Hello. My name is Cecile and I have always enjoyed drinking wine.

You might be mistaken into believing that this is my introductory speech to an AA meeting, but no, I am simply admitting to a life-long passion. In fact, I was given my very first drop of Champagne at four hours old, and apparently liked it very much. But before you phone the RSPCC or contact Social Services, let me confess to even more ...

As a child, I learned to read using wine labels and count thanks to champagne vintage years. As an adult, I have uncorked, swirled, laid down, warmed up, cooled down, decanted, tasted or drunk several hundred bottles. Washed thousands of empty glasses and marked numerous white and innocent tableclothes for life. And the worst of my confessions? I do not spit, I swallow.

Eventually, little by little, I got to understand the difference between a Grand and a Premier Cru. Between Old and New World. Between a Chablis and a Chardonnay. So if I can do it, so can you; and here's my Blog to help you enjoy everything wine has to offer. I will share my likes and dislikes with you. I will try to advice you on what to drink and how to drink it. And eventually, I sure hope to help you find out what your tastebuds enjoy.

But one thing I will not do is tell you that you have to like a specific wine, simply because a Master Sommelier has given it a high score, because a celebrity has been seen drinking it, because it retails at such a high price that surely it can only be good, or because it is a brand name with huge adverts that can and will blind your judgment. Only you can find out what your palate likes.

So pull yourself a chair next to me and let's start drinking together (there's always time to polish my speech to the AA later).


A tasting note refers to a taster's written testimony about the colour, aroma, taste identification, acidity, structure, texture, and balance of a wine. Fine definition. But, as anyone who has ever tried writing one will know, it is can be hard to describe tastes and smells in words alone. However, until the advent of scratch and sniff patches that work for wine, tasting notes are our best attempt at conveying our impressions about wines.

However, today, I feel like sharing my trade secrets with you all, so that we could all become wine connoisseurs and enjoy the drink of Gods altogether. I thus would like to invite you on a journey where your all your senses will take great pleasure in discovering what wines have to offer to your eyes, your nose, your palate ... So please follow me in applying the "4-S rule" to drinking wine, to find out how to enjoy wines to their full and come up with those ever-so-hard-to-write tasting notes. 

The 4 S rule:

  1. S is for Swirl: Pour a small amount of wine into a glass - one where the bowl is larger than the rim - and swirl it around. Examine the colour, but think beyond simple red, white or rosé. Is it brownish or pale cherry red? Is it the colour of straw or apricots? Think opacity next - is it watery or dark or are there burnt-orange tinges which denote an older wine? Look at how it sticks to the glass: thick viscosity denote high alcohol.
  2. S is for Sniff: Swirl again really well. Now get your nose well inside and deeply inhale the trapped aromas. What do you smell: freshly mowed lawns or old leather? Vanilla ice cream or lemon zest? Close your eyes; it really helps.
  3. S is for Sip: Take a decent sip and swish it around your mouth and gums. You should first sense tannins, sugar and acidity or freshness, rather than specific flavours. Then your mid-palate should pick up things like spiciness or fruitiness - but what kind of fruit: apples or pears? Strawberries or blackberries? And spices: cloves or black pepper? You might get others, such as honey or tobacco, for instance.
  4. S is for Spit: To allow the finish to develop. How long does the wine linger on the back of the mouth and throat? A long finish, with flavours evolving and changing usually denotes a good, complex wine like an aged red. Think about other factors - was the wine a good balance between, say, fruit and spices or dominated by one flavour? Did the tannins pucker your mouth? Was it overly sweet or acidic? And what kind of food might it match? 

Go on, have a go yourself! And remember: practice makes perfect!!!


In the past two decades, a radical change has come about in the world of wine countries - in all countries except the most long-established such as France and Italy. Indeed, the names of grape varieties have now become the ready reference to wine. Complex traditions used to prevail, as wines of old prestige are still known by their origin, more or less narrowly defined, not just the particular fruit. We all seem to recognise the term and identify a "St. Emilion" as a specific Bordeaux wine region, but do we know what grapes are used to making a red wine from such an area? We now talk of a "Merlot", but do we care about the origin of the grape? Is it a question of quality? Is the primacy of place over fruit justified?

For the present, the two notions are in rivalry. Eventually, I believe, the primacy of place over fruit will become obvious, at least for wines of quality. But for now, for most people, grape tastes are an easy reference point. But of course, they do matter, and a knowledge of grape varieties will guide you to flavours you enjoy and will help comparisons between regions.

There are well over 3,000 different grape varieties. Of these about 250 are planted in commercial quantities. The following grapes are considered the most significant for making red wines.

The 4 "classics":

  1. CABERNET SAUVIGNON : blackcurrant, cherry, chocolate, plum, mint, cedar, leather, and spice. Produces great character, fine red wines of structure and complexity that soften with oak and bottle ageing. Lamb, beef, wild game, steaks and roasts are traditional food pairings.
  2. MERLOT : plum, blackberry, chocolate. Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but less tannins, fruitier and rounder - so it's smoother, softer on the palate. Easy to drink without food. Pairs well with all red meats, roast pork, turkey, liver, duck, pheasant and casseroles.
  3. PINOT NOIR : strawberry, cherry, plums, sandalwood, cedar, leather and chocolate. Lighter in colour, body and with less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon. Makes silky smooth red wines of pleasing but complex fruit. Suitable for a wide range of roasts, grilled meat and fish dishes. Ideal with sauce dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin.
  4. SYRAH (Old World)/SHIRAZ (New World) : pepper, spice, raspberries, blackberries, leather, smoked and earthy. Dark red, full-bodied, robust "masculine" wines with exuberant aromas and flavours. Blends well with other reds and the white grape Viognier. A Shiraz tends to be softer, smoother. Good with red meats, liver, duck and chicken. Excellent for BBQ dishes.

