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By debzbinden, May 2 2018 08:52PM

Unexpectedly affordable. Forget Left Bank vs Right Bank, we looked at the affordable end of Bordeaux by taking a closer look at wines from within the generic Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Superieur AC i.e. from anywhere across France's largest winemaking region.

Not just red wine. Most classes begin with a quick bit of myth-busting while you enjoy the first wine. Rich territory for this session, with most of the attendees confessing to preferring other ends of the wine aisle which can seem easier to navigate. Our “Myth or Mystique” statements set out our mission to see whether it’s True or False that Bordeaux only makes red wine, is ALWAYs expensive and absolutely all Bordeaux wines would need years of cellaring before they’re ready to drink.

Did know Malbec is a Bordeaux grape? When so many popular wine brands lead their label messaging with a grape variety it can be a shift to think about the absolute Art of Blending that we see in Bordeaux. We discussed the classic grape partnerships of Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure & Merlot’s body, Sémillon’s roundness & Sauvignon Blanc’s fresh qualities plus the other (sometimes surprising) other Bordeaux grapes and the roles they play in a blend.

Spoiling the group with eight wines instead of the usual six, we tasted:

1.Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux, Amazon, Ocado £12.49

Refreshing fizz made by the same method as Champagne but from a Bordelais blend of Cabernet Franc and Sémillon.

2. Chateau Thieuly 2017 (Blend), The Wine Society £9.49 (Bordeaux Blanc)

A harmoniously moreish blend from a traditional mix of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris.

3. Les Chartrons Sauvignon Blanc Waitrose £8.69 (Bordeaux Blanc)

Zesty, herbacious single varietal Sauvignon Blanc made on this popular grape's home turf.

4. Sainsburys Taste the Difference Rosé 2017 £7.99 (Bordeaux Rosé)

Amazing value-for-money Merlot rosé, great with a variety of dishes and perfect for long sunny evenings.

5. BDX Claret 2016, Majestic, £9.99 (Bordeaux Rouge)

A soft, approachable modern style of Bordeaux with plummy flavours and supple tannins.

6. Good Ordinary Claret 2015, Berry Brothers and Rudd, £9.95 (Bordeaux Rouge)

Classic Claret. Smooth and medium-bodied with dark fruits and firm tannins

7. Calvet Grande Reserve 2016, Ocado, Amazon £9.99 (Bordeaux Superieur Rouge)

Complex Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend from the UK's favourite Bordeaux name.

8. Chateau Pey la Tour Reserve 2014, The Wine Society, £11.50 (Bordeaux Superieur Rouge)

Rich, powerful, oak-influenced Merlot-based red.

The wines were chosen to demonstrate stylistic variation even within the same appellation e.g. the modern style of the BDX vs the more traditional Good Ordinary Claret whereas the pair of Bordeaux Superieur Rouge wines showed the effect of very different grape splits and the influence of vintage variation. Demonstrating the variety within our selection of "Bordeaux Basics" may not have instantly made the Bordeaux wine aisle more intuitive to navigate, but hopefully has laid some groundwork into exploring the home of some of our favourite grape varieties with some deliciously accessible signposts.

Happy tasting!

By debzbinden, Apr 3 2018 09:10PM

With so much contrasting advise on whether Chocolate and Wine can be matched harmoniously or not, #WedNightWineSchool's Chocolate & Pairing workshop evening took a practical look at some of the thinking behind pairing these two areas of indulgence with a contrasting range of styles.


Sparkling wines can be the perfect foil for various styles of chocolate and may warrant their own session one day. With space for just one, Mirabeau’s newish sparkling is made from similar blends of grapes to their still rosés (Syrah, Grenache) but in a slightly more frivolous mood. La Folie is slightly sweet, bright, fruity and was just the ice-breaker to ease us into the hard graft awaiting. An Italian Moscato d’Asti or even Prosecco would do a similar job.

We tasted this with Green & Blacks White Chocolate with Vanilla. The wine’s berry flavours worked well with the softer, milky flavours in the chocolate (strawberries and cream anyone?) and the fresh acidity in the wine made sure nothing became too “cloying” or sicky sweet.

Ssshhhh…. we also tried this with Maltesers as a chocolately appetiser, to an overwhelmingly positive response!

DR LOOSEN Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett £15.99 Waitrose

Correctly identified by some keen tasters as Riesling, wine no. 2 was tasted blind, partly as an fun exercise to demonstrate that with a few prompts blind tasting isn't a total dark art (and partly to eliminate the risk of tasting the label instead of the wine.)

Light in body but big on flavour intensity, our medium sweetness Kabinett was more fruity than floral with a racy, mineral bite. Crisp acidity made the unexpected pairing with milk chocolate truffles a winner, with the rich flavours being enhanced with a touch of honey and spice in the wine.

