"Buy my book about the Roussillon region on Amazon UK in colour paperback and eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: colour paperback and eBook or black & white. Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link below above the cover image." Richard Mark James

07 April 2021

Varietal wines of the moment (except Sauvignon blanc)

Finest Valle de Leyda Chardonnay 2020, Chile - Luis Felipe Edwards (13.5% abv): As soon as this delicious fruity Chardy was discovered among Tesco's large 'Finest' range, it went out of stock; hopefully just temporarily. Ripe peach and melon fruit with creamy tones then zestier citrus on its weighty but balanced finished. Oak is suggested in the blurb but you can't taste it thankfully, perhaps adding to its rounded texture and cashew flavours. £8 or £9 Tesco ('currently unavailable').
La Burgondie Bourgogne Chardonnay 2019, France - Vignerons de Buxy (13.5%): Seems riper and fuller than the last time I bought it (see here); white peach turning buttery with Brazil nut aromas and flavours, elegant dry and fruity mouth-feel with refreshing acidity although a touch of oily roundness and oomph too. Quite stylish Chardy, a good all-rounder. Tesco £10 although now out of stock too!
Cape Heights Chardonnay 2019, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (13.5%): Ripe creamy unoaked Chardy with light tropical fruit and enticing yeast-lees tones, steelier and chalkier on the finish. £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2020, South Australia (13.5%): Surprisingly restrained style of Viognier with floral honeysuckle, apricot and peach, yeasty edges, full-bodied but balanced and dry. £10 Tesco.
Cape Heights Viognier 2019, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (14%): Very expressive Viognier with super ripe apricot fruit and weighty mouth-feel, ends up a little flabby though like it's aged quickly (look out for the 2020 perhaps). £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Finest Marlborough Riesling 2020, South Island New Zealand - Indevin (11.5%): I don't think many state on the label which island, north or south, a NZ wine from a certain region comes from, but it's a good idea perhaps helping people to locate and better appreciate this dual island country's regions and climate zones. Lovely lively and light dry-ish Riesling style, floral and lemony with chalky acidity lifting it nicely, delicate zingy finish. £8 (?) at Tesco but also 'currently unavailable' I'm afraid!

Cape Heights Chenin Blanc 2020, Western Cape - Boutinot South Africa (12.5%): Refreshing dry style with apple citrus and melon, yeasty touches and lightly oily roundness although crisp and fresh in the end. £7.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Adobe Reserva Gewurztraminer 2019 organic wine, Rapel Valley, Chile - Emiliana (13%): Well-made Gewurz mixing up lush lychee and rose water with a zestier drier side. £9.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).
Gewurztraminer de Colmar 2019, Alsace, France - Domaine de la Ville de Colmar (14%): First bought and reviewed this delicious Gewurz at the beginning of the year, it's now turning richer and more honeyed with smooth-drinking oomph, perfumed rose water and spicy lychee, off-dry finish with unctuous mouth-feel. Good with prawn and veg Madras made biriyani style. £9 Tesco.

Alsace Pinot Gris 2019 M&S Classics No. 31, France - Cave de Turckheim (13%): Lush honeyed fruit with spices and stewed pears, ends up a little sweet and bland but also good with curry. £10

Merinas Organic Rosé Tempranillo 2019, Spain (12%): Deep-coloured easy-drinking berry fruity rosé from M&S with rounded, off-dry yet crisp finish. Not super-exciting but good value at £7.

Tank No. 26 Nero d'Avola Appassimento, Sicilia DOC (13.5%): Made from Sicily's signature red variety, which is left to dry out or shrivel slightly on the vine before picking. Earthy, spicy and wild herby with sunny black fruits, kirsch, liquorice and raisins, warm and rich with soft fruity finish, balsamic undertones and dark chocolate twist. £8.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).

