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Sweet wine passion

My passion for sweet wines, borne no doubt of a sweet tooth, is evident by the vast range we stock.   We call them dessert wines, but we also enjoy them with savouries:  in SW France both foie gras and Roquefort cheese are served with local sweet Sauternes, Barsac or Monbazillac. At home we like to use local paté or terrine. Alsace Sélections de Grains Nobles is another classic sweet wine, from east France, alternatively Hungary`s famous sweet wine, Tokaji Aszú.  These are deep, rich, unctuous and intensely sweet wines which glycerine-coat the palate; we call them botrytized wines, because the grapes used to make them are left to hang on their vines to be affected by the mould Botrytis Cinerea, which in turn shrivels them and concentrates their sugars; an expensive, painstaking and risky process which also imparts the unique botrytis flavour.  But not all wines are botrytized by half, and while some are even sweeter, a great many are less sweet, or their high acidity levels make them appear so. They`re a mixed bunch, sweet wines, diverse and fascinating, and just one rule:  when choosing one for a desert be sure to select a wine which is sweeter than the desert, or your wine will be ineffectual and rendered dry. So, choose carefully, or better come and speak to us. We may well take lightness and density of the dish into account, as well as flavour profile and levels of acidity and sweetness. Viscosity is another factor – and this can divide people`s enthusiasm – ranging from sticky intensely sweet wines with great viscosity which you can famously pour over vanilla ice cream, such as Spain`s Pedro Ximenez, to Italy`s super-light and frothy Moscato d`Asti at the other end of the spectrum. A gorgeous alternative to lovely Moscato by the way is bittersweet Brachetto, both these grapes grown in the same Piemonte region of northwest Italy. We opened a few bottles of Contero Brachetto d`Acqui (Rosé) at our July 20 wine-tasting dinner in the shop and it was fabulous with chef Tony Bell`s strawberry dessert.


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Cheese and wine, everyone?

If you like your cheeses, come visit our shop in Great Horkesley. We have a truly wonderful selection. Our Cropwell Bishop Stilton is stupendous: crumbly yet creamy too, and such a great flavour. The typical wine match for this is port, perhaps a light Tawny port for the time of year. Another distinguished blue cheese is salty, tangy Roquefort from SW France. Ours is heavenly. Match this with unctuous, golden, sweet Sauternes. Indeed, whatever the blue, it`s my recommendation you match it with a sweet wine. And we offer a fantastic range of sweet wines, of bright yellows, golds, iridescent ambers and deep crimson-rubies, between them an infinite spectrum of aromas, flavours and textures. However, dry white wines can be delicious with cheeses too. For example, our own local Suffolk Blue with Suffolk`s Giffords Hall Bacchus. The cheese, made from Guernsey cow`s milk, is a distinctive golden colour with a grey rind, soft and luxurious. The pale white wine is dry and aromatic. The two together make a splendid English picnic! Another cheese I favour with dry white wine is nutty Chaume from SW France, this one easily recognisable by its bright tangerine-orange rind and rubbery texture. Its unique flavour and creamy quality is, for me, perfect with dry, peachy Viognier. Yet another is the East Sussex tangy goat`s cheese log known as Golden Cross, coupled with dry, zesty Sauvignon Blanc it is delicious. Domaine du Pré Semelé Sancerre is perfect. Nonetheless, the most popular cheese wine is red wine. With hard and semi-hard cheeses I sort of get it, so long as the red wine is fruit-rich and not overly tannic or dry. I`d rule out claret, for example. Instead, a youthful Old Vine Zinfandel, maybe. Our Scotto is a good one, a brambly silky red with pleasing spices. It`s lovely. Cheese snack-of- the-week, however, goes to Brie de Meaux on Fine English Wheat Finger biscuits with Louis Latour Macon-Lugny “Les Genièvres” , a gorgeous golden dry white wine from burgundy. Marriage in Heaven! Happy days!

