The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
Christmas Tasting – 28th November 2013
The clocks have gone back, the temperature outside has dropped, and the evenings are once more darkened: but in amongst the gloom, Christmas lights around the country have been switched on, and children (and perhaps a few adults…) wake up excitedly to open the doors on their advent calendar.
Last Thursday the Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd team took over Lindley Hall in Victoria for our annual Christmas tasting: tables bordered the room, laden with wines, and British Fine Foods were displaying a delectable medley of meats and cheeses. As we opened the doors, I for one, was filled with pure childish glee as a huge Christmas tree towered above us, its branches bowing reverentially with a mass of baubles and lights.
Once the tables were all prepped and ready, the doors were opened and merry customers flooded in to sample the full Berrys’ range: from the stunningly honeyed 2005 United Kingdom Cuvée Grand Cru Champagne, and the spice and vanilla-filled 2001 Vina Tondonia Tinto Reserva, to our pure and punchy No. 3 Gin. Without the restriction of a region or country, this tasting was a chance to taste an incredibly broad selection of both classic wines and intriguing alternatives.
With the musically gifted members of our staff performing harmonised carols, and one lucky customer winning £1000 worth of wine, the mood was wonderfully cheerful, customers and staff alike, feeling as buoyant as the bubbles in the glasses of Ruinart.
Eventually, the crowds thinned and, fuelled by Burgundy, claret and a touch of port, guests ventured out into the night. Some might deem the end of November too soon to be filled with festive spirit, but I for one feel that it is never too early… ‘tis the season to be jolly, after all.
As a symbol of the enduring friendship and partnership between the United Kingdom and Texas, Governor Rick Perry and First Lady Anita Perry presented Her Majesty’s Consul General Andrew Millar with a new plaque marking the site of the former Texas Legation at Berry Bros. & Rudd recently (18th October).
The ceremony took place in Pickering Place behind the shop at the Berry Bros. and Rudd on St James’s Street, which housed the Texas Legation’s Embassy of the Republic of Texas from 1842 to 1845, when Texas was an independent nation. The plaque Gov. Perry unveiled will accompany the original plaque that was dedicated in 1963 by former Texas Gov. Price Daniel. The new plaque reads:
“Legation of the Republic of Texas: From 1836-45, the Republic of Texas and Great Britain pursued diplomatic and military relations. Texas opened a legation on this site in 1842. Great Britain opened a consulate in Houston.”
Gov. Perry said: “This is a special day for me and for the people of Texas. When Texas was a fledgling republic, establishing diplomatic relations with a nation as rich in history and prestige as the United Kingdom was a significant accomplishment. It helped put us on the map, to use the phrase quite literally. On days like today, it’s worth remembering our humble beginnings, and how the U.K. was there to help us establish ourselves as a nation, in every sense of the word.”
Simon Berry added: “The History of Texas and the history of Berry Bros. & Rudd intertwined for a few years 170 years ago, and it is always important to be reminded of elements of our history. We are very grateful that Governor Perry chose to honour us by unveiling this plaque.”
While in London, the governor has also met with government officials and business leaders in the financial industry, and spoke at a breakfast roundtable for the Legatum Institute.
Texas and the U.K. have a healthy trade relationship. The U.K. was Texas’ 12th largest export destination in 2012 with more than $4.27 billion in Texas exports, including industrial machinery, aircraft, spacecraft and parts, mineral fuels and oils, electric machinery and medical equipment.
The Perrys visited the U.K. on an economic development mission and as guests of Americans for Economic Freedom.
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.
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!
July arrived bringing the sunshine in force – and our whole team debunked to Olympia for a couple of days to show the whole Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits Portfolio together for the first time at Imbibe, the UK’s largest trade show. This included the new Glenrothes vintage and some products from our US partner Anchor Steam – however you will have to wait for later in the year to know more about these craft spirits!
