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Neil Sowerby’s Wine Picks: November 2014

Sparklers, steak wines and looking ahead to Christmas

Written by . Published on November 13th 2014.

Neil Sowerby’s Wine Picks: November 2014

CHRISTMAS is coming with all its pressures. Spare a thought for those underperforming supermarket giants losing trade to their bargain basement rivals. But shed no tears, expect some wine bargains in coming weeks.

'Kaiken is the Mapuche Indian name for a wild Patagonian goose that can be found on both sides of the Andes and that frequently flies from one side of the mountains to the other'

Take Tesco, still reeling from a bad press. Are they going to win friends with a special offer on a mainstream Prosecco? Piccini Prosecco DOC is available from Tesco Wine By The Case at £15 per bottle, but from November 17 until just after Christmas it is reduced to £7.49.

The Tuscany-based Piccini family have sourced grapes from the traditional Prosecco area around Treviso in North East Italy. The grapes were selected from vineyards in the province of Treviso and is a smooth citrussy, gentle sparkler that will be perfect for parties. The ‘special offer’ price is its true value – never the £15.

These days Cava is the better alternative to cheap Champagne. You just have to pay a bit more than the supermarket own labels. At the top-end, there is real quality. I was at a Cava tasting at London’s Canary Wharf recently – the venue, Iberica, who will be opening in Spinningfields next year.

Gramona-Imperial-Gran-Reserva-Brut-Cava-Catalonia-Spain-10000662Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva Brut 2007, from family ambassadors for fine Cava for five generations, was absolutely terrific, worthy of recent Golds and Silver in international competitions. This blend of Xarello and Chardonnay was aged a year in French oak, then a further 30 months in bottle. Lemony in colour, its aroma is of apples, bananas, figs a touch of toast, while on the palate it is a thrilling mix of citrus and acidity with a long-lasting mousse. Berry Bros & Rudd stock the 2008 vintage at £20. Worth buying a case. At that price it knocks spots off many a Champagne.

Cool climate vineyards are increasingly the key to the best New World Wines. Evidence came from two recent restaurant tastings – of Argentina’s Kaiken and South Africa’s Creation ranges.

Both wineries were created in 2002, Kaiken by Chile’s foremost family-run winery Montes, seeking a new terroir across the Andes in Argentina’s Mendoza region, the focus very much on Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Suitably Kaiken is the Mapuche Indian name for a wild Patagonian goose that can be found on both sides of the Andes and that frequently flies from one side of the mountains to the other.

Kaiken VineyardsKaiken vineyards, where the wild geese roam

In 2007 they acquired a 1920s-built winery in the sub-region Vistalba and 50 per cent of their grapes come from their three vineyards with contrasting soils – Vistalba, Agreles and Vistaflora. Aurelio Montes (main picture), son of the founder, is in charge of the winemaking in Argentina.

Over lunch at the at the award-winning Sticky Walnut restaurant in Chester he introduced the wines blended to make their Ultra range – Cabernet, Malbec and an astonishingly elegant Chardonnay – along with their flagship red, Mai.

Tesco Wine By The Case sell their ‘entry level’ Kaiken Reserva Malbec at £54 a case and the Kaiken Ultra Malbec at £84 (Amazon offer the latter by the bottle at £13.95 and it's available at a similar price from the amazing D Byrne of Clitheroe). There is a small percentage of Malbec, along with Peit Verdot, in the Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. It's elegant, well-structured stuff with tobacco and spice notes accompanied by vanilla from aging in French oak barrels. It costs £13.99 from Tesco Wines By The Case again and the Halifax Wine Company.

The Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2012 really came into its own matching our lunch main of fillet steak with chimichuri sauce. With oodles of plum and blackberry fruit, matched by oaky spice and fine acidity, it did the immediate job, but it’s a wine that will only see its potential with several years’ further ageing.

The Ctreation Winery In South AfricaThe Creation Winery In South Africa

Ah, steak! Creation co-owner Carolyn Martin flew in especially to lead a masterclass of her wines (only available in restaurants) at Fazenda, the new meat-centric Brazilian restaurant in Spinningfields.

