Sainsbury’s has Krug GC at £65.33 a bottle

As predicted in these pages recently, another grocer has bought back the 25% reduction on all six bottle purchases of wine and champagne. And because it is Sainsbury’s, the offer is running while other single price deals are also available. In a promotion that runs from today until Sunday 2 August, the price of Moët’s Brut Impérial drops to £20.75 while Laurent-Perrier Brut falls to £21.75 and its Rosé to £33.75 a bottle. 20150724_134847_resized Krug pic 2

20150724_134852_resized Krug Pic 1But these these deals are overshadowed by Krug Grande Cuvée already cut in a limited number of stores from £130 to £87.10 — a £42.90 reduction. Factor in the 25% and this price falls to just £65.33. You could buy five £5 bottles of wine plus the Krug for £84.08p! See Latest retail offers for more details.

Having drunk Grande Cuvée in both bottle and magnum at Andrew Fairlie’s restaurant in Gleneagles this week (of which more soon) I am able to assert the wine is on top form. The current blend is based on the 2006 harvest with the oldest element in the complex blend from 1990.

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Day in the life of a (sparkling) wine writer

To people outside the business I’ll admit to being a ‘wine writer’, even sometimes a champagne specialist. But this admission tends to result in predictable comments from those that regard such a ‘profession’ as one continuous (alcohol fuelled) jolly. It isn’t of course, as I am pains to point out, but just occasionally there are days when I have to admit it may appear so to the uninformed. One particular days stands out last month.

Invited to take a look at the relatively new sparkling wine operation at Exton Park in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, I was keen to go. I’m trying to visit as many English sparkling wine producers as possible over the next few months in an effort to get a better understanding of this rapidly developing sector. And while I’ve been to some of the longer established wineries before – Chapel Down, Ridgeview and Denbies come to mind – there’s a string of enterprising, ambitious newcomers that have opened their doors in the past five years or so and visiting them is the best way of finding out what they are all about.

But I hesitated because I had a feeling there might be a clash of dates. Wasn’t the Berry Brothers ‘artisan’ champagne producers tasting at Vintners Hall in the same week? And what about meeting that new Gaillac producer. Typically they all turned out to be the same day, the most interesting wine trade events have a nasty habit of clashing, but on paper it looked possible to do all three.

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Exton Park is a relatively new vineyard set on rolling, chalky hills planted over the past decade in three tranches over an area of 55 acres (about 10.5 hectares) with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (The Champagne authorities are now encouraging producers there to shorten the latter to just Meunier, according to Michel Drappier, who I have just returned from visiting [more about this trip soon]. Apparently they want to distinguish it more easily from Pinots Noir, Blanc and Gris [called Fromenteau in Champagne] though these latter varieties between them only account for about 50 hectares in total and nearly all of that is Pinot Blanc). But I digress, back to the lovely sun-bathed Hampshire countryside.

Exton Park fruit used to be sold to the nearby Coates and Seely operation where the winemaker was the French-born Corinne Seely. But she has moved on and is now only involved at Exton Park where she helped owner Malcolm Isaac, who made his money in the watercress business, design a winery on site, following his decision to make his own sparkling wine rather than sell the grapes to other producers.

Was it a good decision? On the basis of this visit, tasting and lunch, it certainly was. The whole set-up looks very professional and the wines, even though the oldest plantings are only 12 years old, are already impressive. Interestingly, while many English wine producers are essentially making purely single vintage sparklers, Seely wants to blend different harvests for the standard Brut Réserve NV, always using at least a third reserve wine, as she feels the weather in southern England is just not reliable enough to produce a consistently good, all vintage product.

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This nicely balanced, refreshing fizz is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and, when we move on to try the Exton Park Blanc de Noir it turns out Seely is a bit of Pinot Noir fan and it’s this variety, grown on the south facing chalky slopes, she’s most excited about here. The wine, backs up her judgement, and impresses other interested visitors too including Gerard Basset and Joe Wadsack. It’s got decent Pinot aromas, grip and depth, plus a rounded mellowness. They don’t chaptalise (add sugar to the fermenting wine to raise the alcohol level) here so this is all the more impressive at a relatively light 11.5deg abv. This is definitely an English winery to watch.

Travelling back to London on the train in the warm afternoon sunshine I wasn’t too sure how well I’d cope with tasting 50-odd artisan champagnes at Vintners Hall, but it proved to be a spectacularly good and uplifting tasting, which I will write about separately very soon. As I emerged at around 6pm, palate for fizz now somewhat jaded, all I had to do was get to 28/50 Marylebone in the rush hour.

