Summer wine tasting
The weather is starting to accommodate bar-b-ques, picnics and al fresco dining, so we gathered at Eastcott Community Centre to taste a range of summer sizzlers.
1) Bowler and Brolly Bacchus 2021, Aldi, £9.99
Some tasters had tried English sparkling wine but others were new to the concept of still wine from our shores.
The Bowler and Brolley range of English wine is Aldi's sub-brand. These wines are made for the supermarket by Lyme Bay Winery in Axminster, Devon. Lyme Bay has been operating for 30 years but sources the grapes from a variety of vineyard sites across the UK - the Bacchus come from several sites in Essex.
The Bacchus grape was "created" by crossing 3 other German grape varieties, but it got its own varietal recognition in 1972. In Germany, the grape is used largely to blend with other grapes in order to add more flavours, but here in the Uk it grows extremely well in our cooler climate and is therefore celebrated as a credible wine in its own right. Some say that it is England's signature grape, and it's the 3rd most planted grape in England, behind Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (grown mainly for the sparkling market).
The Bacchus is reminiscent of sauvignon blanc (the muted grassy style rather than the eye-watering zingy style of New Zealand) and some of the tasters agreed, one saying that it had aromas of cat pee. For many, this was a new favourite, the best of the night and several pledged to go to Aldi to stock up before they disappeared (as often happens with Aldi wines!)
2) Cono Sur - La Bicicleta Viognier, £6-£8 Tesco / Asda / Sainsburys / Morrisons
Our second white wine of the evening was from Chilean company Cono Sur. This is a winery that mass produces wine (you will find it widely in most supermarkets) but still retains an ethos of sustainability at its core.
Founded in 1993, the winery and vineyards have the Andes to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, glaciers to the south and a desert to the north. This provides a climate in which there are variant daily temperatures (grapes need sunny days but cool evenings), plus dry weather in the autumn when the grapes need to be harvested. The ice melting from the Andes provides pure irrigation for the vines, which they love!
Cono Sur received ISO 4001 certification back in 2002 and has an organic range. They claimed their deliveries were carbon neutral in 2007 and the "bicicleta" range is a nod to their workers using bicycles when they access the vineyards.
I chose viognier, as it is a grape that is less familiar for some, and a contract to the Bacchus. There is a fuller mouth feel and aromas and tastes of stone fruit and a touch of tropical fruit - all very summery. This went down well with many tasters, especially those who had been less enamoured with the Bacchus.
3) Exhibition Cotes de Provence Rosé, The Wine Society, £11.50
I try to use easily available wines to buy in shops in Swindon, but I couldn't resist showcasing a couple of examples from The Wine Society. I explained how the Society was a member organisation in which you pay a one-off lifetime membership (currently £40) and can then access their whole range of wines for life. There's no minimum spend or subscription - just order when you want.
The "exhibition range" is sourced from the finest growers and demonstrates a perfect example of what this wine should be. From Provence in the sun-drenched south of France, this wine is made by Chateau des Mesclances. The vineyard and winery are run by descendants of the original 16th-century farm. It now spreads over 110 acres and has a top-notch modern winery built into the hillside.
This rosé is made from the Consult grape and is the most delicate pink. There is normally a premium paid for the "Provence" name, so at £11.50, this is considered good value. It's a bright wine, with red fruits, and the older vines that are used in the production of this vintage add a sweet spice.
Our tasters found this pleasant, but not outstanding. "If I was given this at a bar-b-que, I'd be very pleased," complimented one guest.
4) Post Tree rosé, Arkells, £6.90
To contrast with the pale elegance of a Provence rosé I chose a South African pinotage rosé to demonstrate the more affordable end of the scale.
Swartland is 30 miles north of Cape Town. It's an undulating landscape nestled in the mountains and named after the Rhinoscerous Bush that turns the landscape black after rain. (Swartland means "Black land" in Africaans).
This wine is available from Arkell's Grape and Grain Warehouse at their Stratton brewery site and is a good value buy at £6.90. You can also buy it by the glass in many of their pubs.
"It's the best thing I've tasted from Arkells," chuckled one guest, "but that's not saying much!"
"If I bought this in a pub, I'd think it was OK but I probably wouldn't buy a second."
I think we'd spoiled them with the Provence!
5) Beachfront Pinot Noir, Aldi, £7.99
Our first red of the evening was declared "one of the best buys under £10" by Decanter magazine, and if it's good enough for Decanter, then it's good enough for my tasters.
This is a Pinot Noir from California, but Aldi has been very secretive about where it comes from and who made it.
Pinot Noir is a fickle grape to grow and tends to prefer cooler climates (like in England!) so it can be a challenge to grow in certain areas of California. However, this producer has nailed it, and Decanter goes as far as describing it as "surprisingly good".
Our wine tasters agreed, and there was plenty of love in the room for this Pinot Noir.
6) Wine Society, Portuguese Red Setubal, £6.25
We finished the evening off with another offering from The Wine Society. This is from an area south of Lisob, on the peninsula of Setubal, where breezes blow in from the Atlantic and cool down the vineyards.
The producer is Casa Emelinda Freitas, which was established in 1920 and has been handed down through a long line of dynamic women. Today, Leonor Freitas is the head of the company and employs female head winemakers.
Girl power is certainly working, as this wine was a success with the crowd, especially for its bargain price tag of £6.25. It's made from a blend of local grapes, with the addition of Alicante Bouchet to give it a darker fruit taste and a fleshy texture.
This wine demonstrates the ethos of the wine society. They source great wines from interesting producers without any of the snobberies that come with certain tiers of the wine world.
Look out for our next tasting events later in 2023!