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  • Vitteaut-Alberti, Rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne, NV

    Product Code: VIT3NV

    Vitteaut-Alberti, Rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne, NV

    “Soft pink with fine mousse. Uplifting strawberry and raspberry aromas, totally consistent with a joyous red-fruited palate. Mid-weight with a refreshing finish. Now-2014”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Burgundy
    • Colour: Rosé
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Vitteaut-Alberti, Blanc de Blancs, Crémant de Bourgogne, NV

    Product Code: VIT1NV

    Vitteaut-Alberti, Blanc de Blancs, Crémant de Bourgogne, NV

    “Lemon colouring. Soft floral aromas underpinned with ripe pear and melon flavours on the palate. A touch of honey and a long, creamy finish. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Burgundy
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Vina Casablanca, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Casablanca, NV

    Product Code: CSB1NV

    Vina Casablanca, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Casablanca, NV

    “Chile, with its excellent record with cool-climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, is the natural place to source a good value Sparkler. From 92% Chardonnay with 8% Chenin Blanc, this offers a biscuit nose, and a tasty, dry palate of pears, ripe apples and cream: a classy, enjoyable fizz with a delicate mousse. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: Chile
    • Region: Casablanca
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Serge Mathieu, Champagne Tradition, Brut, NV

    Product Code: MAT1NV

    Serge Mathieu, Champagne Tradition, Brut, NV

    “This is 100% Pinot Noir from the Bar-sur-Aube, the south of the region and a little warmer, so ideal for Pinot. It’s always quite deep in colour, well-aged, and offers great breadth of red fruit flavours. Deep tone. Attractively ripe and broadly flavoured, with an engaging creaminess and intensity. Strong berried fruit. Great mouthfeel and length. Now-2016”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry, Rich

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Serge Mathieu, Champagne Rosé, Brut, NV

    Product Code: MAT5NV

    Serge Mathieu, Champagne Rosé, Brut, NV

    “Just to show that superb rosé champagne can be found without a ridiculous price tag, our friend Serge Mathieu, master of Pinot Noir, delivers this winner. Salmon pink. Yeasty nose but very lively forward fruit in the mouth. Strawberries and cream - quite rich in flavour but bone dry. Excellent aperitif or could easily be drunk with food. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry, Rich

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: Rosé
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Serge Mathieu, Champagne Vintage Brut, 2006

    Product Code: MAT706

    Serge Mathieu, Champagne Vintage Brut, 2006

    “The Mathieu’s vintage offering is also made from 100% Pinot Noir. Very fine and persistent mousse. The nose is delightfully open and creamy, with a subtle pear note. Attractive breadth of flavour. So elegant; a definite step up from the popular non-vintage. Now-2016”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Pol Roger, Champagne Réserve, Brut, NV

    Product Code: POL1NV

    Pol Roger, Champagne Réserve, Brut, NV

    “This house, which remains family-owned, is making elegant, well-aged wines. This is the classic, white foil, cuvée. Medium to deep colour for Champagne. Powerful biscuity aromas carried through to the palate - generous fruit, dry, yet plenty of weight and a nutty finish. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Serge Mathieu, Champagne Tradition, Brut, Half, NV

    Product Code: MAT2NV

    Serge Mathieu, Champagne Tradition, Brut, Half, NV

    “100% Pinot Noir, a very classy, much lauded Champagne.”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 37.5cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Thomas-Hatté, Champagne Rosé, Brut, NV

    Product Code: HAT5NV

    Thomas-Hatté, Champagne Rosé, Brut, NV

    “Pale pink with a soft but fine mousse. Complex ripe cherry aromas are supplemented on the palate by more black fruit and creamy nougat notes. Crisp, elegant and with a delightfully dry finish. Now-2016”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: Rosé
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Thomas-Hatté, Champagne Brut, NV

    Product Code: HAT1NV

    Thomas-Hatté, Champagne Brut, NV

    “Based on 70% Pinot Meunier with 20% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, this offers quite a different style to Serge Mathieu. Appealing and forward, yet with convincing depth of appley fruit and rich brioche character. Lively and persistent. "Lemony and quite rich. Sweetish. Good value. 16/20" - Jancis Robinson MW on www.jancisrobinson.com, 2nd Dec 2011. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Jacquesson, Champagne, Cuvée 738, NV

    Product Code: JAC138

    Jacquesson, Champagne, Cuvée 738, NV

    “Attractive pale colour with a fine mousse. Light and stylish, with mineral complexity. The palate is expansive, with nutty, oatmeal characters and a classy, very dry finish.”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Pol Roger, Champagne Vintage Brut, 2004