Despite the difficulty I had finding the restaurant in the maze of streets north of Oxford Street, I’m very glad I did. It would have been worth it just to try the exciting different wines of Clos Rocailleux with English owner and winemaker Jack Reckitt, trained at Plumpton College like some of the vineyard team at Exton Park. The Clos Rocailleux winery is based in Gaillac – which I hope to see for myself next month – and relative beginner Jack Reckitt had bought along the first three vintages of his white (2012 – two different parcels, 2013 and 2014 tank sample) made from Mauzac for us to try. Aromatic, slightly medicinal with honeyed notes, these were a perfect antidote to a palate somewhat dulled by tasting numerous different fizzes, as was the nicely balanced rosé, made by a short maceration.

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We also tasted two different reds I hope to enjoy drinking again next month. The 2012 Gaillac Rouge a 70% Syah and 30% Braucol blend and the 2012 Réserve Rouge, again made from a majority of Syrah, plus some Braucol and splash of Duras. Apart from the Syrah these are not really red varieties I know much about, but that’s one of the beauties of this part of south-west France. I love the Clos Rocailleux labels too.

What most impressed me about the wines, white rosé and red, is they came alive with the super fresh and simple menu at 28/50. The white, a far more attractive match to asparagus than Sauvignon Blanc, the reds having the concentration and tannin to partner simple steak, plus the refreshing acidity to make you want to keep drinking them. If there are more wines like this to find in Gaillac it’s going to be a good trip there next month.

Clos Rocailleux 2012 Mauzac Vieilles Vignes, £16.99; Mauzac Blanc Sec 2013, £12.99; 2012 Gaillac Rouge £12.99; 2012 Réserve Rouge £16.99 all from www.redsquirrelwine.com    

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Magnums and Own Label the best buys at Waitrose

With Waitrose 25% off all six bottle purchases of wines and champagne running for a further four days, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the champagnes they showed at last month’s tasting to pick out the best deals. As I have mentioned in the latest retail offers page, these are mainly on the wines that don’t usually get discounted by this much and are regularly well priced, namely the Own Label champagnes.

2015-05-07 Roed & Bolly magsOf these the stand out wine on tasting last month was the 2015-05-07 13.32.11Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which is supplied by Maison Burtin — part of the BCC group, the largest in Champagne after LVMH, that also owns Lanson and Philipponnat among other brands. This was showing very attractively with some peppery, spicy notes and a distinctive biscuity textural complexity in the mid-palate which many big name brands would be happy to boast of. Buy six bottles and the price comes down from an affordable £24.99 to a bargain £18.74.

The other wine I’d stock up is the Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 vintage, down from £33.99 a bottle to £25.49. I thought it was the non-vintage blend of this wine, still very good indeed which I tasted last week at a brilliant Berry Bros & Rudd ‘Artisans Champagne’ tasting (of which more shortly). But in fact Waitrose no longer sell the non-vintage cuvée this is an all Grand Cru vintage cuvée and an even better buy. One reader has already pointed this out to me, buying some last week when sadly the discount was a little smaller, but hopefully he will still be happy with the quality in the bottle. (I’m opening a bottle of the Le Mesnil 2004 in a minute to remind myself how delicious this wine gets with more age).

I also notice that on the groceries website (waitrose.com) Heidsieck Heritage which is made by P&C Heidsieck and was very decent the last time I tasted it (it wasn’t shown at the May tasting), is just £17.99 so this would come down under the 25% off deal to just £12.49 which makes it a pretty good buy for a party.

In praise of magnums

Waitrose champagne buyer Ken McKay told me that under their recent full review of sparkling wine and champagne they have delisted some champagnes in order to increase the range of sparkling wines, but at the same time, because magnums have been selling well, they have increased the range of larger formats they are offering from the start of June and they had five different champagnes in magnum at the tasting. They were Lanson Black Label (£67.99), Laurent-Perrier (£77.99), Pol Roger £77.99), Louis Roederer Brut Premier (£84.99) and Bollinger Special Cuvée (£89.99).

These all showed well, except for the Pol Roger which was curious subdued – in my experience magnums of champagne nearly always taste better than bottles of the same wine, sometime significantly so. Speaking to James Simpson MD of Pol Roger at the London Wine Fair this may be explained by the relatively recent disgorgement of this wine and I note that is doesn’t appear on the Waitrose list yet, so perhaps they have decided to hold it back a couple of months, by which time it should have recovered from the shock of disgorgement.

Helpfully Lanson actually put the date of disgorgement on the magnum — in this case June 2014 – so you can make a judgement about when to drink it. Given the already fresh, crisp Lanson style, I’d keep it until Christmas, by when it will have mellowed further. Of the other three, Laurent-Perrier, a good all round aperitif style that’s light and refreshing, will be on offer from 24 June, so I’d wait until then if you want to buy some. The Bollinger Special Cuvée, which usually really shines in magnum, is not quite mature enough but already good. The star of the quintet is the Louis Roederer Brut Premier, very good in bottle the last few times I have tasted it this year, in magnum it is even better, deliciously lively, spicy, complex, with a long long finish. This too will be at a great price from 24 June if you can bear to wait that long to try it. Sadly magnums are not included in the present 25% off deal.