The other notable red grape varieties:

  • BARBERA : a rich, luscious, vibrant red wine with black fruit tastes. Young, it's fruit fresh; with age, it becomes richer and plumy. Perfect with pastas and light lunches.
  • GAMAY : a light, brilliant red with strong fruity nose and fresh, zesty fruit tastes without high tannins, often served slightly chilled. Produces the infamous "Beaujolais Nouveau", a pure celebration of Autumn. Good with BBQ meats, sausages, pastas.
  • GRENACHE : widely planted and blended, produces rustic, low tannin, spicy wines, usually drunk young. Makes excellent rosés. Good with all meats and most salads.
  • MALBEC : inky, dark colour with robust tannins. The plum flavour goes well with steaks, red meats.
  • NEBBIOLO : very tannic with high acidity, improves with age. Produces the classic Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Tar, rosés, prune, cherry, leather are used to describe. Good with hearty meats and casseroles.
  • SANGIOVESE : high in acidity with earthy aromas reminiscent of tea leaves, tastes of black cherry fruit. At its best with traditional Italian foods, including lasagnes, tomato-based pasta dishes, pizzas, and sausages.
  • TEMPRANILLO : light in tannins, drunk young or blended for classic reds. Pairs well with all meats, including sausages.
  • ZINFANDEL : a versatile grape, making "blush" white wines for easy drinking, to intense fruity red wines. Styles dictates food matches. 



In my last blog, I presented to you the most significant of red grape varieties, and I sure hope you put my wine and food pairing recommendations into practice and enjoyed opening a few bottles whilst cooking. Get ready for more tastings though, as we are now studying the most famous of white wine grapes.

The 5 "classics":

  1. CHARDONNAY: the best-known wine name of all, the easiest grape to grow and vinify; it produces a very wide range of flavours, aromas and styles, depending on climate and wine-making. From cool regions, green apple and pear; in moderate regions, such as Burgundy, more peach and melon; from warm regions, more tropical fruit tastes - peach, banana, pineapple. The creamy, butter flavours result from allowing the malolactic fermentation to proceed, which considerably softens wines. Flavours of vanilla and coconut appear when aged in oak. Good food matches are grilled fish and white meats - chicken, turkey, veal or pork roasts. Creamy Chardonnays go with sauces on chicken, fish and seafood dishes, especially lobster and crab.
  2. CHENIN BLANC : tart, summer floral aromas, mellow fruit flavours - pears, peaches, melons, apples. Very high in acidity. Sweetness varies from dry to very sweet, but always with plenty of acidity. As with Chardonnay, this grape's wide variations mean it is important to read the label or food descriptions for food matching. Dry, light varieties are good as aperitifs, or go with light fish. Sweet versions with desserts like fruit tarts.
  3. RIESLING : stands level with Chardonnay as the world's best white wine grape. Aromatic, floral and fruity - peaches, melons and apricot. Light in body, high in acidity and low in alcohol, Riesling makes light, refreshing wines like the steely dry Alsaces and medium-sweet lower-alcohol Mosels. In Germany, there are sweeter versions, tasting of luscious fruit and honey. A versatile white that goes well with seafood - crab and prawns - chicken or pork with apple sauce. A good match for Chinese and Thai dishes. The sweeter versions are very perfumed and should be served on their own or to complement desserts, including chocolate ones.
  4. SAUVIGNON BLANC : aromatic, with vegetal and herbal flavours - cut grass, straw, green tea. Often described as smokey or gunflint, if fruity - gooseberry. Usually high in acidity, and almost always dry. Best to drink young. Often New World versions use oak for added body and softer fruit flavours. Good with fish, seafood, sushi, also chicken and salads.
  5. SEMILLON: gets blended with Sauvignon Blanc, its opposite, as Semillon provides the richness, body and depth. In producing Sauternes, a beneficial mold concentrates the grape's sugar, resulting in the sweet, honey flavours. An excellent dessert wine for tarts, wonderful with Roquefort and other blue cheeses. Sauternes is also the classic match for foie gras. The dry versions go with fish, seafood and chicken.

The other notable white grape varieties:

  • COLOMBARD : nicely fruity - green apple, lemon, melon, this is a nicely sharp grape. Refreshing dry fruity flavour, perfect with salads, Chinese and Thai meals. Aged in oak, it takes on fuller flavours. High natural acidity, it makes a good choice for bends. Californian and Australian versions have more fruit and strength.
  • GEWURZTRAMINER : the most recognisable grape of all. Very aromatic - rose petals, fruity - peaches, lychees, grapefruits, spicy - ginger, cinnamon. Wines are often rich and soft, even when fully dry. Versatile, goes with fish or chicken dishes. Very good with Oriental and Indian food.
  • MUSCAT : many varieties (the best is the Muscat Blanc à petits grains), widely grown, easily recognised, pungent grapes, mostly made into perfumed sweet wines, often fortified. Superb in France and in Australia. Rarely made dry, except in Alsace. The sweeter version is ideal with desserts.
  • PINOT BLANC : similar to but milder than Chardonnay (has indeed the same sort of broad flavour, indistinct perfume with perhaps a little more smokiness). Light, fresh, fruity, not aromatic, to drink young. An easy drinking, soft white. Used in blends.
  • PINOT GRIS (France) / PINOT GRIGIO (Italy) : crisp, spicy, nutty, flavoursome wines in the Alsacian versions. Italian versions are simpler, light, crisp refreshing wines. New World versions are more fruity with pear, apple and mango flavours. A versatile variety useful for salads and traditional white wine food pairings.
  • VIOGNIER : floral and fruity - apricots and peaches - low acid with high alcohol (13%). Smooth and balanced, with exotic fruit. Useful for blending. It is often served as an apéritif, as it can be very aromatic. With food, complements creamy fish, chicken, veal, pork or mildly spiced dishes.
  • UGNI BLANC (France) / TREBBIANO (Italy): important but mediocre grape. High acidity makes it useful for brandy production and blending. In Italy, it makes the dry, light, refreshing, neutral wines of Soave and Frascati. These are perfect with pasta and white fish dishes.


‘Sure, I age wine. For about 20 minutes, enough time to get back from the store and pop the cork.’

At least that's how the joke goes. And there's more than a grain of truth to it: When life revolves around immediate gratification, it's hard to think about waiting 5, 10, 20 years to drink a nice bottle of wine. Indeed, estimates from retailers and market research suggest 80-90% of bottles are consumed within 24 hours, and 90-95% within a week. Commit to starting a cellar, however, and you won't be sorry.

