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Week 45 – Merlot

We tasted: Filia de Grand Mayne, M&S, £23

Emma says: “And the big judgement commences. For once we have managed to strike gold and have a lovely bottle of St Emilion Grand Cru at home; a welcome break from scouring the shops for our weekly grape.”

It is also a rare thing, it is Andy’s wine. Normally wine collecting is my thing and he sticks firmly to hoarding a veritable mountain of spirits.

The wine we have is a “second wine” which is a relatively new thing in Bordeaux. It means a well known Chateau has selected out its best fruit for its top wine which you pay top dollar for. Then it produces a second wine with the fruit that don’t quite make its first selection. Normally you get great value for money from these wines since they have the first class winemaking of the top wine but cost a fraction of the price. And as Bordeaux Chateau prices have risen over recent decades many people have resorted to buying these second wines that don’t break your bank balance quite as seriously. Mind you they still all cost over £20 a bottle so either way they fall into my “special” wine territory.

Wines of the right bank are typically a bit more easy going than the Medoc (left bank) wines that are Cabernet dominant. The merlot fruit being dominant in the blend you can find that there is a rich berry fruit nose and supple easy going palate. Typically these wines are blended with a little Cabernet Franc to add a structural element plus a nice herbaceous character.

Our wine is from 2011 which means it has a decent bit of age. And I was pleased to find it really came through on the aroma. It has a lovely soft shoe leather character, along with tobacco and a sweet fragrant plummy character typical of Merlot. The vintage was quite cool and not one of the best but pleasingly this has given it a sweet herbal tinge in a pleasant way. To taste it was supple and silky in texture, in fact it felt beautifully smooth. It opened out in layers of flavour that started with cassis and plum fruit and developed to sweet licquorice, coffee bean, clove and that earthy mocha that comes with age. I’m so pleased that we got a wine that really shows that Merlot can be complex, it isn’t as structured as a Cabernet but that gives it an elegance and finesse that definitely elevates above an average wine.

Andy says: “I find it much easier to describe wines that are full of big, bold flavours. ‘It smells like an old, muddy boot, and tastes like the inside of the finest cherry pie you ever had.’

This wine though, is soft, delicate and refined. I don’t have the palate nor the food tasting experience to discern anything helpful. If pushed, I would say dark fruits, like cherry. On the nose there is a soft leather aroma, and the tannins are soft and supple, giving a light grip that lessens with a long finish.

I suspect this wine is much better than I am able to tell.”

Buying Guide

Poor Merlot got a bad reputation after the iconic wine film “Sideways” put it down. It is a soft fleshy grape which means it can make simple wines without massive structure. But you can’t forget that some of the most expensive wines in the world in Bordeaux (St Emlion/Pomerol) are made mostly from this grape. So this week we are heading right to its heartland of Bordeaux to seek out one of those and see if we can put it to the test.

Week 44 – Vermentino

We tasted: Nord Est Vermentino 2016, Majestic, £9.99

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I was feeling a little off last night so apologies if this note is short. Maybe you’ll have to trust Andy’s note as the true evaluation of our grape this week.

It was a shame since I’m a big fan of Vermentino and was especially pleased when we found on of my favourite producers at the local Majestic.

For my brief taste of the Vermentino I was reminded exactly why this is one of my favourite lesser known whites. The aroma was bright and glistening with delicate herbal notes sitting alongside grapefruit and a touch of kumquat, plus this burst of sea salt that I always find with the Sardinian versions of this wine. To taste that saline quality was really at the fore, then the fruit started to come through as peaches and melon with some really attractive herbal dimensions like bay leaf, fennel and a touch of aniseed which is a typical character of this style. There was a little weight and texture which can often happen with Vermentino but it was nicely balanced by fresh acidity. Altogether this is a wine I’d like to stock up with as a weekday white; once I feel better of course.

And to note I think that the Sardinian versions particularly fit this description from my previous experience. Andy thought that the wine tasted slightly like Viognier and he is right. It has the same problem as that grape that it can become weighty and overly tropical in fruit if grown in warm climates. I sometimes find that in versions coming from Tuscany or the Languedoc in France. The island breezes in Sardinia allow the grape to ripen to just the right point and therefore deliver for me the most elegant styles.”

