The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
The following reports are provided by Saverio Petrilli (Tenuta di Valgiano), Giovannella Fugazza (Castello di Luzzano), Paolo Benegiamo (L’Astore Masseria) and Nicola Oberto (Trediberri).
Saverio Petrilli, winemaker at the Lucchesi estate of Tenuta di Valgiano records that they experienced a difficult spring, due to it having rained from Oct ’12 until June ’13. “We thought 2010 had been tricky, but Nature knows no limits nowadays. We worked like dogs to limit the spread of downey mildew and botrytis attacks, unseen of in spring. Then, from 18 June, torrid heat, reducing the clay to terracotta! Still humid, Nature threw oidium at us too, to complete the set! Biodynamic preparation 501 (crushed quartz) pepped up the weak vegetative growth during the cool spring weather. The harvest started on 5 September, slow and easy. Then storms, more rain and it became frenetic! In under a month we harvested everything, filling every available vessels, even the bath! Quantity was stable, if 5 percent down. The quality was good, similar to that of the 1990s, with modest alcohol (12-13 percent), high acidity and low pH. We need to wait until after the malolactic before judging. For now, the wines are fruity, vivaci, almost nervy, with great energy.”
Giovannella Fugazza at her Emilia-Romagnan estate, Castello di Luzzano writes: “I would define this (2013) harvest as ‘Harking back to the harvests of yesteryear’. Both for the fact that maturation was later than in previous years and that the weather stressed us during the final weeks – all in all, echoing vintages of the 1990s. It wasn’t an easy harvest, but one that has given birth to wines, rich in perfume, colour and with a good alcohol level. The maturation of the fruit was, in fact, helped by a summer’s end characterised by cool nights, and hot, ventilated days. We started harvesting on 10September, first with the Pinot Noir destined for white wine vinification, then, in order: Chardonnay, Malvasia Candida Aromatica, Syrah, Pinot Noir (for reds), merlot, Bonarda, Barbera and then at the end Cabernet. Quantity was down, especially in white grapes and in Pinot Noir, almost 25 percent less. This is due to the wet spring (during flowering). In all we‘re satisfied, achieving on average 70hl/hectare (from 75ha) at an alcohol level of 12.5 percent.”
Paolo Benegiamo at his Salento propriety L’Astore Masseria in the Puglian heel of Italy, dividing the Adriatic and Ionian seas writes: “2013 was notable for its even weather, characterised by a mild winter and fresh spring. Rainfall of 630mm between 1October 2012 and 31 July 2013 was on average for the past 10 years. The fresh spring delayed budding and flowering. Clipping the tops of rows in June brought on new leaves, giving a push to the maturation process. July witnessed good day/night temperature excursions. Compared with 2012, this year’s been less productive and slightly later than previous vintages, resulting in a later, strung on harvest that allowed the gradual development of aromas in the grapes. Harvest started on 16August with Susamaniello (for its sparkling Brut Rosato). Negroamaro for its Rosato ‘Massaro’ was brought in at the end of August, followed by the Malvasia Bianca for ‘Krita’. Primitivo (for ‘Jema’) and Negroamaro (for ‘Filimei’) came in during the second and third weeks of September. Old vine Negroamaro for ‘Alberelli’ was cropped at the end of September early October, followed by Aglianico.
Finally to Nicola Oberto (pictured above), whose Piedmontese family make fine Barbera, Nebbiolo (for Barolo) and Sauvignon (!) at the La Morra estate of Trediberri, new to Berry Bros this year: ‘The 2013 season marked the return to an “old-fashioned” (ie late) vegetative cycle of the vines. This was due to a very unusual spring, characterised by an extra-ordinary amount of rain (see 2013 rainfall chart on trediberri.com) which brought two pivotal results: the incapability to enter rows in order to mechanically widespread copper-based treatments and the consequent rise of downy mildew (peronospora). Organic wineries (not using systemic treatments) lost 25 percent to 70 percent of buds during flowering. Huge rainfalls also caused a fall of temperatures between March and May and this undoubtedly delayed the blooming and the bud-set. Summer was on average slightly cooler than usual (characterised by hot daytimes and cool nights) and rather dry; these conditions helped veraison and first ripeness. Green-harvesting was a factor in this phase: wineries who had been less damaged by downy mildew were keen to thin, while some decided not to proceed since they looked quite low in production (20 percent to 30 percent fewer formed grapes than usual). Harvest was delayed all-over Italy and in Piedmont white grapes started to be harvested at the beginning of September, with 15-20 days of delay.
The rainfalls of late August – combined to a sunny September – caused berries and bunches to increase weight and dimensions, thus causing the crush of adjacent berries; what was expected to be a scarce harvest, in October started to appear as an abundant one (especially considering the relative weight of any single bunch) with the concrete risk of rot and bad botrytis. We had to hardly intervene in order to let the air blow through the shoots, stop the rising humidity and get rid of rotted bunches. Generally speaking, red grapes were harvested throughout October, with a constant eye on weather conditions: mid-late October rainfalls and cool temperatures brought percentages of sugar far lower than recent seasons’, sometimes with a high level of acidity and an inconsistent ripeness of tannins. In a nutshell 2013 was better than what we could forecast in May, but came as a result of a compromise between winegrowers and weather. As for our vineyards, grapes from Rocche dell’Annunziata were superb (harvested relatively early on 10 October), whereas the fruits to be blended into our straight Barolo – from the vineyards Berri and Capalot – although picked later between 18 and 27 October, were characterised by an irregular ripening pattern and needed a more accurate selection process.”
The following reports are provided by Aldo Cifola (La Monacesca), Sergio Arcuri, Loredana Tanganelli (Scopetone) and Mirco Mastroianni (Massaretti).
First up, Aldo Cifola, winemaker/owner at the La Monacesca estate, recounts how his Verdicchio di Matelica fared: “Summer 2013 was complicated due to the repetitive rain showers in June and July, let alone the unprecedented eight days of rain during the harvest itself! As a result Aldo lost 20 per cent of his Verdicchio (di Matelica), in what was already a low-cropping vintage. Nonetheless they succeeded in harvesting a significant quantity of very good Verdicchio, at acceptable sugar and acidity levels. So a low quantity of high quality fruit.”
It seems the South (of Italy) enjoyed a better season/October than further north, if Calabrian Sergio Arcuri’s report is anything to go by: “Ottima annata! It’s been a long harvest on account of the slow maturation of the (Gaglioppo) fruit, taking place at the right time and finishing on 19th October. Ten per cent more fruit than in 2012, even given the lack of rain, but the summer temperature was not very hot. No fermentation issues, a risk given their decision to ferment spontaneously (using wild yeasts).”
New to Berrys’ range this year are the suave Scopetone wines of Montalcino, made by Loredana Tanganelli and her husband Antonio Brandi, from vineyards just below the historic town centre itself: “2013 wasn’t easy but very interesting, cumulating in high quality and quantity (Sangiovese Grosso) fruit. The weather and (slow) ripening period echoed that of 20/30 years ago, i.e. optimal conditions for ripening the Sangiovese. Spring and early summer were wet, accompanied by hail, which though filling up water reserves, also brought on peronospera, requiring much vineyard work. Great heat arrived during the second half of July, and August, but not excessively as felt in previous years, while cool nights and hot days ensured the build up of complex aromas and fruit tannins. This continued into September, which was fine and dry, indicating a (later than recent years) harvest period between end Sept and mid October. Harvesting conditions were compromised by frequent and heavy rain showers, threatening rot but those that harvested before the middle of October (as they did!) brought home fruit, balanced in sugar, acidity, freshness and colour. Quantity harvested was about five per cent on previous years due to greater manual selection in the vineyard, ensuring high quality.”
