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The Grapevine

A blog from the team at Great Western Wine

  • Demistifying Chablis

    What is Chablis? Is it a brand, is it a region, is it a grape variety?  Everyone’s heard of it, but not everyone knows what it’s all about. And it’s even more confusing, when the already complex French labelling add in various monikers, such as ‘Petit Chablis’, ‘Premier Cru’, ‘Grand Cru’, and a variety of vineyard names.

    No wonder many people get confused. The labelling isn’t easy to work out, and the prices go from great value to soaring off the radar; and there isn’t one style. There’s fresh, citrusy, tangy Chablis; there’s the rich, buttery, creamy style; and there’s the downright nasty and green style.

    Because Chablis is so well-known, many wine drinkers assume they know what it’s all about, and don’t like to ask, for fear of looking silly.  I’m sure there will be many reading this piece who know the ins and outs, but equally, many who don’t.  So here’s the simple guide to deciphering Chablis.

    First of all, let’s deal with one of the most frequently-voiced misconceptions about Chablis.  Ask any audience which styles of white wine they like, and there will inevitably be more than a smattering of ‘I don’t like Chardonnay’.  However, ask the same group if they like Chablis, and they will nod and approve.

    Fact number one – Chablis is produced 100% from the Chardonnay grape. A lot of damage was done to the reputation of Chardonnay by the influx of cheap, over-oaked Australian Chardonnays 15 years ago, and the grape has unfortunately become stereotyped to far too many.  But Chardonnay is a marvellous grape; capable of creating some of the most sublime wines in the world.  It is the ONLY grape variety allowed for Chablis, and indeed all white Burgundies, from the most humble, to the stellar reaches of some of the most prized, and coveted white wines in the world.

    Fact number two – Chardonnay doesn’t have to be oaky, and full of super-ripe pineapple fruit flavours.  Chardonnay can be nervy, highly-strung, poised and haughty, with an aristocratic, steely, restraint, and thoroughbred structure – if well made.  Chardonnay is a very friendly, adaptable grape, which adapts to its environment, and in Chablis the move is increasingly towards totally unoaked wines.

    Chablis is a region; it’s the most northern area of Burgundy, in fact separated by about 100km (to the north) from the rest of Burgundy.  In geographical terms, it’s only 4 degrees south in latitude from London, even less from the Kent and Sussex coast.  So it gets cold; very cold.  The grapes keep their freshness and their acidity, and couldn’t be more worlds apart than their Australian counterparts, who bask in the hot sunshine and yield up voluptuous, tropical styles of wine.  These weather conditions can however be risky business; harsh spring frosts can devastate vineyards and decimate the crop for the year.

    This in itself, is where danger can lie; there are still many producers, keen to hop on the Chablis bandwagon, who are making thin, green, acidic wines from grapes that haven’t ripened properly.  So it’s important to know what you’re buying and from where. There are a couple of incredible co-operatives in the region, where small growers bring their grapes; there are also the big well known Burgundy houses, who buy up the grapes and make the wines their own.  There are also some fabulous growers, who are committed to making their own wine from the grapes that they cultivate and nurture. These are family businesses, which have been passed down from generation to generation, and are the lifeblood of Chablis.

    What are the styles of Chablis, and what on earth does the complicated labelling mean?  French wine law demands wines to be labelled by region, and within this by sub-region – a vinous equivalent of the Russian Babushka nesting dolls, which fit neatly inside each other, becoming increasingly smaller.  It’s the same with Chablis!

    Domaine Bernard Defaix ChablisThere are four tiers of Chablis.  Let’s start with the core Chablis – an area, spiralling out from the town of Chablis.  Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 2015 is a cracking example of lovingly-crafted, well made Chablis, produced under the watchful eyes of two brothers, who manage the family firm.  With not a whiff of oak in sight, it manages to  combine racy lemon and green apple freshness, with a bold, ripe, creaminess of ripe orchard fruits. Elegant, poised, and balanced, good Chablis works well with creamy fish pie; the freshest of oysters, and langoustines; and is also a dead cert and posh choice for fish and chips.

