Tag Archives: wine

A day out in London

Day out in London and the chance to train up our taste buds.

On Monday 11th February our Sommelier, Chris Neeves invited Josh, Jenna, Olga and I from the food and beverage department to attend an annual tasting, featuring Hallgarten Druitt and Novum Wines at the Dorchester Hotel, London. They were celebrating over 80 years of experience, and showing over 80 different winemakers, throughout the world. A great chance to train our tastebuds with a wide variety of wines on offer.

We had the opportunity to taste some brand new wines that aren’t even available yet. I was impressed by the 2011 Remote Blanco Toscana, 50% Vermentino and 50% Trebbiano from Tuscany, it’s fermented in stainless steel tanks, and will be coming into stock this month. It has a fresh and neutral taste, which I found very versatile and would work well with fish, pasta and even with a nice BBQ, on a summer’s day.

During the day there was an announcement for a wine tasting master class, offering the freedom to take your time to study and enjoy a variety of wines. We all rushed up there and luckily managed to get ourselves a space.

The master class featured wines from Gerard Bertrand, one of the most dynamic and brilliant winemakers from the South of France. He owns no less than seven estates; a variety of 30 different types of grapes and in 2012 was named the European winery of the year. We tasted wines from 2012 right back to 1974. My favorite was the 2011 Cigalus IGP Aude-Hauterive White. It was very floral with honey and lime flavors, with a smooth texture and a beautiful lingering finish.

Overall it was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to attend. It opened all our eyes to what else is out there and provided the chance to try some unique and interesting flavors.

Becky Povey
Private Dining Manager

Our Wine List

Mixing the Usual with the Unusual!

It’s great to have won two great awards at the Condé Nast/ Taittinger awards for our wine list at Donnington; ‘overall winner’ and best ‘wines by the glass’. Here’s a bit more about our wine list to help you get the most out of our list!

I’ve divided the wine list into easy to understand sections so that you can make your ideal choice. For the whites, we have sections such as “crisp & dry” and “fragrant”. And for the reds, “light & fruity” and “big & bold”.

Alongside these, there are a few more where we take a more detailed look at some of the wines. For example, “selected winery” & “wines that give back”.

The wines we have on the list range from the more obscure such as wines from India, England and Greece to the classics of Bordeaux. Included in those, are wines from our owner’s winery, Peter Michael Winery in California.

See our wine list in full

Watch this space for our wines by the glass promotion coming soon.

My Top 5 Autumnal Wines by the Glass

Great Whites

1) 2012 Danebury Vineyards, Reserve, Hampshire, England

This wine is blend of all the grape varieties Danebury grow; Schönburger, Madelenie Angevine and Auxerrois Blanc. The resulting wine is dry and complex with good minerality with delicate floral and tropical fruit flavours combining to produce a well rounded wine. Please try this wine as I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was!

Food match: great with fish
£8.25 (175ml glass)

2) 2011 Gaía Wines, Wild Ferment Assyrtiko

This wine has slight citrus aromas well combined with elegant oak notes, a rich mouth feel, crispy acidity, intense mineral flavours and a long finish.

Food match: great with goats cheese and strong flavoured food
£9.40 (175ml glass)

3) 2010, Urlar, Pinot Gris, Gladstone, New Zealand

A dry wine with aromas of sweet pear, honeysuckle and gladstone stone fruit overlaying a generous mouth feel of great weight and depth. Creamy texture on palate provides the backbone to a long lingering finish.

Food match: a light wine great with oriental food and raw fish
£9.20 (175m glass)

Big Reds

1) 2010, Sevilen, Kalecik Karasi,Güney, Denizli, Turkey

A great wine with intense firm tannins, rich spicy fruit, strawberries and red currants, concluding in a long lingering finish.

Food match: a wine that is a perfect match for an autumn lamb dish
£6.60 (175ml glass)

2) 2009, Château Ksara, Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

A great blend of three different grape varieties; Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. A wine with complex aromas of cloves, vanilla and mulberry. On the palate it shows an abundance of blueberry fruit with supple tannins giving it a good length.

