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…!


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.


Raising a glass to Australian wine

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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…

Celebration of Champagne with Giles Luckett

Round & About


Round & About’s resident wine columnist gives his top picks of Champagne which are worth a pop!

Hello. I’ve just returned from my latest foray into the wonderful world of wine, this time a visit to one of my favourite regions, Champagne. To many champagne is a by-word for celebration; the wine with which to mark life’s highlights. While I wouldn’t disagree with this sentiment, that is to overlook champagne’s place as one of the great wines, one that can be enjoyed with food or as a celebration in itself.

In my latest column for Round and About, I’ll give you a brief guide to this fascinating region, its styles, and run down of my top ten champagnes. So, without further ado, let’s talk chalk.

Champagne: Beauty isn’t skin deep

Take a former inland sea, a hill with delusions of grandeur, trillions of dead fish, a good supply of trees, and place them in cool, north-western France, and what do you get? You get the world’s greatest sparkling wine region, Champagne. 

Beneath a thin layer of largely poor soils, lies meters of ancient chalk. It’s this chalk that allows grapes to ripen in what would otherwise be (pre-climate change) an inhospitable place for vines. By leaching heat and storing water, the vast chalk deposits that underlay the region, Champagne manages to get chardonnay alongside the black grapes of pinot noir and pinot meunier to ripen and produce its wondrous wines.

For many of the top champagne houses – names such as Taittinger, Ruinart, Moet & Chandon, and Gosset – the chalk plays another vital role in the creation of these singular wines: ageing.

In the 5th century Roman settlers planted vines here. The name Champagne derives from the Latin’ campania’ in reference to the rolling hills of Campanula near Rome which the area resembles. When they arrived, they discovered very little in the way of building materials on the surface and so they started to dig. They soon discovered the vast deposits of chalk which they excavated to build cities such as Reims and Epernay, leaving behind huge subterranean caves – the ‘crayeres’ as they are now known – in their wake.

Today, many of these are used to house champagne while it slowly matures. Given the crayeres impressive depth – some go down over 30 metres – they provide the continuously cool, vibration-free environment the wines need as they develop.

Time is an essential element in the production of champagne. Even non-vintage wines, those blended from several harvests, received at least 18 months of bottle ageing prior to release, and vintage wines, ones from a single year, needing at least 3 years. And when it comes to rare cuvee de prestige wines such as Taittinger’s sublime Comte de Champagne or Gosset’s Celebris, a decade or more of ageing may be required.

Champagne’s Grapes and Styles

Given the wine itself is white or rosé, it may come as a surprise to you that most wines are made with black and white grapes. Around 75% of champagne’s grapes are black, the rest being made up of chardonnay.

As the juice of almost all grapes is white when pressed, the colour comes from contact with skins, and while there are seven authorised varieties in Champagne, the three most important vines are:

Chardonnay – which produces mineral-rich wines with wonderfully pure fruit, fragrance, and aromas

Pinot Noir – an aristocratic red grape that gives acidity, backbone, depth, and body to the wines

Pinot Meunier – rarely seen elsewhere, pinot meunier adds fruitiness and roundness to the finished blend

In terms of styles, that is largely in the hands of the winemaker and even wines produced from similar blends – the ‘cepage’ – can deliver markedly different wines. Try a bottle of Taittinger’s Prelude with its ripe, peaches in syrup fruit, subtle yeasty undertow, and generous weight beside Gosset’s equally long-aged Grande Reserve and you’d be forgiven for thinking the wines were made in different regions. The Grande Reserve is high-toned and fresh, with a piercing citrus flavour that’s softened by a rich seam of red berries and creamy yeast.

