Laithwaites Wine Range

Buying Director Nick Taylor hosted this online tasting that encompassed a broad swathe of the Laithwaites portfolio. A number of Laithwaites country and regional buyers would join the tasting, to explain something of how Laithwaites works with its wine suppliers. He also confessed that the company had not engaged with wine journalists as well as they might have over recent years, and this tasting was part of a drive to re-connect.

Clearly the challenges of the pandemic have led to a very strange couple of years for Laithwaites and all wine companies, but as things open up again, the buyers – many of whom are based in their area of buying responsibility – are again fully involved with the wines they buy, from the winemaking itself to the labelling and bottling.

Henry Laithwaite is the eldest son of company founders Tony and Barbara. As well as being a winemaker himself, with vineyards in England and France, he is current Co-Chairman of the company. Nick says that Henry’s focus on sustainability is one of the big challenges at the moment, with the company committed to being carbon net zero by 2035. Currently they are looking at the full supply chain, and involving their wine producers, to work towards this ambitious goal.  Reliance on glass bottles and how wine is shipped around the world being the biggest obstacles to be overcome.

With 960,000 customers across the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, Laithwaites has grown from a one-man-band shop underneath some railway arches, to a very significant wine retailer. It acts as an interesting bellweather of the wine trade in general. Nick says that sees a definite move towards lighter wines – lighter in alcohol and style – as well as a growth of interest in sparkling wines and what might be considered more niche countries for UK consumers, like Lebanon and Greece.

The Wines

This was a big tasting of 50 wines, so my notes are broken down into categories that are hopefully a little easier to read and digest.

Sparkling, Sweet and Fortified

(2022) A basically alcohol-free sparkling wine made mostly from ripe Chardonnay grapes, with the alcohol removed by the 'spinning cone' process. The bubbles are modest and dissipate fairly quickly. The aromas are quite classically Chardonnay, with a slightly buttery citrus character. In the mouth lots of apple flavour, grapey, with some sweetness but a drier citrus finish. A refreshing drink for those avoiding alcohol.
(2022) From the Côte des Bar in the south, with a fifth generation family estate. This is 100% Pinot Noir based on the 2018 vintage, aged three years on the lees and a dosage of 8g/l. It's a perfectly quaffable Champagne, and when i tasted this on offer at half price. At £17.99 it's a super bargain, at full price? Still good creamy fruit and a softness to the mousse and acidity - though that is plenty enough to balance into a citrus and gentle toast finish. £29.99 as part of a mixed case of 12 bottles.
(2022) A bit of a classic this, made from semi-raisined grapes picked very late, it is fully sweet with 198g/l of residual sugar. A burnished deep gold colour, the nose has notes of leaf tea, saffron and apricot, lots of honey and glycerine rich onto the palate. A beautifully sweet, luscious and limpid style, great balance with orange peel bite and great acidity into the finish.
(2022) Suggested by Laithwaites as a good mixer for a long drink with tonic and a sprig of rosemary, this is a relatively unusual rosé Port, made by Alvaro van Zeller. Quite delicate rose-touched floral aromatics over berry fruits. There is good sweetness on the palate, a touch of creamy toffee, but the gentle bite of the spirit and very good acidity combine to give a refreshing finish. Would also do well with cheeses I think.

