The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
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….
Vintage Port is a fascinating example of a category which has gained a fanatical following amongst a relatively small constituency of wine connoisseurs, most of them based in Great Britain and latterly the USA. Berry Bros are lucky enough to be the largest single importer of Vintage Port into the UK, and to have a treasured stock of early London (BB&R) bottlings of celebrated vintages in the Family Reserves. For all the sound and fury, Vintage Port only makes up 2% of overall production and is mostly focused on those shippers which are in British independent ownership, with the occasional honorary Dutchmen (Dirk Niepoort ) to spice up the po(r)t.
The origins of Vintage Port are somewhat cloudy, unlike the wine, which will only, with age, become crusted. The trade between Portugal and England was dependent on the extent to which we were irritated or at war with France, but the Methuen Treaty of 1703 coincided pleasingly with the habit of adding brandy to the wine and the practice of ‘second year’ bottling became more prevalent in the middle of the eighteenth century. The first specifically vintage-dated wines correspond with the emergence of the extant bottle-shape and there are extensive records of vintage bottlings dating back to 1870. The current system is a peculiar amalgam of romantic ritual (the patriotic Declaration falls on April 23rd; St George’s Day) and minute bureaucratic procedure ( in terms of sample approval by the IVP - Insituto do Vinho do Porto- and then permitted bottling timing) not forgetting the necessity to have had an outstanding season in the year in question. Cynics observe that Declarations appear to have followed commercial rather than meteorological imperatives, with well-spaced campaigns (2000 then 2003 then 2007 for example) ensuring optimal returns. The reality is, of course, far more complicated, with so-called split declarations (2009) and lengthy gaps (between 1985 and 1991 for example) both illustrating that the process is far from proscriptive or rigorously cyclical.
Be that as it may, things are certainly looking good for a Declaration this April 23rd, with the quality of the vintage in question (2011) apparently reflecting a growing season that was every bit as good as those for the last truly great vintages (1994 and 1977). Paul Symington, when asked to outline the appeal of 2001 has responded with an unmistakable cri de coeur; ‘Quality!…Quality!….Quality!’, which appears to be quite promising. The nation awaits what is now an open secret; indeed trade tastings have already been organised during the week in question and one or two of the less obviously anglophile houses (Ferreira, Offley and the once very patriotic Sandeman) have defied St George, as is their prerogative, and already made the Declaration.
There will be great excitement over the coming weeks: who will win the battle of the big names between friendly(ish) rivals Taylor and Graham? Will Dow excel itself once again as it did so memorably in 2007? What will the Symingtons do now that they have control over the famous name (and equally importantly vineyards) of Cockburn? How will the enigmatic and brilliant Dirk Niepoort perform and will Quinta do Noval, often the most eccentric when it comes to backing specific vintages, actually declare this time? All will become clear over the coming weeks. But one thing is for sure ..Vintage Port remains one of the greatest of all fortified wines, not merely by definition, and also one of the most under-valued. Despite the near Messianic loyalty of its adherents, the category is under-appreciated as an investment wine and therefore remains exceptional value. One of my favourite evenings in the BB&R Events Calendar is our Annual Port Walk, when we open 25 or so differing ports, the vast majority of which are from the vintage category. It is fascinating to trace the development of these noble wines each year; last time, the 94s were really starting to come into their own from the ‘younger’ wines and the graceful 1970s were showing the full kaleidoscopic potential of the more senior representatives. Great Vintage Port ages with far more dignity than he who purchases it, and each of the seven ages of port will entice, fascinate and beguile in equal measure. It seems almost certain that 2011 will step onto this stage with all the mewling self-belief of one of the very greatest.
The shop team picked up the gauntlet to find the best wine matches for great British beef and fine artisan cheeses and tasting tables and master classes were laid on to help customers discover the best matches.
Sarah Purdon made a welcome return to the shop with her mouth-watering Belted Galloway Beef. She’d specially made some delicious meatballs which customers could try plain or with a choice of two sauces. The beef match of the day was the plain meatballs with 2009 St Joseph Rouge, Domaine Michel et Stéphane Ogier Although Finca Allende’s 2006 Rioja Tinto and meatballs with Armenian Jajig was an excellent match too. Recipe cards to takeaway were available on the day and were snapped up by customers eager to try them out for themselves.