Andy says: “Possibly the first time I’ve understood what Emma means when she describes something as herbal.

Unfortunately I can’t really offer a better descriptor or description. If you’ve ever been to Prague, you’ve probably been forced to try Becherovka, and most likely picked up a bottle and abandoned it, unopened, at the back of your drinks cabinet. Well if you can remember that taste, and dilute it to homeopathic levels, that’s kind of it. For me, anyway. Genepi would work too.

Straight out of the fridge, this was crisp and refreshing, with a nice rounded acidity that kept you interested but picked up on the social cues and didn’t hang around and make things awkward. There was an illusion of some residual CO2, but it was probably the prickle of the acid. It was a bit like the Furmint from a few weeks ago, but with life injected.

Taste wise, I have to default to the standard ‘citrussy limes’, but as the glass warmed it became more violet, reminding me of week two’s Viognier, which I was not a fan of, and I liked this less the warmer it got. So, I need to drink faster, as when chilled this was very nice indeed.”

Buying Guide

Vermentino is a lovely vibrant grape with a herbal floral aroma and often a rich fruit driven palate. It is most commonly found in the South France, Languedoc or coastal Tuscany. But its best homeland might be Sardinia, where the cool coastal breezes add a fresh lift to the wine. We will be seeking out one from there.


Crisp and refreshing, nice acidity, illusion of bubble, like the furmint but with some more life. Citrussy limes

Went violet-y later on, bit like viognier, less good as it warmed up

Week 43 – Tannat

We tasted: Pisano Tannat, M&S, £10

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Today kicked off with a full morning of judging Albarino wines from Spain and Portugal. Then into an afternoon of mulling over Beaujolais samples. Finished off by approving a few Champagne blends. Yes, this is the type of day all my friends tell me is my job. However the honest truth right now, is that I spend a disproportionately higher time updating spreadsheets.

If you are jealous thinking of how I’ve spent today then I can tell you by 11am my teeth were starting to sharpen with the gradual build up of Albarino acidity. By lunch time my senses were so confused I couldn’t decide if I was hungry and felt a little giddy. I promise you that even the most hardened wine taster finds a day of tasting a bit of a mountain to climb. The traditional way to refresh the senses is a cold beer or G&T. Sadly they aren’t included in 52 Grapes so I had to settle for a big bold red in the form of Tannat.

Tannat is a grape I have tasted most from its adopted country of Uruguay. I visited three years ago and fell in love with the country which has beautiful pasture land scenery and coastal sweeps of sparkling sand. The landscape is far more lush than the desert scape of Mendoza which brings to the wines a fresher lighter style. Its winemaking history is as long as Argentina but it hasn’t become quite as famous. And like Argentina the original birthplace of its famous grape is France; but for Tannat it is the region of Madiran. I met and tasted a large array of producers there but one of my favourites was the Pisano family whose wine we are tasting tonight. The large family of Italian brothers showed us around their winery which has a wonderful rustic charm, including tasting cellar filled with empty bottles of wines from around the world the brothers have consumed together. They are so passionate about their wine I regularly get an email to check in to see how they are doing and offer help even though they are the other side of the world. And I have really felt you can taste that passion in their wine.

They had a challenge with me tonight, my senses were tired and a big heavy red is not the natural cure for that. But I was pleased to see it had that charm I expected. The fruit is dark and brooding at first but starts to open out to fragrant red berry fruit. There is a decent note of milk chocolate on the aroma and taste which comes from a tasty hit of oak but the luscious plum and cherry fruit soak it up well. This is a full bodied red with rich tannin but the skill of their winemaking shows through in how smooth it feels, leaving the fruit tasting succulent without any raw grip on the finish. The moderating influence of rain in this country has also left a freshness that comes through as a menthol twist at the end. There is also a savoury edge to Tannat which I like and sets it apart from Malbec but I think this is a wine that would have definite appeal to people who are stuck drinking that wine and looking for a new adventure.

PS other producers to look out for in Uruguay are: Bouza, Garzon, Juanico, Pizzorno.”