In terms of labels, the following are the styles you are most likely to see:

Brut – this is a dry wine which has a limit to the amount of sugar that gets added to the wines – the ‘dosage’. In the case of a Brut wine, this is less than 12g of residual sugar per litre. Brut is a movable feast, however, and some Houses have residual sugar levels that are close to the limit while others, such as Gosset, tend to be far lower

Demi-Sec – this is an off-dry champagne that is often served as an aperitif or with deserts

Blanc de Blanc – white wine made from white grapes; this is invariably 100% chardonnay. Most of these wines are good for early drinking while the fruit is young and bright, but given the structure of Champagne’s chardonnay, some blanc de blanc can age wonderfully. Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne is routinely aged for a decade before release and will reward another decade or more of cellarage. I’ve enjoyed venerable bottles of Ruinart’s R de Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, and my recent encounter with the sublime Gosset Blanc de Blancs show it’s a wine that has time on its side

Blanc de Noir – made exclusively from black grapes, blanc de noir is an odd category. Much of the cheap (and let’s face it, nasty) supermarket champagne is blanc de noir and is made almost exclusively from pinot meunier with the aim of being drunk young. At the other end of the scale, you have wines such as Bollinger’s Vielle Vignes Francaise or Krug Clos d’Ambonnay which combine extraordinary power, depth, and concentration and are amongst Champagne’s most revered (and expensive) wines

Rosé – in Champagne this is invariably bone dry and can be made in one of two ways. The first is to allow the grape to come into contact with the black grape skins and bleed its colour into it the must – the ‘saignee’ method. The alternative is to add around 15% of red wine to the white

Champagne’s Best 10 Wines

The following is my top ten and is based on a combination of excellence, value, and availability. It would be easy for me to reel of the off top ten greatest champagnes I’ve ever had, and some of them are included on this list. But unless you work in the trade or have a bank balance the size of Moet’s marketing budget, listing the likes of Krug’s Clos de Mesnil 1982 (£3,300) isn’t that helpful. 

Now, the following represents ten wines that show champagne’s diversity, styles, and that its brilliance doesn’t have to be reserved for special occasions:

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (£150 Waitrose) – Comtes is an astonishing wine. 100% chardonnay – so a blanc de blanc – logic would suggest that it wouldn’t stand up to a decade of aging before release, let alone that it would cellar well for years to come. Equally how does a chardonnay have such intensity, complexity and depth of flavour? Comte’s nose is flowers and white berries with a whiff of creamy yeast.  On the palate it begins as a gentle vanilla mousse, but this soon builds as tones of apple, preaches in syrup, minerals and brioche flood in. Yes, it’s expensive, but in terms of quality phenomenal and is well-priced when viewed against its peers.

Gosset Grand Rosé (Ocado £60) – Gosset’s wines are intense, precise, capable of seemingly endless ageing, and wonderfully sophisticated. Their Grand Rosé is pale pink, with a nose that combines fresh summer berries, pear drops, and yeast. In the mouth it’s clean, tangy and fresh with an underlying richness and power. This is a wine for the mind as well as the mouth, and I would urge any wine lover to try it. 

Vilmart Grands Reserve (The Champagne Company £35) – Vilmart is a small, high-quality house that takes a Burgundian approach to making wine. Visit winemaker Laurent Champs and you’ll find a small, pristine cellar that’s lined with new oak barrels. Oak ageing is at the heart of what Vilmart does, and it imparts a richness and weight to their wines, giving a creamy mouthfeel without smothering the fine red and white berry fruits.

Taittinger Prelude (The Champagne Company £48.50) – while the Taittinger Prestige Rosé (Majestic £44.99) was named as the ‘Best Rosé’ by Good Food Magazine in 2022, the Prelude is probably my favourite Taittinger. Such is my ardour for this glorious wine, that at my recent visit I passed up a second glass of Comte de Champagne 2012 (lovely, but so young) in favour of this. Prelude is aged for six years prior to release, and this gives the Grand Cru chardonnay and pinot noir fruit time to mellow and soften. Mid-gold, the nose is a complex blend of yellow autumn fruits, honey and citrus. In the mouth it’s weighty and ripe, but with that signature Taittinger elegance. 