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Smoked fish and wine

In our Great Horkesley shop we have fridges with Pinney`s of Orford smoked fish, and it`s always a thrill this time of year to pick one or two for a picnic. Their fish paté, of mostly mackerel, is a delight on Oval Albert biscuits; and when served with a cheeky lunchtime glass of Italy`s Fiano it`s a pick-u-up like little else. Their Salmon paté is another welcome treat – creamier, richer – better suited we think to a lightly oaked Chardonnay. The smoked quality of their fish generally favours lightly oaked wines, the “oak and smoke” a well- trodden formula, with charred wood playing a part in the making of both.  But so long as the wine has plenty of flavour, and isn’t overpowered by the fish, we find that unoaked white wines can be just as delicious. Take, for example, Pinney`s golden Scottish cold-smoked haddock. This is fabulous with our Los Gonsos Gewurztraminer from Chile, the weighty palate and exotic fruit-quality of the wine (oak-free) packing a beautiful punch. We`ve been meaning to make a Kedgeree with this beautiful fish, however, served simply with brown bread and butter it`s a delicious picnic-treat!  Incidentally, if you are smoking your own, take care not to over-smoke. We did just that recently cooking a seafood paella over a spit. The dish was spoiled, the wine over-whelmed.   Another of Pinney`s, their Hot Smoked salmon, has an amazing oaky smoked flavour and is steamed after smoking to give it a succulent flaked texture as well. This is fabulous with salad and mayonnaise, or with fresh pesto and pasta, and a glass of my favourite Bouchard Finlayson Crocodile`s Lair Chardonnay.  Our best-selling Pinney`s fish is their Smoked Scottish salmon. Hand-reared on one of the oldest independent farms in Scotland this salmon is of the very highest quality, smoked using whole logs of Suffolk oak gently smouldered for the perfect taste. Serve simply with a squeeze of lemon and black pepper. This is a special occasion picnic-treat, best served with Champagne (our go-to favourite Champagne Devaux Cuvée D), and, naturally, brown bread and butter.  Oh joy!

The Wine Centre, Great Horkesley  Opening hours 10am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday. Telephone 01206 271 236 , email



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A joint 50th and 60th birthday celebration was enjoyed by all at last night`s wine-tasting dinner. For us it was also a chance to introduce our new manager, James, who was speaker. Our wine selection for the evening was from Liberty Wines and the matching menu was created by chef Tony Bell. Our thanks to everyone for helping make it such a special evening.

Speaker: James Beverley

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Tony Bell


Fantini Cuvée Rosato Brut Sparkling, Farnese, £16.99, £15.00 – aperitif
This is a fresh and aromatic wine with intriguing aromas of pink pomegranate, ripe cherry, red currant, wild strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, it is pleasantly aromatic, well-balanced with elegant and persistent bubbles. 100% Aglianico

Gavi di Gavi `Lugarara` La Giustiniana, Piemonte 2017, £19.99, £17.75
Straw-yellow with a greenish hue. The wine’s aromas of white fruit, stone fruit and lime zest are immediately beguiling and followed by a subtle yet persistent bouquet of green apples. The palate is well balanced with a fresh acidity and good structure. Pleasant almond notes linger on the finish. 100% Cortese

Pieropan `La Rocca` Soave Classico, Veneto 2013, £29.99, £26.99
‘La Rocca’ is golden yellow in the glass, with intense, concentrated perfumes that follow through to the palate. Classic La Rocca aromas of almond essence and honey lead to an elegant and beautifully balanced palate, with notes of vanilla and almond kernel and ripe apricots. The long finish has a light mineral edge. 100% Garganega

Farnese Fantini Sangiovese, Terre di Chieti 2017, £12.99, £11.69
A youthful and appealing wine, garnet red in colour and quite intense on the nose with vibrant red fruit, cherries and herbal characters. On the palate, it has bright fruity notes of strawberry and morello cherry, with subtle vanilla characters from the oak. The wine is well-balanced and medium-bodied with structured, firm tannins, fresh acidity and a long finish. 100% Sangiovese

