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Taste Test: #4 : revisited

Taste Test: #4 : revisited

Tasting with friends movieOver time, as these articles emerge, common threads start to emerge within posts. In this one noticing noticing the poor labels or unimpressive glassware that belie gorgeous wines inside recurs. Judging the book by its cover? Again and again. Over and over. Year in: Year out. Can’t help it. Its what we all try not to do, and yet…

But, still it’s better than blind Tasting. We don’t blind test (read our views on that pseudo-science here.)

OK. For this test we have the same rules: All wines were paid for, in full. No other agent was involved in our choices or tastings or opinions, nor have they been sought. We don’t care what our suppliers want us to write.


Italy-national-flagEnrico Serafino Gavi DOCG 2012 Piedmont, Italy ¥135-¥150 15.5pts

To me, Gavi is an enigmatic, almost ethereal wine: Borderline ‘elusive’. There’s no two ways about it. Dry aGavind fresh, yes, but a powerhouse it ain’t: Think more Muscadet than NZ Sauvignon. This newly arrived 2012 version is less developed than the 2009 that recently expired. Fresher. The latter ’09 bottles I tried had detrimentally suffered when infuriatingly un-trainable shop owners had displayed them too long, un-shielded from sunlight. Cooked.

So we’ve made a huge vintage jump into an almost completely new genre. The reset button has been pressed. Like a retooled F1 engine, we’ve gone from V8 to V6 (but without a turbo in this case). The light and dainty qualities will no doubt morph into some whopping great seriousness with a little bottle age, but presently this wine is perhaps just perfect for a delicate fish pairing on a summers afternoon.

For those who like calm, dry, freshness, this Gavi is a gentle, subtle, thought-provoking wine: contemplative yet unobtrusive. Less like a bustling terrier; more like a chilled feline. Watching a white wine develop over a couple of years in the cellar will provide an experience in and of itself that can be a truly interesting journey, where few consciously venture. 15.5pts

france (¡) THE HARD SELL : Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois 2012 (Vin Doux Naturel) South West, France. ¥165ish?

I love sweet ‘dessert‘ wines. I don’t drink them all the time. Who could? Why would anyone want to? I don’t even drink them regularly, but when I do,about 3 times a year, I guess, I simply marvel at them.

For my own personal pleasure, they have to be proper sweet desert wines.  Full of richness, aromatics and fruits (and importantly) acidity. There’s the rub…sweetness requires balancing acidity, otherwise it ends up sickly sweet and cloying. Vin Doux Naturel(s) are high in alcohol. Another important feature that sweet wines truly require for balance.
Icewine half silhouette
Intense, alcoholic and complex: This Vin Doux Naturel is such a wine. Cheap sweet wines lack those characteristics in one or more ways.. and they have to be rescued by a veil of cassis aperitif or a thick pudding.
This one is lovely alone, in a small measure, chilled. And yet it reaches great heights combined with salty foods. Blue cheeses especially bring out a chorus of flavours and that’s just what I did, several times over a week, until the bottle was finished (all by myself).

My wife, like so many people, avoids sweet wines. It seems far too many people have had a bad experience (with cheap sweet wine) and for some reason decided and stuck by that decision, never to revisit. Pity. A self-imposed sanction leading to the closure of any avenue of pleasure seems illogical. Imagine if we did that about everything in life. Love. Movies. Art…Never going back to see if our position had altered; we’d lucked out previously, and perhaps now able to objectively asses our previous negative experience through wiser thoughts. Ah, the human condition.

This rare drop also happens to have won a Gold Medal in Paris (2013) which is why I went ahead with the purchase after picking it up for examination. Despite that, I have had to make a guestimate at the cost about which accuracy via a purchase receipt escapes me…I’d love to offer it for sale through our channels, but no-one will ever buy it. 16.5pts

usCoppola Diamond Label Chardonnay 2012 Sonoma, California ¥260Diamond Chardonnay-2750 17pts

We have revisited this wine every 9 months or so over the last 4 years, as it is a little more expensive than we like to spend on everyday wines. BUT (and that’s quite a big but) if I had to state for the record which white wines are the best we sell, I would have to say this is the best Chardonnay. 50% made in stainless steel and oak barrels it is then blended back together to achieve the best of both world. Buttery overtones and striking freshness. Absolutely stunning and a great wine with or without food. One that keeps coming up in conversation as a benchmark that others are judged by.