    Domaine Louis Michel, Petit ChablisPetit Chablis is the simplest, and most lowly of the Chablis denominations – but actually, for those in the know, frequently some of the best value Chablis out there. It’s viewed as the least prestigious of the Chablis tiers, because of the less favourable locations of the vineyard sites, but these days, wine makers are turning out some deliciously fresh  lemon and lime-tangy dry whites, at cracking prices. Domaine Louis Michel Petit Chablis 2015 is a classic example; this family business, running since 1850, switched to modern, unoaked styles about 25 years ago. The Petit Chablis is refreshing, and lively, full of crunchy apple, and lemon zest character, and a zingy, steely finish.  These styles work well with all manner of seafood, chargrilled prawns, crab salad, sashimi or a bowl of steaming mussels.

    Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Les VaillonsMoving up the scale, wines labelled Chablis Premier Cru are a step up. The complicated French laws mean that wines from 89 different vineyards, deemed to produce higher quality wines can be called Premier Cru.  Some of these Premier Cru names are well known, such as Montmains and Vaudevey.  Domaine Defaix Premier Cru Les Vaillons 2014 is one such example – a ripe, buttery style of Chablis, with real personality and finesse; plump, supple, yet still with that characteristic steely edge.

    Domaine Louis Michel, Chablis Premier Cru ForêtsLesser known, but equally impressive is Domaine Louis Michel Premier Cru ‘Forets’ 2012, which recently won a gold medal at the prestigious Sommelier Wine Awards in London – rich in texture, yet mouth-wateringly dry, it has elegance, and a cool, steely edge , overlaying deliciously creamy baked apple fruit.

    Premier Crus Chablis are perfect with richer styles of food, and classics would include salmon with hollandaise, pan-fried scallops, and simply cooked sole or sea bass in a butter sauce.  They’ve also got enough weight to handle herb-roasted chicken, and a great match for the local soft cheese Chaource, as well as brie and camembert.

    Finally, at the top of the tree sits the majestic Grands Crus; wines produced from only 7 vineyards, deemed to be the pinnacle of excellence, due to location, topography, soil type and more.  Don’t be surprised if you see lots of grands crus from different producers.  They may be individual vineyards, but within these, there are lots of small plots and different owners (yet more complications of French Burgundian law).

    These wines have finesse, elegance, poise, and a lingering and beguiling complexity.  These are wines to keep, and their structure will have been enhanced by careful use of oak.  If you’re a fan of top Chablis, buy a case or two, try one bottle, and then pop the rest away and try a couple once a year, as they evolve, and go on the journey with them.  Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Les Grenouilles 2013 is imperial in its style, verve and freshness, with deep, brooding layers of intense minerally flavours, and a piercing edge to balance the depth of character.  An absolute classic.  Domaine Defaix Grand Cru Bougros 2012 is equally stylish, with entrancing aromas of toasted hazelnuts and baked apples, and a simply gorgeous, aristocratic elegance and depth, with richness, but without ever losing the classic Chablis steely edge.  Wines to be treated with the respect they deserve.

    What to drink with them?  Bring out the very best you can – Lobster; the creamiest of langoustines, juicy scallops, rich chicken dishes, or the very best of soft-rind cheeses.

    Chablis – complex, complicated, but in a class of its own.

     By Angela Mount




  • Côtes de Provence - The Essence of Summer

    Azure blue skies; sun-kissed landscape; glittering sea; the smell of lavender, rosemary, olive groves, and hot, baked earth; local market stalls groaning under the weight of a kaleidoscope of  ripe summer fruits, and vegetables; pastis in the shade of the local bar, watching boules – this is Provence, in all its entrancing evocativeness, and it brings memories of lazy, hazy Summer holidays, and all that is good about life.

