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Shortcuts to Super Sparkling Wines – Don’t Pass Over Regional Specialities

It’s about time that sparkling wines broke out of the box; all too often we miss out on wonderful regional specialities as they don’t get to reach our shores. Champagne, glorious though it may be, is only one region in France that produces sparkling wine. There are over 20 others that we simply just don’t get to hear about and one in particular is a pretty well kept secret . . .

Bordeaux's speciality:  Cremant de Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s speciality: Cremant de Bordeaux

If you are looking for a shortcut to a source of super sparklers that won’t break the bank you’ll be surprised that Bordeaux has more than a few under wraps. We all know that Bordeaux is a premium source of high quality wine and has top class and talented wine makers at every turn. But what is not common knowledge is that Bordeaux has a long tradition of making its own sparkling wine.

Bordeaux’s sparkling wine is made by wine makers equally as talented as those who produce their excellent reds. It’s made exactly the same way as Champagne and it has its own niche following inside France – it’s exclusively used at official functions by decree of the Mayor in preference to Champagne.

To be honest you don’t get to see much of it in the UK as it’s consumed by French wine lovers before we get much of a look in.

saint emilion cremant
Cremant from Saint Emilion

Bordeaux’s speciality is the sparkling wine Cremant de Bordeaux. There are only 7 French Cremant AOCs that are permitted to make this style of sparkler, namely Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Jura, Limoux and Loire. Cremants (named for the French word meaning ‘creamy’ which refers to the frothy mousse of bubbles) are an excellent alternative to Champagne and each region has its own style. Each style is dictated by the region’s native grapes, terroir and wine making techniques. Cremant de Bordeaux is softer and more gentle than crisp, zesty Cremant d’Alsace.

The French adore their fizz, but they are leaving Champagne in favor of other sparkling wines – Cremants now account for half of sparkling wine sales in France.

Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892
Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892

The production of sparkling wines in Bordeaux is far from prolific but Cremant de Bordeaux has its roots in the 19th century. Saint Emilion has been making Cremants in the ancient cloisters, Clos des Cordeliers, since 1892 and Sauternes & Barsac were experimenting with sparkling wines as far back as the 1870s. The AOC Cremant de Bordeaux was created in 1990 and today you’ll find specialist small producers making Cremants as well as a few prestigious names – Jean Luc Thunevin of Premier Cru Chateau Valandraud is a Cremant producer.

Prices are very reasonable, partly thanks to Cremant being eclipsed by Bordeaux’s world famous reds and partly thanks to Cremant de Bordeaux being undiscovered outside France.

Highly Recommended

Cremant de Bordeaux – Jean Baptiste Audy £8.99


This is a recent discovery and it is produced by the most renowned producer of Cremants de Bordeaux for Jean Baptiste Audy (we can’t tell you who, as it’s a secret).


The producers are located in the heart of the Entre Deux Mers, near Langoiran, on the banks of the Garonne river. The Cremant is made in underground caves deep in the natural limestone galleries along the Garonne which are ideally suited for the process thanks to their high humidity.

Langoiran is a small town that spirals up a crag over the River Garonne, opposite Graves AOC. High on the crag sits the 13th century fortress Chateau de Langorian. In its heyday Langorian’s ancient dock catered for important river traffic and locally built barges used to carry stone quarried from the hillside and barrels of wine up the river.

Langorian by the river
Langorian by the river

This Cremant is made in exactly the same way as Champagne (using the Methode Champenoise); grapes are hand picked into small baskets and fermented in stainless steel vats, the second fermentation is done the following year in bottle, riddling is also done by hand as is disgorgement and the final product is then aged for several months more. The grapes used are the same grapes that go into classic Bordeaux white wines: Semillon and Muscadelle and are from vineyards on chalky limestone soils. This grape combination characterises this Cremant de Bordeaux with the hallmarks of subtle complexity married with a fine fragrance and lovely body.