The fabulous Summer weather made for a sweltering but wonderful Coronation Festival where several of our team met the Royal Family and enjoyed showing ever-popular liqueur The King’s Ginger alongside our other delights. Our summer cocktail recipes both went down well, the Summer Cup and the specially created Royal Tea Cup designed with the Cocktail Lovers and presented over the same weekend on the main stage. The King’s Ginger has also been popping up at festivals across the UK as well as Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Gerry’s and more; keep an eye on Facebook for details.
June also saw the No.3 cocktail competition final held at the Royal Albert Hall. Our competing bar tenders pulled out all the stops and we had James Bond (look alike Ehren from Brighton!) serve a twisted Vesper as well as popping candy, hurricanes and yes, even more CO2, but there had to be a winner. Alongside his “Curious No.3”, Matt Fairhurst of cocktail bar Milk Thistle in Bristol presented the “St James’s Street Fix” incorporating plague water with a home-made shrub and sherry to take the title, and the decanter trophy. He has since returned home to host a No.3 Gin Three Martini Lunch with delights such as oysters and steak. There will be more to come if you are based out West and we hope to give you the opportunity to taste Matt’s creations in London too. In the meantime there are masterclasses around London from classic Quaglino’s and their 1920’s Hutch Club pop up to South London Powder Keg Diplomacy (date TBC). Twitter and Facebook are the places to follow for all new dates as well as our video series of leading bartender’s favourite cocktails.
The Glenrothes distillery is taking its regular summer break but our team is not. We are going to be popping up around the city and out – for those in Oxford do set Monday 19th August aside as we will be joining The Alcademics for an afternoon and evening of whisky including the brand new to market 2001 vintage.
In the meantime, we hope that you continue to enjoy the sunshine whether it’s with a No.3 Gin and tonic and a slice of grapefruit, The King’s Ginger Summer Cup, a chilled Glenrothes dram or perhaps a Pink Pigeon rum mule; all our websites have a range of cocktail recipe ideas whatever the occasion.
How do you launch an iconic champagne? Well, you can have a light extravaganza on the hallowed grounds of the Abbaye Hautvillers from whence the Dom himself came, and which set Twitter alight with affirmative sparkling commentary. This then becomes a fascinating backdrop on screens for those of us attending the London launch at an art foundation a few weeks later whilst sipping the 2004. The Dom Pérignon chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, was present to guide us though a food and wine matching experience entitled the Dark Revelation of Dom Pérignon 2004. But technical stuff first.
After the challenges of producing a 2003 vintage (which saw an extremely cold winter, frosts and a blistering heatwave), 2004 was a return to normality climate-wise which made everything both in the vineyard and cellar more straightforward. Geoffroy described it as a “hands-off” year, letting the vintage speak for itself. Famously an almost equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in this year Goeffroy has been unusually candid in specifying 53% Pinot, 47% Chardonnay derived from 30-40 vineyard plots culled from around 100 plots in 20 grand and premier cru villages. Although he wasn’t keen on the term “classic” to describe the vintage, the 2004 does present initially to me as a “classically” elegant Dom Pérignon. More forward at this stage than the full-bodied 2003 and aristocratically impressive 2002, the nose has leesy and toasty notes and the palate showing more Chardonnay citrus, mineral and a briney saline character (of which more later) than Pinot for me at present.
After the reception, we were guided through various rooms to sample a dozen dishes designed to bring out various facets of the champagne. Intriguing highlights for me from both cuisine and champagne matching viewpoints were Dashi- a pure oyster essence which brought out the saline and also a smoky character in the champagne, as well as that elusive umami. Continuing the maritime theme we also had Albacore tuna which for me worked similarly to the Dashi, but my poor palate was confused by the tomato juice aspic alongside (but then I hate Bloody Mary’s- just give me the vodka…). Grilled crab and grilled liquorice (apparently a Chinese delicacy for teething toddlers!) separately did the trick also. A chestnut crepe with caviar simultaneously highlighted the leesy character (crepe) and brine (caviar) in a wondrous interplay, whilst an aubergine dish with duck consommé and jus (incredibly intense) and star anise, both meaty and fatty, pointed up the deceptive weight of the 2004 with its acidity really cutting through the duck. The “Dark” side of Dom Pérignon perhaps? These were definitely my favourite plates. Other dishes on the night included sole au vert, lifting out some subtle herbaceous notes present in the ’04; and sweet dishes which unless a champagne is at least demi-sec, don’t generally work for me. However, whilst marshmallows with jasmine didn’t quite hit the spot, poached pear and mace made for a refreshing pairing.
