mix and even more complexity. At £52 it’s not cheap, but if you compare it to its Burgundian peers, it’s an absolute steal. If you’re thinking of trying this, look for the 2019 or older. It takes a couple of years to show its best and so older vintages are well worth seeking out.

And so the reds. Carmenere is Chile’s signature red grape. Shunned in Bordeaux, it’s found an ideal home in Chile and even fine examples remain affordable. Take the Adnams Carmenere (Adnams £8.49). This super-fruity, easy-drinking, plump red is bursting with blueberry and mulberry fruit with an undertow of leaf tea, mint, and prunes. Carmenere remains slightly misunderstood/unfashionable, which means it gives even greater value for money. Try this red meats or tomato-based dishes.

Next up is a “field blend”. No, until a couple of years ago I’d never heard this either. A field blend is a wine that’s been created from two or more varieties that have been planted in the same vineyard. Many of these vineyards, such as those in northern California, are very old and were the product of people planting whatever they could get without paying too much heed to varieties. They can make for really interesting combinations as the La Despensa Field Blend (Corkage £25) shows. This Rhône-style wine is made up of Grenache, Mourvèdre and a splash of Roussanne (a white vine). Mid-red and dominated by red cherries and plums, there’s a lovely lift of alpine strawberry on the mid-palate while the Roussanne adds a curious herby tang to the finish. Try this will slow-cooked lamb.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often referred to as the King of Grapes and with good reason. The most important grape in Bordeaux, it produces noble wines across the globe including eye-wateringly expensive examples such as California’s Screaming Eagle – a snip at £3,000+ a bottle. Affordable fine wines can be found, however, such as the Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon (Adams £17.99). Varietal Cabernet can be green and aggressive, but the Grey is plump and gentle. The nose mixes blackcurrants, mint and fresh tobacco, while the silky palate is packed with black and red berries with peripheral flavours of chocolate, cream and sweet spices.

My next choice is a wine that’s helped cement Chile’s reputation as a fine wine nation, Sena (£115 MWH Wine). Sena was created in 1995 by Robert Mondavi (the godfather of Californian wine) and Eduardo Chadwick (Chilean wine legend) with a view to creating a world-beating wine. Since then, Sena has scooped many accolades and ranks amongst the world’s finest wines. Crafted from a blend of Cabernet, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, it’s a wine that delivers complexity, sumptuous quantities of red and black fruits overlain with smoke, minerals, and a fleshy, meaty tone to the finish. This is a wine I would urge every serious wine lover to try at least once, as it’s an unforgettable experience.

And finally, we have the Vinedo Chadwick (£225 Cru Wine). This is a seriously fine wine and while it has a serious price tag, to my mind it is worth the money. The Vinedo Chadwick is a wine that sets out to be the best of the best, and it’s hard to argue that the wine-making team haven’t achieved this. The 2021 has been given perfect 100-point scores by some of the world’s greatest critics and even at this tender age, it’s hugely impressive. Inky in colour, much swirling and breathing coaxed red berries, earth, smoke and eucalyptus from it. The mouthfeel is glorious. It’s rich, yet poised, the tension between super-ripe blackcurrants, mulberries, blueberries and plums and tangy raspberry acidity is awesome. Impeccably well-structured, the tannins are firm but round and support the impressive length that suggests a very long life ahead.

I hope you’ll try some of these extraordinary Chilean wines – if you’re opening any Sena I’m free to help pour!

Next time out I’ll look at some of the best wines from Spain.


Homage to the wines of Yalumba

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett explores the harvest of a magical region of Australia

Hello. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to go on a press trip to Australia. Over the course of three weeks, we toured many of this amazing wine country’s regions, visited some extraordinary wineries and met some of the most passionate, innovative, and creative winemakers I’ve ever encountered.

While I discovered the weird (Lucy Margaux’s ‘natural’ wines) and the wonderful (BK Wines’ Savagnin, one of my abiding memories was our trip to Yalumba. This historic, family-owned producer is Australian wine royalty and our extensive tasting was fantastic, revealing a winery that did things its way and one that wasn’t afraid to take risks in the pursuit of excellence.

I recently had the opportunity to taste a range of Yalumba’s wines again (highlights below), some of which I knew and some of which were new to me. I was delighted to see their innovative spirit continue – the Roussanne was a lovely surprise – and I asked Yalumba’s winemaker Louisa Rose to tell me a little more about their wines…

Louisa Rose – head of winemaking at Yalumba

Q. You make a wide range of wines – from unoaked dry whites to fortified wines – what’s the uniting philosophy behind them?