Andy says: “Having researched this grape for the newsletter, I was looking forward to checking that the tannins in a Uruguayan version are soft.

I’m happy to confirm that they are – and I’d opt for ‘velvetty’, from my secret tannin descriptor site. After opening and smelling, I was a little hesitant as the wine smelt a bit farmyardy and possibly a touch closed, and the first taste wasn’t that great. But, as has often happened in the last few months, after a few minutes in the glass it greatly improved.

But, it didn’t improve enough to blow me away. I’ve learnt over the year that I like smokey, silky, reds like Rioja. So whilst I will have no trouble finishing the bottle, and to be honest I’ll have not trouble drinking more in the future, it won’t be at the top of my list.”

Buying Guide

Tannat is a kindred spirits of Malbec given it heralds from France (in Madiran region) but has travelled to South American and found its true home in Uruguay. If you can find a version from France or Urguauy it will be good enough. However we are going to try a Urugyuan version to taste it in its newest form.

Week 42 – Furmint

We tasted: 2016 Furmint ‘F’, Tornai (Nagy-Somloi, Hungary) 12.5% Vol £11.95 Vinoteca

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “I was surprised that the search for Furmint wasn’t that hard, but maybe that is in contrast to the Marsanne mission last week. Oh I miss the heady weeks of tasting Merlot. I’m lucky to have a gorgeous wine bar/come shop near the office called Vinoteca and found a Furmint there. Served to me by a very excited Hungarian who was pleased I was specifically looking for a wine from her native country.

I’ve tasted a few dry Tokajs in my time. That is the term often used in Hungary to indicate it is the Furmint grape used to make a dry wine rather than their more famous sweet version. It can be blended with a bit of other local grapes like Harsevelu too. And I have found that some producers tend to oak it quite a bit which gives it a more rich and spicy character.

The thing about Furmint as a grape is that it has massive acidity and not a great deal of fruit flavour. I am a faithful acid junkie but even Furmint has challenged me in the past. I’m interested to see what Andy makes of it.

Onto the wine in question. I was really pleased by the aroma, it had a nice marzipan character overlaying quince paste and a salty sea air note. But to taste it was totally different, the acidity hit me like a slap on the face and after that I really didn’t get much in the way of fruit. A bit of green apple, but then more salinity and a firm mineral bite, I can only describe it as licking wet stones. If I had to compare it to another wine it would be Chablis but it makes that style of wine positively fruity in comparison. It also makes me think of the wines we taste just as they have finished ferment in our post harvest visits, at that point they are full of nervy acidity and are difficult to taste and I’m sad to say that was how I felt tonight too. Perhaps it would be interesting to give it more time to age since that would soften out the acidity a bit more and that often allows some other interesting flavour dimensions to come through.

We had it with a leek and gorgonzola risotto which I would have thought is a top food match; creamy so the acidity is balanced out and without bold flavours that would overshadow the wine. It did work relatively well but the wine is so delicate in flavour even that type of meal did overshadow it a bit.”

Andy says: “Having just read Emma’s notes, I need to make a small modification to mine. I too [like to think I] am an ‘acid junkie’, but I didn’t get acid here. Maybe it was all the cheese I ate while cooking.

I found this wine to be quite dull. It was very dry, and there was no real flavour of any description, I can’t even describe it as ‘wine-y’. It was like it was flat and needed some fizz – in the same way that flat Coke tastes nothing like Coke. It needed some life in it. It did become a little more flavoursome as it warmed up, but it was nothing to write home about.

I’ve had the sweet version of this grape, and that’s winning.”

Buying Guide

Furmint is a Hungarian white grape that is most typically used as one of the grapes to make their famous sweet wine Tokaji. It may be difficult to find a dry Furmint so if you have trouble then any Tokaji would be a nice experience as the first sweet wine for our year of grape adventures.

