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Austria – single varietal styles

A few people have asked me to post some of my notes on the styles of wine we discovered in Austria. Here goes:

Notable single varietal styles 


I loved the savoury style of the cherry-like Braufrankisch reds. These wines have a fantastic future alongside Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and Syrah.  All great food wines.

Pinot Blanc

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how much I liked the Pinot Blanc wines. They had a generosity I enjoyed, with fruit, mineral and acidity in good balance. I noted appealing apricot and pear candied fruit, and almond. I personally prefer this style not to be bone dry, which some were.  Potentially in my view this grape could be a real winner for Austria.


I preferred the Welschriesling as a blend, notably wine # 2 from Schiefer. Generally I thought they offered a fruitiness which was quenching and  a refreshing point of difference from the mineral focused wines.


Schiefer`s orange coloured Traminer wine #6 is worth singling out for its unique perfume and individuality.


An aromatic style which like Traminer has a hint of Turkish Delight about it, especially the sweeter styles.


I had always thought this style of wine made in Austria to be savoury with green notes, celery, white pepper and mineral, on the austere side, very much food wines, as compared to a fruiter style grown elsewhere, in New Zealand, say, where the fully ripened grapes add honeysuckle, orange blossom and peach to a richer style of wine. Well  I was delighted to discover G-V wines on my trip across the entire spectrum.

Sauvignon Blanc

I preferred the Sauvignons which retained some of the grassy fruit character of the grape. I thought these were lovely. I liked the interplay of fruit, mineral and acidity. Not unlike the Sancerre style.  For my own palate too many of them were too serious, all mineral and acidity. Like too many Pouilly-Fumes, for my taste. I think these wines can be elegant without losing generosity. I like their focus on terroir, don`t get me wrong, but when they lack fruit personality entirely, and some did, they can be hard work. In fairness, Sauvignon is not my favourite grape.


I loved the Chardonnays. I would personally like to see a lot more of this style in Austria. Those we tasted were very slick and stylish, mostly along the citrus spectrum. The minerality of these wines played a significant not domineering part, and they were textural and delicious.   Although it was clear the Austrians are aiming for a fresh, food friendly style of Chardonnay (consciously not stirring lees aka batonnage), the evidence was the wines evolve “burgundy-esque”  ricnness nonetheless. Eg.  the last 2011 .. at lunch? [which was this, Claire?}

St Laurent

I liked the wines we tasted. Probably even more like Pinot Noir than Braufraukisch, with cherry and violet to the fore. A little tartness on the finish was quite attractive.


This style, a crossing between Braufrankisch and St Laurent, was full-bodied with its own rustic style imbued with cherry fruit. I quite liked it as a quaffing, barbecue wine.


I liked their Rieslings but personally would like to see more limes and orange blossom and a tad of natural sugar to round them out. I think it was the second wine of the whole trip we tasted which was closest to the mark, from Kamptal, followed by the Steirmark.




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Roller coaster part 2, time for the reds

Follows part 1.

It`s 8.45pm. We are at The Wine Centre around one-third way through our Friday night dinner “roller coaster”. Guests have paid £65 for the evening. In the last blog we covered the aperitif and the first two courses with matching white wines. Now we are being poured our first red wine of the evening, a palate cleanser, without food. It`s Prà Morandina Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy 2018 (£19.99), a fragrant Valpolicella, light and airy, with red savoury fruits and subtle notes of sage, thyme and oak. On the finish there`s a curious bitter twist and taut balancing acidity, which is lovely. There`s a noisy buzz around the shop, as though the wine bottles all around us are reverberating applause.   Our guests are happy and settled. Next up is the rolled lamb breast, a southern French classic, steeped in red wine pearl onion and thyme jus, with grilled baby courgettes & aubergines. It is paired with Boutinot`s `Séguret` Côtes du Rhône Villages, France 2015 (£16.99) from 80% Grenache & 20% Syrah grapes.  This wine is such fantastic value. It is “singing” tonight with layers of red and black fruits, exotic spices, cracked black pepper and vanilla.  Predictably, the lamb dish and red wine blend beautifully. As the plates are being cleared the noise in the shop is broken by the resonating chink of spoon on Riedel glass. The cheese platters are circulated, and our chef Dominic Carter mingles with guests. Meantime an intensely fruity low-tannin red is served: Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha, Campo de Borja, Spain 2017 (£18.99). The wine is a compote of luscious strawberries, raspberries and cherries, amid Provençal herbs, violets and vanilla. It provides an exquisite contrast of sweet red fruits and salty cheeses.  Finally, we finish the evening with Dominic`s light speculoos & raspberry cheesecake, paired with Castelvetro`s `Pignoletto` Spumante, Emilia Romagna NV (£17.99), an aromatic sparkling white wine with bright notes of green apples, lemons and limes. It`s our chance now to clink glass to glass around the table, and the roller coaster comes to an end. It`s 10.45pm.

