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24 May 2019

'Wines of the week'

This varied selection of 'wines of the week', to use the popular editorial-speak, is making an impromptu appearance here instead of the more customary 'wines of the moment', just for a change of scenery, along with a few random dishes that made a good match. Some of these wines were opened at two recommended BYO restaurants located in Ballyhackamore in groovy suburban east Belfast, known affectionately as 'Ballysnackamore': the Rajput Indian and Good Fortune Chinese, which will both be featured on this blog shortly.


Rosé

Paradis Secret 2018, Languedoc, Vignobles Foncalieu (13% abv) - Tasty southern French rosé shaped from Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Lightest shade of pink, aromatic red berry fruits, crisp yet with a little mouth-feel too. Not a bad match for smoked haddock and pasta in a spiced tomato sauce. Comes in a fancy frosted bottle with a glass stopper no less: they've pitched it at a trendy celeb Provence rosé style price-point (see below), which is a little steep me thinks although it is well made.
Griset Extraordinaire Rosé 2018 Pays d'Oc, Vignobles Foncalieu (12.5% abv) - Quirky gris de gris style rosé, meaning very pale pink and essentially tasting like a white wine, made from the rare Sauvignon Gris variety sourced from two vineyards: to the south of Béziers and between Narbonne and Carcassonne. Zingy and aromatic with ripe pink grapefruit flavours. For those Sauvignon Blanc fans who fancy a rosé but much less 'grassy' in character! Attractive all-rounder of a wine.
UK stockists/importers for Griset rosé: Albion Wine shippers (London) £8.95, Inverarity Morton (Glasgow), Yorkshire Vintners (Ripon); and Paradis Secret: Fine Wines Direct (Cardiff) £11. In Ireland, Paradis Secret rosé is €17.99 and the other €13.99: McHugh's Off-Licences (Dublin), Redmond's of Ranelagh (Dublin), Red Island Wine Co. (Skerries), Baggot Street Wines (Dublin). Also available in the US: details to follow.
  
Pinot Noir

Hans Baer Pinot Noir 2016, Weinkellerei Hechtsheim, Pfalz Germany (12.5% abv) - Fairly light and fragrant with fresh fruity finish: try with confit duck leg or calf's liver or salmon. £7 Tesco.
Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough New Zealand - My memory of this big brand Pinot was 'okay', but this surprised me: either it's got better or getting an older vintage with three years' age has added an enticing smoky savoury side to its silky fruit and tannins. Winemark (NI): dear if you buy one bottle but I think you take off £5 from the total as part of a selected 'buy two...' type offer? Their website doesn't tell you as it's crap.
Palataia Pinot Noir 2017, Pfalz Germany (13.5% abv) - Consistently classy German Pinot made by Gerd Stepp, who, as I've said before, used to work for Marks & Spencer as a winemaker / buyer: lovely style, depth and balance. Some people might not usually spend over a tenner (like me), although it's £9 a bottle on their site at the moment (6-case price), and I got it on offer in store; but you'll get no or very few Pinot Noirs as good from Burgundy or the New World for the price (except perhaps Chile, e.g. Sainsbury's TTD own-label for £8 made by Errazuriz).
Te Taha 2016 Pinot Noir, Martinborough New Zealand (13.5% abv) - Another sexy M&S Pinot created by 'legendary Kiwi winemaker Larry McKenna, the father of Martinborough Pinot Noir,' as the blurb says, again bought when Marks had one of their good-deal 'third-off' offers making it a bit less than ten maybe (it might be out of stock at the moment). Obviously more of a special occasion bottle (like having dinner) with concentrated 'sweet / savoury' Pinot style, subtle oak, weight and still structured although elegant too all in one. Yum. Good with smoked paprika pork.

Other reds

Clos des Batuts 2017 Cahors, France - Nice example of a more 'modern' Malbec style from 'the home of' in south-west France, Lidl has found a good batch here showing aromatic floral yet chunky fruit and well-handled dry palate texture. About £7-£8? I don't remember exactly and as usual can't find it on Lidl's site. Just about works with lamb curry dishes.
Condado de Haza 2015 Crianza, Alejandro Fernández, Ribero del Duero (14% abv) - Very tasty maturing Spanish red from the centre-north made from the Tempranillo variety, seductively mixing up rich fruit, savoury balsamic notes and still quite structured yet melt-in-the-mouth tannins. I'm thinking aged Manchego or Comté cheese. £15-£16 Sainsbury's, JN Wine.

