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Wines from Laithwaites

by Tom Cannavan, 02/08

I recently tasted through a selection of wines from online retailer Laithwaites, covering a range of styles from Old World to New, and from light crisp whites to some seriously chunky reds.

Laithwaites was named 'Independent Wine Merchant of the Year' at the 2007 Decanter World Wine Awards, and I have to say that for a very large and successful merchant, I found plenty of interesting wines in this selection. Laithwaites is a sponsor of, but we make no commissions or referral fees.

white wines

Bovlei (South Africa) Marthinus Chenin Blanc 2007
I'm a big fan of quite a few Chenins from South Africa, especially from maestros like Ken Forrester, Mulderbosch and Rudera estates. This one is made for Laithwaites by the Bovlei winery in Wellington, and has a dazzling nose that touches on boiled sweets and tropical fruit salad, before focusing in on crunchy green apple. On the palate it is crunchy and vibrant, with more of that green apple sharpness and crispness, but quite a rich textural weight and a certain roundness. Make no mistake though, this wine is all about unoaked, expressive fruit. Lovely. £5.83.

Moreau, Louis (France) Domaine de Biéville Vieilles Vignes 2006
Louis Moreau's vineyard for this wine is picked around 10 days later than many of his neighbours, the 35-year-old vines achieving high levels of concentration. But then this vineyard is at 280 metres altitude, making it one of the highest of the appellation. This very pale gold wine has a classic Chablis nose, with elegant restraint showing little notes of river pebbles, ozone and clean, crisp apple fruit. On the palate this surprisingly forceful and intense, with a really taught, savoury core of lemon and orchard fruits, all framed by a dry, mineral and lemon pith acidity that gives this huge presence. There is plenty of fruit here, but it is cool, unwavering and almost chalky in a classical Chablis style. Excellent stuff from Moreau. £10.50.

Jaffelin (France) Rully les Villages de Jaffelin 2005
This wine is sourced from a 70-year-old Chardonnay vineyard that lies next to the Premier Cru of Meix, and Jaffelin claim yields are as low as those of a Grand Cru. The nose is absolutely delightful, crammed with hazelnut, almond and acacia notes, with a sheer, silky white fruit and citrus purity of fruit piercing through. On the palate there is gorgeous fruit sweetness, with real concentration and intensity from the old vines, flooding the mouth with crisp orchard fruits and just hints of fat, waxy Brazil nut and a more tropical, peachy character. The acidity powers through though, with a genuine sense of minerality as well as cool, clear white fruit crunch, in a very, very stylish white Burgundy. £12.25.

red wines

Vale do Bonfim (Portugal) Douro 2004
Made by the Symington family, the bulk of the fruit for this Douro red comes from their Quinta do Bonfim Port wine estate. 60% Touriga Roriz and 40% Touriga Franca, the nose is earthy and gamy, with some very dense, rich black and red berry fruit emerging, and just a little hint of toast and charry oak in the background. On the palate this is dry and savoury, with a big, robust grip of tannin playing against sweet blackberry and bramble fruit, with a lick of tobacco and freshening acidity emerging on the finish. Big and rustic, but packed with robust personality. £5.83.

Farnese (Italy) Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Seicento Anniversario 2006
This special 600th anniversary bottling of Montepulciano celebrates the castle where Farnese estate barrel matures its top reds. The best grapes from Farnese's high-altitude vineyards were very gently pressed, followed by extended ageing in barriques. Laithwaites says only a "tiny parcel" of this special cuvée is available. The colour is dramatically deep, and the nose follows suit with a deep well of plum, chocolate and smoky tobacco, swirling with a juicy black fruit character, but plenty of spice too. On the palate this is very nicely styled, with a really savoury, dry, grown-up structure, where the mineral and crisp-edge black fruit is supported by plenty of damson skin tang and a solid tannin and acid framework. Long, lithe and elegant yet with considerable power. £7.83.

Château Maison Blanche (France) Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2005
Château Maison Blanche's Médoc estate on Bordeaux's 'Left Bank' is unusual in that it is planted predominantly to Merlot (67%). The vines are now 25 years old, and the owning Bouey family have made changes in vineyard management to improve quality, as well as investing in the cellars. The wine spends 10 months in oak barrels. From a fantastic vintage, there's a lot of fragrance on the nose here, with some delicate cherry and rose-hip nuances, to a ripe, red berry-fruited core. Little incense-like notes from the oak add finesse. On the palate this has quite a powerful concentration, with a very cherryish quality to the fruit, and a powerful core of tannin and darker, plummier fruit giving bite and firmness. The wood on the finish is perhaps a touch drying, but this is a structured, quite serious wine that has good fruit and balance, and it should age well for a few years. £9.91.

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