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Alexander Wines is an independent, Glasgow-based fine wine merchant supplying wines from around the world to many of Scotland's best hotels and restaurants. Founded in 1981 by the proprietor, Fraser Alexander, the company has grown rapidly in recent years, currently employing a team of 12 full-time employees. Now in it's 30th year of trading, Alexander Wines is proud to be one of Scotlands' few independant wine merchants suppling quality wine the length and breadth of the country.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Day Three - Wednesday 22nd January (Part 2)

As we bid farewell to Claudio, and thanked him for being a great host we piled back into our people carriers and made our way back up the valley to Il Cascinone. Il Cascinone is owned by Araldica, but makes wines from small unique plots of land surrounding the estate which they own.

On entering the winery it was immediate at how small this part of their operation was in comparision to their operation down in the valley. All the crushing, fermenting and ageing took part in two small adjacent rooms, with some fine oak casks being reserved for these wines. It didn't take us long to walk around this small but perfectly formed winery and head up to the tasting room where we would be tasting a full range of wines that are available from Araldica.

 (Barbera vineyards used for the Crocera Barbera at Il Cascinone)

First we went though a range of white wines, starting at crisp Pinot Grigios, soft Garganegas, intriguing Rieslings, toasty Chardonnays and finally elegant Gavis. My personal favourite was a 2008 Riesling which was like a flavour bomb going off in your mouth!

There is a restaurant attached to this winery, but it closes in January unfortunately. We were lucky enough though for one of the chefs to come and prepare us a fabulous buffet to soak up some of the wines we had been tasting. The restaurant is now #1 on tripadvisor in Piedmont, so if you're ever out here you should absolutely go and visit it. After lunch we took a stroll around the estate in the glorious sunshine and just enjoyed the calm and peaceful surroundings.

(the group enjoying the sunshine at Il Cascinone - Barbera vineyards behind us as far as the eye could see)

We then came back to the tasting rooms and went through a range of their red wines, from simple youthful Barberas, smooth Merlots, oak aged Barberas to bold Barolos. One of the wines 'Conan the Barbera' had been made by Graham from Boutinot who was with us on this trip which was amazing.

A siesta was very much required after all the wines (I think we tasted about 40.....) before we went for our last meal together at Acqui Terme. This town has a natural thermal spring running through it which we visited on route to the restaurant. It was remarkable at how hot the water was!!!

(Fountain in Acqui Terme where the thermal waters can be seen)

We eventually found our restaurant for the night after walking round all the beautiful alleyways where we were wined and dined and enjoyed some very unique wines from across Italy.

This was a truly phenomenal trip where we were able to see, taste and learn about the distinct wines from this area, and also understand how they have been made to complement the local cuisine through the ages. From what we witnessed, wines made in this region are made with passion, dedication and a little bit of love - and do you know what, thats a really nice thing to know when you drink a glass of wine from these hardworking winemakers.

Oh, and at the time of writing this they have had their cold snap and snow is falling thick and fast so the 2014 vintage looks set to be off to a good start.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Day Three in Piedmont - Wednesday 22nd February (Part 1)

We woke up to see the famous mists rolling through the surrounding hillside, called 'nebbia', which gave the grape variety of this area 'Nebbiolo' its name. This was a great start to the day and gave us the kick start we all needed to get our wine heads on again.

Today we would be visiting the Araldica winery down in the valley where Alexander Wines gets many of its cracking Italian wines from, including the Ancora Monferrato Chiaretto, Piedmont Cortese and Piedmont Barbera.

As we arrived we could tell it was going to be another beautiful, sunny day with clear blues skies. We met Claudio (who had taken us out for dinner on Monday) and we began our tour of the winery. This was a completely different set up to the two previous wineries we had visited. Araldica make a lot of wine, and in order to do this they have had to gradually change the way they function.

Their wines are fermented in massive stainless steel tanks to retain the fresh and pure flavours of the wines and then transferred either over to huge Slavonian oak barrels for ageing or filtered and bottled quickly ready for despatch. Most of their operations are now mechanised and controlled by very sophisticated computers. This ensures that every bottle is checked and scanned to make sure it is perfect.

