Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Chocolate advent calendars are OK, but I always had wine advent calendar envy. This year I decided to treat myself, and splashed out on a Laithwaites Advent calendar full of red wines. Come on the journey with me, and find out what's inside every day!
Wednesday 1st December
Laithwaites say "It’s crafted by the internationally acclaimed Hervé Sabardeil in the ancient vineyard region of Roussillon. Using largely Grenache, with additions of herb scented Syrah and fragrant Cinsault, Cabalié has impressive concentration.
That’s due to the maturity of the vines, which include some of the oldest Grenache in France. The tiny berries they produce give Cabalié extraordinarily rich, ripe flavours. Boasting 12 medals in five vintages, this now legendary wine is in its element with a slow braised beef casserole."
I have tasted Cabalié before so I knew this was going to be a hit. It's a fruity mix, with bursts of blackberry, strawberry and raspberry, but oak and vanilla give it extra oomph!
Thursday 2nd December
Durif is a variety of red wine grape primarily grown in Australia, California, France, and Israel. It is the main grape known in the U.S. and Israel as "Petite Sirah", with over 90% of the California plantings labeled "Petite Sirah".
This Black Duck Durif comes from New South Wales in Australia where winemaker Sam Trimboli set out to make a barrel-aged black red to knock the spots off every other Durif in the Trimboli range. This is the mighty Duck’s fifth vintage and it’s as bold, rich and spicy as ever. Real ‘wow in a glass’ stuff!
This was my first experience of a Durif ( it doesn’t get a mention in WSET3!) so a new grape for me to try. This reminded me of a Carmenere with ripe blackcurrant and juicy plum, but there was a touch of spice and hint of vanilla. A great little wine.
Friday 3rd December
Laithwaites describe this bottle as "Rex Mundi is a sumptuous red, a devilishly delicious blend of spice-laden, lip-staining Shiraz and plummy Grenache from very deep in southern France. Irresistible for lovers of exceedingly dense, fruit rich reds.
This irresistible black beauty is made from fabulously intense Shiraz and Grenache grapes grown on the craggy hillsides of France’s deep south – the Roussillon. Look up from the vines and you will see ruins of castles perching precariously on rocky peaks. This inhospitable landscape and these ancient strongholds were home to medieval Cathars who lived in awe of evil god Rex Mundi (‘King of the World’). He corrupted the faithful with promises of earthly pleasures and the forbidden delights of mortal flesh. But behind the wine is a very kind soul - Hervé Sabardeil, our ‘King of the Black Reds.
Wow! Definitely the front runner so far and I will be ordering more bottles of this! There's an abundance of red and black fruit aromas and flavours, but with a vanilla sweetness that makes it a touch jammy. The tannins are smooth and the finish lingers. Delicious!
Saturday 4th December
Behind today’s advent door, is Corsiero Nero. It’s a taste of Nero di Troia, one of Puglia’s finest grapes. More often found in pricey blends, it appears here in glorious solo. Made by top Italian winemaker Andrea Bernardini, it's a velvety red full of blackberry, violet and smoky vanilla spice.
Laithwaites say “Top winemaker Andrea Bernardini has discovered just how to get the most from the superb Nero di Troia grape. The result is the deliciously dark, velvety Corsiero. No need to blend Nero di Troia with softer varieties – gently pressed and carefully vinified by Andrea, it makes a seductive, deeply flavoured, fruit-rich red. Nero di Troia is named after the town of Troia in northern Puglia, said to have been founded by Greek hero Diomedes, famous for helping to defeat the city of Troy in Asia Minor (yes, the grape really is that old!). Just outside Troia, the story goes, Diomedes planted vine cuttings named Nero after their dark-skinned grapes and the deeply coloured wine. Rich, warming Corsiero is perfect with pasta or hearty meat dishes.”
This is spicy and light, a very accessible and enjoyable Christmas wine.
