Author: Juel

Back from the Edge: Cinsault in Lebanon

It’s been nearly three years since I’ve been to Lebanon. While social media has become heavier and more political, the new wine from Domaine des Tourelles is fresher and even more joyous. Tasting on a grey London day in January, it is clear that a lot has happened with Cinsault in Lebanon since my last visit to the Bekaa Valley.  Last month, the new 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes was launched in London after a sell-out season in New York. Cinsault, you say? Not long ago, Cinsault in Lebanon would have been pulled out in favour of more popular French varieties. Not noble enough; a workhorse grape; not enough money in it. Yet much like Carignan in the Languedoc, the old vines of Cinsault that had been spared the vine pull, we are now so pleased they have been. Cinsault in Lebanon was originally brought to the country by the Jesuits of Ksara from Algeria. Despite its history and widespread planting (around 40% of grapes planted in Lebanon are Cinsault), it is the recent success of South African wineries and their old Cinsault vines that …

Looking back at Chateau Sociando-Mallet

The Chateau Sociando-Mallet house style is the equivalent to those modern interiors you see in French design magazines that I like to browse at the newsagent waiting for the Eurostar back to London. Clean lines and sparse interiors with a simple piece of design in just the right place. Modern, not excessive in style; and, it never seems to mess up. Meanwhile, there’s baroque elephants up the road at Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estephe and further south in Pauillac, the route des Chateaux of super-second Chateaux that can rival Kensington Palace Gardens for real estate bling. Stuck in the middle with you, as the song goes, is Sociando-Mallet, where the focus is simply on the essentials to make good wine: aspect, the soil, the fruit and the vintage. A vineyard with a view The view of the Gironde from Sociando-Mallet has to be one of my favourites in Bordeaux, especially at sunrise. As the road along the Gironde in Pauillac swings up a small hill to Saint Estephe, you will find Sociando-Mallet and a view of the river looking wild and …

2014 Mouton Rothschild label by David Hockney

The 2014 Mouton Rothschild label shows the friendship between the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and British artist David Hockney. ‘In tribute to Philippine’ Most of all, it is a fitting tribute to the Baroness, who died in late August of the same year as the wine. Although it was her father who began the tradition in 1945 to commission artists, it was Madame de Rothschild who brought her own vibrancy and verve to the Chateau. The label shows the energy in the vibrating lines. The story in her obituary in the New York Times recounts when she approached Francis Bacon for the 1990 Mouton Rothschild label. She asked, “if she could use his painting of a nude that her father rejected, Mr Bacon asked what had changed. “I’m not my father,” she answered.” David Hockney is well-known for his smoking, but after his heart attack, he no longer drinks. Chateau Mouton Rothschild pays artists with five cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine from the current vintage and five cases from other vintages.  Let’s hope that he has a drop and shares it with his many …

Two wines for Christmas Day

At this time of year, I’m asked for my Christmas wine recommendations. There are two ways to approach choosing wine for Christmas day. Stick to the tried and traditional, or else, do your own riff from the standard hymn sheet. My favourite Christmas is when we tear up the hymn sheet altogether. One year, we drank mostly old vintages of German Riesling and had a great time searching for old bottles around town. (If you are in the UK, you can read it in this year’s Waitrose’s Food and Drink Christmas catalogue). This rather nerdy level of drinking is easy when there are only two of you. But if you have a big gathering with varying degrees of wine-geek-tolerance then you want a case of something that everyone will “get”. Not too precious, then again, it must have enough sense of occasion. With this in mind, and painfully aware of my tendency to go a bit over-the-top, when Wine Trust asked if I would like to pick my Christmas wine recommendations from their website, I chose a classic Oregon Pinot Noir and …

The hours between coffee and wine

I love coffee, I need coffee, I want coffee – as the greeting-card saying goes, “life is what happens in the hours between coffee and wine.” It is disappointing to end a good meal with muddy dishwater rather than a properly-made espresso. Thanks to Amir Gehl from Difference Coffee Co., who lured us to Harry’s Bar with both excellent coffee and a very good wine, indeed: 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Intact and alive in the 21st century. After dinner, we then tasted the First Growth of coffee: Jamaican Blue Mountain, a Hawaiian Kona, and the infamous Kopi Luwak. The civet cat coffee Even if you have never tasted Kopi Luwak, you may know about the civet cat. Kopi Luwak is a coffee made from the Sumatran civet cat’s half-digested coffee cherries, which in the process of digestion, partially ferments the beans. As you can imagine, making coffee from the beans excreted by civet cats in Sumatra is not cheap. Although for coffee connoisseurs, much like people crazy about wine, 550 euros is a small price to pay for one kilogram of these rare, labour-intensive beans. Coffee and …