Bruce Jack Pinotage Malbec 2020, Western Cape (14.5%): Sweet black cherry and black olive aromas / flavours with wild herb and red pepper undertones, fairly soft but with full-on fruity finish. £7 / £6 'rollback' Asda.

05 March 2021

Sicily: Ragusa and Agrigento

Aruci Aruci caffetteria & gelateria / 'Casa Siciliana' Trattoria
Scicli, Ragusa province, Sicily.

A few reminiscences, sightseeing tips, places to stay, photos and a little food and wine condensed from a lucky-break week spent in Sicily last September in between Covid restriction lockdowns. The plan was to avoid big towns and cities (so no Palermo or Catania this time unfortunately), hire a car, stay in the middle of nowhere and not tour around too much (pretty much the opposite of a 'normal' holiday), which part of the south of the gorgeous island provided a perfect backdrop for (Ragusa province and Agrigento a couple of hours up the coast).
The blurred picture above, taken through a glass cabinet wearing a face covering, would be a familiar one seen everywhere in Italy, but at this shop, Aruci Aruci gelateria in Scicli (pronounced 'shee-clee'), the selection included the most sensational dark chocolate ice cream imaginable made from the local Cioccolato di Modica (front middle), which has a celebrated history and was granted IGP status in 2018 (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) covering a controlled production zone around the town of Modica lying about ten kilometres southeast of the provincial capital Ragusa. Find out more on the official site: www.cioccolatomodica.it.

On arriving in Scicli, catching your breath back after the spectacular drive coming from the north on the winding road that ascends and descends very dramatically, it may first come across as a small sleepy historical town. But it's home to nearly 30,000 people and spreads over a deceptively large area surrounded by and partly built across tall hills rolling in different directions ('nestled at the intersection of three valleys' is how the official website describes it). It's a great place to slowly explore and absorb all that history, architecture and elegant worn-out feel, inevitably tempting you to continue climbing higher up yet another steep old-stone lane or path taking you to a breath-taking vantage point. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, the town's mediaeval base was added to in the late Baroque period and into the 18th century after a terrible earthquake in 1693. More info: www.visitsicily.info.
Photos above and below: Scicli, an awesomely old town a few kms from the sea (Donnalucata). More shots around Scicli are on my Facebook page as well as Agrigento (read on).

Agrigento is one of if not the most obvious tourist choice destination(s) but shouldn't be shied away from just because of that, in fact it's an unmissable site and sight. The Hellenic monumental remains at the Valle dei Templi in any case, as the town of Agrigento just off in the distance to the north doesn't look that remarkable (but it could be). It's about 130 km or 2 hrs plus from Ragusa to Agrigento; the fastest way is along the mostly coastal road heading east and lightly northeast, although, like most of the roads around there, it's hard to keep track of the speed limits on any stretch as they keep varying with confusing regularity. You are signposted into a fairly expensive car park, but there's no getting around it because you can't really park anywhere else and easily access the site. It sprawls over a vast exposed area taking in the majestic and almost-intact Tempio della Concordia to the 'only four columns left' structure of Tempio dei Dioscuri, which looks curiously like an ancient Imperial Walker from the early Star Wars films (photo below)! There's further detail on the Visit Sicily website linked above.

Back in Ragusa province, Chiaramonte Gulfi is a fair size town for this area (8100 population) perched up strikingly at over 600 metres above sea level (hence the fab view in the photo below), which over time witnessed the arrival and departure of Ancient Greek, Roman and Arab invaders among others until the 'new' town was rebuilt up on high and fortified at the end of the 13th century by count Manfredi Chiaramonte. Parking near the old centre is a bit tight, so it makes for a pleasant and energetic walk by leaving the car on the way up and walking slowly up successive looping streets or, to cut the corners, a series of steep steps. There are several lovely old churches to have a look at as well as plenty of places to eat and enticing food stores and bakeries. More @ www.comune.chiaramonte-gulfi.gov.it.