Claudio then took us over to the old building and explained that they get a lot of their grapes from individual co-operatives who have small plots of land in the vineyards surrounding the area. It is a very clever system as they have to instruct all the individual growers to pick and bring the grapes to the winery so that they can be pressed and made into wine at the perfect time. They send a memo out to all the local bars and town halls where the growers are given a time to pick and get their grapes to the winery.

He said on these days, the roads are queued all the way up the hillside with each individual grower with his trailer full of grapes to be taken to the hopper at the winery. When they reach the winery, there are 4 loading/ hopper bays where the grapes are weighed and quickly assessed of its quality. The grapes are then tipped into the hopper, crushed and directed down one of 3 different routes - one route for premium grapes, one route for good grapes and one route for poor grapes which are not used. The price of the growers grapes are calculated on a scale (1 being perfect to 10 being unacceptable) with the weight and they are given a cheque for their grapes.

The grapes are then picked up by a tanker and driven over the road to the winery where they are made into delicious wines. You may be wondering why they don't just build a tunnel to pass the crushed grapes through to the winery, btu they can't ensure that the tunnel would always be at optimum cleanliness so they use the sterile tanks on the tankers to ensure optimum quality. This is probably the easiest trunk drivers job in the world!

Vickie and Paul with Claudio - yup, snow in the background!

As we left, Claudio said that this weather was unusually warm for this time of year and that the growers were starting to get concerned as the vines may start to bud too early. He had his fingers crossed for a cold snap to arrive soon or it could be disastrous for this years vintage.

Catch up tomorrow where we head back to Il Cascinone to take a tour around this tiny estate.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Day Two in Piedmont, Italy - Tuesday 21st January (Part 2)

Yesterday we left off at our departure of the hillside restaurant where we had enjoyed a 6 course lunch over looking the vineyards of the Barbaresco vineyards. We rolled out of the restaurant (literally as our stomachs were full to bursting with the amazing cuisine) and made our way to Poderi Colla, a small Podera in the heart of Barolo.

On arrival we noticed how different this was to our previous destination. Driving up a humble dirt track up the hillside we saw how small this estate was and how the aspects of the vines on the hillside were so important to the successful growing of the Nebbiolo grapes for the Barolo wines.

We were greeted by Tino Colla who owned the estate with his family, who took us up into his precious vineyards where he explained that the first plantings of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) in Piedmont were on this estate and that they were still growing today (see picture below of dried Pinot Nero grapes from the vineyard).

Tino also told us that up the hill in the woodland on his estate was some of the finest land to search for black truffles. He often hosted truffle hunting parties for the locals. They used specially trained dogs to help them search for this black gold and that it sometimes cost up to 10,000 euro to train 1 dog up to the right standard. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to search for some ourselves, but if you're ever in the area you should call in on Tino and see if he will take you there.

 (Paul and Vickie in the Poderi Colla vineyards with the Alps in the background - notice the weather station to the left where Tino is able to monitor the weather here and make right judgements with his vines/ grapes)

After our tour of the vineyards, we were taken into the tasting room to sample some of the wines from this winery. Along with some Dolchettos, we tasted some fanstastic Barolos with Pietro (Tino's son) who has trained at the Alba winemaking school and graduated in Oeneology at Turin University. He has followed in the family footsteps at this winery to continue the legacy of his family. The first records of the Colla family being in the wine industry date back to 1703, and they have acquired land since then and created some very fine wines.

On show in the tasting room was the oldest recorded bottle of Barbaresco, which dates back to 1875, see picture below, which we didn't get to taste but was fascinating to see.

One of the most unusual wines we tasted on thw whole trip was an 'Absinthe flavoured' sweet wine, which are actually very typical of the Piedmont area. Often classed as vermouths, these herb flavoured wines are often consumed as digestifs after a heavy meal, and from what we had experienced so far with the Piedmont cuisine, a lot of this style is wine is probably drunk.