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A roller coaster ride of the senses

Our wine-tasting dinners can be, as regards all five senses, something of a roller coaster:  For most guests it`s the end of a long week (almost always a Friday night) and they arrive, a tad jaded, at 7.30pm. Most are tired, a little hungry – yet at the same time excited. There`s a palpable feeling of anticipation about the shop, as guests mingle and chatter. The first drink is served: the aperitif. Guests are more than ready. Tonight it`s a white wine (rather, pale green) by talented winemaker Anthony Hamilton Russell, South Africa`s “The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (£13.99)”. It’s juicy and lip smacking, grapefruit and dill scented, with a thrilling mineral streak. No oak whatsoever. Guests are suitably refreshed, and the tingling acidity of the wine has stimulated their appetites. The evening`s Chef, Dominic Carter, delights guests with an amuse-bouche, of sorts, his deliciously crunchy “Parmesan and Poppy Seed Lollipops”, taking the wine`s acidity away. Now guests are invigorated with a new sense of expectation as they sit down at the table. It`s 8pm and the roller coaster has only just begun. The first course is served: a zesty lime, dill, prawn and crab salad in a crispy tortilla bowl. Another pale, unoaked white wine is served alongside, this time from France: Petit Chablis Domaine de la Motte 2017 (£16.99). Guests tuck in, for a few minutes oblivious to their surroundings. The crisp,  cool climate Chardonnay washes seamlessly over the seafood salad, both light, intense and refreshing, in perfect harmony.   The second course is a richer one. Creamy Tuscan chicken thighs with crisp pastry disc and toasted pine nuts are accompanied by a much deeper golden yellow wine this time, rich, rounded, soft and unctuous, from Chile. It`s a roller coaster around the world no less! The wine is Signos de Origen La Vinilla Estate, Casablanca Valley 2016 (£16.99), aged 12 months in French oak, and a blend of 72% Chardonnay, 12% Viognier, 10% Marsanne and 6% Roussanne grapes. Characterised by its subtly rich creamy quality, the wine is a perfect match with delicious flavours of white peach, butter, almond and walnut. Incidentally, this is surely also one for the Christmas day turkey and all the trimmings! Now, still on the roller coaster, it`s 8.40pm…

The second instalment to this blazing roller coaster of a wine-tasting dinner will be posted soon, following a brief drum roll (like much of this, also left to your imaginations).

Cheers everyone!