3 Wine Movies Reviewed: Sour Grapes, The Way of Wine & The Duel of Wine

Recently, three wine movies have explored the question: what is real (and fake) in the wine world? There is something quite unreal about the circus around fine wine. Especially over the past two decades, it has become a game for the supra-mangerial that has no relation to the humble product from the vineyard. Step back from three recently released films and it is easy to see why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, has become so important in the 2010s. Sour Grapes is the true story of the young emperor of fine wine, Rudy Kurniawan, who dazzled the fine wine auction scene in the early 2000s and went on to flood the fine wine market with counterfeit wine. Embarrassingly, a lot of wine experts went along for the ride. Jay McKierney writes that “The night before the auction I personally consumed, by my best estimate, over $20,000 worth of his wine – including the 1945 Mouton and the 1947 Cheval Blanc – and I was one of fourteen drinkers.” One of those drinkers being Rudy Kurniawan. Were they …

Rioja Alavesa trip #2 – a photo diary

Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip to Rioja Alavesa on instagram. I was thrilled to catch up with the Vinisud team again.For more instagrams from beautiful Rioja Alavesa, check out: charliewines (Charlie Arturoala), rockinredblog (Michelle Williams) and thewinesleuth (Denise Medrano). This week I am in the Basque part of Rioja – #RiojaAlavesa. Driving from Bilbao, it’s higher and cooler here. Very cool to see the Cantabrian mountains, they protect the vines from the Atlantic winds. There is still the humidity – great for vines (but not so much for my hair!) ;-) #winelovers #winelife #RiojaAlavesa #basquecountry #basquewine A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT Getting the “Vinisud” band back together – on tour of Rioja Alavesa with rock stars @rockinredblog and @thewinesleuth. Later today we are giving a presentation to 100 producers about social media and wine trends with @charliewines chairing the panel (we will also see some of his film – The Duel …

Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Basque Rioja break away from Rioja?

My introduction to Rioja Alavesa went a little something like this: “We are going to visit Basque wine country!” wrote Charlie Arturaola, “We are going to Rioja.” “Are we going to Basque country or are we going to Rioja?” I tapped back. “Both!” When you think of Basque country, you may be forgiven for thinking of tingly white Txacoli poured from great heights in the bars of San Sebastian.  But there is a part of Rioja, near the Cantabrian mountains, that is also part of the Basque country. What did the Level 3 WSET book have to say about the Basque part of Rioja? “Rioja Alavesa is situated to the west of Logroño, on the north bank of the Ebro. Vineyards are planted up to 800 metres into the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains. The soil is very chalky and the wines are perhaps the lightest of Rioja, but have the most finesse” (Wines and Spirits, Understanding Quality, WSET, 2012). And that’s it… Nothing about Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country. And about half as much information than for Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  And yet, you …

Corse you can: wines from Yves Leccia, Patrimonio, Corsica

Look up Corsica in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book and right at the end of the entry, like an afterthought or a throwaway line, he writes: “Original wines that rarely travel.”  This is how the obsession starts. Thanks Hugh (again). In the small entry, HJ then recommends the wines of Yves Leccia. As luck would have it, the opportunity came up to meet Yves Leccia at Vinisud in Montpellier, and he sent me some wines to taste at home. It’s easy to like a wine – in fact, to like most things – when the sun is shining in the South of France, but how will they taste on a cold (as the Scots say) dreich day in London? Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Patrimonio blanc Varieties: Vermentinu Region: Patrimonio, Corsica Year: 2013 Price: Approximately 27 € Retailer: Kermit Lynch (US), no UK supplier What struck me the most are the unique herbal flavours, much like the garrigue aromas found in the south of France. In Corsica, they call it fleur de maquis – the thickets of underbrush, rosemary and thyme. The Vermentinu is finer than the Vermentino found …

