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.



Festive fortification tipples for all

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett suggests some great fortified wines for the season of goodwill

Hello. Christmas is a time for traditions. The tradition of opening a present on Christmas Eve just after you’ve put the sprouts on! Of partners asking you to buy them something you think they’ll like with the surprise being they need to ask if you’ve kept the receipt! To not so much as driving home for Christmas as stuck in traffic for Christmas.

OK, so, some traditions we could all definitely do without, but there’s one tradition that the British have clung to since the late 18th century, which is one to be treasured – enjoying a glass of fortified wine over the festive season. From Port to Madeira and Sherry to something from the New World, there’s a world of fortified diversions out there, and here is my pick of this spirited bunch…

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a glass or two of Tio Pepe (Sainsbury’s £10). Some of my generation are wary of Sherry, but wines like Tio Pepe are increasingly finding favour with younger wine lovers, and it’s easy to see why. Pale, fresh, dry and clean, its combination of abundant pear, watermelon, and apple fruit and savoury, creamy yeast make for an easy-drinking yet wholly satisfying glassful. Try this on its own and with smoked fish or creamy cheese canapés.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, then why not enjoy something truly indulgent? Pedro Ximenez (PX to his friends) produces gloriously sweet wines such as the Adnams X Sopla Poniente (£10.99 Adnams). This phenomenal mouthful of treacle, butterscotch, liquid caramel, and hazelnuts is a joy on its own, but with enough acidity to prevent it from becoming cloying, it goes down beautifully with strong blue and white cheeses or, as I found, liver pâté.

When most people think of fortified wines, they think of Port, and this year, I discovered the excellent Adnams Finest Reserve (Adnams £15.99). This has to be one of the best everyday drinking Ports I’ve ever tasted. Many entry-level Ports struggle to integrate the spirit and have a hot, disjointed finish, along with overly sweet, one-dimension fruit profiles. The Adnams, however, is luscious, packed full of dried black fruits, blackcurrant conserve, and prunes and has a rounded, seamless finish. If you’re looking for brilliance on a budget, give this a whirl.

Another, less well-known style of Port is White Port. While much of this is fine but forgettable, there are quality-focused producers who are breathing new life into this old-style wine. I tasted the Quinta Da Pedra Alta White Port (Master of Malt £17.42) at the estate in the summer, and it blew me away. Fresh-tasting and bursting with white fruits, apricots and peaches in syrup, the way it managed to combine the sugar and the spirit into the body of the wine to create a luscious yet clean and refreshing whole is remarkable. We tried this with tonic, and it made for a delicious long drink too.

My favourite style of Port is a wood Port, wines that are aged for an extended period in barrel rather than in bottle. This long ageing in cask has the effect of leaching colour, accentuating the freshness and adding a lovely nuts and dried fruit tone to the wines. An excellent example of this is the Kopke 10-Year-Old Tawny (The Secret Bottle Shop £23.95). Deep red-gold, the nose offers an inviting mix of preserved cherries, plums, almonds, spices and candied citrus peel. In the mouth, it’s warming, full, and gentle, but with a wonderfully complex mix of dried fruits, nuts, caramel, smoke, and a clean, tangy acidity. Try this with blue cheeses or fruity desserts.

Fancy something a little different this Christmas? I have just the thing, the Zuccardi Malamado (Tesco £9). This is an Argentinean fortified Malbec – so Argentinean Port, if you will – and it’s amazing. At first, it tastes like a great Malbec, all blackberries, blackcurrants, fresh blueberries, and sweet spices, but then a warm wave of sweetness comes in, adding decadent richness and power. You can drink this with food as though it were a table wine or with hard cheeses; either way, it’s a Christmas cracker.

South Africa built their wine industry on fortified wines, and while they’re not as important these days, the best can still be world-beaters. Take the Kleine Zalze’s Project Z (Noble Green £33). Made from a blend of noble white grapes, this luscious golden sipper is opulently sweet (think marmalade) and offers creamy flavours of dried pears, candied apples, and peaches in syrup, with a lovely hit of lemon peel and lime juice to the finish. Enjoy this chilled with fruity desserts or white cheeses.

Madeira is one of the world’s most misunderstood wines. It isn’t a type of Sherry – it’s 700 miles from Spain and made in a completely different way – it isn’t all sweet, and if it’s an old maid’s wine, then call me Old Maid Giles! Madeira is joy as the Henriques & Henriques 10-Year-Old Sercial (Waitrose £18.99) shows. Sercial is the driest style of Madeira and it’s only after a decade or so in barrel that it reveals its brilliance. Dark amber, the nose offers caramel, roasted nuts, sweet coffee, citrus peel, and grapefruit. On the palate, it’s rich, yet tangy, with honey, green fig, and dried orange and pear tones offset by lemon and lime.

My next recommendation is one of Australia’s great wine originals. Take Muscat grapes (a Petits Grains Rouge, in case you were wondering) and leave them till they are raisins on the vine. Pick and press but stop the fermentation mid-way with spirit to preserve the sugar. Then age them in a Sherry-style ‘solera’ system, and bingo, you have wines like Campbells Rutherglen Muscat (Waitrose £13.99). This golden ‘sticky’ as the Aussies call it, tastes of sultanas laced with spiced honey mixed with citrus peel and given a mocha shot. This unique wine is phenomenal and is an after-dinner delight.

I’ll finish my festive fortified feature with what most wine lovers regard as the ultimate fortified wine, Vintage Port. Vintage Port is a rare wine – they make up about 3% of Port production – made only in the finest years that can only spend 2 years in cask before bottling with their sediment. The resulting behemoths can age for decades (the 1955 Taylor (MWH Wine £420) was amazing in 2022) and offer a level of complexity and elegance no other fortified wine can match. For drinking now, try the Niepoort 1997 (Fareham Wine Cellar £57.50). A great vintage, time has softened this, giving it a red-amber colour with a nose of fruits of the forest, chocolate, cherries, and smoke. In the mouth, it is sumptuous, loaded with black and red berry fruits, black figs, plums, sweet spices, and liquorice. Decant and enjoy on its own with good company.

Well, that’s it from me for 2023. I’ll be back in January with some no-and low-alcohol wine recommendations. So, until then have a fine wine Christmas, and here’s to a happy 2024.



Festive fizz that’s worth a pop

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett raises a glass to the best Champagnes for party season

Hello! I’m in agreement with Andy Williams on Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year – though whether that time starts in October as the shops would have us believe is open to debate. What isn’t up for debate is that Christmas calls for champagne, and in this month’s column I’m running down my top 10 Christmas champagnes. So, without further ado

10. Waitrose Non-Vintage (£21.99) – in my experience buyer’s own brand (BOB) champagnes can be disappointing – especially when it comes to supermarket wines. For some it seems the main aim is hitting a low price point with the wine’s quality coming second. Waitrose’s, however, is consistently excellent. Medium-bodied with lovely peach and apple fruit, a rich seam of creamy yeast runs through to the clean, red berry finish. This versatile wine makes for a stylish aperitif or goes well with white cheeses.

9. Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé (Majestic £18.99) – OK so technically this isn’t a champagne, unless the Champagne AC’s expansion has taken it to South Africa, but this is of champagne quality hence I’ve included it.  Deep pink, the nose offers an abundance of blossoms, cherries, red fruits, limes and biscuity yeast. On the palate its weighty, fruit-laden – strawberries ad raspberries – with a lovely cherry sherbet finish. Serve this with smoked salmon or savoury canapés.

8. Adnams’ Selection Rosé Champagne (Adnams £33.99) – this is a champagne, and a very fine one at that. Produced by Champagne Blin, this is a traditional style of rosé, being full yet refined, fruity, yet dry. Opening with a nose of dried raspberries, strawberries, and buttery brioche, the palate offers pure, slightly savoury, raspberries and boysenberry flavours, followed by touch of blackcurrants and finishing with a taut, chalky finish. This is one of the best value champagnes I’ve seen in a long while.

7. Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus (Amazon £55) – Taittinger’s Prélude is a fascinating wine, and one that’s as much about the mind as the mouth.  Made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from Grand Cru vineyards, it all sounds very classical. The twist is that It’s aged for five years in Taittinger’s magnificent chalk cellars (much longer than usual) before release.  This drives a seam of yeast and savoury minerals through the apple, citrus, rhubarb and peach fruits, adding even more complexity and depth. A stylish aperitif, we had this with turkey last year and it was sensational.

6. Gosset Petite Douceur Rosé (Waitrose £59.99) – Gosset’s champagnes are things of rare beauty – and I don’t just mean the bottles – but this was love at first sip. Gosset’s wines are all about precision. Tiny bubbles, perfectly delineated fruit and a balance a tight rope walker would envy. This new wine takes their wines in a new direction by subtly ramping up the sweetness.  Now while this is by no means sweet, there’s a sweeter tone to the red and white berry fruit, as flavours of orange and kiwi come through, and there’s honeyed hint to the long, grapefruit and white peach finish. A superb after supper sipper, it would partner fruit tarts and petit fours perfectly.

5. Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs Brut (Waitrose £53.99) – the best Blanc de Blancs champagnes – that is ones made from only white grapes – offer a subtler, more delicate style of wine. My recent encounter with the Palmer Blanc de Blancs reminded me that what these wines lack in power, they more than make up for in complexity. From the Palmer’s mid-gold body emerges notes of pears, hawthorn blossom and milk toast. Initially fresh and lively, it soon develops a quiet intensity in the form of baked apples, hazelnuts, peaches, and fresh vanilla cream. Sip this beauty on its own or with seafood. 

4. Champagne Piaff Rosé (Master of Malt £52) has been another delightful discovery of 2023. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, it has a very ‘winey’ tone. By that I mean that is it is both full-flavoured and well-structured like a still wine. Salmon coloured, the nose combines fresh strawberries and cherries with savoury strains of beetroot and bread. The palate’s broad, with complimentary tones of red berries, black cherries, and lemons coming together at the finish with a creamy yeast touch. Try this with cold cooked meats or fish pâté.

3. Next I want to recommend a wine by Bruno Paillard. I was going to say try their Première Cuvée (Vinum £46.40) but in the spirit of giving an alternative view, I’ve gone for the Bruno Paillard Blanc de Noir Grand Cru (Wanderlust Wine £66.90). Released this year, this is made from 100% Pinot Noir and marries power with precision. The nose offers an enticing notes of roses, pink grapefruit and smoke.  The palate, while firm and weighty, is precise, rounded, and packed with fruits of the forest, cherries, and loganberries with a hint of clove. On the long finish are fresh red fruits with their signature shot of salinity. 

2. Dom Perignon is one of those wines that every wine lover should try to try at least once. I’ve been fortunate to enough to have had multiple vintages of this exceptional wine, but my recent encounter with the Dom Perignon 2013 (Waitrose £195) left me feeling this was the best young Dom Perignon I’ve ever tasted. Generous and welcoming, everything is perfectly appointed and perfectly rounded.  Soft as a satisfied sigh, the white plum, peach, and apricot fruit mingle seamlessly with gentle spices, highlights of alpine strawberries, and cool minty notes to crisp, nuanced finish. Try this on its own. Or better still, on your own!

1. While all the wines on this list are amazing, the Dom Ruinart 2010 (The Champagne Company £256) is just magnificent. The bouquet blends brioche, white berries, pears, and citrus with yeast.  In the mouth, it’s extraordinarily rich, layered, and full, yet precise and poised. Creamy tones of melon, green pears, apricot, orange, vanilla, chalk, and gentle spices come together to create a mesmerising mouthful. Youthful and sleek, this has a long, long life ahead of it, but if like me you enjoy your champagne young and vibrant, then this is perfect.  Yes, it’s expensive, but for those special occasions, to my mind, this is worth it.

Well, I hope you will have a fine Christmas and enjoy some fine wines along the way.

More soon….


Eight great Rioja wines to enjoy

Round & About


Discover a different style of Rioja wine. Round & About’s wine columnist Giles Luckett recommends 8 Riojas that offer a new perspective on this classic region…

I was sharing a bottle of Rioja with a friend of mine a few days ago, and he asked, ‘Don’t you ever get tired of Rioja?’ I made to reply, ‘Oh no, I love Chilean wines’ (a sommelier once asked him which Rioja he’d like, and he said ‘A Chilean one’), but he gave me pause for thought. I do drink a lot of Rioja, and I never get tired of it. Why? Because there’s an amazing diversity of styles and flavours on offer. You could drink nothing but Rioja for a week and twice on Sundays without repeating the experience.

So, for all you Rioja wine lovers – Chilean and the more commonly seen Spanish ones, sorry, Ed! – here are eight expressions of this majestic wine that I would urge you to try.

I’ve mentioned my love of white Rioja before. Once something best avoided, it’s now one of the best value white wines you can find, with the top wines – Contino Blanco (Noble Grape £23.99) or Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva (£115 Berry Bros & Rudd) – fit to rank with the world’s finest whites.

My current favourite is the Muga Blanco (Majestic £12.99). This is a modern-style white Rioja in that it’s fermented in steel and then sees only three months of oak ageing. The result is a fresh, tangy wine that offers barrel loads of peach, spiced pears, grape and grapefruit flavours with just a hint of cream.

Rioja isn’t famous for its sparkling wines, which is a shame as some of the best Spanish sparkling wines I’ve ever had have been from here. Take the Azabache Brut Metodo Tradicional Rioja, Fincas de Azabache (Corks £22.95). There are only 8,500 bottles of this beauty made each year, and it’s a once-tried, never-forgotten experience. Produced from white Tempranillo (who knew? I didn’t) in the traditional method, this is a wine that combines vibrancy with complexity. The nose is fruit-driven, with all manner of yellow berries jostling for your attention, while in the mouth, citrus mingles with yeast against a backdrop of baked apples. This is a great aperitif or works equally well with smoked fish.

