The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
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.
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.
You know the New Year is is off to a good start when one of the first things to land in your inbox is an invitation to a Nyetimber sparkling wine tasting (including the soon to be launched 2007 Blanc de Blancs)- just when you thouht the excuse to taste bubbles was over. Even better was the twist- preceded as it was by a fashion show as part of London Collections: Men week at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden. Thankfully it looked nothing like the hospital laboratories I worked in during my previous working incarnation. The link wasn’t stretched too much during the tasting, although the presence of wool in a number of catwalk items did bring to mind the latest recruits to Nyetimber’s workforce. They being a herd of sheep that will work the vineyards by keeping grass and weeds down.
But to the tasting, which was also a chance for me to finally meet their winemaker, Cherie Spriggs. I have long been a fan of the Nyetimber style, which balances long ageing with freshness so that even venerable vintages such as 1996 taste much younger. They have most definitely been leaders, rather than followers, of the English sparkling wine world since 1988. A single estate using only its own grapes, it has garnered fans and medals the world over.
On the sparkling vinous catwalk were current and new releases. First up was 2008 Classic Cuvée, of interest for several reasons. It was Cherie’s first vintage under her total control as the winemaker, made with 79% Chardonnay and the balance the two Pinot grapes. And if I can get technical for a moment, it also utilised malolactic fermentation. Basically, this process softens the often hard acidity found in some cool climate wines (such as England), but which was felt unnecessary for many of the previous vintages at Nyetimber. However, Cherie felt that the cooler 2008 vintage would benefit from such treatment. The nose had the (dare I say “classic”?), Nyetimber aromas of rich brioche allied with lemon notes following through on the palate where the red fuits (Pinot Noir especially was very expressive in this vintage) came to the fore adding weight to the palate.
Next was the 2008 rosé. This engendered much discussion, not only from the fact that it is delicious (think red and dark forest berry fruits, lavender floral aromas, fresh acidity- nothing confected about this rosé!), but also how it is made and rosés in general. Restraining my not so innner sparkling geek, main points: the blend is specifically created, unlike most which simply add red wine to their standard brut blend; Cherie tastes the still wines in dark glasses when deciding on the blend so that the colour does not dictate the wine she feels is the best she can make; they bottle in dark glass to prevent light damage to the wine, rather than the vogueish clear bottles. Once again, fashion leaders, not simply followers of fashion.
The newly launched 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs from 2007, we were the first outside of Nyetimber to taste it, was supremely elegant. A rapier-like minerality on nose and palate at first, (in part due to no malolactic done in this vintage) with green apple, lemon and grapefruit lending a purity to the whole ensemble. As those who have attended any of the sparkling events I host will know, I’m a bit of a sucker for blanc de blancs and this was no exception. This, like the other cuvées, is ready to drink now but all could easily be cellared for several years, and this in particular for at least five years, probably longer. Even the rosé, which Cherie professed to preferring young, I would happily cellar for at least a few years to see what happens (I suspect hints of sousbois and almost cognac-like rancio).
The final treat was a blanc de blancs demi-sec which they initially developed for used on the estate for tatsing dinners but have now commercially released. Despite the 45g/l residual sugar (their bruts are 12g/l) it doesn’t feel at all cloyingly sweet despite hints of caramel on both nose and palate wrapped around the citrus. A delicately sweet end to a lovely little tasting- oh that all Monday mornings could start like this.
Oh, and for the fashion-minded, wear black, grey or green, and a short length cut to trousers are the order of the day, as seen through the eyes of Lou Dalton whose show we observed. Certainly less extreme than the pink mouse outfit (I think it was supposed to be an anorak of sorts) I espied on a male fashionista in the audience!
At the start of a new year many of us look forward to the longer days, shorter nights and most of all the fresh start that January affords us. Gone are the revelries of the last few weeks of December, which were most likely filled with warming Clarets, robust ports and celebratory Champagnes.
After all of this Christmas decadence, it is refreshing to have fresher, distinctive and diverse flavours to experiment with. The Southern Hemisphere has just seen its summer, and is now in harvest time, so we’re anticipating a host of new exciting wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America which we’ll shortly be able to introduce to you. I wanted to kick-start this theme of exploration and try a few wines which I might otherwise overlook. Here are a few that I particularly enjoyed…
Here in the Bin End Shop we are all fully immersed in the festive spirit. The Christmas lights are on, the decorations are up and there’s a smattering of frost on the ground. So what better way to celebrate the season of good will than with a Dickensian style Spirit of Christmas Saturday, which we held on 1st December.
