House Wines

With screwcaps to the fore, the quality of the whites (particularly) and the reds here was amazing for the price. Rosé was another matter entirely

Traditionalists would have a heart attack. Of the vast numbers of wines sent in for the House Wine category some 90% were screwcapped. The tasters, though, saw this as a positive. Indeed, there’s a strong feeling that it might have contributed to the overall decent quality, since it removed one more area where the wines could fall down.

The whites, as so often seems to be the case in this category, were impressive: clean, fresh, balanced and modern. ‘Such good value! I wish they’d get onto the tables at the restaurants I go to,’ mused Susanna Forbes. The only real problems came when ambition outstripped ability. ‘At this price, if you start to get oak in whites, I’m sceptical,’ said Galvin La Chapelle’s Andrea Briccarello. ‘The style has to be fresh. Simplicity is fine.’

‘The Golds had more structure and intensity on the palate,’ said Gearoid Devaney MS ex-Tom Aikens. ‘You could still taste them 30 seconds later – surprising at this price.’ As usual, the reds were rather patchier than the whites. ‘I wouldn’t even cook with some of these,’ growled Michael Moore, of Michael Moore Restaurant, after a dispiriting flight. The Greenhouse’s Alexandre Céret, too, found it ‘difficult to find one that I liked’.

Judging was usually pretty simple – the better wines tended to stand out, while the poor examples were obvious, and the only debates were about style: specifically, did you go ‘big and rich with a bit of oak’ or ‘light and easy-drinking’?

In the final round of tasting, the judges were happy to look for both types of wine, for different purposes. ‘For bars, we were looking for wines that were open and easy-drinking and didn’t necessarily need food, then one or two with a bit more structure to work with food for restaurants,’ said Senthil Kulandhaisamy.

The result is a variety of styles. And, as you might expect, price was at least as much a consideration as quality, with Chile and Australia, on this evidence, better able to deliver cheap reds than anyone else. In fact, there was genuine amazement at some of the lower-priced efforts. ‘How can they make it drinkable at that price?’ asked an astonished Xavier Rousset MS at Texture, of yet another great Chilean Merlot.

With the rosés, sadly, they often didn’t make it drinkable. ‘Sometimes a great nose would disappear on the palate, and others fell apart. We found a few that were ok as an aperitif, but very few that would work with food,’ sighed Senthil Kulandhaisamy.

However, along with two Bronzes this year (unlike 2010) we did get one Gold. Adria Vini’s Ancora Chiaretto was ‘really great – an honest wine with good balance’, said Charlotte Jonasson of Boxwood Café.

‘“The white category over-delivers. There’s such a good diversity in style – and every one of our flight was in Stelvin. ” Michael Harrison, Hotel du Vin


Chemin des Dames, Vin de Pays du Comte Tolosan 2010, South-West France
£3.94 @ Majestic Wine
  Illustrating the point that not all good wines have to be bone dry, this light-bodied wine has a delightful blend of musky, citrus aromas with a touch of leafiness and an elegant, balanced palate with exotic fruits and light lemon freshness. Matthew Cocks, Cubitt House, thought it would be popular by the glass.

La Fonda Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Curico Valley, Chile
£4.74 @ Molson Coors/Cono Sur at Concha y Toro UK
SWA 2011 Gold List With plenty of ripe apricots and pineapple on the nose, plus good acidity alongside the lime and grapefruit flavours on the palate, ‘this would be great with Asian food or for guests that prefer something fruitier,’ said Les Deux Salons’ Irina Atanasova. ‘Pleasant, long and persistent,’ added Gearoid Devaney MS.

Fernlands Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand
£4.88 @ Majestic Wine
SWA 2011 Gold List With herbaceous aromas, we’re in grassy, green fruit territory. There is some appealing residual sugar on a palate of some complexity which leads to a fresh, long finish. ‘Lovely energy and dynamic length,’ said Igor Sotric, China Tang at The Dorchester.

Santa Rita Gran Hacienda Sauvignon Blanc 2010,
Lontue Valley, Chile
SWA 2011 Gold List £4.95 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
Relatively subtle on the nose, with herbaceous hints and a touch of smokiness. It’s fresh fruit time on the palate with gooseberries, apples and pears, plus a touch of residual sugar. ‘Zingy and fresh,’ said Caspar Auchterlonie, Team Leader. ‘Rich and dry on the finish,’ added Martin Lam, Ransome’s Dock.

