Young Pretender

🇫🇷 Cave Saint Désirat, Saint Joseph 2016
9/10 – I Really Rather Like It

I am a big fan of Rhône reds, particularly the villages of the Côtes du Rhône, but this is something quite new. It is a Syrah produced under the Saint Joseph AOP from a winery that is not much older than myself. In a country where you can buy a Napoleonic tower as a holiday home, a winery from the nineteen-sixties seems almost futuristic. But they have managed to produce a wine here that would not taste out of place in the cellars of their more illustrious neighbours. And I really rather like it.

The wine is a blackened purple in the glass, that wonderful Syrah hue that is like walking into a bordello at night. There are only average legs but it has a nice slippery surface with a well balance nose from the start. It is berry and spicy and slightly savoury but it is not at all sour. The finish is a little tacky at first so it is worth leaving it half an hour to breath. Some vanilla then develops as it softens and welcomes you in for a night of seduction.

Waitrose £12.79 (US $17.00)
Napoleonic Tower
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A Greek God

🇬🇷 Thymiopoulos, Naoussa Jeunes Vignes de Xinomavro 2016
9/10 – Wonderful

I love drinking Greek wine when I am in Greece: sitting on a exiguous balcony looking out on an ample sea. But I haven’t seen Greek wines on sale in London much so I went searching on Oxford Street one day to see if they were as enjoyable without the clement weather and Instagram view.

Mykonos

Apostolos Thymiopoulos is making quite a reputation for himself amongst Greek winemakers. Indeed to some he is almost a God. So it was with a certain amount of luck that during my search I happened upon one of his wines in Marks and Spencer.

Certainly with wines of this quality, Naoussa, in northern Greece, may soon become a prized destination for the wine traveller. Not that you really need any more reasons to travel to Greece. With the sparkling harbours, stunning history and sunny coves, there are indeed few reasons to ever leave.

Santorini

The wine is a light red in the glass with a strawberry nail polish nose. But like sailing the Cyclades there is so much more to enjoy here. There are some candy notes, sweet spices and a very fresh, young meadow aroma. And there are plenty of legs from the 13.5% ABV to relax both muscles and mind. Once you get around to actually drinking the wine, you will find it light and slippery over the tongue with a floral finish. It is absolutely wonderful. And I say that with my eyes set upon, not a Hellenic panorama, but a cold and drizzled London.

M&S £11.00 (US $14.50)

The City of Love

🇮🇹 Marks & Spencer, Bellante Extra Dry Rosé N.V.
8/10 – Lovely

This was a lovely surprise on Valentine’s Day but it is not a wine you will want to limit to once a year.

The wine is from the hills of Treviso, about an hour’s drive north of Venice. Never has there been a more fitting city for a romantic stay: sumptuous buildings entwined with sparkling canals arched with beautiful bridges. Paris may have the branding but exit Gare du Nord station on your way to a rendezvous at the impressive Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmartre and you will be greeted by surly beggars and phone boxes stuffed with mattresses. Venice can be crowded but most of the crowd will be in love with it.

This sparkling rosé is made from Glera (Prosecco) grapes with a few bunches of Raboso thrown in to give it a glorious pink colour in the glass. It is the hue of a nineteen-thirties party dress, faded through time. The taste is also as subtle as a smile over a crowded dance floor. There are nice undertones of pear and cherries with an air of fresh garden blossoms. There is even a smooth and tingling finish, like falling in love. Absolutely lovely.

M&S £10.00 (US $13.00)

Partying with the Beirut Bricklayers

🇱🇧 Château Ksara, Cabernet Franc – Syrah – Cabernet Sauvignon, Clos St Alphonse 2016
7/10 – A little Disappointed

I travelled to Lebanon quite often in my previous job. My employer thought Beirut was a good place to do business; I found it was a good place to party.

When I was growing up in the eighties there was a saying “as busy as a Beirut bricklayer.” The civil war in Lebanon then had turned a city once compared to Paris into one compared to B&Q. By the time the war ended in 1990, the centre of Beirut looked like the Roman ruins at Baalbek.

Baalbek, Lebanon
Roman ruins at Baalbek, Lebanon

My Lebanese friends tell me that despite the disruption during the war, life went on. Indeed, if anything, the hardships gave them an even greater appreciation for life, in particular the drinking part.

When I first visited in 2009 it appeared that the bricklayers had not actually been that busy at all. There were still crumbling buildings pockmarked with bullet holes and there were tanks parked around the government offices. Perhaps, like me, the bricklayers had spent most of their time in the neighbourhood of Gemmayzeh, where Rue Gouraud is an endless line of tiny, trendy clubs and bars, some no bigger than my kitchen. There you would find luxury cars parked bumper to bumper along the street and amongst the rubble on any derelict plot of land the drivers could find. It was an invigorating, intoxicating invitation to live life loudly.

Unfortunately, this Lebanese wine disappoints on that count.

Château Ksara is one of the oldest wineries in Lebanon. It was founded in 1857 in Beqaa Valley, near the Roman ruins in Baalbek, about two hours drive northeast from Beirut. Given the quality of the wines I tasted in neighbouring Israel last year, I had very high hopes for this red grape blend.

The wine is a solid red in the glass with intermittent legs, like a marathon runner after twenty miles. There is a sour, empty-fridge nose, surprising given the three varieties they have crammed in to the bottle. There is a smooth finish early on but I thought it perhaps needed a while longer to open up. Unfortunately it never did. Even after an hour the wine did not develop much more than a basic savoury Syrah taste. I was a little disappointed in the end. This is not a wine that is full of life; it is not like someone you would meet in Gemmayzeh. Perhaps I will just have another Almaza.

M&S £10.00 (US $13.00)
Enjoying a local beer at a bar in Gemmayzeh, Beirut

Good Business

🇿🇦 Yellowwood Mountain, Chenin Blanc 2014
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That

I do love a bargain. Not as much as my accountant of course, to whom a bargain is a reused paperclip. But this wine would be a bargain even to Dominic Chapel who paid just a pound to a certain Philip Green for British Home Stores some years ago. And I dare say he would have been a good sight happier with a nice Chenin Blanc rather than a chain of bankrupt department stores.

The former British Home Stores building on Oxford Street, London.

There is a lovely juicy-fruity chewing gum taste from the start that perfectly matches the sweet little nose. It is a nice, shiny light yellow in the glass and it has a very neat finish.

All in all this is a very tidy little white. It didn’t go well with seafood or soft cheese but with some dried apricots it was sublime. But really, this wine is good enough to drink on its own and at this price that makes very good business sense. Messers Chapel and Green should try a bottle: they might learn a thing or two.

Asda £4.98 (US $6.50)

In the Drink

🇦🇷 Trivento, Reserve Malbec 2017
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That

I have been disappointed by the last two Argentinian Malbecs I have tasted: Gaffigna and San Felipe. Indeed, I wondered whether we would ever see good value wines from Argentina again as the pound dwindled and the competition from their neighbours increased. Like your favourite corner shop, would it survive now that Lidl had built a warehouse next door? Then I was given this bottle of Malbec to try and I was back in Buenos Aires being enthralled. Or, perhaps more fittingly, back at the Iguazu falls getting happily drenched.

Iguazu Falls, Argentinian side

The wine starts with that wonderful winery nose. That smell of grape juice and barrels and vintners in vests straight from the harvest. It’s a smell that makes you want to travel and Argentina is a good place to start. It’s a deep and slippery red in the glass with a good set of legs for a 13% Malbec. And it is soft on both the tongue and the wallet with a welcome lingering finish.

Tesco £8.00 (US $11.50)
Toucan, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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