1. Where to start?

The simple truth is that a cupboard under the stairs will often suffice. Indeed, almost any space that is dark, free from vibrations and strong smells and that has an even temperature (around 12°C) can be turned into a cellar. Companies such as Wine Case can even fit custom-made metal and wooden wine racks in the weirdest-shaped spaces or, if you really have nothing better to do on a Saturday, supply you with your own wine rack-making kit. The key is to ensure that if your bottles are stoppered with corks that they are stored on their sides, at a slight angle, bottle neck down (to prevent the cork drying out). Bottles with screw caps can be stored upright.

As your collection gets more serious – or simply bigger – you might consider investing in a tailor-made wine fridge (I swear by my Samsung, which holds 33 bottles; £249 from John Lewis). You could invest in a fancy bespoke cellar such as the ones provided by Smith & Taylor or Spiral Cellars. Not only does S&T store wine for customers in the company's own warehouses, it also designs and constructs anything from 500-bottle wine cabinets to entire rooms that can hold thousands of bottles (and which can cost upwards of six figures). They look amazing and are as much about showing off some swanky interior design as they are about simply storing bottles of vino. I bet claret-loving designer Kevin McCloud has one. Spiral Cellars, by contrast, specialises in digging holes in the floor of your kitchen, dining room, study, garage, or wherever you see fit, and sinking a watertight, pre-cast cylinder topped with a trap door and lined with shelves with space for almost 2,000 bottles. No need to get rid of the billiards table after all - simply dig under it.

Finally, don't forget to insure your cellar. Not the plonk in the kitchen, but any purchases of value. And, just so you can remember what you bought when, what needs drinking and what needs leaving alone, invest in a cellar book or computer spreadsheet. Memory can play wretched tricks on one. Especially after a bottle or so. I would recommend using Cellar Tracker; it’s a website that uses wines as a database worldwide, and where your wines can be logged by vintage and region.

2. What to buy?

Beware. Fruit-forward wines from Australia, New Zealand, North and South America and South Africa typically need to be consumed within 2-3 years. Many European wines also lack the structure necessary to help a wine age gracefully. In fact, there are many variables used to determine a wine’s age worthiness, including a wine’s vintage, varietal, quality, and winemaking techniques used.

The roughly 5% of wines out there suited to aging — the best known being Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco and white and red Burgundies — undergo a wonderful transformation as time passes and oxygen seeps through the cork: dry tannins in big red wines soften, fruit flavours give way to subtle undertones of tobacco, leaves, wood, saddle leather and chocolate. Whites that seem too acidic when young can, with age, come into balance, revealing hints of apples and pears, nuts and buttered toast.

Wines from the following regions and from producers with a long track record for ageing dominate most serious cellars. In reds, that tends to mean Bordeaux and Burgundy, followed by the Rhône Valley, Piedmont (barolo, barbaresco), Tuscany (Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino), and Rioja; for whites it means riesling from Germany, Alsace and Austria, chenin blanc from the Loire, and chardonnay from Burgundy, with dessert wines from Sauternes, Germany and Tokaj, as well as vintage Blanc de Blancs champagne, port and madeira also featuring in the mix.

But it would be wrong to assume that these classics are the only wines worth keeping. We still tend to think of Australian and Californian reds as oaky fruit bombs, but our attitude would be very different if more of us tried their more serious wines with a bit more age. The same is true of the Australian whites, Hunter Valley semillon and Clare or Eden Valley riesling, and I've been impressed with how well some of the reds from Portugal's Douro Valley and France's Languedoc-Roussillon develop. With wines being released ever younger these days, I've found that buying the occasional case of £10 Chilean or Languedoc red, say, and tucking it away for 6 to 12 months can mellow the tannins, allowing the fruit to shine. Non-vintage champagne, too, improves after 18 months' further bottle age.

Look, too, at less familiar regions. My hot tips are the Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand, where soil and climate result in superb Bordeaux-rivalling blends and single-varietal Syrahs (look out for Craggy Range, Trinity Hill, Sacred Hill, Unison, Newton Forrest and Squawking Magpie) and the Douro Valley in Portugal for its new-wave table wines (look for estates such as Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Portal and Quinta do Vesuvio).

The wine could age better or worse depending on variables such as the vintage or the winemaker's techniques. For example, 1997 and 1999 red wines from Bordeaux should be consumed young, while the same wines grown in 1998 or 2000 could use some time in the cellar. Be sure to check out wine apps such as Hachette on your smart phone for drinking recommendations on individual wines, or drop me a line at info@hampshirewineschool.com if you have any questions or concerns. You can also read the World of Fine Wine or Decanter magazines, as well as Jancis Robison’s Purple Pages.


What makes one bottle more expensive than another? And is it worth spending a little bit more? What tricky questions … how long is a piece of string? I am probably asked these two questions more than any other, so here is what influences the price of a bottle.

As an example, I’m going to use a bottle that sells in the UK for £4.99 to illustrate where your money goes. Working backwards, we must remove the VAT at 20%, leaving us with just over £4. Next to come off is the duty on alcohol, which is over £1 per bottle. Off the £3 left, £1 goes to between importer and retailer, while another £1 goes on packaging and transport, which should leave us with just £1. This is how little we send on the actual wine itself! And let’s reflect for a minute on how very little wine producers actually get.

Now as shocking as all that sounds, a wine that costs you £6.99 will more than likely be twice the quality of the £4.99 wine. With VAT, duty, and all other costs fixed, what’s left over for the wine itself is considerably more than in the case of the £4.99 wine: you double the quality for just a little extra!!! Point made.

Obviously, there are various factors that also influence the price of a bottle, such as where the wine comes from (as production costs vary greatly worldwide), the name of the producer and the perceived quality (established reputation and big brands’ marketing comes at a price), the grape variety (some are in fashion, some are not, and prices of the grape goes up and down accordingly), the vintage (the quality of the year plays a big role), the rarity of the wine (less of it and more demand increases prices), the age (as a rare wine gets older, the number of bottles left in circulation will have a big impact on the price).

