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Another retailer takes 25% off – allegedly

Several retailers have recently run "25% off when you buy six" promotions but here is a new one offering - I suggest - a chance to sample a few more expensive wines. The post also has an excellent guest piece about importing Portuguese wines plus the usual Best of the Rest.

I am hearing reports that Waitrose begin a “25% off when you buy 6+ bottles” promotion this morning.

Apparently, it applies to all wine and Champagne priced £5 and over, whether from a physical store outside Scotland or from waitrosecellar.com (including its associated “Click and Collect” service).

For simplicity, this post simply cites the list price for the wine in question and allows you to calculate the effect of the discount (which, incidentally, is expected to run through until 4 September).

A discount of this size creates an ideal opportunity to sample wines that are normally more expensive, so that is the focus for this post.

Equally, though, you can apply price reductions to Waitrose’s mid priced wines such as those I commended a month or two ago.

Today’s post also includes the usual Best of the Rest selections and, as a special treat, a guest piece by a brilliant importer of wine from Portugal – and how he started in that business.
As ever, click on any image shown for an enlarged picture that makes it easy for shoppers to identify the wine on a crowded shelf.

Confusion about names but not quality

While Trebbiano di Lugana is a “Will o’ the Wisp” grape with people not quite sure whether it’s a stylish trebbiano, actually verdicchio or something totally different.

There is, however, no mistaking the quality that versions from Italy’s Lugana region achieve – and especially this one.

2017 Zenato Villa Flora Lugana Veneto (13% abv and normally £10.99) has fresh red apple and greengage fruit with good acidity and impressive spice centred depth.

Perhaps white Burgundy now comes into range.

Discounts can help us try out inevitably expensive options like white Burgundy and here is a great version from the part of the region that probably offers the best value for money without losing any of its distinctiveness – Maconnais.

While tangerine centred acidity provides freshness in 2015 Joseph Drouhin Pouilly Vinzelles (13% and normally £21.99), that is adroitly complemented by minty, ripe apple and white peach fruit and a textured savoury finish.

See what skin fermentation does to white wine

While anyone without a big Waitrose nearby will have to use the excellent Waitrose Cellar facility, everyone has to do so with this on-line only Austrian white that has the extra structure produced by fermentation on skins (as happens with red wine).

No surprise then to find extra depth in 2016 Malat On the QT Bin 9 Gruner Veltliner Fermented on Skins (12% and normally £15.99) that nicely underpins its apple and quince fruit and accompanying honey edges, modest acidity and suggestions of herbs, caramel and mint.

Turning next to fizz

If Australia does eventually fully embrace the idea of regions majoring on one main grape or style (as, say, the Northern Rhone does with syrah) then the cool vineyards of Tasmania will probably become the country’s sparkling wine capital – and this chardonnay-led blend shows us why.

With sharp and lively acidity Jansz Premium Cuvee NV (12% and normally £17.99) also brings us a bit of lees based depth – with appealing spicy elements bound up within it – to counterbalance the freshness of the wine’s lemon and apple fruit.

And then to Champagne.

While Waitrose does have other classy rosé champagnes, none come close to rivalling the value represented by their excellent 100% pinot noir house version from the increasingly interesting Cotes des Bar region on the other side of Troyes.

Enjoy then the floral cherry and strawberry fruit in Waitrose Champagne Rosé NV (12.5% and normally £25.99) and note how well it is balanced with the slightly minty biscuit base and the acidity that keeps everything lively and racy.

Sticking nearby for the first red 

Moving south from the Cotes des Bar, we reach Burgundy and to a delightful pinot noir from the most southerly (and not very well known) part of the Cotes de Beaune – Maranges.

There is real acidity based vibrancy to 2016 Maranges Premier Cru Les Clos Roussot (13.5% and normally £22.99) that adds liveliness to its smooth cherry and raspberry fruit which, in turn, is supported by thyme and liquorice depth but pleasingly soft tannin.

Staying with pinot noir

Here is another Waitrose Cellar exclusive this time from Argentina’s Tupungato region – home to some of the country’s highest vineyards and an ideal region for Burgundy style varieties like chardonnay and, in this case, pinot noir.