Finally, another new face is Mirco Mastroianni, owner/winemaker on the Ligurian Riviera at the Pigato-producing Cascina Feipu dei Massaretti, based in Albenga, overlooking the Mediterranean: “As regards my region, 2013 was characterised by rain and low temperatures until the beginning of the summer. This resulted in lower sugar and hence alcohol levels of between 1- 0.5 degrees less (which is not a bad thing). That said, the good oscillation of temperatures between day and night during August and during the first 15 days of Sept, has had – in my view and as regards my wines – a positive influence on the (Pigato) aromas.”
More Italian 2013 harvest news to follow from Tenuta di Valgiano (Tuscany), Castello di Luzzano (Emilia-Romagna), Massotina (Veneto), L’Astore Masseria (Puglia)…
Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Sophie Nicoll takes a tour of Burgundy in the heart of St. James’s at one of our celebrated Wine School evenings
Burgundy is a region of fascination as well as confusion and complexity for many wine lovers. When asked to help at our Wine School’s Tour of Burgundy dinner one cold evening in November, it offered great opportunity to taste an array of illustrious Premier and Grand Cru Burgundies that had developed with age.
The vintages on offer were stunning: 1983, 1995 and 2000 to the celebrated 2009, covering most famous villages as well as one or two lesser-knowns, we were promised an exquisite whistlestop tour of this French region.
Before our guests arrived – from afar as Russia – so began our wine preparation. Decanting is always a dilemma with very old wines as you lose some integrity of flavour due to oxidation, so we did this as late as possible to preserve delicacy and maintain fragrance. These surprisingly only had fine sediment, except the 1983, which required thorough double-decanting. But how were they going to taste with the food? First stop: two courses paired with white wines.
To start, a light and sweetish appetiser of hay-baked artichoke, apple and truffle pesto paired with 2006 St Aubin (1er Cru, Les Frionnes, Hubert Lamy): This aged white gave huge pleasure to the group and it showed well; an encouragement to age our whites for six or seven years. The second paired wine, a 2008 Puligny-Montrachet (Perrieres, 1er Cru, Domaine Jean-Louis Chavy), tasted fuller-bodied and richer on its own than with the food – an aperitif wine perhaps.
Onto a seafood dish and what an education in wine and food matching this was. A 2009 Chablis (Grand Cru, Les Clos, Domaine Pinson) while on its own was delightfully lean and light on the palate with classical marine notes and a crisp clean finish, just did not stand up to the weight and meatiness of the cornish crab and salmon ravioli with shellfish butter sauce. The alternative pairing, 2008 Clos Blanc de Vougeot (1er Cru, Domaine de la Vougeraie), toasty, lengthy and with refreshing minerality, just burst in the mouth when tried with the dish – the flavours melded together in a wonderfully velvet rich creaminess. Some were excited that they were tasting a white Vougeot for the first time (a relative rarity), and were not disappointed. Divine.
Onto the reds and the third course: partridge, served with game farce and celeriac tart, paired with a 2000 Volnay (Clos des Chenes, 1er Cru, Collection Bellenum) and 1997 Chambertin (Grand Cru, Collection Bellenum). The latter naturally had a huge following due to its vintage, yet surprisingly that most people voted for its younger compatriot: the softer, graceful Volnay started delicately and finished with intensity to match the soft lingering creaminess of the farce; velvety fruit complemented the delicate gamey flavours of the partridge.
Cheese was on the menu next, paired with 1995 Clos de Roche, in full prime and plenty of time to develop more, as well as 1983 Chambolle-Musigny: delicate and wise and could be enjoyed fully with the Beaufort, Morbier and Ami Du Chambertin, local cheeses of this region.
Those of you who’ve tried a supper in the Cellars will know it is difficult to leave at the end of the night – the conversation was full flowing and while we were satisfied from the deliciously fine food, the wines were hard to put down: the sheer variety of flavours, weights and levels of complexity of this region was profound, and any Chardonnay avoiders were soon converted! This dinner really was an education in how wine can taste so different with food, and with time in a glass.
In the midst of our Spain campaign (‘The Golden Route’) Berry Bros & Rudd’s Sara Guiducci reports on the remarkable influence France has had on the wines of Rioja
Rioja, with its rich winemaking culture that traces its history back to the Roman period, is steeped in history, and today’s producers are proud of their rich heritage. Its wine-makers happily acknowledge that the region’s current style has been influenced by the French and that Rioja’s past is closely intertwined with Bordeaux. Miguel Angel de Gregorio (of Finca Allende) described the historic wineries in Rioja as “a Burgundy-style wine with a Bordeaux history”.
Geographically, Rioja is located closer to Bordeaux than Madrid, encouraging a historical link between the two areas: the more I spoke to producers, the more I realised that this link has been key to the renown and quality of this region.
Bordeaux’s unique reputation and its accessibility by sea has long given it a magnetic attraction for oenophiles. In addition, it is said that in 1780 oenologist Manuel Quintano, inspired by Medoc practices, introduced cask ageing into Bordeaux. However, the story really starts in the mid-1850s.
In 1858, the local government instructed Camilo Hurtado de Amezaga (the Marquis de Riscal, who had spent part of his exile in Bordeaux) to find a way to teach the ‘método bordelés’ to the local producers. At his advice they hired Jean Pineau, winemaker at Ch. Lanessan, who arrived in Rioja Alavesa with 9,000 young vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Pinot Noir. He instructed the local producers, who mainly made young wine with carbonic maceration (think young Beaujolais), how to use casks. However, the long cask ageing brought financial constraint to the producers and an immediate pressure on wine supply and the local government fired the young Jean Pineau. The Marquis de Riscal promptly set up his own winery and hired the Jean Pineau and created his own ‘Cuvee Medoc’. This was only the beginning….
It was 1862, exactly 370 years after the Spanish discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, when Mr Borty planted American vines in his garden in Roquemaure, forever changing the face of European viticulture. From the small Rhone garden, the tiny louse Phylloxera vastatrix (phylloxera the devastator) imported on indigenous American vines gnawed its way through the European vineyards causing almost total destruction. The French wine industry, which had only just recovered from a devastating attack of Oidium, ground to a halt and production fell from 84.5 million hl in 1875 to a tiny 23 million in 1889.
With the devastation of the Bordeaux vineyards and the unquenchable thirst from UK merchants for ‘clairette’, the negociants left Bordeaux in search of quality wine and quickly realised a common affinity of dark fruit, smokiness and spice between Bordeaux and oak-aged Rioja. For the next decade, Bordeaux imported as much Rioja into Bordeaux as it exported wine to the outside world.
The influx of money allowed the construction of a multitude of wineries, many that we still know today such as La Rioja Alta, CVNE and Bodegas Lopez de Heredia. The arrival of the Bordelais negociants, French oenologists and technicians influenced the production, selling and promotion of the wines. Following a negociant tradition CVNE only bought in grapes and La Rioja Alta was set up much like a cooperative. Though they imported Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon and Malbec, their quick requirements for grapes meant they focused on Tempranillo, and as they realised the potential of Tempranillo the need to plant French varieties diminished. Therefore, it was more wine-making practices rather than varieties that they brought to the region; barriques ageing became a common practice still used today as well as de-stemming and smaller fermentation tanks instead of lagares.
