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My Monthly Sweep of the Wine Scene

As I indicated recently, numerical analytics tell me that the longer posts I used to provide every Thursday were less popular than other posts.

It’s understandable really given that time is the most precious commodity for most of us and, once gone, is irrecoverable.

Consequently, things here have been re-shaped to give two short posts most weeks that concentrate either on Top Tips or on whatever supermarket offers are currently available. 

However, my 2019 survey did confirm that there remains a thirst for more detailed knowledge even if its acquisition is not the top priority.

So, I have distilled the most popular items (Discounter Discoveries, Sunday Best and Pick of the Clicks) into a single monthly post.

Today heralds the arrival of the first of these posts which puts its Discounter focus on Aldi but also provides briefer versions of those other features.

To space out posts, this new one launches on a Wednesday while, for this week, the review of promotions will be on Friday.

 One aspect that is preserved however, is the provision of hyperlinks and pictures where it makes sense to include them.

First up is Austria’s signature grape

It’s such a shame that when UK drinkers turned their backs on German wines 40 years ago, “guilt by association” meant that enthusiasm for Austrian fare dwindled too.

Thus it was that successive generations denied themselves the absolute delight that well-made gruner veltliner like this provides – but, admittedly, not often at this keen price.

Beautifully clean tasting and carefully balanced, 2020 Specially Selected Gruner Veltliner (£6.99 at Aldi and 12.5% abv) has savoury edged greengage, pear and apple flavours partnered by lively acidity set against a gentle, slightly nutty background.

Another misunderstood grape

The mere mention of pinot grigio will wrinkle a thousand snooty wine drinkers’ noses but get the climate, yields and winemaking right (and use its French name to signal your seriousness) and the results can be brilliant.

See, in this example, how Languedoc’s Jean-Claude Mas makes the variety positively sing in a version that forms part of Aldi’s Pierre Jaurant range of French wines.

Light in texture and aromatic, 2020 Pierre Jaurant Pinot Gris (£6.99 at Aldi and 13%) provides peach, mandarin orange and soft fruit flavours with pithiness, sharp grapefruit acidity, apple blossom influences and traces of mace and honey.

Taking a step up

While the eastern end of the Loire may claim to be the capital of quality 100% sauvignon blanc wines, Bordeaux has few peers when it comes to sauvignon based blends.

While the price quickly heads north, outstanding blends certainly emanate from Pessac-Leognan (within Bordeaux’s Graves region) and this is a great example with contributions from semillon, muscadelle and sauvignon gris as well, of course, as sauvignon blanc.

Smooth and lanolin like, 2019 Domaine La Roche (£19.99 at Aldi and 13%:) has pineapple, ripe melon, mango and apple flavours partnered by lime acidity, herbal substance and suggestions of mint, lavender and orange peel.

Red wines next

Although geographically part of Languedoc, the wines and geology of Costières de Nîmes closely resemble those in the Rhȏne Valley – as the wine on display here demonstrates.

Consequently, the area was eventually switched to form part of the Rhȏne regional committee’s jurisdiction – but not until 2004.

Full and dense, 2020 Specially Selected Costières de Nîmes (£6.99 at Aldi and 13.5%) brings us smoky cherry, damson and blackberry flavours accompanied by good acidity, firm tannin and touches of baking spice, balsamic, liquorice, black pepper and coffee. 

And something much less familiar

Greece’s Nemea region in the Peloponnese is well known for the quality of the wines made there from the (essentially local) agiorgitiko grape

Despite its above average price tag, this version – by an accomplished Greek producer – is well worth a closer look for anyone seeking a different style of red wine.

Medium bodied with a suspicion of sweetness, 2018 Greek Agiorghitiko (£10.99 at Aldi online only at present and 13.5%) delivers bright cranberry, cherry and rhubarb fool flavours supported by firm acidity (but limited tannin) with menthol, milk chocolate and star anise elements.

Now for some bubbles

Expensive land and other costs keep English wine prices relatively high but the quality of this sparkling wine, made for Aldi by Devon’s Lyme Bay Winery, is impressive and fully justifies digging a little deeper.