Nick Page, our enthusiastic shop manager – who is renowned for his food and wine matching expertise – and Graham Goodall of The Cheese Stall conducted the cheese and wine master classes. After a whirlwind tour of the fascinating similarities between wine and cheese – yes, familiarities such as how terroir affects the flavour, quality and ripeness of both cheese and wine; and like grape juice, milk can be fermented into an alcoholic drink – the ‘class’ was treated to a lesson in matching wine with cheese. Nick had done a great job of selecting the wines and cheeses and all the combinations worked well, but the stand out pairings were:
Crottin de Chavignol and 2011 Sancerre Blanc, André Dezat
Mimolette and 2009 Ch. de Pressac, St Emilion
Stichelton and 1997 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port
This Saturday, 20th April, there’s another event in the Bin End Shop. The theme this weekend is ‘Whisky’. Two master classes will be conducted:
11.30am Battle of the Bottlers – Adrian Lancer (Rocky) will be comparing our Berrys’ Own Selection bottlings with distillery bottlings – will you be able to taste the difference amongst the line-up of superb Whiskies?
2.00pm Lost Distilleries – our very own canny Scot, Alex Ross, will show you a selection of irreplaceable Whiskies from some now closed distilleries, which will offer an opportunity to taste some rare Whiskes that will soon be lost to the world forever.
Plus, as is always the case on these special days, there’ll be some superb spirits heavily discounted which you can peruse on the day.
Leon Reilly, Berrys’ Bin-End Shop
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.
The following morning, Jason and I headed to Ch. Léoville-Las Cases where he was taken round the vineyard by the vineyard manager while I tasted the range of 2012s from all their estates (Nenin in Pomerol, Potensac, Clos du Marquis and Las Cases in St Julien). Geordie joined us and we then headed to Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou. I have spent quite a bit of time in wineries in my career and, after a while, I have to admit that they all look the same – but I am always in admiration of the people behind the wines. Despite modern technology, vineyard workers whose families have been working in the same place for generations use the same old skills, such as racking with a candle and fining with egg whites.
There was an older man there half my size who was lifting empty barrels above his head and stacking them up, whilst another younger chap, who was the second generation, was racking and making a seal made of Jonc (rush) for the ‘bonde’. This is the kind of stuff I really like and admire and we rarely take time to watch. After a lot of watching, Bruno Borie (who is one of the Bordeaux grands hommes, and someone for whom I have a lot of respect) took us into his kitchen for a bite to eat. Bruno loves food and cooking; his kitchen is not any ordinary kitchen, it has all the toys you could ever wish for. We sat down at the table and had some lovely white asparagus (I still do not know why we eat green asparagus in the UK) with sauce hollandaise, followed by a simple but most delicious omelette with spring garlic, finished off with a just-released 24-month matured Comté.
All this with some 2001 Riesling, Cuvée Frédéric Emile by Trimbach (I love this wine) and a bottle of both the 2004 and the delicious 2000 Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou. We could have stayed there all day but we had our last encounter of the trip with Jean-Charles Cazes at Ch. Lynch Bages to taste his 2011s (2012 is not to be showed until the official date) and a quick tour of the winery. We spent a bit of time in the smaller white wine cellar looking at the different bâtonnage techniques. Blanc de Lynch Bages, like the majority of white Bordeaux, is not talked about much but over the last few years has turned from a quite oaky and heavy style to a great, fresh, yet still very Bordeaux style of wine which I very much enjoy. We said our goodbyes to Lynch Bages and headed for the airport.
Although, I have yet to go round the 57 chateaux that we will visit during the week of the 8th of April, I have now been to Bordeaux twice during the harvest and have tasted a few of the 2012s in their infancy, and my opinion is starting to emerge of the vintage. For what I have seen and tasted so far, I think we might have a better vintage in 2012 than 2011: a better but very different vintage.
When I was there during the harvest, all the vines and bunches looked very healthy and, despite a few problems at flowering and véraison in the summer, the very hot end of August readjusted the imbalance and the vintage looked like it would be saved. Until, that is, just after I left in October, when the heavens opened and never closed. For those who had harvested their Merlot (the majority) all was good but the Cabernets needed a few more days/weeks to ripen to their full potential and, unfortunately, with the dormant rot ready to deploy, they then had to be rushed to the winery. For those with technology this should not be too much of a problem but for others, in the Médoc in particular, the lack of ripeness may come through in the wines. The Merlot-dominant wines will have done well. The same will apply for the domaines which have the best terroirs and where the Cabernets are well-exposed and on higher ground. The work in the winery will no doubt contribute more to success this year than many others, and we will have to be aware of the ‘make-up’ applied to some of the wines.