More than a decade ago Carolyn and her Swiss-born partner, both from wine dynasties, planted vines in virgin terroir on the remote Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in the Walker Bay Wine Region, sensing the potential of the lofty position and microclimate.

MeatThe most impressive wines we sampled were a trio of impressive Pinot Noirs and a harmonious, near-Burgundian Chardonnay, none of which are available at Fazenda, which bills itself as a churrascaria or rodizio, where meat is grilled and carved at the table gaucho style by a rotating team of waiters (who also supply the obligatory chimichuri sauce).

So red wine is obviously a priority on the list.

Fazenda 1Fazenda – restaurant newcomer with a passion for wine

Two Creation reds do make the list, the spicy, savoury Syrah-Grenache 2010 at £29.95 and the Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot, list price £44.90 but on introductory offer at £28.60 until the end of November – great value for a blackcurranty-oaky red that matches the steaks so well.

There is a similarly fine deal on the delicately tropical, passionfruity Creation Sauvignon Blanc, a fellow ‘November Wine of Month’, down from £34.70 to £25.80. The plan is to run regular wine and food pairing masterclasses. Check their website.

Fazenda, incidentally was Britain’s first restaurant group to take on board the now trendy Coravin System, which allows a restaurant to serve an expensive, rare wine by the glass from the same bottle over an extended period. For that very reason the Albert Square Chop House has recently acquired one (they don’t come cheap!).

Coravin keeps the cork in the bottle, where it's been since the bottle was sealed. A thin hollow needle is inserted through the cork to access the wine. It leaves the cork intact. When the needle is removed, the cork reseals and continues to protect the wine from oxidizing as if it had never been opened.

More red wines, to drink at home... 

Vox PopuliVox Populi Bobal is a new arrival at Majestic Wine, priced at £10.99 a bottle (or £8.99 if you buy two or more bottles). You won’t miss it on the shelves with its flamboyant graffiti-style label and heavy club-like shape. Created by Valencia’s Bodegas Murviedro, it is 100 per cent Bobal, a red grape native to the Utiel-Requena region. Though widely planted in Spain for blending, it is only now it is being promoted in it own right. This example, from old vines, is dense and chewy with a chocolate and raisin character allied to a whack of oak. Let it breathe for a couple of hours and serve with game stew.

Majestic stock another heavyweight newcomer – from Western Australia’s Margaret River, a source of distinctive Cabernet Sauvignons. Evans & Tate Breathing Space Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 isn’t among the most subtle, but is a fair dinkum introduction, herby on the nose herby with a hint of violets, offering on the palate a red berry freshness, not overwhelmed by its new French oak. £11.99 (and £8.99 if you buy two or more).

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (£7.99). Smooth, ripe plum-laden Chilean Pinot with hints of chocolate. Deceptively drinkable, but beware: 14 per cent ABV.

For something a touch lighter, try Cabardès, Château de Pennautier 2012 (Wine Society, £7.95) is a vivid, everyday red for autumn, allying blackcurranty Cabernet flavours with the warm spice of the Languedoc, where it hails from

Staying with the Wine Society, at their recent Portuguese tasting for members in Manchester, it was good to be reminded, as a lover of Luis Pato’s white wines (and those of his daughter) how good his Bairrada reds can be. Luis Pato Vinha Pan Beiras 2009 is not cheap at £29 but offers cherries and raspberry flavours in abundance with a hint of mint in a subtle silky package. It will age well over a decade. Similarly elegant was another 2009, Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Tinto, Beiras, which we tasted in magnum. This size costs £42, making it a bargain alternative to Claret or Burgundy for a busy Christmas dinner table. Ah yes, Christmas is coming..

Holding a share in The Wine Society gives you lifetime membership with no annual fee and no pressure to buy. The cost of a share is £40. To find out more (and order some wine) visit the website.

Picking Te Grapes At CreationPicking the grapes at Creation

Want to mug up on the Italy's finest wine region? Essential reading is the newly published Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe, Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine. It’s comprehensive and enlightening.

Also check out my recent Planet Confidential guide to the Langhe wine region.

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