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A whistle-stop tour of Piedmont, Italy

A whistle-stop tour of Piedmont, Italy

Most people in the wine trade think of the Piedmont region of northern Italy as the home of Barolo and Barbaresco. These are red wines produced from the Nebbiolo grape – big, structured, brawny beasts, which, with age,  develop an orange hue and complex, defining characteristics of roses, leather, and tar. The best of them, beguiling and highly valued, count amongst the most expensive in all of Italy. The English gentry would enjoy such prize bottles with their game birds.  By contrast, stylistically, the Piedmont region is also home to the famous white wine Gavi di Gavi, produced from the Cortese grape. These wines are pale green and aromatic, with crisp, tangy flavours on the palate. They are considered by many to be the ultimate seafood wine, with zesty, mouth-watering acidity and tropical fruit notes. Basically, if you like good Sauvignon Blanc, you will LOVE Gavi. Every good wine merchant has at least one, and ours is La Giustiana `Lugarara` Gavi di Gavi 2019, £19.99 per bottle, which combines green apples with white peach and lime zest in perfect balance.  The Italians are very good at producing wines to go with their local foodstuff, but they are also good at producing sweet palate cleansers. We stock three of the very best of Piedmont, each low in alcohol, aromatic, and super-fresh: 1) Fontanafredda `Moncucco` Moscato d`Asti, a straw-yellow wine, slightly sparkling, of the Moscato grape, sweet, floral, with bright notes of peaches & pears (5.5% Alc), £13.99 per 50cl bottle; 2) Contero Brachetto d`Acqui, a beautiful salmon pink wine, slightly sparkling, of the Brachetto grape, bright cherries & violets, bittersweet (5.5% Alc), £20.99 per bottle; and 3) Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d`Acqui Spumante, this one fully sparkling, a deep ruby colour, with aromas of strawberries and rose hip, bittersweet (7% Alc), £22.99 per bottle. They also make perfect accompaniments to pastries, and strawberries. And according to legend, Mark Anthony gifted Cleopatra the first ever Brachetto wine, believing it to be an aphrodisiac.  Perhaps that is why these wines are so popular at weddings. Cheers everyone.

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Chakalaka: The Stuff of Dreams

Chakalaka is a South African hotpot which originated in the townships.  It`s a throw-it-all-in-the-pot tomatoey, spicy bean soup, a staple of the African peoples.  The word Chakalaka, originally of Zulu origin, itself implies togetherness. It is depicted by the image of friends and family sitting around a big pot of hot soup. Now, in 2021, I am delighted to introduce readers to a new interpretation:  a Chakalaka shared bottle of delicious South African wine! And what better than one with lots of grapes thrown into the mix, especially when your house name is Spice Route. The grapes, from Swartland bush-trained vines grown on shale and red clay, are low-yield and intensely fragrant. Indeed, Spice Route Chakalaka, Swartland 2016 is a joy to behold. A complex, full-bodied red wine made from 36% Mourvèdre, 22% Syrah, 13% Carignan, 11% Grenache, 9% Petite Syrah and 9% Tannat grapes. The final, unmistakable ingredient thrown in the pot, a dose of American and French oak to season. The result: A deep ruby red wine, with aromas of red, blue, and black fruits, spiced with clove, white pepper and vanilla. As the wine evolves in the glass, more aromas and flavours unfold, generous and complex. In the mouth the wine is intense, and velvet, brimming with vivid notes of berries and spices. The finished wine a delicious and harmonious sum of many parts. Spice Route takes the sharing sentiment one step further. They refer to their vinous Chakalaka as reflecting the Rainbow Nation itself, the essence of all that is good about cosmopolitan life in today`s South Africa. Its cultural diversity, its vibrancy, its energy.  And though this hotpot of humanity is fraught with problems still, they believe it represents the stuff of dreams. Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible, until it is done”. Well, a wine like Chakalaka, impossible even a decade ago, is done, and ready to go for just £18.99 per bottle. Cheers everyone!