New World White

(2022) A blend of Chardonnay and Pedro Ximenez from old vines in the high altitude vineyards of the Elqui Valley, some at over 2,000 metres. There's a rich and ripe character here, some dried fig and apricot, some custardy and candied notes, perhaps from the Chardonnay. There's a hint of sweetness on the palate, a hint of honey and nuttiness, a bite of bittersweet grapefruit or orange to the acids of the finish.
(2022) Malbec vinified as a white wine. Cool, aromatic thiol notes, florals and greener characters. There is some apparent sweetness on the palate, it opens with a blast of ripe pear and apple, running into peach. The fruit-gummy ripeness is matched by good, quite pithy citrus acidity, and it finishes with plenty of tang and plenty of personality.
(2022) Viorica is a native grape of Moldova, that is actually a cross of two red varieties. Loads of floral, pungent, striking aromatics, very remisincent of Sauvignon Blanc in a way. The palate is drier than you might have imagined, but has lovely spice and lemon jelly fruit, but running into terrific acidity. A real little star.
(2021) Made by a winemaker with considerable experience in Margaret River having worked for both Leeuwin and Cape Mentelle. A subtle pea pod character, but quite restrained and a touch of leesy breadth. Lots of biting, strong character here, a very intense wine with a little buttery or even minty character. Perhaps a touch of barrel ferment here?
(2021) Made from the Mendoza clone of Chardonnay and partially fermented in French oak barrels, this has a rounded, lightly buttery character, lemon and a light bob-bon character. The palate has good clarity, a lot of fruit sweetness, the oak not apparent in the mouth and a pithy citrus acidity to finish.
(2022) From selected cooler sites in the Western Cape, this was delibrately exposed to oxygen at specific times during vinification, which is far from the usual recipe for Sauvignon Blanc. What that has supressed in pungent and fiery aromatics it has gained in a more complex, layered set of aromas with a little breadiness and bruised apple character. In the mouth there is plentiful sweet fruit, very much more orthodox SB in a way, with punchy nectarine ripeness and limey acidity coming together for a ripe but balanced style.
(2022) From one of my favourite producers of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South Africa, this was whole-bunch pressed. Light gold in colour, there is flint here and a smoky barrel note, nutty almond and creaminess combining with stoner fruit aromas. In the mouth there is abundant fruit sweetness and ripeness, loads of lightly buttery and nutty apple and more exotic peachy flavours, the oak adding a sheen of oatmeal and the acidity beautifully poised. Another class act from Newton Johnson.

New World Rosé and Red

(2022) From the French winemaking family Fabre, who have been operating in South America for decades, this comes from 30-year-old vines in Rio Negro and spent a year in French oak barriques. Chocolatey and creamy on the nose, there's plenty of plush oak but also a depth of black fruit, very classy, the marriage of freshness and tang from the acids and tight tannins against the weight and creaminess.
(2022) A Bordeaux blend aged six months with French oak staves, but the colour is a vibrant cerise/violet. Primary aromas, the 12 months in oak barely discernable. Some quite wild garrique notes comes through, a little herbaceousness that works well. The palate has juiciness to spare, the merlot adding extra creaminess and red fruit softness perhaps, into a gentle finish supported by good acids and moderate tannins.
(2021) So the pun is obvious and needs no explanation for wine-pages visitors, this blends old vine Shiraz with Viognier, mostly from McLaren Vale, the wine matured in French and American hogsheads for 12 months. Highly aromatic, lots of buoyant black fruit aromas and a little floral and pastille quality is very attractive. Big dry tannins, but lovely fruit here and a long finish.
(2021) Aged in French oak barriques for 10 months, 20% new oak, this is made by Matt Thompson of Blank Canvas. Spices and interesting fruit character, some floral exotic notes, and earthy undertow beneath. The palate shows the creaminess a little more, plenty of sweetness to the fruit but depth of nutmeg spice and good acidity that gives this substance and layered interest.
(2022) Made in concrete eggs (hence concreto), with wild yeasts, this comes from some of Zuccardi's stoniest soils in the Uco Valley and was made with 100% whole bunches. Super deep and vibrant colour, there is meatiness and earthiness on the nose often found with wild ferments, the palate loaded with savoury dark fruit, plum and a broad stripe of liquorice, whole bunch fermentation perhaps also adding a little firm, hessian character in the finish.