Despite its slightly lazy bubbles, Bowler & Brolly English Sparkling Wine (£15.99 at Aldi and 12%) has zingy freshness encompassing floral grapefruit, orange and white peach flavours embellished by pithy lemon acidity and a gentle savoury finish.

February’s Sunday Best

This is my regular look at special occasion wines that have that little extra style and, as a result, sometimes (but not always) cost a little more.

First a red

As a successful variation on the GSM theme so common in Southern France, Languedoc is becoming adroit at adding carignan instead of mourvedre to that classic grenache and syrah mix.

Here a 20% carignan contribution creates a great blend subtly reflecting the reduced sturdiness and raspberry – rather than blackberry – flavours of that variety when compared to mourvedre.  

Warm and robust, if slightly rural, 2020 Paul Mas Languedoc Reserve Rouge (£9.39 at Waitrose and 14%) exhibits rich cherry, elderberry and blackberry flavours supported by balanced acidity, firm tannin and suggestions of rosemary, baking spice and eucalyptus within its savoury (but not intrusive) background. 

And a luxury white

With spring frosts significantly reducing the volumes of Chablis expected from the 2021 harvest (down over 40% by some forecasts), now may be the right time to raid the piggy bank for some tasty older vintages like this.

Fourchaume is noted for the richness of its wines resulting perhaps from the increased hours of sunshine its western and south western orientation affords.

Creamy in texture with chalk and flint minerality, 2018 Simonnet Febvre Premier Cru Fourchaume (£25 at Tesco and 13%) centres on soft pear, red apple and ripe melon flavours embellished by lively acidity and a lees richness that incorporates toffee, herbal and even vague honey influences.

(Sunday) Best of the Rest

  • 2020 Irresistible Marsanne (£8 at the Co-op and 13%) – Aromatic pear and quince based white from Languedoc.
  • 2021 Blind Spot Pinot Meunier (£12.95 at The Wine Society and 11%) – Australian take on a champagne grape to create (almost) rosé wine with gentle raspberry and red currant flavours.
  • 2020 Bardolino doc Classico Vigne Alte, Zeni (£10.99 at House of Townend and 12.5%) – Medium bodied, lively cherry and red currant centred red from a seriously neglected Italian region
  • 2018 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel (£12 – instead of £15 until 1 March – at Sainsbury’s and 14.5%) – Damson and dried herb flavoured Californian red with (as its name implies) an unusual maturation process.
  • 2020 Mas de Tannes Rouge Sans Sulfites (£11.95 at Vintage Roots and 13.5%) – Dense and rounded Languedoc GSM wine with mulberry and plum flavours but no sulphides.
  • 2018 Sagrato Chianti Riserva (£10.79 at Waitrose and 13%) Typical intense and full cherry dominated chianti with sweet aromas but a savoury texture.  

Ending the section with a sparkle

English sparkling wines from 2018 get a great press as a fine vintage so it was pleasing indeed to see the recent release of the Classic Cuvee from Rathfinny near Alfriston in the Sussex Downs.

It is a classic blend too with 50% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay and the rest pinot meunier.

After its initial exuberance, Rathfinny Classic Cuvee Brut (£29.50 from the winery and 12%) yields up delightfully clean, green apple, peach and orange flavours coupled with sharp grapefruit acidity, floral aromas and a long finish containing some contrasting saline elements.

Pick of the Clicks

Here are my February tips for wine available online.

We start with an Italian red

This red is made by a traditional Tuscan technique that adds partly dried grapes to new wines, which consequently re-ferment over winter, creating something that is softer, less dense and ready sooner than conventional chianti.

That works well in the modestly textured 2020 Cecchi Chianti Governo all’uso Toscano (from £8.99 at Majestic 13%) that is light in colour but exhibits bold, loganberry and cherry flavours accompanied by firm acidity and hints of thyme and allspice, yet only limited tannin.

Then move to the Southern Hemisphere

Chilean chardonnays are currently displaying staggeringly high quality at most price points, which seems to be a richly rewarded pay-off for a quest to find specific sites (notably in the northerly Limari region) with an ideal climate and geology.