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An introduction to M. Chapoutier wines

Michel Chapoutier’s wines from France`s Rhône Valley are amongst the most highly acclaimed wines in the World. The Chapoutier family have been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1808, but it is since 1990 when Michel Chapoutier took over that the wines really began to speak of their origin. In large part this is down to Michel`s assiduous and insightful selection of vineyards, but also his meticulous methods of farming, using organic and biodynamic principles, coupled with minimal intervention in the winery.  His goal is not just to produce the best possible wine, but to ensure each is individual, characterised by its own sense of place. What the French call: “Le goût du terroir”.  Their labels deserve special mention as well, because, since 1996, all Maison M. Chapoutier labels feature the wine information written in braille. This is a tribute to Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne (1857-1924), the inventor of the first abridged version of braille and founder of the Valentin Haüy association.  Haüy was founder, in 1785, of the first school for the blind, which was later, in 1819, attended by Louis Braille himself. Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne, blinded at age 9, went on to be one of the most significant influences in the movement to support the blind. A single, precious vineyard bears his name today on the famous hill of Hermitage: Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage. We are delighted to offer oenophiles, collectors, and wine hobbyists, the chance to buy a mixed case of twelve M. Chapoutier wines which will include a single bottle of the flagship Monier de Sizeranne Hermitage 2015, usually £87.00 per bottle, offered now as part of this mixed taster case for just £45.00. The full case of twelve (7 red, 4 white, 1 rosé), will come with tasting notes, delivered to your home for £225.00. Email your order, or enquiry, to . FREE DELIVERY. Offer ends 16th April 2021. Tel (01206) 271 236 Opening hours 10am-6.30pm Monday-Saturday


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Nightingale and the Rose

Yesterday I was reminded of Oscar Wilde`s The Nightingale and the Rose.  It was a 2013 vintage New Zealand Pinot Noir, a wine transformed, in just a few years, from bright, fresh, and red-fruited (I remember it as a three-year old), to forest floor, damson, and blackberry. It was delicious, but probably approaching the end of its life, I felt; it had a caramelized note on the finish, scrummy, yet telling of its demise. It occurred to me how so many wines in the last throws of their lives can be at their most expressive, and beautiful. As though the wines have saved the best of everything, until the last. Which made me think of the nightingale. In the story, the bird sings his most beautiful song at the time of his death, having thrown himself on the thorn of a rose. He gives his life willingly, for love, in a glorious crescendo. This blood-red (slightly browning) Pinot Noir sang such a song to me yesterday. A most poignant moment it was too, sitting in my garden porch, the liquid swishing in my Riedel glass, a bare thorny bush by my side. The promise of roses.  Happily, this wine still has another six months or so, I`d say. Plenty of time to pop another bottle.  “Rapaura Springs Reserve, Marlborough £22.99”.  Another bird said to sing a glorious song in death is the swan. So, it is to the swan, then, I look to our 2015 white wines, and especially to the Chardonnays. These are spectacular right now, golden yellows with silky-soft fruits; and I know the closer to death they get during these coming Summer and Autumn months, the more magnificent they will be.  Even as they turn to amber, toward the end, I know some of them will sing the beautiful, melancholy song of the swan; and such rewards, I suspect, will inspire poetry. One such beauty is Chile`s “Lot # 5 Leyda Chardonnay, £24.99.” Already it is displaying honeysuckle, lemon curd, peach, and brioche. I can`t wait for its Swan Song!   Cheers everyone.

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Faiveley – le goût du terroir

The French term le goût du terroir translates literally to the taste of the soil, however, in wine-speak, taste in this context encompasses aroma as well, and terroir alludes not only to the soils from which the vines sprang, but the influences all around; all the elements involved in the making of the wine, the nature of the soils and the fruit, the sunshine hours or lack of, as well as the hand of the winemaker who brings everything together to give a wine its sense of place.  It`s how a connoisseur of wine can taste a wine “blind”, and pinpoint the wine`s identity, sometimes narrowing it down to a single estate and vineyard.  However, not all wines have a sense of place. Sometimes wines are so stretched they could come from anywhere.  High yielding, bulk-produced, under £10 bottles, almost always fall into this category. They can be well made, and even typical of the style and grape, but rarely of place. Next category up, between £10 and £15 bottles, you are likely to find more concentration, with length as well, and if you are lucky terroir. But it`s not until you spend £15 plus on a bottle that you can consistently find wines with typicity, depth of flavour and terroir.  I have dedicated this column for the next month or so to the £15-£20 category, and today`s example perfectly demonstrates the meaning of the term goût de terroir.  Domaine Faiveley Pinot Noir, Bourgogne 2018 (France) is a classic cool-climate red wine produced from small thin-skinned just-ripe Pinot Noir grapes grown on a limestone ridge in burgundy`s Côte d`Or. The wine is a pale, translucent, star-bright cherry colour.  It is of medium weight, with an elegant body. The wine has fragrant scents of fresh red fruits and a hint of oak from 12 months oak aging. The palate is intense and savoury with defining mineral notes and lively acidity, beautifully balanced.  Darker fruits evolve in the glass, suggestive of its Côte de Nuits origins within burgundy`s Côte d`Or; and crunchy, youthful tannins turn to soft fine grain. How delectable!