So, the evening showed once again that champagne is (almost) wasted as just an aperitif and should also be considered, alongside still wines, to pair with more substantial fodder. And whilst Geoffroy might not like to think of 2004 as classic, it is certainly an elegant addition to the Dom P pantheon and one whose development I look forward to following.
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.
In my position as Spirits buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd, many producers, importers and distributors bring new products to me. Some of them are seeking my qualitative or stylistic views, some request my input whilst in the process of development and some arrive seeking a listing in the oldest family owned Spirits and Wine merchant in the world. Sometimes the premise behind these new drinks is some subtle variation on a time-honoured theme. Sometimes they appear from the most obscure corner of a meandering imagination. Occasionally, they manage to somehow combine both aspects:
Black Cow – Pure Milk Vodka – £29.95
Produced in Dorset and inspired by the traditional practices of a nomadic Siberian tribe, this vodka is produced entirely from milk. The milk is split into the curds and whey. The curds are used for the production of an award winning cheddar, whilst the whey is the raw material for this small batch vodka. Crisp and fresh in character with a soft finish and creamy texture, this is my new standard for a pre-prandial Vodka and Tonic.
My usual bias is rather heavily against products that are as well packaged as this with such a unique ‘story’, so it gave me real pleasure and more than an element of surprise when I tasted and swiftly chose to present this as the latest addition to our Vodka offering. The bottle does say it is suitable for those with lactose intolerance and it is the first time, in my knowledge, that Berry Bros & Rudd have stocked a drink based on an animal product.
Feel free to visit me in our London shop, taste this new discovery and please, do let me know what you think.
Being a multi-award-winning independent bottler of single cask whiskies makes for some splendid surprises sometimes. Whilst tasting through our inventory of barrels sleeping peacefully in Scotland, we occasionally chance upon two whiskies from the same distillery, both drinking beautifully, at very different ages. Even more rarely, we find three differently aged samples of the same spirit that charm, fascinate and bludgeon us into bottling them as swiftly as possible.
In the closing weeks of 2012, we were sampling some stocks of Bunnahabhain Single Malt and three such stunners shone out. This was made all the more fascinating by the unusual nature of the distillery involved. In most instances, Bunnahabhain Single Malt is made of malted barley that has been dried using a fuel source other than peat so as not to impart any smoky, medicinal, iodine-like flavours. On occasion, Bunnahabhain produces batches of spirit made of barley that has been imbued with the pungent (some would say acrid!) smell of peat-smoke as it was drying. Each sample had come from a differently-treated batch of spirit, one was un-peated, another had been lightly-peated and the last one heavily-peated. It takes some time to work through the unglamorous but necessary logistics of bottling a cask of Scotch whisky and now, finally, the three drams we tasted last winter have, in my view, led to a stimulating comparison.
This whisky displays some classic Bunnahabhain charm. The enchanting nose gives fruit notes with a little marzipan, some jute cloth and spice. The palate is layered, rich with building sooty intensity as the flavours displayed on the nose develop.
This whisky is a fascinating expression of Bunnahabhain. On the nose, I’m transported to a favourite oyster bar. A dozen, freshly shucked Rock oysters, gentle iodine, even the oak bench. On the palate, the bright sea-air continues through, wafting soft smoke and spice. The finish lingers and tingles like a North Sea sunset.
