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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!

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Takeaways and matching wines

Whether it`s Thai, Chinese, Indian, Fish and Chips, or Traditional Sunday Roast, the takeaways on offer locally are a real treat, replacing, somewhat, dining out at restaurants. And it occurs to me the best of it is we get to drink our own wine, and what an opportunity this is. Whatever we spend on a bottle of wine in a restaurant, generally half it, or third it, to drink at home. Or better, spend what you would at a restaurant, and get twice or three times the wine! You get my gist. £15-20 in our shop will buy you a decent burgundy, Whispering Angel Provence Rosé, or a first class ten-year old Rioja. In a restaurant it will buy you diddly-squat. Now this does not in any way imply that our restaurants do not offer value. Dining out is still one of our favourite pass times, and we are happy to pay a premium for the joy it gives us. Indeed, most of us are missing the hospitality sector desperately, and we long for its return. But we are where we are, and I am suggesting we all make the most of it. Our Gt Horkesley shop is open six days a week, Monday to Saturday, 10am-6.30pm, so, with plenty of parking, decent wine is pretty much available on tap. Just let us know what`s on the menu, and we will recommend the best possible match. Matching the right wine with your takeout can add considerably to your overall pleasure. Here`s one to tittle your taste buds:  China Chef, Colchester Menu C, £19.80: Sesame Prawns on Toast – Crispy Aromatic Duck with Pancakes – King Prawns in Chilli Sauce Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion – Sweet and Sour Chicken Cantonese Style – Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables – Egg-fried Rice. Matching wine: Kloster Eberbach Estate Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany 2018, £17.99. An aromatic white wine with fine balance, stone fruit, a little spice, and ripe pear. The palate is fresh with a delicious thread of lime, thirst-quenching and palate-cleansing.

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Bitten by the wine bug

Those of us bitten by the wine bug will be inclined to a higher spend on wine, just as one is prepared to invest in a hobby, such as golf. Only in this way will the wine hobbyist scratch beneath the surface of wine`s obvious appeal, to its inner depths. A spend of, say, £15 to £20 per bottle, will generally do it, for most of us, much of the time. This is a category which gives consistently good value, typicity, and depth of flavour, without breaking the bank.  Happily, it also represents the sweet spot in our shop, giving many of us a great deal of pleasure and vino diversity. This column, for the next few months, will be dedicated to award-winning wines in this category. Today we start with two recent additions to our portfolio, from Spain and Australia, respectively:

Protos `Roble`, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2018, £16.99.  We enjoyed this beauty enormously with Hungarian Beef Goulash a few weeks ago, but it is also delicious with lamb, as well as tomato-based dishes such as Puttanesca. It is a stylish, full-bodied red wine from the Tempranillo grape, grown in Spain`s high-altitude Ribera del Duero region. The wine is pure of fruit with balanced red berry aromas and a touch of sweet oak spice from six months maturation in American barrels. 100% Tempranillo.

Thorn-Clarke “Shotfire Quartage”, Barossa, Australia 2017, £19.99. This is a Bordeaux blend, textured and warming, generous and layered. Inky blackcurrant and plum fruits are complemented by spices and the most scrummy prune and smoky bacon aroma. The palate is teeming with complex notes of blackcurrants, mulberries, chocolate, anis, clove, and ever more chocolate. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 12% Petit Verdot.

Incidentally, being a sucker for a story behind every label, I rather like this one: `Shotfire` is reference to the Clarke family and their Barossa Valley gold mining history, specifically, the shotfirer`s hazardous work of setting and lighting the charges in the mines.  So now you know. Cheers everyone!


