September 28, 2017

The worthiest of wines

By Debbie Rosenberg

I’m interested to know where people buy wine? Do you add a bottle or two to your weekly supermarket shop? Are you signed up to a monthly wine club where you get a mystery mixed case delivered to your door? Or, like me, do you have a cellar plan at a traditional wine merchant and top up at independent wine shops when you read about a new wine you just have to have right now?

Until recently, I hadn’t considered buying house wines, which are wines a merchant develops in close collaboration with a producer and markets under their own label. I’ve discovered that Corney & Barrow, a merchant from whom I’ve bought wine since 2009, have a classic range of 15 house wines that are beautifully crafted boutique examples of some of the world’s most highly regarded wine styles.

Corney & Barrow have been around for over 200 years, so they know a thing or two about bottling the good stuff. In addition to their comprehensive offering of some of the best producer led wines in the world, their house wines range from basic Blanc and Rouge to fine examples of iconic Red Bordeaux, White Burgundy and a decadent example of Sauternes for lovers of sweet wines and you’d be hard pressed to find better examples for the money. You can see the full list on their website but here are my favourites…

Corney & Barrow Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle NV £12.75
What better way to welcome your friends and family than with a glass of proper bubbles? I say proper, because this wine has been meticulously made in the style of Champagne, with the wine undergoing a secondary fermentation in the bottle which gives those fine, persistent bubbles and a gorgeous toasty twang that Prosecco just can’t deliver. This fizz is smooth, almost too easy to drink possessing the slightest hint of sweetness although it’s a perfectly dry wine. It tastes expensive so I was surprised to find it’s only £12.75 a bottle. Essentially, that’s what house wines deliver – outstanding value for money.

A fun twist to wow your guests would be to add a dash of their Own Label Sloe Gin to the bubbles either as an Aperitif or a cocktail once the dancing starts.

Corney & Barrow White Burgundy Domaine Dominique Cornin 2016 £14.95
This is my favourite of the Corney & Barrow house wines, and an impressive wine to serve at your wedding. If you do, just be sure to keep a few bottles back for you and your partner to enjoy while reminiscing over the photographs as once your guests taste this it will be gone in a flash. Seriously, gone, practically inhaled by your guests who’ll surely be thinking yours is the wedding of the century with this wine in hand. But don’t just take my word for it. Olly Smith said “it’s the best value White Burgundy in the world for the money”. It’s 100% Chardonnay, and, if you haven’t tried White Burgundy yet, I couldn’t think of a better introduction to the style.

Corney & Barrow Rioja Crianza 2014 £9.95
Rioja is easy to love, and this one is 100% Tempranillo showcasing the grape of the moment. Ever popular, this thick-skinned red grape variety makes for wines that are dark in colour and dense in flavour. This is a crowd pleasing wine that connoisseurs and casual drinkers will both appreciate. Who doesn’t love a bit of strawberry and leather for under a tenner?

Now onto some serious red Bordeaux.

Corney & Barrow St-Emillion GFA Clemenceau 2012 £16.95
This classic red Bordeaux comes from a tiny parcel of land in the commune of Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens owned by the Clemenceau family. It’s a typical right bank blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet France, and at an average age of 50, these older vines ensure low grape yields and therefore concentrated flavours in the wine. The wine is juicy, refreshing and elegantly laced with subtle vanilla spice from the 12 months ageing in oak barrels. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to share this with your guests, in which case, you could also add a cheeky case or too to your gift registry.

And so, to Sauternes with Corney & Barrow’s Sauternes 2012 £13.25
Sauternes is a late harvest dessert wine made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (80% and 20% respectively in this wine) grown in the Bordeaux region of France. It pairs exceptionally well with both cheese and a traditional wedding fruit cake. Given the right humidity and early morning mist in the vineyard, a benevolent fungus called botrytis cinerea (affectionately known among wine lovers as Noble Rot) settles on the grapes and punctures the skins. As a result, the grapes shrivel on the vine and fruit flavours and acidity are concentrated in the grape enabling the producer to create lusciously sweet wines with great acidic drive and the tell-tale funky flavours of noble rot.

On a buying trip to Bordeaux, the Corney & Barrow team had no intention of bottling a Sauternes under their own label. But after being offered a glass of this liquid gold after a gruelling blending session, they had to have it and now you can too. Hurry though, there are only 100 cases left of the current vintage. More on the way hopefully soon.

Want more? Check out Debbie’s blog at sipandsizzle.com or join us at The Sommerliers’ table at Brides The Show in London this weekend!