Pablo Old Vine Garnacha 2018, Bodegas San Alejandro, Calatayud Spain - The back label says it was produced from 'gnarly old bush vines planted up to 100 years ago in dusty dry soils at an altitude of 1000 metres.' The vineyards and winery are indeed found on the high ground 80 to 90 km south-west of Zaragoza, in the Aragón region the likely origin of the Garnacha / Grenache variety by the way. The result is a chunky fruity deep-coloured (especially for Garnacha) powerful red (14.5% abv) with spicy dark cherry and berry fruit, a bit of tannin and attractive meaty side too. Great offer for €8 at SuperValu stores, Ireland (allegedly 'half price' type deal).

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer 2018, Alsace France (13.5% abv) - The benchmark 'affordable' Gewurz I suppose (prices have risen though in recent times), region and winery-wise (the standard-setting Turckheim co-op), this '18 combines textbook exotic lychee and rose water notes with a zesty lively palate and nice weight too (13.5% abv). Nice partner to smoked trout. £8 on offer at Sainsbury's (usually £9).
Gewurztraminer 2017/2018 (?) Alto Adige Sudtirol - Classy and elegant Gewurz, more restrained and drier perhaps coming from the relatively cool far north of Italy, very perfumed and refreshing yet with obligatory lush mouth-feel too. One of Lidl's posh one-offs at £10+ or €12+ in the Republic of Ireland? €10.99 in Germany. Unfortunately Lidl's UK and especially Ireland sites aren't much good for finding any useful info on their better wines. It has a green and silver label. By the way, their delicious Winemaker Selection Clare Valley Riesling has been reduced to a bargain £6.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Gewurztraminer 2017, Chile - Tesco stores keep knocking this out at £6, making me wonder if they're getting rid of it, so buy up some while you can? Great buy at this price for Gewurz fans with a little maturity too adding extra richer flavours and 'oily' texture, although it's drier than the French one I'd say. Delicious with king prawn biryani, and generally versatile with different curry / Chinese / Thai dishes (although not sweeter ones).

Other whites

Passerina 2018 Terre di Chieti, Abruzzo Italy (13% abv) - The back label describes Passerina as 'southern Italy's rare grape... named after the sparrow that enjoys eating them.' Not convinced the local winemakers will be great friends with said sparrow, but I'd say the Abruzzo region is more central than southern? Lively and zesty with e.g. fish and chips or garlicky prawn pasta dish, goat's cheese as well. Tesco £7.

Cava Catalan bubbly, Spain.

Rosado Brut Jaume Serra (11.5% abv) - Tesco's vividly pink and fruity rosé Cava is very versatile but matches Indian, Thai or Chinese dishes especially (see reviews of the Rajput and Good Fortune to follow soon). Or dark chocolate even. £6
Brut Nature 2014 United Wineries (11.5% abv) - One of Sainsbury's very good 'Taste the Difference' labels, this is tasty tangy floral Cava at its driest with delicate toasted almond flavours. Good on its own or with fish and chips, prawn risotto, tuna and pasta etc. £9
Arestel 2017 Vintage Extra Brut (11.5% abv) - A new posher version of Lidl's reliably drinkable Arestel NV Brut Cava, this has more class and flavour, is definitely drier with delicate yeasty nutty finish. Try with baked Camembert? Good stuff for £7.99.

Amontillado dry Sherry 'Exquisite Collection' (19.5% abv) - Packed with complex matured flavours with tangy baked nutty notes and rich but dry finish, tis 'proper' sherry like. Have a wee glass chilled with unsalted peanuts. Aldi €7.99 for 50cl.