Food match: fantastic with steak and rich meats
£6.40 (175ml glass)

Chris Neeves
Head Sommelier
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Great Wine from Greece

Many of us do not think of Greece as a great wine producing country, but I have to say that I’m coming around to thinking that Greece has a lot more to offer than just Retsina. I recently attended a Greek wine tasting hosted by Gaía Wines, who own two wineries one in Nemea in Peloponnese and the other in Santorini, one of the Aegean Islands.

So on to the wines that I tasted. Three of their wines stood out for me as being great additions to the Donnington Valley wine list; one white and two reds.

2011 Gaía Wines, Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece (white)

Assyrtiko is an indigenous grape variety and is one of Greece’s finest multi-purpose white grapes. It was first cultivated on the island of Santorini, where the grape developed a unique character producing excellent wines. This wine has slight citrus aromas well combined with elegant oak notes, a rich mouth feel, crispy acidity, intense mineral flavours and a long finish.

I like this wine so much so that I have put it as one of my recommendations at the front of the wine list.

2008 Gaía Wines, Gaía S, Agiorgitiko, Syrah, Nemea, Greece (red)

This wine is a blend of an indigenous grape – 70% Agiorgitiko and Syrah. A full bodied wine with warm soft dark fruit and a gentle spice, combined with well balanced tannins ending in a long finish.

The S after Gaía in the name of the wine can mean two things. One of them being ‘Super Nemea’ or ‘Super Tuscan’. Or the S could just simply stand for Syrah; they leave it up to you to decide. I quite like the idea of ‘Super Nemea’, but that’s just me.

2007 Gaía Wines, Gaía Estate, Agiorgitiko, Nemea, Greece (red)

A wine with a great bouquet of rich black berried fruits. On the palate the rich fruits blend well with the tannins making a very well balanced wine with a lovely lingering finish.

Going back through my tasting notes for these two red wines, I wrote ‘fantastic’ against the Gaía S and ‘love it’ for the Gaía Estate. When you’re next here, please ask to try one or more of these great wines and see if you agree with me.

I look forward to seeing you.

Chris Neeves
Head Sommelier
Donnington Valley Hotel

My Trip to Sonoma, Califorina

Has it made the hard work worth it? Is the question I am asked the most when people heard what I won Employee of the Year. To anyone within the company who has the chance to try for the trip – Yes, it is worth every single minute of it!

I was truly honored and delighted to have won the trip to California and once it had sunk in and I had stopped bursting into tears I had already decided that I was going as soon as possible and was going to make it the holiday of a lifetime.

I look my partner of 8 years Steve and booked as soon as I could for October 2011. Having some family also in California that I hadn’t seen in 11 years just a 90 minute drive from Sonoma meant I was going be able to factor them into the trip too.

One of the best parts of the 2 weeks we had was going to visit the Peter Michael Winery. Even having worked for the company for 4 years I just had no idea how amazing the place was. Vast steep mountain slopes of perfectly straight vines stretched for miles around the gated entrance. Seeing the Vineyard poppy on everything was brilliant and really was a reminder of how closely linked we were despite the geography. The Michael’s kindly consented for Steve and I to stay in the Cabin, a building with bridge access over a stream to the entrance, hot tub and what can only be described as luxury accommodation.

During our stay we had the chance to have a tour of the winery and tasting of the wine. Cote de mere is a large platform on the top of the mountain fully equipped for 5* entertaining used for fund raising for the Peter Michael foundation every year. The view is staggering stretching across the whole of Knights Valley and each of the different wines can be seen. Tasting Sir Peters wines was a once in a lifetime chance. It was a fantastic experience and meeting the other guests brought it home to us how much of a wonderful and rare opportunity it was sitting around that table, drinking those wines and in that location.

The local sights were an excuse for a little more tourist behavior and we took the opportunity to go to the local petrified wood, eat in Calistoga and visit the Geyser. The staff at Sugarloaf Ranch could not have been any more hospitable and I would do anything to go back again for longer.

Following the trip to the Ranch we spent a couple more days with family in San Jose and even had the chance to visit a ranch where Steve fitted right in with the lads drinking bud and shooting very scary looking Guns for the afternoon. We hired a car and drove to visit San Francisco then down the coastal road route 101 with a final stop in at Universal Studios to celebrate Steve’s 30th.