“We seek to sustainably craft wines that reflect a thoughtful interpretation of grape, terroir and house style. Wines of individuality that are both timeless and contemporary. Wines of conviction and provenance. This philosophy spans our full offering, but there is a tailored approach to meet market requirements. We focus on natural appellation, a long view of the wine-style evolution, akin to a slow wine philosophy. At the same time, we are responsive to market opportunities by way of ‘new’ varieties, styles and fashions, whilst still holding true to our legacy and beliefs, raising the bar, and building value.”

Q. Your wines span the classics – Shiraz, Cabernet, Grenache etc. – but I’ve seen new Mediterranean varieties coming through such as Tempranillo and Pinot Grigio. Are you producing these as you have the right sites for them or is there another reason?

“Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache are varieties that came to Australia early in the history of white settlement. The Barossa is home to the oldest vineyards of all three of these varieties in the world – still growing and producing wines, (Shiraz planted 1843, Grenache 1848, Cabernet 1888). This says something about the suitability of the sites we have to those varieties. At the same time Australian winemakers like to trial new things and experiment. Much of this work does not result in new wines necessarily, but it all helps influence our thoughts and practices. At Yalumba we are fortunate to have a wonderful nursery; a world-class nursery that grows healthy vines for vineyard expansions and is set up to propagate ‘new’ varieties when they come out of quarantine. We have trialled many varieties over the years, and some we like enough to take to the next stage after experimentation. Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo are examples of this. Ultimately, they do well as they are suited to the sites we plant them, but the only way to find out what the right sites are is trial and error. It’s probably not surprising that many of the varieties we are looking at in the nursery are particularly suited to warm climates.”

Q. The recent vintage was one of the most challenging of recent years for many. How did you find it and aside from being of high quality, how would you describe the vintage’s character?

“2023 was challenging in the Barossa due to the wetter-than-usual spring conditions, which resulted in a later-than-usual start to the season, and ultimately a later-than-usual vintage. As the ripening gets later in the season, the days get shorter, and the ripening slows down even more. This can be a challenge then to get the grapes growing in the later ripening sites fully ripe. Luckily the season was kind to us and we had good warm weather into Autumn that got most of the grapes to their ideal place. We are very happy with the quality, across the varieties and styles. The whites loved the cooler season retaining good acidity and aromatics, and the reds had plenty of stress-free ‘hang time’ to get flavour and tannin ripeness.”

Q. Are there any vines you’re thinking of adding or would like to add? I had some excellent Pinot Nero, Nero d’Avola, and Arneis the last time I was in Australia.

“We are always thinking! There are a few things in our minds and vineyards, but from thinking about importing a new variety to having something ready to drink is at least a 10-year process… so patience really is a virtue.”

Q. How are you dealing with climate change? Some of the winemakers I’ve spoken to have expressed concerns about conditions becoming more difficult and growing seasons significantly shorter. Are you ‘going up or going south’ or are you trying to deal with the changing conditions with things like more canopy management and other vineyard techniques?

“Australia and the Barossa is used to extremes of climate, and we have many management techniques in our vineyards to mitigate, particularly against heat. Not that we are not concerned about climate change, particularly when it comes to water availability, but we know that we can make wines that are great expression of our region(s) in the cooler (like 23) and warmer seasons.

“Some of the things we do in the vineyards to buffer them against temperature changes include, using mulches under vine, growing grasses between the rows to keep the environment cooler and stop reflection of heat, increasing biodiversity in the vineyard, changes in trellis design and canopy management to keep grapes shaded by the leaves, and even using ‘sunscreen’. The sunscreen is kaolin clay, mixed in water and sprayed on the leaves. It is very effective in stopping burning of the leaf tissue in heat waves. Our old vines, which have so much of their biomass under the ground, are also buffered against day-to-day weather events more than younger vines maybe. Increasing biodiversity in vineyards and surrounds, and increasing soil carbon and microflora should also help the vines increase their natural resilience.

“One of the very tangible things we are doing to combat climate change is actively measuring and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as Silver Members of the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) is a collaborative working group of wineries committed to reducing carbon emissions across the wine industry. Currently over 40 wineries from nine countries are working together on this, in partnership with the United Nations Race to Zero campaign.”