Nearby, Agriturismo Villa Zottopera is a wonderful place to stay even if tricky to find - luckily, getting lost for the third time travelling to it from Catania airport, we once again encountered some charming locals who insisted on driving out of their way (with the whole family on board) to lead us right to the unobvious entrance off a hard-to-find country track (gateway pictured below)! And what a place. This old working farm - olive groves, vines, fruit trees, vegetable plots, animals - has a massive farmhouse property (dating from the 1800s) at its centre with adjoining buildings forming a big walled courtyard on either side, where most of the upper floors, former stables below and other outbuildings have been converted into a variety of sizes of well-equipped apartments and suites.
The owners and staff are very convivial and helpful, and the place appeared to be mostly run by Anna who also cooked all the meals. Breakfast was copious and varied (extra charge) - you could have pretty much what you wanted - and the four or five course dinner served on the terrace cost €25 including wine. With delicious olive oil fresh from the mill of course. Some of the apartments have a spacious kitchen so you could cater for yourself too, although a mix of both was a good idea (and Anna didn't cook every evening). There's a nice wee swimming pool in the garden below the restaurant, and bikes are available for free for guests: just help yourself. There are more of my photos of Zottopera in this Google album. For booking check out Agriturismo Villa Zottopera Facebook or www.villazottopera.it or on Booking.com. And talking of tasty olive oil, I've since discovered that Tesco's Finest Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (£6.50) is produced somewhere close to Zottopera!

Flying there: Comiso airport is just a few kilometres down the road although there are limited flights; otherwise Catania is the nearest. Obviously there are several ferry options from the mainland too. If you have time to kill waiting on the way to the latter airport, to the south of Catania there's a series of wildlife and bird reserves along beautiful untamed beaches and coves. And not forgetting Etna of course to the north of the city, which naturally hogs the background vista in that direction much of the time (it erupted a little again recently). By the way, driving in Sicily can be a tad stressful; there's always somebody sitting right on your tail impatient to pass whatever your speed and the road is doing ahead, often in twos and threes. Perhaps take some advice from the 1976 movie The Gumball Rally: "The first rule of Italian driving: what's behind me is not important!" as he pulls off the rear view mirror (quotation found on www.pinterest.com).

Don't forget the espresso! Nice machine in the kitchen @ Zottopera.

Finally, a little wine talk. Here's a handful of highlights, or at least the ones photoed and remembered, sipped with food and pleasure on the elevated terrace outside or in the apartment, as on this occasion we didn't eat out in a restaurant apart from at Zottopera outside on their simple terrace. A mix of supermarket wines and a couple from the winegrower on the estate there (Antiche Cantine Rosso): the organic 'natural' styled Grillo (majority) and a tasty Frappato red not mentioned here, as I didn't photo the label, which was similar to the one noted below yet a bit richer and earthier from memory. Plus a 'new wave' Nero d'Avola red purchased recently from a local wine merchant in Belfast (see below too). Generally, there's a good amount of vineyards in the province of Ragusa in the south, mostly around Vittoria, although not as much as in the west of Sicily.

There's more on Sicilian wines on this blog here (Lidl Italian wines August 2017), here (Syrah/Shiraz tasting March 2017), here (Italy south & north July 2016), here (Italian 'wines of the mo' November 2014), here (Bosco Falconeria August 2013), here (Italy south July 2013), here (Italian reds July 2012), here (Valdibella Camporeale June 2012), here (Spotlight on Sicily update November 2011) and here (Italy page including Spotlight on Sicily).

