Monday, March 18, 2019

Blind wine tasting is hard!

This week I attended a blind wine tasting hosted by Wine Australia, and I thought, "easy, I'm going to smash this", and although Aussie wines are some of my favourites, I haven't done any blind tasting since my WSET exams five years ago (gosh is it that long?!). I got it wrong. I got it all wrong.

We were given a piece of paper where we could write our notes, and given another which posed 7 questions about the wines, which we had to hand in at the end. Answer papers were marked and the top 4 people given recognition (no-one listed below the top 4, and no scores revealed - thus preventing any (my) embarrassment). It was a lovely experience and my fellow wine tasters were charming.

There were three flights of wine - Flight 1: four white wines, Flight 2: three red wines, and Flight 3: four red wines. We had to guess the single grape variety in each flight, decide which wines were from the same region in each flight, and identify the one wine of the day that was not from Australia (and where it was from). Straightforward right? It would seem... until you throw the way my brain works into the mix. Let me explain...

Flight 1:
My first thought was Chardonnay, of course these are Chardonnay, but hang on wine #1 is oily - in the way that cocoa butter is oily, and lemon aroma, so a bit like eating a Hotel Chocolate Lemon white chocolate. Yum. But not typical of chardonnay. There's a slight spritz on the tip of my tongue - again atypical for Chardonnay, hang on could this be Semillon? It has a full body - tick - and is not very complex (i.e. doesn't have many different flavours coming through - similar to a pinot grigio) - tick. Then I looked at the legs (the viscous drops down the side of the glass, which indicates alcohol level), and wiped it from my mind, no, no it can't be a Semillon, as Semillon has low alcohol, these thick legs mean high alcohol... so I continued tasting Flight 1 thinking the wines were Chardonnay (both wines 2 & 3 had buttery notes - typical of Chardonnay, but also possible for Semillon). But then, Wine 4 threw me - it was quite light and pale, with citrus and mineral, and dental floss (or, rather, a medical tasting eucalyptus flavour) - this can't be Chardonnay screamed the devil on my left shoulder! The angel on my left was too timid to remind me of the typical Chardonnay characteristics I had experienced with the other two wines.
I wrote Semillon on the answer sheet. These wines were Chardonnay. Then they asked which wine is from Barossa and although the eucalyptus is blatantly a clue for Wine 4, I wrote down Wine 1, because that white chocolate flavour made me think it had to come from a hot climate. I wonder now if that white chocolate is a result of a process during winemaking (such as Malolactic fermentation - I can cover this another day), rather than a characteristic representative of the terroir (the place where the grapes are grown). Bobbins!

Flight 2:
The wines were very pale in colour and had delicate aromas (i.e. you can't smell a thing), the wines had brownish edges, a sign of ageing. Wine 5 tasted of charries and burnt toffee, Wine 6 reminded me of eating fresh red fruits and buttered toast in the mountains, and Wine 7 felt like red velvet and made my lips tingle. It must be Pinot Noir - it's a widely-grown grape in Australia, it's pale, and ages well. But then, my brain switched again, I know that Austalians are using a much wider variety of grapes than we normally think of, and there was something distinctly savoury about these wines, and that brown colour that made me think it could be something else... ooh... Nebbiolo?! I wrote that down. WRONG - they were Pinot Noir - Doh! I saids wines 5 & 6 were made in the same region: wrong again! Wines 6 & 7 were.

Flight 3:
These wines showed characteristics of jammy fruit, blackcurrants, and vanilla. Where they differed to each other was Wine 8 had cooler climate sturcture (less jammy, higher tannins), Wine 9 was more Ribena-y and spicey and was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS, Wine 10 had a brick colour to the edges, Wine 11 was cherries, chocolate, and a bitter finish, Wine 12 had a tar aroma. So the debate was Shiraz versus Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, none of the wines had the characteristic Eucalyptus found in Aussie Cab Savs, so these wines were more typical of Shiraz. However, cherries, chocolate and a bitter finish (Wine 11) are atypical for Aussie Shiraz, as is the roughness of a tar aroma (Wine 12). So I wrote down Cab Sav. What I didn't think to consider was Wine 11 was not an Aussie Shiraz, it was from Chile; and Wine 12 was a £9 bottle of wine, which caught me out! In my blindness, I wrote that Wine 9 was the not-Australian wine, and because a) I had convinced myself these were Cabernets, and b) my other favoured region for wines is California, I wrote down Cali as the origin of the non-Aussie wine.

