In an uncharacteristically technical interlude I’d like to talk to you about oak, wine designations and why you shouldn’t always trust them. Hang on… don’t click “close” just yet. This topic caused an extended and interesting (yes really) debate at our recent Spanish Flight Club. Our host for the evening explained that in Rioja the designations Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva describe the method of wine-making and are not , per se, a marker of quality. He spoke with particular emphasis about the use of oak and explained why our favourite winemaker in Rioja (Bodegas Rioja) doesn’t make a Grand Reserva because they don’t want to kill their wine through over-oaking. Their Roda 1 Reserva 2005 is one of the best wines we stock and our finest Rioja by far. I’m happy to sell it at £55 with a straight face but it’s “only” a Reserva…
This led to a very fair question:
“How do we pick out the good wines if the designators we had thought indicated quality actually don’t?”
This elicited a very predictable (but nonetheless truthful) answer from me:
“That’s where you need to trust your wine merchant to find the the good ones for you”
And frankly that’s true. We taste a huge range of wines and reject most of them before deciding what to offer up to you. Traditional quality markers aren’t the whole story; take two of the big ones Premier Cru and Grand Cru in Burgundy. Those terms relate to the vineyards not the wine in the bottle. It means that the pockets of land the grapes are grown on are judged to be the best in the region (the top 1% of land in the case of Grand Cru). That’s reassuring to an extent but is the land the grapes originate from the whole story? Of course not – there’s plenty of opportunity for bad vintages, winemaking errors and a host of other opportunities for things to go awry.
Just to add to the problem in Bordeaux the terms Premier Cru and Grand Cru are attached to the Châteaux not the land where the grapes are grown. You see the problem? So the next time your favourite newspaper’s wine club offers you a case of wine that seems really cheap but it must be OK because, y’know…there’s a Gran Reserva in there and even a Premier Cru, just let your finger hover before clicking the “buy now” button and have a little think…
Anyway – back to the oak. After the Spanish Flight Club a blog on the topic of oak and classification landed in my inbox from a wine writer I’ve recently started following – Simon Woods. I’ve been struck by the way he writes about wine in a very accessible and no-nonsense style. He pulls off the neat trick of taking a complicated and expansive topic, sifting out all the pretentious guff and presenting the important stuff in a way that makes sense. We’ve recently started selling one of his books “I don’t know much about wine but I know what I like” (£10 since you ask – yes the perfect price for a small Christmas gift). I’ve kept a personal copy for home – read into that what you will!
Simon kindly gave us permission to re-post his blog here; hope you find it interesting. I’ve redacted the names of the wine he tasted and the supplier (for no better reason than it enabled me to use redacted in a sentence).
The description from the @@£$% site says, ‘It’s spent 24 months evolving in top quality oak barrels with 5 years bottle age, making this a mature, deluxe red wine.’
Hmm… The almost pristine condition of the wine’s cork suggested that it had been in the bottle far less than five years, maybe even less than five months. And I’m not going to take issue with the fact that the wine had been in barrel for 24 months, but the overt oak flavour and slightly rubbery character suggested that these 2 years had been extremely recent, rather than in the early stages of the wines ageing process.
The requirements in Spain for putting a designation such as Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva say that the wine must be in both oak and bottle for minimum periods of time, with a further regulation being put on the age of the wine prior to release. Precise rules vary from place to place, but in Cariñena, according to the region’s website, a Gran Reserva red must have ‘…an aging period of at least 60 months, from which 18 months at least being in oak barrels having a maximum capacity of 300 liters, and in the bottle the rest of the same period.’
Traditionally, the oak ageing would have been at the start of a wine’s life, bit the rules don’t stipulate that this has to be the case. So I suspect there are wines being made with little or no oak influence that are then stored, either in inert tanks or in bottles, until a customer comes knocking on the door. If they want the wine as it is, then great, they can have it. If they want something that can carry a Reserva or Gran Reserva tag, then the wine will be decanted into barrels for the requisite amount of time.
An advantage of this for the producer is that there’s no need to spend big money upfront on oak, nor to store oaked wines in bottle for a number of years before a buyer materialises. A disadvantage is that oak purchases will be sporadic, which will put the producer well down the pecking order on the coopers’ lists. Moreover, the wine won’t have the post-oaking settling time in bottle to round out the impact of the oak (for the chefs among you, using oak at this late stage is like adding a dry spice such as ground cumin to a dish just before serving, rather than right at the start).
So when you try a wine produced in this fashion, you often notice a) strident oak and b) not especially top class oak. Spain is the main culprit here, largely because a certain type of wine buyer is impressed by the words ‘Reserva’ or ‘Gran Reserva’ on the label. Unfortunately they’re no longer a guarantee of quality.