    Product Code: POL304

    Pol Roger, Champagne Vintage Brut, 2004

    “Pol Roger are renowned for their long lived vintage wines. Classic brioche aromas with spice notes. Pale colour and fine mousse lead to a richly textured palate. Still tightly wound; there is more to come. Now-2020”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12.5%
    More Info
  • Nitida, The Matriarch, Methode Cap Classique, Coastal Region, 2012

    Product Code: NIT812

    Nitida, The Matriarch, Methode Cap Classique, Coastal Region, 2012

    “Only the third vintage of Bernhard & Peta Veller’s sparkling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Engaging scent of ripe citrus backed by classy brioche notes. Fresh and elegantly balanced palate, a creamy gentle mousse rounding to a crisp finish. Now-2014”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: South Africa
    • Region: Coastal
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 11.5%
    More Info
  • Domaine J. Laurens, Blanquette de Limoux Brut, Le Moulin, NV

    Product Code: LAU1NV

    Domaine J. Laurens, Blanquette de Limoux Brut, Le Moulin, NV

    “From 90% Mauzac, the traditional variety of Limoux, with 10% Chardonnay. Pale lemon with a fine mousse. Aromas of ripe pear and white flowers with the notes of warm nuts and cinnamon characteristic of Mauzac. Crisp and elegant citrus and stone fruit flavours meld seamlessly and lead to a finely focused finish. A perfect aperitif. “Nice bit of development. Very fresh and really quite special for the money. Quite delicate on the palate. GV 16” www.jancisrobinson.com, 19th November 2013. Now-2015”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Languedoc
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Domaine J. Laurens, Cremant de Limoux Brut, Les Graimenous, 2012

    Product Code: LAU312

    Domaine J. Laurens, Cremant de Limoux Brut, Les Graimenous, 2012

    “A blend of 60% Chardonnay with 30% Chenin, 5% Pinot Noir and 5% Mauzac. The mousse is persistent, with a very fine bead. Such a refined nose with citrus and green apple scents, breadth and complexity. This is delightfully racy and vital, with ripe orchard fruits and a refined hint of toast. Such a versatile wine, an ideal accompaniment to seafood, even sushi and tempura. Now-2017”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Languedoc
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Cottonworth, Sparkling Rosé, Brut, NV

    Product Code: COT5NV

    Cottonworth, Sparkling Rosé, Brut, NV

    “From very well-sited south facing vineyards in the Test Valley just a few miles west of us in Hampshire, Hugh Liddell’s pink, from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, is a stunning English sparkling wine.”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: England
    • Region: Test Valley
    • Colour: Rosé
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta, Brut, NV

    Product Code: FEQ1NV

    Ferghettina, Franciacorta, Brut, NV

    “90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, given 24 months on the lees. Charming aroamas: lemony, honeyed and floral. Very light and elegant, but again that hint of honey, although this is totally dry. Rounded, gently nutty and fine. Now-2016”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: Italy
    • Region: Piedmont
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12.5%
    More Info
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta, Satèn, Brut, 2010

    Product Code: FEQ210

    Ferghettina, Franciacorta, Satèn, Brut, 2010

    “100% Chardonnay with no less than three years on the lees; and bottled at 4.5 atmospheres rather than the usual 6. Very floral perfume - irises. Creamy, classy style, well-matured and akin to a decent Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Very impressive fizz. Now-2017”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: Italy
    • Region: Piedmont
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12.5%
    More Info
  • Serge Mathieu, Champagne Cuvée Prestige, Brut, NV

    Product Code: MAT4NV

    Serge Mathieu, Champagne Cuvée Prestige, Brut, NV

    “70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, given a minimum of three years ageing.”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: France
    • Region: Champagne
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Michele Taliano, Birbet, 2014

    Product Code: TAN914

    Michele Taliano, Birbet, 2014

    “We could not resist shipping a bit of this frothy red, made in the same way the Moscato above from the Brachetto grape. With 110 grams of residual sugar, this is very sweet, but with refreshing red-fruited bite too. Good for red berries or with light cake. Now-2016”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Sweet

    Rated 3 out of 5
    Light > Full
    • Origin: Italy
    • Region: Asti
    • Colour: Red
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 5.5%
    More Info
  • Cottonworth, Classic Cuvee, English Sparkling Wine, NV

    Product Code: COT1NV

    Cottonworth, Classic Cuvee, English Sparkling Wine, NV

    “Perfectly planted vineyards in the Test Valley facing south and east. Awarded two gold medals and made from the classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot...”