In Montpellier for Vinisud 2016

Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 in Montpellier for the Mediterranean wine trade fair. It was my first time at this event, and as far as locations go, you could not do better than tasting wines on the sunny coast of France in February. I was there as a Vinisud Ambassador, along with Charlie Arturaola (producer of the film, “The Ways of Wine” and other wine films), Denise Medrano (The Wine Sleuth), and Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog). The Ambassador team was a social media powerhouse, becoming a sounding board for the producers and presentations. In a single day, the TweetReach broke new records via the official #VINISUD2016 hashtag with nearly 1,500 twitter posts recorded. According to Sylvain Dadé of specialist agency SOWINE, which hosted the Vinisud Digital Hub, over the last two days of the show, 533,000 accounts were reached with 4.8 million prints. On Tuesday, we found #Vinisud2016 was trending on twitter alongside that other little event going on at the time, The Grammys (!).  Charlie, Denise and Michelle are true social media professionals at the top of their game; each of their presentations at …

The Key to Burgundy 2014 en primeur

What’s the key to Burgundy 2014 en primeur? White wines, white wines all the way baby. How can you tell before they have been bottled? Nearly ten years experience of tasting wines at this stage, you can get an idea of the vintage. It’s all about the vibes. What does that even mean, VIBES??!! That will get you in a lot of trouble on twitter. Who cares. I’m in it for the Burgundy. The vibes…. As Michael Jackson would say about the white wine vintage, “I’m in ec-sta-sy!” You can tell from the hair standing up on the back of your neck. The zing. Ecstasy. Joy. It’s like this:     Which producers did you see at Burgundy En Primeur week? I went to Berry Bros & Rudd and Corney & Barrow 2014 en primeur tasting. Also, the Grand Cru Chablis 2014 tasting.  What do you think the trade will make of it this year? No one in the trade loves “a good white wine vintage in Burgundy”. There’s not the same money in it as a good red …

Vogue’s 5 Favourite Wine Instagram Follows

I had my very own Carrie moment – well, I felt a little tipsy, at least – when I saw my name in Vogue UK magazine’s Top 5 Wine Instagram follows in UK Vogue, December 2015, alongside some of my favourite wine people: @leviopenswine @jordansalcito @noblerotmag and @honeyandvine If you were a young woman and an aspiring writer in the early 2000s, it was all about Carrie Bradshaw in S&TC. Who didn’t want to be writing her own column in New York City while looking out the window of her rent-controlled apartment with that walk-in wardrobe full of fabulous shoes? As Carrie would write in her column, I couldn’t help but wonder…. Then there’s the episode where she gets drunk in the Vogue editor’s office. “Martinis in the morning. Is this allowed? Is it “Vogue”?”     I love instagram, it’s great fun. Thank you, British Vogue. Now, in true Carrie fashion, it’s time to spill a cocktail (or nine) to celebrate. Find me on instagram @winewomansong  

Wines from Lebanon: Why we need boozy long lunches more than ever

It’s been one year since my trip to Lebanon. Last week’s tasting of Lebanese wines in London’s Borough market had been planned weeks before hand, but it happened to coincide with the same week as the attacks in Beirut, and on the next day, in Paris. Can we ever understand the horrific events of the past week? The time calls out for civilisation. I agree with the message from the Charlie Hebdo illustrator, Joann Sfar, after the Paris attacks: “Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy!” For me, that means eating together, friends and a glass of wine. That is why a long lunch of mezze and Lebanese wine was the perfect tonic for the time.   A very brief history of food and wine in a complex region The story of wine is the story of civilisation. It was the ancient sea-faring Phoenicians that introduced, encouraged and propagated viticulture in the ancient world when vitis vinifera was still only a weed in many areas across the Mediterranean. Around the same time they also developed and spread the use of an alphabet. In more recent times, the Lebanese …

The view from Paris: natural wine and the vegetable whisperer

This is my view. We are staying with a young sommelier friend. He moved to Paris from Copenhagen and now works at one of the grand dames of the natural wine bistro scene, Chateaubriand.  On the wall of his apartment in Oberkampf is an old chalkboard he was given by the guys at Verre Volé (67 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris) – one of the places where many wine people hung out a few years ago. Verre Volé also made an impact on me back in the early part of this decade: I remember turning up after they were closed so they gave me a few glasses and a bottle of Métras to sit by the Canal Saint-Martin while we waited for them to open again. “Natural wine only” lists are not a new phenomena. But what is happening in the new bistro scene in Paris (described as “bistronomie”) is not just about natural wine, but also about “natural food” and maybe, in the longer term, we may look back and see that it was even more than that – a coming together of a greater philosophy about the environment and …