Even today there are reminders of the French past as the fuller bodied wines were (and are) bottled in Burgundy bottles such as Vina Bosconia (Bodegas Lopez de Heredia), Prado Enea (Muga) and Vina Ardanza (La Rioja Alta), and the lighter wines such as Vina Tondonia (Bodegas Lopez de Heredia), Reserva Especial (Muga) and Vina Arana (La Rioja Alta) are bottled in Bordeaux bottles (the lighter style was the ‘clairette’ of a century ago). In fact, a previous incarnation of Bosconia’s previous name was Rioja Cepa Borgona and included some Pinot Noir. At Remelluri some old bottles were preserved with the names ‘Medoc, Alaves’ and ‘Bodega Bordeles, Rioja Selection’
However, the golden period of boom came to an end as the time-bomb of phylloxera finally hit Rioja in the 1890s. France had started a large scale reconstruction of its vineyards by grafting the vines on American rootstocks and the negociants left Rioja to return to Bordeaux, which by 1893 was producing as much wine as during the pre-phylloxera period. They left their stamp on Rioja with a strong distribution system, quality wine-making, and an international recognition. However, the result of their leaving was diminished demand and quickly the expensive French oak barrels were replaced with cheaper American oak that was split (not sawn) and left to dry outside (not kiln dried) according to French tradition. Today’s existence of cooperages attached to most wineries stems most likely from this period, where wineries looked for cheaper American oak that was treated in a French manner.
American oak became the new signature of Rioja and ‘traditional Rioja’ is now most likely described as being brick-red in colour with red fruit aromas and balsamic notes that has been aged for a long time in large American oak vats. This period also saw the introduction of Garnacha (Grenache) as phylloxera devastated vineyards were replanted with this variety from Aragon. One wonders what the founding fathers of many traditional wineries would have said about today’s so-called modernists who, inspired by modern winemaking techniques, produce deeply coloured, highly aromatic wines that are aged in French barriques.
This story certainly made me rethink the way I understand modern and traditional Rioja and it gives an extra dimension to the vision of many of our producers to retain tradition and originality in their wines. Telmo Rodriques summarised this when he described the dilemma of Rioja by asking the question: “Should one respect the transformation of the decades and centuries or go back to the original?”
Personally, I am glad that the French didn’t stay long enough to make Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant variety, but that innovation, financial confidence and hardship has given this region a wealth of heritage to draw upon to make a plethora of unique styles. The French influence remains fundamental to the style of the wines produced, but the style is as much typified by the region’s own history and the extraordinary people who adapted quickly to the opportunities and hardships thrown at them. Rioja remains a mystery of blending: grapes, wood, ageing, vineyards, cultures and history.
Laura Atkinson, a member of our fine wine team, travelled to Rioja to explore the difference between traditional and modern winemaking – and what that means for what’s in your glass…
This was my first trip to the vinous regions of northern Spain: we had two days in beautiful Rioja, the historical hub, followed by two days in Ribera del Duero. Both have a booming food and drink culture that is naturally and elegantly entwined in everyday Spanish life.
Bodegas in the fine wine areas of Spain are generally considered either traditional or modern which, in essence, refers to the methods and decisions that eventually determine how the wine will taste. What makes a Spanish wine traditional? The main choice to use American casks (rather than smaller French-oak barrels) creates the style we know as traditional Rioja. American oak is much less expensive thanks to the Spanish trade relationship with American wood used in Sherry production further south.
This historic training has established an exciting breed of traditional vignerons and unique new producers. From this trip I wanted to understand traditional and modern winemaking and how the Spanish can make so many distinguished, characterful wines that are full of regional personality; wines with the ability to show a sense of place and complexities akin to the greatest fine wines of the world.
First stop, Rioja.
When a winemaking area becomes a brand, then there’s a danger that the influence of that brand name can lead to bulk planting on any slope regardless of aspect, exposure or soil. I was pleasantly surprised with the sophistication in Rioja, which for the most part had a respect for the unique geography. Vines were planted for a reason with what felt like aspirations of quality. I did not make it to Baja, but the two Rioja A’s (Alavesa and Alta) should be taken most seriously thanks to their higher altitudes and unique geology.
Have you heard of López de Heredia? If not, you simply must seek out the wines from this family-run bodega which was founded in 1877, during the dynamic decade which established Rioja as the world-class region we know. If ‘Traditional Rioja’ appeared in a dictionary, the definition would surely reference this winery, complete with a dedication to protecting spiders in the ancient cellars. Spiders are treated with total respect which was a concept difficult for my arachnophobia to comprehend. I didn’t make as many notes as I should as my tasting book became head protection from an enveloping canopy of cobwebs.
The López de Heredia family were actually the first modern producers in Rioja: when everyone else was planting vines on the mountains, they planted theirs in between a sweeping arch of the river significantly away from the hills, in their own protected area. However, since this modern start, the current generation (Maria José) has absolutely refused to move with modern times. Their wines are a true taste of the historic past and provided me with one of my most memorable food and wine moments to date. Picture this: plates of fresh home-grown tomatoes from Maria José’s mum, homemade boar chorizo from her brother-in-law, lamb chops cooked to perfection on an open fire in the vineyards and half a dozen bottles of mellowed white and red Rioja to taste dating back to the Seventies. Lunchtime spent basking in sunshine and rustic Rioja – perfection.
Another property that deserves maximum attention is the magical Estate wines of Remelluri in the hills above Labastida. Hermits had settled on the lavender- and rosemary-scented hills surrounding the estate and created vineyards to contemplate life and landscape in the 14th century, prior to a monastery being built as their sanctuary. Oh, what a spectacular home this must have been! The Remelluri estate is simply one of the most peaceful and beautiful in the world, making soulful, traditional and ecological wines under the influence of Telmo Rodriguez. Try to taste these wines: they are the best representation of Rioja landscape in a glass.
From a more modern perspective, I would like to introduce Finca Allende. Winemaking is in stainless-steel as much as wood, intensive pumping-over to extract colour, tannin and flavour then ageing in small Bordeaux-style new French-oak barrels. The wines are much more intense and powerful but less led by sweet fruit and spice from American wood. They work like a dream with richer, flavoursome dishes such as venison or the smoked and spicy peppers which you find in the local markets.
Let’s journey from the Ebro to the Duero River.
The Ribera del Duero area on the banks of the river Duero houses many famous bodegas that are carving a new vision as a fine wine treasure trove in Spain.
Like López de Heredia in Rioja, Vega Sicilia have their own unique way of making wines: old vines, low yields, Spanish and Bordeaux grapes and long ageing. The main reason for the individual style at Vega Sicilia is that they were a winery in the middle of nowhere for 120 years with absolutely no regional rivals. They managed to survive traditionally without having to compete with the Joneses (I am not sure of the Spanish equivalent?) until the area fashionably sprung into life in the Eighties. Ribera del Duero vineyards lie at higher altitudes in enchanting countryside with plenty of limestone, imparting mineral flavours. The risk of frost is much more common but summer days are warm and breezy. This circulation of air adds a coolness and purity to the fruit. Bordeaux varieties are more established in a Ribera del Duero blend and oak is not so rigidly American. These subtleties add to the detail here.
On the south-facing slopes opposite Vega lies Hacienda Monasterio, established in the relatively recent 1991 vintage. This winery embodies a Bordeaux concept: vines surrounding the property; a consultant winemaker as legendary as Peter Sisseck; French and Spanish grapes; Bordeaux casks, and parcel blending. The wines have a modern Spanish class and personality but without any traditional pomp or circumstance. Hacienda Monasterio is a well-judged bodega that embodies the best of both worlds, with wine that is consistently amongst the finest in Spain. We are delighted to welcome these wines to our range.
You now know the more traditional wines: the modern alternatives can be found throughout the region, and at one winery in particular – Pago de Los Capellanes. When you arrive at this winery you can instantly guess how the wines will taste; their modern identity is clear. Granted the winery looks more like a minimalist hotel lobby with its various shades of black than the home of fine wine production, that is your first clue. Next, rather than a standard vineyard tour, you are escorted to an impressive cinema to watch arty shots of landscapes and the vine cycle set to piano music composed by the owner. The place is immaculate, solid, well designed and sings of quality and cleanliness. The wines are equally clean cut, well designed and with maximum attention to detail. They offer a brighter, fuller and flavoursome version of modern Spanish winemaking.