Ancora Chiaretto Rose 2010, Piedmont, Italy
£3.74 @ Boutinot
SWA 2011 Gold List Rose colour with slight orange hints and plenty of raspberry and strawberry on the nose, this is light, elegant, and remarkable value for money. Summer fruits follow through on the palate with pleasant hints of minerality. Charlotte Jonasson found ‘candied notes but good freshness and elegance’.

Rosemount Signature Collection Cabernet Merlot 2009, South-East Australia
£3.20 @ Treasury Wine Estates
SWA 2011 Gold List Universally applauded, this good-value proposition has a perfumed nose of fresh red fruit and flowers, a rounded palate of cherries and berries, soft tannins, good balance and a decent length. ‘Medium-bodied and easy drinking,’ said Senthil Kulandhaisamy.

Mountain Range Merlot 2009, Central Valley, Chile
£3.83 @ Concha y Toro UK
  A very pleasant quaffer, with good acid-to-fruit balance. The fruits are rich and jammy with some savoury hints. ‘It has blackcurrant and blueberry, sweet spice and soft tannins, plus a good finish,’ said an impressed Angus Macnab.

Moondarra Shiraz NV, South-East Australia
£3.99 @ Waverley TBS
SWA 2011 Gold List This cherry- and berry-infused red is vibrant and appealing with a dash of liquorice, herbs and spice on a ripe, balanced palate. ‘Lots of class leaps out of the glass,’ said Alvaro Marcos Garcia, while Sarah McCleery chimed in with ‘very nice at this price’.

Tamarind Garden Cabernet/Merlot/Carmenere 2008, Central Valley, Chile
£4.08 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
SWA 2011 Gold List A rich, ripe nose with menthol, smoke and red and black fruit character leads to
a medium-bodied palate with balanced tannins, ripe fruits and a dash of spice on the relatively soft finish. ‘Quite a lot of oak but very attractive,’ commented Angus Macnab.

Wolf Blass Bilyara Merlot 2008, South-East Australia
£4.14 @ Treasury Wine Estates
SWA 2011 Gold List Roasted syrupy fruits on the nose with a hint of eucalyptus, this has a powerful, off-dry palate with plenty of blue and black berries, smooth tannins, and a chocolatey smooth finish. ‘For customers who like sweeter styles,’ advised Sarah Jane Evans MW.

Soldier’s Block Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia
£4.94 @ Boutinot
  Blackcurrant, blueberries, cassis, vanilla, sweet spice – this wine overdelivers on the flavour front, balancing ripe fruit with savoury notes. ‘It has a big, gutsy personality,’said Nicola Thomson, wine consultant.


Rosemount Signature Collection Chardonnay 2009, South-East Australia
£3.20 @ Treasury Wine Estates
Nice floral character and plenty of stone fruits alongside a fresh minerality with hints of white pepper, a good length and just enough acidity. Great value for money.

Ca’ di Ponti Catarratto 2010, Sicily, Italy
£3.44 @ Boutinot
Aromatic and exotic, it wasn’t just this white’s price that pleased the panel. Peaches and pears on the nose, with a dry, quite creamy texture plus floral hints and good freshness to finish.

Ca’ di Ponti Grillo 2010, Sicily, Italy
£3.54 @ Boutinot
Fresh and citrusy, this has more character than its price suggests. Throw in apple and pineapple flavours, a dash of floral notes, and a balanced palate, and it seems particularly good value.

Enlighten White NV, Germany
£3.60 @ Greene King
Lots of ripe stone fruit on both nose and palate, this is zesty, fruity, juicy and long, with a touch of residual sugar. ‘A nice glass,’ said Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan, approvingly.

“House wine is crucial because it’s our business card. It’s us in a glass. People want a good wine that’s simple and delivers what the nose promises. ” Luigi Buonnano, Etrusca Restaurants

Cuvee Jean-Paul Gascogne Blanc de Blancs Sec 2009, Vin de Pays
des Cotes de Gascogne, France

£3.71 @ Boutinot
Fresh and grassy on the nose, with plenty of citrusy character, a mineral note on the palate and clean finish. Medium-bodied, a good value, easy-drinking proposition.

Santa Serena Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Chile
£3.89 @ Waverley TBS
New World in style on the nose, and the palate is full of zesty freshness with hints of white peach.

