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Balanced wines go with food

My last blog touched on the diversity of dry wines, and it focused on wine`s residual sugar (RS)– that`s the sugar left following completion of the wine`s alcoholic fermentation. On average, for fine wines, it`s around 2g per litre. The other key components in wine are acidity, primarily tartaric, but also citric and malic, and alcohol itself; and then there`s the fruit quality as well, with tannins (also an acidity) playing its part primarily in red wines.  And it`s these components winemakers strive to achieve in balance, to drink well with food. He or she will endeavour to be true to the grape, as well as to the terroir, but in the making of fine wine his or her objective will almost always be a balanced wine which will go well with food; often the local food. So what is a balanced wine? Let`s take an example: NZ`s Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris (deliciously fresh quintessential Pinot Gris) has 2.2g per litre RS, with a PH of 3.25, total acidity of 5.9g per litre and an alcohol content (ABV) of 12.5% Vol. For this white wine, it is the perfect balance, and a joy with spicy foods. Despite climate change it`s a good balance of components with a firm lid on the ABV. These levels are not uncommon, but equally a lot of dry wines barely register any residual sugar at all, sometimes but by no means always with correspondingly high alcohol levels, coming in at 14 and 14.5% by volume. The winemakers making these are choosing balance, at the expense of popularity. But they are right to do so because balance is crucial if we prize wine`s great affinity with food, as we do.  If we want wine`s to be fresh with the intensity, structure, and breeding of a fine wine, we may well have to accept higher alcohols in the long term. Indeed, we already do. Meantime, UK`s vastly improved and diverse culinary offering is being matched by its wines, so be sure not to let them pass you by. Cheers, everyone!

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Just how dry is a dry wine?

Most of the world`s premium DRY wines are those with less than 4g per litre of residual sugar (RS), equivalent to 1% of the wine`s volume. The category is diverse and obliging, with scope to retain up to 9g per litre residual sugar, provided the wine has acidity to balance. This option is oft adopted by the supermarket chains, to round out the wine, thus giving it a smooth mouthfeel. The best of these are okay, but the worst of them can have a sickly, bubble-gum confectionery taste, not unlike the medium-sweet Liebfraumilch drank by Brits in years gone by. The paradigm shift to better quality dry wines over the past couple of decades bears witness to an increasingly more sophisticated UK palate.  Now we drink huge amounts of dry Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay; and in red, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec, to name a few. There are thousands of grape varieties which suit the dry wine category.  The driest – white and red – are near bone dry, with less than 2g or even 1g per litre RS; our Gavi di Gavi for example at 2g per litre is lean, crisp and zesty. We have an even drier Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, with just 0.3g per litre. Our Muscadet Sur Lie is bone dry, a good choice for diabetics. These are the crisp, light and fresh variety of dry wines.  Others are soft, rich and fruity. Indeed, a good many technically dry wines can give something of the impression of sweetness.   Some rich, high-glycerine mouth-filling dry wines can seem unctuous and sweet at first, before finishing dry; just try some of the dry white wines of Alsace. A wine`s apparent sweet note can be down to its high alcohol content, for example. Additionally, a wine`s fruit quality can at first give the impression of sweetness. A combination of these can quite easily trick your brain into registering sweetness.  So, when you next go out to buy a dry wine, think to yourself: just how dry do I want it?