Rosé Rioja, or rosado to give its proper title, is almost always great fun but rarely serious. A big exception to this rule is the Alegra de Beronia (Majestic £11.99). It’s worth buying just for the bottle, which is just as elegant and refined as the wine inside. Blushing amber pink, this Garnache-Tempranillo blend offers a rose and cheery nose, while the soft, generous palate combines strawberries and red cherries with notes of peach and nectarine. Gentle as a summer breeze, try this on its own or with fresh seafood or lightly cured pork.

Rioja is big on value for money, and if you’re looking for a lighter style with more personality than the Groucho Club on a Saturday night, look to the Cune Ciranza (Sainsbury’s £10). I was introduced to this when I was at Harrods’ wine department, and it blew my young palate away. More years than I care (or can) remember, it’s still a firm favourite. Mid-red, it’s bouquet is of crushed black and red berries with a hint of vanilla and smoke. Fruity and forward on the palate, it has all the classic Rioja elements of berry fruits, spices, orange zest, and cream but is presented in an easy-going, rounded, gentle style.

Another wine that shows Rioja’s eminent affordability is the Wine Society’s Rioja (£8.50). This is a very traditional style of Rioja, with plenty of spicy American oak, plenty or extraction, and a goodly quantity of stewed black fruits, given a lift by highlights of Seville oranges and cranberries. Smooth as silk and rich as Bezos, this is another great wine to keep to hand, and at £8.50, it’s worth joining the Society to get it.

Up to now, the wines I’ve recommended have been produced from classic blends, such as Tempranillo and Garnacha or Viura and Malvasia. My next recommendation is both a varietal, made from a single-grape type, and made from one of the less well-known Rioja varieties. It’s the Beronia Graciano (Vinissimus £20). I warn you now, this is not for the faint of heart; this is a Rioja for those looking for power and intensity. Red black, the nose is a dark, brooding affair with stewed black fruits, earthy spices and woodsmoke. The palate is weighty, concentrated, and broad. Prunes, blackberries, herbs, boysenberries, vanilla, charcoal, and a lift of lavender make for a fascinating mouthful. This is a wine that’s capable of long ageing but is sensational now with roasted meats, strong hard cheeses, and pâté.

My next wine is a Riojan legend, the Imperial Reserva 2018 (Waitrose £26.99). Imperial is a wine that blends tradition with modernity and offers one of the great Rioja wine experiences. A blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo, aged in a combination of American and French oak, freshness and depth combine here in a wonderfully stylish way. The nose brims with zesty red and black berries, which are pinned back by smoke, cream and violets. At first sip, it comes across as clean, delicate, light even, but the blackcurrant and bramble fruit’s piercing intensity is soon backed up by notes of roasted meat, minerals, dried cherries, sandalwood, orange zest and green herbs. A fine wine by anyone’s definition, this too will develop over decades.

I’ll finish with a flourish, with the Coscojares Vindedo Singular Rioja, Fincas de Azabache (Corks and Cru £47.50), which shows how Rioja’s Garnacha (France’s Grenache) can play the starring role. Made from a tiny parcel of vines on a 1.9-hectare vineyard, all of which were planted before 1955 at high altitude, the results is a wonderfully subtle, complex wine that oozes class and complexity. Mid-red, it offers a combination of red cherries, dried strawberries, and damsons, with intriguing touches of aged balsamic vinegar, pepper, caramel, and raspberries. Ideal with everything from belly pork to goats’ cheese, it will develop beautifully over the coming decade.

Well, that’s it for now. I do hope you’ll try some of these fantastic wines so you can enjoy the many faces of Rioja.

Next time out, Chile. No, really, it will be Chile!



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.


Summer sparkling wines worth your time

Round & About


From Cava to Champagne, Tasmania to South Africa, our wine columnist Giles Luckett serves up the 10 best sparkling wines on the market

Summer’s here, and I’m in a sparkling mood. Having had to put the log burner on throughout May (sorry, Greta), the sun’s finally shining, and that calls for fizz.

Such is the effervescence of my disposition that I’ve decided to do a bumper edition and run down my top ten sparkling wines for summer 2023. The following are drawn all over the world and run the gamut of styles from desert-bleached bone dry through to a rich off-dry Champagne that is bottled elegance. They vary in price from “A dangerous third bottle…?” to “I can’t wait for your 50th, so we can have that again” by way of whites and rosés. What unites them is their excellence and how astonishingly versatile this glorious style of wine can be. So, pop pickers, in at number ten…

10. A new entry, all the way from South Africa, it’s the Kleine Zalze Cap Classique (Taylors Fine Wines £21). This is a ripe, soft, fruit-driven wine that’s deliciously satisfying. Mid-gold, the nose boasts tropical fruits, yeast, and a lovely biscuity tone. It’s broad and expansive in the mouth, with big flavours of peach, apricot, guava, and a tang of lemon. A fine solo sipper, it’s a wine where two bottles seem ideal.  Well, that’s what we’ve found on more than one occasion.

9. At number nine, we have a re-issue of a much-loved classic, the Roger Goulart Reserva 2019 (Surrey Wine Cellar £19). This is to bog-standard Cava what a Ferrari 355 is to the family run about. It’s in a different class. Invitingly deep gold colour, the nose is evolved, rich and full of autumn fruits. On the palate, the long bottle age shows again, presenting magnificent tones of apricot, red pear, nectarine, and crushed nuts. The finish is long, mellow, and rounded. This is a serious Cava that’s seriously good. It was made for pairing white meats, and meaty fish such as monkish or heavily smoked salmon.

8. A non-mover at number eight, and another Spanish stunner, it’s the Cune Cava (Majestic £9.99). This is one of those wines that always leaves me smiling. Its consistency is admirable, if unremarkable, given that the amazing CVNE team makes it, and it never disappoints. Pale gold, the nose is a cheerful blend of honeydew melon, pears and grapes with a warm, bready tinge. In the mouth, it’s light to medium-bodied and offers white-skinned fruits backed by rounded yet fresh acidity and a hint of honey — a joyous accompaniment to a summer’s evening.

7. At seven, we’ve got the first of two wines from South Africa’s Graham Beck.  Regular readers of this column will know I’ve long-admired Beck’s back catalogue, but this a new wine that has classic written all over it. It’s the Graham Beck Ultra Brut 2016 (VINUM £19.90). If you like your sparkling wines bone dry but approachable and complex, this is an excellent choice. Bottle-aged for three years prior to release; at this point, this is a fresh, zesty wine with underlying notes of brioche and peach stones. This is better with food at this point – oily fish, white meats, and creamy cheeses are all good – but it will age and mellow out over the next three-to-five years.