05 March 2019

The Hoose Bistro, Belfast

Chocolate orange délice @ Hoose.
(No I wasn't drinking gin, the Hendrick's
bottle makes a tasteful candle holder.) 
This is the first in a new 'chapter' on this admittedly wine-centered blog, which will feature 'reviews' (for want of a better word) of recommendable restaurants where you can bring your own wine, either because they are unlicensed or the owner is flexible / enlightened. The focus initially will be eateries in Belfast and North Down, for no better reason than that's where I work and live, although the grand plan is to 'roll out the guide' (to use the marketing speak) to further afield, as and when other places are discovered where you can experiment a bit with wine and food without being ripped off.
Moving swiftly on then to The Hoose Bistro in east Belfast, lurking just up the hill from Holywood Arches on the way up to Ballyhackamore (the beginning stretch, more or less, of an increasingly happening food and drink scene), we have started going back again after a glitch a few months ago, when four of us felt the meals on a particular night weren't great compared to previous occasions. However, I'm pleased to say that Hoose is back on form and has recently introduced a revamped day and evening menu combined. This retains the very good value two courses for £16 idea, but offers a wider and better choice overall where you can upgrade to a different starter or main if you wish, each priced individually (and not particularly steep à la carte style prices either) rather than imposing supplements on these dearer dishes to the menu price as before.
For instance, I thought the 'Pan-fried duck breast, duchess potato, burnt butter cabbage, tenderstem broccoli, red wine & blackberry gravy' at £14 was reasonably priced compared to elsewhere; and I loved the sauce idea, which too often is too sweet with duck. I took along a half-bottle of Tesco's Finest Valpolicella Ripasso (£6-ish? - see note in my previous 'wines of the mo' post) that worked well together. Hoose's sea bass dishes are usually a worthwhile choice as well.
Although the selection on the £16 menu is more limited nowadays, it does still include e.g. Hoose's consistent favourite main, 'beer battered Portavogie scampi, triple cooked chips, homemade tartare and lemon wedge'. And tasty pork and chicken liver parfait or usually superior soups of the day for starters. Desserts always were on top of the two-course deal or à la carte price and cost £5.95 each, except their rather yummy (and fancy-looking too: see my crap photo above) chocolate & orange délice at £6.25 (worth the extra 30p for sure!). This three-storey bistro (in an old converted slightly camped-up townhouse) also excels at classic puds such as sticky toffee pudding, inventive cheesecake (changes quite often) and substantial raspberry & white chocolate waffles.
In addition, there's a brunch and sandwich menu, the bargain special Monday night club (basically the same two-course menu but for £12! You'll definitely need to book as it gets busy apparently), Sunday roast menu etc. They charge £2 per person corkage on the wine you bring; and offer a creative cocktail list if that lights your fire (probably would).
52 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast BT4 3EL. Phone 02890 658216 / Hoosebelfast@gmail.com
Open: Monday 5pm-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-9pm (so most of the time really!).

Coming soon reviews on - in Ballyhack: Good Fortune Chinese, The Rajput Indian; Café Essence and Bangla in Bangor; The French Village bistro, Botanic and more...

07 February 2019

Winter 'wines of the moment'

