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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, 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.

Most 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

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.


Deb x

By debzbinden, Oct 26 2017 08:24PM

For Californian wines it’s easy to look at the supermarket shelves, see a wall of pink and miss the enormous variety of other wine styles out there. While lots of Californian wine is sold at a relatively inexpensive price (often below £6 on special offer) there is an impressive amount of Fine Wine made in California. So much of which is winning awards, smashing Old World expectations in blind tastings and building reputations as icons.

The trickier area is in the middle, with the £10 wine buyer not always having California top of the shopping list but fortunately there are some great options if you look. Go to for a wealth of in depth information about what goes into making around 85% of the wine in the world’s 4th largest wine producing nation. More than just sunshine, California offers enormous diversity in soils, microclimates, grape varieties and wine styles. Not to mention the fortuitous role that grape growing is playing in taming the urban sprawl across the state with scenic vine-filled landscapes keeping the view clear.

We started with Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc 2015, rrp £8.50 (Asda, Sainsburys, Ocado). So now that the Californian proprietary “Fumé Blanc” synonym for SB doesn’t give much away about the style (heavy oak, a touch of oak or no oak at all – anyone’s guess?) it’s pretty much impossible to generalise about a “typical” Californian Sauvignon Blanc. This shamelessly NZ inspired wine is bright, fresh and zippy with characteristic gooseberry and citrus but without quite the pungency of its southern hemisphere. Welcome news if you’re after zesty pink grapefruit and blossom rather than in-your-face ripe passionfruit.

Next onto California’s most widely planted grape variety, Chardonnay. Frei Brothers Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, £17.99 Waitrose. The chameleon-like quality of this grape variety means there’s even more potential for stylistic scatter than our opener but here the nod is towards Burgundy. Distinctive nose with lovely long appley flavours overload with a soft buttery creaminess.

An autumn tasting calls for more red. We eased ourselves in with the silky Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley (Carneros) Pinot Noir, £18.99 Ocado. A beautiful expression of this fickle grape variety blossoming, from a vintage considered as “epic” and still showing bright cherry and raspberry flavours (impressive at the grand old age of four years old) and more than a hint of cinnamon and clove.

No virtual tour of California’s vineyards would be complete without a Zinfandel. Spoilt for choice here but we tasted the Taste the Difference Zinfandel, £13 Sainsburys. Raspberries, raisins and big old twist of black pepper and licquorice, there’s lots here to savour.

Nothing small about the next wine. Chronic Cellars Suite Petite, rrp £15-17 Majestic, Sainsburys. Another double take from California’s kings of winemaking cool. Using only the best or “chronic” grapes to make wines as bold and memorable as their truly funky labels, this time using a less obvious lead grape variety in Petite Sirah (nope, not a typo). Do we ever talk about “blue fruits”? It’s blueberries and damsons all the way here with a generous dollop of vanilla cream on the top.

And to finish, the king of grapes… California’s quality winemaking reputation was built on the concentrated, tannic backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted: Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, £15 Waitrose. Who needs coffee and After Eights when the mocha, mint characters combine so well with the blackcurrant and plum flavours in this well-structured wine.

Next month’s #WedNightWineSchool is on 29th November, 8-9.30pm, Epsom Playhouse (Myers Studio). With the festive season looming this time it’s all about and with a slightly different take on the usual format we’ll be doing a Cheese & Wine Pairing workshop. Tickets available at:

No overall theme on wine country/region of origin this time, just six delicious wines, six fabulous cheeses, a TINY bit of theory and your own tasting enthusiasm.

Happy tasting!

Deb x

By debzbinden, Oct 25 2017 02:34PM

You've probably heard a few “rules” when it comes to picking wines to match particular dishes. White wine with fish, red wine with steak, maybe even champagne with oysters?

But say you’re out for dinner with two or three friends and you all order different mains. What’s the best way to decide on a wine that’s going to suit everyone? Or what about dessert? Is that last glass from the bottle of the Malbec you enjoyed so much with your steak going to work quite so well with your Sticky Toffee Pudding? And does it actually even matter so much??

The good news is that very few food and wine matches are going to be truly terrible. The really good news is that you don’t need to learn arbitrary pairings. There are a few key principles that can be applied to most menu choices so you’ll never be stumped again but might just make for a few more adventurous choices.

Salt is our friend with wine and food pairing, softening and enhancing fruity flavours. So, with a glass half-full approach let’s take a salty foodstuff which has lots of different tastes to demonstrate some of the overriding ideas to making the perfect match… in the Ultimate Guide to Crisp & Wine Pairing.

Rich or oily foods love high acidity wines. The classic idea is that the acidity in the wine “cuts through” the richness, or fattiness in the food.

Try: Frazzles with a Spanish Albarino or Australian Riesling or for a classic seafood and sparkling pairing, Scampi Fries complemented by a crisp Prosecco is going to take some beating.

