With Christmas around the corner, we welcomed an enthusiastic crowd at the Eastcott Community Centre for the Festive wine tasting. With fairy lights and mince pies at the ready, it was time to get the bubbles flowing.
1) Gratien and Meyer Cremant de Loire, £12.50, Tesco
Our welcome drink was a glass of bubbly; Gratien and Meyer Cremant de Loire.
Cremant is made in the same way as the pricier Champagne (using the traditional method of a second fermentation in the bottle), but doesn't come with its pretentious price tag.
This wine comes from the respected brand of Gratien and Meyer from Saumur. The company dates back to 1864 when Alfred Gratien founded the company in Saumur's cool caves. The company stayed in the family for over 150 years before being sold off to German company Heskell and Co in the early 2000s.
With a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir, this is a crisp dry glass of sparkling, with lovely bready notes.
2) The Pebble, Sauvignon Blanc, £9.50
Our first white wine of the evening was a sauvignon blanc, also from the Loire Valley. Further east from Saumur is the land of sauvignon blanc, and the prestigious Sancerre and Poully Fume appelations.
This wine is made by respected winery Fournier pere et fils, who make expensive wines under the Sancerre appelation. The Pebble, however, is labelled more generically as 'Val de Loire', so doesn't quite make the grade to be labelled Sancerre, but this of course makes it good value, despite sharing many of the great soils, climate and terrior of its high class sibling brands.
The wine is zingy and zesty, with less tropical fruit flavours than the New Zealand equivilents, but a flinty minerality from the unique soils of the region.
This would be great to pair with goats cheese at Christmas, and a contender to complement the turkey.
3) Cotes de Gascogne, Asda £6.75
Our next wine takes us to the south of France, where we find abundant sunshine and cooling atlantic breezes in the area south of Bordeaux and to the east of the Pyrenees mountains. Asda's extra special "Cotes de Gascogne" comes from producer Plaimont, which is a union of co-operative wine cellars, comprising over 800 winegrowing families across 5000 hectares of vines.
The wine is a blend of colombard, sauvignon blanc and gros mensang grapes, giving a light and drinkable white, with tropical fruit aromas onthe nose.
It provides great value at Christmas (especially with the 25% off any 6 bottles, a deal that is on until 13th December) and will pair with charcuterie, white meats and cheeses.
4) Cotes du Rhone Villages, Morrisons £8.50
You'll find plenty of Cotes du Rhone wine on the bottle shop / supermarket shelves, but if the word "villages" appears on the label then you'll know the quality has gone up a gear.
Wines have to meet more stringent criteria to be classed as a "villages" wine. In contrast to Côtes du Rhône wines without the Villages designation, grenache HAS to form at least 50% of the blend, the variety Marselan grape may not be used, and the proportion of accessory grapes is restricted to 20% rather than 30%.
This example from Morrisons comes from the Séguret village where there is 10th century architecture, steep slopes and around 8 square kilometres of vines. The vineyards are run by collectives and the varied altitude allows the grapes to ripen at different speeds, allowing flexibility in the well regarded wines.
This versatile wine is great with lasagne, steak and french cheeses.
5) The Wanted Zin, Morrisons £8.00
Our next wine has been described as "American strength with Italian elegance". From Orion Wines, a young Italian company, the wine is actually 100% primative grapes from Puglia (the heel of Italy).
The decision to call it by the American name of Zinfandel may be to appeal to a market who may find the word 'zinfandel' more familiar than 'primativo', but they have further americanised the wine by aging half the grapes in Americal Oak barriques for 8 months. This softens the tannins and lends more complexity to the juicy wine.
The low yielding vines are between 40-50 years old and the Puglian sunshine has allowed for strong alcohol content of 14.5%.
A punchy wine that will pair with tomato sauces, cheeses and stand up to spicy food.
6) Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Lidl, £8.99 for 500ml
We finished the evening off with the best match for a mince pie - the sickly sweet Pedro Xinenez sherry. It's been described as a 'sugar rush in a glass'!
From Jerez in Spain (the true home of sherry) comes a glass full of viscous, boozy raisins. The wine is made by taking ripe pedro xinenez grapes and leaving them in the hot sun to dry out. This concentrates the sugar, so that they can then be crushed into liquid form and fermented.
Sometimes the juice is fortified by adding grape spirit, or sometimes the wine is aged in a solera system.
Lidl currently have the bottles in their 'limited offers' section, but if you can't find it, Tesco also offer a bottle in their finest range (£7.25 for 37.5cl)
The Pebble sauvignon blanc was a popular choice, even winning over the fans of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Everyone agreed that the PX sherry was very Christmassy, and was described as "figs in a glass", "boozy raisins" and "a right sugar rush".
Many of the tasters were impressed with the value for money of the Cotes de Gascogne, but the Cotes du Rhone Villages was the disappointment of the night.
Look out for our next tasting events in 2024!