Hunter Valley

I recently returned from an epic Christmas/New Year trip to Australia, Fiji and New Zealand – hence the radio silence – and it wasn’t without a wine tasting or three.

One particular highlight was a day trip to the Hunter Valley from Sydney which we organised ourselves (some of the group tour operators can be so expensive). The day before we went we simply contacted a local Avis, hired a car and bought ourselves a map.

A two-hour drive north of Sydney is all it takes to find yourself surrounded by rolling vineyards with a winery at every turn. One of Australia’s most well-known wine regions, the Hunter Valley is famous for wines produced from Semillon and Shiraz grapes, and most wineries offer cellar door wine tastings and vineyard tours.

We managed to squeeze four winery visits and a picnic into our day. Here’s who we went to see.

Mount View Estate is an award-winning winery based in the Mount View mountain range. Producing wines grown from 45 year old vines on rich, volcanic soils, the highlights for me included its enticing selection of whites, such as the elegant 2015 Reserve Chardonnay and fresh 2016 V Series Verdelho.

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Established in 2006 by the Burton family, Gundog produces premium single vineyard wines from the Hunter Valley and Canberra regions. Named after the family’s gundog Karl Marx, the winery produces an incredibly aromatic 2016 Wild Semillon and medium-bodied, savoury 2015 Hunter’s Shiraz.

Probably the most recognisable name of the bunch – Mcguigan – was our third visit of the day. With a delicious cheese shop next door serving tasting plates, the cellar door tasting team offers samples of a wide selection of varieties, such as the ripe, citrussy The Shortlist Riesling.

Our final stop was at Audrey Wilkinson which had to be my favourite visit of the day. Founded in 1866 by the Wilkinson family, this state of the art winery sits atop a gorgeous hillside in Pokolbin and produces everything from the luscious and spritzy 2016 Winemakers Selection Moscato to the rich, cherried 2014 The Lake Shiraz.

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You can stock up on Gundog’s Smoking Barrel Red at The Oxford Wine Company, Waitrose stocks a small parcel of the very delicious Audrey Wilkinson Chardonnay for £14.99 and Mcguigan wines are widely available throughout the UK.

Stay tuned to hear all about Waiheke Island!

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Christmas is coming…

The goose is getting fat and all that. Is it really the 1st of December already? Cue panic Christmas online shopping and frantic list-making. I’m actually going to be enjoying the festive season from a beach towel in Australia but that hasn’t stopped me scouring the shops in search of festive fare. I’m nibbling on a mince pie as we speak.

Here are a few of my favourite great value wine selections to kick start your Christmas wine rack. Enjoy!

Bissinger Premium Cuvée Champagne

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With a fine mousse, enticing flavours of lemon citrus and hints of toast and hazelnut, this Champagne will make a welcome addition to your dinner table this Christmas. You can pick up a bottle of this fizz for £16.99 in Lidl and, while you’re there, make the most of the impressive seasonal aisle packed with everything from Christmas chocolates to lebkuchen.

The Exquisite Collection Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2015

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An excellent all rounder, this French white wine is a steal from Aldi for just £4.99. Fresh and crisp with a hint of brioche, try it alongside smoked salmon, shellfish and white meat.

Truly Irresistible Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2014 

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I continue to be impressed with Co-op wines and this versatile red, priced at £9.99, doesn’t disappoint. Made from 100% Cabernet Franc in the Loire, this is an excellent choice to accompany red meat and rich turkey with all the trimmings. With earthy aromas, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit and a hint of liquorice, it’s sure to be a hit with family and friends.

 

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Pinot and pork

The latest wine tasted from Aldi’s limited edition selection in my household was De Bortoli G.S Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley in Australia.

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Priced at £7.49, this supple red with ripe cherry fruit and a hint of spice is excellent value, juicy and enticing.

Delicious on its own, I can vouch for this medium-bodied red alongside smoky pork tacos such as these from BBC Good Food. The perfect midweek food and wine combination, even if I do say so myself!

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Aldi strikes again!

Most people I know are probably sick of hearing me harp on about Aldi but it really is excellent value for money and every time I pay my local store a visit, I come away with something new – coconut oil for less than £3? Yes please! Bags of nuts and seeds for less than half the price of those on the shelves of most health food stores? Oh, go on then.

On top of that, just last month, Aldi introduced an exclusive and “eclectic” range of limited edition wines – priced between £4.99 and £8.99 – from some of the world’s greatest wine regions in honour of its Wine Festival. These include Nonius Estate Feteasca Neagra Shiraz from Romania, Artisan Gewürztraminer from Tasmania and Furmint from the Tokaji Region of Hungary to name a few.

Of the three that I have tasted so far, I’ve been more than impressed and fully intend to continue tasting my way through the range over the coming weeks. Watch this space!

Ried Seiber Wachau Gruner Veltliner Reserve 2015, £6.99

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This single vineyard Austrian Gruner Veltliner is incredible at this price. Dry with notes of peach, citrus and white pepper, this intense white has a wonderful, mineral finish and lingers delightfully on the palate.

