Author: Juel

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 …

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 …

The Mystery of Monfortino Barolo

A vertical of Giacomo Conterno is a prime piece of classic Barolo-ology to get the teeth into… to uncover the mystery of Monfortino Barolo. Turning up on a sunny Spring morning at the Corney & Barrow offices near the Tower of London, around the same time as Antonio Galloni was in town for his Giacomo Conterno dinner (and I, without a spare £1500 for a ticket) this was a dreamlike vertical. Sadly I arrived too early to meet Roberto Conterno. If I had met him, I had a lot to ask, especially about some of the ideas his father had about style and also some facts that seem to be different everywhere I search. Giovanni was quite demanding from all accounts – many vintages, which were good enough for most, were not deemed good enough to carry the label of Conterno and sold sfuso. The aromas produced by these wines, especially Monfortino, are understated and robust and the younger vintages flicker with seduction. They draw the taster in with elegant and classic flavours only to hint at …

Barolo 2010 at Fine + Rare

There are many buildings from the 1970s that I would want knocked down, but one called la Maison de la Celle Saint-Cloud is not one of them. Opened in 1974 in Paris and designed by Jean Pierre Raynaud, the place is completely tiled, an endless black and white grid. As ornate Persian tiles hint at the wonders of the universe beyond, this is a monument to the modern world. For me, it would be a struggle not to take some colouring-in pens. Unfortunately, it was closed in 1988 and demolished in 1993. The building is no longer, but the modern world lives on. Despite the dissection and analysis, Barolo will defy attempts to be put in a box. But what happens when you try? There is a rebellious spirit to this fine wine region, so that many producers end up singing, as Sid Vicious did, “I did it my way.” So it was with some trepidation when I went to the first Barolo tasting of the year at Fine + Rare where I tasted 90 + …

Back to Barolo School with Berry Bros & Rudd

The fine wine flavour of the month – of the year – is Barolo 2010. You would think this would make me happy. Instead, what I see is a missed opportunity to introduce more people to these great wines. Take Burgundy-level vineyard complexity plus Italian labels multiply by long cellaring time to the power of Italian wine laws. Copy and paste into an old Bordeaux en primeur spreadsheet. The result? A wine wrapped in more of a disorientating fog for customers than a drive in a minibus around hairpin bends in the Italian Alps in winter. Time to get back to basics. Time to go back to Wine School! You can never know too much when it comes to Barolo. So when I saw a Berry Bros & Rudd Wine School tasting of 2009 Barolo and Barbaresco at their cellars in St James’s Street, I put my hand up. Hosted by David Berry Green (DBG), who moved to Barolo in 2009. He lives and breathes nebbiolo. He can make the subject come to life with little tidbits …

Diffusion Line: Harvey Nichols Own Label

If these are house wines, then I want to live in that house. As See by Chloe, Miu Miu (Prada) or Marc by Marc Jacobs are secondary lines from high end fashion designers  at lower prices, Harvey Nichols Own Label works on the same principle. For those of you who have ever lined up at H & M for the latest diffusion line from a big designer then you will GET these wines. Kate Moss for Top Shop is about as close as it is going to get to the supermodel’s wardrobe; just as Margaux 2009 is a taste of drinking Rauzan-Segla 2009 everyday. The Rauzan-Segla 2009 Grand Vin is around £85 per bottle, not including all the storage and faff to buy Bordeaux at this level, the Margaux 2009 is part of the vintage for £25. A bit more easy-going than the Grand Vin, this is a very successful collaboration between the 2nd cru classe and Harvey Nicks. The “controversial” drawing by Karl Lagerfeld on the 2009 label in the Grand Vin is replaced by a simple picture of a (French? chic?) bicycle. This is quite of …

#bdx13 Doing it for the Kids

People are not afraid of a roundabout in Bordeaux. This is the first thing you must understand when you go there. The roads are circles within circles. Lately I have fielded questions from friends and family who are having children this year, “I would like to buy a case of wine for his/her birth year. What would you recommend from Bordeaux?” After a week in Bordeaux tasting the wines from the barrel, I would say there are only a handful of 2013 wines that will be acceptable to drink in 21 years. This is an early drinking vintage. 2013 is a very light vintage with red cherry berry fruits rather than the classic lead pencil/cassis/cedar notes. Also, I found in the lesser names this horrible manipulated taste –  residual sugar covering up the hole in the middle of it or harsh extracted tannins. No, they will never integrate. It is the seed stuck in the molar that you keep chewing. Drying, sharp and more shocking than hitting upon an unexpected anchovy on a juicy pizza. …