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For the love of wine

Life is difficult, currently. And there are times we are obliged to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and face the day. Other times, we look, quite reasonably, to a little escapism. I like a good book, a movie, a song. But my absolute favourite means of escapism is to enjoy these things with a bottle of wine open beside me. It is a ritual with me. I have my Riedel crystal glass, which I like to re-polish before use, so it sparkles. I often decanter the wine, especially if it`s a red. I smell, reflecting on the wine`s aroma, swish the glass, and smell once more, taking my time about it, mentally noting any developments. During the moments when I am holding the liquid in my mouth, I am taking in its flavours, the weight, the acidity, the feel of it, as it coats my mouth. I suck air through the wine, which further aerates it, intensifying the flavours. Subconsciously, or even consciously, I am appraising it, and having swallowed the wine I am assessing if the aftertaste is short, medium, or long. I may well even emit a small grunt of satisfaction, or, sometimes, a small, critical, nose wrinkle. Occasionally a wine will transport me, to another time, or another place; why just the other evening I opened a bottle of Rustenberg John X Merriman, and immediately I was taken back to South Africa and our visit there a year ago. It compelled me to pick up the photo album which is dedicated to the trip, and my wife and I enjoyed a good fifteen-minute reminisce of pure, happy escapism. Of course, wine has its warming effect as well. A glass or two at the end of a working day gives a welcome reset, from work mode, to chill, taking the edge off the strains of the day.  I find red wine especially mellowing. Furthermore, one`s whole evening brightens notably, and somehow it becomes even easier to lose oneself, be it in a book, a movie, or a song. Cheers everyone!


Anthony Borges

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Look to provenance

For some time now we have all shown our appreciation for quality and sustainability when it comes to food products, and we have done so by choosing to pay more. Yet when it comes to wine, still too many Brits are fixed on the idea of buying cheap. It`s why the supermarkets and multiple drinks retailers cash in on the discount culture; they know we all like a bargain, so they mark up to mark down.  And it`s why the average price we pay for a bottle of wine in our country is still under £6, despite the exorbitant taxes we pay. The reality, that you get what you pay for, has never been more apparent to me. In simple terms, it comes down to the fixed costs: the glass, the label, the transport, tax on wine, and VAT. All in, this comes to an average £4.75 per bottle, currently, so for a £5 bottle just 25p is for the liquid. This is not sustainable. Someone in the chain, usually the producer, is losing money. I covered this subject in a previous article about a year ago, making an appeal on behalf of the word`s wine producers. But my main point today is a different one:  The fact is we are doing ourselves no favours buying wine cheap, or rather, buying cheap wine, because it is not good value. Because of the fixed costs, paying even a little more gives you a much bigger return on your investment. You get “more buck for your money!” My recommendation is to pay between £10 and £20  per bottle. At this level it`s a win, win, for everyone, right across the supply line, and to you, the consumer, most of all. If the pockets are not deep, drink less. I bet you will find you sleep better. Those chemical imbued bottles you throw into your trolley are not good for you. Instead, look to a wine`s provenance; buy craft; and I promise you will be rewarded millionfold.

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Not quite dry-January

Is it really the best time to go dry, during lockdown, in the middle of Winter, really? Surely, there`s no better time to enjoy a hearty soul-warming red wine with the beef casserole; or a golden, creamy-rich white wine, with the fish pie.  It`s a good idea to introduce a degree of abstinence, of course, a day or two at the beginning of the week, maybe. I am told our livers benefit from such breaks. But all of January? Anyway, here is my “Top Five” favourite alcohol-free tipples, to help you get through your dry days:

At number 1, Big Tom. The tomato-based drink with a royal warrant is still going strong, and it`s worth mentioning it is gluten free with no preservatives and is suitable for vegetarians. What I like most about Big Tom is that it has a great spicy kick. Ingredients include twenty-two spices, Worcestershire Sauce, celery, and mustard. Who needs a Bloody Mary when you have Big Tom?

At number 2 is Bundaberg Ginger Beer, another fabulous alcohol-free drink with plenty of welly. Using real ginger from Queensland`s Bundaberg region of Australia, this is proper, traditional, cloudy ginger beer, and I love it. The Real McCoy of ginger beers, which, another time, when you are drinking alcohol, makes for the perfect Moscow Mule.

At number 3, Brooklyn Special Effects. Probably the best alcohol-free beer on the market. Technically there is 0.4% alcohol by volume in this beer [in America a beer under 0.5% is labelled Alcohol-free]. It is a hoppy lager with malt, pine and citrus flavours, and a bitter finish.