As well as an extra flourish of bin end bargains, we also laid on a couple of Master Classes. These fun, educational events have grown in such popularity over the past year that this time we moved the venue from the back of the Bin End Shop to our state-of-the-art tasting room in our brand new building next door. This impressive facility also provides additional space for our fast-growing Customers’ Private Reserves.
For years I’d been told how the Japanese really ‘got’ Italian wines, gastronomy, fashion and culture generally. Indeed for many fine wine producers over the past 20 years Japan has become one of their top export markets. This was my first visit, proudly leading a group of Berrys’ suppliers: the Langhe’s Manuel Marinacci, Gianluca Viberti (Casina Bric 460), Mario Fontana, Davide Rosso, Lena Oddero (Vigneti Luigi Oddero), Veneto’s Luca and Giuli Ferraro (Bele Casel), Sara Carbone of Basilicata and Puglia’s Paolo Benegiamo (L’Astore Masseria) to what is evidently a very special country, with its deeply ingrained culture, where rich, ancient traditions are respected and valued. It was a humbling and enriching experience that challenged the (conceited?) preconception that West knows best.
With the end of year in sight, a few rays of sunlight have brightened the fine wine outlook over the past month. Christies reported a series of lucrative fine wine auctions in Hong Kong (23rd-25th November) including a rare private cellar focussed primarily on Bordeaux. Decanter published an article headed ‘Bordeaux prices ‘stabilising’: analysts’ supporting our previous market reports that it looks as if the market is stabilising. In addition, prices for Ch. Mouton-Rothschild (together with Ch. Haut-Brion the most affordable First Growths in the market) have not only stabilised, but saw the first positive upturn in 18 months and account for 22% of trade by value on Liv-ex last month (its highest share for over a year). The Annual Hospice de Beaune auction on the 18th November was a success and raised a total of €5,402,333 (total sales were up on last year, though average prices were down between 6-10%); an extraordinary result considering both the vintage and the economic climate.
As mentioned in our last market report, Bordeaux remains the core of the fine wine trade, but diversification can be advantageous. Despite the economic climate, Burgundy prices have remained stable partly due to the miniscule yield in the most coveted vineyards and an increasing interest from the Far East. As the graph below shows, the market is also showing a continued interest in premium Champagne despite high production levels. The Liv-Ex Champagne 25 is made up of a multitude of vintages of the three Champagnes with the strongest secondary market (Dom Perignon, Cristal, Krug).
November saw our entire Fine Wine team visit Burgundy for the 2011 vintage. A relatively early harvest has produced grapes with good phenolic ripeness, but lower sugar levels resulting in beautifully defined wines reflective of their terroir with lower alcohol than we have seen in the last few years. Our 2011 Burgundy En Primeur will take place at the beginning of January and information will be sent out between Christmas and New Year.
Finally, Robert Parker will be releasing his much anticipated 2010 Bordeaux bottle score in December as well as his bottle scores for 2010 Northern Rhône. His bottle score of the 2010 Southern Rhônes saw a surge in sales and a high level of perfect scores for the 2009 clarets in April had a positive affect both in terms of prices and volume trading. Mr Parker has made some very complimentary comments towards the 2010 vintage; the final grading may provide the Bordeaux châteaux with the perfect Christmas gift!
With the festive period almost upon us, November was the perfect time for our Bin End Shop to host their second Fine Wine and Beef Saturday of 2012; but this time we added something a little different to the day’s usual events by inviting back Graham Goodman of The Cheese Stall, who is a regular presence at the Winchester, Romsey and Alton markets selling, talking and advising on his fine imported European cheeses. What more could you want to get you into the festive cheer than fine wines, beef and fine cheeses? I know it certainly provides me a with a certain buzz, that’s for sure!
