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
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.
The terms Left Bank and Right Bank refer to the two parts of the Bordeaux wine region that lie on either side of the River Garonne and the huge Gironde estuary, into which the Rivers Garonne and Dordogne flow. These waters exert a significant influence on both the climate and the soil structures of each sub-region in the appellation, by virtue of their sedimentary deposits.
Starting at the most northerly point of the Right Bank, Bourg and Blaye lie up river near to the southern tip of the great estuary itself, while you have to travel much further south to the banks of the River Dordogne before you stumble across Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, then Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol, and finally St Emilion and its satellites.
It is the fleshy Merlot grape which dominates this side of the river, which is sometimes supported by Cabernet Franc in the blend (although at the famous St Emilion property Château Cheval Blanc, Cabernet Franc predominates). The soils are more mixed than on the Left Bank, with clay on top of limestone underpinning the rich, fruity wines of Pomerol. Styles vary more in St Emilion, depending on the predominance of sand in the lower lying slopes, or limestone on the hillsides and plateau.
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.
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.
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 >
I love teaching about French wines. France makes the world’s most famous and widely-emulated wine styles, yet it can be complicated to get to grips with, since the grape variety is rarely mentioned on the label. You need a bit of background knowledge to know what style of wine you’re going to be getting. So tonight’s session was a big undertaking: all the classic wine regions of France in just two hours.
Nearly everyone attending the event was new to Berrys’ Wine School. Many had been bought the tasting as a Christmas gift, by a friend or relative who knew that they adored drinking wine and would like to improve their ability to navigate restaurant wine lists.
In order to fit everything in, we literally whizzed around the country in true whistlestop style, covering the bare essentials. Champagne featured first, followed by the popular Loire classic, Sancerre. After a crisply dry Alsace Riesling, an exquisite Puligny-Montrachet and a classy red Bordeaux to name but a few, we ended the evening on a sweet note with a sumptuous glass of Sauternes. Grape varieties, labelling terms, tastes to look out for – all were demystified this evening, with significant contribution from class members, lively debate and interesting questions thrown into the mix. A gorgeous line-up of cheeses as well as canapés prepared by our Head Chef Stewart Turner completed the evening and prompted some discussion on food and wine matching.
If you love drinking wine and have always meant to get round to learning a bit more, don’t miss out on the chance to do so in the company of fellow wine-lovers in the unique atmosphere of our historic cellars.
Whilst the streets of London were being battered by gusts and heavy showers almost designed to test the resolve of the doughtiest of Hallowe’en trick-or-treaters (but no sign of an American werewolf), I was privileged to attend a tasting of two illustrious champagne cuvées at the very smart Belgravia headquarters of Moët-Hennessy. Initial signs were a little underwhelming as we were greeted with water (!!), but this was part of our hosts cunning plan to ease us gently into the challenge that faced us. Because rather than the usual format of wines simply being presented to us, we were instead going to taste the wines blind, in two flights/rooms, each dedicated to one cuvée- Krug and Dom Pérignon. Hence the need for clear head and palate, as our task was to identify the cuvée in each room, and see if we could identify the vintages on show. It was all beginning to feel like sweet revenge from those who have attended my Champagne Wine School events at Berrys’ and been subjected to blind tastings by me…..
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.
Inside Burgundy is starting to show signs of repainting the Forth Bridge syndrome. No sooner, it seemed, was the text for the hardback book finally signed off than work on revisions began – firstly amendments for the Japanese edition which was published last month, and now for the electronic version of which the first two units have just appeared in Apple’s iBookstore.
656 hardback pages translated into an iBook with pictures and videos added would be impossible to download onto your iPad, so the book will be delivered region by region, starting with the Côte de Beaune.
Revising has been stimulating as well as time-consuming. Firstly we needed to incorporate amendments of various minor errors – and nobody was better at identifying inconsistencies than our four Japanese translators! Then there were the amendments to take into account factual developments since the hardback edition, as growers have added or lost vineyards, or changed locations. I also wanted to develop more detail for certain appellations, most notably Corton Charlemagne. There is now a chart identifying whose holdings are in which lieu-dit within the grands crus.