    Provence has an infinitesimal magic, and beguiling charm – the sun, the pace of life, the light, the sheer beauty of the landscape; once you’ve left the buzz and glitz of the Riviera, there is a mesmerizing charm about the Provence hinterland, almost a step back in time.  This is real Provence, and nothing epitomises it more than its produce and its wines.

    Côtes de Provence Rose, that tremulously pale peach, delicately fragrant, dry Rosé has taken the UK by storm over the past couple of years. Sales are booming, and there’s no better time than balmy May to stick a few bottles on ice, and enjoy an early taste of Summer.  With new season vegetables now in, and a trend to Mediterranean flavours in our food, these lovely palest pink beauties are also the perfect foil to their freshness, and evocative of the Riviera mood.

    But which to choose?  Great Western Wine has captured the zeitgeist of the moment, and  added to their existing haul of these delicious wines… not just in bottle, but in magnums also…. What better way to make a statement and create the ‘wow’ factor than to serve a splendid looking large bottle, rather than two smaller ones to your guests?!  And now’s the best time of the year, with the freshest of the recent 2015 vintage hitting the shelves.

    Comtes de Provence Rosé, La VidaubanaiseProvencal food is all about freshness, vegetables, herbs, seafood, and the pinkest of lamb – simplicity, colour and flavour on a plate.  A classic to serve with drinks on the terrace, (or in the garden in good old Blighty), would be Tapenade, an aromatic, dark paste, made of olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and olive oil, and Anchoiade, a similar dip , based on anchovies and garlic, served either with slices of toasted baguette, or with crudités. Throw in a platter of charcuterie, or a slice of Pissaladiere, the Provencal equivalent of pizza, topped with onion, olive and anchovy, and you have the perfect, simple lunch.   Try these with a bottle or two of  Côtes de Provence Rosé, La Vidaubanaise 2015, one of the best value Provence pinks on the shelves -  bright and breezy, in the characteristic Monroe-esque hourglass bottle, full of strawberry and lemon balm charm, it’s the perfect, fruity, alfresco pink.

    Château Gassier 'Le Pas du Moine' Côtes De Provence RoseIt’s easy to generalize Provence rosé – just like any other area, there are different levels, different qualities, wines made by co-operatives, wines made on private estates.  Step up Château Gassier ‘Le Pas du Moine’ 2015, a sophisticated rosé produced on an estate, managed by the 5th generation of this wine-making family. This is a wine with real personality; raspberry fruit, scents of thyme and rosemary, and a polished, elegant style, which  would work deliciously with a platter of char-grilled prawns, or a plate of a local dish, Petits Farcis, which are vegetables (normally courgettes, peppers, aubergines or tomatoes), stuffed with seasoned minced beef and slow roasted. I reckon it would also be pretty smart with a tangy goats cheese, pomegranate and rocket salad.

    Château Sainte Marguerite, Grande Réserve, Organic Rosé, Cru ClasséMoving up the scale, the freshest of fish, from red mullet to seabream, together with a cornucopia of seafood, is always great with Rosé, simply pan-fried with herbs, lemon and olive oil, bringing out those evocative fresh herb and citrus aromas. Château Sainte Marguerite  Grande Reserve, Cru Classe 2015 has incredible verve and style; balancing poised, restrained elegance, with racy, luscious red berry fruit flavours, and a lascivious twist of wild herbs. You’ll enjoy it even more in the impressive-looking magnums.
    Clos Mireille Rosé, Domaine OttFinally, an old classic Domaines Ott, Clos Mireille Rose 2014 (also available in magnums) is up there with the top 5 iconic Southern French Roses, a carefully-crafted peachy-pink wine, full of verve, redcurrant and citrus flavours; it has an aristocratic wild edge about it, but embodies the spirit of the region.  I would be very happy if I could sit and  drink this with a colourful plate of fresh Tuna Niçoise, the tuna steak, seared on the outside and rare inside, with the brightest of green beans and tomatoes, combined with the slightly oozing yolks of barely hard-boiled eggs, salty anchovies and tangy olives.  Heaven.