How to Fly First Class at Home

Tasting Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2008 is a bright blast of sunshine much like sitting on a tarmac anywhere after arriving from gloomy Gatwick. So, it does not surprise me this wine is on Qantas First Class. Even on the ground, this wine is a journey in itself. This is a complex and big wine, bright and juicy, with crystalline ginger and honey notes lapping up on the shore of your tongue like tropical waves. This is exactly what you want when flying (especially a 24 hour flight to Australia): at 36,000 feet flavours pale and diminish due to cabin pressure and air quality (as I found out when tasting for Skyscanner). Plus, you know exactly where you are with this wine. It is THE taste of Margaret River. There is no mucking about trying to be a Corton Charlemagne here. On the ground, at home, it is very dense and compact, almost monolithic… yet, yet… it is a true joy. One of those wines you where you lift your glass up to the light …

What is deliciousness?

This is a working philosophy. But it is also a work in progress. Something I think about a lot during my day to day especially when tasting for many hours. What is deliciousness? Deliciousness is a state of ease, along with companionship (with wine and others) and most importantly (I agree with Thierry Thiese) charm. It does not try to blow you away with its amazingness. To paraphrase Thiese, it can be found in the big, medium and small wines. So it is not about points or trophies. Re-tasting Cascina Fontana Barolo 2010 – the last time I tasted this it was in the barrel in his winery in Piedmont. I remember it clearly because the wine jumped out of the barrel! A sign of things to come for the 2010 vintage? Really, if a Barolo like this doesn’t make you happy, what will? While some single cru wines’ non-fruit flavours, tannins and prices can be extreme, to the point of discomfort for some more sensitive palates, the blend of plush La Morra and serious …

Anti-Valentine Wine: 100% Bastardo

Before you are completely consumed with kitsch and regret, consider this for Valentine’s Day. When everyone else is popping pink Champagne and being overcharged at restaurants, you need an antidote to keep your mind focused on why you did the right thing. This wine made of 100% Bastardo even has soulless and cold eyes that stare out at you like some sort of ready-made vinous voodoo doll. Yet, the wine inside, perfumed, spicy and elegant like nothing you ever remembered about your time together, is a bit like a Poulsard or pale Burgundy. Bastardo is a grape variety also called Trousseau, one of the varieties varieties in Cotes du Jura, but in the hands of the mother and daughter team at Conceito in Portugal it appears stronger, less laden with romantic bliss than its French cousins, and does it in style. Self-assured winemaking, with a scary label, this won’t leave you to cry in front of the hundredth re-run of Bridget Jones this Friday night. Most likely it will make you laugh, which is exactly where you want to …

Bordeaux to Maroc

There was a lot of talk about Bordeaux before I left for holidays… Is en primeur 2013 on or not? On that hanging question, I left it all behind at Stanstead Airport for a week of mint tea and tagines in Marrakech. Of course, “getting away from it all” is not that simple. If only you could leave work behind sometimes, but when you work in the wine industry it seems to follow you around like your hand or foot. You try to get away but end up in some sort of Interzone only for it to arrive on the scene again like some Burroughs bug. Even in Marrakech, Bordeaux seemed to follow. It started with the Domaine de Sahari at the beautiful restaurant run by women called Al Fassia in the new town. We had to try the Cinsault (under the menu as a Vin Gris) and the red – a Carignan blend. Mysteriously, on the label it mentioned a “Bordeaux enologist” had some part to play in it. Later I found  it was owned …