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico, Tuscany 2012, £28.99, £26.09
This Chianti Classico is crimson in colour with typical sour cherry and bramble notes. The palate has a supple, lithe character full of perfumed fruit and is given depth by a mineral vein. Structure comes from the taut acidity and tannin structure. 80% Sangiovese 15% Canaiolo 5% Syrah

Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, Veneto 2014, £23.99, £21.59
Ruby red in colour, Palazzo della Torre has enticing aromas of cherry with rich dark chocolate notes. Velvety in texture, it is well-balanced and offers ripe, juicy dark fruit, with silky tannins and refreshing acidity. 70% Corvina 25% Rondinella 5% Sangiovese

Lugana `I Frati` Ca dei Frati, Lombardia 2016, £20.99, £18.89
Light yellow in colour with a concentrated but fresh perfume of white flowers, peaches and ripe lemons. On the palate, it has excellent depth and balance, with lovely richness and a crisp, lively finish 100% Turbiana

A-Mano Vino Passito, Puglia 2010 (37.5cl), £19.99, £17.99
Deep ruby red in colour with perfumes of red rose petals and dried cherries. These aromas give way to a dark, black cherry and spice character on the palate with rounded tannins and a characteristic bitter twist. Sweet and luscious but not cloying, it has dried fruit and cinnamon perfumes on the finish. 100% Aleatico

Brachetto d`Acqui, Contero, Piemonte £20.99, £18.89
This wine is light cherry red in colour. The rich, persistent mousse accompanies bright aromas of roses and violets. The slightly sweet, aromatic palate has a typical bittersweet note on the finish. 100% Brachetto

Discounted prices in red for wines ordered this evening, thank you.


Warm prawn salad

Scallop & broad bean ‘cicchetti’

Cube of pork, Tuscan-style lentils

Breast of guinea-fowl ‘cacciatore’


Strawberry desert

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Wine with seafood

There`s little better than a tasty fish and a glass of delicious wine. At home we`ll bake salmon fillets once a week during the summer months. Most recently we coupled the creamy fillet with in-season broad beans, new potatoes and a knob of butter, and we washed it all down with the lovely Clos des Fou Chardonnay, a wine from Cachapoal Valley in Chile. The wine is a perfectly delicious alternative to France`s white burgundy, a beautiful yellow-gold-green colour with blossomy white fruit aromas and a gorgeous lick of (matching) butter mid-palate. Turbot and Dover Sole would work just as well with this wine, as would creamy fish pie. We also like to bake whole mackerel and trout. Both are on the oily side, so we generally pick crisp, decisive white wines to cut through them. Last time it was mackerel with Belisario`s Verdicchio di Matelica from the Marche region in Italy. It was spot on, cleansing the palate as would a crisp bite of green apple. With trout, slightly meaty, we favour our Picpoul de Pinet by Baron de Badassière from the Languedoc region of France. The wine is refreshing, with attractive weight, fruit and acidity in perfect balance. It has `poise` as we say in the wine industry – the more appealing for being held in check – yet when combined with the trout, the wine seemingly bursts with bright notes of yellow plum, greengage and lime. Oh joy! Skate, Halibut, Cod, Haddock and Monkfish are equally good choices. Of course, your wine choice might well be influenced by the sauce you serve with your fish. Add a curried sauce or perhaps saffron to flaky Cod and it`s a different experience entirely. We would probably choose an aromatic, lightly spiced Pinot Gris from Alsace. Or a Viognier from the Pays d`Oc. But it`s not always white wine with fish. With meaty Tuna, for example – this time of year served with Salade Niçoise in our house – my personal favourite is a decent, slightly chilled Pinot Noir. Try Giant Steps Yarra Valley P-N for a real treat!