    Summer is coming. Enjoy a taste of Provence.

     By Angela Mount

  • Alan's Wine of the Week

    San Fabiano Calcinaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2013

    San Fabiano Calcinaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2013

    Red ruby color, with light garnet hues, perfume persistent end with signs of violet mature fruits and spicy. Structure of consistence and to the taste it distinguishes for a good personal note of freshness that accompanies the notable load of strong and velvety tannins, long persistence wine, it is well balanced, uniting in pleasant way the feeling of heat to the soft elegance of the tannins and the correct acidity.


    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles

  • Alan's Wine of the Week

     Man O' War Gravestone Sauvignon Semillon 2012

    Man O' War Gravestone Sauvignon Semillon

    Taking it’s name from the fluted basalt boulders that solemnly surround our volcanic hilltop vineyards, Gravestone is bequeathed upon the finest blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon we are blessed with each vintage.

    Intense aromatics of guava, gooseberry, nettles and black currants dominate with undertones of lychee and chalk dust. The palate is fresh and vibrant with high natural acidity balanced by weight, texture and a long persistent finish.

    Was £19.50
    Now £17.16 

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 26.04.16

  • Alan's Wine of the Week

    Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc

    Alan's Wine of the Week

    Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc is selected from two parcels of fruit from Yealand's Seaview Vineyard. This aromatic wine shows pure fruit flavours of guava, blackcurrant leaf, fresh herbs, layered with bright citrus notes. The palate is textured and elegant, with the distinctive mineral finish that Yealand's Estate Sauvignon Blanc is renowned for.

    Was £11.95
    Now £10.52

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 26.04.16

  • Alan's wine of the Week

    Fontanafredda, Barolo di Serralunga d'Alba DOCG 2011

    Fontanafredda, Barolo di Serrulunga

    Deep red with ruby highlights, this superb Barolo has a clear-cut, intense nose with overtones of vanilla, spices, withered roses and underbrush. The palate is dry, but soft, full bodied, velvety and well balanced, and is engagingly complex throughout the lengthy finish. Showing great personality.

    Was £31.00
    Now £27.28

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 31.03.16

  • Alan's Wine of the Week

    Negroamaro del Salento, Varvaglione 2014

    Negroamaro del Salento

    Ruby red with shades of purple; the nose has fascinating scents of wild berries. The palate is marked by vanilla with a long lingering finish and a velvety texture.

    Was £11.50
    Now £10.12

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 31.03.16

  • Roaring success for London’s biggest ever wine pop-up

    London's biggest ever wine pop-upGreat Western Wine don’t do small; they aren’t shy and retiring wallflowers.  No, they’re bold, passionate, and out there – so the maverick idea of hosting ‘London’s biggest ever wine pop-up’ was met with rallying cries and a determination to create a superb, interactive wine event… which they did, with bells and whistles on top!

    It was a brilliant idea. Take one big, almost cavernous, whitewashed space, in this case, the Old Truman Brewery, nestled close to Shoreditch and Hoxton in London’s trendy East End; stir in 400 wines, 80 wine producers, a superb menu of miniature street food, a DJ mixing the decks with a cool, urban vibe, and then throw in almost 500 guests and wine lovers – a recipe for success.

    I’ve been to more wine tastings than I’ve had hot dinners over the years, but this was something different.  It captured the spirit of what wine is becoming, and the role it should play in the zeitgeist of our fascination with food and wine.  It was as exciting as going to a food pop up.  The event moved the traditional ‘wine tasting’ format a million miles from the stuffy ‘white tablecloth’ tasting format, to a cool, urban positioning, perfectly poised in the trendiest part of the capital, with rough-hewn, wooden wine booths, a plethora of bottles, and a bunch of winemakers, who were more than thrilled to get the opportunity to chat to their guests.