Week 41 – Pinotage

Tasting Notes

We tasted: Houdamond Pinotage, £13, M&S

Emma says: I entered this week’s grape tasting with a determination to keep an open mind. Often people ask me what my favourite grape or wine is, few ask if there is a grape that I really can’t stand. I’m afraid to say that previous experience has told me that Pinotage is the only one. However the lovely people I work with who (some feel the same way) have told me that Houdamond Pinotage will be the wine to convert me. So here we go…

The reason I’m not a great fan of this wine is likely to be that I’m super sensitive to an aroma and flavour that is quite often found in South African wines. Some call it burnt rubber but I find it a bit of a dungy stink and ashy taste. If you don’t detect the same in your tasting then feel lucky, each of us have differing sensory perceptions and can be sensitive to certain things. It seems I’m particularly alert to these characters.

Onto the wine in question. The first aroma was a dark, brooding prune with a molasses richness which was quite attractive, it was followed by a bit of boot polish which I don’t mind and then that very distinct earthy dung note, but not too bad. So a good start. To taste it was nicely supple, with fluid tannins and a blueberry , plum flavour with that caramel sweetness and a strong coffee note. But then after about a second or two I felt that earthy, burnt rubber and bitter character, plus a raw alcohol burn start to emerge and that was it for me.  I struggled to finish the glass which Andy can attest is a very rare thing.

Sorry South Africa since I know this is your trademark grape. I hope Andy feels differently.”

Andy says: “I didn’t have too much time to taste this wine as I was busy fighting with a blocked dishwasher drain. It won, but there will be a return battle tonight, when I will be armed with a drain snake.

I actually don’t mind it and don’t detect the rubber that Emma does. The first thing I did say was that there was quite a rough alcohol burn. To describe that further, it’s that harsh feeling you can get from a really cheap whiskey, compared to a more expensive one which will be smoother.

Taste wise, I’m still not getting all those fruits, but I did find it quite pleasant, almost blackcurrant-y, and quite easy to drink.”

Buying Guide

Pinotage is the red grape that has come to define South Africa. Its parents are a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault but it really tastes nothing like either of those grapes. The search this week should be quite easy since most big shops stock a Pinotage if they have South African wines.

Week 40 – Marsanne

We tasted: Tahbilk Marsanne 2010, Fortnum & Mason, £16.50

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Here I am, just home from a work night out and feeling like a large glass of water to dilute the results. Sadly this isn’t going to be the case, 52 Grapes must take priority, especially since this week I had to go to a special effort to search out this rare grape from a shop in London.

I’ve only tasted this wine a few times in my life and it is certainly distinct. If you’ve tasted a mature Semillon from Australia the experience is similar. Andy thought it was oaked and I know exactly why. The ageing characters that come from this grape give a distinct smoky, spicy and candle wax character that is similar to the aromas you get when a wine is oaked.  So much so, that I decided to google the wine to make sure I was correct and it really didn’t have oak. I think Andy still thought I was fibbing.

In total the experience of tasting this wine really lived up to expectations.  It has a brilliant vibrancy of fruit, tropical in character with lime, pineapple aromas along with that waxy and smokey note. Then to taste it has more of the zesty lime, a bit of mango and papaya along with a creamy richness and that similar waxy overtone. It feels like a dry Riesling that isn’t as pithy or acidic and more soft in tropical fruit but with equal dimension. It makes me wish more people would have a play with Marsanne, it is a grape with real character that is overlooked and would add more interest to the wine world. And what an age worthy grape, given it has eight years of age, this wine is still showing real vibrancy of fruit that is really impressive.”

Andy says: “My initial reaction was, ‘Well, that’s got some oak on it’. How wrong I was.

This example is their ‘Museum Release’, which means the wine is held back until it begins to age, and the wine becomes richer and rounder. The results of the ageing can fool an amateur taster like myself that the wine had sat in some oak.

Emma came home and I said ‘It’s very oaky’. She had one sip, ‘Hmmm, no I think it’s age’. It was quite annoying, but hopefully it was prior knowledge of the grape/winery and not some sort of super hero skill.

Taste wise, I was a little disappointed at first as there wasn’t much going on. It was just flat and dull, and very linear, no peaks or troughs at all. But, it was fresh out the fridge, and once it had warmed a little it opened up and I could get the spicy honeysuckle notes that the tasting notes say you should. Slightly oily in texture, and quite dry too. It could do with a bit more zing for me, but a very nice wine all in all, and good test for a noob.”