Isoletta Vermentino 2019, Cantine Settesoli (organic) - Fragrant and zesty/lees-y dry white with citrus and aniseed undertones.
Aura 2019, Antiche Cantine Rosso, IGT Terre Siciliane (13.5%) - Made mostly from the sumptuous Sicilian white grape variety Grillo (85%) blended with a little Fiano by a small organic producer based outside Chiaramonte Gulfi, this natural-edged deep-coloured wine is rich and exotic with quirky stewed apple and yeast notes, long dry finish.
Barone di Bernaj Grillo 2019, Cantine Madaudo - A different style of varietal Grillo bought in a supermarket showing more typical aromatic Grillo character with perfumed apricot and peach, full rounded palate and fresh finish.
Barone di Bernaj Frappato 2019, Cantine Madaudo - Sicilian red variety Frappato produces relatively light spicy and fruity wines, this one was delicious ever so lightly chilled.
Tank No. 26 Nero d'Avola Appassimento, Sicilia DOC (13.5%) - Made from Sicily's signature red variety, which is left to dry out or shrivel slightly on the vine before picking. Earthy, spicy and wild herby with sunny black fruits, kirsch, liquorice and raisins, warm and rich with soft fruity finish, balsamic undertones and dark chocolate twist. £8.99 DC Wines (south Belfast).
Isoletta Nero d'Avola Rosato 2019, Cantine Settesoli - Nero d'Avola can be turned into various types of red wine, usually rich ripe and earthy, and full-bodied dry fruity rosés like this very nice example from the well-known co-op winery Settesoli.
'Aura' photo from sicibia.it.

24 February 2021

Zeitgeisty wines

Zeitgeisty is admittedly a little literary and pretentious, and I wasn't aware it was a word as such, in the adjective form with a 'y' ending, until I saw it recently in a one-line review on the back cover of a new book (quoting a well-known writer so it must be okay). Any road, this latest batch of wine buy tips kicks off with a handful of tasty drops of bubbly, which always has a certain 'spirit of the times' feel about it on any occasion and any time of year, especially to toast in winter drawing to a close sooner rather than later.

From https://www.facebook.com/vinoltrepo

Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Nero Metodo Classico Brut - I didn't make a note of the producer, or whether it was vintage or non-vintage, of this delightful bottle bought in a supermarket in Sicily several months ago. Nevertheless, it serves as a great 'generic' example of one of Italy's best 'traditional method' sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir in the north. Classy bubbles with rich toasty brioche notes, maturing savoury sourdough flavours and fresh acidity still running through the lively finish.
Photo above from the Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò Pavese's Facebook page (hover over image).

Catalunya, Spain
Mas Miralda Cava Rosado Vintage 2017 and 2016 (12% abv) - One of Asda's 'Extra Special' labels and almost always on offer at a bargain £6 or £7 (£8 'usually'), this superior rosé Cava is produced by the Marques de la Concordia group although not sure if it always was? As the latest 2017 vintage tastes quite different from the previous 2016 (also reviewed last year) - this could just be an age thing as the '16 was richer toastier and fruitier, and the '17 is fresher and more appley although still a nice buy and may well deepen in flavour in bottle.
Marques del Norte Cava Vintage 2018, Jaume Serra (11.5%) - Another good Asda buy at £6, this reliable Cava offers nutty and apple notes with refreshing frothy finish.
Emendis Nu Allongé Cava Brut Nature (11.5%) - Made by Anna and Jordi Valles from the Xarel-lo grape variety, this classy Catalan fizz treads the fine line well between toasty yeasty and roasted almond with aromatic freshness and very dry finish. £11.99 Virgin Wines (excluding any wine club members' discount).

Andoni Sparkling Wine Sec NV (11.5%) - It says 'blended from four of Hungary's native grape varieties' on Virgin Wines' website, so your guess is as good as mine: easy-going fizz modelled in the style of 'Hungarian Prosecco' with a light touch and off-dry finish (£10.99 although I paid a good bit under a tenner).

