Last week we enjoyed the hospitality of a Majestic stalwart, Santa Rita wines at a tasting and dinner kindly hosted at the Royal Ocean Racing Club. We were guided through the range by none other than Carlos Gatica, the winemaker for the popular Santa Rita 120 series.
It’s great to taste wines in an environment other than at our tasting counter – it’s one thing to assess a wine critically, but let’s face it, who drinks wine at a party and whips out a tasting sheet? Wines are made to be enjoyed and just like books, they can be highbrow or they can be pulp fiction; 50 Shades of Gray will never win the Man Booker Prize, but it sold enough to spawn sequels and a Hollywood movie.
Fortunately, while the life of Carlos Gatica may not be coming soon to a cinema near you, his wines are available in a Majestic near you. Which is just as well, because they’re a showcase for everything we love about Chilean wine – tremendous value and with great flavour. The Sauvignon is pleasantly fresh and tropical – we also tasted the Carmen Waves Sauvignon from their sister winery, which displayed a touch of fresh greenery. The Merlot is soft and easy to enjoy, the Carmenere deliciously chocolaty. They’re exactly what you’d hope for them to be!
What has 120 got to do with anything, though? The wines are named for 120 Chilean patriots who, legend has it, sheltered in the Santa Rita cellars on a fateful night in 1814 during the war for Chilean independence. Today, the wines are crafted in the same cellars where these men took refuge.
Carlos explained how he aims for varietal style without hiding the fruit behind a lot of new wood – the idea is to create wines with character and freshness that are good for everyday drinking. His aim of wood in winemaking is to add texture rather than flavour, with a small proportion of both the 120 Chardonnay and 120 Viognier fermented in old barrels. There’s no flavours or oak character in the wood left to extract in any meaningful level, but instead the interaction with air during fermentation helps give texture and body to the wine without losing any of the fruit character.
The big treat of the night was the grand finale, the Casa Real – this is Santa Rita’s top wine and is made from a single estate block near the Santa Rita winery. It’s ripe, rich and full of juicy fruit with good grip, structure and all the things you’d expect of a top Chilean wine, but the real delight is how tasty it is. We could see it had the potential to age, but as with many good New World wines, it was delicious already.
We were very grateful to Carlos for his time, and to the Royal Ocean Racing Club for hosting us. You can browse the Santa Rita wines online here!
Santa Rita Dinner
We’ve enjoyed a great partnership with Dogs for the Disabled, our registered Charity of the Year, so we’re putting in a big push with lots of activity at Majestic HQ to help raise as much money as we can.
Dogs aren’t just Man’s best friend, they have a profound impact on our lives. If the millions of Dog owners in the world weren’t enough evidence, research has shown that a close relationship with a dog can help improve physical health, reduce stress, and develop self-esteem. They can help us socialise, and can improve a child’s concentration, so you can imagine how a well trained Dog can have an incredibly positive effect when partnered with a disabled person or child.
It’s time for an update on our three pups, Sherry, Shiraz and Bosco, who are growing up fast!
Date of birth 4.12.2013
Sherry is now 11 months old, which makes her officially a teenager! Her socialiser Chris has plenty of good things to say about her and she is enjoying life in Chipping Norton. Sherry has also represented the charity at various events that have been taking place in her area. Chris and Sherry were invited to the BBC Radio Oxford Kat Orman Show where Chris was interviewed about life as a puppy socialiser. Sherry behaved beautifully, demonstrating that she has learned the command “settle”. All that was heard from her was a few gentle murmurs and a little bone chewing!
Very soon, Sherry will make a trip to the Frances Hay Centre for her kennel break. This will give her a taste of kennel life and will let the staff observe her with other dogs in a different environment. The puppy coordinators will work one on one with the dogs to test their obedience and training and to see how they are progressing in their socialisation. It also prepares Chris for the final goodbye – it’s never an easy time and always very emotional.
Date of birth 4.12.2013
Shiraz is living in Leighton Buzzard with her socialiser Alison, who has been working hard with Shiraz during the last few months and reports that her socialisation is right on target. It’s very important that she experiences a wide variety of real-life situations; Shiraz has been to visit department stores, busy environments with lots of lights and sudden noises so that she can get used to the unexpected.