It is hard not to be impressed by the mellow and classically earthy foundation to 2015 Finca Ferrer 1310 Pinot Noir (14.5% and normally £29) or by its cherry and bramble fruit, good acidity, controlled tannin and concluding suggestions of chocolate and cinnamon.

 Getting a bit more robust now

Our next stop is the nebbiolo grape stronghold in Italy’s Piemonte although not to Barolo but rather to  the slightly less weighty (yet still incredibly intense) wines of Barbaresco.

Chewy tannins are inevitable in wine like 2010 Barbaresco DOCG Riserva Terre Vino (14% and normally £18.99) but they are not intrusive here and neatly complement the wine’s blackberry and cherry fruit, excellent acidity and accompanying cinnamon, menthol and vanilla touches.

Finally to my personal favourite

While cabernet franc appears in numerous blends (especially with its son, cabernet sauvignon), it does not often get a change to go out on its own which is such a pity given the power and depth it exhibits in brilliantly made examples like this.

Floral and intense, 2015 Gabrielskloof Cabernet Franc (14% and normally £30.99) has smooth bramble and elderberry fruit with supporting graphite edges yet skilfully balances them with hints of chocolate and clove but with relatively little tannin.

Best of the Rest

As different from pinot grigio as you can get

We have spoken before about the way that changes in geology, climate and winemaking can make the same grape sing a totally different tune – and nothing makes the point more effectively than pinot gris (grigio) as versions from Alsace and, here, New Zealand illustrate.

Rich, smooth and textured, 2017 Freemans Bay Pinot Gris (£5.79 at Aldi and 13%) from Gisborne has greengage and ripe melon fruit, firm acidity, an attractive honey finish but neat twists of mint, nutmeg and white pepper.

A great example from SPAR’s “initial” range

Just as syrah and, especially, viognier are strutting their stuff in Languedoc so too is cabernet sauvignon, as you can see from this well priced example from one of the most successful convenience store ranges.

Depth and darkness of colour put Languedoc’s fingerprints all over 2016 CS Cabernet Sauvignon (£6 at SPAR and 13%) but those elements are joined by the type of firm tannin, clove and cedar wood influences supporting cassis and loganberry fruit that you might expect from traditional “cab” regions.


Tip: Dig into the wines actually becoming the “next big thing” they have so long promised to be.

 Today’s guest writer is Nick Oakley of Oakley Wine Agencies in Colchester who – apart from being one of the best cricketers in the wine trade – has probably forgotten more about Portuguese wine that most of us will ever know.

Here is his story:

“Portugal has been the mainstay of my business for at least 28 years.  I’d started at Lay & Wheeler, a fine old traditional merchant in Colchester and then set up my own small wine distribution business.

We did OK but I was chasing my tail making little or no money. In 1990 my wife’s parents had retired to the Algarve so when on holiday I went up country with my father-in-law and visited some Alentejo wineries.  It was a complete eye-opener.

This is so long ago, the big hitters on the market those days were Liebfraumilch, and Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon.  I thought I’d struck gold.  Easy, rich, soft and drinkable, with supple tannins and a cheap price tag, I knew that the British public would lap them up.

Who remembers wine in optics?

So I shipped 500 cases of Real Lavrador from the Redondo Cooperative, including litre bottles and sold them to local pubs and wine bars.  The litres went upside down ‘on optic’ (remember that?).  The wines went very well and pretty soon I was ordering another 500 cases.

I had used the Portuguese wines as my ‘house wine’ offer, so they went under the radar, in terms of their provenance.  Publicans would say ‘but what if my customers don’t want Portuguese wine’? (in these days it was 100% French).  ‘Don’t tell them’ I said.  Everyone loved the wines.

But how to expand?

I knew I was on to something but didn’t know how to grow the sales.  I thought that if I could be successful wholesaling the wines, then other regional merchants could do the same.  But they would need to be able to buy direct from the vineyard, if the price was to remain competitive.