We started it alongside a Chicken Chasseur dish and ended up solo at sunset on the deck. Glances to an forth between the tasters and nods of approval said it all; sublime. do yourself a favour and take a trip into this echelon once in while to see what it means to drink ‘crafted’ wines. Accolades come in regularly form the Wine critics. 17pts


australian-falgDeBortoli Sacred Hill Sparkling Brut NV Australia ¥95-¥110 16ptsDB sparkling brut

Our top selling fizz by miles and miles over the last 4 years. Dry. bubbly. Fruity. Customers even refer to it as ‘their Champagne’. It goes with everything and this one went well with the sun ebbing towards the horizon on a warm day in April. Everybody’s dream come true. Easy to enjoy bubbles at everyday prices. Nicely bubbly; nicely fun.

Simple, but with enough going on to feel well satisfied: it is certainly oodles better than that South African rubbish from Carrefour (Obikwa) I was made to taste recently by someone with a demented idea of what is safe to put inside our bodies… Yuk!

What’s not to love about this? Now even it’s better because, when it comes under the new Family Selection label it now looks and feels superior to the Sacred Hill packaging, which is ok anyway. A winner got even more winny…. 16pts


franceArmand Dartios Cotes Du Ventoux AOC 2012    Rhone, France    ¥78-¥85 16pts

We sell so much of this wine and for so long now that you’d be forgiven for thinking wecotes du ventoux import it ourselves direct from the vineyard. Our flagship brand. We don’t. It isn’t.

It just simply happens to be one of the wines we source from our 5 varied internationally renowned suppliers. We buy it in large amounts so that we don’t run out (as they do)…It fits an important niche in the wine world that we can’t get elsewhere: a budget priced Rhone Red. Just like it’s stable-mate: A. Dartois Cotes du Rhone Villages (tested in taste test #1) it is outstanding when put beside what else is out there in the price range and it passed muster yet again with our test. Terroir and spicy acidity lead us effortlessly through to the warm, medium bodied core. It lends itself to home blending brilliantly.

It ain’t gonna break any records for packaging quality. I can just see it in a wire bin in a small provincial supermarket flying out the door for next to nothing, but in huge quantities, obviously. It ain’t gonna usurp the top end Rhone Rangers. But it’s dependable. It’s low cost and it’s got French terroir written all over it. Rustic, earthy, peppery spice in a light, warm blanket. Perfect with a BBQ, even slightly chilled. Open it a day early, if you can as that’s always a bonus. Or watch it evolve over a couple of days. 16pts

Italy-national-flag(Φ)Chiaro Primitivo IGT 2011    Veneto, Italy    ¥95-¥140 16.5pts

A very welcome surprise, this wine. This wine has been on our shelves and portfolio for Chiaro Primitivo 60x222almost 4 years. The ghastly label does nothing to entice me in. Yet the prosecco from these guys is perfectly drinkable, some would say; a revelation (revolution?) in dryness. In terms of awareness on our own internal radar here at LWwines, Chiaro’s Primitivo fits squarely into the ‘we should have tried it earlier‘, but equally we are reminded of the ‘there’s only so many hours in the day’ adage. Plus, the label design is off-putting, isn’t it (just a little?).

Anyhow, once we took the plunge inside and under the screw cap (which is not that common in Italy, we found lots and lots of fruit and a nice touch of spice. A food wine with no requirement of such, and perfectly able to stand on it’s own.

Primitivo is, of course, a largely unknown grape, in the hierarchy of things vinous, which rather excitingly (to us anyway) also masquerades as, the mysterious, ‘clone?’ or exact DNA replica, depending on your view, of California’s flagship variety, Zinfandel. We drank it over 3 days and while we must stress it was still fine as time wore on, it was best on day 1 when it’s freshness was just so, err, attractive. 16.5pts

September update: Married this with a lovely Roast pork and vegetables dinner just last night and was very impressed again. The fruit/spice elements just right for the richly black and white peppered and apple/pear sweetened sauce.

Argentina Flag thumb 60x30Callia Alta Shiraz / Malbec 2013    Argentina    ¥88-¥100 15.5pts

Universally popular and a whopping top seller, simply ‘Callia’, as everyone calls it, is here with new vintage callia Shiraz Malbecand a master class in entry level perfection it is too. It’s won many awards previously, so we thought we’d check out the latest vintage. The main thing here is fruit, fruit, fruit and ever so soft tannins.

Lovely, ‘everyday drinking’ wine. But we always like to play with it too: Add a drop into your glass of Chilean Cabernet and, hey presto, the complexity of a wine twice it’s worth. Not a bad response for a wine already starting from an elevated position relative to other would-be ‘bargain wines’ out there.