As the sun began to set behind the hills in the background we made our way back to our vehicles,  and Tino pointed out Mr Fererros estate (yes Mr Fererro Rocher himself!) in the distance. This part of Italy is famous for its hazelnuts but sadly the cost of harvesting them has increased very dramatically so they import them from Turkey now.

As we bid 'Arrivederci' to Tino and Pietro we made our way to our last stop of the day - a restaurant that only sells wine by the MAGNUM!!! Needless to say, we had a fair few glasses and compared an unoaked Barbera to an oaked Barbera from a local vineyard, and what a difference a little bit of oak ageing makes to this wine. These wines are perfect for enjoying with Italian cuisine with their great balance of fruit, tannins and acidity to match the rich and sumptuous food. We were beginning to feel like we could get used to this way of life!

 (one of the dishes - a full leg of Bone Marrow!)

After a very long day, we made it back to Il Cascinone where we retired in the bar for a quick nightcap before heading to bed for another winery tour the next day.

Catch up tomorrow where we will be showing a different side of the wine world in Piedmont.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Day Two in Piedmont, Italy - Tuesday 21st January (part 1)

After a much needed rest from our travelling and massive meal the night before we had an early start to the day where we would be visiting two very different kinds of producer who both made some of the finest wines in Italy!

Our first visit was to the grand estate of Le Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gr├ęsy, which has been in the Gresy family since 1797. The estate is now under the control of Alberto di Gresy who has developed not only the architecture, but has also been forward thinking into planting new grape varieties not native to this area. Based in a natural amphitheatre between the Monferrato and Langhe rolling hills this estate has perfect growing conditions for the Nebbiolo grape, and produces some extraordinary Barbaresco.

As we arrived at the estate the sun popped out from behind the clouds and lit up all the vineyards around us. We met Marina in the courtyard, who took us for a guided tour around this magnificent estate and showed us how they make the wine at the estate - right from harvesting, fermenting, filtering, ageing and right to the bottling and packaging of the wines.

After our tour, we sat down to taste some of the wines from the estate. First up were some Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays which are fairly new to the estate. We compared a 2000 vintage to a 2012 vintage and Chardonnay and WOW what a taste explosion. Then we moved onto the classic reds from the area including a juicy Dolchetto, and a vertical tasting of some superb Barbarescos from the single Martinenga plot within the Gresy estate. This plot of land has particular exceptional growing conditions for the Nebbiolo grape used for Barbaresco due to its soil composition, aspect to the sun and altitude.

With our palates well and truly spoiled we ventured outside to depart and basked in the sun for a while before heading away for a spot of lunch at one of the unique hillside restaurants.

Catch up tomorrow for the second part of our this day where we made our way over a Barolo Podera.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Day one in Piedmont Italy - Monday 20th January

We arrived at our destination just as the sun was setting behind the stunning Alpine background, surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see at the Il Cascinone estate which was where we would be staying for next couple of days. The journey was a bit of an adventure in itself - for those of you who have driven in Italy, I'm sure you can empathise with us when we say that the road signs are some of the most subtle and discreet we have had to follow! But we made it, just in time before darkness descended, ready to embrace on our Italian adventure.

The group of 12 was made up of guests from as far north as Orkney to down south in Oxford, and hearing all the different accents talk about our same passion 'Wine!' was a bit tricky for our host for the evening to understand at first.

We met up with Claudio (head of the table) from Araldica Vini who took us out for our first 6 course dinner of the week. Claudio Manera is the Managing Director and Oeneologist for Araldica Vini. He had arranged this superb feast at a local restaurant for us, and what a feast it was....... Courses included veal tartare and wild boar pasta, and little did we realise that this was going to be norm for the duration of the stay.

Along with the incredible food, we were also served some fine wines from the area including Alexander Wines favourite Gavi 'La Battistina'. We sipped the winerys latest vintage, 2013, and its zesty and mouth watering flavours were perfect for refreshing the palate after all the rich food.

