Laithwaites Wine is a family-owned company that has been a dominant force in home delivery of wines for decades. Though thier ecommerce channels are surely now more important than their mail order brochures and handful of physical stores, the concept remains much the same: you are encouraged to take a subscription for regular case deliveries, but anyone can buy through the Laithwaites web site.
I recently met up with Laithwaites’ buyers online to taste through 24 wines, either new to the portfolio or new vintages of established lines. It’s fair to say they had chosen some of the more interesting, often small production wines to show, so some of these may sell out fairly quickly. It was also a premium selection, with prices mostly in the upper teens, but note that these are single bottle prices and sometimes substantial discounts are offered when putting together a mixed case. Some may also be available through Laithwaites sub-brands like The Sunday Times Wine Club.
The White Wines
(2023) From Slavonia, Graševina a.k.a. Welschriesling is widely planted. mealy, but crisp fresh-cut apple. Delicious fruit: it has facets of honey and apricot, but such delicious fruit ripeness and sweetness, cut with shimmering acidity. Six months in local oak adds creaminess and almond richness. What a lovely wine.
(2023) That lanolin character of Loire Chenin is apparent, crisp apple beneath but that pleasing wet wool nuance of authenticity. No oak, but natural yeast. The fruit is so sweet and intense; not so much sugar which sits at just 3g/l, just lovely delicate ripeness, then a sour lemon and lime acidity adds gastronomic appeal.
(2023) From the small northern Spanish region of Txakoli and 100% Hondorabbi Zuri, this comes from a very small winery. It is aged in barrels on the lees for 18 months with batonnage. A little bit spicy, quite tight, the herb and spice of the barrels, but a nettly character too. The palate is absolutely bone dry, packed with citrus flavour, but really intense, textured and the finish long and concentrated.
(2023) Biancolella is an indigenous variety, here on the island of Ischia. Made in steel, with fine lees. Nutty apple with bold Amalfi lemon flavours. A fine and delicate wine, broadly in the spctrum of other Campanian varieties - Falanghina, Fiano - with a gentle and finesseful lemon finish.
(2023) From the cool coastal Limari, this is fermented and aged in old French oak barriques without batonnage, but goes through full malolactic fermentation. It's a mellow, lightly buttery style, the very faintest hint of tropical fruit, but more about meally, creamy yellow apple fruit moving into apricot. A very nice finish, balanced with fresh acids and that creaminess of the malolactic.
(2023) Old vines here, up to 60 years old, planted on clay and limestone. Fermentation and ageing in tank. A crisp and elegantly and gently spicy lemon character, very little barrel influence apparent, it has a straightforward but ripe citrus character finishing with a pithy lemon freshness.
(2023) From Adam Mason, who has a long track record as head winemaker for major South African estates, now making this on his own. Fermented with natural yeast, whole-bunch pressed for fermentation in barrel. Very little new oak, and ageing is for 10 months in 500 litre barrels. Very attractive, a touch of flintiness and creaminess, and ripe plush fruit. The palate has a lean, lemony strictness, but the wine finishes with gentle oak, more of that flint, and good balance.
(2023) Matured in steel for six to eight months on the lees. This is a blend of 60% Pinot Blanc, along with Sylvaner and Pinot Gris. Quite a rich, leesy feel for Alsace, mostly about citrus, but some nutty Cox's pippin crunch. Really sweet, with around 9g/l residual sugar, but an intense and vibrant wine through mid-palate to finish.
The Rosé and Red Wines
(2023) Mostly Grenache from Provence, aged on fine lees in tank. Extremely pale in colour, subtle aromatics, a little redcurrant and citrus, but not singing aromatically. Palate is fuller than you might imagine, a little more concentrated and robust. The red fruit comes through nicely and the finish is intense and quite long.
(2023) 90% Nerello Mascalese with some Nerello Cappuccio, from very old bush vines. Around 80% is matured in old wood, but huge 6,000 litre chesnut casks. Big, bold, bloody nose, so much game, flowers and a kirsch-like volatile edge of lift adding to the aromatic power. The palate really vibrant, an intensity, but relatively pale in colour and with a vibrant, floral edged red fruit reminiscent of Pinot Noir in some ways. Finishes with gentle tannins, but good acidity and fruit concentration.
(2023) Made mostly in big, older barrels. Nice pale colour, from a family domaine, all about subtle red fruit and gentle tobacco spices. It is a 'quiet' Pinot Noir, some might think a little shy on fruit perhaps, but it makes up for that with its spices and subtle intensity. I do think this could take a little more 'oomph', even allowing for it being a delicate and spicy style of Burgundy that I enjoy.
