Spring Whites

Round & About


Feel fresh this year with a crop of palate pleasers – Giles Luckett reviews some seasonally appropriate wines

Spring is in the air.  Well, spring rain is in the air at least, and the new season calls for a fresh crop of wines.   For this month’s column, I’ve looked for classics that will pair with the new season’s produce alongside a couple of head turners that you may not have encountered before.  Anyway, enough preamble, let the recommendations flow…

I’ll start with a wine that’s always been synonymous with spring, Muscadet.  One of the breakthrough wines of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Muscadet played a big part in turning the UK into a nation of wine lovers.  At its best, it’s as fresh as a spring morning, with citrusy fruit offset by a yeasty tone and a taste of the sea that makes it the perfect partner to fish and seafood – it’s glorious with new season oysters.  The Adnams Muscadet (Adnams £9.99) is as a delicious example of this classic wine, providing the complexity that many a more expensive Chablis can only dream of.  Dry, crisp, and loaded with green apple, melon, and greengage fruit, the creamy-saline finish makes for a surprisingly satisfying glassful.

Next up the first of two Rieslings.  Riesling is invariably an excellent wine, but many people are put off as they think it will be sweet.  Riesling is capable of astonishing sweet wines such as the fabled Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Mueller (a snip at around £10,000+ a bottle), but most New World producers focus on producing crisp, dry wines that are as food-focused as my Springer Spaniel.   A great example is the Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling (Waitrose £10.99).  White gold, the piercing bouquet comprises of apple blossom, citrus, and white peaches with a suggestion of honey and lime.  On the palate, it’s just as complex, with green and white fruits vying with minerals and a rapier-like grapefruit acidity.   This is just the thing for new- season asparagus or a herby spring chicken.

Staying with Riesling, we have something that shows this grape’s incredible range.  The Empire Estate Dry Riesling Reserve (Good Wine Good People £34.50) hails from New York’s Finger Lakes region.  This is an arresting iteration of Riesling that nods at France’s great Alsace Rieslings in its dryness and piercing intensity, but it is very much a Finger Lakes wine in its sophisticated, slightly idiosyncratic style.  Pale green-gold with an evolved nose of candied lemons, grapefruit, apple blossom, and a green herb bitterness, it seems to change with each inhalation.   In the mouth, almond-tinted grapefruit leads the fresh, tangy attack.  This is followed by ripe pears, peach stones, a white peel bitterness, and a very fresh, lemony acidity that’s mellowed by honey and minerals.  This is a wine to buy by the case and see how it evolves over the coming decade.

Viognier is an interesting, not to say mercurial grape.  In California, it can produce buttery behemoths, while in South Africa it tends towards leaner, cleaner wines.  In its home of France’s Rhône Valley, it can produce wines that combine freshness with depth, power with finesse as showcased by the Chapoutier Combe Pilate Viognier (London End Wines £15).  Opening up with a surprisingly subtle nose of apricots, oranges, and bergamot against a background of citrus, it was love at first sip.  Supercharged with fruit and very fresh, it quickly develops in the mouth revealing juicy apricots, peaches, and vanilla spice that contrasts beautifully with the firm mineral and lemon finish.  This would be lovely with baked white fish, pan-fried poultry, or salmon.

A good Chardonnay is always a treat and is the ideal foil to spring staples such as roast pork, goats’ cheese and rocket salad, or roasted guinea fowl.  I recently tasted one from Austria, the Allacher Chardonnay Reserve (Good Wine Good People £24).  I’m a big fan of Austrian wines, though my experience has been largely confined to their stylish Rieslings and brilliant Gruner Veltliners.  This was an unusual and delicious take on this noble variety.  Deep gold, the nose brims with honey-coated tropical fruits with a soft, perfumed edge.  Big and bold, the generous palate has a creamy texture and is suffused with baked apples, apricots, honeydew melon, vanilla, and spices before the fresh, zingy finish adds a refreshing balance.