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You get what you pay for in wine, as in life

The satisfaction a good bottle gives is reward enough for the investment, I`d say, but when you consider how you are helping the wine producer, it`s ever more precious. Think of the family-run winery, the passionate winemaker committed to sustainability, the South African winemaker who can barely afford to pay his pickers this harvest. In past weeks I have written much about why I think the £15-£20 per bottle category represents the best possible value. This is surely the best of reasons to be drinking them.  Because the producers of these wines need our support, and we, as consumers, need to ensure their longevity. That old phrase again: “Use them; or lose them!” Aspiring for best possible quality makes sense, economically, only if there is a sure, growing market for it.  Imagine a dwindling market of such wines, less and less talent getting into winemaking, less individualists making crack wines, less investment in fine wine, and the subsequent reduced choice for the consumer. It does not bare thinking about. We all recognise that food grown sustainably and qualitatively costs more, well so it is for producing good wine. If we are to enjoy excellence and diversity in wine, then those of us who can, should be putting our hands in our pockets, and in doing so, to reap the benefit both now and in the future. Take this wine, produced with organically grown grapes in France`s Rhone Valley: La Famille Perrin “Nature” Cotes du Rhone Blanc, France 2019. A blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Viognier, 10% Marsanne & 10% Roussanne grapes. It is produced meticulously, sparing no expense, borne of hard work and passion. For our gratification. The result: Bright stone-fruit characters and a moreish, creamy palate. Simply divine. The world a better place for its existence. Surely better buy one of those, at £16.99 in our shop, than two or three of another for the same spend, likely as not chemical-imbued, barely sustainable, and, frankly, not very nice. That`s my view, anyway. Cheers everyone.

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The big Friday night in is back! Menu:

Ladies and gentlemen

“The Big Friday Night In” is back, starting on the

19th March

As before, pick-up your takeaway from the trailer in our car park Fridays between 5.30 and 7.30pm

Shop shuts at 6.30pm so if you would like to pick-up our matching wine, be sure to get here early.  

Joining Emma Bennett in the trailer this time will be chef Luke Pickman who has had over 15 years’ experience in the industry.  Luke`s passion for cooking started from an early age, inspired by his grandparents` enjoyment of growing and cooking their own produce. Luke loves to express his creativity through interesting menus, using local, and fresh seasonal produce.   We hope you will give him a big welcome to Gt Horkesley.

An exciting seven-week programme, with Kathy`s matching wine recommendations.


Food pre-orders to:

Emma Bennett

Mob: 07587 196 496


Week 1 – 19th March


Seafood Marinara with prawns, mussels, squid and octopus.

Vegetable Marinara (V)

White Chocolate Mousse


Wine recommendation

Alba Martin Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain 2017, £16.99

This clean citrus Albarino gives pear and white fruit aromas on the nose. It is a dry, medium bodied white wine, with balanced acidity. Although those white fruits are found on the palate there are mineral and stone qualities in addition. Simply delightful.


Week 2 – 26th March


Traditional Greek Moussaka served with Olive & Feta Salad and Pitta Bread

Roast Vegetable and Lentil Moussaka served with Olive & Feta Salad and Pitta Bread (V)



Wine recommendation

La Bascula “The Charge” Tempranillo Garnacha Rioja, Spain 2018, £13.99

A vibrant red with cherry and plum characteristics. Aged for 9 months in French & American oak this Rioja shows a wonderful purity of black cherry fruit and well-balanced spicy oak with a touch of coffee and dark chocolate. Divine.


Week 3 – 2nd April (Easter)


Shoulder of Mutton Pie served with Jersey Royals and Chargrilled Tender stem Broccoli

Blue Cheese and Asparagus Pie served with Jersey Royals and Chargrilled Tender stem Broccoli (V)

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pot


Wine Recommendation

Chateau Baron Bellevue Cotes de Bourg, Bordeaux, France 2014 £13.99

A predominantly Merlot (80%) Bordeaux with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon & 5% Cabernet Franc. No insecticides are used on the vines, a third of which are over 30 years old. The wine is then aged for 18 months in barrels. The result is ripe and spicy with bramble flavours. A perfect accompaniment for both pies on offer, this evening.


