The trouble with going to a Waitrose wine tasting is that one has to try everything, to make the most of it, instead of just choosing the wines that I’d normally expect to like. This, as you might predict, leads to a few low opinions of some wines and of course, very high opinions of others.
I find it hard to say bad things about Waitrose. And, a bad wine to me, may be a fabulous wine to another. So, as much as I thought the Waitrose & Partners No.1 Cederberg Private Cellar Syrah 2018 was almost too gamey to function, I’m sure someone else would love it and thus, I shall let stinky wines sleep. Instead, I will give you a few to look out for this Autumn which really stood out for me, some quite surprisingly so!
First things first, it was a stellar event. Organised beautifully, it never felt crowded, the lunch was just fantastically delicious and most importantly I learnt lots and not just about wine! If you’re into cooking, I would really recommend going to the Waitrose Cookery School for an event, they’re such a warm and welcoming bunch, it would be the perfect day out. Many thanks to Bethan too for getting me organised for the event.
And so back to wine. I stared at the vast rows of erect bottles clutching my glass and wondered if the tall silver things were objects d’art or spittoons. After watching the pros for a short time, I decided to just crack on, pen in hand, notes at the ready. The ever tirelessly working Jancis Robinson was there, perched at her laptop, creating those notes of gold for jancisrobinson.com. I was too shy to say anything of value and I didn’t want to disrupt on her on what I knew was a very busy day of press tastings, I believe there were four on the same day, something perhaps to be looked into before next time.
We start our journey with the Loire Valley and I spotted several wines I’d already consumed that week and I have some severe déjà vu. Anyway, the first one I’d like to mention and that I suggest you keep an eye out for is this:
Domaines Dominique Piron Beaujolais-Villages 2017
100% Gamay Noir grown on a 12-hectare site with sandy granite soils and an average vine age of 50 years. Hand harvesting followed by gentle pressing and semi-carbonic fermentation in stainless steel and cement vats over eight to 10 days. Winemakers Dominique Piron and Julien Revillon. Alc 12.5%
This had a smacking acidity, then a lovely roundedness to it. Loads of fruit, strawberry stands out vibrantly. A playful wine but not to be taken lightly.
We’ll move rapidly only Burgundy, spitting technique improving by the minute.
Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2017
100% Pinot Noir from vines tended organically and bio dynamically and planted on clay and limestone soils at a density of 10,000 to 12,500 vines per hectare and with an average age of 53 years. Grapes were harvested by hand into small wooden crates. Maceration and vilification took two to three weeks, with indigenous yeasts and controlled fermentation temperatures. Extraction was carefully controlled, with pipeage once a day at the start of the fermentation and remontage until fermentation was finished. Matured in French oak, 10% new, for 12 to 15 months. Winemaker
Véronique Boss-Drouhin. Alc 13%
This is so pretty on the nose, quite complex, light oak that is very pleasant indeed. Smoky, great length and that creamy oak caressing the lovely juicy red fruit. Certainly a noticeable length. A delicious wine.
I enjoyed most of the Burgundy offerings, but swiftly onto Bordeaux we go:
Les Griffons de Pichon Baron, Pauillac 2014
55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot. The grapes which make up this wine’s blend come primarily from gravelly plots of land near to the Gironde estuary. Grapes from young vines were hand-picked and hand-sorted before maceration for 15 to 18 days, while those from older vines were macerated for 20 to 24 days, with extraction monitored daily for flavour. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks followed by ageing in oak barrels for 18 months, 60% new and 40% from barrels of one vintage. Alc 13.5%
This was my favourite wine, possibly of the day. Pronounced, a bit of dried fruit on the cusp of all the wonderful complex red fruit. Very subtle oak, just so well balanced. A tiny bit hot.
We are in Spain now and I was keen to try from the new No.1 range that Waitrose are promoting.
Waitrose & Partners No.1 Reserva Rioja 2015
85% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Grenache and 5% Graciano grown on vineyards in Rioja Alavesa and crafted exclusively with the respected CVNE family winery for Waitrose & Partners. Manual harvesting was followed by 28-day maceration on the skins with no temperature control. The wine was then pressed off to French and American oak barrels where it aged for three years. Fined with Natur’Fine. Alc 13.5%
Ideally, I think I would like a tiny bit more oak but I think this is a really good wine. I enjoyed it, there’s lovely high acidity, it’s a little shy on the nose but it’s still a Rioja through and through. It’s a high quality wine perfect for a majority of different food types and everyday drinking, a regular for the shopping basket.
Now, onto the label that had stood out to me from the start. I’m sorry I love this, I really am starting to think it’s the marmite of the wine world.
Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley 2001
This is a new vintage for Waitrose, it’s 33.3% Cinsault and 33.3% Carigan from 70 year-old vines grown at 1,000 metres on the limestone soil of the Bekaa Valley. Sulphites only at a very low level. Gentle pressing then 10 to 20 days maceration. Fermentation at 29C with wild yeast pumping over twice daily. Malolactic fermentation in cement vats then maturation in natural oak barrels, 25% new. Unfined and unfiltered. Winemaker Tarek Sakr. Alc 14%
This just smells naughty, really naughty. There’s that lovely dried fruit, Christmas cake, that you can’t remember whether you’ve saturated with enough booze or not, so keep topping up. An interesting wine with bucket loads of length, to the point you are full. So much character, bombasity on a land that was torn apart by war.
We are going to move onto whites for a short period of time, before dipping back into a bit of both, bear with me.
Alphonse Mellot Le Manoir Sancerre 2017
100% Sauvignon Blanc grown on hard chalk caillottes slopes in and around the village of Sancerre. Vineyards are either grassed-through or ploughed between the rows depending on the fertility of the soil and the risk of erosion. The vines are 10 to 40 years old with an average yield of 55hl/ha. Picking was by machine for the domaine’s ‘classic’ whites, by hand for the older vines and the grapes were brought in to the cellar in inert trailers. After gentle pressing and cold settling, fermentation was by soil type and started with indigenous yeasts, finishing with cultured yeasts as necessary, all at controlled temperatures in stainless steel or specifically shaped oak vats. Alc 13%.
I should mention that the notes in italics are the Waitrose notes on each wine. This Sancerre made me smile. It was a bit whiffy on the nose, quite a funny pungent smell. But so so fresh once you sip, like blossom but with a little peach. Absolutely divine.
The Chablis was fantastic too but as someone who is predominantly a red drinker & buyer from Waitrose, I was overwhelmed by how much I adored the Italian white offerings.
Torre del Falasco, Lugana 2018
100% Trebbiano di Lugana (Verdicchio) grown around Lake Garda near the town of Desenzano del Garda. Vines are 15 to 20 years old, planted in limestone-dominated soils at 70 metres above sea level and at a density of 4,800 vines per hectare. At the end of September the grapes were harvested and transferred during the early morning for destemming and gentle pressing. The must was immediately chilled to 12C. Fermentation using selected yeasts took place in stainless steel tanks before transferring to concrete tanks for three months for further ageing, half of that time on the lees. No malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Michele Peroni. Alc 13%.
What a joy of a wine, a real treat for the senses. It smells like a walk through honeysuckle and clematis on a summer’s evening. Lovely lovely scent, blossom, honey, all reflected when you drink too, and only £8.99.
Another delicious Italian white wine was the Inama Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico, Veneto 2017. A little more expensive at £19.99 and with a bit more structure, the white fruit has notes of sort of age to it, dried apricot I’d say. This wine is 100% Garganega from 40 year-old vines grown in basaltic-volcanic soil on the southeast-facing slope of Monte Foscarino.
In the fizz section it was all much of a muchness, however, I was very impressed with the Chiarli Vecchia Modena Pignoletto Spumante Brut from Italy. A bit of a replacement Prosecco (hope that doesn’t sound too harsh) this wine was really quite fresh, appley and not too sweet. It’s 100% Grechetto Gentile. An open fizz, great value at £9.99. I was also impressed with the Waitrose & Partners Brut Champagne NV, not bad at all.
It would be pointless to even tell you to buy Churchill’s 2008 Pol Roger. Obviously it’s good, but it’s also £170 and if you have a spare £170 to spend on it then of course I think you should try it and see for yourself how exciting it is. But equally, if you only have a tenner, you will get more joy out of the Chiarli Vecchia.
Now we’re into the Waitrose Cellar…I wanted to see what Sir Ian Botham’s wines were like as they have been so heavily marketed. His Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia 2014 was there to taste and I have to say I couldn’t get over the fact it was super herby. Like an interesting red but with mouthwash notes, ever so minty.
If you’re into you sweeter winers, please get your hands on the Domaine de Forges Côteaux du Layon 2018. This is 100% Chenin Blanc planed on the south-facing slopes at 40 metres down to the Layon river. It’s just magnificent, it smells so so yummy. There’s tonnes of honey, apricot but it is clean too, I couldn’t spit this one, it was too swallowable. Just delicious and only £10.99. Maybe I should mention that in no way do Waitrose ask me or influence me to endorse their wine, I’m just a huge fan and I want everyone to enjoy wine as much as possible, and it’s a great place to start.
Another delicious number was the Disznókö Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Tokaji, 2015, no surprise here really, lots of depth, pure virgin marmalade deliciousness.
Overall I think Waitrose have excelled themselves once again. As much as I love to support independents as much as I can, there’s no easier way to get wine than popping to your local at times. And mine just so happens to be a Waitrose! We’re so lucky to have such a diverse selection of wine at our finger tips, from all over the world, at an assortment of prices. There’s something for everyone and if you’re feeling brave, something new to try and love as well.
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