All posts filed under: Events

The Zero Dosage Dilemma – A Visit to Hambledon Winery Hampshire

Zero Dosage champagne is a dilemma for purists. On the one hand, it shows us an expression of the wine without the mask of added sugar before bottling. On the other, it can sound a bit similar to other marketing re-mixes such as Coke Zero, or perfume houses that put out so-called limited-release versions just before Christmas. Whether the finish of a sparkling wine with a sugar dose – and it is only a pipette – masks or enhances is a matter for debate.  “You either love it or hate it,” our guide at Hambledon Winery in Hampshire, Joe Wadsack explains, “It does take a while to get used to it, like jumping into a cold sea, but that shock is also what you want.”   Most people like to think they like “sugar-free” but would they if they were handed a glass at a party? To understand how dosage adds to, or takes away, from a wine, we tasted four different levels of dosage and the differences were quite apparent:  Zero dosage (Brut Nature = No added …

Loire Moments at the London Edition Hotel for London Wine Week 2017

Heeding a call for “Loire Moments” during London Wine Week, I left my ordinary world of peak-hour crush on the Underground, horizontal rain and broken umbrella to find myself in the foyer of the London EDITION hotel, 10 Berners Street, with a glass of sparkling Monmousseau Touraine Brut in my hand.  Our exquisite hosts, Douglas Blyde and Lindsay Oram, had created a menu matched with six wines from along the Loire River, with four-courses cooked by Chef Phil Carmichael from Jason Atherton’s upstairs Berners Tavern. Even saying the word, Monmousseau, puts my mouth into a kissy kiss pout and silly voice that I find happens to me when I’m around the super cute. A baby swaddled in a blanket disguised as a burrito or watching a labrador puppy try to go down a staircase for the first time. That’s about all I can watch nowadays, by the way, after recent horrific events – in fact, my year can be summed up by the bleak New Yorker cartoon, “my desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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, …

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. …

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 …

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 …

Dancing Jancis

Quick – what was the average number of bottles drunk per person in the UK in 1971? (The same year as the first edition of The World Atlas of Wine was published.) The spark for the original edition World Atlas of Wine was first ignited just around the corner from where Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson and Octopus Publishing launched their 7th edition of The World Atlas of Wine  – in both print and digital versions. As I lugged the tome home last night through Soho, I thought – I must get the digital version. Maps come alive on a tablet. And it would be very handy for carry-on luggage. Although there’s something about having a book beside you when you are drinking a wine (or studying – this is an essential read for WSET students). I love randomly opening a page to find something new about Japan, Slovenia or Piemonte. Both have their own advantages. As an aside, Hugh Johnson explained the original reason for the The World Atlas of Wine. At the time, Mitchell Beazley …

New Fine Wine Generation @ Medlar Chelsea

An all-women dinner at Medlar Chelsea was a snapshot of the tastes for the current generation of women in the fine wine trade. “I warn you,” I said to Clement beforehand, “this may be a tough crowd. We have two exhausted people who have just finished their MW exams, and the rest of us work in Fine Wine trade. Now I’m not saying we are going to be difficult but we are each bringing a wine to the dinner without anyone knowing what it is and so I can’t tell you. Oh, and the only theme is B – I know, no help there I’m afraid. Sorry you won’t have too much time to work out an order, if there is a logical order…” I admit, it was not an easy brief. Bravo to Clement Robert for he took it all in his stride. He certainly lives up to his title of UK Sommelier of the Year and more. The sequence of wines to come out to the table was sheer brilliance. Brought out in pairs, each …

From Rhone with Love – J.L. Chave at Christie’s

The night before the Christie’s tasting of J.L Chave pre-auction wines, the swimming briefs worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale went at auction for £44,000 (with 5 bidders). During the tasting, we were reminded by Anthony Hanson MW that in the past Rhone was shipped to Bordeaux to be used as bulk wine. In between these two extreme stories, sat before us the wines of J.L. Chave. The market of fine wine, like other markets, is based on sentiment. And

Handle on Calabria

A wine from a 2100-bottle production of red Ciro from Sergio Arcuri in Calabria is a revelation. Apart from finding a Calabrian wine at Berry Bros & Rudd tasting, what makes it a miracle is that it is not baked to jam under the hot southern Italian sun: perfumed and with a fine structure, very pale in colour, delicate and crisp. It had the same sensation of holiding a baby sparrow in the hand and feeling its beating heart in your grip. Fragile but with a strong sense of life.