Stung on every question. I may have studied extensively and passed my WSET exams, but without practice you lose your touch. I intend to go back next month and try again, this time I hope to report better results! #practicemakesperfect

Thank you @Wine-Australia

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vegan Wine - HYO Wine Club

VEGAN: The biggest growing health trend at the moment, with now over 500,000 vegans in the UK (more than 3.5 times the number 10 years ago). As soon as I mention vegan wine to most people, it is swiftly followed by the question: isn't all wine vegan?! And the answer is: mostly, no.

You'd think that picking grapes, fermenting them and putting the liquid in a bottle would be a vegan process, but wine-making is far more complicated than that. Animal products are often used during the fining process. After filtering (removing the lumpy bits in the wine leftover from the fermentation process), the wine must go through a process called fining, which is where the small particles that make a wine hazy are removed. Most consumers expect, and prefer, their wine to be clear. It is only natural wines that you will usually find are hazy. To remove the small particles a compound must be stirred into the wine that attracts the proteins in the particles, and then the compound with particles attached is removed. Many wines will have gone through this process with the use of isinglass (a protein found in the float bladder of a fish). To make a vegetarian wine the winemaker may choose to use casein (milk protein) or albumin (egg protein). To make a vegan wine bentonite clay is used.

I also get asked: Do vegan wines taste nice? Well, there shouldn't be much difference, and if the winemaker has taken care to fine the wine well enough using a vegan method, you'll probably find they care enough to make a decent wine! At our next pop up wine bar in Marlow on 26th October 2018, we will be serving a flight of vegan wines. If you're hosting your own wine night, why not try these vegan wines (or others) to see if you can notice any difference to what you normally drink. Majestic have over 30 vegan wines, and here are three that taste wonderful and offer great value for money.

Excellence Ormarine Picpoul
£9.99 (£8.99 Mix Six)
Picpoul translates as 'lip-stinger' - a nickname due to its high acidity. The Picpoul (or Piquepoul) grape is grown in the Langedoc region in Southwest France. Picpoul de Pinet only became an appellation in 2013 and was often previously used to make Vermouth. This crisp white wine can be easily spotted by its slender green bottle and is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. Excellent with seafood and shellfish, traditional Mediterranean cuisine, and cheese... and chocolate!


Rey Noble Garnacha
£10.99 (£9.99 Mix Six)
This Garnacha (or Grenache) was grown in the Navarra region of Spain. A vibrant unaoked red wine with cherry and raspberry aromas. This medium-bodied red is easy drinking, yet has a lovely earthiness that will go well with rustic food like BBQ and burgers. This wine can be served slightly chilled. 'Rey Noble' means 'Noble King' and the giant blue heart on the label represents the blue blood and kindness of Navarra's King Carlos III. 


Vinalba Malbec Bonarda
£9.99 (£8.49 Mix Six)
When we think about wine from Argentina we almost always think of Malbec. However, Bonarda is Argentina's second most widely planted red grape and is making its way onto the UK wine scene. Bonarda produces wines that are fruit-forward with quite high acidity, adding a balance to the tannins when blended with Malbec. Black cherry, plum and allspice characteristics, with a floral aroma.


But then you could say that no wine is ever truly vegan... If you've ever visited a vineyard during harvest, you will know that all sorts of bugs and spiders get picked along with the grapes and will sometimes get missed from the sorting table before the grapes are pressed. I'll leave you with that thought!

If you want to know more about our pop up wine bars, visit www.princessandthepinot.com 

Friday, August 31, 2018

South African Wines - HYO Wine Club

South African Wines
South Africa has a Mediterranean climate and is known for full bodied reds and rich whites. Pinotage is a native red varietal, with very high tannins that stand up to the heat. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are other common red varietals grown in this region. South Africa is branching out with other grape varieties, including Malbec, but if you're going to go off piste I'd recommend you stick to producers you know and love.

Swartland Winery, Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, 13.5%
Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape which can be made in a variety of styles. Chenin from the Loire in France, is fresh with pear and chamomile because of the cool climate. This South African wine is richer with baked apple, honey and dried fruit. It is creamy on the palate and is a perfect match for turkey dinner!
Available from wine-discovery.co.uk £15.50

Mulberry Bush, Shiraz / Merlot, Robertson, South Africa, 14%
This is what I like to call a telly wine - soft, easy drinking; you don't have to think too much about it, and a pretty price. This wine celebrates the mulberry flavours typical of Shiraz and Merlot from Robertson in South Africa. A cacophony of mulberries, plums and figs, with a smooth finish, this wine is much softer than the mainstream tannic reds coming out of South Africa.

