By Katie McEwan, Manager of Majestic Wine Chiswick
“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck” – Eli Walloch, veteran American actor.
“The sweetest of sounds is praise” – Xenophon, Sage of Ancient Greece.
We’re with Xenophon on this one. Why? Well, we don’t like to boast, but a number of our wines have received highly-prized Regional Awards from Decanter World Wine Awards. The regional award winners are determined by re-tasting all gold medal winners against each other to find the very best of each region, the crème de la crème if you like. So that’s quite an achievement! Others have won gold medals at the International Wine Challenge – the Olympics of the wine world – which conducts triple-checked blind tastings of more than 10,000 entries.
So whether you deserve a reward in the coming weeks for having survived the school holidays, or a consolation prize for missing out on Olympic tickets, here’s the inside track on the very best as judged by those in the know. I hope you try them, and then tell us whether the professionals got it right. Of course, yours is the only opinion that really counts!
A special wine mention must go to the International Trophy Winners:
Best Sauvignon Blanc under £10
Waimea Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Nelson
£9.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Nelson, to the west of better known Marlborough region.
Style & Characteristics: Blends Old World techniques with pioneering new methods to outstanding effect. Here gooseberry and floral notes lead to a clean, mineral finish.
Majestic tip: Excellent choice for white fish – ideally spiked with dill, tarragon or fennel.
Best Sauvignon Blanc over £10
Region: Awatere Valley, south-east of Blenheim (where the vines are harvested slightly later)
Style & Characteristics: The grapes are harvested at night to retain flavour and freshness, enhancing the wine’s acidity.
Majestic tip: Genuinely stands out from its similarly priced counterparts. A joy to drink alone or with scallops and pancetta, and good company.
Best Chardonnay under £10
Mâcon-Villages Blanc ‘Les Pierres Blanches’ 2010, Cave de Lugny
£7.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Situated in the heart of the Mâconnais, Cave de Lugny produces white Burgundy that’s fantastic value.
Style & Characteristics: Fresh and appley, citrus undertones highlight classic mineral streaks typical of this region.
Majestic tip: Delicious with hot smoked salmon blinis and the last of the autumn sun.
Best South African Red Bordeaux Varietal under £10
KC Cabernet Merlot 2008, Klein Constantia, Coastal Region
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Fruit sourced from various vineyards across Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Style & Characteristics: Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc)
My tip: Wheel out the BBQ for its autumnal valediction and enjoy with your best smoky sticky sausages – you won’t regret it, even if it rains!
Best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc over £10
Domaine Les Yeuses ‘Les Epices’ Syrah 2009, PGI Pays d’Oc
£8.99 or £7.49 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Near Meze in the Languedoc region.
Style & Characteristics: Mouthwatering dark plum and blackberry lead to a warming, spicy finish which goes on and on.
My tip: Renowned for outstanding quality. It will rise to your Sunday roast, even if your Yorkshire puddings fail to do so.
Region: Heart of the Wairau Valley.
Style & Characteristics: Grown only in small quantities, this exemplifies the Kiwi Rieslings which are taking the world by storm. Lively pears and limes pulled together with cleansing acidity.
My tip: Produced exclusively for Majestic, it is delicious on its own, and even better with Thai curried King prawns.
Region: The beautiful pueblo of Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Style & Characteristics: Bone-dry and absolutely clean on the palate. Its tangy saltiness has to be drunk to be understood and could forever change your view of sherry.
My tip: Truly comes into its own with food. Try it with clams cooked in tomatoes and white beans.
Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Constantia
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Near Cape Town, the oldest wine estate in South Africa.
Style & Characteristics: Zesty and fresh with lively grapefruit and citrus fruit characters and a distinct mineral finish.
My tip: There are a number of theories surrounding the origin of the name Constantia however the most likely is that it is derived from Latin meaning constancy or steadfastness.
Region: Apalta, in the fashionable Colchagua area, where quality vine growing comes naturally.
Style & Characteristics: …so naturally in fact, that quality focussed producers such as Carmen actively seek poorer soil conditions to achieve greater vine stress and therefore, purity of fruit. Here rich dark flavours lead to a smoky, earthy core.
My tip: A real Saturday night treat with rare steak and chips.
Rioja Reserva 2000/01, Viña Ardanza, La Rioja Alta
£22.00 or £17.59 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: The highest of them all, La Rioja Alta.
Style & Characteristics: Classic Riojan blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha creates a full-bodied wonder which also shows elegance and layer after layer of the delights Rioja lovers hope to uncover from the very best – prunes, cinnamon, dried rose petal, cigar box and earthy leather.
My tip: Beautiful to look at but hard to keep in your glass! Enjoy this (and you really will!) with a slow cooked leg of lamb spiked with anchovies, rosemary and thyme, served on a pile of buttery mashed potato.
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008/09, Marlborough
£13.49 or £11.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Fruit selected from the best sites in Wairau and Awatere Valleys.
Style & Characteristics: Carefully integrated with oak for a Pinot Noir slightly more restrained than usual. Lots of jammy strawberries and tinned raspberries make way for a long, clean finish.
My tip: Great with medallions of pork and mustard and basil sauce.
Region: North west of the Napa Valley.
Style & Characteristics: The eruption of Mt St Helena has left the ground where these vines grow deficient in nutrients and water – the resultant vine stress leads to exceptionally high-quality fruit. Clean citrus flavours are underpinned with a creamy richness reminiscent of great Meursault.
My tip: Think lemon meringue pie in a glass, only better.
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2009/10, Mount Difficulty, Central Otago
£18.99 or £14.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Bannockburn in Central Otago.
Style & Characteristics: Boutique winery internationally recognised as one of the few areas in the world where the demanding Pinot Noir variety has found a home outside Burgundy. Young, charming and perfectly made.
My tip: If this were a tennis player it’d be called Roaring Nadal!
Region: Tokaj, slightly north and east of Budapest, close to the Ukrainian border.
Style & Characteristics: Topaz in colour; honeysuckle and beeswax on the nose; caramel and sweet peaches on the palate.
My tip: In love with this wine since my first taste, I’m in good company: it has previously won the hearts of everyone from Bram Stoker to Beethoven! This is the dessert wine par excellence for wine lovers everywhere, but is outstanding also with foie gras on brioche or salty blue cheese. Let your love affair begin…
Vin de Constance 2005, Klein Constantia, Constantia
£30.00 or £24.00 when you buy 2 bottles
Region: Western Cape (originally in the late 1660s)
Style & Characteristics: Hand harvested shrivelled grapes. Burnt orange in colour and exhibiting fresh floral aromas on the nose, the palate is exotically confected and balanced with a bitter orange finish.
My tip: Celebrated in the literature of Austen, Baudelaire and Dickens, it certainly takes my breath away! Let this wine be the star of the dessert course and serve it with your best vanilla ice cream.
Veuve Clicquot 2002
Region: Where else?
Style & Characteristics: Classic vintage expression of the house style, as powerful as you would expect from this brilliant producer. Richness balanced throughout with finesse and delicacy.
My tip: Celebrate you next day off with in season oysters and Clicquot ’02. You deserve it, after all!
For the definitive list of International Wine Challenge medal winners, please see here where all our wines with Bronze, Silver and Gold medals are indicated.
Prices valid until 31 October 2011.