So I asked the winery if they would pay me a small commission if I could find other importers. They agreed, but instead of finding other wholesalers I had an outrageous piece of beginner’s luck and sold some wine to Sainsbury’s.

And not just 500 dozen, they bought seven container loads, a total of 10,000 cases! I can remember it was priced at £2.79 a bottle!

An accountant gets imaginative (yes, really)

When the year- end accounts came around I was reviewing things and the accountant pointed out to me that the commission I had made from selling to Sainsbury equalled exactly my net profit for the year.  In short, all my other activity (which took up 95% of my time) made nothing.  Not a penny!

The writing was on the wall, I closed the shop and the wholesale business, and tucked myself under the stairs at home with a little Amstrad computer and started my new life as a Portuguese wine agent.  But I only had one winery, so set about increasing my portfolio of producers.

Here was a contact to make it happen

Portugal, Alentejo, Estremoz
Joao Portugal Ramos
©Photo:Claes Lofgren/winepictures.com

An introduction by a staff member at Decanter led me to Quinta do Casal Branco, a large family winery just north of Lisbon, owned by the Vasconcellos family.  We still sell their wines widely (look out for Terra de Lobos, available in plenty of independents, and Lobo & Falcão made specially for Laithwaite’s).

It was here that I met their winemaker, João Portugal Ramos.  These days he’s credited with revolutionising wine production throughout southern Portugal during the last 30 years, and was consulting for maybe 20 different vineyards.

He very kindly took me around several of his winery partners, and built me a portfolio to represent.  I owe him a lot, and still work very closely with him and his wines to this day.

Why could we not get traction?

But selling Portuguese wines, despite their quality and value has been an uphill battle.  For thirty years they’ve been saying ‘Portugal will be the next big thing’ – then it never is.

We have analysed (and re-analysed) this phenomenon, and I believe that the problem lies in the lack of any strongly identifiable USP (Unique Selling Point).

There is no famous grape variety,  like Merlot or Chardonnay, and there is no famous region, like Rioja, Chablis or Chianti.  This leaves little to go on, and the public look for familiarity when faced with the ‘wall of wine’ in their local supermarket.

The public buys what it knows, and they don’t know Portugal or its wines.  Then the language is difficult to understand or pronounce.  So let’s buy that Australian Shiraz – at least we know what we’re getting, right?

Geography could be the answer

It was clear we needed a better approach so I concentrated on appellation as far as possible.  If Douro was becoming better known, then make sure the word Douro was clearly visible on the label.  Same for Dão.

Then slowly something started to happen about 5 years ago.  Tesco took a Douro red under their Finest label and championed the region. Others followed suit.  Asda has an Extra Special Douro and Dão. Morrisons have a Douro white and red as part of their ‘The Best’ range.

Majestic has taken lots of new Portuguese listings, including their Agenda Dão which was specially selected by their store managers.

But that’s not all

Independent merchant Tanners do so well with Douro they asked us to bottle a line under their own label –Tanner’s Douro red – it sells alongside their Claret and Malbec, and holds its own.

ALDI and LIDL have also come to the party, the former having astonishing success with the Animus Douro red brand. And just this week they’ve launched a new Alentejo wine called Monte Cão

Victory is surely in sight

In short, Portugal has finally arrived!  The current successes are much more in retail than in the restaurant trades, but it’s a good start, wins will follow in all sectors I am sure.

I have to say that sometimes I thought I was banging my head against a brick wall, but I’m happy to have persisted.  These days we’ve established a reputation as Portuguese experts, and that initial 500 dozen bottles has now become a four million bottle business. We are very pleased and proud about it.”

Justifiably so, Nick! Entry point wines are our primary focus at MidWeek Wines and, year in year out, I can honestly say that you import some of the best value versions we encounter.