Shiraz had an amazing holiday with Alison and her family in the Isle of Wight. Shiraz loved the ferry and was incredibly well behaved, making friends with other dogs travelling on the ferry. She loved the sea and had huge fun jumping in and out of the waves with her friend Lottie, a whippet of fourteen months. Her behaviour in the local restaurants at lunchtime and in the evening was impeccable, attracting lots of comments about how well behaved she was for a dog so young.
Alison says Shiraz is lovely to have in their home, she’s great company and really easy to look after. Like Sherry, soon she’ll make a trip to the Frances Hay Centre to see how well she progressing.
Date of birth 3.11.2013
Bosco is now a year old, and enjoying a full, varied life with Judith his socialiser in Birmingham. Judith reports that he is a well behaved, fun dog who is friends with everyone including her seven year old pet Labrador, her one year old grandson and even the postman!
Judith has been making sure that he has been out in as many real-life situations as possible so that when he is matched with a person with disabilities, he will be entirely comfortable in as many environments as possible. Judith has been taking him to the Kennel Club Good Citizens series of training where he has been doing very well, passing his Puppy, Bronze and Silver on the first attempt. Next step, Gold!
Bosco will remain with Judith for the last few months of his socialisation. Saying goodbye will not be easy for either of them but Judith’s work and care has given Bosco the best possible start on his journey towards the ultimate goal of creating a magical partnership which will one day help an adult or child with disabilities to live life more independently.
You can help us raise money for Dogs for the Disabled by making a donation in store at the tills – just speak to our teams for more details, and you can find more about how dogs can change lives here.
PUPDATE – Dogs for the Disabled
Suzie Harrison, our California Buyer and Justin Apthorp our Buying Director have just returned from a trip to California to visit existing and potential wine suppliers, taste the new vintage and seek out some exciting new wines. Suzie brings us up to speed on their recent trip to The Golden State.
“Six and a half days tasting. 1,200 miles in the car. 28 wineries, 273 wines and lots of happy wine makers – 2014 looks set to be the third great vintage in a row despite the drought-like conditions. Now is an excellent time to discover California wines if you haven’t already!
With so many places visited and wines tasted it’s not possible to mention all of them!. Here are a few of the highlights:
We kicked off the trip on 21st October at Au Bon Climat in Santa Maria. Owner and winemaker Jim Clendenen was very generous with his time, showing us a big line up of wines – some we recognised and some we didn’t stand out wine for me was the luscious 2009 Clendenen Family Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir. We also had a tour around the cellar and sampled lots of wines yet to be bottled – note the precarious barrel racking going on at the top there!
Wednesday 22nd started in the beautiful Edna Valley from where the eponymous new entry to the Majestic range comes from. It’s great to arrive at a winery and remember why it is you bought the wines in the first place – because they really do taste great and seriously over-deliver at the price! Here we also got to taste wine maker Joe’s “Franken-wine” – this is top secret so I can’t tell you more here but it was good timing for Halloween!
The next day we were in for something completely different in Paso Robles. Meet the Chronic Wine Cellars line up – some pretty funky labels and exciting wines to match from brothers Josh and Jake Beckett. Paso Robles is a less famous wine making area than it’s famous northern neighbours Sonoma and Napa but there is real quality and innovation here – an area to watch.
One of the greatest highlights of the whole trip was our visit to the Ridge Estate Monte Bello vineyard up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Wine maker Eric Baugher is on his 21st vintage making this iconic wine. Among a range of truly wonderful wines we were lucky enough to taste Monte Bello Cabernet from 2012, 1994 and 1984 plus a sneak preview of Eric’s first attempt at a blend for the superb looking 2014 vintage. You can read about these legendary wines in a book – or even taste them – but being with the wine maker in the vineyard and tasting with him from the barrels before they’re even in bottle is something else entirely.
Over in Lodi we met wine maker Lance Randolph at his Peirano Wine Estate. Many wines from this region call themselves “old vine” but there is actually no legal specification for the age of the vine to qualify for this on the label. Some of Lance’s Zinfandel vines are over 120 years old – that qualifies as old in my book! The wines were wonderfully intense and complex. Here’s a snap of Lance wearing his famous red shorts!