La Burgondie Bourgogne Chardonnay 2019, Vignerons de Buxy (13%) - White peach and citrus turning creamier with nutty aromas and flavours too, elegant dry and fruity mouth-feel with fresh acidity yet a touch of oily roundness. Quite stylish Chardy, a good all-rounder. Tesco £10/£9 on offer.
Gayda Collection Grenache 2019, IGP Pays d'Oc (14%) - Delicious unoaked Grenache from this go-getting Languedoc winery (I'll spare you the gay sixth sense giggle concerning its name) with kirsch and dark chocolate tones, fairly soft cherry and liquorice finish, just a hint of tannin and oomph too. £9.99 James Nicholson (JN) Wines (less 20% January sale discount, 10% off mixed case). Good with duck.
Petit Mazuret Viognier 2019, IGP Méditerranée (14%) - Thought-provoking style of Viognier from southern Provence that downplays the overt apricot/peach characters, although it's certainly aromatic with rich spicy honeyed fruit, rounded oily texture and quite concentrated finish. Try with smoked haddock. £9.50 JN Wines (less 20% January sale discount, 10% off mixed case).

Villa Bianchi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2019, Umani Ronchi, Marche (12.5%) - Typical example of this popular central-eastern Italian dry white: peachy floral and flavoursome with crisp chalky and elegant aftertaste. Apparently from organic vineyards although I don't remember seeing a certification symbol on the bottle? £9.99 JN Wines (less 20% January sale discount, 10% off mixed case).

Porta 6 Vinho Regional Lisboa 2019, Vidigal Wines (50% Tinta Roriz, 40% Castelão and 10% Touriga Nacional, 13.5% abv) - Very attractive smooth red with ripe black cherry/berry fruit, violets liquorice and spice, a hint of dry tannin in the mouth with powerful but balanced finish. £7.50 Tesco (the funky label was based on a Lisbon street painting, copied from Tesco's site).

South Africa
Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2019, Swaartland, Badenhorst Family (13.5%) - Shaped by 50+ year-old bush vines giving lush concentrated very ripe fruit, this wine was partly fermented in large old casks lending rounded oily texture, as well as extended ageing on the yeast-less adding complex flavours. Rich honeyed pineapple/apricot with tangy nutty edges lending a sweet-sour twist, lingering weighty mouthfeel. £11.50 JN Wines (less 20% January sale discount, 10% off mixed case).

22 February 2021

'Noir, blanc or gris: Grenache is at home in the wild south' - The Wine Merchant magazine

Screenshot from the latest digital edition:

This short paragraph from an article in the February 2021 edition of The Wine Merchant magazine (UK business publication) is a taster of a few combined extracts from my book on the Roussillon region themed around the Grenache variety. Follow the link above to read the feature (and the full digital issue) or scan the QR code below. Or go to winemerchantmag.com to find out more and buy a printed copy.

"There seems to be a minor buzz about the Grenache variety whether from the south of France, the better-established southern Rhone Valley regions, northeast Spain or South Australia. Best known as a red or ‘black’ variety, Grenache noir in French, in fact it’s a family of grape varieties in three different shades. There’s a strong heritage of old vine Grenache in the Roussillon for making Port-style Vins Doux Naturels, but it has become the region’s defining grape for red (and rosé) wines giving them power (sometimes an unfashionably elevated alcohol level) and lush spicy fruit, although not necessarily such a deep colour or firm tannins. There were 6000 hectares of Grenache in 2016 falling from over 7000 ha ten years earlier; if it continued to diminish while not being replaced sufficiently, that heritage could be lost for ever at the expense of newer arrivals such as Syrah..."

20 January 2021

Red & rosé wines of trying times

Whereas the 50-odd 'white wines of the cosmos' in my previous feature were arranged by store, these 40 red and rosé tips have been grouped by good old-fashioned grape variety (or combinations of). Once again no apologies offered for, this time, an irrational amount of Grenache, including GSM (Grenache / Garnacha, Shiraz / Syrah and Mourvèdre blends), and Pinot Noir.