There are two ways you can shop this offer at Waitrose online by going to www.waitrosecellar.com to buy by the six bottle case or through the grocery channel at www.waitrose.com  There are 61 champagne options in waitrosecellar.com and 41 through the grocery channel, but more magnums on the former site.

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Sainsbury’s brings back 25% off deal

In the continuing very competitive High Street, Sainsbury’s has re-introduced its 25% off deal on purchases of six bottles for the next ten days until 30 May. As a result you can buy Moët and G.H. Mumm for just £18.75 a bottle and Veuve Clicquot Rosé £26.25 (which will make at least one reader very happy).  Two Sainsbury’s own label exclusives also drop to £9.75. See Latest Offers page.

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Easter fizz under a tenner again

With Easter weekend approaching the big supermarket retailers are lining up some special deals on champagne to try to steal share from their competitors. And Tesco is at the forefront with its Louis Delaunay Brut back down to under a tenner if you buy six bottles, plus the ripe forward and very attractive Moët Grand Vintage 2006 down to just £26.99, on the same deal. As yet Sainsbury’s, the original creator of the Easter fizz give-away hasn’t reacted to these deals other than to improve two of its offers. But will it be able to resist tomorrow? See Latest Champagne Offers Page

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Retailers gear up for Easter weekend

It’s been a madly busy period period that kicked off with a four day trip to Champagne at the start of February and ended last week with the big Champagne Information Bureau annual tasting in London. There will be reports on all of this shortly and hopefully the problems with Word Press that have hit the site recently and made parts of it inaccessible for several days in the run-up to Mothers’ Day are now all sorted and normal service can resume.

In terms of special offers Easter weekend has always been important ever since Sainsbury’s, left with with massive post-Millenium stocks in 2000, decided to make a feature of discounting champagne.

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UK champagne shipments up by 6.1% in 2014

Britain continues to lead the way in champagne consumption with imports rising by 6.1% to 32,675,232 bottles in 2014, that’s more the next two markets, the USA and Germany, can muster together. Value was up slightly more by 6.7% to just over 477m€ giving an average price per bottle of 14.6€. The British consume more than seven times the combined volume of champagne imported by the much vaunted BRIC countries with consumption flat in China and Russia, up 10.2% in Brazil and down 16.2% in India. Britain takes 22.4% of all champagne exports.

The five leading export brands account for 38.45% of the market in Britain or 12,562,721 bottles. Compare that with the USA where the top five brands between them take a massive 70.25% of the whole market. Some 31,470, 047 bottles or 96.3% are non-vintage styles, with only 1,205,185 bottles of vintage champagne imported into Britain in 2014.

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Extra lees ageing produces exciting wines

My tweets about Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve and how not many other non-vintage champagnes can boast eight years bottle age seems to have aroused quite a lot of comment and interest. The current cuvée of this wine was put in … Continue reading

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Winemaker Richard Geoffroy on Dom Perignon rosé

When Dom Pérignon launches a new vintage, winemaker Richard Geoffroy likes to bring along some other bottles so you can compare and contrast. When I met up with him last month, as well as the soon to be released 2005 vintage, we tried again the so called ‘P2’ 1998 Dom Pérignon, the second release of DP that comes onto the market after further lees ageing (typically another 8 to 10 years) and now really showing its considerable class. We also looked at the latest Rosé release, the 2004, comparing that with the ‘P2’ pink from 1995, fast becoming my favourite vintage of that decade and these days regularly outclassing most ‘96s.

This was a great chance to look at how pink DP develops and evolves and in this short video I ask Richard to talk about the two rosés and their differences.

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French Wine Society launches in depth Champagne study programme

ChampagneGuru is one of 7 presenters

Sign up for the French Wine Society’s  Champagne Master-Level Program which starts  next month on 16 February. This comprehensive study programme which comprises 17 live webinars held over nine weeks has six other champagne experts beside myself and it’s an impressive group to be involved with that includes Stephen Charters MW, Essi Avellan MW, Charles Curtis MW, Richard Bampfield MW, Peter Liem and  Geoff Kruth MS.

Sign up today http://bit.ly/1s4ZAcZ and enjoy a free one year membership to the French Wine Society (worth $100) when using coupon « GILESCH » after adding the Champagne Master-level program to your cart. For more details about the course click on the link above.

Pics of FWS course and my coupon (235 x 235)Note: Founded in 2005, The French Wine Society is an international wine study and certification program, providing in-depth education in the form of print, webinars, recorded lectures, live lectures, and study immersion trips to France.

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