This whisky bludgeons the senses unlike any other Bunnahabhain. Enormous, billowing bonfires of peat and wood-smoke dominate the nose, battering the hints of sweet vanilla and coconut into blissful submission. The palate, is massive, monumental, almost monolithic, and is only balanced by the luscious creamy oak and an unctuous wave of supporting alcohol.
All three of these whiskies are available to taste in our St James’s Street Shop whilst stocks last, and when bottling one barrel at a time, usually that is not very long. I look forward to continuing my Whisky journey, and sharing in yours, as you visit us and explore this extraordinary Islay distillery.
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
The last six weeks have seen me travel (almost) the length of the country to recruit, and then to judge, the regional heats of the No3 Gin cocktail competition. The brief was very wide simply asking bartenders to make a “twist on the gin & tonic” and it was amazing to see all the different directions they took this.
We have seen tonic ice tubes, homemade tonics, classic cocktails twisted together and we cannot wait to see the final five at the Royal Albert Hall No3 bar on 17th June where they will recreate their winning cocktail and create a “freestyle” option too – no holds barred! The finalists are:
- Suzie Wong from Epernay bar Manchester, “The Key to the Secret Gin Garden”
- Charles Montanaro from Nola London, “Key Quina Tonic”
- Ehren Khoo-Steel from Merkaba Birghton, “The Parlour”
- Matt Fairhurst from Milk Thistle Bristol, “The Curious No.3”
Our neighbours, Quaglino’s on Bury Street, have launched a pop up for the summer to bring back all the glamour of the 1920’s. The Hutch Club will be offering a brilliant line up of live jazz and best of all, this is accompanied by classic No.3 Gin cocktails and No.3 Gin and tonic popcorn. That has to be worth a visit!
The month of May also included a trip to the Scotch Whisky Research Institute to spend a day on their Sensory Course. This was absolutely fascinating, especially learning how the trained tasters sit for several hours smelling the whisky as it develops and writing down particular smells and the time it occurred to compare to the chemical signs the machine can read. It just goes to prove that no matter how advanced technology gets, nothing will beat the human senses; and we can enjoy it whilst analysing the elements too! Not only that but it gave myself and our Eastern European brand manager plenty of ideas for The Glenrothes so look out for some exciting “sensory” events to come.
July will be the big month for The King’s Ginger liqueur, with a request from the palace to Berry Bros. & Rudd as a double royal warrant holder to create a special coronation cocktail. This was created by The Cocktail Lovers (www.thecocktaillovers.com) and encompasses all things British with sparkling wine from our fair shores and local produce. You will have to wait till next month for the reveal but if you cannot attend the Coronation Festival do not worry; we will share the recipe on facebook and twitter too.
And as for Pink Pigeon, our senior spirits team are there as I write, visiting the distillery, absorbing the culture and no doubt enjoying a Pink Mojito or two whilst they are at it. I have no doubt there will be plenty of envy inducing pictures posted on their return.
- No.3 Gin cocktail competition final on 17th June, keep an eye on @No3Gin’s twitter account for updates throughout the day.
- The Glenrothes will be at Harvey Nichols on 14th June and at Selfridges on 15th alongside The King’s Ginger, a perfect Father’s day gift and you can try before you buy!
- 15th June is also World Gin Day and there will be a No.3 Gin giveaway in the run up so do not forget to visit www.worldginday.com for more details.
- On the evening of 1st July No.3 Gin will be at Charlotte’s Bistro Gin School so if you are near Chiswick come along for a G&T and a chat about why No.3 Gin was voted “Best in Class” at the International Spirits Challenge
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!
I cannot believe that six months have already passed since I made the leap from the fine wine industry to join the small but perfectly formed spirits team of Berry Bros. & Rudd, based just opposite the institution that is the No.3 St James’s Street shop.