6. Another new entry at number six, it’s the Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne (Tesco £15). Crémant de Bourgogne is a sparkling wine made in Burgundy, and like most crémants, they offer great wines that are great value for money. Simonnet-Fevre has been making classic wines in Chablis since 1845, and their class shows through here.  A blend of Chardonnay supported by Pinot Noir, on the nose, there’s plenty of fresh green apple and pear with underlying notes of chalk and a saline touch.  It’s clean and tangy in the mouth but soon develops a peach, yellow plum and vanilla creaminess.  Wonderfully versatile, it’s the perfect aperitif, but it goes equally well with smoked fish or a peppery rocket and goat’s cheese salad.

5. Taking fifth spot is a wine from a land down under; the Jansz Premium Cuvée (Waitrose £18.49). The first time I tasted this tremendous Tasmanian sparkler was at the winery when our press tour was treated to a tasting of 30+ wines, none of which we wanted to spit, few of us did, and the afternoon was a contented, if sleepy, blur.  A recent encounter reminded me of quite how good this wine is.  The bouquet melds white berries, plums, honeysuckle and citrus. At the same time, its generous, multi-layered tones range from autumnal berries to tropical fruits, almonds, and finally, lemon-soaked minerals and smoke.  This is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest sparkling wines, yet it remains affordable.

4. At number four, Graham’s back, this time with the Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2018 (Majestic £18.99). Being produced from 100% Chardonnay from cooler, high-altitude sites, you might expect this to be light, bright and breezy, and as about as substantial as a marshmallow crash helmet, but like me, you’d be wrong. Extended bottle age before release has leant this wine weight and depth. Mid-gold, the nose has a vanilla foam scent to it before fresh flavours of grapefruit and lime come forth. On the palate, the bright green apple, peach, and apricot flavours are powerful yet balanced, and there’s a lovely finish of limes and coconut at the end.

3. This week at three, it’s the Champagne Taittinger’s Nocturne (Waitrose £45), the only ballad in this summer’s chart.  Nocturne is a ‘Sec’ champagne which means it has a much higher level of sweetness – 17.5 grams per litre, versus less than 12 grams for ‘Brut’ (Noel Edmonds never gave this level of detail on Top of the Pops!). The result is a wine that has a luxuriously full, opulent mouthfeel.  Taittinger’s signature peaches in syrup accent take centre stage, and as you sip, the richness builds.  This could quickly become cloying and sickly, but extended ageing and perfectly judged citrusy acidity make it mellow and harmonious.

2. At number two, but only by a whisker, is the Bruno Paillard Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (Petersham Cellar £60). I bought a parcel of Paillard’s wines earlier this year and have been happily tasting my way through them. While all are outstanding, and the Dosage Zero (Wanderlust Wine £59) almost made it to this list, the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is on another level. 100% Chardonnay from 100% rated vineyards, this is everything you could wish for from a blanc de blancs. Fragrant, mixing white flowers, grapes, greengages, and vanilla notes, the complex aromas are a prelude to a wine that is soft, subtle, and astonishingly complex. Baked apple, ripe comice pear, white currant, and grapefruit are wrapped in a creamy, nutty finish. I’ve had this on its own and with foods as diverse as baked white fish, roasted artichokes, and pork medallions, and it’s always performed beautifully.

1. And holding the number one spot, we have a wine that tastes as beautiful as it looks, the Gosset Celebris Extra Brut 2007 (The Champagne Company £119.50). Gosset is a champagne-lovers’ champagne. Made without compromise, all have a steely backbone from their wines not undergoing malolactic fermentation, which converts firmer malic acid into softer latic acid. Not doing “malo” as it’s known, preserves the wine’s purity and extends its life. Gosset’s wines need age – I prefer the non-vintage after a couple of years in bottle – and the Celebris gets a minimum of ten years.  2007 is a wine that offers piercingly beautiful notes of red berries, blackcurrant leaves, lavender honey, yeast and spices in a powerfully refined fashion. Food’s best friend, try this seafood – it’s sublime with lobster (someone was paying), white fish or spring lamb.

Well, that’s it for this edition.  Here’s to a sparkling summer.

Next time out, everything’s coming up rosés…

More soon!


South African wine treasures to uncork

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett explores the best wines from South Africa worth trying

Hello. This article was inspired by a recent South African wine tasting, one that turned out to be a simultaneous trip down memory lane and a voyage of discovery (if that doesn’t win Mixed Metaphor of the Year, nothing will!).

This vast county has 30 diverse wine districts and 60 Wine of Origin (WO) designations, boasts a mix of microclimates and soils to enable it to grow pretty much every grape variety brilliantly. They’ve also been making wine since the 1650s, so they have had plenty of time to perfect their art. 

I became a fan of South African wines in my student days, as they offered affordability and drinkability in equal measure. Three decades in the wine trade has burnished my love of the country’s wines and allowed me to try everything from mighty Cabernet Sauvignons that aren’t so much dry as desiccated to that well-known heart condition treatment (well, well-known to Jane Austen) the luscious Klein Constantia. Such long experience meant I attended the tasting expecting great wines but no surprises. What I encountered came as something of a shock… 

Alongside the usual cavalcade of world-class Cabernet Sauvignons (the Vergelegen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 2017 (Wine Society £16) was in marvellous form, so full, so refined, and typical of this wonderful vintage), cool climate Chardonnays (Journeys End Winemakers Chardonnay) (Laithwaites £14.99), and native grape classics such as the Beaumont Family Pinotage, Bot River, Walker Bay 2018 Pinotage (the Wine Society £18) was a line-up of newbies the like of which I didn’t know existed. Luscious, fruit-bomb Viogniers like the Mount Rozier Estate Queen Bee Viognier 2022 (Laithwaites £12.99), a previously unseen Tempranillo, from Mellasat Vineyards (Brompton Wines £20.9%) which took this Riojan classic and gave it even more oomph and even an orange wine. Well, no one’s perfect. 

(Another) South African Wine Revolution

I’d read that South African wine had undergone one of its periodic reinventions in the past few years, but I didn’t appreciate how significant this one was. On the evidence of this extensive tasting, this is as significant a change as they moved away from making South Africian ‘port’ and ‘sherry’ and moved into table wines.

What is the revolution this time? Well, in essence, it’s about working with nature. It’s about aligning the right grapes, exploration of sites, and using the right grapes and the right production methods to give wines that are authentic, and which convey a ‘taste of place.’ The rationale behind this move varies hugely, but what is universal is the exceptional quality of the wines being produced, as the following highlights show.

Boschendale Chenin (Tesco £9) is about as traditional as South African wine gets. Chenin, or Steen as it’s known here, is planted all over the country as it used to be used for fortified wines. These days it’s mainly used to produce crisp, apple, and melon flavoured wines, the best of which, such as Boschendale’s, have a shot of citrus, honey, and minerals giving them complexity. 