Q. You still make a range of of fortified. Is this a heritage thing or do they find a ready market?

“We do still make a little bit of fortified wine. There is certainly a market for it, but it is also a heritage thing.”

Q. If you had to pick one of your wines to drink which would you choose and why?

“This is an impossible question without context… where am I… who am I with… what am I eating… how do I feel? Maybe I will just have a glass of our Tricentenary (planted 1889) Grenache while I wait for the answer!

GL: Thanks, Louisa. On the basis of my recent tasting, I’m with you on the Tricentenary.

Yalumba wines you must try

While I’ve never had a bad wine from Yalumba, there are some that have consistently stood out for me, or, in the case of the Roussanne, which were new and head-turning. So, here are my current loves from an impressive Yalumba’s range.

I’ll start my recommendations with the Y Series Chardonnay (winedirect £11.30). I always think it’s a bold move to make an unoaked Chardonnay. Partly as I think most consumers expect Chardonnay to be wooded – especially when it comes to New World examples – and because you need to be sure your fruit’s got the character to pull off a solo performance. The Y Series pulls it off in style. The nose combines freshness with tropical fruit and a subtle touch of vanilla, while on the palate the flavours of red apple, peach, pear and grapefruit are lively, intense, and mask of oak, seem more focused, and pure. Try this with oily fish, pork and seafood.

Yalumba have a reputation for creating great wines from Rhône varieties, and while their Viognier and Grenache garner much of the critics’ applause they have other wines that are equally exciting. Their Eden Valley Roussanne (winedirect £15.75) is a fascinating wine. Straw green-gold, the bouquet offers camomile, rose petals, herbs and (to me at, least) green wood. The palate is fresh and clean, but has an underlying richness as flavours as diverse as white peach, vanilla, orange peel, citrus and almonds come together to give an intriguing whole. This is a wine for the mind, one to sip and savour either on its own or with mushroom risotto, baked white fish or roasted artichokes.

The Virgilius Viognier (London End Wines £36) is acknowledged as a bright star in Yalumba’s firmament. The 2018 is a jaw-droppingly good wine, one that’s fit to rank with the Rhône’s finest Condrieu. Pale gold, the nose is a riot spiced apricots, cardamom, ginger, lychees and nose-tingling kumquats. This mighty mouthful’s creamy, unctuous body delivers wave after wave of apricot and dried pear fruit, mixed spice, orange peel, and honey, balanced and restrained by a fine, cleansing acidity. It’s big, bold, and beautiful, and has a long, golden future ahead of it.

And so to the reds. Australia makes some of the greatest varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, with its Coonawarra wines being perhaps its finest of all. The Cigar Cabernet 2018 (Laithwaites £25) is certainly one of the best Cabernets I’ve had this year. Inky and brooding, the nose is piercing, full of fresh blackcurrants, green peppers, spices, cigar box, and raspberries but, as in the mouth, the more you investigate, the more you discover. Tones of the undergrowth, stewed plums, blackcurrant conserve, mint, bitter chocolate, earth and redcurrants all emerge. This powerful wine is lithe and elegant and is a must for red meats, sheep’s cheese, tomato-based dishes or on its own with good friends.

I couldn’t talk about Yalumba’s wines and not mention Grenache. For many years Grenache has been spoken of as having the potential to make Australia’s greatest reds. Alas, as in so many places, this vine’s natural generosity has been exploited leading to the productions of lakes of moderately coloured, moderately flavoured, massively alcoholic quaffing wines. Yalumba clearly respects it, and the Samuel’s Collection Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2019 (Sarah’s Cellar £20) shows what it can do in the right hands. Mid-red, the aroma is a cheerful, inviting blend of cherries, raspberries and pomegranates, with floral and vanilla touches. The palate is juicy, plump, with all the hard edges of a ball pit. There’s weight to the cherry, strawberry, and blackberry fruit, and freshness is leant by a delicate red berry acidity. I’d serve this with roasted guinea fowl or gammon.