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The Hills are Alive…

I recently went on a discovery trip to Austria, wine-tasting my way around the hills and valleys, as you do.  I travelled with strangers from five other independent wine merchants and by day three we were friends. Wine the shared passion. Our journey was south of Vienna, away from the Danube river and the famous wines of Austria; thus, ignoring the legendary terraced vineyards of Wachau and Kamptal and their world renowned Gruner-Veltliner and Riesling dry white wines. Instead we headed for the emerging and up-and-coming wine regions in Burgenland and Styria. In the words of Cat Stevens: “on the road to find out”. But our first port of call was the small town of Rust, and Austria`s Wine Academy, where we were given an in-depth presentation on Austrian wines. It was illuminating and over the next few days we were to discover, to our collective delight, a world of wine we didn’t know existed.  “Orange wines”, for example, are produced in every winegrowing region. These are ancestral “Natural” wines produced with minimal human intervention. They could best be described as weird and wonderful. Sparkling wines are plentiful too, pleasingly fresh, produced by the Champagne method. Their reds are savoury, great food wines, the best of them the Blaufraukisch. The sweet wines, many of them intensely sweet,  ice wines and botrytised wines, are characterised by their balanced concentration of both natural sugar and acidity. And the dry whites, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (and others), are perhaps best characterised by their minerality. Diverse and of high quality, comparable even to their northern counterparts, what they all had in common is a sense of place for which the Austrians are rightly proud. Before long we will be bringing some of these to Great Horkesley for you to try for yourselves. But I recommend you visit Austria and taste in situ, where you get to feel the chill air in the vineyards at 5-600 metres, meet the charming, very lovely people behind the labels, breath the fresh air, and, of course, where you can take to the hills and sing “the hills are alive” and everyone will think you are perfectly normal!  Cheers all.


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Last word on wine speak, and the virtues of sherry

When learning about wine you take on a whole new language, and over the past months I have tried to cover the essential words and phrases in this blog (feel free to refer back!).  Really, though, it`s only by trying them out yourselves that words and meanings have a chance of sticking. I`m reminded of when I changed the starting motor of my first ever car (a Ford Escort), I was told what a Bendix drive is, and its function. I still remember this 37 years later!  Therefore, my advice is to get stuck in. Take a good look under the bonnet. Maybe even consider taking a WSET exam. It`s a great way of getting into the drinks industry, too, if you think you might fancy a career in wines and spirits. We at “The Wine Centre” are always on the lookout for good people with WSET training, especially diploma graduates. But even taking wine on as a hobby, it`s a good idea to get to grips with the language. You`ll find the more you know, the better you will understand the subject, the greater the enjoyment and satisfaction.

Today`s concluding word from my wine-speak “series of drivel” is, as it happens, one I struggle even to pronounce:  oxidative. A word you will probably come across in the context of making sherry.  It refers to controlled oxidation during winemaking. Oxidative aromas and flavours may be described vaguely as nutty and complex, but really the best way to know exactly what an oxidative wine smells and tastes like is to buy a bottle of decent sherry, an Oloroso, Palo Cortado or Amontillado.  We have them in the shop, though they are not cheap. Indeed, it`s a time-consuming and expensive process, aging a wine in oak barrels slowly and deliberately in the presence of oxygen, a manifestly transforming process which gives us a wholly unique drinking experience. I`ve heard it described as on a par with the process of dry-aging and curing meats in this respect, where the original product is changed beyond recognition. As it happens, they pair fabulously together. Magnifico!

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Louis Latour dinner, Oct 18, 2019

Our last dinner of the year is always particularly special. Check out our line-up and the menu below. This was a £95 ticket event released for £85 this year, top notch wines  together with delicious food by our talented chef, Dominic Carter. Great company too – and the icing on the cake, Guy Nightingale from Louis Latour Agencies. Next dinner will be 28th February, the theme, following our trip to South Africa in January, South African Wines.

Guest speaker: Guy Nightingale

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter

Gosset Grand Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, Champagne, France NV., £85.00 – aperitif

An icon special cuvée Champagne made from 100% Pinot Noir and aged for a minimum 9 years on the lees. Only 3000 bottles were produced. Vineyards include Grand Crus Ambonnay, Aÿ & Verzy, and Premier Cru Chigny les Roses Tauxières & Avenay. An elegant, charming style with gold-flecked lustrous appearance, extremely fine mousse and prevailing notes of white peach, patisserie, honey and baked apple. The palate is supple and lively with beeswax and confit citron, and a fresh, extremely long, saline finish.

Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France 2017, £68.99

A classic Puligny-Montrachet from 30-year Chardonnay vines grown on limestone and scree. Cautious, 8-10 months aging in medium-toast French oak (15% new). Underwent secondary malo-lactic fermentation. Aromas of fresh walnuts, white flowers and oak. On the palate nice tension, bracing, fresh, long.

