2019 has been a bad year for wine retail. First, Oddbins fell back into administration in February. And then yesterday it was announced Majestic is closing a lot of stores and rebranding as Naked Wines. I’m a passionate believer in the online world, but it does best when it complements brick and mortar shopping rather than replaces it altogether.
My big fear is for smaller independents. I’ve not seen Naked’s balance sheets, but it sounds like Naked Wines has been supplementing the loss-making physical Majestic Stores. How well do the independents fare - especially in London - without comparable online presence?
I was in Leeds where they have an excellent local wine shop called Latitude. Yorkshire is also home to one of the UK’s most northerly vineyards: Leventhorpe.
Leventhorpe is run by husband and wife duo Janet & George Bowden. George bought the vineyard in the 1980s at a fiercely-contested farmers’ auction. 34 years later, Leventhorpe is a renowned English vineyard. George is a huge fan of the old world, and aims to make his wines in a similar style. His whites are stronger than his reds and his Madeleine Angevine is well worth checking out. But most of all George is an incredible passionate storyteller: if you are ever in the area, drop in and say hello.
This week in Taste, we’ve got a merchant special: O.W. Loeb is a specialist in Burgundy, the Rhone and Germany, which might just be three of my favourite wine regions.
Castello Romitorio's Chianti Colli Senesi is an immediate winner. Soft leather, surprisingly soft and balanced tannins, with plenty of juiciness on the palate. Black forest fruits, and a warming peppery spice make this a tick tick tick. You can get it from O. W. Loeb in London or online from Honest Grapes for £16.50.
We opened a bottle of Domaine de la Croix Senaillet on Valentine’s Day last year and it felt like the perfect treat. Something almost strawberry-esque on the nose: sweet stone fruits for sure with lemon rind and a slight sourdough background to it. The palate is incredibly pronounced but still diverse. Really very good display. £17.50 from Vinvo, or from O. W. Loeb wine merchants.
Domaine de Fontbonau 2012 from the Côtes du Rhône is a winner from the south of France. This has a luscious deep crimson colour. On the nose it was barnyardy and meaty, with chocolate and biscuits coming through on the palate. The tannins were really pleasurable and built into a lovely structured nice finish. Really elegant Rhône red. From O. W. Loeb.
My final highlight was the Thibault Liger-Belair aligoté, again from Burgundy. Aligoté as I’ve written before is one of my favourite grapes for affordable wines. This is fresh and mineral like the best aligoté but it’s far more aromatic than most, which with the acidic structure gives it a long finish.
What can you learn from the colour of red wine?
The look of a wine is first sign you have to start considering what the wine is about. Here are a handful of general indications, as with everything in wine, there are exceptions to these rules.
Red wine runs from ‘purple’ - 'ruby’ - 'red’ (Wine Folly has a chart). If there’s a hint of blue, then it’s purple, a hint of violet, then it’s ruby, and if it’s just red, it’s red.
The bluer the wine, the lower the acidity. The redder the wine, the higher the acidity.
When there is hints of brown in the wine, we call it garnet, which is typical as wines start to age. Really old wines will eventually just turn brown.
The final thing to look for is the intensity of the colour. Different grapes will produce wines of different intensity. Gamay (from Beaujolais), and pinot noir are both typically low intensity wines, while syrah and cabernet sauvignon are typically high intensity wines. Tannins also help to make more intense, deeper wines.
The most important thing though is whether you find it enjoyable to look at. Psychologically, first impressions are important, and your first impression of the glass is going to impact what you think of it.