Heading much further north, we tasted through the Chateau St Jean range of wines with wine maker Margo Van Staaveren. One of the oldest estates in Sonoma and one which for many represents the quintessential Sonoma Winery. The majesty of the vineyards is aptly captured in this shot – beautiful clear blue skies, sunshine and surrounded on three sides by mountains. Not quite the same as the view from my office! The wines are every bit as good as you want them to be – polished yet elegant, varietally distinct with lovely balance.
Another relatively new entrant to the Majestic California range are the wines from Clos du Bois. Here we met up with wine maker Gary Sitton who told us more about the excellent 2014 vintage. In store we’re just moving over to the 2013 vintage Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – another excellent vintage. Which follows the brilliant 2012 vintage – plenty of French vignerons wishing for such a brilliant run of vintages! Here we are in the sunny tasting room in Geyserville, a few miles from Sonoma.
No trip to California would be complete without a visit to Beringer in the heart of the Napa Valley. It was a real pleasure to spend time tasting with wine maker Laurie Hook. We tasted a range of fantastic wines, there is a reason these wines have the renown they do. Very pleased to confirm the delicious 2010 Beringer Napa Cabernet should be in stock at a store near you! Drinking beautifully this is archetypal Napa Cabernet is plummy and dense and lush – perfect for those chilly Winter nights.
A notable mention should also go to the following wineries for their time and generosity in hosting Justin and I:
Cambria, Sanford, Bridlewood, Wild Horse, Clos la Chance, Concannon, Wente, The Other Guys, Banshee, Caymus, Textbook, Chimney Rock and Ca’Momi.”
You can browse our range of Californian wines here!
Toast the Golden Coast
Digging through our old posts, I stumbled on something I wrote two years ago after a visit to Tuscany while I was working in our Aberdeen store. One of the great pleasures of the wine trade is the rare opportunity to visit the people and places where vinous magic happens, so in the honour of #throwbackthursday, I thought I’d share it!
I put a question to some friends of mine recently: If you could only drink wine from one country in the world, what would that be?
As questions go, for those of us who hold our hands up and freely admit to being wine geeks, it’s a little bit like asking a parent to choose between their children; the world of wine is huge. Given that I had asked the question, I had thought about my answer for some time: Italy; no other country has such a history and array of varieties, nor a tradition of crafting wines to go with food. So when I was offered the chance to travel to Tuscany and visit some of the winemakers responsible, how could I pass up such an opportunity?
Our guides and boon companions for this very educational experience were Ruth and Sergio from Enotria. We arrived in Pisa to a somewhat drizzly sky, loading into our hire cars and setting off through the Tuscan hills to our first destination where we would be spending the night, at Fonterutoli.
The Mazzei family who own Fonterutoli have been producing wines from the region since 1435, indeed, the first documentation that refers to Chianti wines specifically requested their wine, so where better to begin? The present winery is a new installation, designed by one of the present generation who has eschewed the wine trade in favour of architecture. Their cellar has a rather unique feature: an exposed cave wall with an underground spring. This combination of subterranean depth and flowing water serves to provide natural temperature control and humidity.
Though we tasted a great many of their wines, including a delicious Morellino di Scansano, one of the stand-outs was their 2010 Chianti Classico. 2010 was set to be a difficult vintage for Chianti, yet is now being hailed as one of the finest since 2007, where the best producers have crafted classically fresh Chianti wines. Fonterutoli have excelled, crafting a wine with dense black cherry with classic smoky fruit, giving way to layers of sandalwood and oak, before leaving fresh red fruits on the finish; a truly elegant, classic wine.
Dinner was served after our tasting, featuring hand-made pasta with local ragu, and one of the most delicious, perfectly cooked steaks that has ever passed my (very appreciative) lips. Each course was paired to the wines, from their Maremma Vermentino, Rosé, and Classico to the top-quality Castello Chianti Classico, underscoring the point that Tuscan wines perform a virtuoso performance with good food.