VASSE FELIX FILIUS Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 £12.99 Majestic, Waitrose

With ripe tropical characters giving the impression of some fruit sweetness this Margaret River gem was surprisingly versatile.

The white chocolate came out again and here the vanilla flavours in both (from the partial oak fermentation for the Chardonnay) gave a decadently smooth outcome.

ERRAZURIZ Coastal Series Pinot Noir £9.99, Chile, Waitrose

Demonstrating the fantastic value for money Chile can offer for Pinot Noir, the silkiness of our medium-bodied juicy number was a surprisingly easy match for a variety of the chocolate variants, especially for anyone worried about a dry red’s ability to go up against chocolate with any sweetness.

We tried it with the Brix “Smooth Dark Chocolate”, which at 54% Cocoa solids has a varied list of suggested wine matches (including Pinot Noir). A slightly bittersweet pairing with the cherry, mint aromatics of the wine making an easy friendship with the chocolate’s smooth depth.

RAVENSWOOD Sonoma Zinfandel 2013 £14.99

Working on the basis of the higher the percentage of cocoa the more oomph the wine can get away with, we stepped it up a gear. With the blueberries, spice and concentrated almost raisiny flavours that a full-bodied Zinfandel brings we had a rather brooding match with Divine’s 85% Cocoa Exquisitely Rich Dark Chocolate.

To see just how far we could push things we also flirted with a few crumbs of Montezuma’s 100% Cocoa Absolute Black Chocolate which was step too far for most of the tasters, but helped to demonstrate the "overwhelm" factor when things are out of sync.

OFFLEY ROSE PORT £11.99 Waitrose

From this point on it was all about balance and harmony as Port can be a hugely versatile match for a variety of chocolatey treats. Ruby and Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) are fabulously indulgent with sweeter, milkier styles, whereas for nuttier flavours (hazelnut, almonds, pralines) Tawny styles will reflect and complement these.

By wine No. 5 palate-stamina needed to be considered. Something fresh and lifted was required so we went with a Rosé style which was a first for most of the room. Bright berry aromas and spice from the Port were a heady match for the Lindt Milk Chocolate with Salted Caramel.

BODEGAS HIDALGO Triana Pedro Ximenez £16.99 Majestic, Tanners

To finish we took sweetness to the extreme, using the pairing experiment as a flimsy excuse to shoehorn in a generously rich Pedro Ximenez Sherry.

The syrupy notes of toffee, mocha and figs were a chance to revisit all of the above chocolate options and the preferences as a potential pairing with this guilty pleasure were pleasingly spread across the group.

With a varied range of wines and chocolate styles we explored some of the extremes of taste sensation, showing it can be well worth spending a little bit of time thinking about what will bring out the best of both partners for some truly delicious matches. All in good time ahead of pairing those Easter eggs...

Next time: After all of Easter's indulgence, April's #WedNightWineSchool will be completely different. Our "Bordeaux Basics" event on Wed 25th April will cover some key background to the home of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, focussing on the surprising affordability of wine from this classic winemaking region.

Until, then, happy tasting!


Deb x

By debzbinden, Apr 3 2018 05:20PM

Chocolate? Good. Wine? Good.

So chocolate plus wine must be incredible, right?

For lots of wine-fans, enjoying a glass of wine alongside some yummy chocolate is an absolute no-brainer. Give it a quick Google though and it’s a different story. Most advice and information will mention some red flag combinations to be aware of, and for some wine drinkers it’s just a no-no to pair wine with chocolate.

So does this mean chocolate and wine are NOT the match made in heaven we thought? Here’s one of wine’s many “It depends…” answers. Blame it on the flavonoids and polyphenols. These are the antioxidants responsible for claims of health-giving qualities for both but also what can potentially cause the pleasurable taste sensation of either to be overwhelmed. Different kinds of proteins can get along really well or they can end up in a stand-off. Chuck in some fat from the milk, maybe a little bit of acidity from the wine and things aren’t necessarily always the smoothest.

Righto, so where’s the handy list of chocolate and wine pairing rules to avoid any accidental palate-assaults? While there are definitely some fairly well-accepted pointers for chocolate and wine fans, there’s lots of confusing, and even conflicting, advice out there so it’s worth delving a little bit deeper. Guidelines like matching levels of flavour intensity are helpful but some potential matches will have more of a subjective effect e.g. many people find drier styles of wine with higher acidity or tannins can be the trickiest ones to pair up.