All in all a truly amazing two week trip that could not have been made possible without the Employee of the Year status. I cannot thank the company or the Michaels enough and will continue trying to win to have the excuse to go back!

Beth Willis
Senior Events Co-ordinator
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Festive Wines

Christmas is fast approaching and last minute preparations are well under way to make sure we are all ready here at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa.

I am busy putting the finishing touches to the wine list for the festive season. As I was doing it, I thought I would share with you a few wines I think you must try.


2011 Môreson, Miss Molly, Kitchen Thief, Sauvignon Blanc, Coastal Region, SA
£22.00 – special price for December

A beautiful rich, dry style of Sauvignon Blanc. It has underlying flavours of tropical fruits and granny smith apples. This wine goes wonderfully with foods such as salads, turkey, white meat and sauces. Great to drink with a starter or with the Christmas main course.


2008, Moreson, Miss Molly, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Coastal Region, SA
£22.00 – special price for December.

This is a fresh, ripe red wine with concentrated red fruits. Full bodied with oak overtones ending in a soft dry finish. Matches well with red meats such as beef and lamb but also would go nicely with turkey.

So have a try of these wines at home or here in the Winepress at Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa and let me know your feedback.

Chris Neeves, Beverage Manager Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa

Get the most of your visit!

Well I am back, safe and sound from my travels to South Africa, ready to tell you about the vineyards I visited and give you some pointers on how to get the best out of a visit to a winery.

I visited four wineries in total. The first being Hamilton Russell Winery in Hermauns, here we had a fantastic private tasting with Anthony Hamilton Russell – the owner. We started with his Southern Right range, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinotage. The Sauvignon Blanc is a nice fresh crisp clean wine and the Pinotage is a very good example of how this grape should taste – this is my favourite winery for Pinotage in South Africa. We then tasted the Hamilton Russell wines, of which there only two. A Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. The Hamilton Russell wines I feel are the closest in style and taste to burgundy, that you can find outside burgundy itself.

The next was Moreson winery in Franschhoek. Here we had a private tasting with Clayton – the wine maker. We spent a very interesting two hours tasting from the barrel of the previous years vintage and even tasted one wine from this years vintage. Then we went back to the tasting room and tasted the red wines they make. The one which stood out for me here was the 2008 Petit Verdot, a grape you do not normally find on its own.

The next two wineries I visited where Thelama and Tokara in Stellenbosch. I have been a long time fan of Thelama wines; we tasted all the range they produce. The one which stood out the most here was the 2008 “The Mint” Cabernet Sauvignon – a really full bodied fruity wine, with loads of flavour. We even got to taste a 20yr old Riesling they found in the cellar for us to try.

The winery of Tokara was a new one for me; but I am sure we will become life long friends after I tasted some of their wines. This is a very modern looking winery; great care has been taken in its construction. I tasted 6 of their wines, two stood out. 2009 Tokara Directors reserve white – blend of sauvignon blanc & Semillon and the 2010 Tokara Zondernamm Grenache rose, I liked the rose so much I bought a bottle to take back to Donnington Valley Hotel and Spa.

As you can see I had some great tastings and to help you have the same, here are some points to consider when going wine tasting.

  1. If you can, do some research on the winery before you go. If you show you know a little about them and what wines they produce, they will more likely spend more time with you.
  2. Use your contacts. Ask them to arrange if possible tastings at a couple of wineries, this way you are more likely to get the VIP treatment.
  3. Ask questions, i.e. if they say this a wine made from a blend, ask what the percentage is.
  4. Take notes on the wines you are tasting. This shows you are taking the tasting seriously and they will more likely spend more time with you.
  5. Pace yourself don’t try and do too many wineries in one day. Tasting wine is very tiring and your taste buds will not be able to tell the difference by the end of the day.
  6. If you are tasting a lot of wines, do not swallow all the wine; spit most out. This will help you not become drunk. Also have a drink of water between each wine. This helps to refresh your palate between wines.
  7. Make sure you have a good meal at the start of the day, never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach. Also if you are tasting all day, try and refrain from drinking too much at lunch time.
  8. Always try and have a designated driver. You can find that the police around wine regions are very strict on drink driving.
  9. Dress accordingly. If you show up at the tasting room scruffy, the chances are you will not receive a very warm welcome.
  10. Never turn up having had one too many. You will not be severed. When you have reached your limit, save that last winery to the next day.

