Mencia, Bierzo

The last few years has seen the tapas revolution sweep London off its feet.  I LOVE tapas – Perhaps because it makes it perfectly acceptable for my inner glutton to run wild or maybe since it’s considered rude not to try absolutely everything on the table. A welcome goodbye to the plague of food envy.

Taking on the tapas scene is thirsty work, luckily the Spanish make more wine than even the most greedy guzzler can handle, which begs the question of where to start?

El Bierzo AKA ‘Spain’s answer to France’ in the North West is a marvellous place to begin.   The region has been busily seducing oenologist and producers over the last decade. El Bierzo is largely dominated by the intriguing Mencia grape, a close relative of Cabenet Franc.  It is an early ripening varietal famed for delivering upfront juicy fruits, snappy acidity and structured minerality siphoned from the special soils of the region.


So, testing the metal of El Bierzo happened over tapas in the form of a 2013 and a 2006 Mencia.   The 2013 burst into the glass with fresh juicy red fruits, relentless acidity gives a pleasantly racy finish.  Its uncompromising acidity makes it the perfect partner in crime for something very naughty and fatty (hmmm Morcilla).


By comparison the 2006 Tilenus Crianza (which has spent a yea in French oak) saunters into the glass, it is big and unapologetically oaky without overshadowing its delicate complexity.  Mellow red fruits and gentle aromas of vanilla are wrapped in a cloak of tannins and sweet spices leaving a finish which goes on and on.

Bodegas Estefania Tilenus Crianza, Mencia, DO Bierzo, Spain, 2006


Its noteworthy because both wines are beautiful, but in utterly different ways – the Mencia grape is splendid.  Either; young, boney and unoaked or mature and generously soused in the toasty French stuff.

A worthy Christmas experiment and fun for all the family, except the under 18s… Strictly Ribena for them, obviously.

Moscato, Victoria

Sunshine is a rare commodity to us Brits, its chance appearance gives us a collective sense of national holiday, exposed flesh and inescapable sunburn. Temporarily forgotten is the taboo which prevents midweek swiftys as the long sunny evenings prompt the delightful slip off the straight and narrow. Here’s my take on a necessary fridge staple..

Australian producers ‘Innocent Bystander’ have created a wine which (in their words) “Tastes like kisses and if it were any fresher you’d slap it!”. I first tried their 2012 Pink Moscato in Vinoteca as an aperitif, it made such an impression I’ve kept coming back for more. Slurping this wine on a sunny midsummers evening is the answer to lifes problems and will bring out the child in anyone. It is bubbley, pink, sweet, crisp and fun – the perfect summer sipper. A pale fizzy blush,  with notes of strawberry, sherbet and toffee apples. Although off dry unfortunately the sweetness becomes a bit much after a couple of glasses/bottles, maybe they make it in ½ bottles with this in mind ensuring that they leave you wanting more. Its meant for drinking young, the bottle cap keeps the wine fresh and fruity adding to the novelty value.

So, Embrace your inner child with this cheeky pink – its was made for strawberries, sunshine!

Drink it; at the park, as an aperitif, as a summer substitute for a Bloody Mary… Did someone say Breakfast Wine?!

Wine Car Boot

While my boyfriend obliviously looked for our tickets, I caught snippets of a tete-à-tete between a couple as they wobbled out onto the road.  The rosy cheeked male was on the receiving end of a telling-off, but he was stubbornly pleading his innocence.  The controversy?  The case of the 6 stowaway bottles in his carrier and the mystery of the self-spending kitty. While the thought did cross my mind that it might soon be me desperately pulling the fluff out of my pockets, I knew that if what was on offer at Wine Car Boot was that irresistible then we were in luck.
Hidden deep in the arches of a disused SE1 car park, the Wine Car Boot made its second appearance a few weekends ago.  It’s essentially a wine event geared at making wine accessible and I for one think it does a great job – it’s a great mix of quality, spontaneity and there’s certainly no snobbery allowed.  At the one we went to, 10 independent wine merchants were showcasing a handful of their favourites from (unsurprisingly) their car boots and a series of makeshift tables.  £11.25 equips you with 5 golden tasting tickets and a GoVino glass, all the necessary materials you need to wage war on wine…
I kicked-off proceedings at the Vinoteca van with the Marsanne by Chateau Tahbilk on recommendation.  It was stonking.  A far cry from its French relative, this native Rhone varietal has morphed into something pretty special in Australia.  Electric green in colour; it assaults the senses in the best possible way.  Ageing in stainless steel for 7 years sooths the rebellious zest and gives it some gorgeous honeyed and soft floral notes.  A bit of complementary calamari (never amiss) would have completed my happiness.   Just saying…