My penultimate choice reflects Australia’s brilliance at blends. Legend has it that winemakers put Cabernet with Shiraz as they had no Merlot, Australian Merlot being in the words of one famous Aussie winemaker, ‘a nice idea’. The Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2018 (Vinum £16.70) is a Rhône blend (Mataro being France’s Mourvèdre) that delivers a wine with a lightness of touch that you’re unlikely to find in say, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Peppered black and red fruits dominate the nose, while on the palate black cherries, prunes, raspberries, cranberries and spiced almonds come together to produce a wine of harmonious complexity. This is a wine I’ve always enjoyed with lamb and pheasant – the juicy, peppery tone just seems to go perfectly, but it’s great with barbecued foods and Hong Kong-style spare ribs.

I’ll finish on a high with a wine that’s produced from vines that date back to 1889. The Tri-Centenary Grenache (Vinum £40) is a wine like no other, and not just because of the 100-day post-fermentation maceration which (so I’m told) explains its extraordinary fine, velvety mouthfeel. This is undoubtedly one of the world’s great wine experiences. The aged, low-yielding Grenache vines give a super concentrated glassful of red and black cherries, prunes, chocolate, mint, dried strawberries and a lovely, mellow herb butter tone to the finish. Powerful enough to stand up to well-flavoured red meats and herby, softly spiced vegetarian dishes, this should be on every serious wine lover’s must-taste list.

Well, that’s it for now. Next time out I’ll run down my top ten Chilean wines.


French connection: Wines Of The Roussillon

Round & About


Round and About Magazine’s wine columnist Giles Luckett rediscovers the amazing wines of France’s Roussillon, and finds value and excellence in equal measure

The Roussillon Revolution

Wine surprises and buses, as the old saying goes. You wait six years for one to come along and then two turn up in two months. OK, I’m paraphrasing slightly, but six years after my revelatory tour of Australia and weeks after my eye-opening trip to Portugal, I discover my knowledge of the wines of the Roussillon is about as contemporary as my daughter’s 2012 Frozen calendar.

I was introduced to the wines of the Roussillon in the early 1990s. Bordeaux Direct (Laithwaites) were early importers of their red wines which were generally powerful, slightly rustic affairs with a distinct wild herb tang. They were big, bold, and brilliant value, but were about as serious as my daughter’s calendar – she needs to let it go!

A recent tasting showed me how much things have changed. While the brilliance and the value have remained, the styles of wine on offer have become as dazzlingly complex as the slopes on which they’re grown.

The Wines of The Roussillon

The Roussillon lies in the extreme southwest of France, next to the border with Spain. I could spend hours talking about the soil structures (mental note: YouTube channel on soil structures. Influencer fame and fortune here I come) but it’s mainly clay/limestone, schist and gravel. The climate is warm, but the altitude creates a number of microclimates. This combination means it can provide an ideal home to a wide range of high-quality grapes.

For the longest time, Roussillon was best known for its fortified wines, the vin doux naturel. Lusciously sweet, cherry and chocolate-flavoured reds such as Banyuls, and apricot and honey-toned whites like Muscat de Rivesaltes enjoyed a reputation as high as that of Port.

Great as these wines are, the market is limited, and as far back as the 1980s speculation was rife as to what Roussillon could do with table wines. And just like the revolution that’s swept the wines of the Douro Valley, years of experimentation with sites and varieties are now paying substantial dividends, as the following wines demonstrate.

The Top 10 Wines of The Roussillon

When I last looked at Roussillon’s wines, they were almost exclusively red. Today you can find great rosé and white wines too. Take the Bila-Haut Blanc (Laithwaites £11.99) for example. Bila-Haut is leading Rhône producer Chapoutier’s home in the Roussillon and their expertise shines through. The Bila-Haut Blanc is mainly composed of Rhône grapes Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne. Fragrant with floral notes and citrus on the nose, on the palate there’s grapefruit, and white peach, before the smoky, mineral-laden finish.

Another wine that offers freshness, with complexity is the Les Sorcières du Clos des Fées Blanc 2022 (Yapp Brothers £17.25). This contains some Vermentino, which adds a green apple and lime touch along with a pinch of salt. I had this with grilled sardines, but I can see it working wonderfully well with poultry or creamy risotto.

If you’re looking for a wine that’s zesty enough to refresh, but textured and complex enough to satisfy, then take a look at the Res Fortes Roussillon 2019 (Res Fortes £16). Bold winemaking – they press whole bunches and use Grenache Gris (which isn’t in the least bit grey, by the way) – and some bottle age makes for outstanding wines. Pears, melon, red apple, and greengage, come together with a yeasty, mineral finish to give a wine of precision and depth. Were this from the Rhône you’d be looking at £50+ a bottle.