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A New World Evening of Wine & Food

My thanks to everyone for making  29th June 2018 such a memorable one! A great fun group, Tony on fire in the kitchen and  our brilliant guest speaker none other than my lovely sister-in-law Julie Maitland. Check out the line-up of wines and  T`s matching menu:

Guest speaker: Julie Maitland

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Tony Bell

Bird in Hand Rosé Sparkling Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia 2017, £16.99

A light, delicate sparkling Pinot Noir, salmon-pink in colour, with floral notes and hints of strawberry and cherry on the nose. Its lively palate evokes flavours of fresh strawberries with a delicate bead, leading to a crisp, clean finish. The perfect pre-dinner aperitif or celebratory drink.

Forrest `The Doctor’s` Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough New Zealand (9.5%), 2017, £11.99

A classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that leaps from the glass with green capsicum, passionfruit and fresh herbs; it’s full and satisfying to taste with that crisp refreshing Marlborough finish, and all at only 9.5% alcohol. Perfect for your modern lifestyle.

Bouchard Finlayson `Missionvale` Chardonnay, Walker Bay, South Africa 2015, £24.99

A robust, creamy Hemel-En-Aarde Valley Chardonnay. Subtle peach and melon flavours follow a zesty citrus watermark. The after-taste conveys further nuances, notably of fig and quince. This bottling has excellent potential for ageing and further development.

Escarpment `The Edge` Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand 2016, £15.99

A full-bodied style with backbone and a long lingering finish. An immediately accessible wine, which will improve over the next two years. Enjoy with this cumin-scented duck roll, alternatively with vegetarian plates, full-flavoured fish dishes and any red meats.

Catherine Marshall `Amatra` Merlot, Elgin, South Africa 2015, £15.99

French clone (348) Merlot exudes bright, fresh black plums. Core of opulent black fruit flavours are supported by a vibrant thread of fresh acidity from the addition of a small splash of Cabernet Franc to harmoniously balance the textured mid core palate weight.

Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch, South Africa (magnum) 2015, £37.00

The John X Merriman is a powerful wine that rewards aging. In its youth the wine is worth decanting and expresses cassis, black currant and dark fruits complemented with cigar tobacco and sour cherry notes. As the wine ages and its fine-grained tannins soften a softer more savoury palate develops revealing, wonderful drinkability and tertiary complexity.

Bremerton Batonnage Chardonnay, Langhorne Creek, Australia 2014, £24.99

Bâtonnage Chardonnay draws its name from the French term for stirring the lees during the aging and maturation of wine. On the nose this wine shows lifted lemon-curd with hints of stone-fruit and spice. The palate is expressive and complemented by restrained oak and a creamy mouthfeel. The palate is tempered by a fine acid structure and textural finish giving the wine great length and persistence.

Trentham Estate, The Family Nebbiolo, Murray Darling, Australia 2015, £13.99

Trentham Estate’s ‘The Family’ range of wines are from estate-grown Italian varieties and celebrate their Italian heritage’s influence on grape-growing and winemaking. A lighter red with complex aromas of spice, rose petal and berry fruits. On the palate fruit flavours of blackberry and plum blend with complex spice and earthy characters. Ripe tannins provide great length and balance. In the vineyard Nebbiolo has variable crops with fruit colour ranging from light to deeply-coloured red. The fruit matures late in the season with low sugar and high acid levels which makes it well suited for warmer climates.

Hooiwijn Donkiesbaai, Piekenierskloof, South Africa 2016 (half-bottle), £22.99

Hooiwijn, literally ‘straw wine’ in Afrikaans, where bunches of Steen (Chenin Blanc) grapes are placed on racks covered by straw and twice a week turned by hand. A complex sweet wine with notes of apricot, peach, pineapple, honeysuckle and caramel. The wine shows excellent balance between sweetness and acidity, with a long, lingering, fresh finish.