Louis Latour Meursault `Chateau de Blagny` Premier Cru, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France 2017, £68.99

Fine 1er Cru white burgundy from just south of Volnay and Pommard in Cote de Beaune. An exclusive of Maison Louis Latour (monopole), 30-year Chardonnay vines grown high on the stony marl/limestone hillside overlooking Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Like the Puligny it was matured 8-10 months in medium-toast French oak and underwent “malo”, only more new oak was used for added richness (35%). An exotic, peachy style, richer and rounder than the Puligny.

Vidal-Fleury Condrieu, Rhone Valley 2016, £49.99

Another small batch 3000 bottle wine. This one using 100% small-berry, low-yield Viognier grapes grown on steep granite slopes in Northern Rhone. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation for added complexity and “gras”, then aged 12 months on its lees with regular stirring (“batonnage”). Typically, aromas include apricot, peach, honeysuckle, ginger and spice. A luscious style, yet fresh and persistent.

Louis Latour Aloxe-Corton `Chaillots` 1er Cru, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France 2014, £58.99

This 100% Pinot Noir is grown on the stony limestone and sandy soils of Aloxe-Corton, home village of the Latour family. A mix of red and black fruits combine with intriguing notes of prune, tea-leaf, nutmeg and liquorice in a firm, bold structure with appealing tannins and bright acid backbone. Some real substance here. Another time enjoy this wine with duck!

Banfi Brunello di Montalcini, Tuscany, Italy 2013 £48.99

Generous Brunello produced from 100% Sangiovese grapes in the southern, warm quadrant of this appellation. A soft, ripe style Brunello with aromas of cherries, violets, vanilla and liquorice, and a velvety palate of concentrated, spicy fruits.

Vidal-Fleury Cote Rotie `La Chatillonne`, Rhone Valley, France 2009, £79.00

Returning to northern Rhone with this beautiful blockbuster. 100% Syrah on steep granitic slopes produce this complex and powerful pedigree wine, Black cherry and some red fruits too are delightfully imbued with notes of smoke, tobacco, bacon, spice, jasmine, cola, coffee and chocolate. A heady mix indeed. The palate is meaty, chalky and impactful, finishing long.

Taylor`s Wakefield `The Pioneer` Syrah, Clare Valley, Australia 2013, £85.00

Another 100% Syrah, this one from down under. The iconic “The Pioneer Shiraz” is produced from 40-year vines from specially selected plots within Clare Valley. The wine is deep and satisfying, displaying a complex perfume of red and black fruits, spice, black olive, pepper, balsamic, dark chocolate, coffee and charred oak. The palate is full and generous with refreshing levels of acidity and juicy, silky tannins.

Banfi Florus Moscadello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2014, £33.99

Finishing with a sweet wine by Banfi, this golden nectar is produced from 100% Moscadello grapes grown at high latitude on the limy clay southern hills of Montalcino. Use of French oak barriques in the aging process adds vanilla spice to apricot, honeysuckle, raisin, honey and almond.

Cognac Frapin `Cigar Blend` XO, £120.00

This evening we finish with a digestive (like Gosset Champagne, Frapin Cognac is Cointreau-owned). This 100% `Grande Champagne` cognac is mahogany in colour with copper highlights. It has notes of dried fruits, walnuts, hazelnuts and vanilla, and is sometimes referred to as having a rancio scent of “aged port”, as well as the eponymous cigar box character. A luxurious palate to accompany a fine cigar! Here at The Wine Centre you can buy both!


Fresh Steamed Salmon Creamy Sorrel Sauce & Gnocchi

Tandoori Chicken Thighs Butter Chicken Curry Sauce

Italian Guazzetto Oxtail Pomme Purre

Cheese Platter

French Fruit Custard Tart Strawberry & Mint Coulis

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Pass the claret, Jeeves!