To conclude, I would like to compare wine to cars: four wheels and an engine. Essentially, cars exist for the same purpose, to drive us from A to B. But as we all know, there are cars and there are cars. And price varies dramatically depending on what it is, where it’s from, who made it, etc. You get what I’m saying. Wine is exactly the same … worth every single penny you can spare


A wine label is like a passport for wine. It should tell you what it is, who it’s from, what, where and when it’s from, too. However, distilling the information contained on a wine label can be a lot trickier than trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Especially French wine labels. Wine labels are designed to convince you to purchase the product, but some elements listed are mandatory in France to ensure the quality of the product, whilst some vital pieces of information seem to be omitted. Reading a French wine label can thus be very confusing. So here is a list of key points worth noticing and remembering the next time you pick a bottle of wine …

The main purpose of the label is to inform the consumer, before the wine is uncorked, about the contents of the bottle and the quality that can be expected. Some elements are mandatory and are regulated by French consumer protection services. The rest, such as the brand name or vineyard, are optional:

1 - Mandatory: Regional designation, either “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” or "Indication Géographique Protégée”, followed by the appellation name or the geographic area where the wine was produced. Example: “Appellation Bourgogne Contrôlée” or “Vin de Pays d’Oc”

2 - Mandatory: Name or company name of the bottler who is legally responsible for the wine and address of the corresponding head office. This information must be accompanied by the statement “Mis en bouteille par…” (“Bottled by…”) or “Société (Dupont) embouteilleur” (Dupont, bottling company). Example: “Mis en bouteille par (Dupont) à 33256 Carignan” (Bottled by Dupont in Carignan, 33256)

3 - Mandatory: Bottle volume in liters, centiliters or milliliters

4 - Mandatory: Degree of alcohol content, listed in % of total wine volume

Optional: brand name, Château (estate) picture, gold border on label, “Carte Noire” designation (indicates a wine has been aged several years), vintage, back label, “Vieilles Vignes” (Old Vines), “Mis en Bouteille à la propriété” (Estate Bottled).

In the Champagne region, the mandatory label elements are the same as for AOC wines, because Champagne is itself an appellation controlée. However, the process of making champagne, its residual sugar level and regional authorities often force producers to include more information on their labels.

1 - Mandatory: AOC designation, in this case just the word “Champagne”

2 - Mandatory: Brand name

3 - Mandatory: Bottle volume in liters, centiliters or milliliters

4 - Mandatory: Degree of alcohol content, listed in % of total wine volume

5 - Mandatory: Residual sugar levels, from the lowest (Brut Nature or Ultra-Brut) to the highest (Demi-Sec), with Extra Brut, Brut and Sec in between.

6 - Mandatory: The name or company name of the winemaker, the name of the village or town where production activities take place and the word “France”.

7 - Mandatory: The winemaker’s official registration number, preceded by the initials that signify the corresponding profession, including NM for Négociant Manipulant (Champagne house), RM for Récoltant Manipulant (winemaker that produces exclusively from his or her own grapes) and RC for Récoltant Coopérateur (a wine maker who has Champagne made by a cooperative) among others.

As you can see, a French wine label is very informative. It provides all kinds of information, except for one key item – the grape variety! The French focus on ‘terroir’ (the grape’s growing environment) dictates that an AOC wine label only provides information about the appellation and thus where the wine is from, not about the grape. You are expected to know what grape goes with what appellation. And that’s a fairly big assumption to make about wine consumers. Sorry. But then, that’s why I’m here … so don’t hesitate to email me at info@hampshirewineschool.com if you have any questions about labels, grapes, AOCs or French wines in general. I look forward to hearing from you!


I’ve been talking about vintages a lot lately in my blogs, and it is about time I explain what makes a good year as far as wines and champagnes are concerned. Essentially, the difference between good and bad years comes down to Mother Nature.

For starters, we should clarify what we mean by “year”. The year (or “vintage” as it’s known in the wine world) that appears on a bottle of wine refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Few wines appear without a vintage on the label; exceptions to the rule include champagne, port and sherry, where (even though single vintage examples are produced) wines are created by blending a number of different years in order to maintain a consistent House style year in, year out.

The weather is the real key to a good vintage. Grapes are delicate creatures, which need sun and water (although not too much of either) and long dry growing seasons, but fear frosts and hail. Beyond that, other factors play a role, such as pollution, the way vineyards are managed and how the wine was handled in the winery. To this end, the appearance of a vintage also acts as a valuable reference point for knowing when the perfect time for drinking your wine is.

Here are some very good vintages I would recommend you buying and/or investing in:

Region Vintages Red Bordeaux 2018, 2015, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989 Champagne 2011, 2007, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1999, 1996, 1995 Germany 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994 South Africa 2010, 2009, 2006, 2003, 2001 White Bordeaux 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1996, 1990, 1989 Rhone 2010, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2001, 1999, 1995 Italy 2009, 2006, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997, 1996 North America 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001 Red Burgundy 2010, 2009, 2005, 2002 Chablis 2010, 2005, 2002 Spain 2009, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997, 1996 Australia 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001 White Burgundy 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005, 2002, 2000 Alsace 2005, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990, 1989 Port 2005, 2003, 2000, 1997, 1994 New Zealand 2010, 2006, 2002.


For most of us, the idea of keeping a cellar full of wine is an aristocratic throwback or an investment banker's affectation. We buy wine for now, not later. Most estimates from retailers and market research suggest 80-90% of bottles are consumed within 24 hours, and 90-95% within a week.

But cellaring a few bottles needn't be the preserve of the grand and loaded. All you need is a dark place where the temperature is consistent – light and fluctuations in temperature are the biggest enemies of ageing wine. Provided it's away from a radiator, a cupboard under the stairs, a space under the bed, even an old fridge in the garage set to a high setting will do just fine to begin with. I keep my few dozen special bottles stacked on a cool stone floor beneath a dresser in my draughty old house. I've even got a thermometer down there.

