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By debzbinden, Feb 7 2018 09:38PM


Despite a viticultural heritage going back over 350 years, the modern South Africa winemaking industry has been crucially shaped by developments in the last few decades. A gradual realignment towards globally popular styles has led to an almost balanced split between white and red wine production and significant percentages of major international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This has shift has taken place alongside the premiumisation and increased diversity of wine styles made from the Chenin Blanc grape variety which has found a natural home here and the unique talents of South Africa’s homegrown creation, Pinotage.



In our South African Wine Safari we tasted a selection of widely-available, representative styles. These included the exciting first vintage release of Rustenberg’s fruit-driven varietal Chenin Blanc, Flagstone’s juicy Pinotage and two very different wines from Boekenhoutskloof winemaker Marc Kent’s stable – the absolute bargain Porcupine Ridge vs its big brother The Chocolate Block.


Graham Beck Sparkling Brut Rosé, (£14.99 Majestic)

Made from Champagne varieties but with a character all of its own, this pink "Cap Classique" enjoys a refreshing fruitiness over layers of complexity.


Dawn Patrol Sauvignon Blanc, Cape South Coast, 2016, (£9.99 Waitrose)

Sitting somewhere between the two extremes of Sauvignon stylistics this is a cooler climate example showing bright purity of fruit and a mineral edge.


Rustenberg Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2017, (£9.99 Waitrose)

The maiden vintage for one of Stellenbosch's longest established wineries to produce their exciting expression of South Africa's leading white grape variety.


Porcupine Ridge Syrah, Swartland, 2017, £7.99 (Majestic, Sainsburys, Waitrose)

Top-value, award-winning Rhone-inspired Syrah from the hot-topic region of Swartland.


Flagstone Writers Block Pinotage, Breedekloof, 2015, (£14.99 Amazon)

This distinctive and memorable "bottle of joy" was made from South Africa's flagship grape variety by talented winemaker and storyteller Bruce Jack.


The Chocolate Block, Swartland, 2016, £25 (Majestic, Waitrose)

Showing that blends aren't necessarily inferior, The Chocolate Block is South Africa's brooding cult classic red blend. Reflecting the Swartland trend for Rhône inspired blends, this 2016 vintage is dominated by Syrah (with decreasing component percentages of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and a smidge of Viognier), resulting in a wine as smooth as the name suggests with a dark, spicy finish.


Check out the tastings schedule for details of future #WedNightWineSchool themes and dates.


Happy tasting.


Cheers

Deb x







By debzbinden, Jan 13 2018 02:16PM

2018 is well and truly here and whether you made any resolutions or not, the start of the year is always a good time to think about changing up a few things. #DrinkLessDrinkBetter is all over Twitter at the moment and is as good an excuse as any to experiment a little bit more with your wine purchases. If you’re feeling spoilt for choice here are a few easy ways to start to branch out just a little bit more.


If you like Sauvignon Blanc… then you’re probably going to be spoilt for choice with alternatives. The popularity of the crisp acidity and zingy green flavours that make Sauvignon so refreshing can be found in the taste profile of lots of other white wines. For a home-grown twist on grassiness try the Bacchus grape variety. It thrives in our slightly temperamental winemaking climate and is really being championed as our signature grape variety. Try Bolney Estate Bacchus, £16.99 Waitrose or Chapel Down £13.49 Waitrose


If you like Chardonnay… then it might depend a teensy bit more on what sort of Chardonnay you enjoy. If you’re all about toasty oak then a barrel-fermented or oak-matured Chenin Blanc will have the same kind of complexity but with a little more citrus. Or if it’s the tropical fruit flavours and roundness that you enjoy then Viognier could tick the box. Try Bellingham The Bernard Chenin Blanc £13.49 or Yalumba Y Series Viognier £9.99 Majestic, Sainsburys, Tesco


If you like Pinot Noir... then Beaujolais is an obvious choice, as the Gamay grape has much in common with Pinot Noir’s lower tannins levels and savoury red fruit flavours. A great value Aussie alternative on the lighter-bodied end of things would be Tarrango, a grape variety specially developed there. Try Brown Brothers Tarrango, £7.99 Sainsburys


