A sneak peek at Majestic Wine’s new range

One of Scotland’s favourite wine retailers has some exciting bottles arriving in its warehouses, as Peter Ranscombe reports.

MAJESTIC Wine has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride in recent months – and that’s even without the lockdown.

Back in 2015, Majestic bought Naked Wines, an online retailer founded by Rowan Gormley, who became the boss of the enlarged business.

Last year, Majestic unveiled plans to rebrand as Naked Wines and shift its focus from its network of wine warehouses around the UK to its online business, which would have included closing branches.

That sounded alarm bells for me – the company may only have 14 warehouses north of the Border, but they play a crucial role, acting as the bridge between the supermarkets and Scotland’s roster of incredible independent bottle shops.

It’s a role that used to be the sole domain of Oddbins, and – perhaps equally as important – Majestic like Oddbins before it is a training ground that offers excellent wine education to members of staff, many of whom will go on to open their own bottle shops and bring even more exciting wines to Scotland.

Yet, instead of closing branches, Majestic was sold to Softbank’s Fortress Investment Group in August, with the deal completed in December.

In between the announcement and the sale, Majestic held its first press tasting for a while, choosing a brick-lined venue underneath a set of railway arches in East London, mimicking the business’s own origins and signalling its intent to get back to its roots.

Lockdown may have put the brakes on any further gatherings to taste the wines that are being added to its range, but a couple of online tastings this week have offered a sneak peek at what to expect – and the early indications are good.

Wakefield: blending across Australia

First up are two bottles from family-owned winery Wakefield in South Australia’s Clare Valley.

Both wines come from Wakefield’s Jaraman range, which combines its own grapes with fruit from other regions.

I was absolutely blown away by the 2017 Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon (Scotland: £14.99; England: £17.99 or £14.99 in a mixed case), which must be one of the most perfumed and light-on-its-feet cabernets that I’ve ever tried.

Made from a blend of 56% Clare Valley and 44% Coonawarra, it was full of violets, mint and blackcurrant on the nose, with a delicious twist of cranberry and redcurrant joining the raspberry jam and blackcurrant jam on the palate.

Chief winemaker Adam Eggins explained via Zoom that 2017 had been a cooler year, meaning the wine’s tannins were softer and more approachable at an early age.

Equally as impressive was the 2018 Wakefield Jaraman Chardonnay (Scotland: £15.99; England: £17.99/£15.99), formed by blending 66% Clare Valley fruit with 34% from Margaret River across in Western Australia, one of the high points of my voyage “down under” last autumn.

Clare Valley and Coonawarra may lie only seven hours from each other, but Margaret River is 2,000km away on the other side of the continent, so supplier Janice McDonald, chief winemaker at Howard Park, crushes and ferments the grapes before sending the wine to Wakefield.

The result has grapefruit, lemon and lemon rind swirling in between light woodsmoke and heavier toasty biscuit notes on the nose, with those well-balanced biscuit flavours coming more to the fore on the palate, with enough fresh acidity to balance the elegant toasty oak notes.

Talbott – and not the boxy 80s cars

That focus on Burgundy-like elegance, poise and balance was also part of the DNA of Talbott Vineyards, which Robb Talbott launched in California in 1982 with his father, Robery Senior, who had dreamed of making Burgundian wines since visiting Europe in the 1950s.

Bought by wine giant E&J Gallo in 2015, Talbott still specialises in Burgundian favourites chardonnay and pinot noir and is one of the largest wineries to grow all its own fruit, rather than buying it.

Its 2017 Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir (Scotland: £22.99; England: £24.99/£22.99) – which is due to arrive at Majestic in the middle of June – had a Burgundy-esque whiff of woodsmoke in amongst its raspberry jam, redcurrant and more savoury blackcurrant aromas, but the ripeness of the fruit on the palate and the return of that blackcurrant note reminded me more of its Gallo stablemate, MacMurray.

I’m also looking forward to trying the 2016 Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay (Scotland: £22.99; England: £24.99/£22.99) when it reaches Majestic – the 2015 vintage was excellent, with butter, vanilla and a touch of toast joining the melon and peach aromas on the nose.

It was perhaps more New World than Burgundian on the palate, but in the best possible way, with tonnes of ripe peach and pear flavours to balance the buttery notes.

The Sleepy Hollow single vineyard versions of both wines are available south of the Border from Wine Rack for £35.99, and demonstrate more Burgundian use of toasty oak.

And, for those who like their wines with a bit more oomph, there’s the 2017 Bear Flag Zinfandel (£24.99) from another part of Gallo’s empire.

It’s classic Zin, with black cherry, blackcurrant jam and vanilla aromas and flavours, plus plenty of heat from its 15% alcohol, but I feel it’s a tad over-priced at £24.99 – we’re into Seghesio Family Vineyards Sonoma County Zinfandel territory at that price, which for me offers more in the way of balance.

Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s blog entries about whisky, wine and other drinks on The Grape & The Grain at https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/grapegrain/