Aldi strikes again!

Most people I know are probably sick of hearing me harp on about Aldi but it really is excellent value for money and every time I pay my local store a visit, I come away with something new – coconut oil for less than £3? Yes please! Bags of nuts and seeds for less than half the price of those on the shelves of most health food stores? Oh, go on then.

On top of that, just last month, Aldi introduced an exclusive and “eclectic” range of limited edition wines – priced between £4.99 and £8.99 – from some of the world’s greatest wine regions in honour of its Wine Festival. These include Nonius Estate Feteasca Neagra Shiraz from Romania, Artisan Gewürztraminer from Tasmania and Furmint from the Tokaji Region of Hungary to name a few.

Of the three that I have tasted so far, I’ve been more than impressed and fully intend to continue tasting my way through the range over the coming weeks. Watch this space!

Ried Seiber Wachau Gruner Veltliner Reserve 2015, £6.99

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This single vineyard Austrian Gruner Veltliner is incredible at this price. Dry with notes of peach, citrus and white pepper, this intense white has a wonderful, mineral finish and lingers delightfully on the palate.

Try with – roast chicken

Mirella Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2015, £5.49

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This zesty and refreshing white from the Verdicchio grape is dry and enticing with lemon zest flavours and a slightly nutty finish.

Try with – grilled king prawns

Edition Fritz Keller Baden Pinot Noir 2014, £6.49

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Fragrant and light with red cherry and strawberry flavours, this red has a warm, spicy edge to it with lots of complexity considering its youth (and price!)

Try with – barbecued meats and hard cheeses

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Everything is just peachy

When my fridge is lacking in supplies and I’m lacking inspiration on the recipe front, it gives me joy to discover that the M&S dine in two for £10 is on (small things I know). Still in shock from the referendum result, I was in such a state on Friday as I aimlessly wandered around the aisles of my local Marks and Sparks after work.

Food aside (the main of pork saltimbocca was delicious), I picked up a bottle of Peach Garden Chardonnay 2015 as part of the deal. Hailing from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria, this very lightly oaked, peachy white is delicately spiced and brimming with flavour. I’ve reviewed a Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon and Mavrud previously but this was my first Bulgarian white wine and one which I’ll definitely be sipping again. While it was excellent with the pork, next time I’ll give it a go with a creamy dish such as spaghetti carbonara to really make the most of its rounded character.

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I’ve added the Peach Garden Rosé and Peach Garden Merlot to my shopping list for next time I’m passing M&S – at just £7 a bottle, they are well worth a try!

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Wedding Vino

Now that the dust has settled from our wedding three weeks ago, I’ve not only got a lot of spare time that I no longer have to devote to budget spreadsheets and flower arrangements, but we have a wine rack containing several bottles of the delicious wine we selected to enjoy with the wedding meal… winning!

We spent a while searching for a venue that would offer flexibility with the menu and the option of bringing our own wine to serve with dinner (as opposed to one which told us we could have chicken supreme served with a £30 bottle of something ‘so-so’).  Once we had the venue and the corkage price secured, we then went on the hunt to discover the perfect sparkling, white and red wines to enjoy on the day.

Sparkling

Being a little bored of Prosecco and struggling to find a decent Champagne within budget, we opted for Bouvet Ladubay Saumur NV. Refreshing and elegant, this sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley was just as good served with fruit cordials and strawberries at the reception as it was to toast the speeches after dinner.

Available from Majestic UK for £8.99 when you buy six bottles, we decided to hop on the Eurotunnel to Calais where we loaded six cases into the back of the car at £5.49 a bottle.
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White

I’m a huge fan of the crystal clear and delicate white wines produced from the Picpoul de Pinet grape so, as we were making the trip to Calais, we went for the citrus-scented and vibrant Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet 2015 at £4.49 a bottle. We even got to taste the wine on arrival at Majestic to check it was 100% perfect for us. It went down a treat with our antipasti starter!

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Red

The red wine was a no brainer since both of us adore wines from the Rioja region, particularly a Crianza with pork which we served three ways (pulled, loin and belly) alongside seasonal veg and sautéed potatoes. For us it was the Rioja Vega Crianza 2012 – full of rich blackcurrant fruit and vanilla spice, you can pick up a bottle of this wine (or its later vintages) for around £9 a bottle.

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A quick note on quantities

We found Majestic’s drinks calculator very helpful in working out how much of everything we needed to purchase – the only reason we have bottles leftover is because I wimped out and bought several extra cases just in case!

We had 84 for dinner and drank our way through 30 bottles of sparkling during the reception and speeches (we also had bottled beer for the reception), and 28 bottles of white and 18 bottles of red during dinner – thankfully it was a hot day so the white went down much quicker than the red!

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Award-winning reds for Easter

Much like Christmas, for many of us, Easter is a time to embrace tradition when it comes to family plans, food and wine. For me that means; chocolate eggs for breakfast, shoulder of lamb for lunch and a mellow, rich glass of Gran Reserva Rioja.

Selected from exceptional vintages and aged for at least five years at the winery, these elegant and complex reds are released ready-to-drink and are the perfect accompaniment to spring lamb.

At the end of last year, a blind tasting was held with a panel of experts to discover 100 top Rioja wines within ten different categories to highlight the variety of wines produced in this region of northern Spain. The full list of wines can be found online here and below I’ve listed the top 10 scoring Gran Reservas for you to look out for ahead of the weekend.