South African Sauvignon Blanc isn’t a wine I’m that familiar with. Like many of my generation, I was introduced to Sauvignon by the thrillingly fruit-driven gooseberry and green pepper wines of New Zealand in the late 1980s. After a year or so of drinking this style, the thrill wore off, and I’ve avoided New World Sauvignon ever since. It seems I’ve been missing out, however, as when I tasted the Journey’s End Identity Sauvignon (£9 Sainsbury’s), I found a wine of subtlety and class. The notes of gooseberries, rhubarb, and peppers are still there, but the volume’s been turned down, and peachy, yellow plum notes have fleshed it out, making for a jolly, food-friendly glassful. 

Kleine Zalze is another South African winery whose wines I’ve always enjoyed. Hailing from the prestigious Stellenbosch region, their Vineyard Selection Chenin (Vinum £13.10) is a serious, grown-up wine. Oak-aged, there’s a creaminess to this wine that compliments the rich peach, guava, and apricot tones before a fresh, firm acidity pulls everything together. This would be brilliant with lemon roast chicken or mushroom risotto. 

Spier is one of South Africa’s oldest wineries, and yet they produce one of its newest and rarest wines. Albarino is a grape most commonly associated with Spain, where it produces some of the country’s greatest whites. Ranging in style from the dry and crisp to the very dry and very crisp, it’s a wine I’ve always liked. The Spier Albarino (Majestic £9.99) has all the citrus you’d expect, but with its full, glycerine-rich body, it has softer, fatter notes of baked apple and pear that make it eminently drinkable. 

I’ll leave the whites with Jordan Wines’ The Real McCoy Riesling 2022. Like Pinot Noir, Riesling seems to be a grape that every nation wants to do well. The quality of the grape is such that everyone wants to create ones that can rival the French and German versions. Jordan has done pretty good job, if you ask me. While this is very much a South African wine, the lovely floral, apple and honey nose, taut, crisp, green and white berry saturated palate and cleansing, mineral-laden acidity make for a compelling Riesling. I plan to try this with a stir fry, but as a solo sipper, it’s a pearl. 

Pinotage is South Africa’s signature grape. Created in 1925 by crossing the noble Pinot Noir and commoner Cinsault (at the time, the Pinot wasn’t so much cross as flaming furious), the idea was to give a noble vine with good heat resistance. It’s a vine capable of great things in the right hands (and utterly forgettable dross in the wrong hands), as the Spier Pinotage shows. Mid-red, the nose is an inviting mix of crushed red berries, warm spices, cherries, and earth. These impressions flow onto the palate where the amble, yet rounded, tannins give it structure, and a hint of mint adds freshness. A great BBQ wine, should the sun ever shine. 

Blends have always worked well in South Africa. Some of my earliest memories of South African wine are of tasting the likes of Simonsig and Meerlust’s mighty Rubicon. Having such a wealth of grapes to call upon, it’s easy to see why they are popular. One I caught up with at the tasting was Kanonkop’s Kadette (Tesco £12), the entry-level wine from the superb Kanonkop estate. Blending Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, this is an inky dark, brooding, spicy, and super-ripe wine that doesn’t so much caress your palate as give it a cuddle and offer it a blanket. If you like big, rich, spicy, and intense wines, this is a great choice. 

Syrah, one of the great grapes of the Rhone Valley, is another variety you rarely see adorning South African wine labels. So when I saw the Griffin Syrah (£20 Ocado), I was intrigued. I tasted the 2016, and the bottle aging had clearly helped it. Young Syrah can be a handful, closed, tannic, brooding, and acidic. This was deep, mellow, and open. It offered a huge weight of plum, black cherry, and bramble fruit alongside signature notes of herbs, white pepper, and raspberries. Drinking well now, it has time on its side and would be fantastic with roasted red meats or hard cheeses. 

I couldn’t write a piece on South African wine and not mention a Cabernet Sauvignon. This noblest of vines seems to like South Africa and consistently produces world-class wines that are as good as they are affordable. I reviewed the Major Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 by Ernie Els Wines last year, and it was outstanding. This time out, I looked at the 2017, which, if anything, was even better. Very dark with only a glimmer of crimson at the rim, the nose offered an intensely concentrated mix of cassis, green peppers, mint, cherries, and smoke. In the mouth, it was powerful yet elegant. Fresh blackcurrants take centre stage, but there’s excellent support from black cherries, chocolate, spicy vanilla, and a shot of cranberry acidity. A delicious wine, I’d give it plenty of time open before drinking. 

I’ll finish this piece as I finished the tasting with a fizz. I’ve tasted the Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé (Majestic £16.99) around a dozen times in the past year, and my notes have been consistent in their praise. While I love all of Beck’s sparkling wines, the Pinot Noir Rosé is on a different level. Sweetly toned strawberries and raspberries mingle with softer flavours of brioche, black fig, creamy yeast, and a hint of saline. This will undoubtedly be our summer fizz, and with its weight and freshness, it will partner all kinds of food admirably well. 

I hope this whistle-stop tour will prompt you to explore South Africa’s great wine treasury. Next time out, I’m heading back down under for some splendid summer sippers.

More soon…!


Giles Luckett’s best wines of Rioja

Round & About


Learn more about the wines of Rioja as Round and About’s wine columnist shares his thoughts on the best red and white Riojas on the UK market

Hello. A game I like to play sometimes is wine keywords – I’m too old for an Xbox, and I don’t drink enough port to be good at bridge. The aim of the game is to encapsulate a wine region’s history in as few words as possible and have people guess where you’re talking about. Trust me, this goes down a storm with men of a certain age with model railways and a subscription to Decanter!

So, Bordeaux could be, ‘British-owned. British invented. British drunk while Champagne could be ‘Monasteries. War. Billionaire brands.’ Which region, though, would be, ‘Bugs. Trains. A fascist’.

It is none other than the beloved region of Rioja, which is the subject of my latest ode to wine.

The Wines Of Rioja: A Very, Very Brief History

Wines have been produced in Rioja in northwest Spain for donkey’s years. The Romans introduced viniculture here, and the wines enjoyed an excellent local reputation. The wines came to international prominence in the 1850s when phylloxera – a root-chewing bug – devastated much of France’s vineyards, most notably in nearby Bordeaux. Bordeaux winemakers in need of work decamped to Rioja, bringing expertise in the use of oak, amongst other things, and helped take the wines to a whole new level.

Around this time, the railway finally reached the wine towns of Haro and Logrono. This meant that Rioja could be transported easily to the rest of Spain and the ports, which have them access to international markets.

Owing to the world wars and the Spanish Civil War, the region fell on hard times in the early part of the 20th century, and it was only with the rise to power of Franco that its fortunes were restored. Franco was mad about wine and wanted to see Rioja take its rightful place on the world stage. In one of his (extremely rare) good deads, he helped ensure that the wines were produced to high standards and became sought after again.

