Bubbles in the rather handy wine chiller cabinet

So, I have a friend, we’ll call her Julie. Julie says to me, please can you buy the wine for my upcoming 40th birthday celebration – a weekend house party on the Jurassic coast (near Lyme Regis), with 40 guests (including the Morning Claret, off duty of course). I ask for guidance, and luckily it’s very broad: A preference for Prosecco over Champagne, a love of Riesling, and for “good wine over cheap wine”. Armed with a generous budget of £33 per boozing adult (£1,000 total), off I go like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop.

Where to buy such a haul, ensuring I can get it delivered to our Dorset location inside of a week, and giving me enough choice to ensure I satisfy all the guests? Majestic Wines seems to be the obvious answer – a good if fairly mainstream range, great deals when buying in quantity, and the all important free delivery. So after two hours of deliberation, I’ve got my order in. Two sparklers, five reds, four whites and a Sunday morning hangover cure (of which more later). Bring on the weekend . . .

The bubbles

Obeying orders, I dialled up a decent Prosecco, the La Marca Treviso Extra dry – fair value at £9.99, crisp with the merest hint of sweetness. Also on hand was the Perle de Vigne Cremant de Bourgogne – a bone-dry, elegant sparkler (also £9.99 on multi-buy) made from a blend of all four permitted Burgundian grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligoté. I liked the slightly toasty edge and the richness from the Chardonnay.

The whites

Salice Salento, Fronton and 1989 Rioja Gran Reserva
Reds from Italy, France and Spain

We needed a good glugging white, especially with the copious quantities of fresh fish and seafood to be had in the locality, and this slot was ably filled by the Marqués de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2010 – a floral, peach-flavoured wine showing off North-Western Spain’s Verdejo grape to good effect. At the offer price of £7.19, this was good value. I’m less sure at the current list price of £8.99.

For the Saturday “dinner” white, we ramped up to the ever reliable Gavi di Gavi La Toledana 2011. Forget bland, uninteresting Gavi, this has lovely minerality, ripe fruit and just a little more weight than your average G di G, due to the late harvesting regime. Was it just me though, or is the 2011 a bit less rich than other recent vintages?

I had the idea to do a mini Riesling masterclass, comparing Trimbach’s entry level Riesling 2009, Schlumberger’s ‘Les Princes Abbés’ 2009 and throwing in the special treat of a Trimbach ‘Cuvée Frédéric Emile’ 2006 – but that will have to wait, since the weekend was so packed with merriment that the birthday girl could not be secured for a spare hour. I’m sure it will make an appearance on this blog in the weeks to come.

The reds

Here’s where things got interesting. I’d saved a couple of more premium choices for the Saturday night dinner, and happily bored anyone who would listen with the story of these wines. So some people had expectations (or started giving me a wide berth), others just saw bottles on the table, poured and made their own decisions.

Our easy drinking red (for Friday night ice-breaking) was a South-West France offering, Château Jouaninel Fronton 2009 – a soft, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and the more aniseed character of Negrette. Very attractive, especially at the £6.99 multibuy price.

Friday’s big win was however I Satiri’s “Candido” Salice Salentino Riserva 2006 – very definitely a hot climate wine, with Negroamaro’s trademark smoky bramble fruit, yet considerably softer (due to age?) and better balanced than many mid-price Salice Salentinos. I could nit-pick with the rather sweet finish, however it was far less offensive than the alcoholic burn that many Negroamaros suffer from. I’ll be buying this again (and I won’t be the only one) – even at the list price (£9.49).

Petalos Bierzo 2009
“Man of the match” Petalos

And to Saturday. Great that Majestic now stock the wonderful Pétalos Bierzo Descendientes de J. Palacios 2009 – and I wondered what a “non-specialist” audience would make of it. This is a quintessential example of Northern Spain’s Mencia grape – fresh, herbaceous, almost green fruit, a hint of bitter chocolate, and relatively high alcohol ensuring that the crunchy tannins don’t get in the way at all. It’s also worth noting that this was the only properly “natural” wine on the table (Majestic have some work to do in that area). Alvaro Palacios farms biodynamically and uses no filtration or fining.

Some found the acidity overbearing – I had put an extremely soft, if woody Tempranillo Gran Reserva 2001 on the table for comparison purposes – but overall the reaction was extremely positive, with many selecting it as their wine of the weekend. I was delighted – this is a cracking wine, with real individuality and sense of place.

Finally, we enjoyed the Viña Muriel Rioja Gran Reserva 1989 with some cheese. Not perhaps the most complex or subtle example of an aged Rioja (I would have preferred something from Urbina), but certainly still alive and kicking, with notes of coffee, caramel, leather and prunes.


Sunday morning

Who could not love a wine which is low in alcohol, lightly sparkling, and deliciously semi-sweet? Stand up, Asti (or Asti Spumante as it used to be known). Unfortunately Majestic don’t currently carry an Asti – but they did have the equally delectable Viña Tendida Moscato 2010, from far South in the Valencia region, an Asti dead ringer with its perfumed, grapey nose and elderflower fruit. And at a mere 5% alcohol, and multibuy price of £3.99, no serious danger to the liver or the wallet.

I always enjoy the slightly panicked look on people’s faces when you bring out some champagne glasses and a bottle of wine at 11am – but one sip of the Moscato and not only is everyone hooked, they’re running to the fridge to see how many bottles are left.

Stonebarrow Manor - our home for the weekend
Stonebarrow Manor – our home for the weekend
Bluebells in the garden at Stonebarrow
Bluebells in the garden at Stonebarrow
Moody skies as Brian sets up for a group shot
Moody skies as Brian sets up for a group shot
tendida moscato
You actually brought a special breakfast wine?!










All the wines were supplied by Majestic (delivered from the Yeovil branch). I have no affiliation with them, and I was not paid to write this review. The high incidence of Spanish wines was partly due to that being Majestic’s special offer region for the month – hence I was able to get more value out of the budget.

I spent the total budget of £1,000 on the wines listed above, plus a fair amount of craft ales and lagers, also supplied by Majestic.