From Monday, 8th April, we will be reporting fully on the 2012 Bordeaux’s, from vineyard to vineyard. So, for in-depth coverage and understanding of this complicated vintage, follow us on Twitter or look out for our daily blog posts.
With our fine wine team about to make their annual pilgrimage to Bordeaux to taste the wines from the new vintage, now’s the perfect time to explain how en primeur works and demystify what looks to be, at first glance, a complicated system.
What is the en primeur system?
In a nutshell, en primeur (or wine futures) refers to the system by which Châteaux sell their wine from the barrel; that is, before it has been bottled and delivered to customers (and also before it’s ready to be drunk). The wine is sold at a keen price, in return for payment up front, which helps the Châteaux fund the next vintage.
It was developed by the Bordeaux wine trade although other regions such as Rhône, Burgundy and even parts of the new world now choose to offer some of their wines en primeur.
The en primeur ‘campaign’ is a yearly event stretching from spring into summer, depending on the vintage. Each April, Bordeaux is besieged by merchants, journalists and enthusiasts, who taste the new vintage and make their judgements, prior to the release of the prices.
Merchants taste the wine and although the wines are still in barrel and are very youthful, an experienced merchant can sense the quality and longevity of the wines and make a corresponding judgement on what is a fair price. Each year we send our sales teams across to Bordeaux to participate and make up their own minds- you’ll soon be able to follow their progress on our blog, Facebook page and Twitter account.
The châteaux then set the price for their wine and release a first tranche (generally a small quantity) for sale. Depending on how this sells, they may release a second, bigger tranche at a slightly higher price. The merchant buys the quantity they think they will sell and offers this to their customers.
It varies from region to region but in the case of Bordeaux, two years after the sale the wines are shipped to the merchant who purchased them and the customer, who purchased them from the merchant, can choose to take delivery or can store them with their merchant for an annual fee.
Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Fine and Rare Dinner in our Napoleon Cellar, cooked by guest chef Michel Roux Jr. I caught up with him before the dinner to talk though his menu and our wine matches, which you can view in this video, and below I share my detailed food and wine matching notes from the outstanding dinner.
As a grape variety, Chardonnay in its most natural state can be quite simple and basic but its plainness has a wonderful affinity with terroir and soils, particularly limestone. What makes Chardonnay intriguing, despite its fairly neutral character is how that influence of soils, climate, winemaking and wood can change this grape from something somewhat ‘beige’ into one of the greatest grape varieties in the world. Needless to say, its ability to pair with many dishes makes it all the more appealing.
Chardonnay’s fame is long established in sparkling wine production, particularly Champagne, as a vital ingredient for acidity, crispness, elegance and wonderfully balanced sparkle, even without the need for the other two permitted red grape varieties in Champagne production. We were treated to an example of this purely white Champagne known as Blanc de Blancs, from the Taittinger Champagne house as our event aperitif. Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc was first produced in 1952 as a finely aromatic, rich and creamy expression of the Chardonnay grape. The 2000 vintage accompanied by a selection of fine canapés including Blinis au Caviar, Choux au Comte and Tartelette de Volaille whetted ones appetite on the sloped floors of the St James’s Street store whilst the busy chef’s two floors below us prepared our feast.
After a brief introduction to the event from Mark Pardoe MW and opening words from Michel Roux Jr, we descended the cellar stairs to the long awaited dinner.
Chinese commercial wine production began in 1892 when an overseas Chinese diplomat, Zhang Bishi, started his winery in Yantai. He imported half a million plants from the USA and appointed the Austrian consul, Freiherr von Babo, as his winemaker. Most of the plants failed to survive and history does not recount whether von Babo knew how to make wine, but nevertheless today the company is by far the biggest in the country, with a turnover of nearly US$800.
Château Changyu (or, to give it its full name, Changyu Pioneer Wine Company) is China’s oldest and largest wine producer, and among the top ten in the world in terms. The company has embarked on an extraordinary programme of building European-style châteaux, architecturally based on examples from Bordeaux. The two properties we now represent are Ch. Changyu Moser in Ningxia and Ch. Changyu Golden Ice Wine Valley in Liaoning.