Richly rounded, 2020 The Society’s Chilean Limari Chardonnay (£7.25 at The Wine Society – but where stocks are low – and 13.5%) is an excellent example bringing us medium bodied apple and peach flavours accompanied by citrus peel verve and lively acidity with floral, toffee and savoury elements.

Other rich “clickings”

  • 2020 Campanula Pinot Grigio (from £8.99 at www.laithwaites.co.uk) – A smooth and delicate Hungarian white with rich kiwi fruit and ripe melon flavours.
  • 2020 Between Bridges Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99 at www.virginwines.co.uk) –Nicely textured Romanian sauvignon with pithy grapefruit and cooked apple components.  
  • French Red (£8.99 at www.adnams.co.uk):  – Typical everyday Languedoc wine exhibiting figgy cherry and blackberry flavours from a merlot and cabernet franc blend.

Irresistible Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc

Two pieces of good news. This impressive sauvignon that has been on offer in Scotland for a couple of weeks is now available at a reduced price to Co-op members elsewhere in the UK. Best of all, I understand that this new deal prices it at a staggering £4.50.

Other Late News

I am told that Lidl are dropping the price of their Barolo from £11.99 to £8.99 from tomorrow until 2 March. Barolo vintages can differ significantly, but I understand that the Lidl MWs think this particular one is a decent drop. Could be well worth a punt guys.

TALENT SCOUTS

Very helpfully, many MidWeek Wine subscribers tell us about sound wines they have discovered via the Comments section at the end of most posts.

Inspired by their shrewdness and their feel for what most people will enjoy, I am keen to expand those suggestions into a new section within each month’s longer post and to be called “Talent Scouting.”

Any subscriber can become a MidWeek Wines talent scout simply by emailing me to indicate their interest and for us to find an easy way for them to provide details about a wine they have enjoyed.

Obviously, not every submission can be included but every one that is contributes nicely to the “help each other” community that the website has become for many subscribers.

As already mentioned, the usual Thursday post will not appear until Friday this week but its content (what’s currently on offer and where) is unaltered.


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Comments

9 Comments

Gerry Boyle

Thanks Brian ! A great set of reviews ! I’m running out to get a bottle of that Domaine La Roche from Aldi!

Brian Elliott

It is a good option Gerry but I am not sure how many stores have it. This was a Christmas special so may not be available everywhere

Mike Swinden

Thank Brian, great stuff as always. Fyi, I clicked the link to the WS Chardonnay and got “The Society’s Chilean Limarí Chardonnay 2020 is no longer available”

Ewan Murray

Hi – Ewan from The Wine Society here. We’re fresh out of the 2020, but the 2021 is due in at the end of March. Hang in there 😉

Brian Elliott

Thanks Mike for highlighting the problem (obviously those stocks were lower than I thought) but thanks too, Ewan, for providing the solution.

Clare McCready

Asda also has a very decent Costières de Nimes, currently down from £6.00 to £5.50. We’ll worth picking up a couple of bottles.

Brian Elliott

Good shout Clare and one that will enthuse MidWeekers who enjoy reds from that part of the world. Thank you for pointing it out and do think about becoming a Talent Scout as mentioned in the post. This is exactly the sort of tip that the feature is designed to promote ….. Brian

Eddie Walker

Thanks as ever Brian. Just to mention a certain discrepancy with Asda that I encountered. I saw that Zinfandel you flagged up last week as being £6 down from £7 online, as you posted. In store it was £7 and when I pointed out this at customer services was told ”online” prices were not the same as shelf prices … they were prices you could only get by making an online order. General ”rollback” price reductions advertised online were available ok instore. I went to Tesco and bought a bottle of the Fincas Las Moras Malbec at £5 you recommended but also got some bottles of the South African Finest Cinsault that Decanter has at 93 points in the latest edition, red, High Street Choice at an astonishing £5.50!! The latter two are very nice and value for money. I’m afraid the Zinfandel is not to my taste although it was ”interesting”!! Best now.

Brian Elliott

Hi Eddie …. I have raised the point about online prices with Asda and may need to qualify what is said on my website if that is general policy. Thanks for calling attention to it. Glad the malbec hit the spot for you but sorry to hear that the zin failed to do the same. You did say that you had yet to find zinfandel you enjoyed – and that seems to remain the case! …. Brian


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