When it comes to white wines, the unique Viura is certainly distinctive and very food-friendly. Many examples offer white-pepper flavours and spices similar to Gruner Veltliner, the vanilla and buttery wood influence akin to Meursault in Burgundy. plus the peach and tropical vibrancy of whites from the Rhône. The producers which understand this style of blending white Virua with other local grapes to produce Rioja can make exceptional wines. The mix-and-match of characters create a special white expression of Spain.
So what happens next for Rioja and Ribera del Duero? The intelligent attitude of winemakers seems to be dedicated to making better and better wines with a human honesty, be that with a nod to the traditional or modern styles. The more producers who step away from generic winemaking recipes to carefully create wines that show specific vineyards and regions, then the more exciting things become for drinkers.
Traditional winemaking is no better than modern winemaking; there is much to learn from both. In fact the contrasting camps show the unavoidable and encouraged evolution of Spanish style, like nowhere else in the world.
Winemakers understand their responsibility to learn the details of the individual villages where the vines grow to create wines that does not dilute the message and history of these two infamous regions. There is so much history.
If you are not familiar with the vinous delights of Spain, then I’d thoroughly recommend you begin to explore its offering – you will be rewarded with affordable, glorious wines full of personality and a natural affinity to food. Viva España.
If you have never been to Bordeaux before it can be an overwhelming experience to live the sights, sounds and smells that manifest the making of its wine. For this reason, the Bordeaux Training trip has a legendary reputation within Berrys. With early starts and tight schedules to make the numerous daily Châteaux visits it’s an exhilarating whistlestop through the right and left bank.
We witnessed sights that you just can’t fully visualise from a text book.
The sheer variety and difference in ethos of producers was the most evident learning of the trip: from LVMH-owned Château Y’Quem with its grandiose, beautiful vistas, corporate buildings and professionally-run tasting, to the privately owned First Growth Château Ausone (my personal favourite as a die-hard fan of their violet, herbaceous Cabernet Franc) where the two Weimaraner dogs greeted us and led us through the naturally-maintained cellars and steep, south-east facing vineyards.
The sheer passion of the producers was evident at Château L’Eglise-Clinet: the owner Denis Durantou got on his hands and knees to dig up the soil showing us exactly the type of sticky wet matter (rich in gravel, clay, sand and iron) that allowed his merlot vines to grow so well ‘here’ as opposed to ‘there’ where the soil was finer and sandy. This delicious wine is typically a blend of 80% Merlot.
The bravery of producers to explore and experiment with new techniques and processes was also abundantly clear: Château Pontet Canet demonstrated their commitment to biodynamism with a perfectly-timed vista of horse-drawn machinery working the vineyard as we wound our way through the estate on the visitor golf buggy.
Biodynamic processes were equally evident in the Sauternes vineyard of Château Climens: they showcased their commitment to the ‘new age’ production methods (which they were learning from Pontet Canet) in their old rustic barn with two metres squared of lemongrass, brambles and Camomile laid out to dry on the top floor to be used in biodynamic processes.
Beauty and function live happily side by side in Bordeaux, as at Ch. Margaux: the vision of the beautiful chateau juxtaposed with a (very smart) mobile bottling plant (an articulated lorry swiftly and deftly sorting, filling and labelling the bottles for storage) is not easily forgettable.
If you have never been to Bordeaux before I urge you to go and witness if for yourself. You are guaranteed to want to go back for more.
I’m sure the question “what does my Wine Merchant do during their holidays?” isn’t one which often crosses your mind. But this summer I happened to be in the very epicentre of English Sparkling wine production for a few days, and the very welcoming people at Nyetimber in West Sussex happened to have an open door…
The extremely affable and hospitable Julian Kirk, Head of Sales for Nyetimber and his colleagues very generously made time to show myself and the Good Lady Wife around the gardens, vineyard and tasting room at Nyetimber.
The Nyetimber estate was established in 1986 by Stuart & Sandy Moss, who made their first wine in 1992. This means that Nyetimber are now home to some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in England, not much however, a Burgundian sized parcel you might suggest – just five vines! In contrast to this, the estate now covers some 150HA over six sites in Hampshire and eight sites in West Sussex.
This might seem licentious, but I cannot over emphasise the care and attention that Pascal Marty and his Vineyard Team lavish on these sites and the painstaking attention to detail that they pay. A perfect example of this attention and in fact the overall philosophy is the Nyetimber practice of “cover cropping”, a superb way of regulating the vigour of the vines by planting or allowing wild flowers, grasses to grow in the space between vine rows. However occasionally, and often in the winter, this needs to be cut. Many a vineyard manager would merely draft in a tractor and mow the lot, a very cheap and effective job. “Done!” He would exclaim and dust his hands. Not so at Nyetimber:
a local flock of sheep are brought in for the winter to each vineyard site and duly do their duty, mowing and ahem, ‘fertilising’ the vineyard in the process. But even these are not any old sheep, specifically they are 2 and 3 year olds – unlike to suffer the loss of separation from mother and importantly unlikely to do any lasting damage if they knock a vine. This typifies nearly all of the work at Nyetimber – maximum consideration for the resulting quality of the wine the environment, all with near complete disregard for the actual financial cost.
The tasting room at the estate are amongst the best I have visited in any fine wine region I can recall. A great balance of interior design, historical respect and that very English of things – a fine view of the formal gardens. This somewhat sets the scene I hope.
Highlights of the tasting bench: No easy task as this was hugely enjoyable (let me say not all tastings we have to do are… no names, naturally…) First on the chart has to be the new Classic Cuvee. ‘New’ on two counts: it is Cherie Spriggs, the new Head Winemaker’s, first full cuvee and it also features new packaging. As you would expect, this is effortlessly easy to drink, a true “Champenois-basher” even, if you write headlines for the daily papers. More seriously, this is capable of at least five years in the cellar and this is not too fresh, nor over dosaged, nor too earnest – this has a very healthy degree of good ‘ole drinkability, by the spade!
1996 is a vintage which makes you sit up and pay attention, always has been, always will be. Champagne & Bordeaux both did very well, but in England – really? On the strength of Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs it would seem so. Touches of honey and marzipan draw you in on the nose as you would expect, but the texture and quality of the palate is truly fantastic. At a blind tasting, you could very easily mistake this for a major Champagne house’s tete de cuvee – that says an awful lot. So, bearing that in mind, as well as how far the Nyetimber story has come on since 1996 – what will the great vintages of the late 2000’s bring us once mature?
I hope this brief blog encapsulates my view of Nyetimber – lots of care, money and brain power is being lavished on small areas of Hampshire & West Sussex to produce world class wine. It is good, very good now, but once the sum of these efforts really take effect and the right vintage conditions come along then we’re all in for a magnificent treat and a sight of just how good English Sparkling Wine could be.
Approaching it in stages, our ‘Giro d’Italia’ kicks off in the South. Sicily’s Alberto Graci, on the slopes of volcanic Monte Etna, treats us to seismic fruit bowl fireworks from the Nerello Mascalese grape. Puglia’s Benegiamo family at L’Astore Masseria are behind this lush, juicy Primitivo while their Negroamaro fruit turns out a fleshy Rosati (Rosés). Basilicata’s Musto Carmelitano family, on the lava slopes of Monte Vulture, capture the Aglianico grape’s dark damson and blackcurrant notes perfectly.