Cremant de Bordeaux Brut - Jean Baptiste Audy
Cremant de Bordeaux Brut – Jean Baptiste Audy

Tasting Notes:

Deliciously fresh and frothy with a delicate mousse of bubbles. A Bordelaise speciality made the same exacting way as Champagne with flavours of lime, pear and quince underpinned by subtle hints of white cherry blossom, crushed walnuts and caramel. Very aromatic and well balanced. A nice long frothy finish.

70% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 12% abv. 75Cl

Food Pairing:

The ideal temperature to enjoy it is chilled between 5 – 7°C. Perfect for enjoying as an aperitif, Cremant de Bordeaux is also great with desserts (raspberry trifle in particular!), appetizers, smoked salmon, prawns, chicken and turkey.


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Christmas Cheer with Nappy Valley NET and Bordeaux-Undiscovered

We’re delighted to have partnered with Nappy Valley NET, the Mums Guide to South West London life, in the run up to Christmas to produce the perfect stocking filler – a special case with a saving of £19.89!

nappy valley caseAvailable to Nappy/Valley/Netters and our Customers this case is crammed with 12 irresistible wines for the festive season; including divine Pinot Gris and Bordeaux Blanc, award winning Clarets, delicious Bordeaux Rose, Oscar winning White, and Gold Medal Pinot Noir, this case is full of tempting treats. View here.

The case features:

2 Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014

Pinot GrisSoft, smoky Pinot Gris from the Loire Valley. Crisp, fresh and mouth watering. Gently spiced flavours of ripe pear, white peach and lychee with a touch of lemon and ginger. Pleasantly intense aromas and very nicely balanced with floral overtones. Generous with a lingering freshness. 100% Pinot Gris. 12.5% abv. 75cl.

2 Chateau Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur 2012 – Bronze Medal

roc de levraut Refined Bordeaux Superieur with soft, melting tannins and lovely balance. Layered flavours of blackcherry, blackurrant, chocolate and mulberry with notes of anise, cinnamon and vanilla. Fine, fresh and full of finesse. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% abv. 75cl

ballan larquette rose2 Chateau Ballan Larquette Bordeaux Rose 2013 – Silver Medal

Bordeaux Rose. Satiny smooth, delicious and elegant with good refreshing acidity. Sensuous flavours of dark red cherry and ripe strawberry lifted by mouthwatering notes of pink grapefruit, sweet hay and spice. A sophisticated wine. 45% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. 12.5 % abv. 75cl

2 Chateau Rioublanc Organic Claret 2010 – Gold Medal Winner rioublanc claret

Organic Gold Medal Winning Claret. Beautifully balanced with great structure and a fine nose of luscious black fruits. Deep flavours of blueberry, ripe blackberry and dark plum with notes of vanilla, pepper and oak. Soft, elegant tannins awith a nice lasting finish. Decant 2 hours before serving. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% abv. 75cl.

ballan white2 Chateau Ballan Larquette 2013 – Bordeaux Oscar Winner

Stylish Bordeaux Blanc with good structure, acidity and balance. Light, bright and thirst quenching. Layered flavours of lime, apple, white peach and sweet red gooseberry with notes of dried herbs and acacia blossom. Lovely long finish. 50% Semillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. 12.5% abv. 75cl

2 Le Chapitre, Pinot Noir, Val de Loire 2014 – Gold Medalpinot noir

Pure, fine Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley. Remarkably fresh and beautifully structured. Flavours of morello cherry, kirsch and mocha with overtones of pepper, earl gray tea and forest floor. Polished, soft tannins and lovely balance. Vibrant and full of finesse. 100% Pinot Noir. 12% abv. 75cl.


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The Rise of the Grape. Adventures in Rediscovery

Whether it’s down to adventurous wine enthusiasts or those who are tired of the same old wines there has been a resurgence in interest in the world’s lesser known grapes. So are you missing out on wines made with grapes you’ve never even heard of? You could be . . .

Rare Castets
Rare Castets grapes

Consumer fatigue is a well known problem – just look what happened to Chardonnay. We may fall in love with popular styles but they can soon become repetitive and we end up bored of them. However thanks to a combination of different factors incredible wines are being made from endangered grapes being rescued from the critical list. There are plenty of rare and obscure grapes out there that have been saved from extinction by passionate and pioneering wine makers. Many of these grapes are capable of producing fantastic wines in these hands . . . and why not? They did so in the past!