If your collection gets more serious – or simply bigger – you might consider investing in a tailor-made wine fridge (I swear by my Samsung, which holds 33 bottles; £249 from John Lewis). The question of what else to put there is rather more complex. Most wines – not far off 90% – are designed to be drunk within a year or two of the vintage. If a wine is to age, it will need to have high levels of fruit flavour, acidity and, if they're reds, plenty of tannin. Even with all of those elements, however, things may not pan out; the tannins may not soften, the fruit may fade out, it may never, in wine speak, come round.
Many wines that will evolve beautifully taste gawky and awkward when young, and it can be hard to tell them apart from all the other gawky, awkward wines that are destined to remain that way forever. Even experienced tasters can't say with certainty how a wine will age, and no two bottles, even from the same batch, age the same way.

So it's no wonder that wines from regions and producers with a long track record for ageing dominate most serious cellars. In reds, that tends to mean Bordeaux and Burgundy, followed by the Rhône Valley, Piedmont (barolo, barbaresco), Tuscany (chianti classico, Brunello di Montalcino), and Rioja; for whites it means riesling from Germany, Alsace and Austria, chenin blanc from the Loire, and chardonnay from Burgundy, with dessert wines from Sauternes, Germany and Tokaj, and champagne, port and madeira also featuring in the mix.

My ideal cellar would feature as many of these as I could afford (and cellar-worthy wines do tend to be anything from a little to a lot more expensive). But it would be wrong to assume that these classics are the only wines worth keeping. We still tend to think of Australian and Californian reds as oaky fruit bombs, but our attitude would be very different if more of us tried their more serious wines with a bit more age. The same is true of the Australian whites, Hunter Valley semillon and Clare or Eden Valley riesling, and I've been impressed with how well some of the reds from Portugal's Douro Valley and France's Languedoc-Roussillon develop.

Not everyone likes the taste of older wine. Youthful fruit and vibrancy often trump the more mellow and savoury qualities of age. But if you're curious about the ageing process my advice would be to buy a half-case of one of the wines featured above, drink a bottle now, and then stash the rest away. You may just find that sometimes, even in the frenzied Twittering world of now, patience can be rewarded.

Six affordable cellar wines:

1. Castello di Potentino Piropo IGT Toscana, Italy 2008 (£13.95, from vineyardsdirect.com) An unusual blend of pinot noir with the chianti grape variety sangiovese and a little of the unheralded alicante from a British expat winemaker, this beautiful Tuscan red is alive with cherry fruit and fresh herbs now, but it could mellow and soften still more over the next half a decade. BEST BUY

2. Château du Cèdre Cahors, France 2009 (from £15.95, Lea & Sandeman; Roberson) Made from the local côt, aka malbec, a grape variety successfully appropriated by the Argentinians, this is an attractively fleshy and fresh red now, but with a certain gutsy power that will repay a decade or so in the cool and dark.

3. Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia 2012 (from £23.95 at slurp.co.uk; Noel Young Wines; Haynes Hanson & Clark) With its searing, linear, directness, Jeffrey Grosset's crystal clear Aussie Riesling is quite formidable (but cold-water-on-the-face refreshing) when it's young, but will take on layers of toasty limey complexity for many years to come.

4. Quinta do Noval Late-Bottled Vintage Port 2004 (From £15.60,Ocado; Lea & Sandeman; Cambridge Wine Merchants in Salisbury) The LBV style of port is released when it's ready to drink, and this one has the purring power and chocolate-edged dark fruit to make it a joy right now, but my experience of older vintages suggests it's worth squirreling the odd bottle away for at least a decade.

5. Château Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc, Bordeaux, France 2009 (from £25, as part of a case of six bottles, Tesco; Laithwaites) The staple of the classic cellar and the serious collector, red Bordeaux is re-mortgage pricey at the very top end. Look beyond the bigger cru classé names, however, and plus it can be affordable if not cheap, and Poujeaux's lushly fruited 2009 will keep for more than a decade.

6. Berrys Barolo, Italy 2008 (£24.95, Berry Bros & Rudd) Barolo is famously tough and tannic when it's young, but this example from posh merchant Berry Bros very superior own-label range was already quite silky when I tasted it in situ last year, although it has stuffing enough to add to its ethereal rose fragrance for five to ten years.


As a Champagne Expert, I love Hampshire sparkling wines. Let me explain why …

There is logic to Hampshire focusing on fizz. The first commercial vineyard of the modern era (admittedly only 0.4 hectare in size at the time) was indeed planted in Hampshire, in Hambledon in 1952 to be more precise. Since then, the area under vine has grown to proportions the pioneers could only have dreamt of. Hampshire wine has grown from being a cottage industry to one worth tens of millions of pounds with 42 vineyards operating across the county with more planted every year. The region helped the country to produce 6.3 million bottles of wine last year with sales of English wine predicted to make £100 million this year.

We have also witnessed a grape evolution. Old grape varieties are out (goodbye Bacchus, Müller-Thurgau and Madeleine Angevine) as new owners are in, and since they are strongly focusing on fizz (since 2016, at least 66% of the vintage goes into making sparkling wine), they are planting more of the traditional champagne grapes - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – which is much more to the international palate.
Furthermore, the chalky soils around the North and South Downs are very similar to the soil composition where famous champagne ‘Grandes Marques’, such as Bollinger and Krug, have their grapes planted. The billowing chalk hills of Champagne duck briefly under the Channel to reappear in Southern England, Hampshire included. If chalk matters, it must be because it affects aroma and flavour. Those who favour the idea of “terroir” believe chalk can deliver finesse – a fine, precise acidity on which to base a blend, in a way that no other Southern English soil can. And a sparkling wine needs finesse, elegance and acidity – or at least it does if it wants to imitate champagne in more ways than just grape varieties and price.
The Financial Times wine critic, Jancis Robinson MW agrees, albeit with a couple of caveats. "Most English fizz is now very well made and attractively dry and zesty. But very little has any real complexity since producers generally cannot afford to age it very long." Cost is indeed a problem. "It's never a bargain," Robinson says. "It is generally made by people who have invested a great deal in new vineyards or winemaking and need to see a return." Their fizz is therefore released on the market too young and sour. A Granny Smith apple taste which is not to the liking of most. We simply need more ageing in the bottle. That will come, I’m sure of it. But the price remains high and the competition can be significantly cheaper, whether prosecco, cava or own-brand champagne. Aldi, for example, sells their award-winning champagne for just £10.99 ... who can beat that?