Percheron Chenin Blanc/Viognier 2010, Western Cape, South Africa
£4.45 @ Boutinot
Fresh, clean and floral, this has good texture, acidity and depth for the money.

Quinta El Refugio Blanco 2010, Toro, Spain
£4.54 @ Boutinot
Exuberance on the nose, with fresh tropical fruit and tutti frutti leading to a clean, fresh palate.

Caliterra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Curico Valley, Chile
£4.68 @ Hatch Mansfield
There’s good greengage and gooseberry alongside melon and citrus notes on a balanced palate, with a refreshing, dry finish. ‘In the north Italian style’, said Michael Harrison, Hotel du Vin.

Borsao Seleccion Blanco 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain
£4.74 @ Boutinot
Honey hints and lychee on a complex, intense nose, with well-judged vanilla oak on the palate alongside vibrant pomelo fruit, nice acidity and good freshness.

patriarche pere et fils Viognier Vin de France 2009, France
£4.83 @ Patriarche Wine Agencies
Aromatic, with aromas of apple blossom, pear and nuts. Good fruit integration on a ripe palate.

Marques Calado Tempranillo 2009, Carinena, Spain
£3.33 @ Majestic Wine
Nicely aromatic, with attractive cherry fruit nose and simple bright berry fruit.
‘Off-dry with strawberry and blackcurrant fruit,’ said Laurie Watson, Chislehurst Golf Club.

Concha y Toro Merlot 2010, Central Valley, Chile
£3.42 @ Concha y Toro UK
With juicy, tart cherry and plum flavours, soft tannins and savoury meaty notes, the price impressed all, and Roka’s Kelvin McCabe deemed this ‘super-quaffable’.

Tin Roof Shiraz Cabernet 2009, South Australia
£4.10 @ Majestic Wine
With bright, clean black fruit flavours, this is pleasant, light and quaffable. ‘Perfumed and elegant,’ was the verdict from Kelvin McCabe. ‘Pure cassis,’ said Dominique Raclan, Dans Le Noir.

Marques de la Villa Tinta de Toro 2009, Toro, Spain
£4.49 @ Boutinot
With flavours of black fruit on a rustic, medium-bodied palate and balanced acidity, this shows a fair length and an ideal structure for food.

Domaine Mas Barrau Cabernet Franc 2009, Southern France
£4.79 @ Boutinot
Cassis and smoke on the nose leads to a medium-bodied, fresh-fruited palate with violets, green hints and balanced acidity. With its clean finish, this is ideal ‘by the glass’ material.


Marques Calado Macabeo Carinena 2010, Carinena, Spain
£3.33 @ Majestic Wine
Pure, fresh citrusy flavours dominate this great-value wine. ‘This is feminine and elegant,’ said an approving Ivo Stoyanov, L’Atelier.

Decanal Pinot Grigio 2010, Veneto, Italy
£3.99 @ United Wineries
Fresh, light and fruity with floral hints on the nose, a creamy pear fruit palate with a long pineapple finish and appetising salty notes.

isonto Chenin Blanc 2010, Swartland, South Africa
£4.02 @ Louis Latour Agencies
Floral nose and lightly textured with refreshing acidity. ‘A summer wine,’ said Michael Harrison.

Araldica Piemonte Chardonnay 2010, Piedmont, Italy
£4.09 @ Boutinot
With pear and stone fruit aromas, the palate opens up to show refreshing, zingy flavours.

Pasquiers Sauvignon V 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
£4.09 @ Boutinot
With aromas of honeysuckle and fresh, vibrant white fruit, the palate is fresh and well balanced.
‘A discreet personality,’ said Peter McCombie MW.

Les Vignes de l’Eglise Vermentino 2010, Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France
£4.73 @ Liberty Wines
Bracing and crisp, this has a complex blend of tropical fruits and herbaceous flavours.

Domaine de Vedilhan Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
£4.79 @ Boutinot
Despite its subtlety, this wine impressed the judges. After a slightly leesy, smoky nose, you’ll find minerals, freshness and crisp acidity. ‘There’s a nice richness and texture,’ said Peter McCombie MW.

“I was looking for wines that were soft, approachable, non-aggressive and good value for money. At £4 [the Moondarra] was very good value. ” Sara Bachiorri, The Glasshouse

St Desir Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Cotes de Gascogne, France
£4.99 @ Majestic Wine
Herbaceous and grassy with floral notes on the nose, plenty of passionfruit on its near-dry palate.