If you like Shiraz... then a good place to start is its frequent blending companion Grenache. Known as Garnacha in Spain (and also Cannonau in Sicily if you really want to show off), where there are pockets of really special places to grow Garnacha. In particular, look out for the “old vines” style gives the wine a brooding intensity of flavour. Try The Cubist Old Vines Garnacha, £9.99 Waitrose


If you like Cabernet Sauvignon… then Chile’s Carmenère grape variety often shares the cassis/blackcurrant character of Cabernet Sauvignon but with a slightly greener, more medicinal character, often with spicy oak flavours. Try Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenère, £11.99 Majestic


Feel free to get in touch directly with any other specific wine questions and as always, the best way to learn more about wine is to try it so make sure you follow Wine Confidence on Facebook and/or Twitter to hear more about classes and events.


Cheers!


Deb x


By debzbinden, Dec 18 2017 01:22PM


There’s never been a more exciting time for drinks fans in the UK. Gin is booming, craft beer has gone mainstream and the English winemaking scene has exploded in the last few years. Experiences are everything and our local drinks producers are becoming more set up for booze tourism with the “Cellar Door” becoming much more common. As many vineyards, breweries and distilleries are not located in particularly handy reach of public transport though this can be a shame if you want to really experience the products properly. SO much more than a luxury taxi service (but with the added benefit of being your designated driver), the newly established The Grape & Grain tours company has the perfect solution.


Last month I was taken out to road-test a slightly condensed version of the Guildford-based Surrey Hills tour (you can also start from Winchester with a different itinerary). Typically taking in a vineyard, brewery and distillery, drinks expert Joel Eastman hosts the day so that even travelling between stops you get to hear stories, legends and snippets relating to the visits and the fabulous drinks made at each one.


First stop was Greyfriars Vineyard where we were greeted by owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff. While we tasted through a selection of their award-winning sparkling wines they gave us a potted history of the vineyard, how they ended up buying it and the differences between the various styles we were tasting. A fantastic opener to the day with something for everyone. Mike's explanation of the Traditional Method of producing sparkling wine was accessibly inclusive for those newer to the more technical details whereas some of the detail given about lees ageing, the level of oak used in the base wines etc. would also pique the interest of a more involved wine fan.


A short drive then to the Hogsback Brewery where tour guide Barrie was ready with a welcome half on arrival for everyone before talking us through their story approach and range. I’d be the first to admit I’m a complete novice when it comes to Beer tasting so it was a fantastic opportunity to fill in a few overdue gaps in my shamefully limited knowledge. Beer samples were generous and even after a shorter version of the tour than normal I came away with a new appreciation for the hoppy stuff. If you’ve ever wanted to know your Fuggles from your Farnham White Bine then this is a great place to start.


We rounded off the day with a visit to the Silent Pool distillery. A hidden hive of activity right next to to the famous pond from which it takes it name. The whole process is on show here, pride of place for the Pot Still used to distil the spirit, then some examples of the various botanicals (herbs, spices, fruits etc used to flavour the spirit, making it into Gin) plus a frantic team of gin elves sticking on labels and packing boxes ready for Christmas. As well as tasting their flagship gin we were also introduced to as their sloe and damson gins and various other liqueurs and cordials, all available to buy on-site along with their instantly recognisable glassware.


Starting from March 2018, a day’s tour with Grape and Grain costs £99 including lunch and gift vouchers are still available in time for Christmas, highly recommended!


Cheers

Deb x



By debzbinden, Dec 13 2017 04:43PM

Last month’s #WedNightWineSchool was a little bit different to the usual format. There are always some little nibbles available at class but the usual focus is on the six tasting wines. On this occasion however the wines had to share the billing with a selection of cheeses, carefully chosen to demonstrate different things to look for in making the most of pairing cheese and wine.


We started with Juve Y Camps 2014 vintage Cava, (£13.50 Tanners). Aged for over two years before being released, this vintage Cava was made using the traditional local grape varieties of Macabeu, Xarel-lo & Parellada. The creamy complexity of this premium Cava picked up similar characters in a ripe Brie de Meaux resulting in a moreish start to the evening.