Sunday 5th December
Today we have Don cayetano behind door number 5.
This is a Chilean Merlot with wide international appeal. It comes from one of the country’s leading producers - Luis Felipe Edwards - four time winner of ‘Chilean Winery of the Year’.
Laithwaites say: "This plump, juicy-fruit Merlot is made by Trophy-winning winemaker Nicolas Bizzarri. He heads the cellar team at the leading, family-owned Luis Felipe Edwards estate in the premium Colchagua Valley.
Luis Felipe Edwards Snr started his wine estate in 1976, beginning with a small plot of land and slowly buying up more vineyards. Today he owns an entire valley and a thoroughly modern, fully equipped cellar. He really has spared no expense over the years (even installing chandeliers in the barrel cellar), but has always kept that quality-focused, family-run touch to the business. His reds are renowned for both great flavour and value and have won many top international awards. Tasty as a glass solo, this Merlot is very versatile with food too."
It's certainly fruity, plummy, and got better after it had some breathing time. I did find it a bit sharp on the back of the throat, and it has a short finish. Quaffable, but not one of the stand out examples.
Monday 6th December
Labo e Falcao is a delicious blend of Portuguese grapes from a former royal falconry, it has lovely warmth, richness and spicy fruit.
The Laithwaites description says: "Wine Spectator calls Portugal “the most exciting wine place on the planet”, with its terrific range of native grape varieties and wines that always offer standout value. The rich, mouthfilling Lobo e Falcão fits firmly in that category. It’s made at a 17th century estate owned by the Lobo de Vasconcelos family, once the location of the king’s falconry. Special barrels of wine were kept for the king when he visited.
Today, talented winemaker Joana Lopes makes this red specially for us, blending Syrah with Portugal’s exciting native grapes. Previously awarded a Wine Enthusiast Best Buy Award, the 2020 has lovely intensity of flavour due to another dry year. Fans of smooth, mouthfilling wines take note – this is a sure contender for the Big Red crown, now with over 1,000 5-star reviews. "
This wine gives a generous mouthful of wild berry fruit with a hint of warming winter spice with a velvety texture – a very moreish red.
Tuesday 7th December
Picco Attila Trevenezie
Laithwaites say “This is a thoroughly moreish red combining juicy Merlot with the dark chocolatey notes of Italy’s native Refosco. One of our favourite Italian winemakers, Alessandro Gallici, has created a red with a tasty balance of bright fruit and mocha richness.
The vineyards of Italy’s northeast have long been renowned for their refreshing whites, but in the Colli Orientali around a third of the wines are red, well worthy of equal attention. There, aside from silky Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, local varieties such as Refosco provide original and distinctive wines in accessible, food friendly styles. Picco Attila caught the attention of our Buyer during a trip to the region. Not only for its dark damson, fig and prune character, but also for its value. Winemaker Alessandro Gallici likes to serve the wine with rich game or creamy polenta with pumpkin, a local favourite. And in this handy 187ml mini size, it's a delicious drop ready for anything: picnics, solo evening glasses and hampers.”
Quite a lot going on in this mouthful, from dark berries to coffee and liquorice, with the dry aftertaste of some north Italian reds (reminiscent of chianti / barolo?). Don't be fooled by the MERLOT - this has much more going for it!
Wednesday 8th December
Today in the advent calendar we return to Trimboli Family wines from New South Wales and enjoy this TRIMBOLI SALVATORE MALBEC SHIRAZ DURIF 2019. Winemaker Sam Trimboli has returned to his family estate and this is a rich, punchy threeway blend of Malbec, Shiraz and Durif.
Laithwaites say “We first met Sam at the Warburn Estate in New South Wales 30+ years back, and have been following him and his wines ever since. They deliver every time with lovely fruity intensity, originality and value. In 2018, he finally decided it was time to return to his roots and his family estate in Griffith. He has nurtured partnerships with long standing grower friends and made us two Salvatore wines. The white has already won a Trophy! He is a true genius. Here he shows that Malbec can perform as well in Oz as it does in Argentina, then added a sizeable portion of Shiraz and, of course, his favourite variety, Durif. Aged for four months in French oak barrels, it is supple, smooth and packed with ripe fruit. A top choice with hearty casseroles.”