On Berry Bros & Rudd blog: Marco de Bartoli’s Vecchio Samperi Ventenniale

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marco de Bartoli winery in Marsala, Western Sicily. This is where I tasted one of Italy’s great wines: Vecchio Samperi Ventennale. When Berry Bros & Rudd asked if I could write about one of their Italian wines, I could not go past Marco de Bartoli’s famous Marsala. This is a story of one man (and wine) against the odds. Read the full story on Berry Bros & Rudd blog, “One man’s perpetual drive for quality” here >   

How does classic white Bordeaux fit with my not-so-classic life? A week in photos

The case of Bordeaux blanc from the Bordeaux Council sat in the corner of my tiny London flat like an elaborate piece of 17th century furniture. The idea of drinking Bordeaux blanc everyday is very grand, but how does this classic style of wine fit in with my not-so-classic, real life? Instead of opening all the bottles at once, we opened up a bottle or two every night with dinner to see how it worked with food. Which it does. Spectacularly. But not with everything. Don’t believe the label if it ever says aperitif – you will be wasting half the experience. Most Bordeaux blanc is better with food. There are better aperitif wines out there but there are not as many complex food wines out there as Bordeaux blanc. I photographed my week of meals at home (and one special occasion meal on the weekend) pairing white Bordeaux with food. Here are the results. But first, some tips on buying white Bordeaux under £20.   What to look for in Bordeaux Blanc under £20 The last bottle of Bordeaux blanc I had was a bottle of 2011 Smith Haut-Lafitte – not an …

3 terroirs in Saumur-Champigny you need to know

As the boat drifted away from the town of Saumur on a summer night, and I was drifting away in my thoughts at the end of the day (and, perhaps, from one too many glasses of red), I thought about the knotty notion of terroir. When does wine become more than just about thirst? The Loire is a vast collection of different terroirs following the Loire River from the centre of France to the Atlantic. We were in Saumur-Champigny AOC, in the centre of the Loire region. South-east of Angers, on the left bank of the river, and east of Coteaux du Layon and Anjou. The boat drifted to the point in the river where the Saumur region ended and where Touraine began. A winemaker pointed to the old stone stairs on the river bank. The stairs were divided down the middle. Although they joked about it, saying one side was for the people in Saumur and one was for Touraine – there were clearly still some healthy rivalries between the neighbours. The line where one region started and another ended was clear in the …

Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny 2015

Right now I am in Saumur for a two-day festival called Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny. Last time I was in Saumur, the constant rain kiboshed our plans to ride bicycles through the vineyards. That was the dream, anyway: a little exercise to go with the wine drinking. We did try. But the rain put a stop it – worst luck – and we ended up staying inside the local restaurants instead, drinking the 2014 vintage and tasting the local cheeses. Now I developed a serious taste for this refreshing red that is – pound for pound – one of the most versatile red wines out there, I am happy to be back in Saumur again to finally meet the winemakers and see the vineyards. The 2014 vintage is an exciting moment for Cabernet Franc in Saumur-Champigny. It’s worth celebrating, especially if it is pouring all night long. This year the event had a British theme (there were a lot of “British” bowler hats, which only made me look like droog A Clockwork Orange. Or maybe Mel and Kim). Was it just a gimmick? There is a deep connection with Britain in the area – this is …

5 Best Wine Tastings in London in August

Stuck in the city in August? Here are the best wine tastings in London you can’t miss this month. This is a pick of only five. And if you want to get out of town, I’ve added a couple of wine and wine-ish festivals at the end of the post. For the hardcore wine lover, it may feel like a stay-cation to switch to beer – maybe time to check out the craft beer festival? And of course the month ends with the Notting Hill Carnival and a few Red Stripes… Please check beforehand with the venue as spaces are limited and bookings are essential.   1. If you want some Italian glamour but can’t get away to the islands “EnoClub Rebooted – The Islands” @ Polpo (Ape & Bird) – 5 August Cruise through Sicily and Sardinia without leaving Soho. The unique wines from the Italian islands are almost born just to refresh you, especially good on a muggy night in August. You won’t go hungry either with food matched by Polpo at the Ape & Bird. Where: Upstairs at Polpo Ape & Bird, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, …