(2023) Much more dense in colour than the red Burgundy, from a project involving winemaker Leon Coetzee. All fruit from Elgin, made in 300-litre old barrels. Much sweeter, riper and with more plushness than the Burgundy, the palate more weight and concentration. There's a stripe of tannin here, lots of bite and concentration of cherry fruit, and very attractive.
(2023) A blend of 60% Montepulciano with Cesanese, 10% left on the vine to dry - appassimento. Aged on the lees for three months. Taut, quite solid black colour and fruit character, and edge of rustic bloodiness. 13g/l of sugar gives that Amarone-like sweet and concentrated character, a little dried fruit, rosemary and tobacco, turning a little chocolaty in the finish.
(2023) From Patagonia, an open and slightly oxidative style here for me. Tobacco, dusty black fruit. The fruit is so sweet on the palate, surely a little RS? That sweet and ripe blackcurranty fruit finishes with acid and tannin quite tight and not too forceful, the sweet fruit and spice pushing the finish. Residual sugar later confirmed as 3.5g/l.
(2023) This is 100% Mencia from very old vines, a little of which sees oak for three months. Buoyant but full and rich fruit character, blackberry and floral-edged bright notes of strawberry, but smooth and deep. The palate has delicious sweetness of ripe fruit, a real creamy and rounded sweetness. Depth here, the finish freshened more by the fruit acidity than tannin, but a lovely finish.
(2023) This is 50% Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Carignan made in concrete tank - it weighs in with 15% alcohol declared on the label. So much creamy black fruit, violet-scented but concentrated black fruit that is plush and inviting. The palate has all that plushness again, chocolaty and ripe and sweet black fruit, but it really does have freshness from the clay-limestone soil, a precise finish with smooth, chocolaty tannins and pert acidity.
(2023) From Gerard Bertrand, this is a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah. Compared to the Montjustin this mixes red and black fruit characters, a spicy lift to this giving a slightly more cool-climate character. The palate is deliciously ripe and buoyant, really very juicy and quite elegant too, good length and balance.
(2023) Syrah is 80% of the blend of this higher altitude wine from the Languedoc, with several other local varieties completing the picture. Made in concrete, less expressively bold and buoyant than the Narbo Martius for example, but a subtle and suave black fruit character. The palate drinks well, harmonious and medium-bodied.
(2023) All Tempranillo from vineyards at over 800 metres, on chalky clay soils. 18 months in oak. A mature red fruit and slightly gamy, truffly character. There is a bit of vanilla and a bit of bloody oxidative character. Mature palate, fine tannins and good acidity, adding a cherry freshness to the mature fruit and oak character.
(2023) Pigeage is 'punching down', pushing the floating cap of grape skins back into the fermentaion tank to enhance extraction. From very old and low-yielding bush vines, spending 20 months in French oak, most of which was new. Dense, rich, dark and subtle fudge-like black fruit intensity. Thick and sweet black fruit, the drying tannins are certainly noticeable, some of that from the charry oak, but the fruit intensity and sweetness matches it through the finish. Creamy and powerful.
(2023) Mostly Grenache with 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. Around 24 months in older oak barrels. Very intense black fruit, lots of spicy lift, cassis-like with pot-pouri characters. Massive sweetness of super-ripe fruit on the palate, very svelte and balanced by the creaminess of the tannins and the creamy acidity.
(2023) Owned by a Chilean family, an interesting blend of 40% Malbec, 30% Tempranillo and 30% Syrah. It spends 14 months in oak, 70% French and 30% American. Meaty and touched with herbal characters, a sweet dried blood earthiness. The palate has super-sweet fruit, straddling rich blackcurrant and a more lifted cherry and raspberry, creamy and chocolaty from fruit to tannins. Fresh in the finish, the spice of the American oak does come through. Available from September 2023.
(2023) All Carignan, from a 47-year-old unirrigated vineyard, aged 16 months in larger, second-fill French oak barrels. Very classical nose, concentrated old vine fruit, vinous with some cherry and blackcurrant. The palate too follows that quite classic, pure and concentrated style, unadorned but intense and beautifully balanced. This should age too. Very small production, only a few hundred bottles in the UK.
(2023) A little bit (8%) of Malbec joins the Cabernet, the wine matured 16 months in French oak, some new. From classic terra rossa soil. Very attractive, all about quite bold and creamy cassis. It doesn't move into jamminess, but instead the sweet and ripe plushness of the fruit is balanced by structural, fine tannin and acid components. It is sauve and smoothly creamy with no jagged edges, but it has balance and great length. This one should age too.