The Centre of Italy is split by the Apennines. Abruzzo’s Giovanni Faraone in the east makes delicate verbena like whites of the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grape, while just down the road Col del Mondo’s Fabrizio Mazzocchetti gives us suave forest fruit flavours of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape/wines. On the west side, Francesco Antano in landlocked Umbria makes heady, brambly wines mainly from the Sagrantino di Montefalco grape. His Tuscan neighbours Bibbiano and Scopetone produce prim, scented red-berried wines of the Sangiovese grape, from the Chianti Classico and Montecucco regions respectively.
Completing the Giro in the North, we feature Veneto’s light cherry Valpolicella, care of Novaia, while Emilia-Romagna is home to Castello di Luzzano’s stunningly aromatic white ‘Seta’. My home in Piedmont boasts five classic styles: Cornarea’s peachy Arneis, Marinacci’s violet Dolcetto, Paolo Laiolo’s gentle blackberry Barbera, Casina 460’s Nebbiolo ‘Ansj’ and of course Berry Bros. & Rudd’s new Barolo. The choice on the podium is: Veneto’s mandarin zest Prosecco, Lombardy’s more serious Franciacorta or, for the sweet tooth, Cerutti’s liquid meringue Moscato d’Asti!
An intriguing last-minute invitation found its way into my inbox recently. Could I attend the launch of a new cuvée from boutique cava producer Gramona, tasted blind with other Gramona cuvées alongside a range of iconic champagnes? A brave decision by Gramona to host such a tasting, given that cava is often seen as a poor relation to champagne. But I have high regard for the long-aged cavas of Gramona, shared by many critics, so the prospect of direct comparisons with champagne e specially was an enticing prospect. So this, and the forecast of yet more “unsettled” weather here in London at the time, whilst the tasting was in Barcelona, made saying yes quite easy.
The venue in ever-hip Barcelona was a new wine bar/microbrewery/brasserie Fábrica Moritz, from the trendy Catalan beer brand Moritz housed in its former brewery. The bar itself, all decked out in distressed industrial chic, also houses a shop (some great LPs) and serves a large array of wines, spirits (including our very own No. 3 gin- it gets around…) and beer, some of which is brewed on site in massive tanks on display. The underground space had more than enough room for the 100 or so mainly Spanish journos (including a winner of the Spanish heat of the Champagne Ambassador competition), winemakers, sommeliers, restaurant/bar owners taking part.
Jaume the enthusiastic and committed winemaker and Xavier Gramona, brand ambassador extraordinaire, both of whom I met last year at their winery, were our hosts for the event. The actual blind tasting (15 wines in total as two flights) was interspersed with a rundown on the history and philosophy of the family-run Gramona by the two brothers now at the helm. 150+ years on from its foundation, they are not resting on their many laurels as a prestigious cava producer, seeking to improve further through research into their soils, biodynamics, grapes and the yeast autolysis/ageing process. I should add at this point that the entire event was spoken predominantly in Catalan, with some Castilian thrown in! I understand a little of these, and luckily, wine-speak sounds similar in many languages, but I was grateful for the powerpoint, and an English-speaking Dutch wine educator to my left and the Spanish Champagne Ambassador to my right for some translation.
Two things struck me as I tasted to the strains of Mozart (piano music, rather relaxing actually). Although relatively easy to distinguish the cavas from the non-cavas (principally through the type of acidity, which is generally broader and less pronounced in cava), the overall high quality was such that ranking them, which we were asked to do, was not easy. So broadly speaking I ranked higher those which I felt were drinking well now. Of the first flight, all tasting relatively youthful, my top three were a Franciacorta (Ca del Bosco) that had been thrown into the mix, Dom Perignon 2003 and a grower champagne (Egly-Ouriet 2002). They all combined elegance with subtle developed notes extremely well and were a punto. The others (Gramona Celler Batlle ’02 and Lustros ’04 wines I’ve tasted previously and wonderful though they were, I thought again that they needed more time to really express themselves.”, Bollinger Grande Année ’04 and Cristal ’05) were wines I’ve tasted previously and wonderful though they were, I thought again that they needed more time to really express themselves.”
The 2nd flight was definitely made of meatier stuff, hinted at by their deeper colour and richer aromas. My top three turned out to be all from 2000 with extensive lees ageing (12 years). And by chance my top ranked were the new mystery Gramona cuvées, Enoteca 2000- one with low dosage, the other a zero dosage Brut Natur- followed by Krug 2000. I just preferred the Brut Natur, with its subtle citrus nose, leesy, nutty weight, and a dry but ripe fruit finish. The hugely powerful Batlle 1999 with its rich, mature porcini nose from Gramona came next. As I said, ranking proved difficult and there really wasn’t much to separate a flight which also included Salon 1999 and La Grande Dame 1998.
Judging from the Catalan/Castilian I could discern during the ensuing discussion, Gramona’s “bravery” in hosting such a tasting was felt justified by the audience, and served to show that cava when made by diligent producers such as Gramona can be ranked alongside the great archetype of sparkling wines that is champagne. A fascinating tasting definitely worth the all-too-brief 24 hours round-trip.
Midsummer? It hasn’t been much of a summer so far, but there are signs of improvement. Winter was long and late, even if not especially cold. Spring however never really got under way – a modest April and then an appalling month of May with heavy flooding at the beginning of the month and a little flurry of snow as late as Saturday 25th.
The cool damp conditions actually gave some beautiful flower displays in our garden but though the wisteria, lilac and apple blossoms all flourished for longer than usual, there wasn’t enough heat to extract the perfume from the blooms, or indeed to allow the bees to fly and pollenate the fruit trees.
The vignerons became more and more demoralised – after three short crops, surely not another one! There had been a good ‘sortie’ – plenty of embryo bunches – but these were beginning to abort in the cold wet weather even before the flowering. June was somewhat better than May though still neither properly dry nor hot, and eventually the flowering got under way in the Côte de Beaune and Mâconnais from around June 22nd, forty days later than 2007 or 2011. It passed off pretty well, though vignerons in the Côte de Nuits, where flowering continued through the first week of July in cooler, stormier weather, were less hopeful. So we can expect the harvest to begin in the earlier locations around the end of September, while many in the Côte de Nuits are thinking about the second week of October.
The good news is that the forecast for July is looking pretty good – mostly sunshine yet without intense heat.
The other talking point is the mandatory requirement to spray against the ciccadelles (leafhoppers) which can spread the flavescence dorée virus, which some fear could develop into a 21st century phylloxera.. Three sprays are compulsory in the Saône-et-Loire department, where the disease has been discovered, and one in the Côte d’Or which has not yet been reached, with risk of a prison sentence if you don’t comply. The necessary treatment is highly toxic to all small insects, so it will kill off the natural predators to the even smaller ones such as red spider mite. Furthermore, the organic version, Pyrévert, is even more toxic than the synthetic chemical treatment and smells appalling to boot. Schoolchildren in the Mâconnais have been kept out of playgrounds and feeling is running high.
Alsace has for many years been an example of the very best of French and German gastronomy and wines, having been occupied by both nations at various times in history. Now firmly under French rule there are constant reminders of the past in village and family names. With some 15,000 hectares under production on the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains, all who have attended any of the education classes at Berrys will know that the rainfall is one of the lowest in France! There are about 2000 individual growers who bottle and sell their own wines, often with several plots (many as low as ½ hectare) scattered all over the region.
My partner and I had planned to return to the area and stay in Eguisheim, 6 km south west of Colmar over the May Bank holiday week. With some degree of cheek I approached Katie and asked to be introduced to a couple of growers who I could visit. This led to an e-mail trail with David Berry-Green who very kindly procured two invitations for us to visit Caves near Colmar.