Roederer Brut Premier (£35 Majestic) – I first encountered this while working at Harrods as part of a tasting that included every champagne in the shop – over 100 wines. This was a standout for me and remains one of my favourites. The ripe, peach, apricot, and citrus nose gives way to rich, weighty, brioche and red berry palate that oozes class and refinement.

Alfred Gratien (£38 Vinatis) – Alfred Gratien is one of a few Houses that still age their wines in oak – other notable Houses include Krug and Bollinger. The barrels in question are old and the idea isn’t to add a vanilla flavour, but to allow micro-oxygenation (apparently) that imparts a richness and roundness to the wines. Richness is certainly a key trait. These are super-ripe, luxurious, sumptuous wines with a baked apple tone that’s balanced by minerals and a touch of salinity. 

Adnams Selection Rosé (Adnams £33.99) – there’s a lot to be said for own-label or buyers’ own brand champagnes. In many cases these wines are from prestigious Houses who create bottlings for merchants. This is definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s made by Blin, an excellent, but not that well-known House, and gives you a lot of wine for your money. Deeply pink, the nose is an enticing blend of red berries, citrus, and brioche. The palate is broad, rich, and satisfying but with enough freshness to keep it balanced.

Billecart Salmon Rosé (Laithwaites £60) – I first bought ‘Billy Rosé’ as we call it as it had a pretty bottle, and pretty is a good way to describe the wine. The pretty in pink colour is flecked with amber highlights, while the nose is a complex, fragrant blend of black fruits, rose petals, and yellow plums. The palate is soft, silky and loaded with strawberries and raspberries, minerals and a lovely yeasty finish. This is a great champagne to serve with lamb, salmon, and chicken.

Pol Roger Brut Reserve (Waitrose £39) –Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne, and their cuvee de prestige is named in his honour. This is a traditional style of wine that never disappoints.  The nose combines intense berry fruit with brioche and white flowers.  The palate is taut, refined, and gives the sense of everything being where it should be giving a perfect balance to a rounded, yet clean tasting wine.

Dom Perignon (£160 Sainsbury’s) – despite its vast production and rising price, this remains an excellent wine. Best drunk a few years after release, Dom Perignon is a charmer of a wine. Its appeal lies in its complexity, which is admirable, and it offers a classic ‘biscuity’ nose that combines berry fruit with yeast and honey. The palate is typically rich and rounded, with noticeable flavours of Mirabelle plum, raspberries, peaches, and offers a long, complex finish.

Until next time…

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetites for all things Champagne. Next time I’ll look at some reds that will make the long autumn evenings seem just a little too short.



Wines for autumn with Giles Luckett

Round & About


Round & About’s resident wine columnist gives his top picks for the new season – mellow wines for the mellow season!

Hello. As a wine lover, I’ve always liked autumn as a season. Unlike winter or summer, where the weather and food tend to prescribe reds or whites, autumn, with its early warmth and latter chill, offers a much broader palate to work with.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and the following suggestions make for the perfect accompaniment to this golden transition.

First up is a white from Portugal, The Lisboa Valley Selection (The Wine Society £7.95). Portuguese reds have been a favourite of the wine trade for some time now, but the whites have never quite caught people’s attention. I tried this for the first time last year, and it’s become a regular in our house. Offering an intriguing combination of freshness – grapefruit, green apples, and watermelon – with a balancing richness – peaches and dried pears – it has a tang of Atlantic salt to the finish. Marvellous with seafood, it’s also lovely on its own.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’

Next is a wine from Sicily, a wine-producing island that has seen its fortunes soar in the last decade or so as winemakers have got to grips with the natural gifts they have been afforded. My recommendation is the Nostru Catarratto Lucido (Kwoff £12.49). This organic wine is made from the rare (I certainly had to look it up) Catarratto grape. Mid-gold in colour, it offers a complex nose of jasmine cut with almonds and peach stones. The palate is fresh and tangy with plenty of gooseberries and white currants, but this soon deepens as greengages, peaches, and apricots come in at the end.