Available from Laithwaites £8.99

Bain's Kloof Black Frost Reserve, Pinotage, Breedekloof, South Africa, 14.5%
Frost in the Breedekloof Valley is almost unheard of, but in 2016 the worst fronst seen in a generation descended on the vines and the whole vintage was wiped out. A few barrels of Pinotage that had been put aside in 2013 were rediscovered. Named after the devastating black frost that struck, this wine has seductive richness and power, bramble fruit, spice cake and toasty oak. Enjoy with warming venison and redcurrant jelly or at your next barbecue.

Available from Laithwaites £11.99

Host Your Own Wine Club


We have been serving great wines at our pop-up wine bars and would like to get more people involved with trying the wines we recommend. Once you join HYO Wine Club we will send you a list of wines that we recommend to try each month. When you try the wines please tell us what you think on Twitter using @HYOwineclub and #HYOwineclub, or on the PrincessAndThePinot Facebook Page - we would love to chat to you about the wines you've tasted based on our recommendations. Most of the wines will be available on the high street, but some come from independent stores or winemakers. You can try the wines in the comfort of your own home at your leisure, or you can come to our pop-up wine bars to try the wines, or we can help you to Host Your Own wine club. The flights of wine served at our pop-up wine bars will feature the wines recommended for HYO Wine Club.

To find out more about our pop up wine bars please visit www.princessandthepinot.com/events

To find out more about our wine club please vsiti www.princessandthepinot.com/hyo-club

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Host Your Own HYO Wine Club - Aussie Shiraz

Australian Shiraz

Top Tips
McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley in South Australia are two areas best known for quality Australian Shiraz (Syrah). However, this flight explores Shiraz from other regions of Australia. Orange in NSW is an up and coming region of Australian wine. Clare Valley is better known for its Riesling wines, but winemakers are diversifying their crops. When a bottle says “South Eastern Australia” the grapes can come from anywhere, which means that they can make cheaper wines with consistent quality.


Wollemi, Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, 12.5%

This wine has been bottled in the UK, which is why the price can be so low. By law the label must state where wine has been bottled, so look for a UK postcode. If you pay less than £6 for a bottle of wine like this one then you will generally get better wine if it has been bottled here, because of the savings in transport costs.
Available from Sainsbury’s <£8

Climbing, Shiraz, Orange, Australia, 2014, 14%
Trying wines from newer regions can lead to finding hidden gems. Orange is not yet known for winemaking, but soon will be. This wine is deep red with purple edges. Plum, dark cherry and blackberry, with hints of spice, and subtle oak. Soft and drinkable, this is a great-tasting Shiraz for less than a tenner.
Available from Waitrose £8-10

The Hedonist, Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia, 14%
Black and silky, aged in new American oak with a long velvety finish. Blackcurrant jam, sweet spices, vanilla and coconut. This is a vegetarian and organic wine. It has been made with minimum interference so represents Australian Shiraz at its best.
Available from Wine Rack or Waitrose or independents >£10


Host Your Own Wine Club

We have been serving great wines at our pop-up wine bars and would like to get more people involved with trying the wines we recommend. Once you join HYO Wine Club we will send you a list of wines that we recommend to try each month. When you try the wines please tell us what you think on Twitter using @HYOwineclub and #HYOwineclub, or on the PrincessAndThePinot Facebook Page - we would love to chat to you about the wines you've tasted based on our recommendations. Most of the wines will be available on the high street, but some come from independent stores or winemakers. You can try the wines in the comfort of your own home at your leisure, or you can come to our pop-up wine bars to try the wines, or we can help you to Host Your Own wine club. The flights of wine served at our pop-up wine bars will feature the wines recommended for HYO Wine Club.

To find out more about our pop up wine bars please visit www.princessandthepinot.com/events

To find out more about our wine club please vsiti www.princessandthepinot.com/hyo-club

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Domaine Sainte Rose - Host Your Own Wine Club

Host Your Own Wine Club - Wines by Domaine Sainte Rose

When you try the wines please tell us what you think on Twitter using @HYOwinecluband #HYOwineclub, or on the PrincessAndThePinot Facebook Page - we would love to chat to you about the wines you've tasted based on our recommendations. Most of the wines will be available on the high street, but some come from independent stores or winemakers. You can try the wines in the comfort of your own home at your leisure, or you can come to our pop-up wine bars to try the wines, or we can help you to Host Your Own wine club. The flights of wine served at our pop-up wine bars will feature the wines recommended for HYO Wine Club.