Week 4 – 9th April


Lebanese Tapas

Lebanese Spiced Pulled Pork with Gnocchi

Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons


Ricotta and Oregano Meatballs (V)

Fried Cauliflower with Pine Nuts Capers and Chilli (VG)

Watermelon, Green Apple & Lime Salad

Roast Asparagus, Almonds, Capers and Dill

Pitta with a selection of dips; Harissa Houmous, Cinnamon Labneh, Black Olive Tapenade 


Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake


Wine Recommendation

Waterkloof Circle of Life, Stellenbosch, S. Africa, 2016 £13.99

This delightful South African white wine, biodynamically farmed, as well as being suitable for vegans, will complement the Tapas dishes on offer nicely. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc (67%), Chenin Blanc (29%) and Semillon (4%), this complex, full bodied wine has peach notes on the nose with citrus and lemon flavours on the palate. Although it has a mineral core there is a delightful creamy middle feel. The grapes are aged on the lees for 10 months prior to blending giving plenty of structure.

Of course, if you, like me, prefer a red, this is the perfect opportunity to open one from Lebanon:

Domaine des Tourelles Vieilles Vignes Carignan, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2018, £19.99

We have an organic traditional Lebanese wine from one of the longest and most highly acclaimed wineries in the Bekaa Valley. Made from vines which are more than 50 years old, this exotic, full flavoured wine has notes of ripe red fruits, liquorice, dark chocolate, and fig.


Week 5 – 16th April


Coq au Vin, Olive Oil Mash and Spring Greens

Stuffed Courgette, Olive Oil Mash and Spring Greens

Crème Caramel


Wine Recommendation

 Genetie Bourgogne Pinot Noir Illumine, Burgundy, France £18.99

A red burgundy with excellent purity of fruit, and balance. It is elegant with red cherry aromas and a palate of wild strawberry and ripe fruit flavours. Medium bodied and fresh, it is a perfect match with the Coq au vin.


Week 6 – 23rd April


Beef Stroganoff and Wild Rice

Wild Mushroom and Rice

Lemon Posset


Wine Recommendation

Darling Cellars Old Bush Cinsault, Darling, S. Africa 2018, £16.99

An intriguing aroma of sour red cherries and candy floss leads to a moreish palate which displays rich-fruit, forest floor and white pepper. Very popular with customers here at The Wine Centre. Produced from 38 year old vines, matured 22 months in oak.


Week 7 – 30th April (bank holiday weekend)



Lamb Kofta with Tzatziki

Lemon and Thyme Chicken

Fillet of Seabass Skewers with Chimichurri

Cumin Spiced Courgette, Pepper and Halloumi Kebab

Corn on the Cob with a choice of butter; chilli butter, garlic butter or marmite butter

New York Baked Cheesecake


Wine Recommendation

Zuccardi Brazos de los Andes Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2018, £11.99

This an easy-going Malbec from fruit grown high up in the Uco, full of blackcurrants and plums. The perfect BBQ party red to go with Luke`s bank holiday feast. Enjoy!

A better match with the Seabass Skewer and Lemon and Thyme Chicken Fillet is this one:

Tirecul La Graviere Ulma Bergerac SW France 2018, £13.99

New to The Wine Centre is this little beauty from SW France. Better known for its sweet wine, Monbazillac, this is a dry white with fruit salad characteristics, made from a mixed bag of organically grown grapes, of Semillon, Muscadelle, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc. Oh joy!  

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Help a nation in need

Further plight is affecting the South African wine industry due to the increased duties on wine just announced by finance minister Tito Mboweni (24 February). Already on its knees due to South Africa`s Covid 19 related prohibition and the wine industry`s sales ban, and the lake of wine left in its wake, this latest news may prove to be the nail in the coffin for many wine producers. Furthermore, hospitality continues to be shut down, and tourism is almost non-existent. We think we`ve got it bad here in UK. Well, at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The ongoing impact of Covid 19 in South Africa continues to be devastating, with little hope. We are told some 300 million litres of wine remain unsold, and the 2021 harvest has started. The need to empty their tanks is an urgent one, and we can all help by drinking South African wine this month.  A notable, paradigm shift in the increased consumption of South African wine, and the subsequent depletion of UK stocks, will facilitate fresh imports into UK, and ease the pressures which are mounting in South Africa. And it`s not so very hard to drink South African wine, is it? Far from it. Here at The Wine Centre we love our South African wines. We stock a wonderful range: Rustenberg, Rust En Vrede, Paul Cluver, Catherine Marshall, Bouchard Finlayson, Lemberg, Darling Cellars, Kanonkop, and Hamilton Russell, to name a few. My wife and I were lucky enough to visit South Africa in January 2020, where, just before Covid 19 reached our shores, we enjoyed the hospitality of all these fabulous wineries. It breaks our hearts to think of their woes now. If you can bring yourselves to visit our shop before the end of March [2021], then we, by way of inducement, and thanks, will give you a massive 20% discount off a mixed case of twelve bottles of the above mentioned South African wines.  Just give a member of staff the promotional code: HELP.S.AFRICA. Cheers everyone!