Rioja Today: New Classic Wines

Today, Rioja is rightly regarded as one of the great wine regions of the world. Its capacity for value is unrivalled, and there’s a surprising level of diversity in the nature and styles of wine, between the traditional and the modernist. In this article, I will offer you the benefit of my 30-odd-year obsession with this beautiful, complex, generous wine region, which I hope will whet your appetite for these extraordinary wines.

Let’s begin with the wine that started my love affair with Rioja, the Cune Crianza (Sainsbury’s £9). I first encountered this as Harrods’ Rioja when a Spanish colleague Carlos recommended it as a star staff buy. He wasn’t wrong. To this day, I can remember it. As someone who’d been brought up on Bordeaux and wines from the Midi and the Rhone, this was a revelation. A wine packed with exuberant red and blackberry fruit, spices, citrus peel, and creamy vanilla, it was as if I’d been drinking black and white wines, and this was my introduction to colour. I had the 2018 last night and found it just as diverting as I did all those years ago.

Next are two whites. White Rioja was, for the longest time, something that was best avoided. The Riojans’ idea that wood was good, so more wood is better, worked well (to an extent) with the reds, but for whites, it was often folly. A familiar tasting note for white Rioja in the 1990s was, ‘Smells of old chip fat, colour of old chip fat, tastes of… old chip fat.’ Happily, those days are gone, as these two contrasting corkers show.

The Muga Blanco (Majestic £12.99) is a modernist interpretation and is bottled summer. A blend of mainly Viura and Malvasia, the nose is bright, full of apple blossom, pears, and a hint of honey. In the mouth, it’s clean and delicate, yet the persistent fruit notes of pears, honeydew melon, apricots, and tangy gooseberries give it oomph.

By contrast, the Cune Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco (Waitrose £10) is an altogether more rounded, richer, mellow, traditional iteration. This is one of my favourite white wines, and I must have had close to 30 different vintages. The consistency is remarkable, and it never fails to please. The latest vintage has the same ripe, soft mouthfeel and generosity of fruit I’ve come to expect, but this time out, there’s a nutty edge to buttery peach, apricot, and green apple fruit. A great wine for summer sipping.

I mentioned my adoration for the wines of Contino in my last column, and I make no apology for mentioning one again this time. This time, it’s the Contino Reserva 2017. You can often tell a lot about the quality of wine and the vintage by the wine’s classification. In Germany, higher levels of sugar are revered and in rare vintages, you get the mighty trockenberenausle, which has so much sugar in grapes that it can take months to ferment and end up with 6 or 7 degrees of alcohol. In Champagne, it’s if a wine is vintage or not, and in Rioja it’s about the level of oak ageing the wine can sustain. Categories such as Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva all have pre-release ageing requirements in barrel and bottle, and as a crude rule of thumb, the more it can take, the better the wine is and the higher its designation.

The Contino Reserva 2017 (Noble Green £22) is an outstanding glass of wine. 2017 was a ‘challenging’ year – in the same way that nailing water to a wall with a hammer made of ice is challenging – yet by virtue of having a sublime vineyard and uncompromising winemakers with exceptional skill, they have turned out a sumptuous wine.

The nose in an inviting blend of smoked black fruit, tapenade, and cranberries. The voluptuous palate is medium-bodied, full of brambles, strawberries, hints of chocolate and raspberries, and a good helping mixed spice. As hard and angular as a bubble bath in a paddling pool, this won’t make seriously old bones, but it’s seriously good now.

Marqués de Cáceres is one of those Rioja brands – like Campo Viejo – that seemed to lose their way some years ago. For the longest time, their red, white, and rosé wines were a supermarket staple, and while they were OK for the money, that’s all they were. Today, they are back in a big way. Flagship wines like Gaudium are well worth their £40+ price tag. For rather more modest money, the Marqués de Cáceres Reserva (Majestic £12.99) is deep joy. This is the old-school Rioja. High extract with lots of dried blackcurrants, plums, warm spices, vanilla, and orange peel; this is perfect for red meats and hard Spanish cheeses.

Generally speaking I don’t tend to go for Gran Reserva wines. Rioja’s – unfair – reputation as wood aged in wine stems from this style. Eager to use the impressive designation, too many industrial producers have subjected wines that didn’t have the fruit of the extract to carry such a weight of oak, and the results weren’t great.

When done well, however, Gran Reserva Rioja can be glorious. Take the Beronia Gran Reserva 2015 (Majestic £21). Hailing from a great vintage, even after 28 months in cask, it remains deeply coloured, with a bramble, red cherry, and plum scented nose. In the mouth the fruity continues to take centre stage, with layer-upon-layer of black and red berries rounded off by creamy oak. Great now, this has a long future.

Roda may not be a winery you’re familiar with, but in the course of 30-odd year life, it’s taken Rioja by storm. Roda is the picture of modernity in a traditional region. They restrict the amount of oak, favour French (subtler, more expensive) over American, use cooler fermentation temperatures, and aim to bring a subtle expression of Rioja to life. The resulting wines are fascinating, combining traditional flavours with an arresting delicacy of approach. The Roda 1 2016 (Master of Malt £29.95) offers a great introduction to these beguiling wines.

Still with me? Good, only two to go, and what a pair…

Vina Real is another traditional wine, but there’s a delicacy and a flair to their wines that I’ve always loved. My latest encounter with this noble wine was the Vina Real 2016 Reserva (Tanners £21.50). This is a red berry and spices wine. The colour is paler than some thanks to four years in barrel, and buttery oak runs through it like Brighton through a stick of Brighton rock. It doesn’t overwhelm, however. Instead, it adds cream tones to the wide range of juicy berries, and gives a wine that was made for food.

And finally, a budget-busting classic, the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2010 (Petersham Cellars £275). Now, £275 is an awful lot of money for a bottle of wine, but this is a rare beast. Only mad in exceptional years and aged for five years in oak and a further five in bottle – sometimes even longer – this a wonderful curio. Showing none of its age, it’s bright red and youthfully intense. Medium-bodied, mouth-filling, creamy and exotic, there’s everything from blackcurrants and cherries to Asian spices, coffees, dark marmalade, and charcoal. It’s a great Rioja experience, at a price.

Well, that’s it for now. All this talk of Rioja has given me a thirst the size of CVNE’s barrel hall.

More soon!


Raising a glass to Australian wine

Round & About


Our wine columnist Giles Luckett is on a mission to raise January spirits with these wizard (wines) of Aus!

Hello, and a belated Happy New Year.

While for many people January can be a trying month, for the wine trade it’s a time of excitement and discovery. With the Christmas rush a distant memory and stocks as low as many people’s moods on Blue January, this quiet sales month gives wine professionals the chance to get out and taste. While tasting invitations are already piling up like pizza leaflets, there’s one that’s a big red-letter day in my calendar: 24th January and the Australia Trade Tasting.

I’m part of the generation of wine lovers who got to know wine thanks to Australia. In the late 1980s they exploded onto the scene, offering big, bold, fruit-bomb wines that were about as reserved as an Aussie backpacker in an Earl’s Court pub at closing time. They were a revelation. Affordable and accessible, they offered budding wine students the chance to get to grips with a range of grapes and styles.

