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The Grapevine

A blog from the team at Great Western Wine

  • Our Fine Wine Manager Visits Rioja

    It is really very exciting to be invited to visit our two new producers in Rioja, and especially so, since I have never been to the region before.  Beautiful warm sunshine is forecast:  all the more reason to escape a dismal English February for a couple of days.

    Day 1

    The first view of Rioja is underwhelming.  I had been under the impression outside Britain, weather forecasting was always accurate.  I want to get out and snap away at the bee-youtiful mountains as soon as the fog clears, but ‘Dad’ won’t stop the car.  It’s the 1993 family holiday all over again.  Scuffles almost break out in the back seat.

     

     

    We are welcomed to Sierra Cantabria by the charming and articulate Eduardo Eguren: winemaker, fount of knowledge and fifth generation heir to the family business.  Eduardo explains that although the grape Tempranillo takes its name from ‘temprano’ (early), high up in Rioja Alavesa it ripens late.  Sierra Cantabria’s highest vineyards are at about 600m elevation, and in 2009 it started snowing before they finished picking the grapes!

     

    To the Egurens’ new underground cellars.  Mercedes with darkened windows escort our convoy fore and aft. Massive portal at end of canyon cut into hillside. “Mr King, I have been expecting you.”

    This place is jaw-dropping.  Two kilometres of cellars excavated under a hilltop just outside the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra.  A new winery is being built out of stone excavated from the cellars.

     

    In the middle of San Vicente de la Sonsierra is the family’s oldest winery – Señorio de San Vicente – which dates back to the 1870s.  Since 1991, it has been dedicated exclusively to the production of just one wine, coming from one vineyard, ‘La Canoca’, in the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria.  The Egurens were keen to nurture the almost extinct Tempranillo Peludo (‘Hairy Tempranillo), which ripens exceptionally late, yields low and produces fabulously characterful and concentrated wine.

    I have never tasted San Vicente before, but I already kind-of know that I will love it.  And I am right.  And the same goes for all twelve wines we taste here – what a phenomenal range.  Wow!

    Just two hours after lunch (it finished at about 6pm), Kirsty and Ana of Ramón Bilbao treat us to the famous ‘tapas run’ in Logroño, where fifty tapas bars jostle in a single block less than 100 paces square.  To avoid competition, each bar specialises in just one or two dishes.  After such a late lunch, the question is:  Can we fit them?  Yes we can!

    I must look unmistakably English, because somebody cannons into me and mutters “perdón, perdón,” a couple of times.  Looking at me he then says “sorry, sorry, sorry!” And I haven’t even opened my mouth.  Has someone put a sign saying “Inglés” on my forehead?

     

    Day 2

    Ana takes us first to the dizzyingly high vineyard in La Rioja Alta (High Rioja) in which Tempranillo for the ‘Viñedos de Altura’ wine is grown.  Garnacha comes from a vineyard in Rioja Baja (Low Rioja), which is similarly high up.  Confused?  If Ana had hoped to induce vertigo in us, the fog paid to that – you can’t see a thing.

     

     

     

    Over the hill and along some very bumpy tracks is the ancient vineyard planted 100% with Tempranillo, whose fruit is made into the ‘Mirto’ wine.

     

    A couple of points of interest are a Roman wine press and a chozo – a shallot-shaped hut traditionally used for storing tools and shelter for vineyard workers from summer thunderstorms.

     

     

     

    At Ramón Bilbao’s winery in Haro, we are treated to a tasting of all of their wines, inside a glass cube suspended over a fermentation vat.  Not sure which Bond film took place here.  Yesterday’s tasting is a hard act to follow, but to our delight, this is another ‘wow’ experience.  The style is different here – more succulent and forward – but the wines are also delicious, and there’s some exciting innovation.  Even at today’s exchange rates, they are also very affordable.

     

     

    The team – Ed, Kirsty, Graeme, Kate, Matt, Dave (‘Dad’), Kathrine, Freddie and me.


  • In the vineyard with Rodolfo Bastida

    We sat down with Chief Winemaker at Ramón Bilbao, Rodolfo Bastida, to find out what makes him tick.  

    What was your path into winemaking?