Chilli & Spice: Heat in food can strip the wine of its fruitiness leaving just the burning feel of the alcohol and the bitterness of the tannins in a red wine. Safer choices would be on the lower alcohol end for whites or reds but make sure any reds have a lower level of tannins.

Try: Doritos Chilli Heatwave – matched with a low tannin, fruity treat like a new world Pinot Noir. For a white wine match you could use the fruitiness of an off-dry Alsace Gewurztraminer to good advantage - or even go full-on sugar with a sweeter White Zinfandel if that’s your thing - to combat the spicy heat.

Acidity: there’s a tried and tested reason why so many classic Italian dishes (meaty, tomato-based sauces) are matches made in heaven with high acidity, high tannin reds.

Try: Retro favourite Spicy Tomato flavour Snaps with the red cherry acidity and savoury spice of a Chianti Classico

Flavour intensity – It’s generally a good idea to match strong flavours in food with powerful, concentrated flavours in wine so that neither element can drown each other out.

Do NOT miss: Pickled Onion Monster Munch with the fruit weight of a Barossa Shiraz and Hula Hoops BBQ with the ripeness and spice of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Sweeter Foods – make sure the sweetness of the food is matched directionally by the sweetness of the wine to avoid scaring off the freshness of the primary fruit flavours in the wine. The sweet edge to Texas BBQ Pringles will go down an absolute storm with a sweeter Riesling. And Honey-roast peanuts even more so if, heaven forbid, you're ever feeling crisped-out.

And finally let’s not forget how long cheese and wine have been involved. Try: Cheesy Wotsits with the delicious vanilla oakiness and berry flavours of a Rioja Reserva.

Ultimately if you’re enjoying any food and wine together then you’ve got yourself a match. There’s a hugely subjective element to this that no-one else can really argue too much with but hopefully food for thought here with the basic principles. Happy pairing!

By debzbinden, Nov 17 2016 09:39PM

Lighter body in red wines doesn’t necessarily mean lighter in enjoyment. Today is the third Thursday in November and a pretty overcast and gloomy one here at that. It’s also Beaujolais Nouveau day, an event that was much bigger news when we drank less New World wine.

Wine’s original early bird. It’s not unusual now to see wines from the Southern hemisphere arrive on-shelf during the same calendar year in which vintage has taken place. However, for a long time the majority of our wine consumption in the UK came from closer to home within Europe. Beaujolais Nouveau day used to mark the first release of very few wines that could be sold and ready to drink in the same year that the grapes were picked, often to huge excitement.

Time Gentlemen please. Such a quick turnaround from vine to bottle tells us there’s been no time for extended ageing or complex winemaking. These wines are simple, fruity and the absolute embodiment of the term easy-drinking. So much so that the scramble to get the wines out to sell can be closely matched by the race to get the wines off the shelves and into your glass. Historically the wines were advised to be drunk no later than January, although now most Nouveau should easily stand up a year or so. As well as simple cherry and redcurrant flavours Beaujolais Nouveau can be recognised by bubblegum or even banana flavours (due to a winemaking process called Carbonic Maceration) but their popularity has dramatically declined over the last two decades.

Nouveau vs Cru. Nowadays, more involved wine fans may get much more out of Beaujolais’ more serious wines, moving up the quality pyramid with increasing complexity via Beaujolais to Beaujolais-Villages and on to the 10 x named “Crus”. These are specific villages within the Beaujolais who are so acclaimed that they go under their own names (e.g. Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent) and confusingly don’t actually tend to put Beaujolais on the label. Another one of wine’s “just because” niceties.

Lighter reds can be delicious even in winter. With the festive season looming this end of Beaujolais is worth stocking up on. The lower levels of tannins make the wines an easy pairing for turkey or goose and the bright brambly flavours will go well with fruity accompaniments like cranberry sauce. The Gamay grape is responsible for this variety of styles and isn’t found in too many other places. In its least sophisticated guise Gamay is often the basis for inexpensive chalet wines in ski resorts although you would write off premium Swiss Gamay at your peril.

If you like Pinot Noir… If you’re looking for something a little different to drink this week though, please indulge me. Worth noting that Gamay and Pinot Noir are closely related grape varieties, so if you’re a fan of Pinot Noir you might miss the riper fruit weight of New World styles or the complexity of premium Burgundy but you may spot a similarity in the fruit characters and more savoury style. For many red-wine lovers big is beautiful but lower tannin, simple fruity wines can be very handy food matches and served slightly chilled (20 minutes in the fridge is plenty) they can be a breath of fresh air once in a while.

To learn more about seasonal wine ideas why not join us at Wednesday Night Wine School. This month’s theme is Festive Wines, 8.00-9.30pm on 30th November at the Epsom Playhouse (Myers Studio). £20 per person, 20% off when you book with a friend.

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