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Our much-loved 93-point Rioja.

For those of you who care to follow, my ongoing theme in this blog, currently, is dedicated to award-winning wines which retail from £15 to £20 per bottle. This category represents a sweet spot for us, where wines are of a concentration and quality which is highly rewarding, without breaking the back. Last week we covered Borsao`s `Cabriola` and `Tres Picos` Garnacha reds, from Campo de Borja in Spain. This week we move west to Spain`s famous Rioja region, where the Tempranillo grape is King. “Laderas de Cabama” is a single-vineyard Rioja, aged 12 months in oak, which is pure, and elegant, produced from 100% Tempranillo. The 2016 vintage is beautifully balanced, and a fabulous partner to juicy pink lamb cutlets. This is the modern style Rioja so loved by sommeliers, for its sleekness and smooth delivery. However, for my own taste, I look to traditional Rioja for my high kicks, and my favourite, currently, is the award-winning Bodega Ontañón Rioja Reserva 2010, a wine made up with 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano grapes, and aged 12 months in oak with extended bottle aging. These wines need the extra aging, and this wine is at its optimum drinking time right now. Moreover, the 2010 vintage is one of the greats, so it has provenance and pedigree. A dark wine, its aromas are full, soft, and earthy, with black fruits and dark minerals. The palate is so fine-grained it feels creamy, coating the mouth; mid-palate the flavours burst forth, rich and sumptuous: bramble, blackberry, plum, vanilla, cedar, tobacco, spice. And then there`s the long, sublime finish. Decanter Magazine gave it 93/100 points. I give it, the big thumbs up!   Moreover, it`s the ideal wine choice with roasted lamb, rosemary, and garlic, and a personal favourite. And all for less than £20.  Oh, and don`t forget to decant, folks, and use your best, large glasses. Our winemaking friends in Rioja have gone to pains, over many years, to deliver this to us. Respect the moment; and serve it properly. Cheers everyone!



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Glorious lockdown wines

Last year, during lockdown, I was invited to help judge The Wine Merchant Top 100, a competition which pits wines against each other, whittling thousands down to just one hundred winning wines, to be stocked by independent wine merchants around the country. Two of these winning wines I scored 90 and 91/100, my highest scores, for their good value, typicity, and depth of flavour, which they had in spades.  And since you can buy each of them for less than a twenty-pound note, I am delighted to include them now in my ECS dedication to “Award-Winning wines in the £15-£20 category”, the subject of my column for the next few months. What`s extraordinary, as well, is that the two wines come from not just the same wine region, but from the same wine producer as well, something I could not have known at the time of tasting because I had tasted them blind. Which just shows how good they are. Two standout wines, “dos amigos”, representing the best of their type. They are: `Cabriola` and `Tres Picos` by Borsao;  from old vines grown high up in the Campo de Borja region of north-eastern Spain. I can`t recommend them enough. The `Cabriola` is an impressive Garnacha, Syrah & Mazuelo blend, predominantly Garnacha grapes, with deftly applied oak aging. It has red fruit aromas intermingled with herbs and spices, and the palate is well-structured with bramble and berry fruits alongside toasty notes, beautifully balanced. The `Tres Picos` is from 100%  Garnacha, has a floral expression to its fruit-bomb aromas, followed by a generous core of dark, fruit-rich bramble and sweet tin-strawberries. A few months oak aging has added to its richness. Both are excellent examples of the high-performance reds emerging from Campo de Borja, currently, where the Garnacha grape is King, and the wines luxurious in their delivery. They are hedonism personified, and for less than £20 per bottle. Talk about bang for your buck. This time of year, they make great casserole wines, and excellent cheese wines as well. Glory, glory. Cheers everyone!