Sarah Purdon was once again on hand with her fabulous Belted Galloway beef and was joined by our Bin End Shop’s very own food and wine matching expert, Nick Page (who’s also the shop manager). Nick, with his usual flair, gave impromptu beef and wine matching lessons and demonstrated some winter wines that matched Sarah’s sumptuous samples. She’d cooked up a storm with her Cowboy Chilli, which was paired with 2011 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block from South Africa and Penfold’s 2009 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz. Both worked equally well with the beef – Penfolds complementing the chilli heat with its abundant fruitiness and adding complexity to the pairing with its. The Chocolate Block brought intense, powerful dark fruit, perfect for these cold winter months, which married well with the full flavours of the dish. On top of that, Nick also paired Sarah’s scrumptious Beef, Ginger and Leek Sausages with a Southern Rhône classic, in the form of a 2008 Gigondas, La Bastide St Vincent.
On Monday evening in the Pickering Cellar we set ourselves a challenge: to find out which wine goes best with the UK’s favourite cheese: Cheddar.
A staple of the British cheeseboard, Cheddar is made worldwide, but the tastiest examples come from the West Country, where Cheddar has a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’: West Country Farmhouse Cheddar. For our ‘taste-off’ we chose the King of Cheddar, Montgomery’s, for its dense, smooth but slightly crumbly texture and deliciously rich, nutty and complex flavours.
Most people at the beginning of the event said that they like to drink red wine with their Cheddar, but since the evening was all about experimentation, we chose a wide range of styles to sample: whites, rosé, lighter-bodied reds, full-bodied reds and some sweeties in the form of Sauternes, Madeira and Port. The wines were served in flights of three, with a vote at the end of each flight. At the end participants were asked to vote for their top two matches. Results were very interesting and are summarised below…
In the past 20 years or so, we have broken more new ground, it seems, than ever before. Shops in Heathrow (now sadly departed), businesses in Asia, forays into the world of hospitality, new products, two new warehouses, not to mention astonishing innovations online – in a world most of us hardly knew existed in 1992.
We have been supplying the Royal Albert Hall with its wine for 18 months or so, and a few of our spirits, including No.3 Gin and the King’s Ginger Liqueur, had also been selected to go into their 14 bars and restaurants. The relationship seemed to fit very well. However we were not really expecting to be invited by the management of the Hall to open a bar. Not only a bar, but one of the iconic ‘Arena’ bars, curving around the stage and the stalls (as they would be known in any other venue) – famous as the stamping ground of the “Promenaders” at the annual concerts named after them.
As the monsoon downpour continues, the Berrys’ team were invited on a tour of the Jenkyn Place vineyards in Bentley, Hampshire.
“It’s been a challenging growing season,” says Simon Bladon as the Berrys’ team pass round umbrellas and pull on wellington boots. As we walk around the vineyards the rain eases a little and Simon eagerly tells us that the impressive Grade II listed building on the estate was once the proud home of Harold Sanderson, Chairman of the White Star Line, and is where he received the news of the sinking of the Titanic.
The beautifully kept vineyards were planted as early as 2004, producing the first commercial vintage in 2006 and Rose from 2008. The soil is a greensand over chalky marl on south-facing slopes, and planted to 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier.
For any company, it is always interesting venturing to new geographical areas because you are never quite sure of response. Cardiff was one of these such places, Berry Bros. & Rudd having only ventured into the Welsh fold for tastings with our spirits business in years gone by. So the opportunity to explore the Welsh capital’s vinous preferences with Three Wine Men, a venture between Olly Smith, Tim Atkin and Oz Clarke, was one not to be missed.
A love of wine is built so much on friendliness and sociability, with most memorable wines being those you share with others. This was a great opportunity for Berrys to meet the local crowd, understand preferences, build presence and have the pleasure of showcasing products we love. It was really encouraging to see genuine interest and how many people were familiar with Berrys’ history.
Recent news headlines regarding wine fraud have brought to the forefront the importance of provenance. The high profile arrest of Rudy Kurniawan earlier this year, exposed one of the greatest cases of fine wine fraud. The commitment from Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot to protect the name of his estate and expose the fraudulent dealing of Rudy Kurniawan should be applauded.
It started in 2008, when Laurent Ponsot requested the withdrawal of a number of rare bottles from his domaine at an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in New York. The auction lots included a rare collection of Ponsot’s Clos St Denis from 1945-1971, but the domaine didn’t make the wine until 1982. It also included a domaine bottled Clos de la Roche from 1929, but domaine bottling did not start at Ponsot until 1934. Similarly, the American collector Bill Koch is involved in a number of legal cases against auction houses, most famously regarding the Thomas Jefferson collection offered by Rodenstock.