Encountering great rosé producers. Yet again though I was struck not just by the quality but the value. Take the Domaine Lafage Cotes du Roussillon Miraflors Rose (All About Wine £13.75). The elegant line of the bottle is reflected in the wine inside. Joyously fresh, pure red berries lead the velvet-footed charge, followed by notes of green grapes, watermelon, and raw blackberries before a lovely rush of peaches comes in at the end.

At the other end of the rosé scale, we have the L’Effet Papillon (Highbury Vintners £14.50). This is made by the Rivesaltes co-operative, so right in the heart of fortified country, and they seem to be on a mission to make powerful wines. This is an intense wine whose pure and precise strawberry fruit conveys a feeling of power and concentration. Spicy, tangy, and well-balanced, this would be brilliant with smoked trout, lemon chicken, or roasted guineafowl.

And so to reds. I’ve mentioned Bila-Haut already, and I make no apology for recommending their red too. The Bila-Haut Rouge (The Surrey Wine Cellar £12.95) shows how Roussillon’s wines are distinct and not mere ‘me-too’ Rhône wannabes. While plump and juicy, there’s a light-touch feel to the dark fruit. It’s medium-bodied and has an easy-to-love character that’s often missing in Rhônes, and the finish – a lovely mix of plums, cherries, and spiced berries – adds a further lift. While this is great with red meats, I think it’s even better with tomato or cheesy pasta.

I have to say that my next choice did feel like a blast from the past. The Mas Becha ‘Classique’ Rouge (Great Wines Direct, £19.72) had a ‘garrigue’ (wild herbs to you and me) taste to it. This full-throttled Grenache is packed to the gunnels with cherries, prunes, chocolate, and herbs, but again there’s a lift of red berry acidity that stops it from becoming plodding and one-dimensional. This would be superb with lamb or falafel – anything that needs a little juiciness to bring it to life.

I’ve mentioned the value of the Roussillon several times in this piece, an attribute that’s embodied in the Côtes du Roussillon Héritage Rouge, Château de Corneilla 2020 (The Wine Society £9.95). For under a tenner, you get a magnificently big, plush, old-school red that delivers the goods by the lorry load. Syrah-based, this is inky, spicy, and loaded with lip-staining blackberry, damson, and cherry fruit with interest added by a seasoning of black pepper and mint. Serve this one with your favourite strong cheeses.

Collioure has always been a great source of affordable, high-quality wines. Cooled by Mediterranean sea breezes and with a high percentage of schist – medium-grained metamorphic rock showing pronounced schistosity as my YouTube subscribers will know. This allows for the production of elegant, yet well-structured wines that are capable of ageing well. The Les Clos de Paulilles Collioure Rouge 2021 (Majestic £14.99) is a fine example of this. A spicy, blackcurrant-tined wine with plenty of black cherry, strawberry jam, and plum notes, it’s a lot of wine for the wine money and will partner red meats and full-flavoured cheeses.

I’ll finish with a flourish with the Mas de Montagnes Roussillon Villages (Waitrose £12.49). This typifies the newer style of fresher, refined Roussillon wines. A marriage of Syrah and Grenache, it offers black cherry, blueberry, and mulberry fruit overlain with touches of mint and almond, while the finish offers peppercorns and raspberries that add a savoury touch.

The Roussillon Reinvention

The Roussillon is another example of a region that’s successfully reinventing itself. Worldwide there’s demand for lighter, more food-friendly wines, and regions like the Roussillon are well-placed to take advantage of this. If you’re looking for wines that offer excellence, excitement, and value, then I recommend you look to the Roussillon and taste tomorrow’s superstars today.

Next time out, I’ll do a deep dive into the wonderful wines from Yalumba.


Good year for the rosés

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett invites us to enjoy all things pink

Hello. You’ll have to excuse the punning on that famous Elvis Costello song in the headline… But given Elvis’s predilection for all things boozy back then, I’m sure wine played a part in creating his 1981 album. Surely he’d had to have had a few to think doing a country and western album was a good idea for a follow up to his Motown-inspired Get Happy!

Anyway, rosé wines have certainly been on my mind of late. The warmth of the early spring sunshine always gives me a craving for rosé, and a recent trawl past many a tasting table has introduced me to some glorious new wines, ones that will ensure that 2023 will be a good year for the rosés.