Buying Guide

Marsanne is a grape that heralds from the Rhone region of France. In the Northern Rhone it takes centre stage party blended with Roussanne; look out for St Joseph or Hermitage whites for this style, be warned they are pricey. For this reason we will seek out a producer in Australia known for this this grape, Tahbilk. They make a 100% Marsanne that will give us the best chance to really taste its character.

Week 39 – Arneis

Ascheri Langhe Arneis

Emma says: “Shuffle over Gavi, this little grape is the northern Italian white that really deserves the spotlight. It has that bone dry crisp and refreshing style that fans of Pinot Grigio love but so much more in flavour. 

As I wrote in my page on this grape it’s also a favourite with locals. And I love the fact its name means “little rascal”

This version from Ascheri is a perfect example. Slightly honeysuckle floral on the nose, but it really comes alive on the palate, pear compote and cream flavours but that fresh acidity to balance that makes the mouth water. I don’t think you’d find many other examples better than this. 

For more ideas on other grapes to try or food matches check out the Arneis page I’ve written. But my perfect food match for this wine would be a lovely chicken breast casserole in a creamy sauce, the peachy flavours of the wine would combine nicely and the fresh acidity could cut through the sauce.”

Andy says: “Disclaimer: I tasted this after eating some home made garlic bread, so not ideal palate preparation.

I quite liked this wine, it was clean and crisp, but to be honest I don’t have much more to say, it’s just a bit ‘white wine-y’. It’s definitely fruity, but I’m not really getting any of the ‘classic’ apple and peachy notes that I’m supposed to. Garlic, yes, apple, no. Would I drink it again? Yeah, it’s not offensive in any way, just a bit middle of the road.”

Week 38 – Negroamaro

We tasted: Domodo Negroamaro 2017, Majestic, £9.99

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Negroamaro is one of the lesser known reds of Italy. It comes from the Southern area of Apulia where it can get very hot so you have to expect a rich red, potentially with a bit of that raisin richness that comes from ultra ripeness. I’m not naturally a fan of big reds so I haven’t been expecting much this week. But I am hoping we get a real taste of these unique grapes that make Italy such an interesting country to explore for wine.

First the colour of my wine is ultra dark, almost opaque which often happens with warm climate reds because the anthocyanin that come from the skins accumulate a bit more with warm climate grapes. I can also see those strong tears that come onto the side of the glass, also a common feature with sugar ripe grapes made into wine.

The aroma matches my first impression, the fruit is rich and baked, lots of prunes, raisins and liquorice notes. To taste it is fleshy, with that ripe fruit profile, mixed with molasses and mediterranean herbs like oregano and tarragon. There is a fair bit of tannin giving it a grip that is typical of Italian reds, but it is also quite quaffable because the alcohol is surprisingly low at 12%.

I’m not quite sure how they managed that with all these ripe fruit flavours, I suspect some winemaker wizardry has gone on. I don’t think this is going to be the Negroamaro that converts me but it was certainly inoffensive and I’d be happy to serve it to friends at a party.

Andy says: “Fairly lame post from me this week, as once again I had very little time to actually taste this wine.

I don’t get any of the flavours Emma mentions, but she is quite a bit posher than me so we’ll put it down to that. As she said, it is an inoffensive drinkable red, and something I’d expect to be given in an average Italian as a their house wine.

Hopefully I’ll get to taste it again and add some more to this.”

Buying Guide

Negroamaro is a black grape from the south of Italy, especially the region Puglia and Salento. We will be looking for a 100% grape blend from these areas. Some large supermarkets do stock this grape but you may need to look in specialist stores.

Week 37 – Grillo

We tasted: 2017 Grillo Sicilia, Rupe Secca, £8.45, Haynes Hanson & Clark

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Our grape buying quest has taken us far and wide but this week was a special pleasure. Whilst in the Cotswolds for a wedding we popped by a high street in a pretty town called Stow on Wold. As we walked past at least a dozen tea shops, this beautiful wine shop Haynes Hanson & Clarke emerged like a mirage.