Personally I don’t like scaremongering and it is true that articles about forgeries and corruption sell more papers, but it is an issue that has become key to the fine wine industry and it is rightly being discussed. Some merchants may shy away from the topic of forgeries and prefer to bury their heads in the sand, but this will not resolve the issue.
The second Friday in July saw the 7th annual Wine Club Dinner for members and their guests. Our host, David Berry Green, was flying into Heathrow on an afternoon flight from Italy so I had everything crossed that the inauspicious date wouldn’t ruin the evening! I didn’t need to succumb to superstition though as David’s plane landed on time and we were ready and waiting in the shop, glass of Champagne in hand, when the first guests arrived just before 6.30pm.
We were delighted that the event had sold out so it wasn’t long before the shop filled up with guests and we sipped our way through a few bottles of the deliciously appley Champagne Lahaye.
This was the debut of a series of regional portfolio tastings planned for the South of England this year. For many years we have been running a successful calendar of tastings and events in our own cellars at No.3 St James’s Street in London so we felt it was time to take it on the road; Berrys’ Wine Roadshow rather than Antiques Roadshow, if you will!
Our Wine Education Specialist and host for the evening, Martin Hudson MW, selected 24 wines and 4 spirits to show to guests and we split these up amongst six tables to give guests a chance to dip in and out as they pleased. Each table was manned by an expert from Berrys who was on hand to discuss the wines and their styles.
On Tuesday 26 June, Jamie Sach, global ambassador for Penfolds, swapped the warmth of southern Australia for a windy grey day in Basingstoke to showcase the latest release of Penfolds. Penfolds hardly needs any introduction: founded in 1855 by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfolds, Penfolds has only seen three chief winemakers during its entire 157 year history. Initially focussed on producing fortified wine (as was fashionable at the time), the current tradition of producing top quality dry reds started when chief wine maker Max Schubert returned from a visit to Bordeaux. 1951 was the birth year of Grange. A symbol representing a move away from fortified wines towards dry reds, Grange was also the beginning of a line of exceptional wines so iconic that they were given the status of National Heritage Listed Wine by the national trust of South Australia. From the very first vintage that Max produced, his vision was to make wines that rival the best of France in terms of quality and longevity. This has been a story of success, as confirmed by current tastings of the 1951s and 1952s.
Blind tasting is very difficult. I am well-qualified to make this statement, having experienced the challenges of the Master of Wine course over the past few years. I have sat through numerous 12-wine mock exam sessions, during which I sometimes got the wines spot-on, and sometimes so drastically wrong that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! I have also seen fellow students who are top winemakers or industry specialists get the wines as spectacularly wrong as I did. Clearly, blind tasting is a really tricky business. So what’s the point of it? I would like to argue that it’s absolutely crucial when you’re learning about wine….but equally it is NOT the be-all and end-all.
I was privileged to join book buyers, magazine editors and representatives from the wine industry gathered for an intimate tasting led by Jancis Robinson MW on Thursday (14) for the unveiling of the first copy of a soon-to-be-published wine book.
Wine enthusiasts will certainly be taking their appreciation to a new level with the publication of the book called Wine Grapes from Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and José Vouillamoz.
We learned how Wine Grapes uses the most cutting-edge DNA to identify 1,368 distinct grape varieties, as well as countless correct synonyms, and highlighting almost as many incorrect ones.
For those of a certain age the words Beirut and Lebanon are shorthand for all that has gone wrong in the Middle East over the past generation; the cauldron of a preternaturally complicated Civil War is still simmering; checkpoints abound on the dusty roads and even smart buildings such as the famous downtown hotel Phoenicia are still riddled with bullet holes; a pointillist souvenir from not so long ago. With Damascus only 60 km down the road, the veneer of cosmopolitan Beirut, with its more than fair share of rooftop cocktail bars, night clubs and jeunesse dorée, maybe somewhat illusory. The ethnic, religious and atavistic tribal make-up of the country is unfeasibly complicated, and yet in this period of relative prosperity there is a sense of an esprit de corps, and an almost touching national pride, born out of adversity and the fragility of the peace.