Author: Juel

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 …

How Bordeaux 2014 is like Kate Moss

Despite owning the world’s media focus for over 20 years, how much did we really know about Kate Moss at the height of her fame? Yes, we saw photos of leaving parties in Primrose Hill, the hazy wedding photos and the terrible boyfriends. But unlike other celebrities, she never talked about her personal life even when her image was everywhere. No interviews, no salacious tell-alls after the scandals, and only until very recently, no celebrity television shows. All we had was her turning away from us in the Rimmel TV ad with a four-word parting shot in her Croydon accent, “Get the London Look!” In the last couple of years, Kate Moss has lifted the “Kate Moss media embargo” on herself. And it’s…. (and I’m talking as a big fan over the years) it’s just not the same. No more guessing – we now know what she thinks or doesn’t think. That’s not what we want from our supermodels! We want the old cool Kate even if that is an impossible expectation for any human being to live up to for so many years. …

Burgundy Young Guns

The generation shift happening in Burgundy is one of the great trends in wine with a new set of Burgundy young guns coming through.   One explanation is the way Burgundy is distributed through the en primeur system.  Allocations in Burgundy are based on loyalty and loyalty takes time. If there is one thing about the winemakers from Burgundy, they are extremely loyal – to the land and their long-term customers.  Often we see when the generation changes hands, the younger generation is dissatisfied with the old ways and changes their negociant. Or the producer is bought by a bigger fish, for example, Faiveley buying Dupont-Tisserandot when Didier Chevillon retired. As Burgundy adopted the Napoleonic system of inheritance, vineyards are either inherited or, with increasing prices, bought by larger companies (although we have yet to see this on the same scale as Bordeaux. With a string of low yielding vintages, time will only tell). When both generations are working at the same time in the winery you have a rare dynamic: experience coupled with a fresh perspective. Since 2007, Celine Fontaine at Fontaine-Gagnard has been taking more control of the winemaking from her father …

Where the Wine Tastes Better

Some thoughts on wine marketing. When I first started in wine, it was a few weeks after September 11. I worked on the weekend shifts while answering calls from customers and selling a few extra cases at the end with a commission for $2 each per case. It was a creative place, full of actors and musicians working on the phone, many people did not know much about wine. What they did know was people. What I learned then is something that has stayed with me all this time. And it is why I am not interested in being good. I am interested in great. There are three types of companies out there at the moment with respect to wine marketing – (1) people who are doing it well; (2) people who are not doing it well; (3) some who don’t believe they need it at all. Let me tell you what I think wine marketing is, it is very simple, and it is a verb: To make wine taste better. It is the affect of good marketing but …

Chinese Year of the Mouton

What lies in store for Mouton Rothschild in the Chinese Year of the Ram? With the recent record-breaking ex-cellar auction in Hong Kong, it certainly has been an auspicious start. Let’s looks at the steady rise in price of the 2000 Mouton Rothschild vintage for clues.  During Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, the menu is not just about the food. Each food also symbolises good luck. Favourites include sticky rice cake, which sounds phonetically similar to “higher year”, or raising oneself higher, and dried oysters – or haoshi – sounds similar to the term, “good business”. This year, the good fortune extended to the recent Sotheby’s auction of Mouton Rothschild cellar in Hong Kong, to coincide with the new year celebrations of the Year of the Ram, where it doubled its pre-sale estimate to fetch HK$32 million (£2.7 million). Just a few years ago, it was Lafite Rothschild that turned heads to Asia. But the price of Lafite has fallen dramatically. It is more than two years since Lafite Rothschild has been on an upward trajectory. Where every other …

Riesling Trocken 2013 by Rebholz

There is something wry and world-weary about dry Pflaz Riesling. The mineral quality is so self-effacing that it would not surprise me if it preferred to keep company with the young and effervescent sparkling mineral waters at the dinner table rather than the serious conversation of the old cellared reds and the over-caked whites. I want to use the word “refreshing” for 2013 Trocken Riesling from Rebholz – the master of the Pfalz – but that term would feel far too energetic and youthful. It reminds me of a very strange party I went to for a 90 year old customer who had never done anything more than polo in Argentina – this wine makes a party out of random people as it stays fascinated in everybody. Sliding up to fancy chicken wings or pretty little nori rolls so it can provide the erudite chat. Not everyone can be devoted to the inconsequential so seriously, so sincerely and for so long. This wine outlasts them all. mineral and cool 