The sad thing was that in this instance, the wine, a blend of 60% Cabernet, 30% Garnacha and 10% Tempranillo, would have been better and cheaper without the oak. Please just get used to the idea that Gran Reserva at sub-£10 is not a wise purchase.
Read more from Simon here.
Christmas shopping made easy with our list of gift ideas for wine lovers (and aspiring wine lovers!)
Christmas Cracker Case:
A gift wrapped case of 12 amazing bottles of wine carefully chosen to meet all your needs over the festive season. £235 or just £211.15 to club members BUY NOW
Fizz Gift Box Includes two of our very classy champagne flutes, champagne stopper and a smart gift box. £20 or just £18 to club members plus the cost of whichever bottle of fizz you choose to put in the box.
Seriously now, there’s no point in buying a half decent bottle of wine then drinking it from a cracked naff old goblet. A decent glass has a definite impact on how your wines taste so it’s worth making a modest investment.
6 of our beautiful wine glasses will set you back just £35 or £31.50 to club members. Learn to swirl like a pro and exude essence of “wine expert”. Click here for a free demo.
Big Bordeaux Glass Decanter Funky but practical, this party piece decanter will get the best out of your reds and pours like a dream. Easy to clean too but mostly it’s just great fun and we all need that at Christmas! £35 or just £31.50 to club members. BUY NOW
Small gifts and stocking fillers:
“I don’t know much about wine but I know what I like” by Simon Woods. A light-hearted but very informative short book for anybody interested in knowing just a little more about wine. The perfect stocking filler. £10 or just £9 to club members.
Champagne stoppers – perfect for stopping your fizz from going flat for a day or two. An ideal gift for those who lack the commitment to see a bottle off in a single sitting. £3.50 or just £3.15 to club members.
Proper corkscrew – no garish bells and whistles; just a good quality corkscrew to give you the best chance of not messing up the opening of your Christmas lunch wine. Gain respectful nods from those “in the know” and avoid the looks of bitter disappointment from your Mum as she fishes bits of cork from her Chablis. £6 or just £5.40 to club members.
Gift wrap options for single bottles or pairs of bottles from just £2.50
What a stupendous tasting our big annual bash was on Saturday 19th November. Huge thanks to the lovely people at the Drang Gallery for hosting us; you rock. Thanks also to all of our suppliers for supporting the event, to the many jolly customers who braced the elements to join us and, of course, to Kate and Harriet for their hard work in making this our slickest tasting to date. Top marks all round.
If you couldn’t make it then fear not – you still have until 27th November to place your order. Download our list here: christmas-tasting-list-2016 and email us your selection to here: firstname.lastname@example.org Don’t forget to check out our “Christmas Crackers” case of 12 fabulous wines to cover all of your needs for the festive season. Hugely popular last year and, dare I say it, Kate may well have made an even better selection this year…
We’ll order the wines in and deliver it to you before Christmas (last local delivery – 16th December). That’s free delivery in Cornwall or just £10 per case of 12 wines for national mail order (last mail orders by 16th DECEMBER for delivery by 21st December). Of course if you don’t get an order to us all is not lost! We’ll still have a shop full of wine for sale – just not every item on our tasting list.
We have a fantastic selection of gifts for wine lovers too – from some very special bottles of fine wine through to some interesting stocking fillers. Have a look here for more details.
Finally, as has become our custom, we thought we’d share a few photos of the event so you can see what you missed out on. Seriously…whatever were you thinking?
The Laughing Magpie 2010, d’Arenburg, McLaren Vale, Australia.
Working in hospitality generally comes with the pleasure of being on shift for at least some of the weekend and, true to form, I do work most Saturdays. For some it’s a chore but luckily enough for me it has its perks in the form of Decanter Saturday. Yep, every Saturday I have to go through the arduous task of scouring the shelves to pick a wine, get all creative and stuff taking photos of it for social media and then (the really tough bit!) taste it! It’s harder than you think…
There was one particular #DecanterSaturday recently that really stood out for me. It was on one of my favourite days of the year, Bonfire Night, and I was looking to find something that would represent everything I love about the celebration; the building excitement as you get wrapped up in your warmest clothes, groups of friends full of chatter and anticipation, warming flames dancing in the cold breeze, sounds of sizzling sausages and the waft of sweet toffee apples before the night sky erupts in a rainbow canopy of sparkles and light, leaving you in awe and with a happy feeling inside.