After breakfast, we set off for a Majestic stalwart: Poliziano, nearby famed Montepulciano. Frederico Caletti’s father founded Poliziano in 1961, naming it for the 15th Century poet who hailed from Montepulciano and had been a tutor to the famed Medici family of Firenze. Alongside their flagship Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and excellent Rosso di Montepulciano they produce a Chianti exclusively for Majestic in the UK.
Like Fonterutoli, Poliziano have also invested in vineyard sites in Maremma to include a Morellino di Scansano to their range, the Lohsa, which has featured previously as a parcel in the Majestic range. Their Chianti is soft, with approachable tannins, crunchy acidity and plenty of juicy cherry and red fruit. The 2010 Rosso di Montepulciano exhibited the best traits of the vintage, with bright cherry fruit, plum and damson, fine tannins and a seam of fresh acidity. Tasting the 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was an exercise in everything that gives Sangiovese its name; it translates as Blood of Jove, better known from the Roman pantheon as Jupiter. Ruby to garnet in the glass, black cherry and strawberry integrated with spice, toast and oak; a masterclass in silken power and freshness.
After a late lunch of Antipasti, hand-made pasta and a Ragu Toscana, we left with thanks still on our lips, and continued our expedition onwards to Montalcino where we would be spending the night at Il Poggione. Our tour was to be given by the present generation winemaker, Alessandro Bindocci, and we could not have asked for a better host. Il Poggione was founded in 1890, when the Florentine Franceschi family purchased the land, and it has been under their ownership since. Production is modest, only 600,000 bottles, of which 200,000 are their flagship Brunello di Montalcino.
Our tasting was conducted over dinner, all of which was made from produce from their farm, from the wines to the wild boar ragu, to the olive oil pressed only the day before we arrived and the grappa that finished off the meal. (and finished us!) By almost unanimous agreement, the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 was crowned the top wine of the night, with some sympathy for those who declared preference for the Brunello di Montalcino 2006. If dinner the previous night had underscored the point, this meal used calligraphy and fine strokes to make it yet again. Tuscan wine and food are peerless in their partnership.
Our grappa-soaked heads were somewhat tender, but not so much that we could not appreciate the final winery on our tour. A return to Chianti took us to Cecchi, which proved a fascinating counterpoint to the wineries whose productions were very modest by comparison; Cecchi are a relative giant, yet for what some might unfairly call a ‘commercial’ wine (their Morellino di Scansano, for example, is a production of over a million bottles annually), the quality was gratifyingly high. Where the other wineries we had visited exhibited features specific to their microclimates and local terroirs, Cecchi show Tuscany as a whole.
Over the course of barely three days, we had tasted Chianti, Morellino di Scansano, Vermentino, Moscato, Vinsanto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans and more besides. While Sangiovese was, undoubtedly, the leading light of our experience, it was amazing to discover that even in wines where none was present, there was characteristic cherry-smoke present in the red wines that called it to mind. It is this element which, with characteristic freshness, reveals a true wine of Tuscan terroir.
My thanks, and those of my colleagues, go to all of those at Fonterutoli, Poliziano, Il Poggione and Cecchi who were our gracious hosts and looked after us so kindly; special thanks in particular to Enotria for organising the visit. It was a tremendous experience, and I would recommend a visit to any of these wineries should you have reason to find yourself in Tuscany.
You can browse our selection of Italian wine online here. For some real Tuscan treats, including the latest releases, you can visit our friends at Lay & Wheeler here.
Throwback Thursday: Sangiovese in Symphony
As we wake to frostier mornings and the sun hangs lower in the sky, our thoughts stray from vibrant meals to hearty fare. The colder winter months speak of a warm hearth and a smooth glass of red; the dazzling whites of summer are forgotten in favour of rich, fullsome wines.
Which is a shame.
There are, admittedly, few things like a delicious Rhône red while tucking in to a beef and ale stew, but it would be a shame to miss out on a refreshing white just because it’s cold outside. If warm tea can cool you down, why can’t cool white help warm your soul?
Richer, fuller styles of white can have the weight and flavour to go with more wintery food, plus smoked salmon is my go-to starter and I’ve yet to find a red wine that doesn’t taste like a mouthful of iron filings when paired with a cut of oily fish like that.