Most wine lovers don’t know that the grapes we are used to today are the survivors of a great disaster that wiped out Europe’s grapes 160 years ago. Before Europe’s vineyards were devastated many grapes that we haven’t heard of today were used to make wines.

Once a solution to the crisis was found scores of grape varieties disappeared as wine makers hastily replanted with grafted vines that were a) readily available b) easier to grow and c) produced a reliable cash crop. Sadly a lot of great grape varieties got lost in the rush.

The Great Wine Blight aka the Phylloxera Epidemic

The great wine blight was caused by a variety of aphid known as grape phylloxera that originated in North America. It’s thought that the aphid was accidentally carried across the Atlantic to Europe in the late 1850s by plant collectors and wine makers importing American grapevines. The aphid was first identified in France around 1863 by the botanist Jules Emile Planchon and by 1889 up to 9/10ths of all European vineyards had been destroyed by the bug..

Over 160 years ago wines were made with grapes we haven't heard of today
Over 160 years ago wines were made with grapes we haven’t heard of today

There is no cure for grape phylloxera (even today) but there was a solution. French colonists in America had watched the grapevines they had brought with them die and it soon became common knowledge that European vines would not grow in American soil. They therefore resorted to growing the native American grapevines instead of the vines they had brought with them from home. They didn’t know it back then but the American vines were resistant to the bug. Working with Planchon and the American horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, entomologist Charles Valentine Riley grafted French vines onto resistant American rootstock from grapevines in Texas. This technique worked and it saved the European grapes.

200 year old vines
200 year old vines

The Survivors

There are European grapes that, despite the odds, survived the blight and there are pockets of them dotted throughout France. Chateau Haut Bailly is an example in Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux. Over 15% of their vines are ancient, pre-phylloxera stock. Domaine Plageoles is another vineyard specialising in wines made from historical grape varieties that survived in Gaillac and Bollinger in Champagne also possess pre-phylloxera vines.

A famous plot of surviving vines lies at Plaimont in Saint Mont, Gascony. These are very old, non-grafted vines that grow in 10 metre deep sandy oils. The plot contains some of the oldest vines in France, some are believed to be over 200 years old, giving new meaning to the term ‘vielles vignes’ (old vines)! The plot was declared a national historical monument in 2012 and holds a unique collection in France (around 116 different, rare grape varieties) and this botanical heritage is now attracting attention from researchers, scientists and vintners alike.

What’s remarkable is that these vines give a glimpse into viticulture hundreds of years ago, and they have preserved varietals long since forgotten. Added to this are over 30 unknown varieties – their names lost long ago – discovered abandoned, yet still thriving, in deserted plots.

These vines are of vital importance as they hold the genetic keys to today’s grapes and can help winegrowers of the future. As the climate changes the old varieties have qualities that may come back into the fore and we might be drinking wines made from grapes named Arrat, Canaril, Aouillat, Chacolis, Miousap, Claverie, Morrastel and Morenoa in the not too distant future!

Gouleyant - a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Loin de l'Oeil grape
Gouleyant – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Loin de l’Oeil grape – £9.99

The Adventurers

It’s not all about preservation; wine makers are rapidly replanting rare, old grape varieties and new discoveries are coming to light on a regular basis. Liber Pater is probably the most well known example of a modern wine maker using old grape varieties. This is a premium vineyard in Graves that set about replanting rare grape vines using propagation from their own pre-phylloxera, ungrafted rootstock. Sadly they had their vineyard vandalised last week. The vines were a historical treasure and included varieties that existed in Bordeaux 200 years ago: Castets, Mancin and Pardotte. You may not have heard of these grapes before but the wines they go into can fetch up to 3,000 euros a bottle!

Of course you don’t have to splash out on expensive wines to be adventurous – there are many small producers who make amazing artisan wines from forgotten grapes. If you are fed up with the same old wines and want to discover some new gems the choice is varied and it’s growing annually.

So, how adventurous are you? If you have fallen in love with a new discovery please let me know!