Urban Riesling

Then you become a beginner all over again. When the next step is a falter after having already reached the landing. The ghost step at the end of the escalator. If I could give only one piece of advice for new people to wine it would be: try to taste with people more experienced than you. Grand Cru Riesling is a challenge in all its decadence. It is all on the aromatic plane and quickly lapses into metaphor. There are no hard facts of flavour. This is the attraction. It’s a fairytale. But an urban fairytale with a backbone made of steel. With Riesling at this level flavours are not SOLID. Forget your W SET lessons. Up to a level you think you know how “pineapple” tastes but what about pineapple slipping into cherry into kirsch with a sprinkle of crunchy icing sugar like a hot-baked Austrian pastry. It is the closest thing to poetry. And in a little of group of tasters this is the closest thing to a communal experience. I don’t think it should …

The Truth About Mac Forbes

Let’s try to forget Mac Forbes is rather attractive. I don’t want this to influence my perception of the wine in any way. Of course. That’d be completely unprofessional. Hands up – I had written about his wine before I met him: “Supersonic”. But, for the sake of objectivity, let’s get this out of the way… and he is married. So, I said it. There. What about the wine? Mac was in London between visiting Austria and Portugal. In itself, this is a very Australian idea of Europe and her wine. The island of Australia covers from St Petersburg to Dublin. Yet this is the key to understanding it. Let me explain.

Sparkling Squared

Imagine the bubbles of Franciacorta are not spherical but square and you’ll have the true idea of Italy’s premier sparkling wine. This is one of the most disciplined DOCG regions in the North of Italy, between Milan and Venice, and has a super-commitment to quality that is almost frightening if you expect Italy to be a fun babyshambles. This makes a difference. But what is the difference from Champagne? The grapes are the same (although where there would be Pinot Meunier you will find Pinot Bianco) but the sparkling wines of Franciacorta have the same assertive acidity as in Champagne and more defined than most Prosecco, other than very best.  Generally, Franciacorta spends longer on lees than Champagne and is softer and more generous in the mouthfeel. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch at L’Anima with the incomparable Maurizio Zanella of Ca’ del Bosco. One of the leading winemakers in the region, this was an incredible introduction. Michael Broadbent reminisced on the first time he met Zanella, in the 1970s on the Champs …

Italian bubbles hero

Today I met a hero of mine over lunch, Michael Broadbent. For someone who has read his Decanter column for over 15 years, this was a real pleasure. I had a fabulous chat about his love of Italian bubbles at a lunch with Ca’ del Bosco from Franciacortia. He entered the room of this sensationally top-quality sparkling wine producer at L’Anima – the king of understatement – “I rather enjoy your bubbles!” What we are talking about in this photo is his love of Moscato d’Asti and how it is such a pleasure to everyone and makes a brilliant house wine! What a real treat, I just want to share this moment with you X More about fantastic Ca’ del Bosco sparkles from Italy in next post. photo taken by @walterspeller – with whom I equally adore, and an excellent observer of Italian wine.

Inferno Paradiso: Tasting Mount Langi Ghiran 2004 – 2009

Love that is not loved back, pardons the loving. Once a lovesick friend wrote me this on a napkin in a café, a quote from Dante’s second circle of hell (“Amor cha nullo amato amar perdona”). To be honest, it’s the only thing I can quote from Dante’s Inferno, the text studied by winemaker Dan Buckle for his thesis, long before he became the new winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran. What I do know about Dante’s Inferno is that it is about poetic justice, and there is certainly something poetic about a winemaker who has studied the descent into the flames of hell to be now working in the Grampians in Alpine Victoria, an area almost routinely devastated by bushfire and drought.   Inferno Whether there is justice is another matter – as Dan said at a vertical tasting of his wines from 2004 to 2009, what he has learned during these hard years: “it’s one thing to stress a vine, it’s another to kill it.”

Raving with Clos Ste Hune (Trimbach)

  The signature taste of Clos Ste Hune Riesling is pine needles but this is no tranquil afternoon in the Black Forest; more like non-stop “pine needle” green strobe light action at a rave. Trying to describe it is like waving your hand through laser light; the complex flavours meld and disappear in a green light of spicy lime and steely tang. Let the music lift you up. It would have been fortunate to have only one Clos Ste Hune, but at yesterday’s Enotria tasting with Jean Trimbach at Bistro du Vin Soho, we were treated to three vintages. Everybody raves about Clos Ste Hune Riesling from Trimbach; and happily, this wine lives up to the hype.