Next we went for a local twist on a classic pair. The fresh, tangy simplicity of Goat’s Cheese pairs well with white wines with fresh acidity – usually Sauvignon Blanc. Fast becoming the UK’s signature grape variety, Bacchus has a personality all of its own with fresh cut grass and elderflower but with its gooseberry flavours it can make an intriguing alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. We tasted some soft English Goat’s cheese with the award-winning Sussex-based Bolney Estate’s Bacchus 2015, (£16.99 Waitrose).


Fresh, floral and fruity with a gentle hint of sweetness, Gewürztraminer is a foodie’s delight. With crowd-pleasing acidity, the Kuhlmann-Platz Gewürztraminer 2016, (£11.99, Majestic), makes this a favourable match for a variety of cheeses. The distinctive lychee flavours can stand up to even really pongy cheese like Munster but for something characterful but more easily available this was paired with a rich but crumbly Pecorino de Sardegna.


Going for a classic Claret combo, we tasted some Comté with Chateau Barreyres Haut-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2014, (£11.99 Sainsburys). Oak flavours in wine aren’t always the easiest thing to work with in a cheese and wine match but the depth of aromatics and intensity of fruit concentration here are the perfect foil for the slightly sweet, nutty flavours of Comté. Look out for Cru Bourgeois on a Bordeaux label as an easy signpost for value for money but you don’t always need to splash out too much on wine to be enjoyed with cheese. The combination of saltiness and acidity in cheese can often be the secret weapon to transform a very ordinary wine into something more epic.


Fresh from my Sherry Educator training in October, the opportunity to shoehorn in some of Jerez’s finest was not to be missed. Full of dried fruit, figs and nuttiness, Waitrose’s Lustau Oloroso Sherry (£10.29, Waitrose) is immensely versatile so we tasted it with an aged Cheddar. Accounting for over half of the UK’s cheese production Cheddar can vary enormously but depending on its maturity and intensity it can work well with a range of wine styles and we enjoyed savoury, matured characters in both.


We rounded off the cheese with some Cropwell Bishop Stilton, matched with a choice (OK so maybe we all had both) of two sweet wine styles. The classic sweet vs saltiness was demonstrated with the mellow Warres Late Bottled Vintage Port 2004, (£24.99 Waitrose). This style of cheese also works well with fruitier, white dessert wines and the zesty orange blossom and spice of the Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora (£8.99, Majestic, Waitrose) gave a luscious but zesty result without feeling sickly or cloying.


Other winning cheese and wine combinations I’ve used in tastings this autumn include Rioja Reserva with aged Manchego – showing that what grows together absolutely does go together. Made in a similar style to Comté, Swiss Gruyere can be smoother and less rustic but also distinctively nutty which can be a fantastic match for Pinot Noir’s savoury characters, avoiding the higher tannins and more noticeable oak of the Bordeaux. And the Wine Society's indulgent Sauternes has definitely been brought out with blue cheese a few times.


#WedNightWineSchool is back on the 31st January 2018, 8-9.30pm when we’ll be tasting six wines in our South African wine safari.

The Spring timetable can be found here, including a Chocolate and Wine pairing workshop just in time for Easter on Wed 28th March.


Until then, happy tasting!

Cheers

Deb x



By debzbinden, Nov 12 2017 11:33PM


No longer just drunk by an older, only-at-Christmas sort of a drinker, a new generation of Sherry drinkers are discovering the enormous complexity of Sherry. It’s not just one style, it’s certainly not always sweet and even when it is sweet than doesn’t mean it can’t be great quality.


While the mention of Sherry can either be met with sighs of appreciation and tales of late nights and tapas, all too often it can still be more of a shudder and a mention of a dusty bottle. A quiet and overdue Sherry revolution has been rippling through a welcome number of bars and restaurants across the UK for a few years now, proving it’s a drink for all ages and absolutely not just for Christmas. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of being reintroduced though it’s probably worth busting a few dangerous Sherry myths.


1. Sherry is a wine. A fortified wine but a wine nonetheless. This means anything not finished the first time you open the bottle needs to be safely resealed and in the fridge, ather than slowly turning to vinegar in a cupboard over a few months. Store your Sherry like this for up to a week for lighter styles or a month or two for Oloroso and Palo Cortado (although this point is purely theoretical in my experience).