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Bargain Bordeaux and Best Wine Deals – Thinking ‘Merlot’ Outside of the Box

‘Where to buy the best Merlot?’ is a question fans of this soft, smooth and fruity grape often ask. Merlot lovers could do well by looking in Bordeaux, Merlot’s birthplace. Bordeaux has earned its reputation as a prime source of superior quality wines and you’re getting a lot more for your money with a Merlot from Bordeaux . . .

merlot glass
Merlot, born and bred in Bordeaux

To be fair, most of Bordeaux’s Merlot goes into its Clarets, particularly those from the Right Bank AOCs, but Bordeaux also produces some hedonistic 100% Merlots that are at the pinnacle of their game. Chateaux Petrus, Le Pin and Clinet are famous names that roll of connsoisseurs tongues and they are all incredible wines made from Merlot. They have incredible price tags too. However smaller chateaux with lesser profiles also produce superb Merlots and it is here that true bargains can be found.

Bordeaux’s Merlot came into being when the two red grapes Cabernet Franc and the newly rediscovered Magdeleine Noire des Charentes crossed at some distant point in the past. No one knows whereabouts in Bordeaux it happened but the new grape flourished and producers started to cultvate it in their vineyards for the qualities it brought to the wines: lush texture, fruitiness, richness and smoothness. Merlot’s flavours and fragrance of blackberry, plum, black cherry, dark chocolate, anise, blueberry and cedar added a new dimension to Bordelaise wine making too.

Bordeaux is the birthplace of Merlot.

I’d place a bet that Merlot started out on the Right Bank as the soil type and conditions there suit it down to the ground.

merlot grapes
Merlot Grapes

The earliest recorded mention of it dates to a Right Bank wine labelled ‘Merlau’ in 1784. ‘Merlau’ means ‘blackbird’ and either refers to the blueish black colour of the dark skinned grapes or the blackbirds who couldn’t eat enough of them.

As time progressed Merlot found a home in the rest of Bordeaux. Its main champion was Armand d’Armailhacq who introduced it to the great estates of the Medoc AOCs on the Left Bank. Thanks to him Merlot took root at First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Classified Growths d’Armailhac and Pontet Canet. Today, Merlot is not only one of the primary grapes used in Claret and the most planted grape in Bordeaux but it is also one of the world’s most planted grapes.

Merlot is the star player on the Right Bank thanks to the region’s pockets of iron rich clay. Pomerol Merlot’s are among the world’s most prestigious with Saint Emilion coming in close behind, followed by Fronsac. Looking beyond these well known AOCs there are superb Merlots being produced on similar soils under similar conditions. Tracking down the talent in the sea of hopefuls is one of the joys of being a wine merchant although it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

AOC Map - Entre Deux Mers shown in pink
AOC Map – Entre Deux Mers shown in pink

Finding the perfect candidate:

A good Merlot shouldn’t burn out. Fruit bombs tend to suffer from fatigue; one quick burst of power and then they are exhausted. This is where Bordeaux really comes into its own, producing velvety Merlots with good structure and layers of fruit to enjoy is one of the region’s strengths.

Given that Merlot thrives on clays it makes sense for the talent spotter to hunt down areas that fit this criteria but fall under the radar.

Looking beyond the Right Bank, the hillsides of the Dropt Valley in the Pays du Haut Entre Deux Mers (the Highlands of Entre Deux Mers) is a good place to start. The Entre Deux Mers is a great inverted ‘v’ of land sandwiched between the right bank of the river Garonne to the south and the left bank of the river Dordogne to the north. Named ‘between the two seas’ thanks to the two tidal rivers; it’s bordered by Graves and Pessac Leognan to the west and Pomerol, Fronsac and Saint Emilion to the east. The south facing open mouth of this ‘v’ spills out into the Pays de Hauts Entre de Mers and disappears into the Cotes de Duras and du Marmandais in the Lot et Garonne.

river dropt
The River Dropt

Of course borders drawn on maps don’t apply to soils and the clays that nurture the Merlots under Pomerol and Fronsac naturally pop up elsewhere.