Domaine Sainte Rose
Ruth and Charles Simpson have spent the past 16 years learning about, growing, crafting and exporting exceptional wines from their estate, Domaine Sainte Rose, in the Languedoc region of southern France. Highly awarded and hugely enjoyed, their wines have become firm favourites with so many.

Method Traditional Blanc de Blanc 2014
A sophisticated sparkling Chardonnay with notes of fresh apple and subtle undertones of biscuit. A full-bodied fizz, which lingers on the palate. Perfect for celebrations and long summer evenings al fresco. Available from Naked Wines £18.99



Le Marin Blanc 2013
A stunning blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, combining white Melon, pear drops
and sweet vanilla beautifully balanced with rich, caramel flavours and a silky smooth finish. Available from Waitrose £9.99

La Garrigue GSM 2014
A wild and arid yet fragrant and delicate mix of Mediterranean flora. Scents of the garrigue such as rosemary with jammy red fruit and spicy black pepper. It is warm, generous and complex. Available from Majestic Wine £9.99

To find about more about HYO Wine Club or Princess and the Pinot events please visit www.princessandthepinot.com

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

English Still Wine @ Host Your Own (HYO) Wine Club June 2018

It's English Wine Week, so to celebrate we're recommending three tasty English still white wines for your wine club.

When you try the wines please tell us what you think on Twitter using @HYOwineclub and #HYOwineclub, or on the PrincessAndThePinot Facebook Page - we would love to chat to you about the wines you've tasted based on our recommendations. Most of the wines will be available on the high street, but some come from independent stores or winemakers. You can try the wines in the comfort of your own home at your leisure, or you can come to our pop-up wine bars to try the wines, or we can help you to Host Your Own wine club. The flights of wine served at our pop-up wine bars will feature the wines recommended for HYO Wine Club.

Top Tips
English wine has come a long way from the tart flabby wines that we used to make, to the 120 awards won at the International Wine Challenge 2016. Now even Taittinger, the French Champagne house, has bought some land in Kent to invest in English Sparkling wine. But it’s not just the sparklers that are outstanding, there are some English still wines that are worth a try, and here are three of them. Be aware that “British” wine is different to “English” wine. English wines are made from grapes that are grown here and then the wine is made here, whereas British wines import the juice to make here.


Chapel Down Flint Dry 2016 12%
Chapel Down is a winery in Kent. They don’t reveal grape varieties on the bottle, meaning it will be a blend of several varieties, and the quantities will vary to continue making the same style of wine through varying vintages. This one is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Schönburger among others. Elderflower, mineral and smokiness, not dissimilar to a Pouilly Fume style. This wine gets its texture from extended lees contact (sitting on the dead yeast cells left over from the fermentation). Chapel Down also make amazing vodka and gin using grapes. And brandy. And Curious Brew beer. They run guided tours, with a restaurant on site, and you can also lease a vine for exclusive benefits. £11.99 Waitrose.





LDN Cru Baker Street Bacchus 2016 11.5%
This wine is grown in England and made in London. Vinifed from Bacchus grapes grown in Kent and Essex. Bacchus is England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc because of its aromatics – known to have high sugars and low acidity, but our climate can cultivate a higher acidity in the grapes. Elderflower, stone fruits and cut grass with crisp acidity. Won Silver medal IWC 2017 and £15 Roberson – all LDN Cru currently 25% off. My favourite LDN Cru wine is the Charlotte Street Chardonnay (£20), but although the wine is made in London the grapes come from South of France, but worth a mention here! And soon they will be launching their English Chardonnay which I can't wait to try.


Litmus White Pinot 2015 12%

Litmus makes their wines at Denbies wine estate. Still wines produced in England, producing food orientated Northern European cool climate styles. They use a number of vineyard sites in Essex, Surrey and Sussex. Typically using old barriques and extended lees contact to create flavour complexity. Peach, honeysuckle and smoke. Full bodied, which is unusual in English wines. Grapes are carefully handled throughout the winemaking process. Fermented in oak barriques and remained on lees for 9mths. Possibly the first still white 100% Pinot Noir to be made in England. M&S £22. Another wine to note from Litmus is Element 20 (Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio) available from Waitrose £16.99.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Host Your Own (HYO) Wine Club May 2018

Host Your Own Wine Club!