Full bodied and bold with plenty of ripe black fruit coming through, and it's time in oak gives it some depth and spice. It packs a punch at 14.5% alcohol, but it's balanced, although the grippy tannins are quite prominent. These seemed more bearable when paired with cheese.
Thursday 9th December
We’ve already had a Cabalié behind our very first door, but this is an old-vine version has even more swagger!
Laithwaites say: “Hervé Sabardeil, our winemaker with limitless talent, has been making Cabalié, the big, ripe Catalan red, for over 15 years. He added the old vine (Vieilles Vignes) edition in 2011, originally as a one off, but it was so popular we insisted he did it again. And again! The magic to this punchy red is really in the vines. At 60 to 100 years old, yields are minute (about half of a Grand Cru claret). As a rule of thumb, the smaller the yield, the more concentrated the fruit, the more flavoursome the wine! That’s why we call it Cabalié’s Big Brother. Still made in the same style that was beloved by the Roman centurions and now our customers too, it packs even more flavour than the original. Ideal with garlic-roasted lamb, rich stews or cheese.”
We love this wine - it truly is a step up from the standard cabalié - with more depth, packed with fruit, and a smooth velvety vanilla finish. Will be buying more of this!
Friday 10th December
You don’t find many wines that showcase Portugal’s Alicante Bouchet grape, and that’s why the wine behind door 10 is called Aluado - Portuguese for “Loony”.
Latithwaites explain “Alicante Bouschet produces some of the world’s deepest-coloured wines and is often used to enhance Portugal’s top reds, but it's rarely found solo. That didn't deter winemaker José Neiva Correia – determined as he was to let the darkly delicious grape shine. And it certainly paid off. Aluado is now one of our customers' favourite reds (with 850+ 5-star reviews). Following on from last year’s triple-Gold-medal triumph, José again used grapes from his own historic estate, Quinta de Porto Franco (which dates back to the 12th century and is thought to have the oldest vineyard in Alenquer). A rich, velvety red, great solo or served with roast lamb or a herby vegetarian casserole.
It's rare to find a Portuguese red that isn't to our taste, and this is no exception. It's fruity, intense, full-bodied, and balanced. Fine tannins. We will buy this again.
Saturday 11th December
Our Saturday treat is the Alambrado Malbec from Argentina. Laithwaites say: “Moreishly fruity, Alambrado is from Familia Zuccardi, one of the finest cellars in all Argentina. It is three times winner of Argentina's 'Top Value Brand', presented by IWC and head of the family, José Zuccardi, was given a lifetime achievement award by the same competition in 2016. As well as having state of the art facilities in both Maipó and Ucó, the family are committed to employing the many local families who served the company in José's father’s time. He says, "We believe in using people rather than machines whenever possible.” This smooth, silky, fruity red is made purely from Argentina’s flagship grape, Malbec. It’s tasty on its own and very versatile with food. From grilled meats, veggie kebabs, a squash bake or sausage and mash.”
Very dry, with plenty of tannin. Fruit forward but also peppery. This wine improves with a bit of breathing time, and food - it matches well with cheese, but also the typical Malbec pairings of red meat and casseroles.
Sunday 12th December
I was pleased to see a Chateau Varteley wine appear behind today’s door. From Moldova, most people have barely heard of the country, nor knew of its vast wine production. You can read more about my trip to Moldova on this blog.