First up, the Moulin de Pontfract Rosé 2021 (Laithwaites £8.99). This is a Provençal-style rosé from the neighbouring department of Var. If it was from Provence, it would probably come in a bottle that Jean Paul Gautier rejected for being outrageous and have a similarly outlandish price tag. This is a lovely, gentle rosé that offers a softly scented nose of red berries and blossom, while the palate is suffused with notes of strawberries, cranberries, and a hint of citrus on finish – just the thing for a spring lunch aperitif.

Next, a wine from Chile. Chilean wines offer an amazing combination of value and quality, and while the reds often steal the show, the rosés can be sublime. Take the Phantom River Sauvignon Blanc Rosé (Sainsbury’s £5.25). As you might expect from a Sauvignon, this is bright, zesty, fresh, and full of grapefruit and citrus. The addition of Shiraz (hence the colour) lends it weight and depth and imparts a satisfying note of blackcurrants to proceedings. Try this with green salads and roasted poultry or baked fish.

Spain is another good source of outstanding rosés – or rosados. Over the years, I’ve tasted hundreds, and rarely have I been disappointed. Recently I tried a new wine from a classic producer. Freixenet is best known for their excellent range of Cavas (more of those soon…), but they are also dab hands at still wines. Take their excellent Freixenet Rosado (Slurp £10). Garnacha-based, this is disarmingly pretty in pink but packs a punch. Bright strawberry and raspberry tones are joined by flavours of red cherry, orange and a touch of spice. Lovely on its own, I think this would partner well with rice dishes and cured meats.

As regular readers of this column may have gathered, I’m something of a fizz fan, in the same way that pandas are partial to bamboo. I recently had another encounter with an English sparkling wine with which we toasted the Queen’s Jubilee, the Balfour Brut Rosé (Waitrose £39.99). I recall being struck by how harmonious and refined this was when I first tried it and revisiting it; it’s even better. Bold strawberry, raspberry, and red currant notes tinted with creamy yeast, a lively, fresh mid-palate, and a long, salted digestive biscuit finish make this a class act.

“I’m something of a fizz fan, in the same way that pandas are partial to bamboo”

When most people think of Sancerre, their thoughts turn to gloriously leafy Sauvignons with their dry, mineral-rich finishes. Sancerre also comes in red and rosé styles which are produced using that most noble of vines, Pinot Noir. These tend to be more expensive and can be quite hard to find, so I was surprised to find an affordable example at Tesco, their Finest Sancerre Rosé (as opposed to their non-existent ‘ordinary’ or ‘value’ Sancerre Rosé – £13). This retains the classic Sancerre freshness and minerality, but with raspberry, strawberry, beetroot, black cherry, and pepper touches. This is fresh enough to be enjoyed on it’s own, but it would go brilliantly with pork or salmon.

And to finish, how about something indulgent, refined, and utterly exquisite? The Champagne Billecart-Salmon, Rosé (Mr. Wheeler £62.50) is all these things and more. This is one of the best rosé Champagnes I’ve ever had – and believe me, I’ve gone miles out of my way over the years to try as many as I can. The magic of this wine is how they manage to combine intensity with grace and generosity. This is a stunning wine offering layer upon layer of ripe strawberry, tangy blackberry, creamy yeast, soft apricot , and a dash of leafy blackcurrant. I’ve been fortunate enough to try this beautiful wine in various formats; the halves sit perfectly in the secret pocket of a Barber when you fancy a cheeky rinse at the cricket, and in magnum, it shows how well Champagne can age and develop. In any size bottle, this is a wine every wine lover should try.

Well, there’s a bottle of Freixenet Rosado in the fridge needing my attention, so I must away. Next time out, I’ll dive deeply into my favourite red wine region, Rioja.

Valentine’s Day wine pairings for lovers

Round & About


Make the most of Valentine’s Day with these romantic wine recommendations from our wine columnist Giles Luckett


I’ve always liked to think that when Ernest Dowson penned the immortal line, “Days of wine and roses” that, he took his inspiration from Valentine’s Day. As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes. After nearly three decades of marriage, I can recall the wines that marked significant anniversaries in our lives. Proposal accepted, Krug NV. Our first house, Dom Perignon 1990. Wedding Day, Laurent Perrier (innumerable bottles!). Daughter adopted, Lafite 1961. Silver wedding anniversary, Comte de Champagne 2009.