We were honored to be sent this video by Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief Winemaker, and we’re very much looking forward to the release of the new Bin Series this week and the Icon and Luxury range in May.
A number of Berrys’ staff were lucky enough to attend the launch tasting of the new Bin Series last Friday 1st March in the East Room on the top floor of the Tate Modern. The stunning view of the London skyline by night was the perfect backdrop, and the line-up of new Bin Series wines was an equally welcome sight. Francis Huicq, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s London Shop Manager shares his thoughts and highlights of the tasting below:
I found the tasting fascinating in the sense it was highlighting the contrast between both 2010 and 2011 in a very interesting way.
While I found the 2011 reds suffering a lack of clarity, definition and frame to support quite high acidities and wood ageing, the 2010 have more pedigree, depth of flavour and their tight knit structures are there to announce that these wines will age well.
The Riesling (Bin 51) was a lot of fun to taste packed with clean and mineral, floral notes suggesting honeysuckle, jasmin and also a touch of tropical fruit. On the palate this wine was full and ripe with plenty of lemon, a touch of spice and a rich, mouth-coating finish.
The Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz was very classic in the way it displayed a restrained character not often common with Barossa Shiraz wines. Crushed blackcurrant fruit lead to a herbal edge suggesting thyme or rosemary which was adding some freshness to its intense bouquet. Dry and robust on the palate and well-balanced, it had abundant and ripe tannins which will enable this wine to age well over the next 5-10 years.
The last of my favourite wines of the tasting was the impressive 2010 Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz blend, also known as ‘baby Grange’. This had an attractive and complete bouquet with complex notes of fine wine lees, dried fruits and a touch of cured grilled meat. Aromatic herbs and a touch balsamic were standing shy in the background. Polished and smooth at first sight, its texture was tighter from mid-palate. Quite restrained in style, the Cabernet giving the impression that it will age (for the time being) the Shiraz did the talking. Well balanced, this wine has an immediate approachability adding a lot to its attractive personality.
The new release of Penfolds Bin Series wines will be available from Friday 8th March.
A themed dinner party is a great way to explore food and wine matching. Arguably the most classic route is to pair wines from a certain region with dishes from the same area. After all, these combinations have evolved over centuries so work very effectively and give a neat focus to the evening.
Hosting a dinner for 10 guests with a multi course menu is a daunting task to some but not Wine Club members Neil and Mary. Having decided on an Italian menu, Neil got in touch with me to ask for some suggestions of wines to share the spotlight. Armed with Mary’s delicious menu I recommended some wines to treat the Turfitts’ guests to on the evening of their elaborate festicciola.
I would normally suggest Champagne to start but Prosecco felt like a more appropriate choice, being both Italian and incredibly fashionable at the moment. It’s the perfect way to kick off an evening in style because it offers a frothy, fruity punch of bubbles and gets everyone in the mood with its fresh simplicity.
The menu started as all good Italian menus should: with antipasti followed by a pasta course. Next in line was a rich venison stew and the menu closed with that most Italian of all dishes, Tiramisu.
Following the fizz, a glass of Gavi di Gavi was suggested to match to the antipasti. Combining fresh apple fruit and a softly textured waxy lemon finish, I thought it would stand up well to the myriad of flavours from the antipasti which featured cured meats, delicious olives and sundried tomatoes from a small local deli. As an alternative, Fiano di Avellino offered a breath of Southern air, providing a richer contrast to the Piedmonte Gavi, with its minerally, pear fruited notes.
Pasta was next, coated in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce cooked at the last minute, and I thought a Malvasia from the South would work well; it has a lovely minerality and is good with lighter pasta dishes. Some guests will always prefer red wine with pasta so I also offered a Barbera D’Asti . Its peppery, crunchy red fruit provided a little more intensity of flavour than the white.
The main course was a rich hunter’s style venison stew – in lieu of veal – and Langhe Nebbiolo the suggestion. Made from the same grape variety as fêted Barolos and Barbarescos, this gives a flavour of those great wines at a fraction of the price which is a handy trick when catering for a large number. As the sauce was tomato based, I thought the acidity of the wine would match well.
Vin Santo had to be the pudding wine- this deliciously sweet wine, which is a Tuscan speciality, is made from grapes dried out on straw mats. Delivering a hit of orange peel freshness and honeyed richness, this is a treat not only with rich puddings like the Tiramisu served but also hard Italian cheeses.