Grenache / Garnacha with GSM and similar combos

Finest GSM 2017, D'Arenberg, McLaren Vale, South Australia (14.5% abv) - Made by Grenache supremo D'Arenberg (they have some very very old Grenache and Shiraz vines planted), this alluring red shows maturing colour and nose with spicy kirsch and black cherry, punchy palate but quite soft with peppery sweet berries and pruney earthy olive. Tesco £9.
Willunga 100 Grenache 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia - Pricier but classy red from another McLaren Grenache specialist: concentrated, meaty and powerful with lingering savoury and spicy fruit flavours. £13-£14 independent wine stores (imported by Liberty Wines in London, where the photo was downloaded from).
McWilliam's Markview Shiraz 2018, New South Wales, Australia - Okay, this is a straight 'S' rather than GSM but I wasn't going to leave it on its own. Very good value and better than many Oz reds at this price, it delivers soft dark peppery fruit and simple quaffing. WineMark £6.99 (I think - their website is crap) and sometimes Tesco.
Monfil Garnacha 2018, Cariñena, Spain (13.5%) - From Aragon, the home of Garnacha / Grenache (it's official apparently), this easy-going soft-ish although powerful and floral cherry fruited little number does what it says on the label (in big letters): a taste of sunny Garnacha. JN Wine £8.99 / £8.09 (with 10% case discount).
Águila Chillando Garnacha 2018, Cariñena, Spain (14.5%) - A Garnacha for chilling out perhaps (chill + Spanish gerund?) although it's pretty weighty; this one is similar in style to the Monfil with upfront peppery berry fruits and no obvious oak. Virgin Wines £8.49 was £9.99 (now 2019 vintage).
Campo Viejo Rioja Rosé 2019 (100% Garnacha, 13.5%) - Strawberry and roses, ripe and full-bodied with crisp finish. Widely available £7-£8 (Asda, Tesco, JS, Morrisons et al).
Finca Manzanos Rioja Rosado 2019 (Garnacha & Tempranillo, 13%) - Similar to above, perhaps a tad more elegant and with a bit more depth of flavour. Virgin Wines £9.89 was £10.99.
Sangre de Toro Original 2018, Catalunya, Spain, Bodegas Torres (13.5%) - Pitches Garnacha with some Cariñena (the variety not the region = Carignan) and sporting a tiny black plastic bull attached to the neck (classy touch), this is a seminal easy-going Torres classic red with wild berry fruits and chunky yet rounded palate. WineMark, Tesco, Asda £6.50-£7.50.
L'effet papillon Grenache noir & Syrah 2019, Côtes Catalanes, France (14.2%) - Part of a less expensive trio made by the owners of Roc des Anges in the Roussillon, this solid lightly rustic Grenache and Syrah blend offers lush spicy plum fruit and chunky framework. JN Wine £12 / £10.80. There's a Grenache rosé too: the 2018 I bought was tasty and rounded although looking a little old (JN appears to be out of stock so perhaps some of the 2019 is on the way).
Le Petit Mod'Amour 2018, Côtes du Roussillon rouge, Domaine Modat, France (unoaked Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, 14.5%) - Appealing wild-edged red with rustic berries and liquorice, weighty and quite concentrated although a tad pricey. JN Wine £14.50 / £13.05. Pictured below with my book (hover over image).
Chateau Pesquié Terrasses Rosé 2019, Ventoux, France (Cinsault 50%, Grenache 40%, Syrah 10%) - Either a replacement for the rosé I ordered or a mistake - should have been Domaine Negly's Les Terrasses Languedoc rosé made from Malbec - but a result for me in the end, as Pesquié costs £12.99 / £11.69 and the Negly £9.99 / £8.99 which is what I paid (JN Wine). Stylish dry southern rosé with gooseberry, raspberry and long lively finish.
Gold Label Rosé 2019, Pays d'Oc, France (Syrah & Grenache) - Attractive simple fruity and well-made rosé from M&S: a good option as part of their meal deal. £7
Les Arbousiers Coteaux du Languedoc rosé 2019 (Cinsault & Grenache, 13.5%) - Refreshing but quite full-bodied, another good quality versatile dry Med rosé. Virgin Wines £9.99.
Domaine Gayda Grenache 2017, IGP Pays d'Oc, France - Bought this in my local Chinese, Malaysian and Thai restaurant (Lemongrass) but as a lockdown carry-out in a half-price sale (can't remember how much now): it was lovely and mature with savoury liquorice notes to its soft spicy fruit.
Finest Saint-Chinian 2018, Languedoc, France, Maison Fortant (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, 13.5%) - Probably a slight majority Syrah this time, its spicy black fruity wild herby character offered a good mouthful for the price. Tesco £9 (now 2019).