Well I hope you have found this interesting and if I have wetted your appetite for South African wines. We are having a wine dinner on 1st July with Moreson and Dane Friedman will be talking about his wines. I hope to see you all there.http://www.donningtonvalley.co.uk/events_julaug.asp

Chris Neeves
Head sommelier

Urlar Estate

Our wine list is constantly evolving as we source new wines to tempt our guests. We have recently added two new sections to our list these are “Selected Winery” and “Wines which give back”. In the selected winery section we take a closer look at the wineries and tell you how they go about making their wines which have made it onto our list. In the “wines which give back” section we focus on wines that either give back to the environment or give back by donating to charity.  Please have a look at the list next time you are at the hotel and let us know what you think.

This week we are taking a closer look at the Urlar winery, which we have featured in the wines which give back section of our wine list.

Proudly family owned, New Zealand, Urlar Estate produces outstanding single vineyard wines
Angus Thompson the owner of Urlar has said “our philosophy is really very simple to produce the best wine possible with the least impact to us and the environment”.

The practices they use are about giving life back to the soil and managing the vineyard as a balanced sustainable farming unit. This includes organic practices such as recycling through composts and liquid manures and increasing plant bio diversity through inter-row crops. Every year, one row in seven will be sowed with a variety of plants and beneficial flowers. Flowers, such as buckwheat provide crucial protection to the vineyard by attracting beneficial insects that will kill off unwanted pests that can destroy the fruit and vines. They use the biodynamic farming and gardening calendar, the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars are recognised and worked where possible.

A lot more is done in the winery, such as the use of solar power. The solar panels are so effective; they heat water to boiling point greatly reducing the use of gas and electricity for water heating. The boiling water also enables the winery to remove impurities from the tanks thereby limiting the use of chemicals. Considerations taken into account when designing he winery included reducing the energy used to keep the barrels cool over the summer, also natural habitats for a variety of birds has been created through careful landscaping. For all their commitment they where rewarded with the Hills Harvest and Gallagher innovation award.

Urlar produce five wines, three of which, are exported to the UK. At a recent private tasting with Angus, we tasted the three wines available in the UK. A Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir. All great wines but the one which stood out was the Pinot Gris, so much so that it has been included it in the wine by the glass selection of our list.

The other wines they produce are a Riesling and a noble Riesling. We asked Angus why the Riesling is not exported, he said that at present only a small production was made however this may increase as long as the quality of the wine it not affected.

Planned for the next few weeks is a trip to South Africa to visit some of the wineries as well as some adventurous activities such as abseiling down Table Mountain and diving with sharks. As long as the sharks don’t think I too tasty I’ll share with you my experiences on my return. For the time being please see our website for information on wine and the WinePress restaurant.

Chris Neeves
Head Sommelier

Real Ale in the Bacchus Bar

For the first time ever the Bacchus bar at Donnington Valley hotel is now serving real ales, which are supplied by a local brewery, West Berkshire Brewery. They have a well deserved reputation for quality award winning ales. It’s important to us to source our products locally but most important is to ensure that we have products of an excellent quality for our guests and West Berkshire brewery ticks both of these boxes. Located just eight miles away from the hotel, the brewery ethos matches our own of using locally sourced ingredients and sustainable technologies, for example using hops locally produced and supplied by the only hop garden in old Berkshire.

Established in 1995 by David and Helen Maggs, West Berkshire Brewery is Berkshire’s largest independent brewer and has won 25 awards in the last 15 years. In 2008 West Berkshire Brewery’s Dr Hexter Healer won a Gold medal in the premium beer category at the SIBA SE region beer competition and more recently in 2010 Maggs magnificent mild was joint beer of the festival at the Oxford beer festival in October.

We currently stock Full Circle draft ale which is 4.5%, we also stock Dr Hexter Healer and Mr Chubbs in bottles, this can change monthly depending on the feedback we receive from our guests. Stop by for a pint and maybe a bite to eat at the WinePress