Our next stop was the very promisingly named ‘Good Wine Shop’. It had a number of delicious wines which were noteworthy, but the outstanding number was the Touraine,Cave de Tourangelle –   quintessentially fresh and feisty, but at the same time completing a stunning balancing act by keeping the infamous old world elegance of a Loire Sauvignon, without the hefty price tag.  An unquestionable bargain, it’s one of those wines which you can buy a few of in case of emergencies and still stun the crowd; a few might well wangle their way into my personal stores.

By the time I had reached Borough Wines the self-spending kitty prophecy had fulfilled itself. Taking pity on the thirsty ticketless tasters the guys kindly gave us some samplets – The Mollard et Fillon Rouge was a delight.Like the filling of an autumn crumble, ripe blackberries and plums created a wonderful mishmash of sweetness and spice.  Despite that it was quite the opposite of flimsy -it had the backbone of a trooper, great tannins and a clean finish.

By this stage the necessary hunt to find something to soak up the booze was well underway.  Donostia Social Club, I praise you.  Dolling out delicious morsels from their van, the exceptional Iberico pork cheek melted in the mouth and the scallops were marvellous.  We set up camp with some cheese-based fuel and Vinoteca’s bag in box Montsant Crianza, ignored the rain and put the world to rights.  I officially retract all previous disparaging comments made of the ‘bag in box’ types;  rich fruits and sexy tannins proved me wrong and was the perfect end to the day.  Absolutely exceptional value too.

wine car boot wine pic end

Worth an ear bashing? Absolutely.  “Taste your way out of the supermarket” is the strapline of Wine Car Boot and it excels as doing just that.   So why not spend your precious pennies on something interesting which combines quality, value as well as supporting a welcome antidote to the supermarket giants? Rhetorical question: I’m looking forward to the next one already.

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Matt, Millers and The Muscadet

I was lucky enough to go to a close friend’s wedding earlier this Summer; taking in the happy scene through gaps in the forest of fascinators, it suddenly dawned on me how superbly delicious the wine was.  Unsurprising really, what else should I have expected from the newly wed Millington/King dream team?

Muscadet is another victim of the ghost of vintages past.  For a long time producers were seen to be churning out cheap plonk using the native grape Melon de Bourgogne.  Happily, recent years have witnessed something of resurgence in popularity and quality.  The turning point was in 1994, when the French authorities made the definition of ‘sur lie’ more stringent.  Sur Lie fermentation is a technique which allows the wine to lie on its dead yeast cells for an extended period post-fermentation.  That may not sound terribly sexy, but it’s exactly this that creates a noticeably more interesting and complex sipper.  Imagine a poached egg pre-dolloping of hollandaise – it’s the hollandaise that turns breakfast into a brilliant brunch.  The bees knees, the dogs bollocks, whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that sur lie fermentation is the hollandaise of Melon de Bourgogne.