Try with – roast chicken

Mirella Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2015, £5.49

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This zesty and refreshing white from the Verdicchio grape is dry and enticing with lemon zest flavours and a slightly nutty finish.

Try with – grilled king prawns

Edition Fritz Keller Baden Pinot Noir 2014, £6.49

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Fragrant and light with red cherry and strawberry flavours, this red has a warm, spicy edge to it with lots of complexity considering its youth (and price!)

Try with – barbecued meats and hard cheeses

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Everything is just peachy

When my fridge is lacking in supplies and I’m lacking inspiration on the recipe front, it gives me joy to discover that the M&S dine in two for £10 is on (small things I know). Still in shock from the referendum result, I was in such a state on Friday as I aimlessly wandered around the aisles of my local Marks and Sparks after work.

Food aside (the main of pork saltimbocca was delicious), I picked up a bottle of Peach Garden Chardonnay 2015 as part of the deal. Hailing from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria, this very lightly oaked, peachy white is delicately spiced and brimming with flavour. I’ve reviewed a Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon and Mavrud previously but this was my first Bulgarian white wine and one which I’ll definitely be sipping again. While it was excellent with the pork, next time I’ll give it a go with a creamy dish such as spaghetti carbonara to really make the most of its rounded character.

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I’ve added the Peach Garden Rosé and Peach Garden Merlot to my shopping list for next time I’m passing M&S – at just £7 a bottle, they are well worth a try!

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Wedding Vino

Now that the dust has settled from our wedding three weeks ago, I’ve not only got a lot of spare time that I no longer have to devote to budget spreadsheets and flower arrangements, but we have a wine rack containing several bottles of the delicious wine we selected to enjoy with the wedding meal… winning!

We spent a while searching for a venue that would offer flexibility with the menu and the option of bringing our own wine to serve with dinner (as opposed to one which told us we could have chicken supreme served with a £30 bottle of something ‘so-so’).  Once we had the venue and the corkage price secured, we then went on the hunt to discover the perfect sparkling, white and red wines to enjoy on the day.

Sparkling

Being a little bored of Prosecco and struggling to find a decent Champagne within budget, we opted for Bouvet Ladubay Saumur NV. Refreshing and elegant, this sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley was just as good served with fruit cordials and strawberries at the reception as it was to toast the speeches after dinner.

Available from Majestic UK for £8.99 when you buy six bottles, we decided to hop on the Eurotunnel to Calais where we loaded six cases into the back of the car at £5.49 a bottle.
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White

I’m a huge fan of the crystal clear and delicate white wines produced from the Picpoul de Pinet grape so, as we were making the trip to Calais, we went for the citrus-scented and vibrant Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet 2015 at £4.49 a bottle. We even got to taste the wine on arrival at Majestic to check it was 100% perfect for us. It went down a treat with our antipasti starter!

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Red

The red wine was a no brainer since both of us adore wines from the Rioja region, particularly a Crianza with pork which we served three ways (pulled, loin and belly) alongside seasonal veg and sautéed potatoes. For us it was the Rioja Vega Crianza 2012 – full of rich blackcurrant fruit and vanilla spice, you can pick up a bottle of this wine (or its later vintages) for around £9 a bottle.

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A quick note on quantities

We found Majestic’s drinks calculator very helpful in working out how much of everything we needed to purchase – the only reason we have bottles leftover is because I wimped out and bought several extra cases just in case!

We had 84 for dinner and drank our way through 30 bottles of sparkling during the reception and speeches (we also had bottled beer for the reception), and 28 bottles of white and 18 bottles of red during dinner – thankfully it was a hot day so the white went down much quicker than the red!

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Award-winning reds for Easter

Much like Christmas, for many of us, Easter is a time to embrace tradition when it comes to family plans, food and wine. For me that means; chocolate eggs for breakfast, shoulder of lamb for lunch and a mellow, rich glass of Gran Reserva Rioja.

Selected from exceptional vintages and aged for at least five years at the winery, these elegant and complex reds are released ready-to-drink and are the perfect accompaniment to spring lamb.

At the end of last year, a blind tasting was held with a panel of experts to discover 100 top Rioja wines within ten different categories to highlight the variety of wines produced in this region of northern Spain. The full list of wines can be found online here and below I’ve listed the top 10 scoring Gran Reservas for you to look out for ahead of the weekend.

I’ll be stocking up on the fragrant and spicy Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, available for £17.99 when you buy a case from Majestic Wine. Alternatively, impress guests with the Urbina Gran Reserva Especial 1994 for an excellent value £18.99! Complex and delicious, this 22-year old bottle of wine still has amazingly fresh fruit flavours.

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Happy Easter!

Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva 2009
Viña Real Gran Reserva 2008
Medievo Gran Reserva 2008
Valseranno Gran Reserva 2008
Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva 2008
Quasar Gran Reserva 2008
Contino Gran Reserva 2007
Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 2005
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001
Urbina Gran Reserva Especial 1994

Having said all that, I’ve just found out that we’re having chicken for dinner this Sunday… white Rioja it is!

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