Laithwaites say “Head east from Bordeaux (home to the famous First Growths like Lafite) and you’ve smart, pricey Burgundy. Go further east and, on the same 46 to 47 degree latitude, you’ll eventually find an equally hallowed tradition of wine excellence in Moldova. Before the 1917 Revolution the region supplied fine reds to the Tsars for lavish banquets. Now Moldova is a nearly forgotten winemaker’s Eden, with wine quality and value that’s “aching to find its way to the world’s wine drinkers” (FT). But strife in neighbouring Ukraine has hit wine exports and threatens a centuries’ old way of life. Help protect that tradition by enjoying this luscious, barrel matured Merlot. Available in a taster size, it's provides the ideal lunchtime glass.”
Cherry and plummy, with a touch of smokiness. Quite a pleasant wine, but not knocking my socks off.
Monday 13th December
Today’s wine is a Dinastia Manzanos Rioja, 2020 vintage with 100% Tempranillo.
The description from Laithwaites is “The Manzanos family have 125 years of wine history to draw upon as grape growers. Yet far from being hidebound by tradition, they are some of the region’s most innovative and exciting producers. Since 2010, the fifth generation, brothers David and Victor, have been at the helm, thrust into the limelight after the death of their father. Their modern winery is in the heart of the region, where the rivers Ebro and Ega come together, and here they enjoy superb terroir for growing grapes. 2020 wines are showing great promise, with a lovely balance of ripeness and freshness thanks to cool autumn nights. So expect lots of ripe fruit and juicy length in this lightly oaked Tempranillo. It's great on its own, with chicken or with veggie kebabs.”
Lovely Rioja, just enough oak in this young wine, with plenty of dark fruit flavours and a hint of tobacco. Could be enjoyed on its own or versatile with food.
Tuesday 14th December
We have a repeating wine! Please see Wednesday 8th December.
Wednesday 15th December
We’re off to Spain again with tonight’s wine, La Cantera - from Cariñena.
Laithwaites say, “La Cantera is so reassuringly smooth and welcoming that each new vintage release is like the return of an old friend. Well, it is made by one of our greatest friends in Spain, Javier Domeque. He’s been making this gloriously mature treasure exclusively for us for nearly 20 years, and only ever ships La Cantera when it’s been aged to smooth, mellow perfection. Javier works under the radar in Cariñena, where wine has been made for 2,000 years. But the region is overlooked in favour of world famous neighbour Rioja, so you enjoy superb value for money here (and, in the case of La Cantera, Rioja style quality). This is made from old vine Garnacha and Tempranillo and has rich, deep red berry flavours softened by years in barrel and bottle.”
This was definitely a good alternative to a Rioja, with plenty of soft berry fruit and oak fustiness of the barrel. This has gone onto my list to buy again.
Thursday 16th December
I was surprised to find another Cariñena DOP wine in the door straight after yesterday, but unlike the barrel aged 2017 version found in La Cantera, this 2020 El bombero is on full throttle.
Laithwaites say "For lovers of big, smooth reds, El Bombero is a top choice. It comes from Cariñena, a hot, arid region in northeast Spain where sun loving grapes like Garnacha (the same as Châteauneuf’s Grenache) achieve amazing ripeness. Ancient vines and a lack of rain mean fewer grapes, which in turn means far more flavour intensity. Exhibit A: El Bombero. There are no fancy châteaux around Cariñena, but, as Decanter magazine notes, that doesn’t stop the region from being home to some of the best value reds in the world. From award winning winemaker Javier Domeque, El Bombero is packed with spicy black fruit power and a warm glow. Delicious on its own in this small bottle and a tasty choice for full flavoured pasta dishes or herby sausages and mash."
It's 15% alcohol, but was smooth and balanced enough for the alcohol not to overpower the experience. Spicy notes and rich, warming berry fruit. A definite contender to buy again.