If you would like me to recommend you recipes to match your wines please email me at email@example.com
After a very successful campaign in January introducing the 2011 Burgundy vintage we are now preparing for the next round featuring our impressive friend Olivier Bernstein. We look forward to welcoming him to Basingstoke shortly to talk the Fine Wine team through his brilliant line-up, which we will be launching in mid march.
Olivier has come a long way since he first showed me his awesome array of wines in his debut vintage of 2007. He attracted top scores from the international wine press from the outset but that doesn’t mean that there was no room for progress. In subsequent vintages he has fine tuned his methods, searching for more elegance alongside the undoubted power and concentration of his wines.
He has also managed to get closer to his vineyard sources. He now manages the vineyard work for all but one of his sources and – a wonderful opportunity – has managed to buy two of the vineyards he has worked with since the start: Gevrey-Chambertin Les Champeaux and Mazis Chambertin. It is pretty rare for grand cru vineyards to change hands so this is a major coup.
These vineyards follow the common thread of old vines – more than 80 years old in the case of the Mazis – which enables Olivier to work with excellent raw material. During vinification the wines are very lightly handled, with a good proportion of stems included to maintain a lively thread throughout, while the barrels are made to order by master cooper Stéphane Chassin, who comes to taste the new vintage before deciding what type of toasting will suit each individual wine.
The range now consists of six Grands Crus, of which the Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Mazis-Chambertin and increasingly the Bonnes Mares sell through very rapidly, three premiers crus (outstanding Cazetiers and Champeaux from Gevrey-Chambertin and a lovely, lacy, Chambolle Lavrottes, a village Gevrey) and small amounts of white wine – one each from Meursault, Puligny and Corton-Charlemagne.
Mr Bernstein is going places – not least to visit our teams in Hong Kong and Japan, as well as beautiful Basingstoke – and we are excited to be sharing the journey with him. He’s already come a long way from making his wines in a garage in Gevrey-Chambertin to delightful cellars in a classic Beaune town house, which he moved into last year. Congratulations Olivier!
Look out for our live tweets from the upcoming Olivier Bernstein tasting on 12th March and the new wines will be available from 15th March.
It is late Sunday evening when we arrive at Lyon airport for our annual Rhône En Primeur trip. Wet snow starts to fall heavily as we collect our rental car and race down the motorway to Ampuis, the centre of Côte-Rôtie. Monday morning we wake up to one of my favourite views in the world; the frighteningly steep vineyards of Côte-Rôtie that form the backdrop of Ampuis, shrouded in morning mist. Working these vertiginous hillside terraces (they can be up to 60 degrees) requires a good sense of balance and is a labour of love as all machinery fails on these steep slopes. This mythical landscape is home to some of the world’s greatest wines and we are about to taste them!
We are in Ampuis to start our busy four day tasting trip, to understand the 2011 vintage. In many ways, tasting the wines at this stage makes far more sense than the annual Bordeaux en primeurs; the wines have had an extra year of ageing and in many instances are about to be bottled. It is impossible to do justice to all the producers and wines that we have tasted and the Rhône En Primeur tasting on Monday 25th February gave us a good chance to explore these wines further.
The Northern Rhône is dominated by the magnificent Rhône River, which has its source in the glacial Massif of St Gothard in Switzerland and as it twists and turns its way through the valley, so the vineyard exposure turns with it. Day 1 we focus on Côte-Rôtie itself and we start with Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin. Modern in style with lots of oak, the wines show extraordinary depth despite the relatively young age of the vines. Côte-Rôtie, Champin Le Seigneur is concentrated, seductive and a good continuation of 2009/2010. It may lack some of the concentration of the 2009 and 2010, but gives far more pleasure at this young stage. Côte-Rôtie, La Landonne is exceptional with real finesse and a floral note on the finish that goes on and on. It is a good start. Next on the list are the freezing cellars of traditionalist an d ‘Master Grower’ Réné Rostaing, whose carefully crafted high-toned wines speak for themselves. Rene Rostaing calls 2011 ‘a year of terroir not of sunshine, like 2004, 2006 and 2001’. These are not rich, luxurious wines, but precise and focused reflecting the minute differences in soil as can clearly be seen between the masculine dark Côte-Rôtie, La Landonne on soils high in iron oxide and the opulent floral seductive Côte-Rôtie, Cote Blonde from calcareous and quartz soil. At Côte-Rôtie Syrah is grown on the most northern edge of where the grape will ripen (like Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and Pinot Noir in Burgundy). The result is complex wines that reflect vintage conditions and soil, and it is the vintage difference that makes these wines so fascinating.