This long overdue mini-feature (there's no money in a wine blog so that's the unfortunate reality) takes a look at a gaggle of loosely recommended wines, which happened to have been bought, tasted, consumed and enjoyed over the last couple of months or so with a variety of food. There's a mix of themes here, from less obvious retailer offerings to favourite and more obscure grape varieties.
Lidl appears to be maintaining their penchant for buying special batches of rather good Italian white wines in particular, such as: Vermentino Toscana 2017 'Sassi del Mare' (12.5% abv) - Very tasty dry white made from the star Med white variety Vermentino, offering rich fruit and zingy mouth-feel at the same time. £8.99
Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 'Corte alle Mura' (13% abv) - Another sexy V grape from Tuscany, it's a nutty aromatic and zesty example of this now quite well-known white. £6.99
'Albente' 2017 Feudi di San Gregorio (13% abv) - A new-ish 'brand' I think coming from this consistently deliverable winery based in the hills east of Naples and shaped by the local Falanghina variety. Also £6.99 (seems a good price point for Aldi's better wines). All three are suitably tasty matched with various fish, pork or vegetable dishes.
Ribolla Gialla 2017 (12% abv) from Trevenezie in north-eastern Italy - there's a little of this rare local variety grown over the border in Slovenia too - which is elegant, light and aromatic with banana notes and zingy dry finish (£6.49).
There's another new dry Italian white from the Campania region on the way to stores apparently, a Falanghina del Sannio priced at, you guessed it £6.99. Lidl often has a tempting selection of Alsace whites (a mixture of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and sometimes Gewurztraminer) on and off over the year, displayed with their other posher bottles in those stacked wooden boxes; perfect with Indian or Thai dishes (not vindaloo though...).
Talking of Riesling, there's also an enticing example, one of their Winemaker's Selection range, in store for £7.99 from Australia's Clare Valley, 2017 vintage and a refreshing 11% abv although still fairly dry, zesty and lively with lime notes and attractive 'oily' Riesling aromas. I was quite impressed, for the money, by a one-off purchase Portuguese red from Lidl too, a 2016 Douro Reserva for, drum roll, £6.99; this bottle wasn't the same one as on their site, with a black label at £5.99, as I'm sure it had a white label. Made from the Port grape varieties but as a 'table' wine, this was fairly smooth and powerful (14-ish% abv) with attractive maturing fruit tones and subtle oak touches. Good with lamb steak.
Which leads on perfectly to some other flavoursome reds that should make you smile (no warranty provided):
Bellingham Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa (14% abv) - Structured and powerful needing a little air to open up (tasted better the next day actually), this conjures up those Pinotage 'sweet and sour' characters offering some lush fruit and oak countered by a 'crunchier' side. Great buy at £8 on offer at Tesco (usually over £11). Bellingham's Chardonnay is recommended as well, for fans of a richer yet lightly toasty style (same offer price).
Origin Pure 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon 'Organic wine, no sulphur added' (13.5% abv) - Dense and fruity youthful red style also from South Africa, this has some dry tannin firmness yet chunky black fruit finish. €7.99 Lidl Ireland.
Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2017, Valle de Aconcagua, Chile (13.5% abv) - One of Sainsbury's often very good 'Taste the Difference' range, in this case made by immensely reliable winery Vina Errázuriz, this Pinot won't disappoint fans of the variety offering lovely aromatic sweet/savoury red berry/cherry fruit with truffle tones and soft juicy finish. £7 on offer, £8 usually. Try it with calf's liver. Another worthwhile 2017 Pinot Noir from Sainsbury's 'TTD' school, also costing £8, hails from the Rheinhessen area in Germany and is a tad lighter (12.5% abv) and fresher in style with similar attractive Pinot characters though.
And guess what - there's yet another very enjoyable lighter red wearing the JS 'Taste the Difference' colours, this time a 2017 Zweigelt, apparently 'now the most planted red grape in Austria', made by top winemaker Markus Huber, which delivers lovely spicy cherry flavours and reasonable mouth weight nevertheless (13% abv): on offer for £8 (down from £9). Back to Tesco's 'Finest' label, there's a not lighter Valpolicella Ripasso 2015 (13.5% abv) made by the Cantina di Valpantena from local grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone, which delivers gorgeous Italian dried cherry, berry and liquorice fruit with balsamic edges: a hearty winter food red. £9 on promo / £11 a bottle, in half-bottles as well at £6.99 I think.
Marks & Spencer's delicious Val Rhona Sparkling Brut is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by South African fizz maestro Graham Beck, which was briefly a bargain at a tenner (used to be £15, maybe has now been delisted though): not quite as toasty, rich and sexy as the rosé version, but this fine SA Champagne-style is complex and full of flavour. From South Africa as well at Marks is the fairly sumptuous Honeycomb Journey's End Chardonnay 2017 by Lourensford wine cellar in the Stellenbosch region, which deftly balances ripe fruit, creaminess and very subtle toasted edges. Leading Lebanese winery Château Musar has created a label for Marks called Levantine, a lush soft and maturing blend of 80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache produced in the Bekaa Valley. It's quite expensive, towards £20 a bottle (?), and might be out of stock at the moment, but look out for it if you're searching for something special and different.
Coming back to whites, I actually never stopped loving Chardy, and here are no less than four French ones worth trying especially when on offer as these were...
Bourgogne Chardonnay 2017 (13% abv) from the Buxy co-op winery at Marks (£8 / £10) - a good all-rounder with different Chinese dishes actually.
Chablis 2017 by Brocard (13% abv) was recently on promo at a mere £7 at Sainsbury's - rare to be able to buy Chabbers for less than a tenner nowadays - but it all disappeared quickly, surprise surprise. Fairly classic steely style of this unoaked Chardy but a touch riper than usual.
Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 Louis Max (13% abv) - buttery and oaty but not oaky, pretty classy wine especially for £8 at JS! The price appears to have tumbled from £19 and, so far, not many seem to have noticed. Being cleared maybe?
Louis Jadot Macon Villages 2016 (12.5% abv) and 2017 (13% abv) - You might still find both vintages at Tesco: the 17 is a little fuller, the 16 a bit more mature obviously, but both are tasty examples of unoaked French Chardy, also from the south of Burgundy (£7.50 / £9).
Returning to South Africa, one of Tesco's 'Finest' and/or 'Fair Trade' ranges (the label appears to have changed recently so not entirely sure which) that's eminently quaffable, and a little different from Sauvignon or Chardy, is their Chenin Blanc 2018 (12.5% abv) sourced from the Breede River Valley region (£6 / £7). And JS stocks Stellenrust Chenin 2018, which is fuller (13.5% abv) yet still zesty and honeyed; very nice with fish and chips (£7.50 / £8.50).
Staying at Sainsbury's and back to Germany, they stock a 'modern' Pinot Blanc 2017 from the Pfalz region (13% abv) made by Weinkellerei Klostor, which might surprise with its fairly full-bodied style although is aromatic and lively. A dearer classic German Riesling appears to be on the clearance list at JS, Dr. Loosen's 2015 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett, a traditional off-to-medium-dry single vineyard Riesling delivering a delicate 8% alcohol level yet loads of enticing aged Riesling character and still pretty fresh acidity underneath: actually a surprising match for a chillied king prawn dish, sag aloo and cauliflower curry sides. £10.50 but worth it.
Finally, out of several good dry rosés I've tried recently, it's the Santa Julia Argentinian Malbec rosé at Sainsbury's that I remember, which nicely balances fruit, crispness and weight. Good all-rounder with Chinese or Indian food, and any kind of fish. As well as the succulent Rioja rosado Faustino VII 2018 (13% abv), which Asda has on promotion at the moment for £6: very appealing mix of zestiness, creamy red berry fruit and a bit of mouth-feel too; it was a decent match for a spicy pasta Bolognese. Reminds you that northern Spain is one of the best places to look for good rosé.