The first was to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Close to Turckheim and founded by Olivier Humbrecht’s ancestors in 1620 and united to the Zind family in 1959 The Domaine was one of the first in Alsace to produce wines using biologic techniques. There are now many more who follow in his footsteps and it is easy to find a biodynamic producer in most villages. Frédérique Baltzinger at Zind-Humbrecht kindly introduced us to 10 wines from the grand cru vineyards of Brand, Goldert and Rangen and AC vineyards of Clos Windsbuhl and the very steep slopes of the Heimbourg. The wines shown varied from a Chardonnay/Auxerrois blend (Zind 2011) through a lovely dry Riesling (Clos Windsbuhl 2011) a honey sweet Gewurztraminer (Goldert grand Cru 2011) and ended with a truly delicious Pinot Gris ‘Heimbourg’ 2005 SGN which came in at 219 g/l of residual sugar and only 10* ABV. After an hour and a half of excellent explanations and a thorough talk through Alsace wines we were ready to depart for a strong coffee.
The second was to Rolly Gassmann in the small village of Rorschwihr. The family has produced wines since 1611. We met Marie-Therese Gassmann and over the next two and one half hours our schoolboy/girl French lessons were fully tested. As the tastings progressed our French became more “fluid” and we were all more aware of what we were trying to describe, although some of the finer nuances of production, body, flavour and residual sugar levels may have been lost or misinterpreted! David B-G did advise us to have a substantial lunch prior to the visit and when we were shown the list of available wines which Marie-Therese then proceeded to give us, starting with a couple of very light Sylvaners, moving next to an Edelzwicker and then to Pinot Blanc and four Auxerrois it dawned on us that we were in for a serious session! All Rolly Gassmann wines are produced from the surrounding lands of the village, which demonstrate 21 differing ‘terroirs’ which allow the family to produce the four wines already mentioned – through Riesling, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Pinot Gris and onto Gewurztraminer. All these varietals come in differing styles resulting in some 52 wines for sale. I have to say that a strong resolve and a lot of spitting did mean that I was able to sample 37 of the wines offered and came away a very contented visitor. I am glad it is not my responsibility to buy from them on a grand scale as it was just too hard to pick a winner. The last two wines tasted were though memorable, both were Gewurztraminers Selection de Grains Noble, one from 1994 and the latter from 1989.
Only 5 to 6 hours drive from Calais, I can highly recommend Alsace as a wine region to ‘do’ in search of those iconic wines and fine foods combined with the most beautiful “Chocolate Box” scenery. In Eguisheim alone, there are 32 Caves. Our thanks must go to Katie for making this happen and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Rolly Gassmann for their kindness and time.
Christopher John Ford, Wine Club Member
Apparently the Forth Bridge has been completely repainted and they don’t need to start again at the beginning. Work on Inside Burgundy however is never finished! We eagerly await the launch of the iPad eBook on the Côte de Nuits, to join its sibling Côte de Beaune, launched last year.
The joy of the iPad version (please note it is a book, not an app) is that you don’t have to lug around 2 kilos of hardback when you are visiting the vineyards or indeed just catching up on some Burgundy reading on the commute to work. There are also numerous added attractions – photographs from the hugely talented Michel Joly and Jon Wyand, videos in the vineyards, and some unique individual vineyard maps showing who owns which plot. The map of clos Vougeot is widely available and was in the hardback book but we have added to this Richebourg, Romanée St Vivant, Ruchottes-Chambertin, Nuits-St Georges Les St Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques.
It was a fascinating task, working out who owned which plot. The most challenging was Richebourg where figures quoted by other authors on how holdings were split between the two parts of the vineyard, Richebourg and Veroilles, didn’t seem to add up logically. So I prowled round the vineyard and was able to discern the exact detail of each plot by the differing viticultural practices of, e.g., one member of the Gros family compared to another. Anorak stuff perhaps, but deeply satisfying.
The iPad version has also enabled me to update information, with considerable enhancement of the chapter on Marsannay and the addition or expansion of many producer profiles throughout the book. Thus in Vosne-Romanée alone Domaines Confuron-Cotétidot, Forey, Gerard Mugneret, Georges Noëllat, A & B Rion, Jean Tardy and Fabrice Vigot have been added or significantly expanded. There’s always more to be to discovered, another bit of the Burgundy bridge to repaint.
The middle of May is a time normally dominated by the unrelenting force of a Bordeaux En Primeur campaign, however for one afternoon my Fine Wine colleague Martyn Rolph and I were to be wowed by the excellent wines of Domaine Faiveley alongside the food of Philip Howard at his two-star ‘The Square’ in Mayfair.
The wines were presented by Erwan Faiveley, a man who is very much the new generation at this legendary Domaine and if this is lunch is anything to go by will further elevate the already lofty status of this excellent House.
A petit aperitif of their 2011 Rully Blanc ‘Les Villeranges’ paved the way for the 2010 Meursault which showed that the village wines of this vintage can be drunk now, but equally have the capacity to age over the next two to three years at least. The largesse of the mid-palate made a perfect match for Philip’s Mousseron Risotto.
Erwan was keen to show us that the Domaine’s expertise in the Côtes de Nuits and Beaune also translates into Chablis. There could have been few better ways to do this than with his 2011 Chablis ‘Les Clos’. Essentially, the most coveted vineyard in Chablis in a vintage where the region really shone – what could be better? The potential of this wine is clearly huge, with the structure and acidity to underpin many years of development, it is hard to resist top Chablis when it is youthful at the best of times, but with the right food they can really charm. Grilled Red Mullet with Leek Hearts Monk’s Beard and Botarga made this extremely charming indeed.
Moving on to the red wines and two fantastic meat dominated courses to match. Youthful Corton wines can be quite tricky to say the least, often with a distinctly austere edge – this is not the case with Erwan’s 2008 Corton ‘Clos des Corton Faiveley’. After recounting us with the intricate story behind why the name of the Domaine is included the name of the vineyard this wine flourished with its vibrant, rich, crunchy fruit. But also with a structure and freshness which met the Glazed Iberico Pork Cheeks very kindly. The smaller element of development and underplayed oak dovetailed with the Morels and hand rolled Macaroni.
Traditional Burgundy thinking would tell you that now is much too early to broach a 2009 Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru, particularly one so serious as ‘Combe aux Moines’. However the fruit is so dense and the tannins so fine that with a good decant this was on top form. Its bounding fruit-forward, energetic approach was a contrast to the measured, finely boned and elegant 2007 Echezeaux. A challenging red Burgundy vintage to say the least but one which Faiveley are famed for the numerous successes they chalked up.
Both formed an interesting point of comparison and discussion to a wine made by Erwan’s Father – 1998 Latricières-Chambertin. This displayed distinct developed characteristics on the nose, as you would expect from 14-year-old Grand Cru Burgundy. The palate was a very different story, operating at a different pace of development, just in the middle of its secondary phase and alongside a ‘significant’ portion of Epoisse made for a great finale.
All the wines were fantastic but if forced to proffer a ‘wine-of-the-afternoon’, for Martyn and me, it would have to be the 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, Combe aux Moines. So much so, we pressed our Burgundy Buyer Jasper Morris MW to secure further stocks – we’re just waiting on the slow boat from Burgundy. More details available from your Cellar Plan Account Manager.
This year was no exception, though we’d decided early on to change our usual venue of the atmospheric, vaulted Napoleon Cellar to our glamorous Long Room in our Townhouse: from a 48 member capacity to a room that seats just 13 guests plus host. Much more intimate!
It’s always wonderful welcoming people into our luxurious Townhouse – which feels like a secret abode in the centre of bustling London – where we enjoyed an initial glass of Champagne to whet the appetite for the evening ahead. Mark Pardoe, Wine Club’s recently appointed head buyer, introduced himself, while we all supped on the deliciously dry Champagne Pierre Peters Extra Brut At this point I sadly left the evening while Mark took on the reins to host the dinner in the floor above.