And for my last white, we have one from another region whose fame lies with its reds. Abruzzo sits east of Rome, where its coast borders the Adriatic. Its Montepulciano is a great source of inexpensive, often highly drinkable reds, such as Tesco’s Finest Montepulciano (£7).

Whites are thinner on the ground, but wines such as the Contessa Abruzzo Pecorino (£9.95) are well worth seeking out. Pecorino gives fragrant wines with plenty of citrus freshness that also offer riper notes of apricots, Mirabelle plums, nuts, and dried herbs. The Contessa is an excellent example of this, and I found it went well with creamy cheese pasta – one that was loaded with pecorino cheese, funnily enough.

There will now be a short interval for a glass of Champagne.

I’m a huge fan of Champagne. Good as sparkling wines are, even the best cannot match the complexity, elegance, and depth of the greatest sparkling wine on Earth. While I am a fan of many houses, the one I keep coming back to is Taittinger. Across the range, their wines are the epitome of style, and their Prelude (John Lewis £55) is arguably the best sub-£100 Champagne on the market. But it’s to the Taittinger Brut Reserve (Tesco £39) I’d like to give a nod to. This is a show-stopping wine. Mid-gold, the tiny, even bubbles (‘bead’ if you want to get technical), lift notes of spring flowers, red apples, citrus, and yeast. In the mouth, it’s gentle yet persistent, and at its core is a glorious note of peaches in syrup that is offset by taut acidity and creamy yeastiness.

And so to the reds.

You can’t talk about wines that boast mellow fruitfulness and not mention Rioja. Rioja’s reputation is at an all-time high. A succession of good vintages coupled with innovation and investment from leading producers has made the wines of this fantastic region world-beaters.

One that’s been turning my head lately is the Cune Reserva 2017 (Majestic £12.99), and it’s autumn bottled. The nose is a smoky, rich mix of red and blackberries with highlights of citrus fruits and spices. The medium-bodied palate is loaded with crushed black fruits, vanilla, cranberries, and liquorice, and finishes with a fresh, fruits of the forest in cream flourish. Magnificent now with hearty tomato dishes or red meats, it will improve over the next three to five years.

South African wine has undergone a reinvention to match Australia’s over the past couple of decades. Their traditional ‘big is better’ approach has been replaced by the pursuit of perfection done their way. Like Australia, South Africa has a hugely diverse mix of soils and microclimates that lend themselves to the creation of truly fine wines. One of these is the Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon (Cellar Door Wines £19.95). Cabernet Sauvignon is often said to be the king of red grapes, one that is capable of producing aristocratic wines that combine elegance, power, and longevity. The Neil Ellis shows these characteristics to the hilt. Inky black, the nose is an inviting mix of blackcurrants, prunes, and mint, while the palate offers a powerful mix of cassis, raspberries, chocolate, and a whiff of cigar smoke. I had this with a cheeseboard – and it was excellent – but with a fine steak or mushroom risotto, I think it would be even better.

And finally, a claret. I don’t recommend red Bordeaux that much these days because the good wines tend to be horribly expensive, and the cheap ones are just horrible. Stalwarts like Château Talbot – a wine I used to buy for under £30 – will now set you back over £60 a bottle. Great vintages, hysterical scores from critics, and wine investors have sent prices skyward and left drinkers out in the cold.

It was with deep joy then that I recently tasted the 2016 Caronne St. Gemme (Majestic Wines £16.99). The Nony family has worked wonders with this excellent estate, and the winemaker claims that the 2016 is the best wine he’s ever made. Classical nose of blackcurrants, smoke, cigars, and grilled meats, the medium-bodied palate is choc-full of plums, currants, blackberries, and chocolate, that lead to a long, well-integrated, satisfying finish. Just starting to open up, it will be fascinating to see how this develops.

Until next time...

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetite. Next time out, I’ll look at some affordable fizz.