Despite the cost premium (Hampshire fizz sells for a minimum of £28 a bottle), patriotism and the fashion for local provenance suggests that current levels of production are outstripped by demand. "The industry sells everything it produces," says Julia Trustram Eve, spokeswoman for English Wine Producers. "Demand is exceeding supply."

The main hindrance to production remains the capricious weather, and as such, English grape harvests vary enormously in both quantity and quality. Furthermore, in Britain’s cooler climate, the challenge is ripening grapes that tend to cling to their initial high acidity – we need more sunshine! Bring on global warming.

But back in Champagne, some are beginning to worry about falling acid levels there, as climate change takes effect. The long-standing rumours of Champenois investment in English wine came to fruition at the end of 2015 when Taittinger announced a joint venture in Kent with its UK importers Hatch Mansfield. It all started here with Didier Pierson of Champagne Pierson-Whitaker in the Grand Cru village of Avize, who came to Chidden back in 2004 to make his own sparkling wine ‘Meonhill’ and who then collaborated with Hambledon – which are now following a more ‘traditional’ champenois approach to blending for non-vintage. Vranken-Pommery followed suit in 2016 when the Champagne House announced that they will be making a sparkling wine in Hampshire in collaboration with Hattingley Valley. And more investment from the Champagne region is rumoured. Forget 1066, the French invasion is now about bubbles …

In the meantime, do try my top favourite award-winning Hampshire sparkling wines:
• Hambledon
• Meonhill
• Cottonworth
• Hattingley Valley
• Exton Park
• Raimes
• Jenkyn Place
• Danebury
• Coates & Seely
• Black Chalk


I LOVE BEER. But not just any beers. I like good, craft, real ales. And oh my, I’m in for a treat in Hampshire, for it is leading the way in terms of quality of produce and quantity of micro-breweries.

My heart belongs to Alfred’s Brewery and Steve Haigh, who showed me what great beers should be all about – four years ago now when we both opened up our respective businesses and made our dreams come true back in 2012. His “Winchester Pale” ale was voted by consumers as Best Beer of the CAMRA Winchester Real Ale & Cider Festival 2016, yet again, after his “Saxon Bronze” won the glorious award back in 2013. I was hooked and on a mission to add new little beer gems to my two favourites. Alfred’s Brewery, 5b Scylla Industrial Estate, Winnall Valley Road, Winchester SO23 0LD.

I was then introduced to Triple fff, and my life changed completely. Their “Alton’s Pride” and “Moondance” are nationally recognised as simply amazing. The hype is worth every drop on your lips, trust me. And the best thing about them? Their on-site shop is open 6 days a week and now offer, since July, not only their own beers for sale (all eight of them, including their seasonals), but also a fabulous selection of the best-rated beers from around the World as well as a small (but carefully chosen) selection of wine, whiskies and gins such as my local favourite Silverback. Paul Allen at Triple fff, Unit 3 Magpie Works, Station Approach, Four Marks, Nr Alton GU34 5HN.

My beer journey continued with Itchen Valley. Founded in 1997, their very first brew, “Godfathers”, won the Bronze Award for Best Ale in Great Britain the following year at the Great British Beer Festival. Not a bad start! They offer a tour of the brewery every first Saturday of the month for only £10pp (call 01962-735111 to book), so do not miss out on a really fun way of learning how to make award-winning real ales from pure Hampshire water, yeast, barley and the finest hops from around the country and world. Richard Robinson at Itchen Valley Brewery, Unit D, Prospect Commercial Park, Prospect Rd, New Alresford SO24 9QF.

When I tripped over Red Cat in 2014, I knew my journey had come to a major landmark. I like everything they do. From their philosophy (“we don’t do boring”!!!) to Mr M (THE red cat on their logo), to their unrivalled range of beers, they definitely know how to get me excited and coming back for more. My favourite? “Kairos Citrus Session IPA” and “C60 American IPA” from their Untamed Range. “Mr M’s Porter” from their Core Range. Oh dear … did you ask for only one?! The team, including owners and brewers Iain McIntosh and Andy Mansell, at Red Cat Brewing, Unit 10 Sun Valley Business Park, Winnall Close, Winchester SO23 0LB.

If you are like me and simply cannot make up your mind, then head to newly-opened Caskaway Tasting Rooms on Oxford Street. The owner, Ian Gosney, has created a cosy haven for all beer and wine drinkers. Southampton's first centrally located micro pub, serving the finest selection of craft beers, ciders, wines and premium spirits. With a cozy courtyard beer garden to the rear and Al Fresco seating on Oxford Street's cosmopolitan thoroughfare, go there to chill, with a quality drink in hand and a delicious scotch egg in mouth. You won't even need to leave your seat as they offer table service! My kind of pub. Ian Gosney at Caskaway Tasting Rooms, 47 Oxford St, Southampton SO14 3DP.


I LOVE FOOD. PUBS. AND MY DOG, WHISKY. And not always in this order. Which means that I like taking my very energetic 2-year-old cavapoo for walks all around the beaten tracks of Hampshire. That’s a treat for him. And then I like stopping on my way home via a pub for a drink – or two. That’s a treat for me. The trouble is, you see, that they aren’t too many dog-friendly pubs about. I have discovered, at Whisky’s expense, that there are three kind of pubs. Those which do not allow dogs. Those which just about tolerate them. And those which welcome them.

There is even one pub I know that is sooooo crazy about our four-legged friends that they call themselves “the most dog friendly pub in the forest”. And oh my, I would agree with their self-acclaimed title. Not only do the Compass Inn in Winsor offer your dog a home-cooked doggy meal when you order your own main course, but the chef also comes out of his kitchen to personally offer treats to all dogs present. They run monthly dog walks too. For only £17.50, you get a bacon bap and coffee before setting off to the New Forest for an hour-and-a-half walk with like-minded people and their beloved pets. You then return to the cosy country pub to slowly warm up – if you can fight your own dog for some space in front of the fireplace – and settle down for a well-deserved Sunday lunch. Let’s face it, my dog is treated like a King there. I almost feel like I’m intruding on his social time. Hence the title I personally gave the Compass Inn as “the pub where dogs are welcome, and people tolerated”. Maybe I’m just jealous because Whisky got patted on the head and I didn’t.