04 November 2018

Germany: Saale-Unstrut region (and more).

The Saale-Unstrut wine area lies in eastern Germany roughly between Leipzig and Erfurt along the banks of those two eponymous rivers: most of the vineyards are actually in the state of Saxony. Production here is small compared to Germany's other wine regions with less than 800 hectares of vines, often on steep terraced hillsides around the towns of Naumburg, Freyburg (see photos left and below) and Laucha for example. About a quarter of the various grape varieties planted are red, alongside a fair amount of Riesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Grigio), Silvaner, Muller-Thurgau et al. Here's half-a-dozen recommended bottles enjoyed on a recent stay in Naumburg (nice old town) and Berlin (awesome city).
Winzerhof Gussek 2017 Rosé trocken Gutswein (12.5% abv) - Blend of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Portugieser and Blauer Zweigelt. By the way, "Germany is the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir..." according to www.germanwines.de. Attractive crisp 'French style' rosé with light berry fruits and fresh finish. €8
2017 Blanc de Noirs (12% abv) from the same family winery in Naumburg - Dry white made from 100% Spätburgunder, giving a fairly complex nutty and yeast-lees edged wine underlined by crisp length. €9.50
Winzervereinigung Freyburg-Unstrut 2016 Dornfelder trocken (winemaker Kathleen Romberg, 12% abv) - Despite its very deep colour, this red made from the Dornfelder variety has supple mouth-feel with lots of enticing peppery wild fruit flavours. €5.99
Weingut Dr. Hage Traminer trocken Gutswein (12.5% abv) - Lovely aromatic off-dry white with floral lychee notes, quite rounded palate with subtle exotic fruit then fresher finish. €4.99
Rotkäppchen Sekt Rosé trocken (11% abv) - This sparkling winery is located in Freyburg in the Saale-Unstrut region, but the wine used as a base to the recipe comes from a much wider area (they produce big volumes I think, to keep up with the Germans' insatiable appetite for bubbly no doubt). Medium-dry really but nice crisp and refreshing acidity underlines this fruity and lightly yeasty rosé fizz. €3.99
Jochen Uebel 2016 Chardonnay trocken, Pfalz (13% abv) - This wine estate in the Pfalz region appears to make some good Chardonnay, this one is their unoaked version offering plenty of ripe citrus fruit enhanced by attractive buttery flavours and fresh bite. €8


There's a slideshow of more wine trail photos from this trip on my Wine Education Service Facebook page HERE.