Pasquiers Grenache Gris/Cinsault Rose 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
£4.09 @ Boutinot
Soft, subtle red berries with crisp acidity, Joris Beijn felt this had a ‘good finish for the money’.

Senorio de Sarria Rosado 2010, Navarra, Spain
£4.94 @ Boutinot
Sprightly pink in colour with a summer berry-infused nose, there’s a good depth of strawberry flavour on the palate, with hints of satsuma and a good dry finish. ‘Very food friendly,’ said Mark Deamer.

Borsao Garnacha 2010, Campo de Borja, Spain
£3.64 @ Boutinot
A blend of ripe blackcurrants and strawberries, soft tannins and a good finish.

Alto Plano Merlot 2010, Central Valley, Chile
£3.81 @ Majestic Wine
Simple and structured, this is dry with blackcurrant and strawberry perfumes, vivid fresh cherry and berry fruit plus a touch of herbs on the palate. ‘Delicious,’ said Jamie Goode.

Santa Serena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Chile
£3.89 @ Waverley TBS
Plenty of juicy, fragrant dark fruits on a balanced palate alongside gentle tannins, light smoky hints and good minerality. ‘Great wine for charcuterie,’ said Xavier Rousset MS.

El Tesoro Monastrell/Shiraz 2010, Jumilla, Spain
£3.94 @ Boutinot
With spicy black fruit and red cherries plus a dash of liquorice. Remarkable quality for the money.

Decanal Montepulciano 2009, Abruzzo, Italy
£3.99 @ United Wineries
Floral notes mix with redcurrant fruit aromas, followed by an earthy style of red and black fruit on the palate. ‘Fresh with good acidity, this would be good with food,’ said Angus Macnab.

Sierra Grande Merlot 2010, Central Valley, Chile
£4.04 @ Boutinot
Ripe, vibrant, juicy and focused, this is nicely structured with savoury notes of beetroot
alongside slightly stewed black fruit. ‘Straightforward and easy drinking,’ said Sara Bachiorri.

Bellefontaine Merlot 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France
£4.09 @ Boutinot
Dried ripe fruit and cherry compote on the nose, while the palate offers fruit, good acidity, gentle but firm tannins and a good length.

Le Sanglier Old Vines Carignan 2010, Vin de Pays de l’Aude
£4.58 @ Cockburn & Campbell
Clean, juicy and easy drinking with a floral, spicy character. Soft tannins and aromas of red flowers – rose, peony, violet and tulip – and sweet stone fruit flavours.

Moncaro montepulciano 2009, Abruzzo, Italy
Dark damson fruit flavours with hints of smoke and spice. ‘This has a nice fresh mouthfeel and acidity, but the finish is not that lengthy,’ said Laurie Watson.

Finca La Colonia Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina
£4.65 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
With a vibrant spicy nose, this has nice fruit with coffee and dark chocolate from well-judged oak.

Caliterra Reserva Carmenere 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile
£4.68 @ Hatch Mansfield
A nice complexity for the price, with chocolate and coffee flavours plus leafy hints on a smooth-textured palate with spicy, savoury notes.

La Fonda Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere 2009, Curico Valley, Chile
£4.74 @ Molson Coors
Roasted plummy fruit with smoky bacon, oak notes. Sweet syrupy fruit on the palate, the tannins are a little youthful but the intensity is good, as is the lengthy finish.

latitud 34° Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina
£4.75 @ Amathus Drinks
With an intense mix of berry fruit and earthy notes, the palate is concentrated and rich, with ripe tannins, meaty flavours and some freshness. ‘A touch of black truffle,’ said Alvaro Marcos Garcia.

Domaine de Montval Shiraz 2009, Southern France
£4.79 @ Boutinot
With some lovely sweet red and black fruit flavours, this has a bit of greenness, some savoury notes and a smooth finish.

patriarche pere et fils Syrah Vin de France 2009, France
£4.83 @ Patriarche Wine Agencies
Tasting like a light Côtes de Rhône, this has good berry fruit with a bit of grip to the tannins and a fresh finish. ‘Approachable,’ said Natasha Hughes, Team Leader. ‘It delivers.’

Pavillon des Trois Arches Merlot 2010, Languedoc, France
£4.85 @ Majestic Wine
Dense and sweetly fruity,  this sports a breadth of black fruit – plums, currants and berries
– gentle tannins, fresh acids and a good finish.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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