    People circulated, enjoying the richness of the range of wines on offer; I chatted to a few, some of whom may read this – the enthusiasm, the knowledge and the passion about wine was second to none. From Champagne, through to Italy, from Argentina to South Africa, guests were fascinated.

    And for me, the most exciting part was seeing the reaction of the wine producers – they toil month after month, to craft wines of which they are proud, and which they represent with passion.  But because of location, they don’t often get to meet the people who buy, drink and enjoy their wines. And when they do, this is where stories begin…. On both sides.  Wherever I looked wine producers were chatting, or at least smiling and communicating with guests, however great the language barrier, and the excitement and enthusiasm was palpable.

    Viña Falernia, Syrah Reserva, Elqui ValleyWith over 80 producers there, it was difficult to catch up with more than a few, but all were proud as peacocks of having the opportunity to showcase their wines, and loved the night. Exuberant Italian winemaker Giorgio Flessati, who moved to Chile and conquered the desesrt to create Viña Falernia, the most northern winery in Chile, chatted passionately to fans of his wines, and they loved him, and the wines even more.  The Falernia Syrah Reserva 2011, which was on show, is simply a gorgeous blanket of voluptuous richness, depth and spicy fruit, punching well above its weight.

    Planeta, AlastroLeading Sicilian wine producer Planeta was also showcasing new vintages and new styles of wine, with glamorous owner Francesca Planeta in place to beguile guests with stories of Sicilian vinous treasures – for me the newly-repackaged Alastro Bianco, full of rich, fleshy Mediterranean fruit, yet shot through with a core of pure citrus freshness was spot on; Negro’s delicious soft, light, and gently fruity Birbet Brachetto offered the perfect touch of the forthcoming summer, whilst  perennial Tuscan favourite Fattoria dei Barbi continued to impress with its fabulously good value Brusco dei Barbi, which outshines many top Tuscans time and time again , at a fraction of the price.

    It was a multinational event; celebrated sommelier, turned winemaker Franck Massard enthused about his passion and projects for small ventures in Spain, and his new vineyard in the wild and rugged Priorat. Small Champagne family grower, De Gobillard, quietly, but proudly, introduced their showstopping, dreamy 2009 vintage Gobillard Vintage Champagne 2009  Booth after booth, there was excitement, there were great wines, and best of all, there were lots of people talking about wine and having fun.

    For those slightly overwhelmed by the enormity of the event, the Great Western Wine team had even provided a quick-fix solution – a few ‘themed’ tables, where they had selected a bespoke few, of which they were particularly proud, and which all told a story – ‘Drinking outside the box’, ‘Skinted and minted’ and ‘Clash of the Titans’ to name but three. Wines for everyone, whatever the brief and budget.

    In summary, brilliant, with a capital B. Great Western Wine proved that wine isn’t over-complicated, isn’t scary, it fits our lifestyle just as much as the next food trend does.  All I want to know is when and where the next one is.

    By Angela Mount


  • Alan's Wine of the Week

     Fattoria dei Barbi, Brusco dei Barbi 2014

    Alan's Wine of the Week - Fattoria dei Barbi

    Lovely, classic 'Italian wine' aromas of mulberry and dried cherry with touches of hay, espresso, vanilla and cream. Delicious - light, summery texture yet with layered, complex flavours of summer fruits.

    Was £11.50
    Now £10.12

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 31.03.16

  • Alan's Wine of the Week

    Quinta Do Crasto, Douro Reserva, Old Vines 2013

    Alan's Wine of the Week

    Hugely intense and lifted aromas of spice, black forest fruits, combined with fresh ripe plum. A rich full and round palate of great power and balance, dense and textured with berry fruit characters, with integrated oak tannins and great length.

    Was £19.95
    Now £17.56 

    Free delivery on orders over £100 | Save 10% on 12 bottles | Save 5% on 6 bottles
    Prices are valid until 29.02.16

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