Sauvignon Blanc is another great spring wine.  Its freshness and easy drinking nature means it lends itself well to garden sipping or as a partner to new season treats like steamed Jersey Royals, creamed broad beans, or roasted celeriac.  Sauvignon grows well all over the world except for Tasmania, apparently, where a leading winemaker told me it was a ‘weed that needs grubbing up’.  I touched a nerve there, it seems.  South African wineries are better disposed to it and when you taste wines like the Journey’s End ‘Eagle Owl’ (Majestic £9.99) it’s easy to see why.  Rhubarb and gooseberries are the signatures of this weighty, rounded Sauvignon.  The nose is bright, zesty, and suitably intense, but – as with the body – it’s not green peppers and citrus that dominate, there’s more to it than that.  Over a bedrock of acidity is overlain a tart-sweet tone of stewed rhubarb with a sherbet edge and some riper flavours from the gooseberries, giving a wine that’s refreshing and seriously good fun.

I’ll finish on a patriotic note with an English wine, the Denbies Chardonnay 2022 (Denbies £24.50).  When I started in wine, England’s vineyards were just about getting marginal grapes like Müller-Thurgau – which usually tastes as good as it sounds – to produce something.  Roll forward thirty years and leading English wineries like Denbies are being spoken of by the likes of Oz Clarke as being capable of giving Burgundy a run for its money.  On the evidence of this, I think he has a point.  The nose is creamy, nutty, fruity, and harmonious with the rich red apple and peach fruit freshened by lemon and lime.  On the palate, it has a lovely peachy texture that displays nectarine, red apple, and lychees with a honey and lemon coating.  Thoroughly impressive it shows that English wine, not just English sparkling wine, is capable of being a world-beater.

Well, that’s it from me for now.  Next time I’ll be joining in the World Malbec Day celebrations and running down (bigging up) my top ten Malbecs.



For the love of wine

Round & About


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A celebration of Australian wine

Round & About


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

Hello! And a belated happy new year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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….


Chile: home of affordable fine wines?

Round & About


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

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

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

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

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

Top Chilean fine wines 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Homage to the wines of Yalumba

Round & About


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

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

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

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

Louisa Rose – head of winemaking at Yalumba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yalumba wines you must try

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Best Portuguese wines you can buy

Round & About


Think you know Portuguese wines? Round & About’s wine columnist says it’s time to drink again as he explores the cool climate wines of the Douro Valley

One of the great joys of wine is discovery. From new vintages of old favourites to wines from regions you’ve not encountered before, there’s always something to arrest your attention.

Every now and again, however, you come across wines that are not merely surprising but revelatory. Such epiphanies don’t come often, but when they do, they can change the way you think about wine.

I had just such an experience last week when I toured Portugal’s Douro Valley. To most wine lovers, the Douro – and Portugal as a whole means one wine, port. That fabled, seemingly immortal fortified wine is one of the world’s greats, but as I discovered on my trip, there’s a lot more to the Douro than just port…

“Fresh, elegant, tangy, and precise.” These are Portuguese tasting notes I’ve published precisely once, just now. Until recently, I thought of Portuguese wines as being big, intense, powerful wines which can take years of cellaring to open up, and that was just the whites. My recent trip showed me how things have changed. A quiet revolution has swept winemaking in this stunning land, and now delicate whites and refreshing, complex reds are popping up all over the upper reaches of the valley.

The Douro Valley: A Hotbed of Cool Climate Wines

So, let’s set the scene. The Douro Valley lies in northern Portugal on schist – I said schist – and granite soils. With steep slopes, plenty of sun and just enough rainfall, it’s an ideal place to produce grapes. Here endeth the Wine Spirit Education Trust (WSET) lesson. What WSET doesn’t make sufficient note of is the region’s altitude. The Douro can rise to over 700m, which provides the cool conditions required to produce fresh, elegant, tangy, and precise (second time) whites, reds, and even ports, as the following show.

The Pedra No. 03 White Port, Quinta Da Pedra Alta NV (N.D. John Wine Merchants £17.95)) tastes as good as it looks. And let’s face it; it looks beautiful. Three firsts for me here. One, being offered a cocktail – Pedra No. 03 with tonic – at a wine tasting. Second, tasting a white port I loved – I’ll be discovering unicorns next. And thirdly, being told by a winemaker not to worry too much about the grape mix. Portugal has more native grapes than any other country in the world – 250+. Chilled on its own, this presents a lovely peach, pear and honeysuckle nose with just a hint of almonds. In the mouth, it’s generous, flavoured with a combination of white berries, grapes, citrus and honey. There is sweetness, but the freshness keeps it balanced and clean. This crowd-pleaser is well-worth seeking out.