At number 4, Scotland`s Braes o Gowrie Elderflower sparkling non-alcoholic drink, by Cairn O Mohr, is an alternative to sparkling wine, super-refreshing and dry. Too many of these types are sweet and sickly. This one regularly wins The Great Taste Awards in its category.

At number 5 is J. Lohr`s Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon, a gold-medal winning de-alcoholised red wine, all the way from sunny California. Contains less than 0.5% alcohol and is brimming with blackcurrants, cherries, chocolate, and vanilla.

Cheers everyone!


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Black Tie Bliss

It`s all happening in Great Horkesley

It`s cold, wet, and we are in lockdown. Our General Hospital is feeling the pressure, to levels not seen since March and April. On the face of it there is not much to smile about. But there is good news too. Yes, there`s the vaccine rollout, and the new Astra Zeneca, our greatest hope.  That`s naturally brilliant news, giving us a more rapid way out of this unholy mess.  But I was thinking closer to home, in the here and now. I was thinking WINE SALE, in our shop. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, though our Gift Room is still temporarily closed, the food and drinks store is open, and we have a central display given to around 100 wines which are discounted from 20 to 40%. Truly amazing prices, while stocks last. A great chance for customers to stock up. All we ask is that customers make up six bottles, any mix, to receive the discounted prices. Furthermore, if that is not reason enough to make the trip to Gt Horkesley, also on sale is Riedel crystal glassware, including our prize decanter Black Tie Bliss now reduced from £225 to £167. For those who don`t know this mouthblown, handmade Austrian wine decanter, it has an off-centre heart which compresses the crystal into a thin pane of solid glass, forcing the wine to pool around the element, while neatly providing a place for the fingers to rest while pouring. A fantastic piece of art, it makes the perfect gift for anyone with a passion for wine. Finally – yes there`s more – this evening is the long- awaited return of The Big Friday Night In. Our chef Dominic Carter and his partner Emma Bennett will be serving up takeaway hot meals once again from our car park, 5.30-7.30pm, kicking off with Dom`s world famous Hungarian Beef Goulash followed by Cherry Pie. Next Friday 15th it is Pork Red Thai Curry followed by Pineapple Upside Down Cake ! Taking pre-bookings now on 07587 196 496. Vegetarian options available. Cheers everyone!


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A cigar with your supper, anyone?

It`s been nine years since I gave up smoking cigars, and, until now, it never occurred to me I could have enjoyed the smoking ritual with food. I would have a beer with a smoke, or a glass of wine, but cigar “matching” or “pairing” never occurred to me; me, someone who has been wine and food taster my whole working life.  The age-old alchemy which Aristotle neatly coined “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”, when applied to the taster matching wine with food, involves choosing a similar, or sometimes a contrasting wine, to show both food and wine in the best possible light. Said taster weighs the balance, or deliberately contrasts.  But what I did not know, is that you can choose a cigar to further the experience as well. The Alchemist now has three parts to work with.  Yes, smoking, while eating and drinking. Of course, smoking while drinking is more commonplace, but why not draw on a big fat cigar, exhale, sit back, exult in the pleasure of it, then take a mouthful of food, before washing it all down with a delicious wine? Furthermore, it reasons to pick the cigar to fit the moment; I`m told a cigar with similar, not contrasting, characteristics. For example, a strong, powerful cigar with a big, full-bodied red, accompanied by a full-flavoured, meaty dish. A milder smoke with a lighter red, or even a white, with a lighter dish. Even better, since smoke, tobacco leaf and cigar box are characteristics found in some wines, a taster might select one of these.  Northern Rhone reds, for example, or a Barolo.  Indeed, a great many oak-aged wines, red and white, can develop woodsmoke and spice characteristics, and even a mellow Cohiba-like, creamy palate, so the taster can work with all of that, for the best possible combination. In our shop, ladies, and gentlemen, we have smoked food products, hundreds of oaked wines, as well as cigars, everything you need. If you are a cigar smoker, indulge and enjoy.