7 Best Things About Fine Beaujolais Now 

One of my favourite Raymond Chandler stories is called, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It is largely dialogue between couples talking about love around a bottle of gin as the sun goes down. Every one is sure of their own idea of what they mean when they talk about love, but the more they talk, the more confused they become. The title of the short story comes to mind when we talk about Beaujolais. What are we talking about when we talk about Beaujolais? Funnily enough, if you see Beaujolais featured on the front label, then this is not what I am talking about here. These are either Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages. Nor is it the wines you see during Beaujolais Nouveau on the third week of November. What I am talking about is Cru Beaujolais – labelled with the name of the cru rather than the word “Beaujolais”. The ten cru are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Regnié or St-Amour. Last month I tasted the 2014 vintage of Cru Beaujolais in London and met Jean Bourjade, Managing …

4 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino 2013 (and where to eat in Montalcino)

Even though it had been raining when we left Siena only thirty minutes ago, the strong heat in Montalcino burned away all the water until very quickly there was steam rising from the road. The grapes had a good drenching and now had a moment to ripen under the intense sun. I took my coat off and walked over to the other side of town, which was mostly in shadow. Like most of this renaissance landscape, for the vineyards on the hillside it is about light and shade. The vineyards follow down from the top of the hill from all sides, each face the sun from sunrise to sunset in their own way. Just from the change in weather from drenched to heat, it is easy to see how the grapes love this weather. When there is an exceptional vintage pronounced by the Consorzio it is worth taking notice. The recent release of the 2010 vintage is one of these exceptional vintages where perfect conditions were met across most of the vineyards – north, south, east and west. But how was …

After the rain: time out in Tuscany, part 1

Where next?  That’s the big question when you are on the road. Before I could answer, I had to go back to where I feel truly nourished on all levels. Earlier this year I left my job. Then I had a severe flu. Time for a change of scenery. We booked the cheapest ticket – to Bologna – and hired a silver Fiat Panda at the airport. This was not just some Under the Tuscan Sun schtick. All my life and work has been about taste and smell. When I don’t feel good, everything tastes bland – I seem to need flavour like a photographer needs light. On the road to Tuscany, avoiding the main roads, we stopped off at a worker’s bar for lunch and a carafe of wine. On the first day, the taste of the simple pasta with tomato sauce had tears well up in my eyes. It was then I realised how much I needed to be here. Driving along the autostrade with the windows down after an oversized lunch – pasta and ragu, a meat dish and then one course too many – the …

Anything but Assyrtiko: Greek wine reviews

I do not drink enough Greek wine to say Anything but Assyrtiko just quite yet – there is still so much to love about Santorini – but after this selection from the Daily Drinker for my Greek wine reviews I can see past the horizon beyond Santorini. Under the blaring midday sun on the beach, imagine a very cold white wine called Roditis by Tetramythos as the high thrilling squeal of children chased by waves, with the Malagousia, Domaine Gerovassiliou creating a general hubbub of civilised conversation of adults on the towel nearby. As the sun goes down, these voices become more distinct and clear – the Kidonitsa, Monemvasia Winery draws near and whispers idle romantic thoughts with rich fruit that lingers beyond midday, yet as fresh and essential, as a cool shower at the hotel before dinner in the local restaurant. The Robola, Gentilini is a complex, balanced wine that continues the holiday as the true souvenir of the summer in Kefalonia. A timeless Greek wine, it could be the best white wine from anywhere, yet as specific to its time and place, …

My top wines for summer

Like most things in Summer, less is more. I have been living on lighter wines that can get me through the bursts of heat that make London so fun in the summer. But if I am buying a case of wine to get me through this time of year, I want consistency. Something for a session on a long summer day. Not too much pondering over the glass. I’m having a little pale rosé backlash these days. It kind of snuck up on me: at this stage, and with drunk crowds spilling out onto the pavement, I could do without the rosé rage. Can flavour be stupid? Banal, perhaps. It is the flavour of spun sugar and the soft texture of marshmallow. But it can end up being as bland as if you followed Kate Moss’ attitude to eating: “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” If you are not really tasting, the pink slips down way too easily. You can see it in the tears of girls staggering after a day of drinking at about 11.30 …

Greek Assyrtiko: between thyme and the deep blue sea

What is the Greek wine Assyrtiko? Grown on the volcanic soil of Santorini, it is a white wine that when good, is a summer wind by the sea made into taste and smell. Last night I had the Hatzidakis Assyrtiko with hot salmon, fresh herbs and dijon mustard on ciabatta and, although it is not a traditional Greek dish, it is an excellent match for this wine: as clear as white houses against blue sky. For those who had too much cheap retsina on a package holiday once: this wine will rock your preconceptions about Greek wine. Let in the fresh air. There is no reason why Santorini AOC should not be more well-known: minerally, fresh and from a major Greek Island. The technology is there to create fresh white wines, hopefully Hatzidakis will pave the way for more wines from this region. Tasting with a handful of vine-ripened tomatoes before dinner lifted the wine to another level, and my friend suggested it was the methoxypyrazines that are working together in tomato and the Assyrtiko (the green tastes in wine, …