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A daily sweet tipple

Riesling makes a fabulous sweet wine because its natural high acidity ensures a counter balance to the high concentration of sugars. There`s a refreshing sweet and sour intensity to it, which cleanses and livens the palate. Aromas and flavours include stone and citrus fruits (especially limes), ginger and flowers. Their sweet wines can be long lived, developing complexity and a honeyed richness with age. A fine example is New Zealand`s Escarpment Hinemoa from Martinborough, produced by winemaker Larry McKenna. Using the German classification, this wine would be rated Beerenauslese. I tasted this wine on Sunday with a fruit tart and it was delicious. One of the best value wines of its type on the market.  Another is Mount Horrocks `Cordon-Cut` Riesling, a stunning wine produced by the clever but risky Cordon-Cut method of cane-pruning employed in Clare Valley, Australia. The method involves cutting the vine`s canes when the grapes are ripe, allowing the remaining fruit to concentrate and raisin naturally. Winemaker Stephanie Toole is master of her art, and the wine is highly prized.    Now I refer to the effects of the mould botrytis cinerea on grapes, because most of the world`s best sweet wines, if their grapes have not been dried on mats (known as straw wines, or Passito in Italy), and if they have not had their grapes frozen on the vines (for the making of Ice wine), they will probably have been affected by the mould botrytis.  The effect on the grapes is to perforate and shrivel them, reducing their water content, thereby concentrating the sugars, acids and flavour components. However, they also add complexity to the wines, like seasoning. A curious flavour likened to beeswax.   Discovering wine is a journey, and sweet wine is for many the highlight. The summit, even. Why not start your climb by dropping into the Gt Horkesley shop? And you know the best thing about sweet wines: they will stay fresh in your fridge for weeks – longer – so you can treat yourself to a daily soupçon.    Cheers everyone.

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Nyetimber dinner 14/9/18

James Beverley first dinner as host, a  mix of classic and modernity in terms of  both choice of wines and  Tony`s matching menu. Our thanks to Peter Rowe for his input – always entertaining!

Guest Speaker: Peter Rowe

 Host: James Beverley – Chef: Tony Bell

Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée, Sussex NV, £36.99

Lovely pale gold with gentle, fine bubbles. Toasty, spicy and complex aromas showing wonderful development after extended ageing in Nyetimber’s cellar. The palate supports these complex aromas with honey, almond, pastry and baked apple flavours. Very fine and elegant with a great combination of intensity, delicacy and length. 60% Chardonnay 30% Pinot Noir 10% Pinot Meunier

Baron de Badassière, Picpoul de Pinet 2017, £11.99

Pale lemon in colour with a youthful rim. Crisp apple aromas are complemented by a citrus edge. On the palate, it has attractive weight, with a good balance of ripe, yellow plums and greengages and a fresh lime zest acidity that continue through the finish. 100% Picpoul


Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2017, £19.99

Deliciously aromatic and highly perfumed – exuding ripe nectarine, pink grapefruit and lemon zest with a lifted floral fragrance reminiscent of jasmine and elderflower. Classic ripe Marlborough Sauvignon – with melon and gooseberry flavours and a touch of passionfruit, wound into a generous, mouth-filling palate that finishes dry and crisp. 100% Sauvignon Blanc


Kim Crawford Pinot Gris, Marlborough 2017, £14.99

Pale straw in colour. Wonderfully lifted orchard fruit notes of ripe pear and apple, with floral notes and hints of clove. The palate is ripe and rich, with a pleasant viscosity. The wine is well balanced, with a touch of fruit sweetness on the crisp finish.100% Pinot Gris


Giant Steps Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley 2017, £21.99

This wine is very much a sum of its parts, with perfumed cherry characters coming from the Sexton Vineyard, Campari notes from Applejack and Tarraford’s mocha and cocoa earthiness underpinning it. It has vibrant red and blue fruits but a lovely underlying earthiness, with white mushrooms, truffles, savoury spice and forest floor characters. An elegant wine with breadth, structure and viscosity on the palate. 100% Pinot Noir



El Coto Cote de Imaz, Reserva Rioja 2013, £16.99

Deep ruby red in colour, with a hint of ageing at the rim. The nose has a wide range of delicate red fruit accompanied by smoky nuances and hints of vanilla from the new American oak. On the palate, the wine is velvety and round, with smooth tannins and good acidity. The finish is balanced and long. 100% Tempranillo

Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, Veneto 2014, £23.99

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

Entity Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2014, £33.99

Deep ruby with a purple glint. Attractive blackberry and plum aromatics complemented with some savoury spice. On the palate, the Entity is full bodied and generous, with layers of dark berry fruit and youthful balanced tannins. Very pure and mouth filling, with ample structure and great ageing potential. 100% Shriaz

Sandeman, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2013, £18.99

On the nose, the wine is intense and complex with aromas of balsamic, rose, basil, red and black fruits, as well as spicy notes of black pepper. On the palate, this wine has a lively acidity and robust tannins, complemented by an incredibly balanced finish. 45% Touriga Franca 30% Tinta Roriz 25% Touriga Nacional