It’s a time for Viognier, big Chardonnay, Alsatian Pinot Gris and barrel-fermented Roussanne. It’s a time for nutty Soaves and textured Falanghina. It’s a time for the big, the bold and the brash, white wines with a heap of personality that parade on your palate and tantalise every tastebud.
Try these as a canape or starter – whisky smoked salmon on homemade blinis with horseradish creme fraiche and a sprinkling of black pepper and dill. I went large with a bottle from my cellar – Rustenberg’s Five Soldiers 2009 - but a wine like Wakefield Estate Chardonnay would work famously, or for those who prefer an unoaked wine, Murrina Greco di Tufo would be a top choice. Money no object? Check out our Fine Wine selection online and grab a bottle of the Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay.
Chicken and tarragon pie is basically my catnip at this time of year. Pieminster do an amazing one which is great if you don’t have time to make your own, and it’s delicious with a cheat’s gravy. (*Cough, Bisto!*) Here’s where southern France shines, wines such as Domaine Ste Rose ‘La Nuit Blanche’ is a stunningly viscous, nutty and toasty treat with lashings of citrussy fruit to refresh you.
Just want to relax by the fire but don’t fancy red? Viognier. Yalumba’s Y-Series is brilliant value and a great balancing act between freshness and full-on fruit, with nice weight and an almost almondy finish.
Check out our range of full and toasty whites here.
Make Winter White
The family of Domaine Louis Moreau have been producing wine in Chablis since 1814, with Louis Moreau the head of the domaine since 1994. From the five Grand Crus sites in the domaine, his wines have a unique style, combining minerality, fineness, elegance and purity. We take a look at the domaine and the man behind the label.
Louis is 6th generation of the Moreau family, he studied viticulture at Fresno State University and worked at a number of different wine estates before returning to the family domaine to succeed his father. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s becoming a trend for young winemakers-in-waiting to learn their trade away from home and return with new ideas to help improve on tradition. Once reknowned for looking inwards, the current generation of French winemakers often have a refreshingly international CV; they bring new ideas, but retain respect for the land.
As you might expect, Louis is a firm believer in a hands-on approach and spends a great deal of his time in the vineyard as well as in the winery. Expressing terroir means expressing nature, so tending the vineyard with great respect for the environment and finding a natural solution is key to his approach. The right root stock, the right clones for the site, the right level of stress on the vines to control yields and maximise quality.
Chablis is technically at the Northern end of Burgundy, but it’s closer to the eastern Loire in terms of climate than the Côte de Beaune and certainly a lot cooler than the Mâcon. The best wines are grown on a tiny hill to the north of the town of Chablis, and the soil is Kimmeridgien clay – a continuation of the seam that runs through Sancerre and extends up to the South East of England. Whether or not you beleive soil minerality influences wine mineral character, the soil is very important in terms of water regulation and managing vine nutrition.
While other white varieties can be found in parts of Burdundy, Chablis is 100% Chardonnay, and where oak is used, it is far less than employed in the Côte de Beaune. The result is racy wines with purity of fruit expression, though Grand Cru sites can give power and character closer to that of the more delicate styles sometimes found in Puligny-Montrachet.
Louis uses indigenous yeast to bring as much sense of terroir as he can to his wines. While commercial yeast is more predictable, the local strains found in the winery and on the grapes give a unique character and complexity. While he uses stainless steel for his 1er Crus, the richness of the Chablis Grand Crus benefit from oak fermentation and brief maturation to allow them to show their best.
Les Clos is the richest of the three, bone dry and bursting with finesse. Blanchot benefits greatly from the morning sun thanks to its exposure, which helps ripen the grapes and brings an overt fruit character. Vaudésir tends towards austerity in youth with floral character, but becomes more rounded and textured with age. Added to that, 2010 was a superb vintage, the fruit and wines showing real class with great concentration and freshness. This trio is an amazing opportunity to explore three unique expressions of their place and would make an excellent gift for any lover of fine wine.
You can buy this exclusive gift pack online here.
Producer Profile: Louis Moreau