This article could easily fit into a couple of sections on WineFolio. There is the reviews category, or the on-going series of features about “How we’re selling wine in NZ”. In the end I think I’ll put into both, as I’m going to assess the wines, as much as I’m thinking about what the experience of having a box of wines delivered, ready to be discovered, would be like.
If you’re a punter who is looking for suggestions, or directions for wine – and perhaps you want to explore outside your usual boundaries – in style, varietal or country of origin. Well, we’ve mostly been ring-fenced in New Zealand in recent months – and in the case of Aucklanders, literally not allowed to leave our physical boundaries for over 100 days. But as the borders are now opening up, it’s natural to want to explore beyond your own backyard. And that might extend to trying wines from outside New Zealand, or made from varieties that you’re not familiar with. A service like Laithwaites can ease you into that option – as I found out this weekend.
I’d been sent a boxful of wines from Laithwaites to give them a trial run, and was waiting for the ideal scenario to give it a whirl. With Covid-related delays and isolations, that time didn’t arrive until Saturday night. But armed with a box of mystery wines, I arrived at my friends door, to be greeted with aromas of roasting lamb and baked vegetable gratin. Which is good, as it turns out my box is probably best described as a ‘World of reds’ – containing five reds and one bottle of bubbles. None of which I’d tried before – or mostly, had wine from any of the brands/labels. I was pretty stoked to find a Susumaniello, a Roussillon Grenache/Carignan alongside a couple of Aussie Bordeaux style reds. An evening of tasting treats ahead of us..
The sparkling wine was from Limoux, where they’ve been making wines like since the 16 century, and contained, as I’d anticipated, some Chenin Blanc grapes in the mix, amongst the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Roche Lacour Méthode Traditionelle Cremant is a 2019 wine, and is Laithwaites bestselling vintage bubbles. It is dry, with a silky mousse of fine bubbles, and as much savoury flavour as fresh fruitiness. Baguette crumb, almond, fennel and hay sit alongside red apple, apricot and lemongrass notes. Medium weighted but showing great depth and complexity. this slipped down ridiculously easily as an aperitif with a bowl of roasted olives to snack on.
Moving over to the table, I had to decide which order to serve the red wines, and settled on a couple of easy picks – the grenache-based southern Frenchy to start us off – an obvious choice with a roasted leg of lamb; with the easy-going charm of a Merlot also opened at the same time, to complement everything else on the table.
Cabalié Cuvée Vielles Vignes 2020 is a Pays d’OC level Roussillon wine, a blend with Grenache and Carignan. Smooth, balanced acidity and tannin. Soft raspberry, cassis and cherry flavours accented with white pepper and dark spices. Sweet and ripe, a little oak influence and savoury elements. What it lacks in complexity is easily forgotten with an easy-drinking charm.
The Merlot came from Eden Valley in South Australia. Irvine Spring Hill Merlot 2019 shows classic plum, vanilla, bramble, baking spice and a herbal edge to the juicy aromas as it was opened. Medium bodied and with an easy-going swagger into the palate. Some savoury tapenade, eucalypt and black tea tannins add an edge over the plush fruit, and were a real hit with the food – the oven-roasted onion in the salad complementing the Merlot a treat.
Next cab off the rank was Tahbilk Ambassador Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2018 – good to see a familiar label in the box. This Victorian red blend was a step up in concentration and power. With that uniquely Australian take on a red blend in its style – straight in with an intensely aromatic nose of blackcurrant, chamomile, damson and cranberry. Broad and rich across the palate, with good oak, and some supple tannins providing a core to the ripe, lush fruit. What Australian reds do so well – a crowd pleasing style that rounded out the main course very nicely, and the second glass of the Tahbilk was a decent foil to the roasted apple and marscapone dessert too.
As we moved on to a cheese board, the last two reds were opened, and got to strut their stuff. The RedHeads Nobs and Snobs 2018 is certainly not one that I would have picked off a shelf. Label design can be a polarising, personal choice – and this was not one that appealed to me! Just as well that i was sent it blind in a mystery box then, lol. A Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend, I thought it would stand up to the punch of a platter complete with blue cheese, and it did just that. The Malbec contributes an inky purple to the colour and a blueberry, robustness to the flavours in the glass. A deeply dark-fruited example, with a characterful minerality and smoky intensity that reminded me of some South American versions I’d tried recently.
The final wine was one I was really looking forward to. Someone with a greater knowledge of Italian varieties than myself had introduced me to Susumaniello about a year ago, and I’d loved its warm Southern mediterranean style. The Pillastro Susumaniello 2020 is an example of a big, bruising red from Puglia, in a substantial bottle that echoes the stature of the wine within. A smoky, oaky perfume that is loaded with flavour and spice. Dense, up-front and brimming with personality. Cherry, black plum and rosehip with a touch of good bitterness to offset the ripe intensity. Lengthy finish with sweet and sour nuances.
All in all, this was an experience that even an experienced winelover could get a great deal from. We’re all guilty of returning to our comfortable favourites, and, for me, this was an opportunity to step outside of that and reconnect with the wider world of reds that do exist in that sweet spot of $20 to $30. The labels were also something new (mostly) – not ones you’d typically find in your local supermarket for example. There wasn’t anything too tasking, and certainly all of these wines were ready-to-go from the outset – offering something not just a bit different, but still accessible and most importantly – delicious.
The company has been operating across the globe since the late 60’s and has had over 1 million customers. The Laithwaites website is www.laithwaites.co.nz. It seems pretty easy to browse, with products arranged by ‘Body Style’ and ‘Price’ as well as easy to find ‘Latest Specials’, and, of course, the ‘Wine Plans’ which are at the core of their model. I expect that anything labelled as ‘Special Introductory Offer’ would be well worth considering!! Don’t forget that they offer a Money-back guarantee as well.