There are less well known pockets of favourable soils suited to a variety of famous Bordeaux grapes dotted throughout the entire Entre Deux Mers but it is the Pays de Haut and its outlier the Cotes de Duras where Merlot has deep roots (in more ways than one).

It is here that you can find petits chateux wine makers producing lovely examples of pure Merlot wines (and Clarets but that’s another story).


Newly discovered: Chateau Grand Champ

Chateau Grand Champ is a recent discovery of mine and I have introduced it to the UK for the first time. The chateau is a fourth generation family owned property in the village of Camiran, bordered by the River Dropt.

The Pauquet family specialise in making award winning single variety wines and this Merlot won Gold Medal at the Concours de Bordeaux.

The wine is named after the ‘great field’ (Grand Champ) that bears the grapes next to the 18th century limestone petit chateau.


Mill in the Dropt Valley
Mill in the Dropt Valley

Camiran lies deep in unspoilt countryside overlooking the Dropt Valley in the Pays de Haut Entre de Mers. This a sleepy, secret region tucked well away from the beaten track – in fact roads were scarce here as the nature of the river made building them difficult. Even today the best way to discover the region is by bicycle along the lanes and tracks. The valley is scattered with little wine making farmsteads, meadows, plum orchards and vineyards. Camiran’s history is linked to the River Dropt, along which wines were traded for centuries. The settlement had its own little port between the 15th-19th centuries which was a hub for sending wines to Bordeaux.

The French historian and writer, Hippolyte Taine, wrote of the Dropt Valley in the 1850s that ‘this is a good country; a good country that reveals itself only to those who are able to discover it.’ Discovering Chateau Grand Champ is well worth it. The Pauquets practice sustainable agriculture (certified since 2004) and combine tradition and modernity. Merlot is their dominant grape and they have honed their craft to a fine art over the years; hence their array of awards in France.

chateau grand champ
Chateau Grand Champ Merlot 2012 – Gold Medal

Chateau Grand Champ Merlot 2012 – Gold Medal £7.99

Tasting Notes:

Rich, rounded, classy, medium bodied Merlot. Full flavours of plump black cherry, blueberry and plum with lovely notes of ripe raspberry, nutmeg, chocolate and caramel. Silky sweet tannins, good structure and a long lasting finish.

100% Merlot. 13.5% abv. 75cl.

Food Pairing:

Being a smooth, soft, medium weighted wine, Chateau Grand Champ pairs well with a whole range of foods. It marries with Mediterranean pizza and pasta; tomato, bell pepper and aubergine dishes (moussaka, lasagne, stuffed peppers), chicken, pork, ham, lamb and steak. It can even be a match for pan fried salmon or tuna.


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More Mousseux Please – Searching for Sparkling Wines?

The British have always loved their bubbly. We’ve been entranced by Champagne since the 19th century and we’ve spread the love to encompass Prosecco. But we are missing out on a vast swathe of fantastic fizz. There’s a world of Mousseux out there begging to be discovered.

Strings of bubbles in sparkling wine are created by CO2

There’s no prospect of the British love affair with bubbly dimming. Sales are booming as we broaden our quest to discover quality fizz that fits the bill. Our first love may be Champagne but thanks to a growing demand for reasonably priced bubbly there is a wider choice of sparkling wines available today than ever before.

Traditionally France has always lead the way but in the past decade Cava (Spain) and more recently Prosecco (Italy) have made huge inroads to the market. Alarm bells sounded this year with a threatened Prosecco shortage caused by a poor harvest in 2014. This was followed by warnings of Prosecco price rises, partly down to the impending shortage, market manipulation and producers wishing to craft premium ‘top dollar’ Prosecco. It’s not surprising that Italian wine makers wish to up their game – in 2014 Prosecco sales outstripped those of Champagne for the first time. Only time will tell if Prosecco starts to become more expensive.

Touraine mousseux
Mouuseux from Touraine in the Loire

France has by no means been left behind. In the 2015 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards on Sept 2nd France was the most successful country with 19 more gold medals (46 in all) than second placed Italy. It remains a fabulous source of sparkling wine.