D’Arenberg’s ‘The Laughing Magpie’ is a blend of Shiraz and Viognier. I was intrigued to see what effect the Viognier had on the peppery, spicy qualities of Shiraz and the name of the wine instantly made me happy so I figured it had to be worth a try. Anyway, long story short, I LOVED it! With juicy brambly black fruit and savoury notes it’s a warming winter red for sure. It’s not overly big and hearty though, it’s actually really approachable with a nice freshness to it, robust but with an underlying minerality. The peppery spice is apparent but so nicely integrated amongst the fruit. It’s smooth, intense and has a pretty impressive length with silky tannins to boot. The Viognier seems to lift the wine in terms of perfume and colour, with a vibrant deep purple hue and a hint of ripe peach amongst the dark fruits, it’s a grape match made in heaven.
The wine does benefit from a little air but Kate and I couldn’t fill the decanter quick enough that Saturday and it was still going down a treat! Hearty enough to pair with a slow cooked beef casserole but also the perfect weight to match with lamb too – try it with apricot stuffing. Divine!
£19.50 or just £17.55 to wine club members. BUY NOW
On the afternoon of Sunday 5th February at BinTwo Hawksfield we’ll be teaming up with the lovely Katy Davidson (otherwise known as The Oyster Lady for reasons that will become obvious) for a lazy afternoon of oysters and wine.
Katy will be taking you through a “hands on” masterclass into the art of oyster shucking – a skill you’ve always wanted to acquire – right? She’ll also pass on her top tips for maximising the pleasure of eating them. You’ll get to eat your fill, both in their classic fresh state with clever accompaniments, and cooked in a variety of imaginative ways.
We will, of course, be picking out some suitable wine to match these racy little bivalves throughout the afternoon. Details including prices are still being hammered out but drop us an email to email@example.com to register your interest and we’ll give you first dibs on the tickets.
To give you a taster for the event, and to whet your appetite, we shot this 60 second film. Watch until the end and see if you can spot the subtle product placement hinting at our likely wine choice…
Last year’s Christmas case selection was a cracker so we’ve decided to pull out all the stops again for Christmas 2016. We’ve selected a special case of splendid goodies tailored to the Christmas and Boxing Day festivities. We thought it was time for a treat, choosing twelve bottles we know you will love, if you can’t do it at Christmas when can you?
Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV, Champagne, France £39.50, 2 bottles
No better fizz to toast Christmas Day. Whether a breakfast treat or before tucking in to a delicious lunch, our fab terrace fizz is just the ticket. A dreamy champagne from the renowned family run Champagne house. Elegant and fresh with a tantalising fine mousse and lovely lingering finish.
Domaine Langlois-Château Vielles Vignes 2014, Loire, France £18.50, 2 bottles
‘Wow!’…Sophisticated, rich yet perfectly fresh, this 100% Chenin Blanc is a sheer delight! An attractive gold-tinged white, an elegant nose, a palate rich with dried fruits, apple, honey, hints of spice and savoury notes, a moreishly full body and a finish to die for. What more can I say? …Langlois-Château’s beautifully layered flagship makes the best accompaniment for your delicious Christmas lunch.
Parada de Atauta 2014, Ribera del Duero, Spain £17.00, 2 bottles
If red is your Christmas lunch tipple of choice we’ve chosen a stunning Ribera del Duero to complement the feast. Laden with ripe black fruits, currants, berries and cherries, mingling with mocha and toasty cedar, balanced with silky tannins and minerality. This extremely satisfying Tempranillo with its rounded, generous body, richness and finesse is a match for any Christmas roast, traditional or otherwise.
Campbell’s Ruthernglen Muscat, Ruthernglen, Australia £13.00, 1 bottle
It had to be! This divine combination is a must, the fresh raisin aromas and the rich and luscious fruit palate of this fortified wine mirror and enhance the festive pudding. You may not be a fan of the dessert but this doesn’t mean you need to forfeit the Muscat, on the contrary!… Indulge in this deliciously sweet wine as a pudding substitute or sip alongside a coffee.
Cline Late Harvest Mourvèdre 2014, California, USA £15.50, 1 bottle
‘Port and Cheese’ I hear you say. Well, yes that’s the tradition but this year we’re plumping for this succulent Late Harvest red. Alternative I know, but we like to mix things up a little and Cline Late Harvest Mourvèdre is definitely a wine not to be missed. Plummy and raisiny like a Port, ripe blackberries rub shoulders with chocolate and mocha. An ideally sweet red which calls for mature hard cheeses, fine Stilton or a slice of Christmas cake. Go on challenge tradition!
Val D’Oca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior, Rive Di Colbertaldo NV, Italy £14.00, 1 bottle
May the festivities continue with this, our best-selling and favourite, Prosecco. A beautifully fine and lively sparkling, layers of flavour, depth and finesse. Soft and appley with just the right amount of zing to get your taste buds tingling. The perfect start to any Boxing day feast!