One of those traditional shops with wooden crates everywhere and bottles that all look shiny and new. This was also a lovely coincidence because a great friend Siobhan who I studied the MW with is their buying director but I had entirely forgotten they had a countryside off shoot to their London shop. If I’m honest, when we stepped into the shop I wasn’t holding much hope for an unusual wine like Grillo to be on their shelves, yet within their select Italian wine range it certainly was. So this glass sitting before me right now feels a little fateful. I hope it lives up to that.

Grillo is a special grape for me because soon after I passed the MW I was asked to do a talk on this very grape in Sicily, to an audience of food and wine critics. That daunting feat was made worse by the fact that just before I was due on stage, I was introduced to Sicily’s very own Grillo specialist, and told they would be in the audience. Fortunately I managed to fumble my way through the talk, partially by asking the said specialist to tell us everything he knew, and he seemed delighted. As a result, I’m happy to say I know more than the average person about this lovely grape.

We mentioned in our notes that it is a cross between two other local grapes and I think this is what gives it the diverse character. It has this lovely honeysuckle, floral aroma but with a rich tropical core of fruit that has a touch of spice making it feel exotic in style. I would say this is the perfect grape for someone who typically likes whites with a bit of richness and body like Chardonnay or Viognier.

But onto this particular Grillo which is happily one I’ve never tried before. It shows the grape brilliantly. The aroma is bright, perfumed with a veritable fruit salad array of characters. The palate is just as fruity but not in a confected or syrupy way so that it feels fresh and not heavy to taste. There is just the perfect amount of acidity to the wine that holds these flavours up and keeps the palate zingy. Altogether a very satisfying experience because I really feel we’ve experience Grillo as it should be. I hope whichever wine everyone else manages to taste is as good as this.

Andy says: “It’s been a hectic week of socialising for me this week, and to be honest, I only had a couple of mouthfuls of this while I popped home to get changed before going to the residents’ AGM. Yes, it was as exciting as it sounds.

I would say that it had a lovely fruity aroma and was beautifully clean and crisp on the palate, with a perfect balance between the zingy acidity and fruity flavours. It really did go down very easily, and is perhaps one of my favourite whites so far.”

Buying Guide

Grillo is a Sicilian grape that is becoming increasingly popular. It has the richness & fragrance of Chardonnay with a slightly spicy character. So check out the Italian section of the local shop and look for Grillo on the label.

Week 36 – Verdejo

We tasted: Beronia Rueda Verdejo, £8.99, Waitrose

Tasting Notes

Emma says:”I really wanted to find a 2017 vintage Verdejo this week because I have always seen this as a grape that needs to be youthful to show well.

After a lot of searching I found one from a respected producer, Beronia, that was 2016. I felt that was a good enough guarantee that it would be a decent example. Beronia is best known as a traditional Rioja producer, but they must be branching out into this neighbouring region of Reuda where this wine comes from.

I wasn’t expecting much from Verdejo week because wines I’ve tasted from this grape are often quaffable but equally forgettable and even sometimes dilute. When I tried to memorise the grape for my tasting exams I always thought it was somewhere between a Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio but nothing distinct in itself.
Fortunately buying a wine from Beronia was a good bet because I was nicely surprised by the experience. The age gave the aroma a sage leaf, soft herbal character contrasted by honeysuckle and lime blossom, a bit like an aged Riesling. Then to taste it became almost tropical, with mild pineapple fruit punch flavours, and a limey tang. I also got a bit of slate-y minerality that gave it dimension. These flavours lasted quite well which also impressed me. Ultimately it was a lovely citrus driven, thirst quenching wine with a bit more oomph than I normally get from Verdejo.”

Andy says: “I’m noticing a pattern in that I struggle to describe the whites. Reds seem easier, I guess they have more flavourful characteristics.

This one, again, I’m going to say tastes winey, but not as winey as others. That’s not very helpful as I still haven’t worked out what that winey taste is. It’s also limey sour, dry, and a bit oily. I preferred this one crisp and cold fresh from the fridge, it got more sour as it warmed up. I did at one point think I got a taste of almond, but that really is about as far as it goes with this one. ”

Buying Guide

Verdejo is a lesser known white grape from Spain. We will be seeking out one from the region Reuda where this grape has become increasingly popular in recent years.