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12 Responses

  1. Super stuff this week Brian from Nick Oakley! I am already a fan of much of what Portugal brings to the show, often very cheaply for such quality and character. I couldn’t believe the £4.99 price tag for the Aldi Animus I first bought only 10 months ago. I tell everybody about that one and the come-back is consistently positive, and rightly so. Interesting too that having been initiated into wine in the late 60s at works dinner-dances and Mateus Rose on the table, after all this time that fresh, spritzy offering is still available but more importantly still appreciated when consumed in ‘context’! More than that it’s only £3.75 at Sainsbury’s when their 25% off buy-6 is on. And that applies to their excellent Vinho Verde too. A case with both bottles that they do have their USP appellation. That they are both readily available styles or labels in Portugal itself shows them to be acceptable to their home market and not just makeweight stuff, unlike Liebrfraumilch that my German friends deny any knowledge of!!! Anyway, I’m back to a villa in the Algarve for 2 weeks in October and sampling at the sharp end. I can’t get enough of everything that country has to offer since discovering it late in life 15 years ago. Thanks again for publishing such a great read all round.

  2. Hello Brian
    I completely agree with your comments regarding the Zenato Villa Flora Lugana. It’s a superb, high quality white wine which never fails to impress and delight. I have been drinking Lugana for several years now since visiting Verona and Lake Garda. Because it’s so good I still buy it at full price but with 25% off what a bargain. As you would expect I have already stocked up.
    Regards Ron

  3. Many thanks Brian for your weekly column. I too appreciate Portuguese reds, and also, occasionally, port! Animus Douro is good stuff, and (as a local) it’s great to see Nick Oakley’s business thriving.
    Cabernet Franc produces some lovely wines too, so thanks for the Gabrielskloof tip. The only drawback with Waitrose online is that you can’t rely on the vintage advertised being the one that’s delivered … my last case of 6 contained only bottle with the correct vintage.

  4. Thanks for your nice comments at the foot of the article. We try our best! And as for the cricketing accolade, I am sure you are overstating things!

  5. Thank you Eddie for your kind words. As Nick says, unfamiliarity can make Portuguese wines a hard sell but get beyond that and truly excellent fare awaits you – often at cracking prices.
    Enjoy your next trip and be sure to tell us here or on Facebook about any new discoveries that really sing for you

  6. Really pleased to hear that it works well for you too. Among all the classic wines that Italy has to offer, Lugana is often sold short so it’s nice to give them a well deserved plug occasionally. Let’s hope this promotion helps a few more folk to share our opinion.

  7. I am glad I am not alone in waxing lyrical about cabernet franc as it can be absolutely terrific – as is this guy (even if it a bit top end on price). If you have problems with Waitrose cellar do take it up with them straight away as it could be “picking error” and I have found them pretty reliable. I will pass on details of your experience though.

  8. I fancy you are being too modest about cricket!
    Thanks for writing the piece, I have had lots of positive comments about it so maybe a third career awaits you (wine importer, cricketer and author!)

  9. Just enjoyed the Freemans Bay Pinot Gris…. a great recommendation Brian….it’s exactly as you described it. A cracking wine at the price and showing a degree of complexity that many main stream Grigios lack. But perhaps we shouldn’t compare them?
    I also like Freemans Bay Sauvignon Blanc which is a “must” for those lovers of “in your face” NZ SVs,

  10. Really glad to hear that you are enjoying it (especially as your much loved Aldi albarino is now completely sold out). As you say, the sister sauvignon is a long-standing hero in the Aldi range.

  11. Brian
    Only just found you! But loved reading this. The Garbrielskloof Cab Franc is one of my favourite wines. I am lucky to have visited the winery many times but this wine is special. I do prefer it’s price tag in Rand though but much more affordable in a Waitrose offer.
    But it is also worth keeping for a year or two. It is definitely getting even better with age. The one thing about SA is that the vintages are usually pretty consistent. I can’t wait to taste their new release in December at the winery.

  12. Glad you have found us and welcome aboard – and thank you for taking the next logical step and signing up for my regular emails.
    It is always good to hear from another cabernet franc enthusiast. As you suggest, these are exciting times for the South African wine industry as it experiments with different grape varieties. I am hugely impressed, for example, by its Rhone blends – red and white. Enjoy your trip later in the year and do keep telling us what you think.

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