European White

(2022) A rare Sauvignon Blanc from Portugal, this comes from Lisboa close to the capital. Quite yourthful and confectionary aromas, a little pear drop and tropical fruit, certainly fresh with a touch of leafiness that is authentically Sauvignon. The palate perhaps has a little residual sugar, perhaps there to balance quite a surge of acidity.
(2022) 100% Verdejo from a family producer, the vineyards at 700-metres altitude. Typical Elderflower and gooseberry aromas, for me personally just a little too far down the 'sweaty' thiol road, but there is plenty of fruit there too. On the palate excellent juiciness with nectarine and peach juice, but a nice raft of lemon-fresh acidity that sweeps through. I very much liked this in the end.
(2022) A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon, aged in the lees. The wine is a blend of the three years, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Quite subtle aromatics, a touch creamy, but quite reserved. On the palate an interesting layering of ripe fruit, mint and butter, peachy and quite broad. Tropical and ripe palate, substantial weight and a very interesting take on white Bordeaux.
(2022) A blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, this is nutty and immediately suggests some breadth and power on the nose, stone fruits and a nutty, dry fig and apricot character. In the mouth there is plenty of ripe fruit and palate weight, a fairly concentrated and intense style this, but with only 13% alcohol and very good acid, it is not flabby but finishes with a blast of saltiness and citrus.
(2022) 50% new barrels for this plus 50% one year old, a lovely almond and creamy nose, very classy with a touch of toffee and ripe but refined stone fruits. The palate has lots of creamy weight and texture, the fruit nutty like Cox's Pippins and touching into peach, then a delicious acid balance, a touch of saline character in the finish.
(2022) A blend of 50% Friulano with Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Chardonnay, from vineyards in Friuli. Fresh and fragrant, some little herb and nutty nuances, there is more Gewurztraminer influence on the palate perhaps, quite textural and a touch exotic, with a lovely balance of sweet fruit and cleansing acidity into quite a long finish.
(2022) A blend of 65% Riesling with Gewurztraminer (including a tiny bit of late-harvest) and Muscat, this has 9g/l of residual sugar. This is made by Claude Gisselbrecht, and has a nice lift with a touch of waxiness and ripe pear and apple, the Gewurz florality comes through too. The palate has great quality and freshness, though there is a slippery limpid texture, but the sweetness against the bite of the acid is beaufifully balanced, that exotic note from the Gewurz comes through.
(2022) Fruit comes from Touraine and other regions of the Loire, punchy elderflower and a touch of passion fruit, thiols quite pronounced. The palate has ripe and tropical fruit with plenty of pithy acidity to balance.
(2022) From a small family property farming on chalk soils, this is made with a non-interventionist policy, and opens with great elegance, citrus and gentle peach aromas, a touch of stone or flint. The fruit has real ripeness on the palate, so juicy with plenty of lime and orange, the fresh citrussy finish beuatifully balanced.
(2022) It's from Tuscany, it's Sangiovese, and it's... white. Very unusual, the Sangiovese was picked early and vinified without the grape skins for a crisp, 12.5% alcohol white wine. There may just be the faintest blush to the colour, then aromatics of orange blossom and citrus, a little creaminess, are bright and attractive. In the mouth there is real zest and vivacious personality here, peach and zesty lime flood the palate, with bold texture and plenty of fruit concentration. It zips along nicely thanks to good acids, maybe Pinot Gris being the closest comparison I can think of for this interesting wine - the choice of winemaker Sofia Barbanera.
(2022) A Provence white wine made from Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. A little talcumy and floral brightness and lift over aromatic rosy apple. The palate has some weight and lots of zippy citrus acid and fruit freshness. There's a dry, lightly mineral character that adds more freshness into a pithy, dry finish.
(2022) From terraced vineyards, and an Austrian winemaker who has spent time in New Zealand. Quite punchy and pungent, grassy notes and a touch of tropical fruit that is very Marlborough-like. Very tangy, those light pineapple tropical notes soon swept up in racing acidity and a punchy herbal tang. Whole-bunches in the ferment has also added some interest. Long, a bit of texture and well done.
(2022) Otherwise known as Welchriesling, this has plenty of stone fruit character and a sense of richness on the nose, then lots of creamy textured but clean fruit on the palate, sweetness of fruit through the mid-palate, but such a zingy finish, excellent acidity that is lemony and bright.
(2022) The best selling Pinot Grigio at Laithwaites, but from Hungary, not Italy. A touch of bronze to the colour, pear and lemon fruit, leading on to a dry and nicely textured palate, good body and lots of apple and pear ripeness, and a long finish showing good texture and balance. Really very good, with excellent concentration and flavour.
(2021) The name is a pun on 'sept', the French word for seven, as all seven of Champagne's permitted grape varieties are used: it's a bend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris, Arbanne and Pinot Meunier. Made in stainless steel, but with six months batonnage, it's one of those wines which you would swear had been barrel fermented and aged: the nose is creamy with buttery and almond tones, beneath citrus and golden apple, quite firm and not too showy. In the mouth the wine immediately tightens up, a flowing citrus zest character and more of that dry crab apple bite of acidity.
(2022) With vines close to Meursault and Puligny, this is Aligoté from a family vineyard. Fresh, pear and citrus aromas show a little floral aspect. In the mouth quite textured and weighty, there's a light golden and honeyed character to this with plenty of ripe and sweet fruit, but a streaking core of lemon acidity sharpens the whole picture.
(2022) From Burgundy's unique Sauvignon Blanc appellation, where the vineyards are in the environs of Chablis, no oak here, but lees ageing for six months. Grassy elderflower aromatics, a burgeoning tropicality beneath - a touch of fig and mango - and a little hint of flintiness too, the palate showing a depth of graperuit and gentler peach, with plenty of concentration into the finish that again shows a hint of mineral flintiness.
(2022) Fermented in steel, but aged only in older barrels, this has an attractive nose, subtle hints of herbs and spices,  a background of crushed oatmeal, and delicate stone fruit and lemon aromas. In the mouth a poised and elegant Burgundy, with plenty of sweet ripeness to the fruit, and a very solid core of lemon and lime acidity that has a certain fat. A little nutty weight from the barrels rounds out the medium-length, spicy finish.