And more Grenache / Garnacha HERE (Maury sec vs South Australia vs Catalunya).

Domaine Modat: it's in the book!

Pinot Noir

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2019, Marlborough, New Zealand (13.5%) - Although a little oakier and firmer than the more obviously tasty 2018 vintage (quite rounded and mature), this popular brand still has plenty of appealing Pinot Noir fruit and character with a sweet/savoury side. Widely available in the UK from £10 to £11, £9 or so on offer.
Finest Marlborough Pinot Noir 2018, Indevin, New Zealand (13%) - Perfumed and silky with delicate maturing fruit, still quite refreshing though. Tesco £9 (now 2019).
Errázuriz Cuvée Aconcagua Pinot Noir 2019, Aconcagua, Chile (13.5%) - Aged in French oak barrels for 9 months (it says) but nicely done (Errázuriz's chief winemaker Francisco Baettig knows what he's doing), as it adds texture rather than overt oak; chunky and youthful at the moment (I found it better after being open for a day or two) although supple and concentrated. Not sure if the striking black, gold and red label denotes a new wine or simply different packaging for what is called Estate Series, Reserve or Aconcagua Costa elsewhere (Majestic, WineMark, Ocado), as all their Pinots come from Aconcagua vineyards. Tesco £11.
Errázuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2019, Aconcagua, Chile (13%) - A special batch Pinot fermented in open top vats using indigenous yeasts, which add wilder funkier edges to its lovely floral berry and spice fruit, concentrated and quite fine. I think I bought it at bin-end like price at Asda (no longer available), otherwise it costs about £14 at independent merchants and Majestic.
Viña Casablanca Céfiro Pinot Noir Cool Reserve 2018, Casablanca Valley, Chile - Another good quality and value Chilean Pinot with attractive maturing savoury fruit, subtle intensity even if drinking well now; good match with leg of lamb (deboned and rolled) on Christmas day. JN Wine £10.50 / £9.45.
De Martino Lote 02 Pinot Noir 2019, Limarí Valley, Chile (13.5%) - Classy Pinot from this leading 'natural'-leaning winery combining body and delicacy with fragrant red fruits and an earthier more savoury side. Virgin has a tempting offer running: £10.99 (was £14.99).
Extra Special Pinot Noir 2018, Leyda Valley, Chile (14%) - Not the most polished of Chilean Pinots, but for this price you can't go wrong. Lightly balsamic tones with savoury red fruits, punchy yet rounded; good with Chinese style duck. Asda £6.50.
By the way, what happened to a previous Asda Extra Special Pinot Noir, from the Yarra Valley Australia made by De Bortoli? The 2018 was very tasty indeed. Showing as unavailable on their site so hopefully it will return.
Finest Pinot Noir 2018, Casablanca, Chile, Cono Sur (13.5%) - We liked this smooth Pinot at first, but recent bottles seem to have changed in style a little becoming a bit oaky. Otherwise a good buy on offer! Tesco £9.
Grand Conseiller Pinot Noir 2018, France, Bouchard Ainé & Fils (12.5%) - A leaner type of Pinot but still tasty enough. Tesco £7 on offer / £9.
Bradshaw Pinot Noir The Peacock Series, Romania (12.5%) - Not exactly 'fine' but distinctly Pinot in character with easy-going cherry fruit and elegant finish. Crazy price: Asda £5.50.
Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé 2019, Pfalz, Germany, Ernst Loosen (11.5%) - Stylish light and zesty rosé from Germany with elegant raspberry and yeast-lees notes. JN Wine £11.00 / £9.90.
Lergenmüller Saigner Spätburgunder Rosé Trocken 2019, Pfalz (11.5%) - Another classy delicate German Pinot Noir rosé, although expensive. Similar to above though perhaps livelier and leesier with creamy red fruits and zingy mouth-feel. £12.99 Virgin.