Fast forward 30 years and Australian wines have matured and now boast a raft of examples that are fit to rank with the world’s best. Wines such as Penfolds’ Grange Hermitage and Bin 707, Henshke’s Hill Of Grace and Mount Edelstone, Leeuwin’s Art Series, and Wynn’s Michael Shiraz should be on every fine wine lover’s tasting wish list. And beyond these super stars there remain hundreds of exceptional wines that encapsulate Australian wines’ founding principles of individuality, brilliance and value. So, here are some suggestions for alleviating the January gloom with a taste of Australian wine excellence.

My first recommendation is the Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay (The Co-Op £11.50) Oatley produce wines in various parts of Australia with the emphasis being on producing ones that have a “taste of place”. Modern in origin and outlook – the winery was founded in 2006 – the Signature Series Chardonnay is a fine wine at an affordable price. Pale green gold, the use of oak is well-judged and the nose is focused on fruit and floral tones. In the mouth there’s an immediate freshness and lift from apple, white peach and melon tones, before richer, fatter vanilla and honey comes through. The whole thing is rounded off with crisp acidity and touch of savoury minerals. Sophisticated is the word that leaps to mind, this is a far cry from the ‘bottled sunshine’ Chardonnays of old.

Next up is a wine that’s as leftfield as its much-missed creator, Taras Ochota. I had the pleasure of meeting Taras in London and his home in the Adelaide Hills before his untimely death at the age of 49. He was a maverick, a devout punk – wines such as Fugazi and In the Trees are named after bands and songs he loved – and one of the most talented winemakers of Australia’s modern era. Ochota Barrels Weird Berries in the Woods (Indigo Wines) Gewurztraminer is, for me, his best white.

I’ll be honest, usually Gewurztraminer isn’t my cup of tea. I find the combination of lychees, black pepper, sickly lavender honey, and tinned peaches about as lovely as it sounds. Taras, however, managed to tame these wild elements to produce a dry, elegant, complex wine that flows with oriental fruits with hints of spice and add a dryness, and a cleansing acidity that make for a memorable glassful.

Jacob’s Creek were one of the first brands to make it big in the UK wine market. Their wines have always been good value make for a great buy when popping into a corner shop for a last-minute bottle. Their Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay (£6, Amazon) is on another level though. Adelaide Hills is a cool climate region that’s making some of the most exciting wines in Australia. This fantastically well-priced wine offers a smoky, crisp, elegant example of Chardonnay. Peaches, pears, stonefruit, and a touch of grapefruit make for joyful drinking.

I’ll leave the whites with a Riesling. Australia is rightly proud of its dry Rieslings, with examples from the Clare or Eden Valley being as good as the finest French and German efforts. One I’ve always liked is the Tim Adams Riesling (Tesco £10). This Eden Valley wine offers an intense nose of limes, grapes, and citrus mingled with apple blossom. In the mouth its precise, clean, and poised, with a lovely combination of white berries, green apple, pear and citrus fruit, with minerals on the long, dry finish.

Australia arguably offers the most consistent and consistently good value reds in the world. From entry level wines such as Koonuga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet (Waitrose £7.99) to the likes of the mighty Hill of Grace (£250 Berry Brothers & Rudd), Australia has it all. I’m going to start my red recommendations with a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons from revered producer Wynns.

Wynns’ wines are classically styled and are made to reflect the vineyards from which they are made. Founded in 1891, their years of experience shines through their wines which are always beautifully crafted and offer an exceptional drinking experience at all levels.

My first wine is The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon (Tesco £15). This is produced in the Coonawarra region which is famed for its iron-rich terra rossa soils. This soil gives wines minerality and an extra level of complexity and depth, something Wynns have taken full advantage of. The Siding offers fresh, intense notes of blackcurrants, mint, mulberries and raspberries on the nose, while in the mouth fleshier notes of black cherries, roasted meat, plums and dried herbs come through. Medium-bodied but with powerful intensity, this is one for the hearty winter dishes.

Providing a fascinating contrast we have the Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Majestic £25). Same grape, same producer, very different results. This is Aussie Cabernet showing its elegant, nuanced side. While the characteristic blackcurrants, mint and cherries are present, there’s also plums, earthy spices, these are all low-key, seamlessly integrated and nuanced. This is a fine wine that deserves respect. If you’re drinking it this year, I’d decant it or at least give it several hours open and serve it with fine red meats or baked cheeses.

Good Australian Pinot Noir was once a rarity. This notoriously fickle vine was once ‘a nice idea’ as one Australian producer caustically described Australian Merlot. These days great examples abound, and one of my favourites is the Yering Station (Waitrose £12.99). Based in the cool Yarra Valley in Victoria, Yering Station has established a reputation as one of Australia’s leading Pinot producers. The 2016 has a fragrant nose of plums, raspberries, with highlights of flowers and spices. In the mouth this gentle, medium bodied wine gradually reveals layer upon layer of black fruit flavours intermingled with creamy oak and touch of jamminess to the finish. This has to be one of the best value Pinots on the market, and it well-worth seeking out.

My last red is another Cabernet and another wine from Western Australia, the Robert Oatley “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Taurus Wines £13.99). This is Cabernet in the Bordeaux mould. The benign climate and exceptional soils of Margaret River give us a Cabernet whose emphasis is on elegance and complexity rather than power and drama. Deeply coloured, the nose is a quiet riot of fresh blackcurrants, eucalyptus, black cherries, spices, and smoke. The silken palate is packed with fruit, but everything is sedate, unhurried and poised. Like a great Bordeaux, it deserves time and fine food to appreciate its charms.

“I was lucky enough to spend some time in Tasmania on my last trip to Australia”

And finally, a fizz. Well, I couldn’t write a column and not mention at least one sparkling wine, could I? I was lucky enough to spend some time in Tasmania on my last trip to Australia, a region that is probably the most exciting in Aus. Cool, damp, and undulating, it’s ideal for sparkling wine production and Jansz Rosé (Fenwicks £15.99) is a fantastic wine. Pretty in pink colour, the vibrant red berry and yeast nose is followed by a fresh, tangy palate that leads with raspberries and strawberries, before darker, richer notes of dried cherry, rhubarb, and yeast come through.

Right, all this writing and meandering down wine memory lane had given me quite a thirst so it’s on to the practical for me – well, I need to have my palate in shape for the trade tasting, don’t I?

Next time out I’ll look at some reds that will banish those winter blues.

More soon…

Fantastic festive fizz worth a pop!

Round & About


Round & About’s resident wine columnist Giles Luckett gives his top ten choices for bubbles at this most wonderful time of the year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” So the song goes, and while I wholeheartedly agree with Andy Williams on this, I do wonder if our reasons for thinking so are the same. For while he seemed focused on marshmallows toasting and kids “jingle belling” (1963’s equivalent of TikTok?), for me it’s all about the fizz.