After tasting some of the local Grappa (whooft), we headed back to Il Cascinone for a well needed sleep as the next day was going to be full on. As we headed back, the stars sparkled bright in the sky and the mists started to roll in through the hills which are really important for the grapes in this area.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sauvignon Blanc and more......

With Sauvignon Blanc being our top selling variety, we thought we would introduce you to some other grape varieties that might tick the box that you're looking for when picking out a bottle of wine.

Sauvignon Blanc, from all over the world, has fresh, light, aromatic and juicy flavours ranging from the zesty gooseberry/ herbaceous/ grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to the flinty/ fresh/ minerally Sancerre from the Loire, France. So here are a few alternatives that might tickle your tastebuds.......

Cortese is a wonderful variety that has seen a great increase in popularity, mainly from this being used to create the tantalising Gavi from Piemonte, Italy. Bursting with lean flavours of limes, grapefruit and crisp green apples this is a great alternative to those who love a zesty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Torrontes from Argentina may not be the first variety that springs to mind when making a recommendation for someone who loves Sauvignon Blanc, but for those who love something a bit quirky and different this is a great alternative. Full of aromatic ripe honeyed citrus and tropical fruits with a light floral touch, the Argetinians have a beautiful variety to rival the trusty Sauvignon Blanc.

Verdejo is sometimes referred to as the Spanish Sauvignon Blanc, and rightly so. This variety has all the delicious light flavours of tropical guava, limes and grapefruit but without the grassy herbaceous notes that Sauvignon Blanc can have. Grown mostly in the Rueda region, this variety is able to withstand the hot temperatures without losing its freshness.

So why not try something a little bit different, as they do say 'variety is the spice of life' and a new grape variety is a great way to start.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Love is in the Air

A Valentines Day dinner should be romantic, seductive and relaxing.... and a good wine is paramount to creating the perfect atmosphere. We have a few suggestions for your tipple of choice to make your night go smoothly and for you both to enjoy.

Bubbles are the obvious choice to start the evening, and pink Champagne is our top recommendation. The ultimate pink Champagne enjoyed all over the world is Laurent-Perrier Rose Brut, with it's enticing flavours of strawberries and raspberries with a creamy mousse texture. Pair these bubbles with smoked salmon blinis and oysters.

£51.25 per bottle

Or as a gift for your loved one, we also have this with a limited edition Laurent-Perrier Rose Ice Bucket and Gift Box for £59.99

For a classic wine to enjoy throughout your meal this very much depends on what you plan to serve. Below are some truly romantic dishes with a wine match option.

Lady and the Tramps' scene where they enjoy a hearty meal of Spaghetti Bolognese together could be your inspiration for your Valentines Day meal, and the perfect pair for this would be our Italian Valpolicella Ripasso Classico from Luigi Righetti. Delicious flavours of cherries, plums, touches of strawberry and a hint of smokey spice.

£10.99 per bottle

If having a seafood inspired main course, such as lobster, a fresh and zingy white wine such as our Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France by Domaine du Roc Blanc is another classic pairing. The crisp and zesty flavours of citrus lemon, flinty mineral notes and a touch of spice in the wine pair well with salty seafood.
 £8.99 a bottle

If serving up steak, a hearty and full bodied red is best to serve. Our top choices to drink would be the Las Moras 'Black Label' Malbec, Argentina or the Chateau Montaiguillon Bordeaux, France. Both these full bodied wines are great with steak. The ripe tannins in the Chateau Montaiguillon are softened by the fat in the steak allowing the fruity plum notes to develop on the palate. Whilst the smokey chocolate and coffee flavours of the Malbec create a taste explosion with peppered steak. 

£14.75 a bottle
£12.49 a bottle

To finish your delicious meal, an indulgent treat would be to enjoy the bottle of Laurent-Perrier Rose Brut with some chocolate dipped strawberries. However, if you managed to drink this all at the beginning of the night, a dessert wine can the perfect end to a delicious meal. We love the Campbells Rutherglen Muscat, Australia with it's luxurious flavours of honeyed figs, nutmeg, raisins and woody notes. A great wine to sip and enjoy in the company of your loved one.

£11.49 a bottle