5 Best Wine Tastings in London in July

London is another country in summer. The sun is out. Everyone’s in a good mood. The parks are full of half-naked people having picnics. There’s also Independence Day and Bastille Day – a good enough excuse as any to open a few bottles from California and France. This month, it’s not all about the tennis – here are the five best wine tastings in London this July. Please check beforehand with the venue as spaces are limited and bookings are essential.     1. If you know all the words from Pulp Fiction  Terroirs presents Wine & Music  On Wednesday 1 July, Wine + Vinyl launches the first night of its monthly Wine and Music series at Terroirs. Playing soundtracks from cult films with wine moments in film projected on the walls. Hosted by comedian James Dowdeswell, the wine list will showcase five reds and whites from their 200-strong list. Only £3 entry. Where: Terroirs 5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW Date: Wednesday 1 July, 7pm – £3 entry      2. If you dream about Californian wine California Dreaming: American Wine Masterclass, …

5 favourites from Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015

Armit Wines is fortunate to have some big agencies on their books – Ornellaia, Gaja, Rioja Alta, Giacosa, Huet, the list goes on – but here are the 5 wines which stood out for me at the Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015 for no other reason than pure crazy fabulousness:   1. Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demi Sec 2009 (Loire) Masterful. As you would expect from one of the last vintages by Noël Pinguet – legendary winemaker and son-in-law of Gaston Huet. This is a wine where taste moves faster than the speed of thought. Pure and light, sweet and savoury, weightless and gravity. And it all just comes together so effortlessly. I saw a friend who is an expert on the Loire do a beeline for it when he entered the room. It’s pretty much like that. Everything else disappears. RRP £17.oo duty paid ex vat 2. Domaine Gourt de Mautens Rosé 2010 (Rhone) On a buzz feed listicle, 24 Bizarre Japanese Ice-Cream Flavours, you’ll find ice-cream comes in whitebait, shark fin and cactus flavours. This Rosé is not exactly your classic strawberry pink, …

David Hockney A Bigger Splash

The Perfect Splash: Champagne Nathalie Falmet Le Val Cornet NV

Once in a while I taste a Grower Champagne* that could break through the noise of big brand Champagne marketing. Brilliant examples of grower Champagnes that have done this are Jacquesson and Pierre Gimmonet, producers who are not affected by anxieties about the done thing in the tightly-regulated region, producers who have singularity of vision and style. Focus for a Grower Champagne is like concentration in diving and what allows them to constantly change, somersault and twist so the end result of all this experimenting with names, blends and single vineyards – for those in the high seats cheering them on – is one perfect, delicate splash. Onto Nathalie Falmet Le Val Cornet NV. My first impression of this single vineyard Champagne is delicacy but this was quickly overcome by the bright flavours of summer: layers of freshly-cut nectarines, red apples and strawberries. All of this feels gentle and joyous, like a walk to the park for a picnic on a sunny day, until you realise the deeper notes of honey, caramel and liquorice suddenly have you in the path of a parade complete with …

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV at Hook Camden

Whenever I hear of the Champagne Ayala, I instinctively move the Y-sound and think of the French fashion designer, Azzedine Alaïa. This is the designer loved by 1990s supermodels: all black, super tight, super sexy clothes. To my mind, this Champagne is not dissimilar in style: elegant, sensual yet precise. Ayala is not just a miserable step-child of Bollinger. When Bollinger acquired Ayala in 2005 it put money where it was needed and then left it alone.  It’s remained a Grand Marque in its own right. One of the original “drier styles” of Champagnes developed in the 1860s. Both Bollinger and Ayala are neighbours situated in Aÿ, an area known for its Pinot Noir, but this is where the similarities between Bollinger and Ayala style end. What is the difference between Bollinger and Ayala? To keep the 1990s fashion theme going, Bollinger is to Ayala as Georgio Armani is to Azzedine Alaïa. And Ayala (and Alaia) is less mainstream and well-known. For me, I love Bollinger but sometimes it has to be Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV for its slightly drier and lighter style. At Hook Camden, the lovely Dublin lads created …