    Stone, Vine & Sun rating

    Dry

    Rated 1 out of 5
    Dry > Sweet
    • Origin: UK
    • Region: Hampshire
    • Colour: White
    • Bottle Size: 75cl
    • ABV: 12%
    More Info
  • Wine Blog by Simon Taylor

  • Monday 10th August 2015 10:02am

    Laithwaite’s – Boutique Wines at everyday prices ?

    It’s a quiet Saturday in August, the sun is shining, few will come to the shop, so there’s time for a meditative review of one of the UK’s largest wine businesses, Laithwaites (and for those who don’t know already, Laithwaite’s also owns Avery’s and runs just about every wine club you might have heard of, e.g. Sunday Times, British Airways, National Trust, etc. etc.). Laithwaite’s tale of growth - from Tony Laithwaite bringing back a van load of wine from France in 1969 to a huge wine business operating in several countries today - is amazing.  One should be proud of this great British success story….

    ….BUT (there’s often a large BUT in an SVS blog) this blog was prompted solely by the appearance through my letter box at home of their latest offer trumpeting “Boutique Wines at everyday prices” (and everything in quotation marks below comes from this brochure or their website). I was piqued. Leaving aside the actual desirability of “boutique” wines – as so many tend to be over-made, over-priced wines owing more to the pretensions of some rich owner than the land on which the vines are grown - this is an absurd claim.   “Boutique” has no legal status in the world of wine but it does imply small-scale and precious. In Australia the rules of the Association of Boutique Winemakers are clear: “A Boutique wine company is one which crushes and bottles 250 ton or less annually under its own label and is owned independently, i.e., not owned by a larger wine company”.  Well, as to the precious idea, ignoring the discount in the Laithwaite’s brochure, the average bottle price of the wines featured, is, in theory (for more of the “in theory” part, please see below) over £9.00 a bottle, not really boutique territory when it comes to wine.  

    Anyway, investigation followed, and as I researched more, I got tetchier…

    First, the selling pitch is based on claims that “boutique” wineries are “queuing” to work “so closely with wine drinkers”, with, wait for it, “no middlemen, no money wasted on expensive marketing”.  Umm, what exactly is Laithwaite’s but a middle man? And whilst it’s good news of course, that these humble peasants are spared all this marketing effort, it’s bit rich to imply this cost has vanished given that Laithwaite’s spends squillions every year on marketing in advertising and sponsorship!  Incidentally the idea that the Laithwaite’s customers are “helping…wineries to keep costs down by ordering together” is a shameless rip-off of the more innovative Naked Wines philosophy (and it does seem a bit unfair to steal Naked’s clothes!).

    So who exactly are these “talented winemakers struggling along selling a few cases at a time to restaurants and private clients”, these guys who are making “handcrafted wines at remarkable prices”, pathetically grateful to Laithwaites for so graciously taking “the lot in one go”, thus enabling them to have “more time to make great wine”? The briefest perusal of the brochure comes up with these: Vina Tarapaca in Chile, part of the VSPT wine group, Chile’s second largest wine exporter; Franschhoek Cellars, a former co-operative and now part of DGB (which was Douglas Green Bellingham) in the Cape, producing a very unboutique 8,000 tons, equal to 560,000 cases a year; Martinez Bujanda in Rioja, with over 200 hectares of vineyards; Mcpherson wine with 225 hectares in Australia; and Luis Felipe Edwards, the largest family owned winery in Chile, who somehow make ends meet by picking every last grape on their 1850 hectares and exporting to 70 countries.  (Just to put this in perspective, many of the growers we buy from in France and Italy make wine from less than 10 hectares of vines, and Frank Balthazar in Cornas has just 2.25!). Doesn’t one’s heart bleed for these impoverished, time-poor souls, and applaud Laithwaite’s philanthropy in saving them. Laithwaite’s say they are selling wines “made in quantities too small for the supermarkets”, but when you claim to have 100,000 thirsty customers and a turnover of £300m it’s quite hard to supply them without going to the big boys of the wine world.

    Next, the pricing: I examined one case of the twelve on offer in the brochure, no. 9, Pinot Grigio and Friends. This cases includes two bottles of each of four Pinot Grigios - from Romania, Hungary, Australia and Italy - plus a Chenin Blanc (from the Franschhoek Cellars mentioned above) and an Italian blend. The headline printed price is £105.49. (I accept the brochure is three weeks old, but when I totted up the bottle prices of the wines on their website in the case I came to £101.88). But the idea that these particular bottles are worth an average of £8.79 is ludicrous. C’mon guys…. eastern European Pinot Grigio, making up a third of the case, is just NOT boutique wine in either style or price!