The 2011 Rhône En Primeur Tasting was our largest ever, with 30 producers in attendance and several more sending over samples especially for the event. It was a struggle, indeed, to find enough room for all the wines and their ( usually ) eponymous pourers……no mean feat given the Edwardian grandeur of the Great Hall of 1 Great George Street, home to the Institute of Civil Engineers and occasional film set for oeuvres as diverse as Spooks, Bridget Jones and Kavanagh QC…….Plenty of stars evidenced here on the night, mostly of the vinous variety of course, and it all proved to be a more than satisfactorily hors d’oeuvre to our En Primeur Offer, which is now in full flow.
The consensus from our multiple visits to the region over the last year has been that 2011 is to be a charming, relatively accessible vintage, its fruits being wines of breeding and harmony, but with a stylistic heterogeneity born out of the challenges ( and opportunities) of a relatively long growing season. As so it was to prove on the night; a fascinating tasting in so many different respects. The white wines were uniformly impressive, from Condrieu to Châteauneuf, with several agreeable stops en route. As for the reds, if diversity engenders interest and the pleasure of anticipation, then there seemed to be a lot of pleased customers come eight o’clock and, always the acid test, a good number of orders by the end of the tasting. And plenty more the day after. It is hard, perhaps unfair, to select at random, but let’s just say that it was a particularly good night for Domaines Janasse, Combier, Gerin and La Nerthe………I could go on……..All in all, a very good start for a campaign for a very good vintage; one which strikes the same chords as 2006 and maybe 2000 to me, both of which are providing great pleasure and satisfaction now.
For those who think of February as a dull month of fading memories of New Year festivities and of a winter that seems to never end, I have to disagree. For the past few years, this month has always been enlivened by two important dates in my calendar. The Berrys’ Rosé Champagne tasting that I host and the Champagne Academy AGM and vintage champagne tasting. Usually they’re separated by at least a week, but this year occurred in the same week that I was also co-hosting another champagne event here. A veritable feast of bubbles.
The week kicked off in grand style with the Champagne Academy tasting at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, London. The Academy, now over 50-years-old, was set up to promote good relations and champagne education in the UK wine trade. Each of the 16 Champagne grande marques of the Academy sponsors a member of the UK wine trade (they don’t know which House has sponsored them) for a week-long trip to Champagne experiencing each of the Houses through tastings, lectures, vineyard and winery visits, and food and champage matching. Knowledge, I might add, which is tested each morning by a short exam culminating in a blind tasting! I was lucky enough to be selected for one of these trips in 2010 and now serve on the UK committee which coordinates things this side of La Manche, as well as raising money for charities through champagne events around the country (this years charity is Kids Company- a charity that Berry Bros. & Rudd, coincidentally, also support). After the formalities of the AGM and election of a new Chairman (no, not me…) the tasting commenced, and a great range was on show, a reflection of the quality of recent vintages which Champagne has enjoyed. Not enough space to rhapsodise on all, but highglights included (in no particular order) Charles Heidsieck 2000- one of the best of this vintage, with for me a characteristic “2000 toast” with underlying Chardonnay citrus which so often typifies this house; Bollinger 2004- an almost surprising softness (in counterpoint to the previously released majesterial 2002), but a kernel of concentration suggesting that weight will come with time; Krug 2000 almost inscrutable, as all Krug vintages are for me in their few years after release, but like the Charles had that toasty note which broadened in time. As I said, 13 others but not enough space and two more tastings beckon (but just enough space to mention a pitstop at a Nyetimber event on Tuesday- delicious as always as per my previous blog and which kept my bubbles level on an even keel until Thursday).
Valentine’s Day saw our Rosé-themed Champagne Tutored Tasting. This category has boomed in the past decade as quality has improved. The opportunity to try a bakers’ dozen of rosés from non-vintage (NV) back to 1996 is something I look forward to every year, and for me always interesting to see what our customers at these events think of them. Berrys’ Own rosé by the grower Benoît Marguet proved a popular aperitif to launch proceedings. My soft spot for Billecart-Salmon was rewarded in both its NV and Elisabeth Salmon (1996 vintage) guises, the latter especially displayed an appealing pale salmon-copper colour and Burgundian-like qualities of sousbois and dried fruit that mature vintage rosé champagne develop with time. Also from 1996 was Dom Ruinart, which like the Billecart-Salmon we were able to compare with its NV counterpart. This surprised many by how youthful it still appeared, with only subtle yeasty notes supporting the mineral, elegant Chardonnay which dominates this cuvée, presaging at least another decade of drinking.