European Rosé and Red

(2022) A blend of 11 varieties, all permitted in the Sable de Camargue IGP. Pale peach in colour with a lovely creaminess on the nose, a touch of peach and apricot to quite ripe fruit. Substantial palate, a nice souring background of lemon and orange acidity, playing against quite bold and fresh fruit, to finish dry and decisive, a lick of saltiness in the finish.
(2022) From the small area of Cabrières with a long history of rosé production, this has a delicate colour and confectionary nose of rose-hips and delicate cherry and raspberry, then a dry, quite grown-up palate with plenty of zipping acidity and a slight nuttiness of apple to the fruit. Long and well done.
(2022) A Sicilian wine bottled in what Laithwaites is describing as 'wild glass' - 100% post-consumer recycled glass. A bright cherry colour, lifted and beaujolais-like cherry and raspberry aromas with a touch of floral character. Very juicy and pretty, a similar marriage of bright, lipsticky red fruits but the tannins and good acidity do kick in to give this a little bitter, Negroni-like note in the finish.
(2022) Six months ageing in barrel for this wine, from vineyards rehabilitated after their village was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. Inky dark crimson in colour, and a cool liquorice and blueberry fruit character, a touch of rounding charriness from the the barrels. The palate has plenty of smooth, ripe and mouth-filling fruit. It has flesh and succulence on the palate, a sweet and ripe edge to the cherry and red plum, and it finishes with a smooth, creamy tannin and acid balance.
(2022) Named because of the vertiginous vineyards of this region in Languedoc, it is a blend dominated by Syrah. Unoaked. Deep and vibrant in colour, a very buoyant, lifted floral and peppery black fruit nose, the palate crisp and fruity, lots of fruit-skin grip and tang, bitersweet and finishes dry with a nut husk character, but somehow juiciness too.
(2022) 100-year-old Carignan is the basis of this blend, made with partial carbonic maceration. Again a dark, glossy and pure crimson-black, with  a gorgeous nose, silky and plush with black fruits, a plum and cherry character, touched with graphite and old polished wood. The palate shows that bright, full and ripe creamy black fruit, some liquorice and a bittersweet twist of endive gives lovely freshness and balance into a long and pure finish in a lovely wine.
(2022) From Setúbal and made from its native grape Castelão along with Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Touriga Nacional. A pale salmon/peach colour, the nose is fairly neautral, a touch of stone fruit and maybe a hint of candy floss. The palate has  a burst of zingy fruit, again reminds me a little of Sauvignon Blanc in that respect, with some residual sugar balancing a pithy grapefruit acidity.
(2022) From 40- to 70-year-old vines of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, made by the Alvaro Van Zeller. Bold and vibrant crimson/black colour, and fabulously chocolaty, sumptuous aromas, laden with spices and cocoa, a little violet lift adding a top note to the plush aromas. In the mouth there is huge sweetness and ripeness of creamy fruit, super density and smoothness to the tannins and the fruit, underpinned by high quality French oak and hinting at Port-like flavours, copious sweetness and length. A fascinating and fabulous, large-scaled wine (15% alcohol).
(2022) From Rioja Alta and vineyards at 450 - 590 metres, just a touch of wood. Dark crimson, quite meaty but at the same time a little aromatic, some lifted floral notes and keen blue/black fruit. Lovely sweet fruit and ripeness, roundness on the palate, fruit to the fore but plush and mouth-filling, a sense of minerality and purity that is lovely.