2. Sherry isn’t just an aperitif, you can pair it with a range of different foods, just as you would with any other sorts of wine.

3. Like any other wine it likes a bit of space in the glass. Any dusty old Sherry “schooner” glasses need to be ceremoniously ditched.

4. It’s not just a style, it’s a protected in the same geographic way as Champagne and Parmesan. Sherry can only be made in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”, a relatively small area nestled in Andalucia’s south west corner, focussed on the town of Jerez, the first Spanish wine region to take on Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) status in 1935.


All Sherry goes through a very special type of ageing process called the Solera system. Legally the wine needs to be aged for at least 2 years to be called Sherry but in practice even the lightest styles are often over 5 years old. The young wines get regularly blended in with barrels containing successively older and older wines until they reach the final stage, the Solera itself, before bottling.


This time-consuming process means that the Sherry doesn’t then need any further ageing. Great news for wine drinkers looking for something unique and complex without having to cellar the wines at all and something that the very accessible prices that Sherry commands just don’t reflect.


Despite the enormous variation in colour, all of these styles are actually white wines. All dry sherry wines are made from the Palomino grape variety, a lowish acidity variety which is also enjoyed by some scale as a “normal” still white wine in Spain.


Sherry rarely improves in the bottle and the lightest Sherry styles of Fino and Manzanilla are all about freshness. Despite being fortified, the alcohol level of these styles (around 15% abv) isn’t dissimilar to that of a Californian Zinfandel in a warm vintage. Where Fino is all about almonds and herbs, Manzanilla can be distinctly floral but both share a yeasty, appley taste profile that comes about from this style of wine’s unique ageing feature, the Flor. This yeasty veil appears early on in the wine’s lengthy time in the cellar (Bodega), forming a protective layer stopping the air from getting to the wine then passing on unique flavours and texture to the wine. Enjoy well chilled, from a normal wine glass giving it lots of room to breathe and treat it like a white wine, it will only stay fresh kept in the fridge for a few days.

What’s the difference? Fino can come from anywhere in the Sherry/Jerez DO area, Manzanilla must be aged within the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. The salty tang that makes both styles so delicious with fried seafood is much more pronounced in a Manzanilla. Winemaking legend credits this to the town’s seaside location. It’s more likely to be explained by a slightly different make-up of yeast strains in the Flor here but believe whichever version you prefer.


Amontillado is a foodie’s dream. Delicate yet complex. Savoury yet rich. After the same initial path as a Fino, Amontillado’s are fortified a second time to 17%, at which point the Flor gives up and the wine begins to age oxidatively in its large oak barrels (butts). This adds some depth of colour and a nutty complexity in addition to the citrus flavours from the time under Flor.


Full-bodied, deeply coloured and full of oomph, Oloroso is a warming, highly complex mouthful of walnuts, dried fruits and figs. All dry sherries are fabulous aperitif wines but Oloroso can take on strong cheeses, game and even steak.


And if you really can’t make your mind up as to whether you prefer the biological (Flor) or oxidatively (no Flor) aged styles of dry Sherry then check out Palo Cortado. Beginning life as a Fino, in some rare cases the Flor mysteriously disappears and the wine is left to age in contact with the air, which it usually does slowly and with finesse. Flavours become more concentrated (as does the alcohol level). Typically the finish is epic and the wine is said to have the finesse of an Amontillado and the roundness of an Oloroso. Take any opportunity presented to enjoy this rare style.


Sweet styles fall into two broad categories, those made from partially dried grapes and fortified before all the sugar has turned to alcohol leaving very high levels of sugar in the wine, either made from Pedro Ximenez (stunning, treacley nectar) or from Moscatel (floral, scented and one of the few wines that actually smells and tastes like grapes). Unless you see these grapes mentioned on the front label then a sweet Sherry is a blend of one of the Dry styles plus either PX or Moscatel or very concentrated sweet grape juice and the descriptor will be an English word e.g. Cream or Medium. If you’re interested in some exciting food and wine pairings you would write off the better Cream Sherries at your peril.