Beyond Champagne France’s equivalent to Prosecco are the Vins Mousseux. ‘Mousseux’ comes from ‘mousse’ and refers to the foam of bubbles that froths to the top of the glass. Vins Mousseux are made the length and breadth of France and flagship grapes from each different wine region give each sparkling wine its personality and character. Better known regions span from the Loire, Rhone, Savoie, Languedoc Roussillon and Gaillac.

Gaillac mousseux
Mousseux from Gaillac

If you enjoy sparkling wine, French Vins Mousseux have a wide variety of styles to suit every taste. Vins Mousseux tend to be fruitier and more lively than Cremants and Champagnes. They are typically drunk young so that you get all the benefits of the aromas and flavours whilst they are still vibrant. Cremants and Champagnes (made by the Method Champenoise) lose their fruitiness as the wine develops and take on flavours of brioche, toast, caramel and nuts. Vins Mousseux have a mousse of bubbles that last till the last sip from the glass but the bubbles tend to be bigger and more zippy than Cremants or Champagnes.

Mousseux – the origins of effervescence

Saumur mousseux
Mousseux from Saumur, in the Loire

Contrary to myth the French didn’t invent sparkling wine (though they certainly developed it into what we know today). Wine becomes effervescent when it undergoes secondary fermentation. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred since the beginning of wine making itself – the oldest known document mentioning it is an Egyptian papyrus dated 522 AD. However, it was often looked on as a fault and as something to be avoided.

Taming the bubble

As wine making improved down the ages people began to enjoy its natural ability to twinkle. But wine makers didn’t understand what made it occur. What they didn’t know was that the bubbles were created when the wine underwent a second fermentation, producing an excess of carbon dioxide which gave the wine a fizzy quality.

The wire casing on sparkling wine bottle corks is called a ‘muselet’

A grand collaboration between the British and French, driven by a thirst for sparkling wine . . .

Dom Perignon, the fabled French monk who the Champagne Dom Perignon is named for, wasn’t the first to laud the fizzing qualities of sparkling wine – it was being remarked on in 13th century France and its tongue tickling sensations were hailed as extraordinary. By the 17th century major developments were underway as producers sought to perfect the secondary fermentation. It was an Englishman who perfected the technique. Christopher Meret (born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire) delivered a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 setting out a recipe for sparkling wine. He recommended adding sugar to a finished wine which would start off a secondary fermentation and produce the bubbles we love so well.

Different methods were developed as time went on. They boil down to two basic techniques:

Anjou mousseux
Mousseux from Anjou in the Loire
  • Methode Charmat or Methode de la Cuve Close – used by most Vins Mousseux (and also by Prosecco, Asti etc!). Invented by Jean Eugene Charmat in 1907 (whose son was the creator of the sparkling wine Veuve de Vernay). The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat.

  • Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle – used by Champagne and Cremant producers. With this method the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.

The first mention of ‘Sparkling Champagne’ was in English, not French, in 1676. Bottles strong enough to withstand the explosive powers of fizz were developed by the English using coal-fired glass, corks were reintroduced to the French by British bottlers . . . and corks with wire muselets (which translates as ‘muzzle’) were invented by the French in 1844.

Discover the Duc

Duc de Berieu Mousseux Brut
Duc de Berieu Brut

Popular in France, and exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered in the UK, Duc de Berieu Brut and Duc de Berieu Demi Sec are made by along established negociant, with several prestigious chateaux to their name, who specialize in the production of sparkling wines.

Both these Vins Mousseux are made with Ugni Blanc, which is the French name for Trebbiano. The name Ugni Blanc holds the key to this grape, it’s derived from the old French name ‘Unia’ which comes from the Latin ‘Eugenia, meaning ‘noble’ and the grape is an unsung hero when it comes to sparkling wines.

Duc de Berieu Mousseux demi sec
Duc de Berieu Demi Sec

Having taken both these wines to various shows up and down the country they have been favourably received especially when they are directly compared with Processco. The consensus of opinion is that they are clean and fresher than their Italian rival. So why not try yourself? At £6.99 a bottle you have nothing to lose!