Schloss Gobelsburg: philosophical investigations on the pleasures of Gruner Veltliner

“Then I brought up this question: When you say, Men do desire pleasure, what is this use of “pleasure?” Is it contrasted with pain? Pain is localized, for instance. He went on with one of the nicest bits of analysis I heard… He started: Pain is a sensation. Pleasure is not. Why are the senses classified together? Obviously they are not a bit alike. Smells, odors, aren’t a bit like sounds. Then he gave this account. With respect to all these, you can time them precisely with a clock. “Now you see; now you don’t. Now you hear it; now you don’t.” By the clock you can tell. Now pleasure isn’t like this. The logic of the word pleasure is quite different. Clock the pleasure. When did the pleasure begin, when did the pleasure end, etc?” “Wittgenstein conversations 1949 – 1951”, p 63, Oxford. Wittgenstein   Each Gruner Veltliner is a puzzle: in Austria, the spicy white is an everyday wine enjoyed in the same way as Chardonnay; but, here, Gruner Veltliner is still an …

2009 Beaucastel: Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark

2009 Chateau Beaucastel En Primeur Tasting Tasting Chateau Beaucastel en primeur is like pressing pause on a moment in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, currently hurtling through space on the 1977 Voyager Space Probe Golden Record as a record of mighty human achievement. The red is a concerto of the full 13 varieties permitted in Chateauneuf du Pape, which, as they mature, has a symphonic effect as it develops in the bottle. Each component has its moment on stage, the Mouvedre has its moment before retreating to the chorus while Grenache takes over the lead. In other words, at an En Primeur tasting, you really are tasting only a polaroid snapshot of an orchestra. The talk at the tasting table was: “Has Beaucastel returned to an European style of winemaking?” (and I’ll add, it was said with a certain sigh of relief by the tasters beside me). Walking back through the grey stone streets around Bank, I wondered – is it the winemaking or the vintage? This is a different (and quieter) wine than the standout vintages …

Dinner with Francesca Planeta

At a press dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she said her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. These wines are seriously loved by the fashion industry. What does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985. Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation. The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But this is Chardonnay: there is no other grape that is dictated so much by fashion.  Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s Sicilian style, full of fabulous pure fruit expression that had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out like this, it’s indigenous in …

Lunch with Randall Grahm: Imagining Change

Imagine we live on a planet. Not our cozy, taken-for-granted earth, but a planet, a real one, with darkpoles and belching volcanoes and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat. An inhospitable place. It’s a different place. A different planet. It needs a new name. Eaarth.” Environmentalist, Bill McKibben     To be honest, it took me a while to sit down and write this post after lunch with Randall Grahm from Bonny Doon vineyards. Why? Firstly, my notes from the conversation at lunch sitting next to him read like a Steiner school brain map: Volcanoes, White Grovonia, Root depth, new clones, aesthetics, saline water, Acacia barrels, the lime taste in Australian Riesling “what is it?” RG asks…. Secondly, there has been a lot already said about Randall and it’s easy to get caught up in the “Californication” of him. He does look particularly exotic from a European perspective. The gonzo Ralph Steadman drawings on the labels (artist of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing), the long hair, the …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.   Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world*), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind 2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their …

White Grange and Nirvana

2007 Yattarna or 2008 Bin 08A Reserve Chardonnay? Nirvana’s Bleach came out in 1989 on a budget of only $600, a thrilling album-long demo tape for their huge next album, Nevermind. Bleach is sound unpolished to perfection. So why was it this album cover the first image to come to mind when tasting the 2007 Yattarna? There couldn’t be anything more opposite. Yattarna is a wine polished to perfection. On a huge Penfold’s budget. Bleach was the birth of grunge. Bleach is spontaneous combustion, while Yattarna is a concept wine: Penfolds deliberately created a white wine to be the answer to Grange. Overall, you are just left with one question. What makes Grange, Grange? Is it the longevity? Then why choose Chardonnay, why not equally great Australian varieties such as Riesling or Semillon if it is to age as long as the original Grange (for 40+ years)? Or is it about the consistency expected of Grange: yet, every Yattarna I have ever tasted has never tasted the same. In the past 2 years, Yattarna has …

Rose 101 – Why drink Rosé?

  Before I tell you about Bibendum’s Rosé tasting last night, I have to admit: Rosé has a special place in my life. I won my first serious job after university by writing a sales letter on Rosé. Nobody wanted to touch it. The manager flicked it at me across his very large desk with a hopeless smirk, “see what you can do with this”. The letter did quite well. And the rest, as they say, is history.