Britain is becoming a nation of internet wine buyers.
Websites account for over six per cent of UK wine sales – more than five times the worldwide average - and that figure is forecast to double in the next five years.
Why? The reason is largely down to British supermarkets’ aggressive development of their online trade plus a number of specialist internet wine retailers and clubs.
These include Laithwaites, the Wine Society and Virgin Wines, which was acquired by Richard Branson in 2000. No longer owned by Branson but still trading under the Virgin livery, the company sells more than 600 brands, many sourced from small producers.
Their wines are promoted by style such as “Huge Reds” and “Full and Fruity”. So having acquired six of Virgin’s newer releases – three reds, two whites and a rosé – I decided to put their style guide and quality to the test.
The muscat grape is commonly associated with sweet, fortified or sparkling wines, but large-scale Piedmont producer Araldica has made a tasty dry white from the grape Italians call moscato.
Araldica d’Aria Moscato Secco 2012 from the Pavia district of northern Italy is selling at £8.49 and is tagged as a “fragrant but dry white”. Spot on. The nose is temptingly aromatic and floral with aromas of honeysuckle and lemon. The taste is dry with flavours of grapefruit, peach and honey.
Tabali Talinay chardonnay 2010 hails from Chile’s Limari Valley and is promoted as a “clean and crisp white”. The chardonnay, from what is billed as Chile’s only limestone/chalk soil vineyard, is not the cheapest at £15.99 but is very good. The cream, vanilla and coconut nose leads to a taste journey in the mouth, starting with an oak-influenced smoky vanilla creaminess, giving way to intense and zesty citrus and mineral flavours.
The finish is long and assured.
Taste in wine, like music, is subjective – it’s possible to appreciate quality without actually liking the product. The success of Branson’s Virgin Records was largely due to his first album release, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which hit the shops in 1973. It never appealed to me yet I could appreciate why it sold millions.
Many people love rosé wines yet they rarely excite me. However, Virgin’s Gypsy Lee Rose white zinfandel 2012 , from California, is different and I found myself diving headlong into a second glass. Like many Virgin wines it comes with a fancy label and a style guide note that simply says “rose”. I can’t argue with that. Selling at £8.99, it’s got a classic nose of red fruits with flavours of strawberry and green apple.
I love spice...in my food...but in wine it can be hit or miss. Many people are lured to spicy reds but to me moderation is generally the key.
The Big Mo’ shiraz 2009, from Australia’s famed Barossa Valley, is back in stock at Virgin after a long absence - being touted as “full and fruity”. Like the other two reds, it’s spicy.
Coming in at £12.99, aromas include oaky vanilla, spice and chocolate with red and dark fruit also making a show. Plum and clove flavours are prominent in this powerful warm spicy brew that’s good but fails to reach the heights of some Barossa shiraz.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Tesco is again selling the excellent Berberana Etiqueta Negra Rioja Reserva 2007 at a half-price £5.99 until May 22. The nose is immense with vanilla, cream, church pews, tobacco and bags of cherry, blackcurrant and red fruit wafting from this classy wine. The taste is good and the finish is long.