The festive season gives me the excuse (like I need one!) to indulge my passion for sparkling wines. When I first started taking a serious interest in wine, this meant champagne. While there were non-French sparkling wines out there most were either brilliant but expensive (Californian), lovely but hard to find (New Zealand), or affordable, available, and avoidable at all costs (Lambrusco).

“The festive season gives me the excuse (like I need one!) to indulge my passion for sparkling wines.”

Roll forward 30 years, and the world of fizz is a better place. From Spain to South Africa, Australia to England, the US to France (yes, I was surprised) great, affordable sparkling wines now abound.

So, in my final column of 2022 for Round & About, I’ll run down my top ten festive fizzes, wines that are bound to put some sparkle in to your Christmas.

10. Tesco Rosé Cava – at the time of writing (and until mid-December if my inside source, OK our delivery driver) is to be believed, the Clubcard price and 25% off any six wines makes this £4.50 a bottle. At such a price I’m prepared to forgive the fact that this should be called “rosado” rather than rosé. Pedantry aside, this is an excellent bottle of affordable fizz. Pale pink, the nose offers red cherries, raspberry sherbet, and earth. On the palate its fresh, with strawberries leading the charge, quickly followed by cherries, boiled sweets and just a hint of salinity. Great fun, and amazing value.

9. Champagne Bruno Paillard “Dosage Zero” MV (Multi-Vintage) (Hedonism Wines £49.80) A wine I came to late in the year, from a producer I fell for early in my career. Bruno Paillard is an exceptional champagne house, one that has consistently wowed me with the quality of their wines, and their willingness to innovate.

The “Dosage Zero” element refers to the fact that this wine doesn’t receive a shot of sugar before bottling, which is the case for almost all champagnes. This is a bold move as dosage can balance out a wine and add creaminess to the mouthfeel. Paillard have achieved a similar effect by using 50% reserve wines from previous years, and by giving it extended ageing of three-to-four years prior to release.

The result is a striking, fascinatingly complex wine with a style that is all its own. The nose is piercing and intense, with notes of white berries, citrus, and yeast. The palate is at first clean, and lively, but soon a creaminess joins the pear, grape, grapefruit, and chalky tones, so that by the time the finish hits you get a taste of brioche with lime marmalade. Bravo, Bruno!

8. The Wine Society’s Celebration Cremant de Loire 2019 (£12.95) – a vintage fizz for under £20, yes please. Cremant de Loire is one of the world’s oldest sparkling wines and is traditionally made from Chenin Blanc, though a proportion of Chardonnay is also often included these days. Cremant’s have slightly less C02 than Champagne, and this and the choice of grapes can give them a richer, more luxurious mouthfeel. Produced by leading producer Gratien Meyer, the bouquet is complex and subtle, with notes of yellow plums, apples, and honeysuckle. In the mouth it’s well-fruited, but elegant and stylish, the white fruits balanced by a clean acidity and a ripe note of yeast.

7. CVNE Cava (Majestic £9.99 when you buy any six wines) – CVNE is one of my favourite producers. They make a huge range of wines including the Rioja Reserva (Sainsbury’s £12), which is never out of my cellar, up to world-class fine wines such as the Contino Viña del Olivo (Waitrose £66) a wine I would urge any lover of Rioja to try. Their Cava is a new wine, to me, and it didn’t disappoint. Rich, creamy, and full of autumn fruits, there’s serious depth and complexity on show here, with highlights of citrus and white currant, balanced by honey and yeast. Another class act from CVNE.

6. Balfour Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Blancs – English sparkling wine has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, and is now rightly said to rival the world’s best. I’ve enjoyed several excellent examples this year, and many have come from Balfour. We toasted the Jubilee with a bottle of their joyous Hush Heath Estate Rosé (Waitrose £33.99 on offer, down from £39.99), and two of their wines make this list.

The Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Blancs ( £45) is a serious, refined, elegant wine. The citrusy nose is tinted with coconut and lime leaves, while the palate offers apples, melon, biscuity yeast, and touch of peachy ripeness on the finish.

5. Balfour Hush Heath Estate 2018 Blanc de Noirs ( £45) provided a fascinating contrast. Still young, I let this breathe for a couple of hours, and it opened with a shot of pure raspberry fruit before robust tones of brambles, red apples, minerals and pears come through. This impressive wine will age well, I suspect, though it’s hard to resist now, and would be glorious with smoked salmon.

If you feel like pushing the boat out, Balfour have just released their Archive Collection 2008 ( £120). Showing the remarkable ageing potential of English fizz, it’s on my must-taste list for 2023.

4. Taittinger 2015 (John Lewis £60) – my second champagne is an absolute pearl of a wine, 2015 was an exceptional vintage and Taittinger have taken full advantage of this. Typically stylish, the nose combines grapes, white flowers, peaches and yeast. In the mouth flavours of white berries, peach stones, black grapes, vanilla, and minerals effortlessly flow together, to give a silken, seamless experience. It’s a beautiful wine, one the despite its delicacy has the capacity to age and develop.

3. Gosset Grande Reserve (Waitrose £50) – there are many wonderful things about Gosset’s wines. They are made to exacting standards in the pursuit of perfection, they are stylish, strikingly powerful and intense, yet have such charm. The Grande Reserve is incredibly precise, the nose wonderfully delineated with notes of red berries, citrus, yeast, and dried pears. On the palate it seizes your attention with an intense attack of red and white berries, followed by rich, creamy tones of peaches, vanilla, mirabelles and minerals. Try this with smoked fish and white meats.

2. Graham Beck Vintage Rosé – I’ve been an admirer of Graham Beck’s wines for decades. The Graham Beck Brut (Majestic £11.99) has been our house fizz for years and yet every time I open a bottle I exclaim “Such a good wine.”

The vintage rosé takes their efforts to a whole new level. This is a sublime, a fizz that’s fit to grace anyone’s festive table. Deep pink with amber highlights, the nose is a blend of strawberries, cherries, and a hint of minty citrus. The palate is broad, rich, and offers a range of red berries, cherries, lime, and orange zest. The best value rosé sparkler in the UK? Probably.

1. Taittinger Prelude (John Lewis £55) – and so we come to not only my wine of choice for Christmas, but my wine of the year. I had this for the first time in 2020 and I’ve used any excuse to open a bottle since. Made from grapes from Grand Cru vineyards and given a luxurious six years of bottle ageing (double the usual amount for a non-vintage wine), this is a remarkable wine. The nose is a mellow mix of yellow skinned fruits suffused with vanilla, and a lovely savoury tone. The palate is succulent, packed with fruit and has Taittinger’s signature peaches in syrup tone to finish. This is a wine that fascinates and delights in equal measure, and will certainly make for a happy Christmas in my house.

Well, that’s it for 2022 from me. I hope you will try some of these wines and that you will have a fine Christmas.

All together now, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…