The five-course menu for the night was once again impeccably selected and crafted by Stewart our head chef (making us wish we could replicate a mere morsel of the dish at home ourselves) :
2011 Viognier, Le Pied de Samson, Vin de Pays, Domaine Georges Vernay, N. Rhône paired with roast & confit quail with a salad of spring vegetables & goats milk purée
2011 Grüner Veltliner Ried Schütt Smaragd, Emmerich Knoll, Wachau paired with seared scallop with morel & wild garlic ravioli, fricassée of new season peas
2007 Côte Rôtie, Domaine Pierre Gaillard, N. Rhône paired with tasting of spring lamb with light curry flavours, carrot & purée
2009 Banyuls Cuvée Léon Parcé, Domaine de la Rectorie, Roussillon paired with millionaires shortbread with caramelised white chocolate & raspberry jam
2009 Mirum, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, La Monacesca, Marche paired with aged gruyere tart with rhubarb chutney & hazelnut oil followed by Berrys’ selected coffee & chocolate
Among the candlelight flickers in the decadent red-and-gold Long Room setting, it was a special evening, which I am sure Mark and guests won’t forget for a while.
On Thursday 9th May, we welcomed 28 Cellar Plan customers to our first Cellar Plan Fine Wine and Cheese tasting, hosted by Richard Veal, a stalwart of our Corporate Hospitality team and former employee of renowned cheesemonger, La Fromagerie, and me (a self-confessed cheese nut…). The premise of the evening was simple: to pair selected cheeses and wines, along with introducing some new examples of both; debunk some common myths and confirm well known matches along the way.
The evening started with Richard’s favourite pairing, albeit one that was new to many – Parmesan and Champagne, in this case Vilmart’s Grand Cellier Brut NV. The filigree texture of the fizz, paired with the salty tang and Umami element of the Parmesan, in this case a 24 month aged cheese, were a perfect match and we were off to a flying start.
Another classic pair followed in the shape of Sainte Maure, a goat’s milk cheese from Touraine in the Loire, with Cotat’s 2005 Cuvee Paul Sancerre, an unusual late harvested but still dry Sauvignon Blanc. The richness of the wine was perfectly offset but the lactic freshness of the cheese.
A brace of Chardonnays followed, with Jobard’s 2008 Meursault En La Barre paired with a 24 month aged Comté d’Estive, and 2010 Los Alamos from California’s superstar estate Au Bon Climat matched with Berkswell. The former proved more successful, with the creamy, nuttiness of both the Meursault and the Comté enhanced by each other. Chardonnay would be my preferred option for almost all hard, semi-hard and washed rind cow’s milk cheeses, dispelling the myth that you save a red for the cheese.
A 1991 Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja Blanco rounded off the whites, matched to Mahon Tierno. I enjoyed the salty tang of the cheese with the gentle, oxidative style of white Rioja, an acquired taste for many though!
Moving onto the reds, a 2009 Chambolle Musigny from Rion was a fine match for Epoisses, proving that if you pair cheeses and wines from the same area you can rarely go wrong. 2007 Ch. Haut Bailly was very well matched with a 2 year old Mimolette, a cheese often overlooked despite its striking orange colour.
A duo of Syrah/Shiraz based wines followed, with Henscke’s 2008 Mt Edelstone in the Australian corner, paired with Cantal, and Chapoutier’s 2007 Hermitage La Sizeranne paired with a Sainte Felicien. The former pair proved a little underwhelming, with the powerful rich fruit of the Shiraz overpowering the Cantal, a cheddar style cheese. The latter pairing made up for this though, with the Sainte Felicien in the running for cheese of the night and enhancing the Hermitage, showing that if you are going to keep a red for the cheese course, the Rhône is the place to go.
Our final selections went down a well-trodden path, with 1996 Ch. Guiraud, Sauternes up against Roquefort and a magnum of 1977 Smith Woodhouse paired to a Colston Bassett Stilton. The perfumed sweetness of the Sauternes counterbalanced the salty, blue tang of the Roquefort in a perfect match, repeated with the Port and Stilton.
A final surprise for the evening was a taste of Black Cow vodka, made in the UK from the whey by-product of a cheddar producer. One to look out for although not an easy match to any cheese!
On a warm evening at the end of April, 100 Wine Club members and their guests descended to the Napoleon Cellar, two floors beneath our historic London shop, for the annual Wine Club Walkaround tasting.
All the wines shown feature in the upcoming May delivery so it was a great way for members to get a sneak preview of what they can expect in their next case.
We showed 20 wines, across 4 tables, split into French and non- French tables. The heart of Wine Club lies in France so the bias is towards French wines; therefore we included wines from Chablis, Bordeaux and the Loire but the rest of the world was represented too with unusual and varied wines from Australia, South Africa, Spain and Italy.
As ever, Berrys staff were on hand to pour the wines and talk guests through the range. We were delighted that Mark Pardoe MW, who has recently taken over from Alun Griffiths MW as Berrys’ Wine Buying Director, hosted one of the tables. It’s always interesting to chat about wines with someone as knowledgeable as a Master of Wine.
I hope that those who came enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
Wine Club events are exclusive to Wine Club members and their guests. If you’d like to discover more about Wine Club please visit our website.
2011 is a sensational vintage in the Douro valley. I remember speaking to one of our producers in December of 2011 and remember vividly their confidence in the harvest (though cautious to point out that a declaration was not to be confirmed until 2013). Reports about the vintage have continued to be enthusiastic and the possible declaration of the 2011 vintage seems to have become the wine trade’s worst kept secret. In eager anticipation a team of six of us flew into Oporto on Saturday 16 March. It was my first visit to the region and I was as excited to meet our producers and experience the famous Douro landscape for myself as I was to get an insight into the 2011 vintage.
Arriving at Oporto airport, the luscious green landscape belies the fact that in summer this is the hottest wine growing area of Europe. Not wanting to miss the England versus Wales, we watched the rugby at the house of Johnny and Helen Symington before driving to the hotel to change for dinner at The Factory House. The Factory house was originally built by the British Port wine shippers as a type of gentleman’s club to discuss their business. Today the members represented are still all British-owned Port companies and they still meet on a Wednesday for lunch, to discuss business and participate in a blind tasting. After a sumptuous dinner, we were totally surprised as the side doors of the dining room opened to an identical twin dining room used solely for the enjoyment of vintage port. Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Colheita was served alongside 1970 Graham’s vintage port with plates of dried apricots and walnuts. The evening was not complete without a toast to the Queen and the President of Portugal as well as the stories of the Bishop of Norwich. Port is traditionally passed to the left, but when a guest has forgotten to pass the port their attention is called by the question “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” Those who are not acquainted with the tradition will be told that he is ‘a good chap, but never passes the Port’. Intriguingly, the current Bishop of Norwich is called Graham….
Berry Bros. & Rudd is, as ever, committed to providing its customers with the best possible overview of the vintage by sending 25 of its sales representatives from the UK, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore over the next three weeks.
We have just returned from a week tasting where we have visited 57 properties and attended a major private négociant tasting. During the week, we tasted over 100 wines, 80% of which we actually tasted twice. Over a three-week period most of the wines will have been tasted thoroughly by our Fine Wine Account Managers, four to six times overall, which will give us an unrivalled level of expertise on the vintage.
Our duty as a Wine Merchant is to provide the best possible guidance to our customers in helping them to make the right choice. There is no doubt that the vintage has been difficult. The weather in the spring was very wet and resulted in a difficult flowering. August was, however, very hot which helped to re-balancing the vintage. However, mid-October was very wet and made the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly.