Friday 17th December
We have a repeating wine - Please see Saturday 4th December
Saturday 18th December
I was pleased to see a Chateau Vartely wine appear behind today’s door. From Moldova, most people have barely heard of the country, nor knew of its vast wine production. You can read more about my trip to Moldova on this blog. However, unlike the merlot earlier, this was a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Laithwaites say “Only founded as recently as 2008, Château Vartely has already established itself as one of Moldova’s top wineries. It attracts over 10,000 wine tourists every year. Many of the estate’s vines grow in conditions and soils very similar to those of the best plots of Bordeaux. And the glowing online reviews prove UK wine lovers have given Château Vartely their seal of approval. From grape harvesting, to barrel ageing and bottling, it all takes place under the watchful eye of chief winemaker Arcadie Fosnea. With a diploma in winemaking from a prestigious college in Weinsberg, Germany, he is drawing worldwide acclaim thanks to sumptuous Cabernets like this. For a taste of Moldovan excellence, this is the perfect bottle to whet your appetite.”
A good Cabernet Sauvignon, with full body and bursting with blackcurrant flavour, with cherry and a touch of smoke.
Sunday 19th December
I thought we had a repeating wine from 5th December as this Don Cayetano popped out the door, but on closer inspection, this was the Cabernet Sauvignon brother to the earlier merlot.
Laithwaites say; "Here’s a lip-smacking example of entry-level Chilean Cabernet at its best. It’s from the Luis Felipe Edwards estate, an impressive, family winery located on the upper slopes of the Colchagua Valley. A canny businessman, Luis Felipe Edwards Snr made money in the construction industry, then followed his dream and created his own wine estate, starting in the 1970s with 60 hectares of 70 year old vines. Today, the estate remains very much family run, and is highly successful, having been named ‘Chilean Winery of the Year’ four times. Behind the grand façade of an old colonial house is a state of the art winery, complete with a luxurious barrel cellar. Enjoy this classic Chilean Cabernet in a handy taster size with a hearty dish."
Very plummy on the nose and the dark fruit follows through on the palate, with a touch of oak. Young and easy to drink, but nothing inspiring.
Monday 20th December
The cheeky elf joined me in opening door 20, which found a Tuscan number from 2019 called Saracosa.
Laithwaites describe it as "inspired by the ‘Super Tuscans’ – a style first developed by Antinori in the 1970s. These wines kick started the region’s renaissance and became some of the most exclusive and expensive in the world. Saracosa is from the Barbanera family estate, overlooked by the Saracosa hill near Montalcino. Half their vineyards are in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, and the remainder just beyond. In the 5-Star 2019 vintage Saracosa’s old vines delivered exceptional concentration. The fruit was then part-aged in French oak barriques to lend a toasty layer of complexity. Dense, dark cherry and chocolatey tones make this a serious choice for pasta with pork ragù or bistecca alla fiorentina (steak with cannellini beans in tomato sauce).
Fruity and medium bodied, this was a decent bottle to drink on its own, but I can imagine it would be event better with a Tuscan stew! The 750ml version is £9.99, so will go on the list as a buy again.
Tuesday 21st December
We have a repeating wine (the advent calendar gods must have realised that I enjoyed this one!)
Please see Wednesday 15th.
Wednesday 22nd December
Another repeat - but when it's Cabalié, I don't object.
See 1st December
Thursday 23rd December
More loony wine today as Aluado repeats. See 10th December.
Friday 24th December
And so the last door of the advent calendar - a half bottle of champagne nestled in the roof cavity.
Laithwaites say, "Over 170 years of experience have gone into the making of this ripe orange-scented toasted brioche Champagne. It's the work of 5th generation winemaker Julian Fourrier, whose father, Philippe, created this special cuvée in honour of his wife, Brigitte. Her maiden name was Delmotte. The grapes are a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay taken from vineyards first planted by Philippe and Brigitte. All the family's 18 hectares of vines lie within Champagne's little known Côte des Bar, described by Wine Folly as "the hottest Champagne region right now". Made traditionally, this fine fizz was aged four years on its lees to enhance its rich toasty flavour. "
We'll save this for New Years Eve...!