    Wine is part of my family, it’s in my blood. My grandfather made wine in Rioja. He had a winery where he’d ferment his own grapes and then sell a quantity in bulk to other wineries. My father sells grapes to other producers in the area. I wanted to study wine because I’m passionate about the hills and the landscape itself, and talking about wine and vineyards is very useful at home. The tradition continues because my brother is a winemaker in the same region, and my wife too. So, naturally when we share a meal together there’s always plenty of wine, and a lot of competition over whose wine we’ll drink to finish the meal.

    So every moment we’re talking about wine. My son too is quite interested – he’s just 12 years old, but whenever we open a bottle of wine we always allow him to try it. But I want him to appreciate and understand the whole winemaking experience, before he thinks about the wine. He comes in the field to go grape picking with us, so he can see the effort that goes into it. I remember so well helping my grandfather press his grapes when I was just four years old. This is really part of our family culture: wine, winemaking, and the vineyards.

    What do you love about working for Ramón Bilbao?

    I love that when you’re making wines you never stop learning; you’re always developing new ideas. I’m very excited about what our research team has been doing, making very interesting things with natural yeast, and wines in concrete tanks. Now we’re testing how microcosms in the vineyard can help produce characteristics in the wines. There’s a very interesting study from University of California, Davis, that explores the relationship between the flavours and aromas you have in your wine, with the microcosms you have in your soil. For the future I think this is going to be very useful.

    I think in the future we’ll be doing similar things to now, but with more information. People often ask, do you think 10, 20 years ago people were making better wines than now? And I always say no, now we’re making better wines than ever before. My grandfather was making decisions only with the knowledge he had in his head, he wasn’t reading and researching, he didn’t know what they were doing in South Africa, or Australia. I think with more culture, and information you can produce better and better wines.

    I’m also very happy with the team we have for managing our different wineries in Spain. For us it’s more important to reflect the personalities in every wine we’re making, and this part comes from understanding every region and championing the terroir.

    What’s your winemaking philosophy?

    The most important thing for me is to put the fresh aspect of each region into our wines. There are plenty of parts of Spain that produce intense wines in terms of colours, and high alcohol. For me, Rioja is ready to make fine and elegant wines. I think things are changing, and there’s more interest in wines that spend long periods in barrels. Consumers are starting to look for these more delicate wines, more than the bombshell powerhouses of years gone by.

    Who are your greatest wine heroes?

    My hero is the grower working out in the vineyard. When you look at his hands, his face, you can see the harsh effect the elements have had on him. I always think of these people who spend their lives working in the fields. This is what inspires me to keep working hard. In Rioja there are lots of villages where they can grow only vineyards – but if one year there’s a frost problem, another year with mildew, they might lose their whole harvest so their family lives with not much. These are the real heroes.

    Why are you proud to call Rioja home?

    Close to the Basque country, Rioja is different to the rest of. The region is very small, but there are a lot of people who pass through the area so when you’re in the street you’ll notice that the people are very open and welcoming. People are always coming and going, so we’re a hospitable folk. We try to make others who are visiting our region comfortable – this is our way of life.

    If you had to pick just three wines to take with you to a desert island, what would they be?

    It depends on the situation. Some days I enjoy a bottle of Crianza because it is very fresh and easy to drink, and you don’t need food. But if you’re cooking a big piece of meat, a bottle of Mirto is fantastic. I also love wines from Ribera del Duero, and Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I love Bordeaux wines, especially from Saint-Émilion. I love the whole culture that you feel in every corner of the city when you’re in Bordeaux – from the chateaux to the whole French qualification system. You can sit down in a simple, inexpensive restaurant, and you’ll be offered a bottle of very prestigious wine, and there’s a whole fanfare around it. In Spain, wine is just part of everyday life, with less ceremony.

    What do you best like to eat with wine?

    I love the pairings we make at the winery; especially the Patatas Riojanas (potatoes with chorizo and red peppers). But I’m also very good at cooking rice, and think I make a nice seafood paella.

    Do you have a nickname when you’re at work?

    Not at the winery, but at home because my father and grandfather both share the same name as me, I am called Rodolfito. Little Rodolfo.

    If you weren’t working in wine, what would your ‘Plan B’ be?