Today we consider wine-speak associated with claret (red Bordeaux). In fact, many of the terms could be applied equally to other reds from around the world because there are common denominators, not least the aging process. For example: “Legs”. For some reason these fascinate people. They are the rivulets or tears which run down the glass after swirling. They really don`t mean much, an indicator of alcohol or sugar content, is all, but they also denote substance with the implication of viscosity and richness. As such they may be observed most readily in high-extract monster clarets, even more so in the high-glycerine sweet wines of Bordeaux.  “Cigar box”, “tobacco leaf” and “smoke” make good claret tasting notes, but these again can be applied elsewhere. Similar aromas appear in Italy`s Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo. They have much to do with the oak barrels they are matured in. Strangely, the woodsy aromas in themselves tend to emerge as “cedar” in claret, “leather” in Barolo and “vanilla” in Brunello, broad strokes but the tendency is there.   These first-rate heavyweights have something else in common: in their youth they share the descriptors “powerful” and “structured”. They are therefore typically rich, full-bodied and tannic, to the point of being chewy. What separates them entirely, aside from their unique terroirs, is their grape varieties: Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, Barolo 100% Nebbiolo. Claret is almost always a blend of grape varieties, the two most significant, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with also rans Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It`s helpful to understand that Cabernet Sauvignon grown on gravel is dominant on the “left bank” (Medoc), while Merlot on clay is King on the “right bank” (Pomerol, Saint-Émilion). Left bank more than right bank claret is notable for its cigar box and cedar characteristics, but also the distinctive “cassis” fruit quality of Cabernet Sauvignon which is liqueur-like (blackcurrants), with typical mineral notes of graphite, chocolate and soy. Right bank claret is plummy with creamy fruits and spices.  Both can turn to velvet with age. Two beasts we call claret.


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The importance of words

Today we are looking again at wine-speak, the glorious language of wine. I have plucked out a few handy words for readers and will endeavour to interpret them for you. While many words are self-explanatory and just a matter of getting used to applying them to wine, others may be less obvious or less known: “Fleshy”, for example, refers to one`s perception of fruit and extract on the palate – think “plenty of flesh on the bone” – the opposite is watery, stretched and thin (barely any `flesh`). We talk of “mid-palate”. It`s perhaps understood that “palate” refers to the feel and taste sensation when the wine is in the mouth, but did you know “mid-palate” is the term specifically relating to the middle stage of tasting? The first, the “attack”, is when the taster first detects in the mouth the sense of alcohol, tannins, acidity and sweetness (if any); the second “mid-palate” sensation is perceived having sucked air into the wine, and having swished it about in the mouth. The wine, aerated, releases aromas and flavours, signalling to the taster their characteristics. Simultaneously the weight and shape of the wine is registered and noted by the taster: light, medium-bodied, full-bodied, fat, linear, round, thin, dense etc. The “finish” is its echo, the lingering flavours.  Here`s another word: “restrained”. It`s perhaps difficult for the layman to appreciate how a wine might be held in check, or perhaps reticent to display itself. It may be down to its youth, simply not emerged yet. What they call “bottle shock” can bring this shyness on, after bottling. “Tight” indicates unreadiness, as does “closed”, usually due to a dominance of tannins in youth.  But restrained is generally a more positive descriptor, suggesting the promise of a future, but also elegance and refinement, a self-contained sophistication as it were, even for a wine of mature years: nothing brash about this wine! And besides, decanting may yet coax her out. Cheers all!

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Sept 27 Poppy de Courcy-Wheeler

Looking forward to tomorrow night`s dinner with Dominic, Poppy and our wonderful paying guests! Here is  the line-up for those of you wanting a peek. Menu at the bottom.

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter

Guest speaker: Poppy de Courcy-Wheeler

Crémant de Bourgogne Brut, Vignerons des Terres Secretes, France £19.99

After a full 2 years on its lees this Crémant is better than most, with a creamy palate &  bright, refreshing acidity. Aromas prevail of baked apple, pear and lemon. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay

Macon-Prissé `Les Clochettes`, Burgundy, France 2017, £16.99

A tasty unoaked Chardonnay from the Macon in southern Burgundy. Green apple, melon and honeysuckle. Pleasantly supple and fresh. 100% Chardonnay.