There are still some 2012’s around with a nice bit of bottle age too now: seek them out if you can. We have even kept a few 2011’s squirrelled away for research and er, interest. 15.5pts

 spain-flag^San Jose de Aguaron Monasterio De las Vinas Crianza D.O. 2008    Ebro, Spain ~¥200 17ptsMonasterio De las Vinas Crianza 2008

Here’s a wine that we don’t sell (officially…yet). The CARIÑENA D.O. is located at the heart of the Ebro Valley in the Autonomous Community of Aragón, not far from Zaragoza.

Right off the bat, it’s a lovely wine. Robert Parker deemed it worthy of 89pts, if that floats your boat. To our tongues and noses the wine was just right: Soft yet complex. Supple yet lively. Fresh yet nicely aged. So what’s in it? Well that’s not so clear.

There is one slightly irritating oddity in that their website describnes a completely different blend than the back label on the bottle, which speaks of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Carinena and Cabernet Sauvignon. The website claims it’s made from Garnacha, Tempranillo and Syrah. I didn’t realise this erroneous contradiction until I came to research this piece (a week after), so I may have to try another bottle for confirmation, as, for my money, the former grape blend seems more true to what I was tasting in there. Either way, though, whichever is correct, the blend offers a satisfyingly complex and interesting wine with competent craftsmanship. 17pts

Greece Flag thumb(¡) Agioritiko by Gaia 2010    Greece   ~¥500+ 15.5pts (no web page) Silver Medal, Decanter Awards 2014

This one turned up by way of a former employee who had brought it back to base in the evening after Agiorgitiko by Gaia thumbattending the February Wine Education WSET. As a rule I avoid most Greek wines. I tend not to understand them. When I visited Greece regularly (albeit, many years ago) I was never thankful of a glass of local wine. Yet I have to say that in the UK there were Greek imports which didn’t taste like toilet cleaner, and this wine thankfully fits the more pleasant role amicably. No added tree juice (resin) in here. This one hails from Nemea in the Peloponese; being of a northerly certainly aids in the development of varietal charm.

Silver DecanterSimilar in Style to a number of Italian wines but decidedly earthier, I thought, more minerality. Certainly plenty of acid and little tannin. Anyway, my colleague returned the half opened bottle to base, as I said and we found it pleasant enough. Though somebody had affixed a sticker to the front claiming possibly (it was hard to decipher) that the wines value was 500+, we thought if that were true, it was NOT a good value product. 15.5pts

September Update: Well, bless my soul, it has only gone and been awarded a Silver Medal at the Decanter wine Awards 2014! Still…that’s only going to influence our scoring by half a point.

How we go about it:

  • Some wines mentioned in these reports; we don’t even sell! But we’d like to mention them anyway for general interest, plus for current and future reference.
  • We are always looking to add value to what we do by building a better picture.
  • The points given at the end of each entry are based on usual tasting criteria (appearance, aroma, taste, cost) and are out of 20 instead of the 100 system used by Robert Parker et al.
  • We also take into consideration security of supply, accuracy to type, presentation, versatility, maturity and our ‘Wow versus Price’ view.

Embedded links take you to those wines with their own pages for further detailed descriptions/opinions.

Those without links are either:loveley black grapes

  • too new (*),
  • too niche (#),
  • we haven’t got around to it (^),
  • we didn’t think were worthy (Φ), or are
  • not available from us at the moment (¡)

The exciting development for us, is how many wines we either never got around to making pages for, or didn’t think were worthy, and have actually fared really well.

So that’s all for now: just putting taster test 5 together.

“May your wines be divine.”


Next time: amongst about 12 wines our lovely Spanish Cava is revisited. Now, that was a treat the other day. Also, there’ll be sumptuous mid-range Sella & Mosca Medeus Isola Dei Nuraghi IGT 2009 Sardegna and Marimar Estate “Don Miguel” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, as well as ludicrously easy on the pocket/tastebuds; San Medin Cabernet Sauvignon and Salentein Portillo Malbec 2013 Mendoza. Exciting new wines including Abadia Picopol DO 2012 Pla de Bages and new vintages from Camino de Castillo Tempranillo Crianza DO 2010 Ribero Del Duero are explored. Fernway Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (New Zealand) will put in an appearance and Enrico Serafino Barbera D’Asti DOCG 2011 (Piedmont) is resurrected from deletion (after tough negotiations to keep the cost price reasonable). Did I mention yet a certain favourite Zirnhelt Gewurztraminer AOP 2012 Alsace and a Bin Ended Chateau Lamargue Les Grandes Cabanes Costières de Nîmes Blanc 2009 that’s improving with age? Yum Yum.

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