    Nothing, I can’t imagine anything else. Wine is my whole life.

  • The Team's Tasting Selections

    Its that time fo the week again, when the team at Great Western Wine make a selection of delectable fine wines from around the world for you to taste for as little as £1. This week pop in to the Bath shop to taste our fantastic new Rioja wines.

    Happy tasting!

    WHITE:

    Sierra Cantabria Rioja Organza

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £21.50

    Sample price: £1.00

     RED:

    Sierra Cantabria Reserva

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £19.95

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Sierra Cantabria Reserva Única

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £22.50

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva

    Producer: Ramon Bilbao, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £22.50

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Sierra Cantabria Colección Privada

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £35.00

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Sierra Cantabria San Vicente

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £35.00

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Sierra Cantabria Garnacha

    Producer: Sierra Cantabria, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £16.95

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Ramón Bilbao Mirto

    Producer: Ramon Bilbao, Spain

    Bottle price 75cl: £39.50

    Sample price: £1.00

  • Crafty Local Beers

    Pop into the Great Western Wine shop in Bath to view our new and exciting range of local craft beers!

     

    Wiper and True

    Started by Michael Wiper, this ground breaking brewery which now has its home in St Werburghs in Bristol has been a huge influence on the beer scene in the South West and beyond. Batch brew beers mean that the names and styles of each brew vary. Results are always fantastic.

    wiperandtrue.com

     

    Electric Bear Brewing Co.

    Electric Bear Brewing Co. is still new but already significant, and is based in Bath. This experienced, award-winning team has created a great range of distinctive and delicious beers for beer-lovers of all sorts, from hop-head craft beer aficionados to real-ale cask beer drinkers.

    electricbearbrewing.com

     

    Kettlesmith Brewing

    Kettlesmith Brewing Company is a small, independent craft micro-brewery located in Bradford on Avon, just outside Bath. Brewing modern interpretations of a wide variety of beer styles; drawing inspiration from their background in America and England as well as a love of Belgian beer.

    kettlesmithbrewing.com

     

    Arbor Ales

    Started in 2007, this eminent Bristol brewery is now very well established and has over 300 beers to it's name within this time. We have stocked a fantastic selection from their wide range of beers that have made their name as a top quality local brewery.

    arborales.co.uk

     

    Thornbridge Brewery

    Thornbridge branded beers were first brewed in early 2005 after the establishment of a 10 barrel brewery in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in Bakewell. Since then they have grown into an iconic brewery, and we’re listing some of their core and most well-known beers.

    thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

     

    Lost and Grounded

    Absolutely brand new, Lost and Grounded Brewers is a brewery in Bristol, UK. Started brewing only in July 2016!  They are fascinated by the precision of German brewing and the idiosyncratic nature of Belgian beers, and make a great selection of interesting and excellent beers.

    lostandgrounded.co.uk

  • Perfect Gins, The Perfect Pour

    Celebrate Mother's day with these gorgeous cocktails, perfect for the sunny days ahead...

     

    PINK & TONIC

    Why not try a refreshing Pink and Tonic. All you need is Pink Pepper Gin served with a deserving tonic over ice. Garnish with a spring of lavender, a grapefruit wedge and voila!

    A very round and aromatic gin - Pink Pepper is perfectly served neat or over ice, gradually revealing an intense freshness.

    Pink Pepper Gin - £45.00

     

    BLOOM PEAR BELLINI

    A true party pleaser. All you need is 25ml Bloom london Dry Gin shaken together with 10ml pear juice over crushed ice. Topped with chilled prosseco.

    A light, delicate and floral gin with a totally unique, slightly sweet taste created by a bespoke blend of 3 botanicals: honeysuckle, chamomile and pomelo.

    Bloom Gin - £28.00

     

     

    GIN FIZZ

    Add Monkey 47 Gin, 30ml lemon juice and 10ml sugar syrup to the shaker, fill with ice cubes and shake vigorously for around 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled fizz glass or over ice into a highball glass and top up with 20ml of fresh soda water. We're sure this easy to make, refreshing cocktail will soon be one of your favorites!

    A curious gin from the Black Forest in Germany. Made with 47 (yes, really) botanicals and bottled at 47%.

    Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin - £38.00

     

    APPLE & BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE

    Forget baking! This delicious dessert cocktail showcases sweet and tart spring delights with a delicious crumble finish.

    Rim the martini glass with oat crumble. Muddle 8 blackberries in the shaker, fill with ice and add 45ml Cotswolds Dry Gin, 15ml cinnamon liqueur, 10ml lime juice, 50ml apple juice and 8ml almond syrup. Shake well and strain into a martini glass and embelish with apple & blackberry!

    A classic well-balanced juniper-led gin with crisp citrus and spice.

    Cotswolds Dry Gin - £34.00

     

  • Spirit of the week

  • The Team's Tasting Selections

    This week's latest update of 'The Team's Tasting Selections' from the Great Western Wine shop in Bath.

    Why not pop in and try some of our delicious wines whilst you take a look around at the selection available:

    Happy tasting!

     

    R E D S

    Chañar Punco, El Esteco 2012

    Producer: El Esteco, Argentina

    Bottle price 75cl: £45.00 now £35.00

    Sample price: £2.00

     

    Producer: El Esteco, Argentina

    Bottle price 75cl: £19.95 now £17.95

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Producer: Laberinto, Chile

    Bottle price 75cl: £21.50

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Producer: Quinta do Crasto

    Bottle price 75cl: £22.50

    Sample price: £1.00

    W H I T E S

    Producer: Ixsir, Lebanon

    Bottle price 75cl: £19.95

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Ladies who shoot their Lunch Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2015

    Producer: Fowles Wines, Australia

    Bottle price 75cl: £22.95

    Sample price: £1.00

    Sauvignon Blanc 2016

    Producer: Cloudy Bay, New Zeland

    Bottle price 75cl: £24.50

    Sample price: £1.00

     

    Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc 2015

    Producer: Domaine de la Janasse, France

    Bottle price 75cl: £39.00

    Sample price: £2.00

  • Our wines in the press

    A Grape Match...

     

    MALVASIA DEL SALENTO | £10.75

    "The main flavours of this dish are smoked fish, so it needs a wine with just as much punch and power. Stick with white wine here, and stay in the Italian homeland. I've recently discovered this versatile Italian white; gentle, soft and packed with melon and peach character, it has an edge of spice which is a perfect complement to the smokey, powerful flavours of the salmon and mackerel."

    - Angela Mount, Crumbs Magazine -

     

     THE AVONMOUTH ANGLER PIZZA

    (Makes 1)
    INGREDIENTS
    For the dough:
    4g sachet dried yeast
    1/2 tbsp sugar
    150ml lukewarm water
    250g strong white bread flour
    1/2 tsp sea salt

    For the Sauce:
    Olive oil
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    Small bunch basil, finely chopped
    250ml bottle of pasata

    Toppings:
    50g spinach
    90g smoked mackerel
    80g smoked salmon
    60g mozzarella, grated
    Small handful parsley, chopped
    1/4 lemon

    METHOD
    1. Start by making the dough. Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water, stir, then leave for a few minutes.
    2. Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Slowly add the liquid to the flour and stir with a fork; it will start to get sticky. When you get to this stage, flour your hands and knead the dough until all the ingredients come together.
    3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it for approx. 10 minutes, unitl it starts to become more elastic.
    4. Place back in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size - this will take approx. 45 minutes.
    5. Add the pasata and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes over a low heat. Add sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Put to one side to cool.
    6. When ready to assemble your pizza, preheat your oven to 240C/475F/gas mark 9.
    7. Roll the dough out into a circle, until it's around 12 inches in diameter. Then spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce over the top and cover with an even layer of spinach.
    8. Scatter over the makerel and salmon, and then the mozzarella, making sure all the toppings are evenly distributed.
    9. Transfer to the hot oven tray or stone and cook on the top shelf of the oven. Once the mozzarella has melted, and the crust turned golden and crisp, it's ready!
    10. Scatter over the chopped parsley, and serve with the lemon wedge.

    - Crumbs Magazine -

  • Marvellous malbec & Argentinian abundance

    Argentinian wine is on the crest of a wave right now, picking up ever-increasing momentum, with wine drinkers seduced by the rich, brooding charms of its flagship grape, Malbec. Four years ago, Argentina was languishing outside the top 20 wine countries selling into the UK; now it’s on course to crack the top ten barrier, with over 2 million cases of Malbec now sold a year on our shores.