I’ll be stocking up on the fragrant and spicy Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, available for £17.99 when you buy a case from Majestic Wine. Alternatively, impress guests with the Urbina Gran Reserva Especial 1994 for an excellent value £18.99! Complex and delicious, this 22-year old bottle of wine still has amazingly fresh fruit flavours.

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Happy Easter!

Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva 2009
Viña Real Gran Reserva 2008
Medievo Gran Reserva 2008
Valseranno Gran Reserva 2008
Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva 2008
Quasar Gran Reserva 2008
Contino Gran Reserva 2007
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2005
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001
Urbina Gran Reserva Especial 1994

Having said all that, I’ve just found out that we’re having chicken for dinner this Sunday… white Rioja it is!

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Champagne isn’t just for Mother’s Day

Prosecco is still having a moment but it just doesn’t cut the mustard on Mother’s Day – nothing says ‘I love you mum’ quite like a bottle of decent champers and a bouquet of flowers, both of which were covered by me and my sister on Sunday of course!

While most bottles of Champagne are more expensive than other sparkling wines, there are some truly excellent value options out there and I’m waving the flag for making occasions out of some of the more humdrum days of the year.

It was with this in mind that I stopped past my local Co-op on a cold March evening last week and indulged in a bottle of Les Pionniers NV Champagne. At £16.99 it’s cheaper than many other branded and own label champagnes, and it came top in a Which? blind taste test just before Christmas, beating wines retailing at double the price.

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A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this excellent value fizz has lovely fine bubbles, a distinctive rich and biscuity aroma, and delicious citrus flavours. An excellent ‘everyday’ Champagne… if only!

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Is it from a good year?

You know you’re in the company of a wine nerd when they instinctively know whether or not the vintage of the wine they’re about to drink is from a good year. Like most of the adult population, I do not have this innate knowledge and, I hear you ask, what does it even mean?

In essence, wines can vary greatly from one year to another based on weather conditions during the growing season – colder weather can result in fresher, crisper wines while hotter conditions give the grapes a higher concentration of sugar to form rounder, fruitier wines. Factors such as rain and frost at critical times also have an effect, e.g. through ‘watering down’ the grape’s flavour or – in the case of frost – killing the flowering buds at the beginning of the season.

Vintage variation exists all over the world, but generally speaking, it is more noticeable in classic old world regions such as much of France, Germany, Northern and Central Italy and even Northern Spain. In these regions, the climate is on the whole cooler and the weather more variable. Many New World regions on the other hand, have more consistent grape ripening conditions therefore vintage variation is less obvious.

So how do you know what the ‘best’ vintages are? The simple answer is to ask Google for a vintage chart of the region you’re interested in! Keep in mind a few things – that red wines and white wines require different growing conditions, so what could have been a bad year for one might have been a great year for the other. Also that some producers are better experienced and equipped to handle climatic differences year on year and work with the grapes on the vine and in the winery accordingly.

Add to that the fact that many wines sold are made by the winemaker to be consistent through the use of blending to iron out the vintage variation, and it isn’t actually something to lose your hair or sleep over.

If you do feel like supplementing your wine knowledge, I do know that excellent Rioja vintages over the past 20 years have gone in approximately five year cycles – 1995, 2001, 2004/05, 2010/11 and 2015 is looking promising too!

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Image courtesy of Wines from Rioja

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Driving home for Christmas

Or at least I wish I was – just another day of commuting into London before I can stash away the Oyster card for a festive season of merriment. Here are my top picks for good value, delicious wines available from the supermarket for you to grab during your Christmas Eve trolley dash. Or is that just me?

Pomegranate and cranberry fizz

If you fancy something a little different to Champagne for a Christmas Eve party with friends and family, grab yourself a couple of pomegranates, tap out the seeds, squeeze out the juice and add a teaspoon of each along with 50ml cranberry juice to champagne flutes before topping with sparkling wine – San Leo Prosecco from Waitrose (£7.79) or Aldi’s bargainous Cava Brut (£4.79) are both perfect for this and won’t break the bank if you need a couple of cases!

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Fishy friend

We don’t tend to bother with Christmas Day starters in my house but we do love a canapé or two. This year I’ll be serving anchovy and parmesan palmiers alongside a crisp white wine. With its refreshing bite and almost saline quality, the Tesco finest* Picpoul de Pinet is the perfect match for fish dishes. And it’s a steal at £6 a bottle!
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Time for turkey

Never one to stick rigidly to timings in the kitchen, it’s generally mid/late afternoon by the time the turkey makes its way to the table and by then I’m ready for a warming glass of red. As with my white choice, I’ll be serving a crowd-pleaser at the Christmas dinner table to keep everyone happy – Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Pic Saint Loup is packed full of plum and black cherry flavours with an earthy character that will pair nicely with the turkey and root veg on your plate. At £8 a bottle, this blend of Syrah and Grenache grapes from the Languedoc region of France is a delicious alternative to reds from the Rhône.

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For pud

When it comes to the rich and indulgent festive dessert, I’ll be serving another of the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range with its Sauternes (£12/37.5cl). Lusciously sweet with aromas of honey and dried apricots, this wine pairs perfectly with Christmas pudding, mince pies and blue cheese.

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Whatever your plans this Christmas, may it be full of festive cheer!

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