    Then there’s the exclusivity claim - your chance to taste “wines not otherwise seen in the UK!”.  Wow, lucky you. The reason these wines are not otherwise seen in the UK is that they are specially made, in some cases in Laithwaite’s own winemaking facilities in France and Australia, and labelled solely for Laithwaite’s (and their numerous affiliate clubs). This is very bad for two reasons: the obvious downside is that they can control pricing and make sure price comparison is impossible. (When you do find a wine on their website which is available elsewhere Laithwaite’s look expensive. For example Guigal’s white Cotes de Rhone is £13.99 on their site, but available from the Wine Society at £9.95 or widely available from independents at £11.95).  But, far more serious, if Laithwaite’s are controlling what goes in the bottle, you aren’t necessarily getting a wine with authenticity and local character (god forbid it should be unfiltered and have sediment in it, as that might lead to complaints and refunds): you will be getting a safe, boring bottle for MOR taste.

    Then there are the names and brands. I am all for making wine names accessible and demystifying wine, but is it helpful to have Romanian wines branded Paris Street? Surely someone casually looking at the bottle might just think it was from France - or is that the idea, duh?  Or Spanish wines sold under Lime Leaf, Silver Route and Cherry Orchard?  When it comes to Italy the highly paid branding team at Laithwaite’s must have been giggling as they dreamed up catchy names. Basically they like to add an O to the end of english words - so Laithwaite’s purvey wines called Massivo, Il Bruto and Visionario.  Can anyone take this seriously? Somehow I just can’t see someone with boutique wine aspirations naming their wine Massivo.  Why stop there – may I propose Diluto for a light dry white, and Ruffo for a rustic red?  

    Then there’s the hyperbole. Do their copywriters really believe that the 2013 Orange Grove Chardonnay from Spain at £5.99 is “world class Chardonnay”? Do they get out much?  Do they actually drink wine at all?

    Then there are the introductory discounts - £50 in the case of the brochure I received.  This would enable me to buy a case of wine with free delivery at £4.39 a bottle, with two free glasses thrown in. It’s a great deal by any standards, but if I send that siren coupon in there are consequences. I will get another case 12 weeks later, if I forget to cancel, without that great discount; and I will be subject to warm-calling if I don’t order more, by a huge team of client advisers trained to push particular wines; and if I still don’t order my name will be transferred to another branch of their organisation who will also send me their lists. Finally, if you do give them the feedback they request, then, google-like, their algorithms will ensure you are pushed more and more of the same. Returning that coupon is like signing your palate away to the vinous devil.

    Laithwaite’s is a great business, with thousands of happy customers. I have tasted lots of perfectly good (if often unexciting) wines from them, and they work with plenty of excellent partners – Luis Felipe Edwards in Chile being a good example. But if the gap between the claims made in the “Boutique wines at everyday prices” brochure and the reality of their business can’t be investigated under the Trade Descriptions Act, at least it can be challenged by someone who genuinely does work with small growers.  Just as they have cynically adapted their marketing spiel to make Laithwaite’s look more like Naked Wines, their fast growing challenger - “Together it’s easy” it says on the front of their brochure - so they shamelessly continue to pretend that they are supplying small production wines from artisanal growers. When we started SVS over a decade ago, one customer was kind enough to describe us as the “the new Adnam's”. I took that a compliment, given Simon Loftus’s great ability to seek out interesting wines. I am glad to say no-one has ever called us the new Laithwaite’s. But then I could just be jealous of that £300m turnover….

  • Monday 20th July 2015 11:48am

    IWC Dinner, 16th July 2015

    As promised, more on the IWC dinner where SVS was awarded the Specialist Wine Merchant for Chile award. It was quite an evening. Much as I don't want to bite the hand that awards me, the inner old fart in me had some issues. OK, I can just about cope with the disco lights and the incessant, pounding pop music (does this have to punctuate everything now, from international cricket downwards?). BUT... the dinner. If you are going to charge 200 quid a ticket, and put bottles of trophy or gold medal-winning wines on each table, you must serve decent food. But what did we get? OK, I didn't see the crib sheet, but what I appeared to be served was a roundel of Shippam's meat paste with pickled vegetables; followed by some dark-skinned fish in sweetish teriyaki sauce. So the august organisers of an event celebrating the world's wines managed to come up with one course dominated by vinegar and one by sugar...both well-known wine-destroyers. No red meat,  aaargh....A real shame, as it was in many ways a jolly occasion with some top merchants and producers there. The best dressed group were the Japanese, there in force for sake awards, but I also loved coming across the couple in the photo, winner of the Taiwan Fortified Trophy (yes, there's a big world out there....)

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