Anthony Rose: 'You could be forgiven for being confused by Virgin Wines'
If you're someone who flies Virgin Atlantic, borrows Virgin Money and signs up to Virgin Active because you're a fan of Richard Branson's brands, then Virgin Wines might surprise you. Not because there's anything wrong with the brand. But, while started by Branson, it was subsumed in 2005 under the Direct Wines umbrella.
You could be forgiven for being confused because it retains the Virgin logo and borrows Virgin-like terminology such as 'Rockstar Service' while 41,000 customers sign up to its Discovery Wine Club on either a Standard or First Class option. On the face of it at least, virginwines.co.uk operates autonomously, with three-quarters of the 600-strong range sourced by its energetic buyer Andrew Baker or blended to its specification. The heart of its mail order business lies in its wine clubs, but it also holds regular wine tastings around the country, hosting 30 this year.
Among new releases showcased at its summer press tasting, the 2012 Les Terrasses de l'Argentier Gros Manseng Sauvignon Blanc, £9.99, is a bracingly refreshing and aromatic white Gascon blend and kudos to Mr Baker for snapping up the briny, bone-dry La Gitana en Rama Manzanilla from Hidalgo, £12.99. Notable new-release reds included a vibrant, black cherry-filled 2007 Loculto Ribera del Duero Crianza, £13.99 and the richly blackberryish 2010 Gigondas La Grille.
The Summer Discovery Club Selection (bottle price £9.99) gives you a case discount, so wines such as the 2012 Les Arbousiers Reserve Grenache Vermentino, a dry apple and peach white, works out at a reasonable £7.49, as does the refreshingly tangy 2013 Billy Bosch Reserve Stellenbosch Semillon Sauvignon.
The same principle applies to the First Class Discovery Club Selection (case discount works out at £8.33 per bottle). Particularly good were the 2011 Transit of Venus Sauvignon Grenache from South Africa, while the 2012 Domaine André Brunel Viognier, delivers the fragrance and peachy opulence of the condrieu grape.
Among Customer Favourites, the peachy richness of the 2010 Atalaya do Mar Godello, £10.99, is a terrific match for white fish. I also enjoyed the nettle and elderflower-scented 2011 Girard Sancerre Silex, a dry Loire white. The star of this particular show, though, was the magnificent 2010 Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé, £26.95, an English eat-your-heart-out-rosé-Champagne-like fizz with a delicate underpinning of toasty flavours.
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