It’s a lovely dry duo of fresh lemony zest and salinity, the perfect pairing.  A slight spritz is a welcome accompaniment to the rigorous minerality and bone dry finish (a great example of soil finding its way into a grape).  The screeching acidity gives the wine a goosepimply flesh that seals the humdrum  grape.  It also makes the wines suitable for hiding away for a rainy day as it will evolve gracefully with age.  Delightfully polite yet armed with ample lemony clout, this fancyable libation has the body and personality to be dangerously irresistible.

muscadet bottle

“One of the bargains of the wine world” (Jancis Robinson), it represents great value for money and holds its own against some of the great wines of the Loire…and so, join me in a toast:
 To the delicious Matt and Millers – may their relationship be as beautifully evolving, grounded, and as zesty as this little number.

matt and millers

Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley

Some Sundays were made for a glass of wine, its impossible to deny. There is a certain something about the fun, slightly irresponsible naughtiness which you simply don’t get on a Friday or Saturday which makes the occasional Sunday very jolly indeed. Sitting at Comptoir Libanaise on Wigmore Street in blissful denial of Monday’s existence and comforted with the knowledge that a feast of various Middle Eastern delights were en route, we contemplated the drinks menu…

comptoir food

I adore Lebanese food, there is something supremely skilful and exciting about the way they combine the contrasts of nutty almost fierce textures with a comforting sweet freshness which seems to run seamlessly through the cuisine. Lebanese wine however was a previously unexplored entity… A charming waitress eagerly recommended the Chateau Musar’s ‘Musar Jeune 2012’.   So that was it, I lost my Lebanese wineinity to The Daddy of Lebanese producers on a slightly naughty Sunday, basking in the dying rays of the weekend on a London side street… Yummy.

musar front label

Like young straw in colour with good decent legs (13.5 %!), upon appearance I wondered if it would stand up to the strong flavours of tahini and garlic which dominate the cuisine, how wrong could I be… The Lebanese are of course experts at food and wine. The nose prompted a sense of overwhelming déjà vu – honeyed peaches (post baking, pre dollop of ice cream) with a handful of tropical fruit salad for good measure. This was interestingly offset by a lovely zesty undertone of lemon drizzle cake. The floral/fruity nose reminded me of a fantastic Northern Rhone White (Condrieu specifically), this unexpected similarity made the bone dry finish even more surprising as it had none of the acidity I expected would be needed to balance fruity feast the wine. Of the varietals the Viognier certainly wears the trousers, its peachy nose; oily texture and bone dry finish dominates the wine and quite simply steal the show.

The blend is composed of 3 varietals; 35% Viognier, 35% Vermentino and 30% Chardonnay and is made without the use of oak which allows the different flavours to shine through. Lebanese producers have only began using climatic conditions during the 2012 harvest lead to low yields of Chardonnay as a result of damage from harsh April frosts giving a blend and flavour truly unique to this year. This could explain why the Viognier is the stand out varietal in the blend.

The wine was from the Bekaa valley, located less than 25 miles west of the cosmopolitan bustling capital, Beirut. The valley bares the scars of the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflicts, in addition to playing home to large illegal plantations of ‘Red Leb’. All this aside, its supposed to be a beautiful fertile valley which undeniably contains some of Lebanon’s finest vineyards as well as two spectacular ancient sites (Umayyad city of Aanjar and the temples at Baalbek). The valley has a broadly continental climate which swings from freezing cold wet winters to hot dry summers. It’s quite extraordinary that even the terrior echoes the conflict of flavours which make the wine so complex interesting and unique.


Beqaa Valleu


Taste apart, the body was astonishing – generous, gloriously fat but with delicately silky almost oily texture. It made such a difference to the food I was left wondering why I hadn’t been drinking this with every Lebanese I’d enjoyed. There was something quite charming knowing that this had come from one of Lebanon’s oldest Wineries, where production began under a castle in 1930. The business has now grown to be one of the country’s leading vineyards with an international presence. Chateau Musar famed for its family origins and notoriety of marching to the sound of its slightly unique drum beat in their methods of production and style.

Its crazy to imagine that in 1998 there were only five large vineyards in Lebanon, the country now boasts a booming seven fold increase, evidently I’m not the only one enjoying it! Think it would only be fair to try the others now though… There are 51 other Sundays in the year after all, Keskun!