    Argentina also happens to be spectacular, with charisma, beauty and passion oozing through its DNA, from its people to its landscapes. Flying into Mendoza, the country’s wine capital, from Chile, the majesty and imperious glory of the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world, are truly breathtaking. The colossal Aconcagua mountain, which shelters some of the country’s most prized vineyards, in its foothills, is the highest in the western hemisphere, only 6200ft shy of Everest’s peak.

    Mendoza is a vibrant city, full of tree-lined boulevards, and pavement cafes; the surrounding area is home to many of the country’s best wineries. The vineyards themselves sprawl for miles, weaving higher and higher into the foothills of the towering Andes. Sitting outside, on the terrace of a winery, with an empanada and a glass of wine in hand, with the sizzling sounds and aromatic scents of an ‘asado’, on the barbecue, whilst gazing out at the snow-capped peaks, is an experience not to be forgotten.

    And thus it was with Trapiche, one of Argentina’s largest vineyard owners and producers, whom I have been fortunate to visit several times.  Founded in 1883, the winery is housed in an elegant, Florentine-style building, built in 1912. Trapiche was one of the pioneers in the early days of high quality wine production; with over 1000 hectares of vineyards, the winery has impressive scale, but with a total focus on quality, regardless of the price level.

    Malbec is of course the star of the show, and probably the only Argentinian wine that many UK wine drinkers know. It’s highly successful – but the danger is that many people view it as a one trick pony – one style, big, rich, hefty. Yet, there are many nuances and variations in Malbec, as in any grape, depending on how and where it is grown and made.

    Let’s start with Trapiche Melodias Malbec 2015 (was £7.95, now £6.95) – bright, juicy and soft, this is Malbec on it’s lighter, but equally delicious scale. Bursting with perfumed, succulent cherry and ripe plum fruit aromas, it’s a delightful mid-weight red, full of moreish, smooth, berry fruit, with a hint of herbs, but most importantly a bright, lively style; and at 13% alcohol it’s a lot fresher than many of the Malbec blockbusters. This would be great with charcuterie, midweek pasta and cottage pie.

     

    Moving up a gear in intensity and depth is Don David El Esteco Malbec 2014 (was £11.50, now £9.95) from the pioneering El Esteco winery, which has been pushing the boundaries in terms of grape and wine production, exploring high altitude vineyards in the north west frontiers of Argentina, namely the Calchaqui valley, a land of desert scrubland and ravines, which home some of the highest vineyards in the country. Rich and voluptuous, this dark and brooding delight brims with exotic richness, and dense, ripe black fruit, overlaid with layers of spice. Look no further for your perfect steak or roast beef red.

    But there’s more to Argentinian wine than Malbec; two lesser known wines worth discovering  are made from the country’s most prolific red and white grape varieties.

     

    First up, Bonarda, a grape variety which plays second fiddle to Malbec’s leading violin, but is the country’s most prolific grape and one of my favourites in this instance, Trapiche Estacion 1883 Bonarda 2014 (was £11.95, now £10.50). Less macho, more seductively feminine is an inference that comes to mind; scented with violets and super-ripe forest fruits, this is sumptuous, and soft as velvet with a gently spiced and bitter chocolate edge. Great all rounder for chillier days, perfect with rich stews and spicy chilli.

     

    Argentina is less well-known for its whites, yet they can also shine. The country’s leading white grape is Torrontes, with its  spicy, aromatic, honeysuckle and lychee-drenched characteristics, still relatively undiscovered over here. As with all grape varieties, there is a multitude of styles – I was impressed with the fresh, zesty lime peel and citrus tang of Don David El Esteco Torrontes 2016 (was £11.50, now £9.95), with its vibrant, mouthwatering fruit and lively freshness. As we tiptoe towards the balmier days of Spring, this is a perfect mid-season white, equally at home with spicy thai prawn curries and simple tapas and salads.

    If you can find a reason to visit Argentina do – you’ll fall in love with the place, the people.. and the wines.

    By Angela Mount - Bath Magazine

  • Spirit of the week

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