It is often forgotten that Berrys Bros. & Rudd’s two royal warrants state wine and spirits and although we have grown our portfolio rapidly in the last four years, spirits have been a very important aspect of the company from vintage cognacs to the game-changing Cutty Sark. However it is quite some portfolio that I have been given to work with as Product Trainer. My heart lies mainly with gin, whisky runs a close second, and I have thoroughly enjoyed running masterclasses across the UK on the wonderfully traditional No.3 Gin named after, you guessed it, the shop. As if that was not enough, I have only managed to chip the surface of the award winning range of Berrys’ Own Selection whiskies and rums though needless to say my first purchase was a Speyside from my birth year though this is packed away for a special occasion for now; I will report later!
And then there is The Glenrothes Speyside Single Malt, where I was sent in my first week to visit the distillery, experience the magic of lake fishing in the rain and the subsequent enjoyment of a Ginger Mac – 50:50 The King’s Ginger and The Glenrothes – to warm up. The Glenrothes was the first distillery to release whisky by vintage i.e. when it is ready to drink as opposed to age statement, and has captured my taste buds with the 1988 but I look forward to this year’s new vintage releases to discover another side of this exciting product. As well as exciting packaging since the 1970 Extraordinary won “World’s Best Design” at the World Whisky Awards in March.
Slightly off the wall is Pink Pigeon, a vanilla infused single estate rum from Mauritius - a wonderful ingredient to keep in your cabinet for some tasty and creative cocktails; after all, who doesn’t love vanilla? However with its first international competition completed in March, I will leave brand manager Luigi to tell you more about this one in his own blog post. Prepare to swoon at photos of this stunning island.
And last but not least, as well as the oldest of the bunch, is The King’s Ginger liqueur. An “emphatically ginger liqueur” first designed in 1903 for King Edward VII, spreading the story of this brand, both to bar tenders and customers, has been a pleasure as they all appreciate the real history and the sense of fun too. So I am delighted to present you with the newly released Spring Daisy, the most recent in a line of seasonal recipes we release to ensure that your bottle does not gather dust on the shelf. This is Spring-fresh and easy to make, with ingredients that you are more than likely to have already or won’t mind adding to your collection!
30ml The King’s Ginger
25ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
2 dashes of Fee Brother rhubarb bitters (optional)
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Double strain into a pony glass and serve with a sprig of mint to garnish.
Look out for my next post when I will report back on my trip to Scotch Research Institute Sensory workshop to learn how to really appreciate The Glenrothes as well as why it smells and tastes as good as it does.
- Amanda Baxter, Berrys’ Spirits Team
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.
A large family gathering gave a very good reason to put my new Taylor’s Port Tongs to action. We’d seen these used at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas a week earlier to worthy effect and Adrian Bridge had kindly given us each a pair to take home.
The principal purpose of Port Tongs is to open a bottle where the cork may be too old and in danger of disintegrating by removing the glass neck of the bottle as well as the cork itself. That aside, with an audience to hand, there’s every good reason to use them purely for some sporting showmanship.
An unknown, ullaged (a trade expression for bottles where the wine has, in time, leaked out) bottle was selected from the family cellar. From external appearance, probably a vintage from the 1950s or ‘60s.
The brand new (and, indeed, very firmly branded Taylor’s they are too) tongs were duly planted into a fire and left to heat.
A bowl of ice-chilled water was prepared in which a cloth lay soaking. Once the Tongs were glowing hot, they were held round the neck, and lightly held touching the glass at a spot between cork and the level of the wine. Held there for a minute or two, they were then removed and the ice-cold cloth wrapped round the neck which was followed immediately by a very satisfying, high-pitched ‘’ping’’ – et voila! The neck of the bottle sheered neatly, and the wine was ready to be decanted with no glass shards apparent.
The wine had stood up well enough – the bottle was a third empty – but in spite of this it was fresh enough though soon mellowed into a supple, delicately hued glass of well-aged Vintage Port. One of the party, a brother, ventured it as 1960 Dow – a wine he recognised from the cellar some good few years ago.
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….