Limarí Valley, Chile


Finest Malbec Rosé 2020, Mendoza, Argentina, Bodegas Catena (13.5%) -  Oozes spot-on balance of strawberry fruit, full-bodied mouth-feel and zesty freshness; an all-year-round rosé (like any decent dry rosé as far as I'm concerned) that's very versatile with food. Tesco £8 / £6 on offer (bargain). Updated February 2021: the latest batch of this rosé was disappointing, not sure if it's just not the same wine or possibly because of intrusive sulphites?
Santa Julia Malbec Rosé 2019/20, Mendoza, Argentina (14%) - Another flavoursome crisp yet full-on rosé from Argentina (Malbec seems to work well in this big style) produced by quality winery Zuccardi. Sainsbury's £9.

Tempranillo (and combos)

Campo Viejo Reserva 2015, Rioja, Spain (Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo, 13.5%) - Very consistent traditional cask-aged Rioja from vintage to vintage, this huge winery knows how to bottle that seductive smoky style with dried fruits and spices, a little bit of dry tannin but otherwise smooth and ready to drink. Widely available for £10-£11 but routinely on promotion somewhere for a couple of quid less.
M&S No. 21 Lomas del Marqués Rioja Reserva 2014, Spain (Tempranillo with Graciano, 14%) - I wouldn't argue with Mark's about this sumptuous red's standing in their new 'classics' range. Lovely mature Rioja styling with spicy oak (2 years in cask) melting into lush and meaty dark fruit, some tannin lingering on the palate but it's essentially ready to drink; with lamb or beef I guess, although a good quality mature cheese would do nicely too. Excellent value at £9.
Gym Dão 2017, Agricola Boas Quintas, Portugal (Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro & Tinta Roriz, 13%) - Tinta Roriz is what viticulturalists call a 'clone' of Tempranillo, so they're like twins; it's also called Aragonês in southern Portugal. Juicy damson and liquorice with spicy violets, chunky but attractive tannins. From Aldi although it might all be gone now.

Merlot & Cabernet

Château Peymouton Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2016, Bordeaux, France (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, 14%) - Stylish maturing red with lush smoky fruit and still a little structure on the palate. Was on offer at WineMark a while ago for about £10-£12 (great price), otherwise it's £15.99 from Ocado (2014 or 2017 but 'out of stock') or more depending on vintage. Looks like Aldi stores once had some too.

Other grapes - Italy

Barone di Bernaj Frappato 2019, Cantine Madaudo, Sicily - Sicilian red variety Frappato produces relatively light spicy and fruity wines, this one was delicious ever so lightly chilled.
Isoletta Nero d'Avola Rosato 2019, Cantine Settesoli, Sicily - Nero d'Avola makes a variety of types of red wine, usually rich ripe and earthy, and full-bodied dry fruity rosés like this very nice example from this well-known co-op winery.
Valpolicella Ripasso Extra Special 2016, Lake Garda, Verona (Corvina & Rondinella, 14%) - The 2016 may no longer be available, but buy the oldest vintage you can find as the savoury maturity that comes with it is a bonus. Smoky balsamic dried fruits and firm yet ageing mouth-feel, a tasty mini-Amarone in style and price. Asda £9.50.