Asparagus and walnut crusted goats cheese

Cod, saffron prawn

Cumin-scented duck ‘roll’, sweet potato & almond skordalia

Risotto al sarno

Daube of beef

Cheese platters

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A thought for the seasons

One thing I have always loved about our country is its seasons. What better way of celebrating them, then with the thrill of eating the season`s fresh fruit and vegetables. The first Asparagus, the first strawberries, the first broad beans. Even better, growing and eating your own. Furthermore, since most of us are carnivores, there`s the seasonal meats. At Easter we look forward to the tender Spring Lamb.  During the summer months we get to enjoy gorgeous pork pies and barbecued spare ribs. A favourite of mine in the summer is Grandfather sausages supplied by our local butcher. It`s the time of year for fresh lettuce salads, Caesar and Niçoise our staples; while our go-to salad with barbecues is Tomato-Avocado-Mozzarella. Red peppers and aubergines also appear on our table during the summer months, as do new potatoes, Beetroot and Cucumber, to name a few.   There`s also seasonal local fish – the “catch of the day”, be that Cod, Mackerel or Bass.   Colchester`s famous Mersea oysters remain a highlight of the year in season. Less known but highly sought after among food aficionados are Colchester`s native lobsters, Langoustine and eels.   Come Autumn and Winter there`s a sea-change and we look to the warming seasonal comfort food – apples for apple pie, root vegetables for hearty casseroles, game-birds, venison and so on.   And with each changing season we have our matching wines, and that, readers, is where I come in. With every seasonal delight there will be wines in our shop which will bring your seasonal dish to life and make the occasion even more special. With Asparagus, try our Domaine Girault Sancerre – it`s perfect. With strawberries, Italy`s Moncucco Moscato d`Asti – served in a flute glass it is sublime. With fresh broad beans (in- season right now) enjoy our Chateau de Fontenille, Entre-Deux-Mers. Any member of our team will be happy to recommend a wine with your seasonal dish, just drop into The Wine Centre or telephone 01206 271 236.

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Cork versus Screw Cap

Not so very long ago, screw cap was used as a stopper for cheap plonk, while cork was the preserve of the finer bottles. Not so any more.  The past ten years has seen a sea-change toward use of screw cap, with an increasing number of fine wine producers rejecting cork.  The cost of “corked” wine to the industry has proven too high for many.  I can vouch for this:  I used to log my returned faultybottles in a book, now the number would barely fill two sides of a post note in a year because over two-thirds of my stock is screw cap. There`s also the personal tragedies of corked bottles:  the long years of cellaring a special bottle only to discover the wine is completely spoiled! And worse still, from my point of view as a merchant, is the slightly corked wines.  In these the wine simply tastes dull and without expression, as though a Death Eater has sucked the life out of it, appearing like a poor wine, not a faulty wine, with my reputation at stake!!  Furthermore:   wine itself at stake!  I blame the cork producers for the cork demise, for not grappling with the problems of cork infection sooner. Some say as much as 10% of all wines stoppered with cork is wasted due to cork taint.  Meantime, there has been this past decade a significant improvement in the screw cap, now with permeable lining.  It`s been with some considerable enthusiasm I have noted wines mature gracefully under screw cap, something the avid proponent of cork always said wouldn’t happen.      Truthfully, screw cap is not perfect, either. There are some  reductive wines, which can be a bit stinky – but these are few by comparison and can often be  remedied by decanting.   There`s also still the jury out on long-term maturation of wines under screw cap. But until I am dissuaded, my mind is made up, in favour of screw cap over cork. What do you think?

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Mentzendorff Wines

Guest speaker: Antony Davis – Host: Anthony Borges –

Chef: Tony Bell

A fabulous evening. Thanks everyone for your ongoing support. Wines and matching menu:

The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2017, £13.99

A full flavoured Sauvignon with pure fruit characters of gooseberry and nectarine, underpinned by citrus tones leading to a crisp mineral finish. 100% Sauvignon Blanc.

 La Gitana Manzanilla, Jerez, Spain, £12.99

This sherry is produced using only free run juice and the natural yeast that is left on the skins of the grapes. Dry and refreshing, with apple, straw and nutty flavours all underscored with salty tanginess. 100% Palomino Fino.