The last event of my week was a leisurely champagne and canapés evening reception in the Napoleon cellars here at No. 3. With just three champagnes, this was designed as an informal evening, with less emphasis on teaching (aside from a vignette on each from yours truly) and more of an opportunity to enjoy some stunning wines in atmospheric surroundings. And what champagnes! The coolly elegant blanc de blancs Dom Ruinart 1998 followed by a muscular Krug Grande Cuvée and to finish, the first of the luxury cuvées, the suavely sophisticated Dom Pérignon 2003, named after Father Champagne himself. After some lively discussion, a straw poll was taken and to both surprise and delight, Dom Ruinart was favoured by the gathering, but with vociferous support, and really not that far behind, near equal marks for the others.
The news from Florence this week is of a ‘Chianti Classico Revolution’. Wow! Alas it’s more of a whimper. The Consorzio are not offering a dramatic delimitation of vineyards (‘menzioni geografiche’ as per the Langhe), nor an unprecedented classification of Grand or Premier Cru/Vigna sites, nor even of a study of the unique geological, terroir that are at the heart of the stylistical differences between Chianti Classico villages. No, the ‘authentic Revolution’ the Chianti Classico Consorzio boasts of is…wait for it: a restyling of the Gallo Nero Black Cockerel logo, the introduction of a new ‘Gran Selezione’ level of wine (limited to estate only fruit and longer ageing…che?) and to a re-enforcement of what ‘Riserva’ means! (sound of belly-aching laughter) The producers are dismayed: yet another example of bureaucratic tinkering without adding any real value to a product they’ve slavishly refined over the years, they scoff that the ‘Gran (d) Selezione’ is just one ‘Grand Casino’ (‘big mess’). Sorry Consorzio but to me the term ‘Grand Selezione’ is just plain ‘naff’, harking back to the 1980s, while the term ‘Riserva’ is generally regarded in the UK as ‘passé, a massive fudge, a wine that lacks provenance, has spent too long (drying out) in wood and is often too expensive…
Berrys’ acquisition of the distinctly up-market Agency House, Richards Walford, last year was welcome on many different levels. For me the most immediate pleasure was being able to tour around the Rhône Valley and Languedoc with co-founder and long-standing Rhône expert Roy Richards and to assess the merits of his Southern portfolio. And merits there were a-plenty, so much so that we are delighted to introduce five new producers to spruce up our offer, all courtesy Monsieur Richards. In addition I have added another two ‘finds’ of my own. The Rhône list goes from strength to strength; it would be hubris to suggest that it would be hard to improve ,as there is always room for improvement. Next year we’ll find a few more, in all probability.
So for 2011 in the North we have two new names; Domaine de Benetière who make one of the richest Condrieus I have tasted for a long time and Domaine Dumien Serrette are a classic Cornas producer, with a miniscule cellar just behind the village church where their alchemy takes place, slowly but surely. An affable father –son team, theirs is perhaps a more traditional style of Cornas and one which sits perfectly with our already popular Cornas growers such as Stéphane Robert at Domaine du Tunnel and Vincent Paris.
The Southern Rhône is where 95 % of the Valley’s wine is made and it is here where I am sure that there is still hidden gold. I could not resist the outstanding Châteauneuf-du-Pape, St Prefert, from Roy’s collection, but more generally I was hoping to increase the range from the other villages and even further afield. Hence the new wine from Ventoux, the excellent biodynamic Château Valcombe and one of the lesser-known Villages , Visan, where Domaine la Fourmente are the leading property. Add to this the superb Vacqueyras Domaine de la Monardière, whose wines I have been trying to buy for years, and Gigondas’ outstanding Domaine D’Ouréa, also biodynamic, and you see why this is our most complete representation yet of the great wines of the South. Next month I shall visit the helpfully-titled week long Découvertes du Vallée du Rhône and in all probability unearth a few more new names……….self-discipline will definitely be required such will be the volume of exciting new producers on display.
Read our Northern Rhône Report >
Read our Southern Rhône Report >