(2022) Made like a Cru Classe according to Jean-Marc, old vine Tempranillo is over 80 years old, the wine aged 15 months in French oak. Beautiful nose, with Sandalwood and cedar over plush black fruit, masses of ripeness and creaminess, violet and delicious fudge-like notes. The palate carries on that theme, mouth-filling and substantial, yet great juiciness, the lemony juiciness of the acidity cutting through the fruit density, oak and tannins of the finish.
(2022) From limestone soils, the aromas are pert, firm and juicy, fresh and forward black fruits and some lifted florals and spices. The palate has lots of cherry and blackcurrant skin tang and cut, plenty of acidity and freshness here, a little bittersweet cocoa note, but very crunchy and fresh.
(2022) From an un-named 'extremely famous estate - the very top estate', this is a Cabernet-dominant blend, the product of a close relationship between Jean Marc Sauboua and the Château. "Wines that did not make the cut for the Grand Vin which they sell off after 10 months."  Very gentle and attractive, silky black fruits and fragrance, some floral nuances, real Margaux perfume here. Similarly elegant on the palate, a little underpinning of espresso to the silky fruits, and a composed, long finish of super-fine tannins and ripe and juicy black cherry acidity. A class act.
(2022) An unusual cross-regional blend from Abruzzo (Montepulciano and Sangiovese) and Puglia (Primitivo and Negroamaro) that sees ageing in both French and American oak. Dark and saturated, with a vinous, dark cherry and plum character, a classy touch of oak adding some spice and cocoa. Very pure and ripe fruit, supple and plush, the tannins are fine and chocolaty, the cherry-ripe acidity balances, in a very classy wine at an attractive price.
(2022) Made from 50-year-old vines grown on Beaujolais hillsides in Lantignié. Lovely Gamay nose, a little lipstick character, delicate florals and some deeper and delicately earthy red fruits. The palate has that dry, stony and lightly herbaceous character that gives these wines really sappiness and freshness. Good length, spices, and some sweetness to the fruit that gives this terrific honesty and typicity.
(2022) Part of a range called 'Gentle Riot' in Laithwaites, wines that are "not constrained by traditional winemaking techniques in order to provide a holistic approach to sustainable winemaking," and low SO2 to boot. It is in fact 100% merlot from the Right Bank of Bordeaux. Lots of plum, ripe cherry and plum fruit on the nose, just a hint of something leafy in the background, but very much fruit-driven. In the mouth it has undertones of tobacco and spices, but a surge of thick, sweet fruit powers through the mid-palate. With 14.5% alcohol it is a big-scaled wine this and not for the Bordeaux traditionalist, equally chunky tannins and juicy cherry acidity matching up to the fruit density and alcohol.
(2022) A nice dry, ashy and light truffle note to cherry fruit. A fine coal dust dryness that leads on to a dry cherry fruited palate, but has a little glimpse of sweet bon bon, strawberry character too, for a nicely balanced palate, quite fruity but with good Pinosity too.
(2022) Made from Burgundian clones of Pinot Noir, light oaking in French and American barrels followed whole bunch fermentation. A nice pale-  to medium colour, fragrant and gentle raspberry and a touch of woodland truffle are appealing. In the mouth there's some spice, reminiscent of clove maybe, and a hessian-dry palate, the subtle and savoury fruit staying light and elegant into a finish etched by keen raspberry acidity.
(2022) From a family domaine, this comes from the higher slopes to the west of the main Côtes de Nuits vineyards, with some fruit from their oldest, 55-year-old vines in the blend. Lovely nose, suffused with dark cherry and some exotic Sandalwood, some gentle forest-floor character too. In the mouth a wine that combines sweet, ripe fruit showing a certain plumpness, with creamy and smooth tannins and pert and juicy acidity to lovely effect. The more exotic spices flit around the finish, which is dry and nicely rustic, giving this solidity and grip.

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