As our guide, the amazing Ana took us through our itinerary; a question popped into my head. ‘Does Portugal make sparkling wine?’ Before I could ask, she told me we’d be tasting several, and the Chão da Portela Bruto was my favourite. Traditionally made, it showed a nose of apples, peaches and yeast, while on the palate, there were tropical fruits, red apples, melon, red berries, and creamy yeast. A great fizz for what I suspect will be a great price, given what it goes for in Europe; it’s not imported to the UK yet, but when it does come in, stock up.

What can I say about the Manoella, Douro Branco, Wine & Soul 2020 (Tanners £17.95). Well, fresh, elegant, tangy, and precise are all terms that spring to mind (third time). There’s serious complexity here, too though. Layers of green and white fruits, lemons and a good dose of minerals produce a wine that’s made for seafood or white meats, which has the capacity to age and develop.

Port producers have been at the vanguard of these new Douro wines, and Kopke’s Quinta Sao Luiz Colheita Branco (Ocado £12.50) is excellent. Mid-gold in colour, there’s freshness and depth on the nose with musky, orange blossom notes lifted by grapefruit and lemon. The palate’s weighty, full of yellow plums, peaches and apricots, before a strident fresh acidity comes in at the end.

Stepping up a level, we have Quanta Terra ‘Terra a Terra’ Branco (FESTA £21.50). Lemons, limes, and grapefruit make for a mouth-watering opening before apples, peaches in syrup, and green herbs are added to the mix. This is a seriously good wine which has the power and persistence to go well with everything from pork to hard cheeses.

And so, to the reds. I’ve had hundreds of Portuguese red wines over the years. Generally, they’ve been excellent, on the weighty side, and great value. The 2018 Pedra a Pedra Tinto (Taurus Wines £16.99) shows two of these characteristics, but rather than being weighty; it’s lively, red berry driven and soft as a sigh. Raspberries, strawberries, and redcurrants are all on show, with an undercurrent of spices, herbs, and a touch of creamy vanilla—just the thing for roast lamb or roasted vegetable couscous.

The Pedacos Grande Reserva 2018 is another wine that isn’t imported as yet. This is a great shame as it’s a fantastically food-friendly wine. I tried it with wheelbarrow barbecued steak, and it was a marriage made in heaven, even if the nuptials were conducted in an alley behind the winery. Deep brooding colour, I thought it would be an old school bruiser, but beyond the plum, cooked blackberry, and cherry fruit, there was a vibrancy that was fresh, elegant, oh, and tangy. This has time on its side, and it’ll be fascinating to see it and how the Pedacos winery evolves.

I’ll finish, as so many great meals do, with a vintage port, the Quinta da Pedra Alta 2018 Vintage Port (Bancroft Wines £50.99). Vintage port is a rare wine, the product of a single year’s harvest; it makes up a tiny proportion of the port houses’ production, but it is often the wine they are judged by.

At best, it’s sumptuous, complex, rich, and capable of ageing for decades. What it never is, especially in youth, is fresh, elegant, and tangy. The Quinta da Pedra Alta 2018 is, and it’s all the more joyous for it. Even at this tender age, it offers masses of sweetly toned black fruits, cherries, figs, prunes, and herbs, but it does so in an elegantly balanced way. Whereas most vintage ports are about as wieldy as the Isle of Man when young, you could drink this now with food as table wine. It’s that refined and approachable.

I hope you will give Portuguese wines a try – particularly these new-wave wines from the Douro. They can be sensational and make for fascinating drinking.

Next time out, barbecue reds.

More soon…


Wine Tourism has been extremely popular over the last few years, either through organised tours or so-called DIY trips. If you’re thinking of doing one, I’d strongly recommend the Douro. The region is stunningly beautiful, the wineries are welcoming and the range of wines on the show is as breath-taking as the views.

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…!