Pride and Prejudice: Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine Napa Valley

When my friend Will Hargrove from Corney & Barrow said to try this, I said YES OF COURSE THANK YOU. But really I had been around the whole room and purposely skipped Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine because it was from Napa. Why so perverse? (I get asked this a lot). It’s a £50 bottle of wine! I don’t know. There’s just too much talk about Californian wines, sorry. I’ve tuned out. It’s like at school when it was popular to see Dirty Dancing, and everyone pretended to do the sexy dance with Patrick Swayze, and I would not see it on principle. Then I saw it about twenty years later, and I really liked it. Up there with some of the best 80s films: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller and Ghostbusters. My teenage self says, I don’t want to pay for a heavy bottle or a brand name and I don’t understand their system of allocation based on being on a mailing list that hikes up prices. If I want a drink to have with a cigar then I’ll have a dark rum. Too much, already. …

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!”   Meanwhile, of course, the “love of his life” walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often never see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.   I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. He is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.   In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found …

1975 vintage Bordeaux: Claret Guide, Decanter 1976

If you are having a 40th birthday this year (& happy birthday, Angelina Jolie!), here is a vintage assessment of the 1975 Bordeaux vintage from Decanter in September 1976. Finally, it was a vintage to write home about: It is certainly cheering and reassuring for all who love Bordeaux to know that at long last there is a really good vintage safely in the cellars once more. At the same time this does not mean, unfortunately, that all Bordeaux’s problems have disappeared and indeed many of the economic problems seem to be as persistent and deep-seated as ever. This was a difficult economy for many industries including wine. The 1973 oil crisis could still be felt. Then there were a series of bad vintages in Bordeaux in the early 1970s and, without the technology we have today, there were consecutive years that could not be sold because they were simply undrinkable. The 1975 vintage was initially quite tannic but it has mellowed out over the past ten years, and the fruit has petered out in the lesser wines. Glad to see there was no hype …

Chablis food pairing at The Chancery London

Mineral is a loaded word in wine circles. Someone will always ask reproachfully, “Have you actually tasted a mineral, or are you really talking about acidity; if you are talking about stones, how do you even know what a stone tastes like??” Well, yes – yes I have. I know the taste of pulverised oyster shells fossilised in rock. Last Wednesday at The Chancery for a Chablis dinner, I gave this Kimmeridgien stone a good lick while nearly mistaking it for the bread. We are at The Chancery for a three-course dinner devised by chef Graham Long, and where I had a very nice chap sitting next to me. “WHY O WHY do you want pain in your wine?” the nice chap asked as we sat down at our places. I think he was talking about acidity. Apart from my jaded palate needing a good jolt now and again, the good vintages of Chablis have excellent acidity, which means it can deftly handle any food thrown at it and then throw some interesting flavour shapes back. Combined with texture and weight, it …

5 Best Wine Tastings in London – June 2015

Make the most of what London wine shops have to offer in June – taste with visiting winemakers, cruise to new regions and experience aged-wine flights of fantasy. Do check beforehand, spaces are limited and bookings are essential.   1. For a holiday in the Med without leaving town Theatre of Wine – Adriatic Cruise: Croatia Croatia is a diverse and complex wine country, but you would be missing out if you did not try some of the powerful whites and smoky, umami flavours in the reds. This is an expert tour from a shop that knows their wines from this region. Date: Thursday, 4 June (Tufnell Park and Greenwich), 7.30pm – £32   2. If you want to be in on the next big thing in wine Kensington Wine Rooms – An Introduction to Austria Recently I have noticed my friends in New York banging on about Austrian wines on their instagram and twitter accounts. Discover what all the fuss is about at this relaxed event. Date: Saturday, 6 June, Kensington, 5pm – £25   3. If you are obsessed with Nebbiolo  Vagabond Wines – …

How to spot a fake wine

“Of all the old wine bottles that show up on my social media feed, how many of these are fake wine?” asked a wine buyer friend at a long Saturday lunch, “someone should have Maureen Downey take a look.” Call Maureen Downey, the Sherlock Holmes of wine, with her tool box of magnifying glasses, blue lights, razor blades. In this fascinating video for Bloomberg, the top wine fraud investigator explains how she judges whether a wine is a fake wine or an authentic bottle. And how she breaks the bad news to her clients.

