Christine Austin picks the best of the special wine deliveries that have taken over her hallway

Is that it? Here we are at the last Bank Holiday of the summer and whatever good weather we have had seems to have gone all too quickly.

The great advantage of the long summer break is that the main London tastings come to a halt while those in the wine trade who have holiday homes in Burgundy, Languedoc and Provence disappear into the sunshine until it all starts again in September. Sadly I am unencumbered by an idyllic sunshine holiday home but I do have family scattered to the four winds which means I have been travelling for several weeks and so have neglected the stack of boxes which has accumulated in my hallway.

These serviceable brown cardboard boxes containing bottles of wine provide endless amusement for the various delivery companies and postmen who knock on my door expecting to find me glass in hand and slurring my words at all hours of the day. They seem almost disappointed to find me sober.

As each one arrives, usually sent by a company in the hope of gaining some favourable comments, I am tantalised by the prospect of finding a real gem of a wine for a bargain basement price, but many times I am disappointed by unrealistic prices and less than interesting wines. Even so, they all get treated the same way. They are unpacked, logged and photographed and then I try to gather them together to form some kind of coherent tasting. Not all make it through the process, but here is my selection of the best of the boxes, plus a few more that I have discovered along the way.

 

The Wine Society has started to feature more regularly in this column, mainly because its wines are so good. Established back in 1874, it is a genuine society that you have to join, with a once-in-a-lifetime share purchase of £40 (www.thewinesociety.com). This gives you access to a fabulous range of wines by mail order or from their shop in Stevenage, and because it is a co-operative, The Wine Society tries really hard not to make a profit. Prices are keen, the quality is excellent, and the cost of your £40 share will soon be forgotten as you enjoy the wines. In fact, once you have gone to the great vineyard in the sky, your nearest and dearest can inherit your share and maybe they will raise a glass to you from time to time.

First out of the box was a trio of wines from the south of France, made by a serious team of winemakers who source grapes and wines from co-operatives across the Languedoc. Known as the Duo range, because they are a blend of two grape varieties, my pick is for Duo des Mers Sauvignon – Viognier (£6.25) for its crisp, zippy flavours with a hint of peachy background and Duo du Midi Malbec-Cabernet Franc (£6.25) for its warm raspberry fruit with a hint of pepper.

I also enjoyed The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine (£21) sourced from top producer Ridgeview. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, grown on the South Downs, then aged on its yeast lees in bottle, just like our French friends over the channel do, this has lively bubbles with clean, lemon and white blossom tones and a touch of toasty brioche. Definitely English and so very elegant.

Another wine retailer which is starting to creep into the column is The Grassington Wine Shop (01756 752468) which has a carefully chosen range at extremely competitive prices. They are the only local stockist of the light, fragrant, stone-fruit and spice Pazo das Bruxas Albariño from Rías Baixas (£12.50) made by the Torres family. Torres is such a well-known name on the wine shelves that its wines have almost become invisible but they provide terrific, on-the-mark flavours, not just from their base in Catalonia but from Rioja, Rías Baixas, Ribera del Duero and other regions around Spain. This summer I enjoyed a bottle of chilled Torres Viña Sol in sunshine (Waitrose, normally £7.65 down to £5.73 until 29 August) with a selection of prawns, fish and salads. Its straightforward flavours of green apples, citrus and minerals make this wine a beacon of taste and value.

With a touch more grip and complexity, Santa Tresa Grillo Viognier 2016 (House of Townend £9.99) is a wine made to organic standards on a blustery hillside in Sicily. The fresh, lively, citrus-charged Grillo grape is softened by peachy notes from Viognier, and together they make a food friendly partnership that will go with roast salmon or chicken.

In any collection of boxes there are always wines that I want to mention but because they are not stocked locally it is difficult to do so. Chapel Hill is one of these but I am so impressed by the wines I really hope that one of our excellent local wine retailers will stock some.

Chapel Hill is in McLaren Vale in South Australia, a region that balances warm sunny days with being close to the sea and so the fruit develops ripeness without losing its fresh flavours. I visited the property over 10 years ago and have been disappointed not to see them on Yorkshire merchant’s shelves, but quantities are small and demand is high. Earlier this year I was delighted to taste Chapel Hill Mourvèdre 2014 (around £20) when it was selected as one of Australia’s top 100 wines by Australian special wine writer Matthew Jukes. Certainly it shone out with floral aromas and dark plummy fruit, edged with spice, yet fresh in style and finish. This along with other Chapel Hill wines was in one of my summer boxes. The Bush Vine Grenache 2014 is predominately made from vines planted almost a century ago and while they are economical with the volume of grapes, they are more than generous with flavour. Dark raspberry fruit dominate the palate, layered with mulberries and spice, with a freshness and creamy note on the finish. This is a gorgeous wine that doesn’t show its 14.5% alcohol.

The Shiraz 2015 is powerful and deep-flavoured with plums and liquorice on the palate, while the Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 has structure, cassis depth and elegance. Try www.winedirect.co.uk, or ask for them at your local wine shop and hope they will get some in.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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