Pra Morandina Valpolicella 2015, Veneto, Italy £12.50, 2 bottles
We love the festive Boxing Day feeling and to accompany the day’s spread we’ve chosen one of our favourite mid-weight reds. This un-oaked Valpolicella is intensely fragrant and juicy, with crunchy raspberries, cherries and sweet spice. A delicate and incredibly tasty afternoon red which will be a perfect partner for the Christmas smorgasbord.
Klein Constantia Estate Red 2013, Constantia, South Africa £17.50, 1 bottle
Time to put your feet up after a day of indulgence and merriment. This year the Klein Constantia Estate red is the bottle to reward your yuletide accomplishments, a full-bodied Claret-style red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec), a festive season must! Deep ruby red in colour, an intense deep red fruit palate intertwined with subtle oak and a finish brimming with flavour. A satisfying drop to say the least and the perfect end of day companion. Merry Christmas!
This Christmas Cracker case contains £235 of delicious wine. A fabulous £211.15 to our Wine Club members. It comes beautifully gift wrapped and both local and national delivery is included in the price.
A fabulous gift for wine-loving family or friends or the perfect treat to aid your Christmas preparations and festivities. Wishing you a Merry Christmas!
Charles Smith Eve Chardonnay 2013, California, USA 1 bottle £15
Not a fan of Chardonnay? Let us convert you!…Eve has taken the fancy of many a non-Chardonnay-lover for its juicyness, purity of fruit and its clean and crisp style. Like its Californian winemaker Charles Smith, once-Scandinavian rock band manager, Eve has plenty of character. Citrus, apple and lime burst from the glass and the finish is beautifully long and mineral. We promise you will want a second sip!
Price with club discount: £13.50
Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-haut 2015, Côtes du Roussillon, France 2 bottles £10
Rounded, fresh and intensely aromatic, this blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu has it all. Michel Chapoutier ventured south of the Rhone into Roussillon in search of great terroir and his quest certainly didn’t disappoint. This white is just one fine example with oodles of ripe stone fruits and an almost salty minerality. A great match for a rich fish dish.
Price with club discount: £9
Gavi ‘La Battistina’ 2015, Piemonte, Italy 2 Bottles £10
When looking for a soft and easy-drinking white this is one of our favourites. Blossom, peach and citrus combine with a mellow nuttiness making for a moreish drop. This single estate Gavi made from 100% Cortese also delivers in weight and texture thanks to 3 months lees contact. A Bintwo terrace favourite this year making for a lovely-weight pre-dinner drink and equally as tasty with nibbles.
Price with club discount: £9
Golden Lynx Viognier 2015, Franschoek, South Africa 37.5cl 1 bottle £14
This luscious little number snuck in at our South African Flight Club in September. An expressive 100% Viognier sweet from small South African wine producer, Lynx, combining ripe stone fruit, aromatics and the perfect amount of sweetness. Unctuous yet balanced with gentle acidity. A fruit tart or even some mild cheese could be the go!
Price with wine discount: £12.60
Château des Antonins Bordeaux Supérieur 2014, France 2 bottles £11
With Christmas on the horizon it is definitely a time for ‘Claret’ and no better occasion to crack open this great value Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Rich, soft and structured, with concentrated currant and red berry flavours. Subtle oak and supple tannins make this a rounded fireside red or one to accompany roast leg of lamb.
Price with club discount: £9.90
Cabaret Frank No 2 ‘The Aviary’ 2015, Lodi, California 2 bottles £8.00
A highly quaffable mid-weight red made from 85% Old Vine Cabernet Franc blended with a smattering of, partner-in-crime, Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the warm climates of Central California. Without the use of oak the Cabaret Frank has retained the grapes true varietal characters. It’s bursting with black fruits on the nose and palate with a delightful leafiness and touch of sweetness.
Price with club discount: £7.20
Sepp Moser Zweigelt 2015, Neusiedlersee, Austria 2 bottles £10.50
Renowned Austrian winemaker Sepp Moser comes up trumps with this tasty lighter-style of red, Zweigelt. Devoted to organic and biodynamic viticulture this wine is no exception to the rule with every care taken to grow this local grape variety organically and to hand harvest. The result is a vibrant red, with currants, berries, sweet spice and herbs, even a hint of white pepper reminiscent of its fellow Austrian white Gruner Veltliner. A match for a comforting chicken casserole.
Price with wine club discount: £9.45
Total wine price: £128
Bin Delivered price: £110 (£120 delivered nationally)