Oh! Ochota

“And if by chance you surf….. you would understand what a great barrel is.” After a pure two-tone fruity-vanilla start reminiscent of tasting straight from the barrel in a cold cellar*, it found a balance point exactly where satsuma, lemon curd and Comte cheese meet. In the current trend for leaner Chardonnay but more balanced on the side of sweet fruit and oak, it is happily supple (and definitely not fat). Made by Taras and Amber Ochota, and you can find their story here, this couple is a talented and well-traveled lot, who chose to dig at a hard spot for Australian Chardonnay (this is a difficult price point in the UK) and hit upon gold in the Adelaide hills. The wine did not reveal itself fully until the next day, which reminded me not to drink big white wines under screw cap without at least a good swirl in a decanter first (a decanter is not just for red wines).   Bottle number 9! The back label details:       *After being immersed in months of Burgundy …

My top wines of 2013

Time to give thanks to all the great wines of 2013, and there have been a few.   Red Giacosa Barbaresco Red Label 1996 from this dinner at Medlar Very Budget red Pinot Noir 2012, Paparuda, Cramele Recas, Romania (£5.99) Special mention to all the posh Beaujolais   White Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2007 And all the EP 2012 Rieslings   Budget white Clos du Tu-Boeuf Cheverny 2011,Thierry Puzelat   Sweet Passito di Pantelleria Marco de Bartoli 2008 – at the winery in Marsala Sparkling Dom Perignon Oenothèque 1996 And then dinner at Leong’s Legend, Chinatown Fortified Mas Amiel 2010, Maury  And all the 2011 Ports, thank you   Dud Beaujolais Nouveau called Légende at Dijon-Ville train station   Nice Surprises A wine from Granada! A Givry at Montrachet restaurant in Puligny-Montrachet: Books Pomerol book I even wrote a limerick: There was an old wine from Pomerol, loved by the likes of Cheryl Cole, it was glam shine, a v good wine, & worth it more than L’Oreal Through a Sparkling Glass – Andrea Frost …

2012 Burgundy vintage – the new normal?

I was reminded of Schumacher when I was in snowy Burgundy recently to taste the 2012 vintage.  The British economist wrote a book in 1973 called “Small is Beautiful:  A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”. Published during a chilly economic recession in Britain, the idea is that because man is small, ergo, small is beautiful. The central argument based on observing village life is that “bigger is not better”. “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.” In mossy caves, tasting from the barrels with pipettes held by the winemaker, there is something human (even humid, it was colder outside in the snow) about tasting in Burgundy cellars. The vintage is small. Again. And it is intensely beautiful. There are large negociants and domaines in Burgundy but at its best, Burgundy is a testament to the small. Each year there have been less and less barrels (Grivot, below). I was told by one domaine that the barrels along the wall were filled with water to ensure …

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Arvid Rosengren, working in Copenhagen, recently wrote a thoughtful piece about natural wine. At the end of the post he gives fair advice to those who are for and against natural wine, including: “If things seem black/white it’s only because you don’t know better.” The neon sign at Little Social Restaurant is from Godard’s science fiction film “Alphaville” (1965). In the movie it is  what welcomes visitors to this outer-space city where all emotion is outlawed. Everything in Alphaville is a statement and nothing is an explanation. Even the word “why” is criminalized. It’s a dark and dystopic future. To have it enshrined on the wall in ironic neon, begs the question: are we there?  My friend and I were at Little Social Restaurant to have a lunch on a school day so nothing could stop us being the complete opposite: loud, impulsive, dangerous and devil-may-care. We were there to have a very long lunch. The sommelier gave a low whistle of approval when we chose the 2011 Arretxea Hegoxuri from Irouleguy. It’s from a tiny region in the South-West of France made up of a blend of white grapes with challenging Basque names translated …

Brilliant Grillo

One of the most exciting things I saw in Marsala at the government’s nursery vineyards were the experiments that crossed native Sicilian varieties with ancient Georgian Saperavi. Anticipating environmental change in the next 10 years, it is a forward thinking approach by the oenologists (then again, wineries take at least a generation to develop). The vineyards are part of a desire to return to the local grapes, to understand their natural expression, rather look at others for a style. Or have a style foisted on them. So much of Sicilian history has been this story. It is an island where the conquerors have left their mark, even in the wines – for example, Zibibbo is Arabic for grape. The conquerers have been Greeks, Spanish, Arabs, Italian, and in the case of Marsala, the British. For the wine lover, the market forces of the supermarket and EU have too often conquered Sicilian wines. There was not much incentive other than to make cheap wines in co-operatives. Now we saw a different story. In West Sicily, there …