St Emilion and Pomerol were largely untouched by the bad weather, as the majority of the Merlot grapes had had time to ripen before the rain. Some of the Cabernet Franc was affected but the overall result should be quite good, and in line with the 1998 vintage. This generally also applies to the best estates in the Graves area. I am generally not a fan of big Merlot wines as I find they can be flabby and alcoholic but this vintage has given freshness to the Merlot and toned down most of the usual blockbusters, resulting in some cracking wines.
On the Left Bank, the weather suppressed the last two weeks of ideal ripening condition ideally needed for optimum ripeness in the Cabernets, which resulted in a patchier outcome. All in all, the châteaux that have produced very good wines are those which have worked tirelessly in the vineyard to make sure that the fruits remained as healthy as possible, and to let the wine make itself in the winery; in other words, those that did not apply over-extraction and make-up in the winery. We left, however, in high spirits in the knowledge that a good 40 to 50 wines are very good to excellent, and 20 to 30 are very good. At the correct price these will represent excellent bargains for the cellar; most of the wines in my cellar are from vintages such as 2002, 2004 and 2008 as these will provide me with excellent, good value and long term drinking for years to come. In the knowledge that there will be little chance of securing such great wines at affordable prices in the coming years, there is no reason why 2012 should not be a great source of drinking wines for years to come.
There are lots of rumours that the châteaux will release early, following a letter from Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier and president of the Union des Grands Crus) to the major players in Bordeaux highlighting the debacle from last year en primeur campaign where as many as 48 châteaux released in one day. There are actually less than 40 days to release 500+ wines before Vinexpo 2013 on June 16th, so a bit of organisation will be required to make sure that all goes well and everybody has a chance to buy their favourite wines in a stress-free manner. A lot of négociants are still showing round buyers from around the world this week, and therefore we do not expect to see any major releases quite yet – but things are likely to start moving quickly from the 22nd onwards.
We will, of course, keep you updated with the latest news from Bordeaux, and will be ready to offer the best advice to our customers as soon as the wines begin to release.
Having successfully completed and taken the WSET Diploma exams several years ago, I’d thought my formal wine studying days were over. A more relaxed, but still professional, approach to wine beckoned- and with no more blind tasting exams! But after a few years I realised that I missed the intellectual rigour of such study and so embarked on the Master of Wine study programme. This is the toughest wine industry qualification, culminating in a marathon of 3 tasting exams (just over 2 hrs each) and 4 written papers (each 3hrs) packed over 4 consecutive days. Now, just over a year into the programme I recently attended a week-long seminar in the Napa Valley, preceded by a few days visiting several wineries. Apart from the curious (and not unpleasant) sensation of studying in warm sunny climes having left London under snow, it was a fascinating, hectic 10 days.
I was joined by a group of fellow European students for the winery visits, which included three that Berrys deals with: Ridge, Ramey and Frog’s Leap. We were lucky enough to be taken round the stunning 2000m altitude Monte Bello estate and winery at Ridge by Paul Draper himself and his winemaker, who between them were happy to shed light on a number of things for us. This included why the site is so good- a geologists dream apparently – formed in such a way that their winery withstood a minor earthquake a few years previously; and the attention to detail in their winemaking, right down to the unpleasant task of checking the corks they buy for TCA (something Mr Draper is happy to leave to others in his team!) – thousands have been sent back to suppliers.
David Ramey has only just acquired vineyards, so buys in grapes from growers he’s known for years, keeping a very close eye on what and how they do things. Even so, tasting with him was fascinating, as much for his views on the wine industry in general as well as the wines themselves. Frog’s Leap was our last visit just before the seminar began. This organic/sustainable winery is again beautifully situated and showed how it is possible to produce quality, affordable wines in California that aren’t monstrously alcoholic (or sweet) and without resorting to masses of chemicals.
The seminar itself was a pretty packed programme of workshops around the various papers that candidates take – viticulture, viniculture, wine business and ethical/social issues – lectures and mock papers. But the sessions which always cause MW students the most anxiety are the blind tastings. Each day commenced at 8am with a mock 12-wine tasting paper, followed by a sometimes humbling group feedback session. These not only test your grape recognition abilities but also your winemaking knowledge and the wines’ origin. This is not always easy with the cross-fertilisation between countries of techniques and styles. An interesting part of doing the MW is meeting and learning from people working in different parts of the wine trade- winemakers, exporters, sommeliers, buyers, importers, journalists etc. – from all over the world. In summary, a great learning experience during the long haul that is the MW.
Yesterday evening we had the pleasure of tasting at Ch. Léoville-Las Cases and thoroughly enjoyed the flight of wines in the Domaines Delon stable. Chapelle de Ch. Potensac was fine and fruity upfront and promises to be great value drinking wine, whereas Ch. Potensac was refreshingly fresh. Le Petit Lion and the Grand Vin (excellent concentration and beautiful quality of fruit, something for the long-term) have both been notable successes this year. In fact, many of our team rate Ch. Léoville-Las Cases as one of their favourite wines of the vintage.
This morning we spent our last day of Bordeaux 2012 En Primeur week with a 9am start at Ch. la Mission Haut-Brion, tasting both the Grand Vin and La Mission itself, among many others wines such as Quintus and their Blancs. As an overview of the 9 wines we have tasted, the stable is very impressive. Haut-Brion is particularly generous with fruit in 2012 and Quintus, which is now in its second vintage, is quite impressive too. It has a fantastic and seductive nose, and the winemakers have clearly begun to understand the different terroir of this site to produce such a highly thought of 2012.
We visited Carmes de Haut Brion (a certainty for the personal list of Simon Staples) next before arriving at our penultimate property, the recently very impressive Domaine de Chevalier in Graves. The 2012 red Grand Vin is really seductive, beautiful Claret and without question one of the wines of the week. The length is incredible and perfectly poised. The white, as usual, was a classic expression of White Bordeaux. We would also categorise Ch. Haut-Bailly in the highly thought of bracket. Veronique Sanders has been able to produce something special this year, remaining true to the property’s exceptional terroir. The wine has the classic smooth and silkiness, but also shows an abundance of fruit and a steely focus.
2012 was scarcely written about prior to this week and early speculation suggested that the wines would be a challenge to taste. Pleasingly, the producers who have taken great care in their grape selections, prudently tended their vines, picked at the right time, worked with their excellent terroir and attempted to create balanced and fruit driven wines have succeeded. In general, Merlot is especially important to these 2012 wines. In some cases it hasn’t been possible to pick Cabernet Sauvignon at optimum ripeness – resulting jn some acidity and not quite enough fruit on the mid-palate and finish. Many claim that it is a Right Bank vintage, but we have certainly found many instances of good Left Bank/Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines. It is for this reason that we find general statements about vintages, Left/Right Bank and even communes to be miss-leading and unhelpful.
Good winemakers can produce good wine in difficult circumstances and in a vintage such as 2012 and indeed in 2011 prior, this is especially evident. Our Chairman, Simon Berry, has been discussing this principle during the week and his view that in the future customers could start purchasing wines from particular producers in each vintage, rather than wine from many producers in vintages perceived to be the most impressive, could become the norm. If the prices are competitive and the timing of releases are well thought out, which fortunately all of the vignerons appear to be considering appropriately, then 2012 Bordeaux has certainly produced some suitable wines to be purchased en primeur. To find the right wines for your taste and preference, the role of the Wine Merchant and their teams of individuals who have taken the opportunity to taste all of the wines and discussed the vintage and intentions for each wine in person with winemakers, will be vitally important.
We fly back to the UK this afternoon and plan to spend some time reflecting on the wines we have tasted while the teams who look after our private clients from the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan also head to the South West over the next couple of weeks. Once all of the opinions are collected, we will release our scores (please remember that we are scoring wines in the context of this vintage, and these scores shouldn’t be compared with those from other vintages) , vintage report, individual tasting notes and details of which wines we intend to recommend in our ‘Best Buy’ categories.