Whisky’s other favourite pub is the Rockstone on Onslow Road in Southampton city centre. There might not be a great walk around that particular area for dogs, but it’s worth getting your dog there anyway for a fabulous treat to your palate. Selfish, I know. But when a pub offers me 52 rums, 37 gins, 20 whiskies, too many beers and ciders to count as well as the best and biggest burgers in town, I tend to listen to the call and spend a lot of time there.

Whisky is always welcome there (even when he’s naughty – thank you Adam for helping clean his latest mess and keeping your smile on – sorry though), and he loves the buzz and music as much as I do. But do book, as the place gets fully packed. It’s THAT good. I’m also super excited at the news they’re now organising Gin Festivals, following the immense success of their annual Rum Festival. Do try it, with or without dogs, the place is amazing!

When in Southampton, I also tend to go to Highfield for a walk in the woods. When Whisky’s little legs get tired (or when I huff and puff, whichever comes first), we head for the fabulous Brewhouse and Kitchen on Highfield Lane. Whilst Whisky gets a truly lovely welcome and lick from Brewer, Matt (or is it the other way round), I crawl to the bar (I have little legs too) and order a pint of their own on-site brewed real ale from David behind the bar. They offer a fantastic selection of craft beer and truly lovely food in a super trendy environment. What more does your dog want? I mean, your two-legged human.

For more brilliant advice and reviews on dog-friendly pubs in the UK in general, and Hampshire in particular, do check my favourite (and I presume dog-friendly) website: www.doggiepubs.org.uk


Most people worry about getting fat. Me, I worry about the temperature of wine. Sad I know. Don’t get me wrong, I also worry about putting on weight, but then again when you know that a glass of champagne is less than 80 calories, you quickly stop worrying! My main concern is thus at which temperature wine is served. The problem is that too often we serve white wines too cold and reds not cool enough.

When you serve wine too cold, you are masking most smells and flavours, as well as altering the wine’s texture. Similarly, serve a wine too warm, and you’ll notice that the alcohol becomes far too obvious and will throw your wine out of balance. The fastest way to chill a wine is to place your bottle for 20 minutes in an half-filled bucket with ice, topped up with cold water; otherwise, to leave your bottle for 2 hours in the fridge will do the trick too. However, please please please, do not EVER place it in the freezer! Wines do not like drastic fluctuations in temperature, and you would most definitely kill those lovely flavours and aromas, and that would be a real shame. Besides, over-chilling wine makes the cork difficult to remove because the wax on a cork adheres to the bottle. However, not chilling a bottle of fizz enough and you risk the cork popping too soon … it’s literally a matter of health and safety here, as the cold temperature helps lowering the immense pressure inside a bottle of bubbly and makes it safe enough to open. Too warm? Too cold? I warned you this temperature business was mind-boggling!

While there are no strict rules about temperature, this is pretty much what seems to work:

• Well chilled, but still warmer than expected: non-vintage champagne, sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, rosé, many Spanish and Italian whites, unwooded white blends and manzanilla and fino sherry should all be served chilled between between 8° and 10°C (46°-50°F), and not colder!

• Cold-ish: vintage champagne, full-body whites such as Chardonnay, Semillon, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, reds such as Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and most sweet wines will all benefit from being served around 11°-15° (52°-59°F).

• “Room temperature”, or least what it used to be a century or so ago before central heating, ie 16°C-18°C (59°-64°F), which is actually a lot cooler than expected: medium to full-bodied reds and fortified wines.


Sweet food needs to be paired with an even sweeter wine – get that right, and you are heading for a match made in heaven. And with the festive period approaching fast, it is the perfect time to re-discover sweet wines.

Sweet wines are made in a different way from dry wines, and can have varying levels of sugar in them. All the natural sugar in grapes are usually fermented to alcohol until the wine is dry, but fortification, dosage of extra sugar, and finally concentration of sugars inside the grape itself (thanks to natural decay and noble rotting) are three methods of creating a sweet wine. How sweet depends on the wine style being made – from off-dry to super sweet.

My favourite is a late-harvest wine from France: Château Gravas Sauternes (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, 1998, about £16.95 for a bottle). The grapes are allowed to dry on the vine and are carefully hand-selected. Beerenauslese wines are amongst the most expensive and most-labour intensive wines in modern production. The pickers must go through the vineyards seeking out perfectly dried grapes, berry by berry. For a typical dry wine, a hand harvester can pick approximately 750 bottles worth of grapes a day. For the high-quality Sauternes, a harvester can pick only 1 bottle’s worth of grapes! They will be extra sweet and taste of peach, citrus, honey, and of course, raisins. Yummy! 

As a general rule about sweet wines, take it that gelato needs Moscato, Thai food needs off-dry Riesling, foie gras needs Sauternes, vanilla ice-cream needs Pedro Ximenez sherry, dark chocolate puddings need Banyuls, dried fruits cakes need a Mavrodaphne di Patras, honey-based desserts need Muscat, tropical fruit desserts need Tokai, and Stilton needs LBV Port.

But why don’t you experiment for yourselves? Every palate is different, but remember that, as the weight and intensity of the food go up, so too should the weight and sweetness of your wine!


One of the wonderful discoveries that I’ve made about Champagne over the years is how versatile it is with food and it is exactly what we will talk about during this tasting! Okay, maybe not with roast beef or with chocolate, but Champagne does match very well with many other foods. The trick is to select the right style of Champagne to have with various dishes.

A pleasant culinary revelation for me has been Champagne with eggs for brunch … a delight, especially with a light, young, non-Vintage Brut Champagne. Mushrooms are also a classic food with Champagne; their earthiness brings out similar flavours in the drink, particularly in more medium-bodied non-Vintage Brut Champagne. Salmon makes a terrific brunch dish when accompanied by a light, delicate Blanc de Blancs which will not overwhelm the fish.