What’s not to love about 2014 Loire wines

Wines from the Loire are not for everybody. Except for the super-refreshing sparkling wine, made in the same way as Champagne, that starts every meal we had on the long weekend staying in Saumur. Or the bright pink Pinot d’Aunis rosé everybody in town seemed to be drinking, from flat-capped pensioner to gangly teenagers, in the local pub off the busy Saturday morning market. Not everyone would think of a Saumur-Champigny red with a sirloin steak like they did at the local Argentine restaurant – it’s an elegant crisp red rather than the usual full-blown Malbec. That’s a shame because the wines are packed full of fruit, especially the reds. Loire wines seem to be polarised between the natural wine crowd who love to fetishise grapes (fair enough) and the rest who have to wade through a lot of bottles, but when finding the bottle, re-confirms its classic status. There is a lot to love about the 2014 vintage. The constant rain over the long weekend meant our original plan to cycle along the Loire river had to be cancelled. Instead, we visited an excellent local …

The unfinished symphony: On reviews from en primeur tastings

Listening to an interview with Philip Glass while driving home from the Loire got me thinking about recent discussions on completion in wine, in particular, assessing unfinished en primeur samples.   There was a story of one of Glass’ early performances. An audience member walked up to the stage where he was playing his new piece on the piano and banged down Glass’ piano lid in disgust.   When Glass retold the story on a BBC radio3 programme on the weekend, he admitted he did not like it, but he accepted the audience had their own reaction to the new style of music (and that it never really happened anymore). He was reminded of his mentor, John Cage, and his idea – it is the audience that completes the music.   After every en primeur tasting season in Bordeaux or Burgundy, the question comes up: how worthy are assessments of wine from a tank sample? It is a fair question if you pay for a wine reviewer’s report based on wines that are unfinished.   Neal Martin (The Wine Advocate) and Chris Kissack (Wine Doctor) seem to be in agreement on Kissack’s Wine Doctor blog post that Bordeaux …

5 Best Wine Tastings in London – May 2015

Are you ready for May, London? It’s a busy month for wine lovers. Whether you want to learn about the basics of wine, find something a little more quirky or experience some of the most vibrant minds in the wine world, there’s a tasting here that will put a spring in your step. Here are my choices for the five best wine tasting events in London in May. All are open to the public – but with limited spaces, booking ahead is essential.     1. If you want to start a cellar    Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter – St-Julien Masterclass Decanter magazine’s Grand Tasting is now sold out but tickets are still available for the masterclasses. If you want to start a cellar then this masterclass will have you up to speed with the wines of St-Julien – the favourite appellation for traditional English “claret’ drinkers. Hunters and tweed optional. Date: Saturday 9th May, 11am Address: Landmark Hotel, 222 Marylebone Road, London NW1 6JQ, UK Price: £85     2. If you want to go with the flow this summer   Vagabond Wines – Rivers, …

The Best Wine with Seafood

Thank god for social media because that’s how I recognised the Thomas “Braemore” Semillon on the menu at North Bondi Fish. This is the best wine with seafood I’ve had for a while. For people who know the usual drum beat of Australian wine, this particular Hunter Valley Semillon may be unrecognisable. The delicate and clean flavours can seem barely perceptible; but, this is what makes it work so well with the silky flesh of wood-fired Yamba prawns, creamy Moreton Bay bugs, fresh scallops or lobster linguine. The texture is a like for like. It’s as essential as a lemon cheek for seafood, and as decadent as stolen lunch hour at the beach. Taste it once and you want it again. In fact, we returned to the restaurant the next day to do just that. Brilliant. * Clever marketing can make you buy the first time but not the second time. Australian wine marketing has worked very well at the cheaper end of the wine market for a long time. Perhaps because it’s a land of long distances where messages …

Barossa Soul

Jet lag happens because a jet moves faster than the soul, said William Gibson in Pattern Recognition, “Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.” One of the first things I do when I arrive in Australia is hit the local wine shops. Not only because I am looking for a distraction for my jet-lag, or perhaps, more accurately, a cure for it, but because I am always so happy to see a much bigger range of wines and styles than we see over here in the UK. Australian Savagnin, anyone? There were three – three! – in our local independent wine shop. Perhaps there is not a huge market here in the UK, but this grape from Jura must have seemed like a good idea when they planted the vines at least 10 years ago. It’s an exciting time here for new varieties. Tscharke Wines have an interesting Savagnin, called “Girl Talk” (more grrrl than girl), but it was their 2012 Tscharke Gnadenfrei Grenache that dropped us directly to our …