More information on all Sherry styles can be found at www.sherry.wine


As a recently qualified Sherry Educator you can expect the Wine Confidence tasting programme for 2018 to feature some Sherry-related topics. This month’s #WedNightWineSchool in Epsom on 29th November is all about Cheese & Wine pairing and will no doubt include something from Jerez!


Happy tasting!

Cheers, Deb x




By debzbinden, Nov 1 2017 03:24PM

When it comes to Spanish wine it can be easy to default to wine stereotypes, thinking about dusty styles, wire-netted bottles and high alcohol reds. All of which have their place but Spain has quietly been rethinking its approach to winemaking over the last two decades.


Ever popular, the world’s third biggest wine producing nation exports nearly 2/3rds of this vast amount proving it’s more than just local plonk. Increasing focus at the premium end has built enviable reputations for individual regions and producers but great value can be found across different prices.


Who doesn’t love Rioja? This popular region will surely demand its own #WedNightWineSchool at some point and there’s so much variety within this one region we controversially left it alone for the Spanish Discoveries tasting and instead looked at these six very different styles of Spanish wines.


It’s always fun to start with a glass of fizz and being a big fan of Cava it was fairly predictable that this would be the opener for the Spanish Discoveries tasting. Anyone that’s been on a mini break to Barcelona will probably have discovered there that the majority of Cava production is centred close-by within Catalonia. However Cava is slightly unusual in that the DO (Denominacion de Origen – the closely defined regulations ensuring a particular resulting style) isn’t geographically fixed, Cava can actually be produced all over Spain. The Conde de Haro Brut 2013, (£12.95 The Wine Society) was an interesting way to start the event, coming from the region more usually known for producing Rioja and made from local grapes (Viura, Malvasia).


There’s lots of buzz around the Albariño grape variety at the moment, the flagship variety of the Rias Baixas DO in the far north west of Spain. Bright, aromatic and zesty it’s often a suggestion for fans of Sauvignon Blanc looking to try something new. Galicia has another superstar white grape variety that hasn’t had quite the same airtime yet. Expect a similarly fresh fruit profile from Godello but with a little more in the way of texture. We tasted Aldi’s The Wine Foundry Godello, DO Monterrei 2016 (Aldi £6.99). Great value for money, if you can find it, with crisp citrus flavours and a hint of honeysuckle.


One common misconception about Spanish white wines is the level of oak you can expect. There are certainly still some quality styles e.g. decent white Rioja that benefit from oak fermentation and/or ageing but for other styles there has been a gradual movement towards fresher, unoaked styles. Verdejo is the signature grape variety of the white-wine focussed Rueda DO region, and to demonstrate the refreshing clean profile that Verdejo can offer we tasted the Finca Lallana Verdejo, DO Rueda, 2016 (£8.75 The Wine Society) which offered crisp acidity with ripe lemon and peach flavours.


Proving that Spanish reds aren’t just all about muscle… The Mencia grape’s crisp acidity and bright cherry and green pepper flavours make it a breath of fresh air as a wine for summer. Pizarras de Otero Mencia, DO Bierzo 2015 (£8.49 Majestic) was confidently medium-bodied with refreshing spice and a quiet elegance.


Old Vines yes, old fashioned, no. “Old Vines” pops up on labels here and there, (usually with no legal definition on what constitutes “old”!) but in certain parts of Spain it’s most definitely a good thing to be able to shout about. The vines that grow the grapes for The Cubist Old Vine Garnacha, DO Calatayud, 2015 (£9.99 Waitrose) are definitely old, some over a hundred years, which means the grapes from these hard-working vines produce characterful, intense juice. The resulting wine is equally bold with dark berry flavours.


Move over Rioja… as a region conspicuous in its absence for this line-up, but Rioja’s leading grape variety makes a welcome appearance here in a big wine from neighbouring Ribera del Duero. Some of Spain’s finest red wines now hail from this dramatic, unforgiving landscape. Layered and concentrated, the juicy Emilio Moro DO Ribero del Duero 2014, £17.99 Majestic is a moreish example of Spain’s best known red grape variety was the perfect way to round off our Spanish selection.


Salud!

Deb x




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