“As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes.”

And so, with the annual excuse for romance upon us again, here are my wine recommendations for making February the 14th a date for the diary and the cellar book.

Let’s start with a couple of rosés. Rosé wines are versatile, often delicious, and obviously pretty in pink. My first recommendation is from my favourite Rioja producer, CVNE. While I’ve loved CVNE’s wines since my Harrods days, their rosé is a wine I only discovered last summer. The CVNE Rosado (the Co-op £8.50) is a joyous wine guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips. Mid-pink, the nose is all red berries, and cherries, with a touch of blossom, while in the mouth, there are gentle notes of strawberries, peaches, and a whiff of pepper.

My next wine is the oh-so-chic Whispering Angel (Laithwaites, £20). The Cotes de Provence producer has become the darling of the wine trade – Jancis Robinson described the winemaker as “the golden boy of rosé”. The estate’s top wine, Garrus, goes for an eye-watering £100 a bottle, but even their entry-level wine is something special. Easy on the eye and powerful on the palate, this is a rich, opulent rosé that exhibits peppered strawberries, dried raspberries, and watermelon notes, before the dry, full finish. Food-friendly, this is excellent with lamb or baked cheese.

Red is the colour of romance, so let’s look at a couple of red wines. Given its still winter, I’d recommend a couple of heart-warming winter reds. First up, a winery that has become very dear to my heart over the past couple of years, Vina Zorzal. Hailing from Navarra (head to Rioja and turn left), this is one winery I cannot fault, but if I had to pick my favourite, I’d say it was the Vina Zorzal Ganarcha (The Wine Society £8.50). Plump, luscious, easy-going, and brimming with soft blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit, this is a lovely cheery wine that is great with food or conversation.

If you’re looking for something more serious – perhaps to accompany a serious question…? then try the Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-lès-Beaune (Waitrose £21.99). Burgundy has enjoyed a succession of good vintages so that even (relatively) lowly villages wines such as this have been turning in mouth-watering wines. With a bouquet of fruits of the forest tinted with woodsmoke and a palate that offers red cherries, raspberries, cranberries, and a touch of spice, this is an easy wine to love.

And so on to fizz. Regular readers of this column will have gathered I have a bit of spot soft for sparkling wines. And when I say soft, I mean butter in the Sahara at midday, and when I say spot, I mean every fibre of my being. Now while there are lots of great ones to choose from – Cloudy Bay’s Pelorus (Sainsbury’s £26), Nyetimber (Waitrose £38.99), Tesco Cava (£6), or Chandon Garden Spritz (Majestic £19.99) – I’m going to recommend one from my sparkling wine producer, Graham Beck.

The Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 (Majestic £19.99) takes Beck’s superb wines to a new level. Beyond the stunningly pretty rose gold colour, lies a wine that offers strawberries, red cherries, and dried raspberries with satisfying notes of yeast, peaches, and limes in weighty, yet clean and fresh form.

Of course, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without champagne, and here are my three top picks for this year’s romantic night in. The first is Gosset Grand Rosé (Berry Brothers £58). I visited Gosset in September and was reminded of how special their wines are. The precision, clarity, and piercing beauty of Gosset’s wines is something to behold. Put in less winey language, they are bone dry, refined, high-toned, driven by pure red and white berry fruit, and are gloriously complex. Try this stunner with food from smoked salmon to chicken.

Bruno Paillard is another champagne house I’ve had a long-lasting affection for. This is a house of (relatively) modern origins that produces stylish, elegant wines of great complexity. Their Rosé Premiere Cuvee (Champagne Direct £55) is a delightful take on this classic style. Pale pink, it offers everything from rose petals and summer pudding to cranberries and brioche. This is a wine to sip and savour on its own.

And to finish a wine that a friend of mine at Laytons once memorably described one Valentine’s Day, as ‘A prelude to an happiness it’s the Taittinger Rosé (Sainbsury’s £44). Taittinger’s wines are framed for their elegance and refinement, and these fine traits are on show in this beguiling wine. Deep pink, the nose is fruit-driven, with lovely notes of super-ripe summer berries tinted with savoury yeast. The palate is light, yet the persistence gives it power and depth, and Taittinger’s hallmark preaches in syrup tone adds a luscious flavour to the finish.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I hope you’ll have a fine Valentine’s Day, and I’ll be back soon with some spring wine recommendations.