Reto by Ponce

  Fashion photography, much like most wine writing, can focus too much on the facts for my taste – shoes, hats, dress, size, price, perfunctory smile and twirl – and then, there is the photography that makes everything “rich and strange“. This is the photographer, Guy Bourdin: his exhibition is currently on at Somerset House in London. His posters stare back at me every night on the tube on the way home from work. The effect of his photography on the senses during peak hour is like seeing an elaborate window display of pastries when on a sugar-low. Although Ponce (pronounced Pon-the) is the winemaker on everyone’s lips at the moment, from his cool spot in Manchuela in Spain, I was blissfully unaware of the wine facts when I tasted Reto. It is big, wintry white wine that some may dismiss as easily as puff shoulders and flouncy gowns. It is big but this Albilla (the grape variety) is certainly more precise than a Chardonnay from the 1980s. Not everyone wants lean and mean and I believe there is a secret group of people …

Lebanon Diary – From Beirut to Paris

Overlooking the electrical storm over Beirut from my hotel room*, the city is peaceful. The rain has forced me back to the hotel. It is peaceful on the streets and for a Saturday afternoon it looks too quiet. Most of the people on the streets are either army or kids playing soccer on the empty roads. Especially around the park where families of 24 army who have been kidnapped by IS last month are occupying to demand action. In the farmer’s market there was a stall for the excellent Domaine de Bargylus from Syria being served with oysters. It was scene that could have easily been from one of my weekends in London. Although I am not sure how the wine crossed over the mountains into Lebanon. The market is between the new “Souk” shopping centre area controversially built on the destroyed ancient souks of Beirut. And a striking old building that was once a Press that is now just a facade pock-marked with bullet holes. It is almost impossible to not talk about the politics when talking about …

Lebanon Diary – Day 2

What is Lebanese wine, especially from the Bekaa Valley? What is Lebanon? Everyone is still out drinking Arak at Domaine des Tourelles, but I wanted to come home and write it all down before I lose it in an aniseed haze. It is amazing what happens when you don’t have a phone. Your eyes become the camera. Today was the first day I saw the Bekaa Valley in the light. The two mountains that cradle the valley are Mount Lebanon (towards Beirut) and the Anti-Lebanon mountains which form a natural barrier with Syria. Breathe it in – the bright white and bare soils on the hill behind the wineries that look almost biblical. So barren in parts after 1000s of years of civilisation, it is hard to imagine them ever having the luxury of trees. We stopped at Chateau Ka first for breakfast. We had Knefe (sweet cheese with rose water and orange blossom syrup in a bread roll) and Mankouché (za’atar and sesame seeds on warm pitta bread) which we stuffed with cucumber, tomato and mint …

Lebanon Diary – Day 1

I am writing this in a hotel on the Road to Damascus. The actual road, which is called – wait for it, I am not joking – Damascus Road. I am on the “Frontiere Syrienne” and the town of Damascus is only ten minutes drive away. I feel though I will have a Damascene moment… any moment. I am here to taste some Lebanese wine. Je suis arrivé au Liban. لقد وصلت في لبنان Don’t the customs people give a good indication to a new country? If I ran a country I would put the customs staff on PR training. And taxi drivers, particularly those who hang out at the airport. Luckily we have a very nice chap called Tony who will drive us around and will be able to help me with my very (very) basic Arabic. The customs officials have been amusing, if not flirtatious. I was asked twice if I also had a Lebanese passport, which is the nicest welcome I have had in a while. Apart from holding up the group who were waiting patiently …

The Sauce on France

Surely that is not Tottenham Court Road but the Champs-Élysées? Douglas Blyde almost had me believing we could see Paris when we arrived for his L’Hexagone (France) tasting on the 33rd floor of the Paramount building. “If I didn’t have wine in France I would be gasping of a bottle of Tobasco. The wine is the sauce,” he says. This is one of my favourite ways to think about wine. It doesn’t have to be more complex than that – although we had some brilliant wine and food matches all evening. In particular, Ceviche with Cave de Turkheim Gewurtztraminer from Alsace. Did you know that the Vosges mountains in Alsace has the biggest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the world? I digress. We started off with a racy (my notes say, risky for some reason – let’s go with that) Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet. There is a growing sentiment amongst wine friends that Muscadet is most underrated and its time has come. Although we all like to feel that we can beat the system (so good! so cheap!) and you do get a lot of wine value for …

What drives a Wine Collector?

Recently I read an article in the New York Times about a Brazilian bus magnate who’s buying up all the world’s vinyl records. This mysterious collector has record shops sending him semi-trailers worth of vinyl then hires interns to “bring logic” to his collection. He has even gone through therapy to try to understand his obsession. Beyond the money and the status, beyond the need to taste everything and “lick the dust, that is to say, love earthly pleasures” as Pascal wrote, beyond even love for wine –  Why do some people collect huge cellars of wine and then sell it all? I am not talking about buying a few cases of en primeur every year. Or those who who sell for financial or space reasons. What I am talking about are collections that include every wine from one vintage, or every vintage of one wine. And more. The question often crosses my mind as I watch the lots come through Christie’s. Today there is a bottle of Dom Perignon 1985 featured. Five bottles per …