Totally FREE and UK-focused wine club - we will tell you which wines to try each month and then let us know what you think about the wines on Twitter or Facebook. #HYOwineclub #joinin

If you would like to host your own wine club, please read our TIPS.

The wines we recommend for you to try and join us on social media in May are listed below. If you would like to know which wines we recommended for April (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), please click HERE.


AROMATIC WHITES

Aromatic white wines are pronounced on the nose and are defined by dominant floral aromas, including Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, and Viognier. These wines range in taste, intensity and sweetness, with many styles on the sweeter side. Torrontés and Albariño tend to be bone dry. Good quality aromatic whites tend not to be served super-chilled so that the aromas can develop in the glass further. Aromatic wines are ideal partners to Asian cuisine.

Catena Alamos, Torrontés, Salta, Argentina, 2013, 13.5%
Torrontés is a grape that originates from Argentina. The best Torrontés wines come from the high elevation vineyards in Salta, like this one. It is a full bodied white wine, which gives the freshness of the wine some oomph. Fragrant with perfume of spring flowers, honey and tropical fruits, so smells as though it ought to be sweet, but it isn’t. On the palate it’s dry, crisp and well-balanced.
Available from Wine Rack £9.99


Yalumba, Organic Viognier, South Australia, 2016, 13.5%
The Viognier grape originates in France, in the Condrieu appellation in the Rhône Valley. A full-bodied, dry aromatic unoaked white wine, with lovely peach, tangerine and honeysuckle flavours. You may notice an oily sensation on your tongue, which is common with this grape. It has quite a high alcohol content because the grapes are left on the vine longer to ensure they achieve the heady aromas. Yalumba is a well-known producer of Viognier, at all price levels.
Available from Waitrose £11.99


Dr Loosen Grey Slate, Riesling, Feinherb, Mosel, Germany, 2014, 10.5%              
Many wine journalists state Riesling as their preferred varietal. Riesling from the Mosel is light and refreshing. This wine is fruity with pineapple, peach, green apple and slate flavour characteristics. There is grey slate surrounding the vines, which is important for radiating the heat on to the vines overnight and during the cold misty mornings, but makes it very difficult to harvest. This wine is “feinherb” which means off-dry; look for “trocken” on the label if you prefer a dry German Riesling.
Available from Waitrose £9.99



ITALIAN REDS

There are hundreds of grape varieties that come from Italy. Here we showcase three very different styles, from the Nero d’Avola in Sicily, a wine not dissimilar to Malbec, to the classic refined Chianti (no fava beans in sight!), to the bold and fruity Primitivo from Puglia in southern Italy. Italian wines are made for Italian food, and since Italian is a favourite cuisine in the UK we should explore the variety of wine this beautiful country has to offer.

Columba Bianca Vitese, Nero D’Avola, Sicily, Italy, 2016, 14%
Nero d’Avola is a full-bodied wine but with brighter flavour characteristics than you might expect from such a warm region. It’s a more rounded, more consistent, more fun alternative to Pinot Noir or Malbec. Rich flavours of plum and black cherries with a violet aftertaste. It has the same flavour profile as a Cabernet Sauvignon, but without the tannin.
Available from wine-discovery.co.uk £9.50


Poggio Chianti Classico, Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy, 2013, 13%
Chianti Classico is the oldest area in the Chianti region in central Italy. Sangiovese is Italy's most widely planted grape variety and produces wines with pronounced tannins and acidity. Its character can vary from savoury leather to fruity red cherries. This wine is Sangiovese blended with Merlot and Syrah to give great balance and structure. Sophisticated, like a romantic dinner with a linen tablecloth. Pair with pasta in tomato sauce, Tuscan Sausages, or roasted aubergine.
Available from Waitrose £10.79


Terre di Faiano, Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, 2015, 13.5%
Primitivo is the same grape varietal as Zinfandel, but grown in Puglia, the heel of the boot of Italy, which sees a lot of sunshine. This is a full-bodied red wine with an intense deep-ruby colour. Aromas of juicy blackberries, and a silky texture with spicy flavour characteristics of black cherries, vanilla and chocolate.  Comfortable and familiar, like reading a book on your sofa. Great with meatballs, roast lamb or BBQ.

Available from Waitrose £9.49


Prices may have changed, and availability not guaranteed