I am hugely grateful to Chris Foulkes and Carrie Segrave for their publishing nous and for their time spent developing the iBook concept, along with our brilliant designer Lizzie Ballantyne. Also to Michel Joly for his brilliant photographs, ably supported by Jon Wyand. Then there are the videos – I am easily recognisable: windswept hair and shirt not always completely tucked in….
At the same time, we have produced a slightly simpler (no videos) iBook to cover the Vintages section of the book, along with notes on Appreciating Burgundy. There are also tasting notes on the Three Year On tastings I attend each summer (2009 vintage) and the Ten Year On tasting (2002 and some 1992s). The good news is that this inaugural edition of the Inside Burgundy Annual Report is free this year! We plan to release a new edition every year, incorporating more tasting notes, verticals, commentaries and a new essay on some major topical theme in future.
Now to start work on the Côte de Nuits. I have already been doing some sleuthing work, tracking down the different parcels of Richebourg by walking the vineyards and identifying different styles of viticulture. Watch out for some detailed vineyard maps in the next edition. It is amazingly stimulating, but the Forth Bridge seems to be stretching way into the far distance!
For your chance to win one of two copies of this fascinating new iBook, simply tell us via the comments below what interests you most about Burgundian Wines.
This first Spanish release has been months in the making and demonstrates our desire to find and introduce our customers to the very finest wines of Spain. A large proportion of the wines on show were quite rightly from the much lauded regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero; we are fortunate to have strong working relationships with producers such as Vega Sicilia, Lopez de Heredia, Muga, La Rioja Alta, Pesquera and Artadi.
However, Spain is brimming with exciting new wine regions and established regions in which more emphasis is being focussed upon finer quality. With the creation of our first Spanish release came the opportunity to further broaden our offering to introduce fabulous wines from these lesser known regions of Spain. From Rias Baixas and Bierzo in the North West, to the underappreciated Navarra and Toro to name but a few.
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.
These informal, fun events give customers the perfect opportunity to hone their food and wine skills through the discovery of some wonderful pairings. Guided by our enthusiastic shop manager, Nick Page, and his famous food and wine matching skills, the three 30-minute classes take place throughout the afternoon and guest speakers are invited.
On hand for this event was the expertise of Graham Goodman of The Cheese Stall, an importer and supplier of fine European cheeses. Graham spoke about his top quality products, offered tasters and had a plethora of fine artisan cheeses available for customers to buy. The Cheese Stall is a regular at Winchester, Alton and Romsey Markets.
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.
Stepping out of Bordeaux airport, I was greeted by a clear blue sky, heat and a gentle breeze. With a suitcase full of jumpers and a pair of wellies, I started to feel rather foolish and relieved. Foolish for not expecting the wonderful French autumn weather and forgetting my t-shirts at home and relieved that we won’t be harvesting in the rain and more importantly that this vintage may not be the drama the initial reports in the UK are predicting. I strongly believe that a vintage is made at harvest; good weather at harvest can make or break a vintage. The drying heat and the lovely breeze will dry the grapes and prevent rot and if the coming week can remain so beautiful the grapes won’t be swollen with water.
I have taken four days holiday to join the team at Ch. Giscours for the 2012 harvest. Situated in the heart of Margaux this beautiful Chateau is ranked alongside Ch. Palmer as a Third Growth in the 1855 classification. Having picked up my tiny white Citroen from Avis, it is short drive to Giscours.
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.
Last week I visited Lombardia’s Franciacorta region accompanied by Edwin Dublin, one of Berry Bros.’ sparkling wine experts, who also works in our No.3 St James’s Street shop. For both of us this was our inaugural visit to the region. Over two days we visited seven cantine: Lantieri di Paratico, Bellavista, Biondelli, Monte Rossa, Cavalleri, Uberti and Berlucchi – so a mix of bigger brands, artisan and a few in between. What we concluded was that Franciacorta offers a very different wine to that of Prosecco: its superior quality echoing that of Champagne, albeit on a smaller scale: Franciacorta’s 15 million bottles/anno versus Champagne’s 340 million! What was made patently clear is that Franciacorta, like Champagne, is the name of the region, the style of wine and the method of making it; something that as far I know does not apply to any other sparkling wine region, bar Champagne.
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.