Any pasta or risotto dish cooked with vegetables or seafood – either with some olive oil or in a cream or butter sauce – are at their best when accompanied by Champagne. The acidity of the drink cuts through cream or butter perfectly, so try a bubbly with a pasta carbonara or a mushroom risotto for example. However, avoid Champagne with any tomato-based sauces. The acidity of the tomato clashes and is too heavy for Champagne. I also find that Champagne is also the only really satisfying wine to accompany many vegetable dishes. I love young asparagus covered with baked parmesan cheese and hollandaise sauce. Asparagus has a reputation for clashing with wine, but it’s great with a delicate Blanc de Blancs Champagne, such as Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Brut.

Cooking full-bodied fish dishes with salmon, mackerel, swordfish or tuna, go well with full-bodied non-Vintage Bruts. The heavier the sauce is, the more full-bodied the Champagne should be.

Champagne really comes into its own as a partner to Asian cuisines, where the high alcohol and oakiness of many modern wines can be overwhelming. Champagne can definitely stand up to spicy goods thanks to its acidity and carbonation, whereas other wines simply get wiped out. Indeed, light or Extra-Brut Champagnes work well with Japanese raw fish platters, tempura or dim sum dishes, and Thai- and Vietnamese-style salads (as Champagne works particularly well with mint and coriander). My recommendation would be to try either the Pommery Royal Brut or the Billecart-Salmon Brut.

Simply prepared poultry dishes, whether baked, roasted, or fried, are great with medium-bodied non-Vintage Brut Champagnes. Lamb, on the hand, is a very full-flavoured meat and is better served with a dry, full-bodied Blanc de Noirs Rosé. A wonderful and unusual combination!

A lighter Rosé Champagne should then be paired with red berries-based desserts. Whereas classic French patisserie (a custard-based millefeuille, for example), is delicious with a medium-dry Champagne.

I hope I made you hungry!


In my extensive travels around the world, I always look forward to opening up a few bottles of the national pride or even better, the local vineyards. I'm never disappointed, as it is all part of the experience of being abroad, when you take the rough with the smooth and even the worse Rosé wine will taste delicious whilst holidaying in the sun. Until that is, you travel to the United States of America. I knew of the urban myths of an open war in trading terms between France and America about "Champagne", but until I saw the culprit with my own two eyes, it was what it was ... an urban myth.

This is the bottle I was served on a sunny afternoon in Las Vegas a few years back ... and I was NOT impressed. Can you read its label? It states 'California Champagne', and my blood started to boil.

"All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes."

Such is the definition of Champagne, as the strict Champagne appellation law only allows grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne. Through international treaty, national law or quality-control/consumer protection related local regulations, most countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the Champagne appellation (the infamous Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée or AOC). In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.

Other countries, however, such as the United States, have recognized the exclusive nature of this name, yet maintain a legal structure that allows domestic producers of sparkling wine to continue to use the term "Champagne" when the wine is made using the traditional "méthode champenoise".

My bottle thus re-heated the on-going Champagne war (and numerous and expensive court trials) that the EU has periodically waged against the likes of American producers who have the audacity to call their bubbly Champagne - heresy to the French and EU!

However, to my delight, I have since found out that a couple of US states, such as Oregon, do ban producers in their states from using the term as it can be confusing to consumers. Confusing? Damn illegal, if you ask me!

Some of you might ask me whether the proof of my beliefs is in the tasting. To which I would reply: most certainly. So I was interested in tasting their Californian "equivalent" to our French Champagne. Despite trying very hard to like it (I was on holiday after all and fancied enjoying myself), this Californian sparkling wine could only be described, at best, as a super light and refreshing bubbly. Nothing more to add, as there was not much flavours to it and no specific aromas to report in those MASSIVE bubbles. Perfect in the sun, whilst you holiday, but not to be entered anywhere near the category or quality of a true Champagne.

Upon further examination of the bottle, I also noticed with horror the poor quality of the bottle itself, its label and OMG its safety sticker and its "how-to" instruction tag. Its what?, I hear you gasp. Yes, you heard just fine, this bottle comes with instructions on how to open it. So, for the stupid amongst us, could you please "STOP and read safety instructions below before opening"

As a sparkling wine, I might have enjoyed it, but as it was hiding under false pretences, I found it hard to finish my glass. I felt cheated. I also felt that customers should know the truth about they drink, where the product comes from, and what their hard-earned cash is really buying them.

So please, on behalf of all consumers out there, let's label our produce properly and let's not get confusion settle in between products. And please, let's not import any of that "Champagne" labelled wine into the EU unless it is from the real Champagne area of France.

Not that we would, like bringing coal to Newcastle of course.


Whether white wine is only for fish or the cork is better or worse ... the world of wine is full of facts that aren't completely true. Discover here what's truly behind these myths.

1 - The older the wine, the better

Wrong. Only a small number of wines has the adequate structure to gain in quality during the ageing process. The rules behind being able to store and age a wine depends on factors such as grape variety, tannin level, vintage, wine-making processes, terroir, etc. However, most wines have an optimal time for consuming, and are usually produced to be drunk young and fresh, especially if coming from the New World. So what are you waiting for?

2 - Red wine for meat, white wine for fish

Plus, girls only wear pink and boys only wear blue ... No, although red wine is a better match for stronger dishes while white is for lighter recipes (since we need to match the volume of flavours in both wine and food), the best form of food pairing is analysing and combining the different kinds of taste, from acidity and tannin levels to body/texture and sweetness.

3 - White wine is served ice cold, red wine at room temperature

Wrong. It depends on the quality and age of the wine as well as the grape variety, which means that aged red wines should be served around 18ºC; younger red wines at about 16ºC; certain grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc can be chilled down to 14ºC; high quality, oaked white wines and Champagne between 9 and 12ºC; and young whites between 6 and 8ºC, no less.

4 - If the bottle top is a screwcap it's a bad wine

We're creatures of habit and we're used to corks. But that doesn't mean automatically that bottle caps are evil or are only used for bad wines. On the contrary, bottle caps could actually be a better choice for wines that should be consumed while still young (for example 95% of all white wines!).







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