Courgette, fresh anchovy & tapenade palette

Warm ginger & lime prawn salad, watercress

Salmon cube ‘tandoor’, coriander relish

Duck Chuan Rua

Slow-roasted lamb, Rioja beans, saffron potato

Cheese platters

White chocolate cream, peach compote


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Noble wine

A common way of making would-be dry wine sweet is by killing off the wine`s yeasts mid-ferment; fermentation being the process where yeasts convert the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. By doing so the wine is left with a natural sweet taste from the unconverted sugars. This can be achieved in several ways: by chilling the grape juice down, by pasteurisation, using sulphur-based chemicals, and, in the case of fortified wines such as port, sherry and Madeira, by adding spirit. The only other way to make sweet wine is to first get a dry one, by letting the yeast convert all the sugars, then adding sweet grape juice to the dry wine (in Germany, known as `suss-reserve`).   But the more interesting processes in the making of sweet wines are the means of enriching the grapes. Again, various methods: Certain vineyards are blessed with perfect conditions for the growth of the mould Botrytis Cinerea which requires a period of moisture followed by dryness. The mould-spores puncture the over-ripe grapes left hanging on the vines and shrivels them, concentrating the sugary juices. They call this Noble Rot, entirely natural, however it can be induced artificially, by spraying, with some notable successes. Another means of shrivelling the grapes and concentrating those sugars is by drying out the grapes, typically on straw mats in the sunshine or on bamboo racks in barn-like structures.   One particularly delicious example is Pieropan `Colombare` Recioto di Soave from Veneto in Italy. The wine, also slightly touched by botrytis, has an intense gold colour with dried apricots, toasted almonds and baked peach characters.  Yet another is Tuscany`s Vin Santo which the Italians famously use for dunking biscotti!  And although rare and necessarily expensive, one style possibly caps them all: Ice wines. These rely on the late frosts to freeze the late-hanging grapes on the vines, achieving a great concentration of juices which in the resultant wines can be exquisite. Canada`s Peller Vidal is typical with intense candied pineapple, pear, peach and tangy citrus fruits, simply perfect with lemon tart.

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Sweet wine and chocolate

I decided to expand on the theme of my last blog following an enquiry from a family member who is a self-confessed chocolate hound with an insatiable appetite for sugar.  He asked which of our sweet wines I would be choosing to drink with Delia`s Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, a rich, stodgy milk-chocolate dish we plan to make next weekend for a family gathering; a dish which is potentially death-by-chocolate.  I chose Graham`s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, a luxuriously sweet and nutty beverage which I last had in Portugal with Crème Brulée, similarly rich and creamy.  It got me thinking about other sweet pairings. How about dense and treacly sweet puddings such as Sticky Toffee Pudding?  Tawny port again? Malmsey Madeira? Better still, Rutherglen Muscat from Victoria, Australia. A dark amber raisin-like wine it has complex notes of spiced orange, date, toffee and caramel.   And how about a dark bitter- chocolate dish?  Denser, less sweet – even savoury. This calls for Catherine Marshall`s “Myriad” from Elgin in South Africa, with its black cherry, cake spice and coffee notes.   Or perhaps France`s Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel, from the Rhone region. For me these are the more interesting sweeties: sweet, fortified red wines, the addition of spirit having arrested their fermentation, retaining some, but not excessive, residual sweetness. Complex and bitter-sweet they are as much savoury as sweet.   Yet the most popular by a large margin are the yellow and golden sweet wines.  A lighter chocolate mousse or chocolate profiterole would be best accompanied by one of these. A Muscat de Beaumes-de- Venise or Brown Brother Orange Muscat & Flora.  Now we start to move to the fresher styles, neither impossibly sweet and unctuous, nor yet medium-dry. Sweet-tasting notes with refreshing acidity – orange blossom, apricot and citrus fruits often feature – our `go-to` when we have one of Janet`s famous apricot frangipane flans, for example.  There are myriad styles within the category, and the best of it is they age beautifully too, becoming richer and honeyed.

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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