OK so does that mean that only very sweet wines should be matched with chocolate? A brilliant rule of thumb in order to avoid wines seeming to be stripped of their fruitiness when drunk with desserts is to make sure the wine is at least as sweet as the dish. We like to lump chocolate in as a sweet treat but sometimes the overriding sensation for chocolate is the bitterness of the cocoa beans themselves. Milk and White chocolate are (usually) the options which demand sweetness in an accompanying wine but there’s a whole spectrum in between with other complications like fillings (salted caramel, fondants, truffles) or texture (added nuts or fruit etc) to keep things interesting.

And then so if the chocolate isn’t sweet the wine shouldn’t be either? Still not an absolute so definitely one to test out for yourself with a practical test.

Are dry, full-bodied reds and chocolate always a tricky match then?

Fortunately not. Your homework here is to dry a glass of juicy Argentine Malbec and see if those smooth mocha/chocolatey flavours don’t go down a treat with some dark chocolate. A little sweetness in a wine will help to off-set bitterness in dark chocolate and many New World reds will secretly be harbouring a few grams of residual sugar anyway…

Do you need to have special chocolate to enjoy with wine? Wine-friendly combinations are perfectly easy to do from within your usual weekly supermarket shop but if the thought of testing out pairings yourself feels like too much hard work (!) then experts such as Brix have made things really easy for you with specially created “chocolate for wine”, developed to keep all the trickier elements in check. Each of the four Brix variants includes a handy list of suggested wine pairings on the packaging so it’s a deliciously fool-proof way to avoid any unexpected clashes between two of your favourite things.

The best way to learn about Chocolate and Wine pairing though is to experiment for yourself and see what suits your palate. March’s #WedNightWineSchool in Epsom tested out some of these theories and ideas, you can read more about what worked best here.

Happy matchmaking!


Deb x

By debzbinden, Mar 7 2018 09:41PM

SO much pink fluffiness out there with Mother's Day looming this weekend.

Pink flowers, pink chocolates even pink beer so it's no surprise that outside of the summer months the big peaks for pink wine are usually Christmas, Valentines' Day and Mothers' Day.

On the one hand I firmly believe that splitting the wine aisle into Girl Wines and Boy Wines is little more than a sensory own goal. At my #WedNightWineSchool classes there are always surprises in which particular wines come out as the favourites across that evening's group so who are we as the wine industry to say one wine is only for a certain occasion than another.

By debzbinden, Mar 1 2018 11:24PM

On the coldest day in Surrey in almost a decade, a determined group of wine fans braved the snowy conditions to come and taste through the #WedNightWineSchool Mediterranean selection. Taking the format of a virtual wine cruise we boarded our imaginary liner in the South of France and journeyed immediately east with a couple of pitstops on the way to the Lebanon. We then took a leisurely route back to where we began, taking in six wines in total from five different countries along the way.

Picpoul de Pinet, Chateau Ressac (Marks & Spencer) 2016, £10.49

You can almost taste the sea breeze in this racy medal-winner from the Languedoc’s leading white wine appellation. With dry steeliness and vertigo-inducing acidity this “lipstinger” from the south of France is typically paired with seafood but made an invigorating start to the session.

Le Stelle Vermentino, Sardinia (Waitrose) 2016, £6.99

Known here as Vermentino, this perfectly suited Mediterranean grape variety has an amazing ability to retain crisp acidity in spite of the balmy climate in which it thrives. The juicy but crisp mouthful of grapefruit flavours were softened by rounded lime characters and a layer of almonds.

Hatzidakis Santorini (The Wine Society) 2016, £13.50

So much more than a holiday wine, with the rare skill of tasting just as delicious even without the beautiful backdrop of a romantic tourist hotspot - in this case the stunning island of Santorini. The renowned Assyrtiko grape variety dazzles with precise citrus and apple flavours and a long, clean finish.

Hochar 2013, Lebanon, (The Wine Society), £12.95

An excitingly accessible insight into the Chateau Musar range - Lebanon's renowned world-famous producer, now made by the third generation of the Hochar family. Perfumed aromas from the drought-hardy Cinsault were fleshed out with body and character from the Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon in this mellow blend.

Blau, Montsant, Spain (M&S, The Wine Society), 2016, £9.50

Not too dissimilar in style to the cult wines of the neighbouring Priorat region but with a slightly easier price tag. Dominated on the nose by the rustic characteristics of the wine’s dominant proportion of Cariñena but opening up in the glass to deliver mouth-filling wild bramble flavours and spice.

Fitou Domaine Jones, (Majestic, The Wine Society), 2015, £14.50

Languedoc-Roussillon by way of Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Harvested from gnarled old vines by an English pioneer, resulting in award-winning concentration and character. Grenache-dominant with bold, richness and a layer of wild intensity.

March's #WedNightWineSchool theme is Chocolate & Wine pairing, tickets available here.

Happy tasting!


Deb xx

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.


Deb x

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