Langlois-Chateau Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France 2016, £13.99,

With its distinctiv yellow colour, delicate aromas of stone and citrus fruit and a palate of everything you would want from a Muscadet of this quality, fresh, fruity with a lasting finish. 100% Melon de Bourgogne.

Langlois-Chateau Pouilly-Fume, Loire, France 2017, £24.99

Pale yellow with greenish hues. A fresh and intense nose of citrus, fruits and almonds. The palate is wonderfully fruity with a note of gunflint on the finish.

100% Sauvignon Blanc.

Chateau des Ferrages  “Roumery”, Cotes de Provence Rose, France 2016, £14.99

Elegant, bright and subtle rosé with a very pale rose petal hue. shows a fresh and fruity aromatic character with aromas of strawberry, grapefruit, citrus and peach. Cinsault, Grenache, Rolle and Clairette.

Langlois-Chateau Saumur-Champigny, France 2015, £18.99

The Cabernet Franc grapes are taken from the vineyards in Dampierre sur Loire, where the soil is sand and chalk. Cherry-red colour with intense aromas of red fruit and notes of violet in the nose. Medium-bodied with a round and fruity palate.

100% Cabernet Franc

Chanson Fleurie, Beaujolais, France, £18.99

Typical fresh attack of red fruits, raspberries, strawberries and cherries, mixed with violets and spices. Well balanced, elegant body. A vibrant, savoury quality and an attractive light touch. 100% Gamay

Killerman`s Run Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, Australia 2015, £18.99

Aromas, well supported by cedary and spicy oak notes. Richly flavoured and textured the palate packs dark fruits, hints of fresh leaf, tobacco and subtle French oak toast in perfect synchronicity with the fine grained tannins and balanced natural acidity. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Henrique & Henrique 20 Year Old Malvasia Madeira, Portuga, £69.99

Dark in colour with golden hints. Complex aromas of dried fruit, caramel and honey with some subtle wood. Sweet and velvety taste of dried fruit, especially raisins, along with flavours of honey and vanilla. 100% Malvasia


Anchovy Palmiers, almonds and olives

Moules Mariniere

English asparagus, beetroot and walnut crumbed goats cheese

Prawn and crayfish ‘croquetas’

Free range, Anjou raised, Guinea Fowl, tarragon jus

Cheeses from The Wine Centre’s Deli

Sticky toffee pudding




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Independent wine merchants doing well

According to the drinks industry press there are now 855 independent wine merchants in the UK, an increase of 31 on 2017.  Graham Holter, editor of The Wine Merchant (arguably UK`s most influential trade magazine for the independent sector) says this is encouraging news for an industry feeling the effects of the weaker pound. I say it is BRILLIANT news – performing well in difficult times against a tsunami of much bigger drinks specialists and the supermarket chains, with their much greater buying power and resources, is the story of David and Goliath in our time.  We are proud to count ourselves among the 855, and it is   particularly gratifying that in 2016 an industry panel of over 100 judges voted us in the UK`s top 50. It`s been a long journey for us, now nearly nineteen years for me personally, and this was a great moment. We were at the awards event in London when we heard the announcement and I practically fell off my stall! I mention this now to give hope to all independents out there, and to youngsters thinking about “giving it a go”. “Small” is flexible. Out of necessity we play to our strengths and it is dynamic and creative. We work hard and with passion and people buy into the enthusiasm because it`s genuine and honest.  In the past ten years, for us, it has also been about change. Standing still wasn’t an option. If we had been in town we would have become a hybrid: part wine shop, part wine bar. But in Great Horkesley we simply don`t have the footfall, so we started our ticketed events. Our wine-tasting dinners have been especially successful, often sold six months ahead.  We invested in the premises to incorporate our fledgling deli. Then we knocked through into our adjacent house and built The Gift Room, a great move for us. In a nut shell, we diversified. But with wine still at the heart of everything we do.  Still a wine merchant.  And moreover, a great community life. We count ourselves lucky.