Pouilly Fuissé Vignes Blanches, Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, Burgundy, France 2017, £33.99 

Stylish Pouilly Fuissé, open, fresh white peach and pear aromas with hints of brioche.  Mineral, rich and full flavoured on the palate with complexity lasting throughout the long-lasting finish. 100% Chardonnay.

 Puligny-Montrachet, Sylvain Bzikot, Burgundy, France 2017,  £55.99

Sylvain is third generation from Poland, known for his attention to detail and most importantly for the quality of his Puligny. The grapes are from four plots, two bordering 1er Cru vineyards. The immediate, bracing citrus and white flower `lift` gives way to stone fruits and minerality. 100% Chardonnay.

Ventoux Passe Colline, South Rhone, France 2017, £13.99

A vibrant, fragrant and fleshy Rhone red from the Vaucluse, grown on steep, hilly, sand and stone terrain. Grapes include 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir & 10% mix of Carignan, Cinsault & Mourvedre.

Saint Joseph, Domaine du Tunnel, Northern Rhone, France 2015 £46.99 

Stunning effort by Stephane Robert and his wife Sandrine. This 100% Syrah is top notch. Aromas of ripe, exuberant blackberries, violets and burnt meaty notes are followed by silky black fruits, chocolate, minerals and herbs. Could be Hermitage.

Gigondas, Domaine la Bouissière, Southern Rhone, France 2017,  £29.99

Satisfying depth, vibrancy and spice with stony black fruits, oxtail and black olive at its core.   Evolves in the glass: cedar, more spice, dried flowers and black raspberry. 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah. Could be Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Vieux Château Gaubert, Graves, Bordeaux, France 2010,  £29.99

Blackcurrants, plums and leather to the fore amid vanilla and spices and hints of truffle, coffee and roasted meat. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50%Merlot

10 year old Tawny Port Quinta de Val da Figueira, Portugal, £27.99

Fine Tawny, one of the best 10-year olds, amber-coloured, complex, silky rich. Berries, nuts, honey, smoke, tea leaf, fig and walnut. Traditional mix of Portuguese grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao and Tinta Amarela.


Grilled Halibut Peach, Pepper and Rocket Salsa

Rich Seafood Chowder

Classic Lamb Osso-Buco Creamy Parmesan Soft polenta

Cheese Platter

Canadian Maple Syrup Creme Brulée Speculoo Biscuits



September 27th, 2019

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Thin-skinned grapes make light wines, great drinking

In the last  blog I wrote about tannins in red wine and those (the tannin averse) who don`t like that chalky, dry feeling. I explained how the drying sensation can disappear when pairing with food. How, with age, they can smooth out, the best of them turning to velvet and silk. Well for the most part I was referring to dark red wines made from relatively thick-skinned high-extract grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon – the sort we call “full-bodied”. Today I want to address the role of the lighter thin-skinned, low-tannin red grape varieties – used to produce light reds. These also have low levels of anthocyanin, the compound found in grape skins which give wine colour, which is why they are light, translucent, and, many of them, of beautiful appearance. In sunlight they can be invitingly bright and lustrous, like a deep-coloured pink rose, or a shining ruby. Moreover, made well, they have flavour intensity and fresh acidity, especially in their youth. The best of these can still be of high quality, and they can still live to great age, virtue of the wine`s acidity, balance and terroir. The great red burgundies are testament to this. They often take years to evolve, before they fully express themselves. And the more serious of these – for drinking in the long term – are not without tannins, in truth. However, others are made for immediate consumption, and still others can be drunk young with scope to develop over just a few years.  Pinot Noir, Gamay and Grenache are “the big three”, offering flavour intensity without body weight or notable tannins. They are wide-ranging in styles. from fresh and juicy to savoury; and they are versatile with food, pairing well with both white and red meats, cold cut meats, smoked foods, cheeses and even with fish!   Pinot Noir, for example, is a textbook match with duck but also tuna.  Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, is perfect with poultry – and fish pie. Grenache – think Mediterranean food – delicious with casseroles, charcuterie, cheeses and yes, fish too, in a spicy red wine sauce.